the fish that foretell

two fishIf the past is prologue, if past behaviors predict future ones, what shall we say about choices we make?  Certainly some of a person’s personality is like a plot of land.  Put there by an invisible nature, shaped by what kinds of weather and forces, against what winds and tides, unknown and unstudied until we begin to question ourselves. I don’t wish to sound narcissistic.  I simply allude to the fact that we can wonder about what we do and why we do it.  The mind is a place.  Dreams are the thoughts that roamed when someone was not even aware of having motives.

Why’d I do that?  I recall the day. My father, then living, full of vigor, was outdoors too, his trestles set in the yard under the boughs of the maple trees, ready for mechanic work. In my mind I see him now, him ever curious, turning to watch me as I began, his face shaded by the brim of a straw hat he always wore.  I had bought two fish at the grocery store — a unique extravagance.  I had bought them only so that I might draw them.

Why fish?

I have made so many pictures since around the year 2000 of koi that they have become a sub-category in my art.  Did these two fish predicate the koi?  I find it intriguing to reflect back on all kinds of other paintings or drawings I’ve done of fish.  Of course I loved Winslow Homer. He nudged me in fishy direction.

Winslow Homer, watercolor


Now I seem to have a real fetish going.  I made my drawing a very long time ago, long before I knew that fish would be a staple of my artistic diet.  I can remember vividly that I purchased the fish from the Giant Food grocery store. I unwrapped them from the stiff white butcher paper, and set them up outside in the open air.  I had colored a sheet of drawing paper by hand in advance using ground up pastel mixed with diluted Elmer’s glue which I brushed over the surface and let to dry.  I made the drawing using pencil, Chinese sumi ink and touches of watercolor.

Needless to say that while they were fresh for drawing; after the session, they were not so fresh for eating.  They are immortalized here.  Does it seem like they’re looking at you?  It sure seemed like they were looking at me, somewhat accusingly at that.

Did two fish foretell these guys below?

So what are you doing right now that predicts tomorrow?

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more fish & frog

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Yesterday evening I worked more on the oil study for my painting in the works.  Earlier versions of this oil study and of a watercolor of the same motif appear in earlier posts. The painting is 9 x 12 on Arches oil paper.

The idea for the particular colors in the cloth came from the watercolor version I did earlier. I liked the colors there and decided to use them here as well.

Now I need to transfer these ideas to the mysterious big painting in the works.

Green fish vase & frog tea pot

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After working on a watercolor version of the two objects, I decided to do some more painting on a little oil study I made on paper. I made dramatic changes to the fish vase, and sometime soon I’ll have to work on the frog tea pot also.

All these recent pictures are studies for a painting — a large still life — that’s in the works.

Here’s a detail of the fish’s face and a similar passage from today’s watercolor.

watercolor updated


I worked some more on today’s “morning coffee drawing. While the features are a little lopsided, the frog and flowers appear on the frog tea pot’s surfaces.  And the fish vase gets darker. And I begin thinking about the pattern on the cloth a little.  I posted an earlier version of the drawing already — the “morning coffee part.”  Coffee was long over as I continued working on this watercolor into the afternoon.

I’m getting well acquainted with my still life objects.


I like looking at the accidental features of the watercolor marks in details such as these. And they suggest ideas for ways of portraying these objects in the large oil painting for which this watercolor is a study.


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I think I might switch now to the oil study I began for the painting, and work more on the fish vase and frog tea pot in it — let some of the watercolor ideas spill into the oil study. This is how I left the oil study.  Clearly there’s plenty more things that I can do with it.

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I like switching back and forth between media, letting each one suggest things peculiar to its material character.



coming soon the lion’s head

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I made a first drawing of the lion’s head. It’s a decoration on a vase in the picture. And the lion’s head has deep, echoing meanings for me.  I dreamt about a path guarded by lion statues once, eons ago.  And of course everyone’s favorite artist Johannes Vermeer has lion’s head finials in two of his paintings.

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The lion vase is one feature of the painting that I’m joyfully anticipating.  I will think my way through it many times, in various drawings. I merely whet my appetite here.

Below are some of Vermeer’s lions heads.

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right side finial, Girl with the Red Hat


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left side finial, Girl with the Red Hat


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finial in Girl Holding a Flute

morning coffee drawing

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Today’s morning coffee drawing is a watercolor.  I don’t know whether I’ll work on it more today or not. I drank all the coffee, and I need to begin today’s session with the big painting for which this is another practice.

Before I began the watercolor, I drew the two things a little in a notebook where many of the ideas for the painting develop.

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I am redrawing the same features again and again.  It’s like music that I’m striving to learn.  The objects are the music.

In a careless drawing like the one above, you can really think aloud.  The contour of the green fish vase goes right through the frog tea pot.  And the tea pot’s spout was originally about a half inch to the left.  I simply put the lines down where they seem to go.  This drawing records random thoughts about lines and their positions and about passages of light and dark, though the tones don’t conform to the scene overall — that would mean too much drawing.  I’d run out of ink.  My wrist would be killing me!

I got the frog’s face in one of these studies.  I think this is the first time the frog’s face has materialized so clearly.  Hopefully everything will appear at last — in the painting for which these are the rehearsals.

two bottles

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I’m focused on one painting for a while, one that I’m not ready to picture here. It’s a largish still life.  I make small practice paintings concerning parts of it.  The picture of two bottles on a varicolored cloth is one such example.  I brushed this together quickly and so far it provides just a kind of rehearsal for the forms. But I plan also to use some of these studies to test out color and drawing ideas before I try them in the actual painting.  That way if something clearly isn’t effective, I’ll know.  Hence more stuff needs to be added to this little pochade for its experiment to be complete.

I like the breezy, sketched appearance of this little study.  But when it dries I will begin indicating the pattern on the cloth.  During that phase, who knows but I might completely wreak this picture.  Or not.   I’ll find out.  In any case it’s practice so it’s role is to provide me with information.

It’s a bunch of fun to paint. A lark.  I love little things like this. It’s 9 x 12 on Arches oil paper.