a center of interest

sea shellWhat is the most transformative thing you can do?

I am running around in circles.  I love clutter in the still life. The chaos of things that pour off the edge of the picture, the uncertainty about where the object will be cropped, the intricacy of the spaces between things, the patterns of a cloth, the light that changes.

But I need a more sure path to the goals I have about this house.  The house is the tool that allows me to begin the new paintings. The new ones …

The house is the motif, but I need the house to be orderly and spacious and as empty as possible.  The paintings can be cluttered.  The house needs to be Spartan.

The conch lives in an orderly house.  The seashell is a Spartan house.

that’s dark back there

seashells on the shelf

House cleaning changes have exposed these still life items once again, which were formerly behind a humongous, large board that held a large drawing.  Now that I can see them again, I want to draw them again.  I had begun by merely storing them, but discovered they make a nice still life in that arrangement — until the clutter had hidden them, buried beneath the layers of good intentions, as sealed away as a mummy in King Tut’s tomb.

I feel like an archaeologist.  House keeping does that to you when you have neglected it for too long.

There’s a kind of drawing where you just talk to yourself.  People learning to draw get hemmed in, sometimes, in believing that the drawing has to represent the whole whatever-it-is.  But I always sought my advice from the old masters and in their drawings, the old masters often studied certain qualities of a scene while ignoring others. Drawing was frequently used as a tool rather than as an end in itself.  It’s purpose was to gather visual information for paintings.  Some drawings are very fragmentary.

And I seek to do that here. Except this drawing is more fundamental still. I haven’t seen the still life in a while. I look at it and feel rushed. It’s as though I need to draw all of it quickly.  So I tell myself what shapes things are (or seem to be).  I realize that the first contours get the proportions wrong, I draw over top them.  I realize that the sizes of the shells don’t match up relative to each other.  More drawing over. I look at the light/dark pattern — “how can I simplify it?”

I tell myself, “it’s dark back there.”  Do I have to describe in minute detail how dark exactly?  Of course not.

seashells on shelf photo
A scene impossible to photograph in the available light, and one’s eyes see much more light dark variety in the objects and their background  — the photo exaggerates the differences in tonality.

 

It’s just one drawing.  It’s a mood as much as a drawing.  I feel in such a rush.  Been reading a book on mindfulness too.  So, okay, I am noticing that I feel in a rush.  So I hurried.  Maybe the shells will move.  Maybe the big drawing will jump back in front of the still life and obscure it again.  I have so many things to do. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

Whatever.  If life seems to rush you along, as an artist, then just draw faster. Not always, not everyday, but simply now that you feel rushed.  It gets you to draw fast — which is a useful tool also.  Draw fast before everything changes!

Sometimes the voice says “this is in front of that.”  “The pointy end of the shell sticks out about this far.”  “It lines up with the other shell’s bottom edge, here.”  Listening to myself think, I slow down a little.

Later you can draw slowly.  Once you calm down.

draw your dog

dog drawing ap 30

The drawing catches little of the actual situation.  Lucy lies inside her kennel where it is dark. She lies on a black mat which makes the darkness more amorphous.  The edge of her dark muzzle against the black mat is difficult to discern.  Meanwhile, I draw upon a white sheet of paper.  It could hardly be less amenable to the subject matter.  And I use a blue ball point pen (wonderful tool) which if used to create dark passages requires many scribbles, and I am feeling fundamentally lazy today.  This is abstraction and mindfulness.  There’s a species of drawing possible — that seeks out the keenest realism — that nevertheless often fails to resemble its subject.  Here it is.  I recommend it highly.

dog drawing 2 ap 30

I began again.  The first drawing — sequence of heads — lacked room to put in her ears.  Below her muzzle I played around with zigzag lines that pretend to treat some of the form of the mat she lies on — that black mat which fuses the edges of her nose into indistinct lineless contour, soft dark on dark.

dog drawing 3 ap 30

Even in the deepest darks, one has a sense of the contours of a thing.  I pretended that the tonality wasn’t even there.  I just made lines around forms of the dog’s head.  I followed curves, depressions, convexities, concavities, searched out the end of the nose, the flap of the lip, the edges of the ears, and so on.  If you don’t know where a thing goes (this works temporarily for house cleaning too, so take note), just put it somewhere.  You’ll figure it out later.   Perfection is the enemy of the good.  A useful catch phrase.  Remember it.

Then Lucy turned over!  A very relaxed dog!  I found myself looking at a beautiful pose:  the dog head upside down, underside of the chin, lovely honey colored spots on a white patch of an otherwise brown dog.  I started drawing (not shown).  Thirty seconds into it, she resumed the first pose again. Ah!  Gone so fast.  I decided to draw it — such as I might — from memory based on the not illustrated fast contour.  The memory drawing is below — not sure if it’s at all legible.  Doesn’t matter.

dog drawing 4 ap 30

Sometimes you draw just to draw.  Your hand describing the forms in concert with your active looking begins teaching you to understand the forms.  It’s a relaxing and useful thing to do.  It stills your mind.  It hones your focus.  Look at one thing at a time and react using the line as a form of biofeedback.  It’s a form of meditation.

The notation “figure this out” visible at the top of the first drawing has nothing to do with the drawing.  It’s the last words of notes I wrote myself regarding another topic — but it seemed like a good subtitle for the post so I let it remain.

“Figure this out.”  Another good motto to tell yourself whenever you are looking at something and drawing.  Figure it out.  Wander around inside the visual idea. Get your bearings.  Record what information you can.  Leave the rest to float in airy thought until another day.

Answering the question “why”

bonnard
drawing of a basket by Pierre Bonnard

As I said already, the path to a clean the house is not a straight line.  I take detours. Reading Marie Kondo’s book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” gives me ideas for how to clean my house and unclutter my mind. Once I am living inside that less cluttered mind, there’s the question of what to do. I am also reading a book on mindfulness.  I found it at the end of the aisle at Barnes and Noble.  It’s a “bargain book.”  Costs under eight dollars.  Thus even as I am moving other books out, I acquire new books.  Such is life.

This book on mindfulness asks me at the beginning of the third chapter (after I have tasted a raisin) why I am reading the book.  It’s kind of a talking book.  It asks questions and you’re supposed to answer them.

I bought the book because I read books on psychology.  Mindfulness is a topic that interests me.  But why now?  It was at the end of the aisle where it caught my attention.  And it cost less than eight dollars.  Seriously.  That was the reason.  Okay.  But why did I not notice the myriad other books on the ends of aisles?  Barnes and Noble stores have many aisles.

Psychological topics interest me. I buy the book to learn how to talk about mindfulness, but mindfulness itself is familiar territory. Of course, one can always learn new lessons from familiar things.  When I was a youth we called it “being lazy.”  In my family’s world sometimes you disparaged something that in fact you really believed you need — so don’t be mislead by the description. No one wanted to be always working and lack time simply to live.

The book asks me questions, I can ask questions too.  Why a basket?  Why Bonnard’s basket to illustrate this post? You don’t have to answer, though, not unless you want to.

WHAT?  What kind of question is that?  Why did I post a basket or why did Bonnard draw one?  Either question will do.  Or some other.  I’m not particular. But the topic is basket. My subconscious chose it.  If you have a problem with that, take it up with my subconscious.  Not my area …

An artist draws this and not that.  The subconscious is always posing suggestions — “draw this.”  And the suggestions raise questions, “why this?”  And the questions are often difficult to answer.  Sometimes the answer I offer myself is “why not?”  But that reply is not an answer, it’s an evasion.  It can be taxing to answer questions. Laziness (in the way my family understood it) is a way of getting answers by evading the questions in the first place.  You just let your mind wander around.  Not that we were even self-conscious enough to notice we were being mindful.

As for the book I read its name is, aptly, “Mindfulness: a practical guide” by Tessa Watt.  Someday — perhaps even soon — I’m going to begin writing a book called “Drawing: an impractical guide.”  But that’s a matter to take up in future posts.

dreaming the rooms of a house

studio view 2 big tidy

Of the pictures I posted of my studio, I find that I love this one the most.  So I come back to it.  While I am reorganizing the house, I sometimes feel overwhelmed.  There’s much work to do — in all the rooms, and I have so many chores indoors and outdoors.  It’s spring.  Plants outdoors are growing like mad. Of course I’d like to be focused exclusively on drawing and painting.

I am often wishing my work were done, but wishing doesn’t walk the dog.  However wishing is not without effect.  I have gone through various phases of wishing, and I have imagined the rooms being completed each a certain way.  The sensation of entering each imagined room has a poignancy that real action lacks.  I walk into dream rooms. The visual thoughts associated with the dream rooms give me ideas for actual things.  But an imaginary completed room takes different forms inside different moments of wishfulness. It’s never just one way.  The actual room will at last have furniture arranged in one pattern and not another.  The dream rooms are more flexible.

I want to see the finished product, but the episodes of imagining the task one way verses another are fairly interesting.  I pause to consider them.

The whole house has become the motif and I arrange it like a still life table.

I change my mind periodically. I am wondering what do I want? And when will it be complete?

The picture above has something in it that I love.  I strive to tease out that something. Just looking at the picture brings a glad feeling I cannot quite describe.  Something about the light, the colors. I see freedom of motion in it.  A room is not just a room, it’s a puzzle.  It’s a message in code.  It’s telling me something about directions I might take.  I’m deciphering it.

Indeed, I may get the project finished faster than I think but decoding and reading the message may take much longer.  Deciphering is a very complex task.