Finding the Gesture

Work on a painting takes many twists and turns. In the beginning I think about the largest shapes, those passages that will determine the whole painting, its effect, its unity. As a painting progresses each thing gets blocked in, and the most generalized form of each part starts to become gradually more clear.

But as the painting becomes very advanced, especially with a large painting, the question arises as to what the textures and details should look like. The acuity or image resolution is a little different with a large canvas. You can see the paint as paint, and you want all that surface to hold some interest of its own.

To get ideas about the surface of the painting, I turned to Claude Monet. Looking through a book on the waterlily cycle, I decided to make a “scribble drawing” using colored pencils. I chose the pencils simply for convenience, but their distinct difference from paint also adds an interesting complication as I began examining Monet’s gestural marks in a detail of his painting of wisteria.

Drawing with the pencils, I gave myself the liberty to make the broadest, most intuitive and least controlled gestures imaginable. I simply looked at the picture and interpreted it very freely. As you can see I changed the color — the color changes conform more to my own painting, the one that is the subject of my inquiries.

A close up of the drawing reveals how scratchy and random the lines are. They have their own sort of material beauty, similar in kind to Monet’s patches of color, but unique to the colored pencil. (Each medium has its own peculiar beauty.)

The scribble drawings (there are others besides the one featured) are a bit distant from the painting in appearance, but they are good practice for thinking about gesture. Though they look different, the gesture of arm, hand and idea are similar to what goes on in the painting. And it’s good to remember that one is not just drawing on the page, but drawing also in the mind.

The images that we make in our memories come back to assist us later on when we paint.

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