A Yellow Vase

yellow vase study (2)

I’ll be teaching a pastel class in the fall and so I do many of my studies these days as pastels.  This is the first time I’ve focused on this yellow vase, which I got at a thrift store, love at first sight. I’m using a set of Rembrandt half sticks, 30 count, to determine whether to recommend them as a beginning palette.  The paper is Canson mi-teintes in the 12 x 16 inch pad. I drew as someone humming to herself, with no plan, until the lateness of the hour sent me to bed.

The flowers are a rich purple, and the set has nothing in it that begins to approach the flower color so I used two dark blues, a violet-ish red, a pale blue for highlights and black for the darkest darks.  I think the overall mélange creates a decent approximation of the local color.  Optical mixtures can scramble your brain, but if you just have-at-it and don’t bother overly much, you can get interesting effects.  Remember that full color printing uses only three colors and black.  Surely you won’t be outdone by a color Xerox machine, now, will you?

The photo approximates what I was looking at:

yellow vase photo (2)

My drawing is “cropped” just as the photo above is cropped, which is to say that I run out of paper.  And I like drawing until I run out of paper.  I arrange the still life so that I will always “run out of paper” with something around the bend, just like life. The edges of the page, particularly when they are only partly visible, can be an enigmatic place.  But getting the tonal/color balances is tricky if it is to support the notion of the things being “back there.”  Obviously to draw the stuff on the edges, I look directly at them, seeing them in greater detail than I do when my eyes glance at the whole or when I stare fixedly at the lovely vase with its sunny and bewitching yellowness.  Tonal and color relationships are different when you look directly at something, though to see at all one’s eye scans all over the place as is its wont.

Recall that the image you see is not on the retina, it’s in your brain — particularly as you have two retinas both visualizing different angles and only one brain.

I think its intriguing to attempt to drawing “everything.” Sometimes I try drawing the oblique pattern on the cloth, but it was late and an artist needs her beauty sleep. And yet there is minutia to draw before one sleeps ….

Here’s more of the table.

flowers drawing set up

How to draw with great skill if you don’t know how to draw

And a hint: I don’t know how to draw either.  If we cannot draw as well as Ingres or Durer, we’re not there yet.

ingres girl in a chair

[Ingres drawing of a girl in a chair above.]

How you draw with great skill if you don’t know how to draw is that you focus your mind entirely upon what you’re seeing and then let your hand follow your visual thoughts.  It takes some daring to follow this path because what you see may not actually find its way accurately into the drawing, and we are oh so cognizant of what other people think, are we not?

after huysum

[sketch made from a still life by Huysum at the National Gallery of Art above]

The essence of the blind contour is that it trains you to observe more keenly.  Let’s say that I’m drawing my still life objects.  I notice the various contours.  I follow them with antlike thoroughness.  (Remember that ants can run; this needn’t be a slow process.) I can notice the contour as a flat silhouette against its background.  But maybe there’s a tea pot with paintings of fish swimming across its surface.  My eye can jump to those and the ant can follow those silhouettes without having bothered to finish the other one.


Let’s say we’ve got an ant that can jump as well as run.  What if you notice a flower at the top of the picture, then a design near the bottom?  What if you note that a sinuous line created by the adjacent edges of several different objects seems to go across the whole image?  You can draw that.  If you are “just looking” you can draw anything and you need not reference whether the feature you’re drawing supports the illusion of the picture. Some things we perceive may actually confuse the illusion of the picture sometimes, in certain contexts.  But how does an artist know the worth of visual information unless he tries it out first? You may not even know for a long time what the significance of a line is, or a color, or a form.


You can observe objects and make a drawing that gathers psychological information, that takes you through your subject, that explores its various potentials. When we see the works of great masters in the museum and find their pictures full of an amazing verisimilitude, what we don’t see are the drawings, sketches, studies, pochades and whatnot that directed and supported the form the finished painting would take.  Much unseen information lies behind a highly finished painting.  In studies, sketches and incidental drawings a contemporary artist can gather his own (or her own) information in the living moment.


What do you want to learn about the things you paint that is separate from a finished painting? Remember too that what you learn is drawn in your mind, drawn with your thoughts.  There’s a keenness of perception that is exhilarating in itself.  Let yourself have this freedom to roam mentally through the veil of light before your eyes. It has its own great worth as lived experience.  And then too, it also teaches you things that cumulatively can find their way into finished works.

page of dog drawings.jpg

To draw with great skill when you don’t yet have the level of skill you desire means that you sometimes develop your perception first. You put aside the schemes of the art classroom (centers of interest and whatnot) and let your mind simply roam while your hand records the path as best it can — as perhaps a blind contour, or better still as simply a brave drawing — one in which the mistakes are let to be what they are. It’s a leap of faith.  But recall we said that this ant can jump.

ants in still life

[Ants in a still life by Huysum. Photo credit here.]

Be often drawing.