"To paint is to portray upon a flat surface any visible object whatsoever." That's Albrecht Durer's definition of art, and I try to make it mine as well. The whole world is rich and fascinating. I draw things in order to better understand them. It's a celebration of life. But the celebration is incomplete until it finds its audience. Maybe you are part of this audience I'm trying to reach.
My American Dream is to paint big pictures. As much as I’m able, I already do so. But I am also looking for the setting for the pictures — for the adventurous collector who wants a big koi pond for the indoors. These are not fish that you have to feed. These are fish that feed you — that feed your mind with dreams.
What sort of dreams, you ask? Dreams of swimming, dreams of water, dreams of the broad sky seen from under the water, dreams of the watery depths of feeling and imagination.
From drawing into painting, from many different sorts of drawings into paintings. The range of possibility is mesmerizing. There are so many lines, so many images. That’s the dream, I suppose.
I steal furniture. Fortunately, it’s virtual furniture so the theft gets carted away in bytes. I find rooms such as the lovely, quirky room above. Into such rooms I put my artwork so that people can get a sense of how a painting looks on a wall.
Because I love color, I particularly enjoy finding bold and cleverly colorful rooms. Finding a room as colorful as this one is a real delight. Strangely, it’s a fairly unusual occurence. It seems like most room decoration uses whites or neutral colors. Are people afraid of using bright color? I dunno. You can see how cheerful and welcoming this cozy room looks. I don’t know the identity of the designer.
The painting looks about the actual size relative to the couch. And here’s a view of the painting seen alone. Acrylic on canvas and available.
One of the ways I design koi images now is by combining little sketches in different, somewhat random arrangements to discover which overall pattern of fishes provides the most appealing composition. In these small drawings the goal is to get a large pattern established. Particulars of color, surface, anatomy or generalization, paint texture, etc. will all be sorted out later.
The finished painting might turn out to be quite large. So I spend time giving the drawing ideas a good stare to imagine how the imagery would look if expanded into a much larger format.
The fish placement isn’t really much different from putting fruits on a table to draw still life or to decide the relative positioning of anything that will create two dimensional movement across the picture plane.
We had a marvelous thunder storm last week. My town had a power failure around 6:30 pm. I drew in the twilight. I was using children’s crayons again, a most forgiving medium. I drew until I couldn’t see. Then I lit a candle and drew a bit more in that odd light. Here’s one drawing from inside the gloom. The photo doesn’t show what I saw, but reveals how the drawing looked when photographed in daylight.
The drawing is light. What I saw in the motif (copying from a painting) and on the page, those perceptions were both dark. I couldn’t tell what colors I was using. I couldn’t even read the words on the crayon label. I just picked up a crayon and drew. If I couldn’t see the line at all, I chose another.
It was a really fun way to spend the time. What else are you going to do when the lights go out? The power outage lasted until 8:38 pm. Observing my own mind’s responses was intriguing too. Drawing in the gloom was pleasant at first. After a while, I began to feel though as if it were a game. I was ready for the lights to be back on. That’s when I felt my keen dependence on modern technology. I really do love modern lighting! My mother grew up without it. Her childhood was lit by oil lamps. Strange to contemplate my nearness to that world.
Anyway, the lesson of the gloom was that your response to drawing can always grow in freedom. While I drew in low light, I drew without expectations since I could barely see what I was doing. When the lights returned, realizing how wonderful it felt to “just draw” I resolved that no matter how much acuity I enjoy that I will always aim to balance deliberation with letting go.
Every small thing has its name, English being a luxurious and commodious language. I am restarting my koi pond with some fry. I drew these fry using children’s crayons which, though impermanent, have a certain je ne sais quoi.
The fry are stock for the big pond. The big pond gets painted in acrylic paint. But first the fish need time to grow.
How do crayon kois grow? They get drawn and redrawn. Colors change. Heightening occurs. Highlights appear. Dark accents collect. The spaces between the koi take shape as well. The water asserts itself. Its form sharpens. The depths get deeper. The surface gains reflectivity. Air breezes into the picture. Light vibrates.
I worked mostly on one new painting this week. This painting of crepe myrtles measures 36 x 48 inches (the size of most the paintings I’ve been doing lately). It’s challenging to photograph. I know that I’ve got the warm/cool color harmonies marvelously balanced when I find that I cannot get all the colors to register accurately. So, it’s one for the collector and the in-person visitor. The predominant color is a rosy salmon color that’s very bright. The foreground is brilliant yellow. It has lots of blue highlights throughout, pale blue-violet clouds, and rich greens for the middle ground foliage.
I need to connect the far right crepe myrtle to the ground and maybe make a few subtle adjustments to this and that, here and there, and it will be complete.
I made some drawings this week too, but my pride and joy is this painting. It has lots of mark making in it.
I feel like Pere Bonnard has been hovering near by. If you like my painting, please share it with your friends. And thank you for reading and looking.
It’s been a busy, productive week. So busy that I didn’t do a “regular” post this week. I’m only here for my debrief. I’ve been working on the picture above, whimsically begun, based upon some little drawings and a dream. It measures about 38 x 40. Dimensions are not exact yet because it’s unstretched. The canvas is very rough and thus very well suited for dragged colors. It’s experimental. We’ll see what direction it takes.
I’ve been making little drawings to think about what the dream lake of shining light and clouds should look like.
Preexisting paintings have been coming along too. The suite of paintings of “hills,” all based the same composition photo collage, slowly evolve. Each one has a reference drawing that treats the motif a little differently.
The second hills picture is the one I’ve worked on the most this week. The painting measures 36 x 48 and the drawing (in neopastel below) measures about 22 x 30.
I began exploring a new motif. So far the images are not clicking. But it has been interesting to be back in R&D mode using neopastel. The two drawings are in the 18 x 24ish range, below.
Some of the color difference in the drawings comes from the radically different paper colors. The one above is drawn on a fairly dark maroon colored paper. The one below, on the contrary, is drawn on bright cream.
Maybe it was using neopastel again that got me thinking even more about dry pastel again. They can be really impractical in my small studio. But I have wanted to use them so much. I decided to just do it. Had to rearrange things a little bit, but that reorganization was more easily accomplished than I had expected. So I have done one small pastel (12 x 18) and started a second one. Below.
These pastels are made on sanded paper (UArt 500 grade) and I love the surface. What a delight it is to work in this medium. And the colors have a marvelous intensity.
I’ve decided to make dry pastel a staple. Since I’m doing paintings from drawings now, it would be simply crazy to eliminate a medium that I adore. So I have figured out a way to control the dusty pigment. I think another version of the “hills” theme would work nicely in pastel. I fished out a larger sheet of UArt 500 grade. Making this next pastel is near the top of the “To Do” list.
I took these photos. That’s a significant factor in one’s time management. Also took some photos that are not included at this post. It was a good photography session. Beautiful light outside.
A squirrel visited the window sill. Should have grabbed the camera, but don’t even think about such things. For some experiences words seem like the proper medium. The squirrel and I had something like a little conversation while he sat on my window sill. He was certainly aware of me and somewhat curious too.
Since the last debrief I also worked some on the two paintings below. Sometimes hopping from picture to picture is the way to get things done. Sometimes you have to be a bee.
The first measures 36 x 48 and the mountain below measures 30 x 40. The goal for the second painting is to bring it closer to its reference drawing. So I reworked it to make it less painterly and more linear. I think there’s more in that direction I would still like to do.
I got a lot done. I’m calling this week a great success! If you have enjoyed hearing me talk to myself in my Friday review, please share the post with your friends. Or feel free to leave a comment. And thank you for reading and sharing my art adventure.
I began two new paintings of the hills motif since the last debrief. The image above shows the second canvas in block-in, and a third version that’s underway is the most generalized of the group. More photos to come once the rain stops. Three neopastel drawings measuring about 23 x 29 provide the motif in each case. I liked the drawings enough to make each one the basis for a painting. These additional paintings switch the schedule around a bit. So the Hill & Shrubs canvas is still only in the first stage, and I began reworking the Mountain but am not finished with it.
I’ve been wondering what motifs to use in the next suite of drawings. Have been looking at Monet late works in search of ideas. Yesterday’s whimsical post on the UFO topic reminded me of Chang Dai-chien’s mountains, which I hadn’t thought about in years. So last night inspired by the memory, I began fooling around using the computer art program and created a few image ideas.
I have to do a long session of drawing before I can figure out an actual motif that I could use to create variations. Experimenting with images on the computer prompts ideas.
This morning I woke thinking about how easy it would be to apply the lighter yellow-white to the passage where the hill meets the sky (in the current painting). Doing all the obvious, easy things, step by step is how you move each project along. Eventually even the things that seemed hard will reveal their easy aspect. One decision moves you in the direction of other decisions, some of which will seem obvious and inevitable as the ideas congeal.
A documentary I was watching about Bonnard featured projections of his notebook drawings onto the wall of his studio.
I see the idea I’m looking for inside parts of things, as in the lower portion of the picture I already posted.
The Oriental spaciousness that Monet admired is there, most apparent when you crop the design into a scroll format. There’s another element that I find I want, but not sure how to characterize it in words as yet.
Large ribbed cliffside, growth of trees and shrubs at the bottom, suggestion of caves that St Jerome would have found congenial. Colors could change. A sort of acid, neon, copper, Flemish green in this version. Just thoughts now. Won’t matter until they become drawings. From drawings to painting.
Reminds me of sitting on the floor doing the large two part koi drawing. Sitting on the floor influenced the image considerably. It was not simply the only way I could manage the large sheets (at that particular time). It affected how the drawing proceeded because of the limits it imposed on what you could see while drawing.
I watch the Behavior Panel on Youtube each time they have a new episode. Today I watched their analysis of the body language of several government officials who address the question of UFOs. Because of my current preoccupations, however, this time upon seeing a now famous Navy footage of an unexplained flying object, the feature that caught my attention is not the UFO but the amazing structure of the cloud canopy. I realized how much it resembles certain Chinese ways of portraying mountains, and as some of you know I am currently in full mountain mode myself with my painting.
The UFO is nice too, but isn’t that cloud canopy interesting? When you go to the footage, you also notice something that Chase Hughes of the Behavior Panel explains in passing, that the figure-ground contrast changes on the infrared video depending upon whether “black is hot or white is hot.” So, in certain passages the tops of the clouds are dark, and that produces an unexpected effect.
I was primed to think about the cloud canopy as mountainous by my current artistic preoccupations. I’ve been looking for new mountain subjects, and whenever I light upon some by happenstance, bells start sounding in my brain. Last night I was watching the old “Jewel in the Crown” series and was struck by the beautiful mountain scenes in that movie, as here, in this cropped frame of one scene:
With the Indian mountain range already firmly planted in my subconscious, I was well primed to see mountains in the cloud canopy of Navy UFO film, so much so as really to bump the UFO mentally aside. UFO? What UFO? I’ve also been thinking a lot about how to invent mountain images and that’s a process that you find a lot in Asian art. So while the US intelligence agencies are perhaps wondering if UFO phenomena have anything to do with Chinese drone technology — me, I’m wondering about how Chinese artists past or present would have depicted those layers of clouds.
I make little doodles in the notebook thinking about the positioning of dark and light passages in a picture, striving to create authentic “randomness.” It’s a topic I ponder a lot these days because deliberation is my way. I try to be deliberate even in regard to accident.
If you’ve got some idiosyncratic ways that ideas pop into your head, leave a comment. And if you like this post, please share it with your friends, relatives and neighbors, with the intelligence agencies and with anyone else you know!
Thinking about using Fridays to debrief myself. I have been thinking a lot about productivity and how it’s managed. Usually what holds the artist back is not obstacles per se, but doubts. Sometimes situations can mess up your schedule, that would be my week this week — spending hours on the phone trying to straighten something out with no success at all so far. Before yesterday was over, though, I told myself I’m going to get some painting done. During the evening, as a consequence, I had one very productive session of painting. These days, at the very least I tell myself: “Just open the tube, put some paint on the canvas, pick a color, any color, put it anywhere.” That’s enough to prime the pump and get some real painting going.
In the past I have done small junk paintings, various “nothing is not right/anything goes” paintings for the purpose of learning. I’ve never done a big one. Always a bit more cautious about bigger things. One worries about wasting materials. But I know enough about subliminal painting now that I am much more able to throw caution to the wind. That’s actually part of the plan for the coming days: to create a few larger devil-may-care pictures.
Wu wei. Isn’t that what it is? That’s the Oriental name for a certain kind of not-trying, a complete nonchalance. The sprezzatura of Castiglione’s courtier. One wants to be a James Bond of art. Fearless, relaxed in danger, elegant. Yet to pull it off, you must be always finding ways to trick yourself. Turn off the hesitations, go directly into the perception. I am continually trying (and more often now succeeding) at just painting.
When I paint it should be similar to the way the dog wakes me in the morning. He’s polite but insistent. Sticks his nose in my face, looks me straight in the eye and informs me that it’s time to get up and feed the dog, please. I have to work on my drawing skills so I can portray that beguiling wild look. He has the most extraordinary keenness in his eye. And he makes sure we’re eyeball to eyeball. Insistent but polite.
Lately I’m making these small colored pencil drawings. No particular reason why colored pencil. Just a change from the oil pastel. Whenever my schedule permits I’m going to do some traditional pastel images, but it’s too complicated now. Just too much bother. The colored pencil drawings are fun. They’re small and manageable. Sometimes I do them while watching a program. They’re a great sort of automatic drawing. I don’t even have to pay attention very closely.
I’m developing a kind of musician’s fake book of images, tunes that I can revisit and use for improvisation. At some juncture I’d like to paint a large picture completely from memory and imagination. So that wouldn’t be so different in truth from what Diebenkorn did all the time. But we get to a destination by different routes. And it’s not as though I want to do that from now on forever — it’s just another thing to try. All my previous work habits still suit me just fine.
The drawings are already interpretations, usually from photographic sources, though not always. Drawing from a drawing or painting from a drawing creates an interpretation of an interpretation. It becomes imaginative drawing, making things up as you go along — or at least a path toward that direction.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the format as a Cartesian space, one where you could theoretically put any shape anywhere. You try “this spot” — what’s that look like when things are organized around “this.” What about if you change that first notation in the succeeding little drawing: I want to learn at some point how to do a painting from one of those little blue ball point pen scribbles that I enjoy making so much. Monet did a loose representation of one of the waterlilies in a notebook. Loose sinuous lines suspended across the page, the sparest silvery graphite traces.
I’m very eager to produce a lot of the largish landscapes, rather as quickly as I can. I want to see what effect the speed of production produces also. Sometimes if you work quickly enough, you don’t have time to think. That too is a way of tricking oneself into intuition. I also like the physicality of it: it’s like mowing the lawn or washing a big stack of dishes. You can look back afterwards and see the clear effect, the job accomplished.
The picture at the top is there to remind me of the destinations — pictures in rooms, rooms as mental and emotional spaces, moving through rooms of a house as though through passages in a dream. Quotidian topography. The shape of moods, times, and moments. Bonnard notebook drawings as rooms, thoughts about rooms. Your smallest notebook jottings can produce a grand effect. The singularity before the big bang. Never underestimate the little notebook jotting.
The disruptions of the week were unfortunate, but c’est la vie. The three pictures in the studio now are the focus. Retrieve that focus by deciding now what each one needs.
The hills motif is the most free for all. Complicate the color effect in whatever ways seem interesting in the moment. You can get the linear aspects from the source drawing or leave them out.
The hills, shrubs, trees & reflections picture can remain basic. Stick to the pristine version. The looser more drawn version can save for another time.
The mountain picture shifts back toward the drawing. Draw over the painting thus far to get the lines back using bits of both linear source drawings.
Start the California scene from the two small darker painted versions. Also a good motif for the next sequence of colored pencil/Miss Marple drawings. (Or whatever you’re watching next.) Getting the image blocked in will make up for the vast waste of time encountered from this week’s mindless bureaucratic distractions.
Finish the three canvases by next Friday. God willing.
If you’re reading this and you’re not me, I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing me talk to myself. Do wish me luck getting the three canvases completed by Friday for this week has been in some ways a productivity disaster — except for the marvelous background sound of red-eyed cicada song. Certainly the bugs have done their utmost to serve as artistic muses.