around the pond again

Going through my drawing stash I found

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another pond. It was among a group of drawings that I started and didn’t finish.  I’m taking it up again and here it is in medias res — not as much at the beginning, but not complete either.

Something about the loopy shapes of distant trees and foliage fascinates me.  They are subjects I go after again and again. I want to have the sense of their shapes being very clear, very distinct, as though you could reach out to them and grasp them, which of course you cannot do in either a drawing or with distant trees — but it’s an imaginative gesture.

I also like the scribble as a way of indicating the randomness of nature. The scribble of thought and hand parallels Nature’s scribble of plants growing willy nilly here and there. Things are in front of other things, leaves of grass, fonds of plant, wave and meet your eye as an infinitude of layers. I like to think of the piling up of layers of pigment as a simulacrum of these things.  Chemicals imitating molecules.

Or something.

first things

But what approach to teaching is most likely

101_8725 (2)to help people learn to draw accurately?  I’m thinking that I should adopt some of the strategies that I know contribute to realism. These are truly things that I sensed myself from looking at paintings. I didn’t learn theses ideas in a class or from a book, though I sometimes encountered similar ideas in those places too — which is perfectly logical since true ideas will occur to independent observers simply because they are true.

Think about that next time you’re trying to figure something out.  You’ve got your own logic machine sitting there on top of your neck.

There were always things that I did — for instance I knew that you have to sort out the large forms first. I put local color down as simplicity first (if it looks like green, use green, then adjust).  I knew that some things can be accessed as contour and some things are only with great difficulty understood through line. I find that tonality and masses are the easiest way to quickly summarize a scene.

I want to reconsider these ideas. I’d like the force of the ideas to be able to impress itself upon me anew — as though I were noticing something for the first time. For it’s not obvious that the large forms are anything specific.  Actually the large form is an idea within an idea. Yes, the large form is the thing to be sorted out first because the large form will take up most of the page (or the canvas), but of what does “the large form” consist? That’s the other reason why it comes first, because one is figuring out what “it” is. That choice can be pliable, can be different things visually at different times. Perceptually it’s “what you notice now.”  Deciding that “this” is the large form verses “that” makes all the difference in the world as to how the painting will proceed.

Things in a painting are not identical to things in life. Things in a painting are what we see. They are percepts.

A painting is not identical to its subject matter.  A painting is an idea about the subject matter, a way of thinking about it, seeing it. Emotions might be present also, but they aren’t part of “the painting” until they have a shape.  So that shape is the thing. Any subject might be conceptualized many different ways. The same motif can be rethought many times. That’s why I’ve been able to repaint the same things again and again and have them turn out differently over successive efforts.

It goes back to the original meaning of abstraction in art. It’s difficult to illustrate “the big idea” at the start of any picture. The illustration above is random, from the grab bag of things.

The notion about “mistakes” — whenever art teachers are relentlessly concerned with avoiding mistakes — alleging that the differences between what you want and what you got occur because you didn’t get it right — they imply that you should know what you want before you see it. (Obviously it’s often true that a mistake is a mistake.) But invention isn’t about “getting it right.” Not in that sense. It’s about making an image that has — when all is said and done — certain qualities that hold it together and make it into something that’s like a world unto itself.

Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.  I think that’s a good analogy for art (minus the slapstick and the potential for injury).  One is looking for a fine mess and a way of getting into it.

recasting the past

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I would chide myself for not finishing things except that there’s also this upside to procrastination: I look through my stacks of drawings and rediscover them, take them up again, and complete them from the vantage point of a different place in time.  I found this drawing in a stack.  It’s 22 x 16.5 inches.  This picture depicts the same motif as one that I posted a few days ago. Everything’s a bit different in this one. Lines shake a little more. A color might be punched up a bit more. Also the paper color and texture are very different, and these differences affect everything else in the picture.

Oil pastel is a sensitive medium. You can do quite a lot of dragging color over previous colors and the combination of marks produces a dynamism.  It also allows colors to mix optically so you actually get different color effects than you would if you tried to mix the pigments into each other as you would with paint. You can see in the details that follow how textural oil pastel can be.

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I’m not using a “technique” when I do these marks. They are instead all decisions, responses to something that I’m seeing. I am drawing with the sticks and so the marks are drawing “ideas.”  For instance, in this detail there was a limb hanging out over the water and it separates from the background by its slightly brighter aspect.  I put down a light line, some marks for the leaves on the branch, and a dark line that marks the limb’s separation from the background.

It’s all abstracted and simplified in relation to the thing I’m looking at, but these are decisions.  They are specific, nonetheless. And a gazillion specific decisions adds up to lots of marking in the drawing.  And I find it really wonderful to think about the scene in these ways.  See this, put it there.  See something else, there it goes.

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It can make you feel very connected to the place. Here’s the same passage in a different orientation. I saw ripples in the water so I put down the ripples. I saw bits of lighter green so I just drag them across the darker green. The layers of pigment pile up in ways that imitate the density and confusion of light that comes from the scene.

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Up close the passages are very abstract.

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If when observing parts of the picture using a camera, they seem to be well composed, then it suggests that the process of thought going into the small elements of the picture are mimicking the compositional choices you make when you work on the whole.  The relationship between whole and part ought to be in harmony.  Any one of these details ought to seem like it’s the natural child of the parent image.

I like this version better than the one I posted a few days ago.  So, learning from the experience working on this one, I’ll return to the slightly larger format and carry it further some more too.

On the whole, I’m quite content that I never finished these when I first began them. Finishing them now is working out really well. I don’t know how exactly to use time in painting, but when events conspire toward a good outcome — I’m glad for it.