I have some plans for a largish painting that will feature an abundant amount of red. I think about it often. The studio is set up for other things at present, so I have to finish those first. But for my “warm ups” I have begun doing small pictures that are very red.
It’s fun. It’s thrilling — to have a few bits of the much longed for experience. I love playing around with colors.
The painting at the top measures 9 x 12 inches. The lower on is 8 x 10. Both are painted with acrylics.
Autumn is arriving — has arrived. The effects of the changing light appear in the landscape bit by bit as the seasons change. I try to observe that change which is continual. Looking at the outdoors one looks at Nature’s clock and the effects are similarly clock-slow. The length of days is gradually shorter. The angle of light is more pronounced. The trees and plants respond and begin to let go of their summer fullness.
Nevertheless, for landscape drawing, incidental change occurs rapidly. Light changes quickly and getting the features that you see means drawing quickly — which I enjoy. I set up outdoors and make fast drawings of the little red house.
I throw myself into it. It is not so much drawing in the sense of creating an image as it is noticing lines, shapes, colors, positions and putting them down as fast as one can think. The image arrives later by itself. I play a game that’s like tennis with the scene in front of me. It throws light at me and I bat at the sensation. The percepts keep coming and I keep swinging — until some moment when the whole effect has obviously changed. Then the game is over. Possibly that’s it — or else you set up for another round.
In the past I have used oil pastel often as a sketching medium, as a way of trying out ideas before committing myself to painting. But lately, particularly now that I’m using acrylic paint, I have been going straight to the painting to experiment with ideas directly there. Consequently I’m using oil pastels much less.
They’re a beautiful medium so I don’t want to neglect them entirely. I am enjoying the directness of just painting though. I find that I can blast away more with paint.
The drawing above measures 18 x 24.
I decided to embark upon a more visceral sort of painting so sometimes I take a small canvas and just paint. I thought it would be fun simply to respond to what I see in as unmediated a fashion as I can manage.
So here’s one small painting made with that “get ready, get set, go!” spirit. It measures 8 inches square.
Still life is a contemplative kind of painting. When you think about it, what does a still life offer? It’s simply a set of objects to gaze upon. Sometimes the objects may have clear symbolic meanings, but often — perhaps most of the time — the objects are just themselves. They might not even be fully themselves, depending upon how they’ve been painted. In the still lifes of my hero Matisse, sometimes the objects are caricatures of themselves, sometimes they are almost cartoon versions of things — bounded by heavy contour lines, generalized into broad colors.
To place overmuch attention to the acquisition of things is called “materialism,” in our culture (which has some uneasy feelings about its various economic successes). And yet we live in a world of objects, and we build our human nests (after a fashion) and fill them with things we think we need or that we cherish. And so still life painting puts the focus squarely upon the things. It offers up the quiet drama of things — or possibly a vision of sentimental attachments — or reflections of private life.
The paper horse was something I rediscovered while cleaning the attic, a relic of my daughter’s childhood when we routinely made things from paper. I brought it down and it almost instantly landed on the still life table. All the objects have some bit of sentimental energy in them (for me, possibly visible to the viewer too). But the objects on the table also seem to insist upon their abstract presence. They are simply and frankly things. Bound to the table by gravity, visible by the light they reflect, they simply are. So they hang there in space like planets revolving around a star or like the particles that physicists tell us make up the physical cosmos.
They have an abstract beingness. They just are. They are stuff. And what do artists do? They look at stuff and copy it into pictures.
Paper Horse measures 48 x 36 inches, is painted in acrylic paint on canvas.
I drew and redrew the same image of flowers from a photograph. None of them quite looked like the flowers. But the image was mesmerizing and the chaos drawings that arose were … something … I don’t know what they were.
This is one of them above.
Now, oddly enough, it’s also one of many studies for a Flower Wall painting I made that was exhibited this summer.
The passage down at the very bottom of the painting, to the left of the butterfly, is how it appeared in the painting itself. I made lots of drawings of the image. Not sure how many. No doubt — some time or other — I’ll make others — or will draw something like it.
Here’s how Flower Wall looked in the exhibit. It measures 48 x 48 inches.
And the theme of the butterfly crossed into the large Butterfly Emblem. Not planned. It’s just the way of butterflies — they flit from one place to another.
Same song, different verse. They are the same orange and lemon sitting on the same cloth, in the same relationships, portrayed a little differently from one painting to another.
The variations offer endless possibility.
I love painting the same things in slightly different ways. It’s like jazz. You learn the tune and then you discover something inside it that’s new each time.
Turn the pear upright and it’s shaped like a pitcher.
I’m probably not alone in finding the shape appealing — merely as a shape. Perhaps it’s the way it relates to gravity. Pears and pitchers offer subliminal reminders of gravity. Weighty things get pulled down toward the earth’s surface.
Different objects manifest the same effects, participate in the same beauty.
Shadows pull us down to earth too. Shadows are wonderful.
I found the Aque di Rose vase at the thrift store on August 12th. And since then I’ve painted it three times. Many more plans for it. It’s an amazing vase — the first paintings just scratch the surface. Sometimes life brings you exactly what you want — that something you didn’t even know you wanted! But there it is.
Each of us is different and the things that appeal to our sensibilities are different. For me, part of the enterprise of painting is finding those touchstones. The subjects of painting do matter to me. I don’t always know what they are or “should” be — for me, I mean — but when they come into my path, there’s this marvelous sense of recognition! It was you all along!
I never even knew this thing existed — and yet it’s as though I was looking for it. Isn’t that wonderful?
Here’s the earliest version, the one I painted soon after getting the vase home. The painting above measures 28 x 22 inches, and the one below is 18 x 14 inches. (A third painting is still under wraps ….)
Versatile medium that it is, acrylic paint can be used on virtually any surface to which it adheres. So all kinds of paper work wonderfully. This study of the fruit bowl is painted (13.5 x 12 inches) on a stiff sheet of smooth watercolor paper. I made the painting to study one detail of the still life table for a painting in progress.
It ended up being a form of “painting therapy,” a way of preventing me from messing up a painting that’s far along in the works via some frustration I was feeling. Better to take the frustration out on a separate drawing — get the painting distress out of the system harmlessly — all while learning more about the motif and making another small painting. Take that, bowl of fruit! You won’t vex me!
Be your own art psychotherapist — confront the art problems on scraps of paper that lie about. Work it out and learn new stuff. What’s not to like ….