I saw an ant

oil pastel of fir garden whole image wip

On the weekend past I took a long walk.  It was mild when we started out, but it got hot quickly as the sun rose higher.  Finally we had to rest under some trees to catch our breath in the heat.  I looked in the leaves of grass around me while I rested.  I saw a humongous ant, one of those big monster-like ants, a muscle ant.  It was gradually heading in my direction patiently traveling on flattened leaves under the grass canopy.

As ants are wont to do it took a meandering path.  I was prepared at any moment to get out of its way as it came closer to me.  But with much watching it never did get close enough for me to need to move.  It seemed as though it would, but then for some cause it turned back upon its path and went back toward the direction from which it had first appeared.

I think I am somewhat ant-like in my travels with my art.  I have several projects going at once.  I try to be more focused but it never works.  Instead I juggle many things.  It is part of my ant-nature.  That’s just the way it is.  Thus I pulled out this drawing above, something I found in the pile, only a sketch when I found it, and began reworking it.  It’s a study for a painting.  I need to resume that painting too.  I have a pile of things to finish.

I travel a meandering path, but somehow things get done.


the painting today

big painting on july 31 in morning (2)

Not really this blue, but I cannot ever get the color correct.  Mentally average all the various photos in your mind and maybe that will be somewhat like the actual canvas …

Anyway, I am taking pictures of the painting at various junctures just to remind myself how it has proceeded.  I am SO GLAD that I have been keeping a chronicle of this painting (bloggers, cherish your blogs)  because it helps me put many things into perspective: so for instance, it’s nice knowing that I began work sometime in May.  This being the last day of July — and of course I took a break from the canvas while sorting out various ideas through drawings — I’d say that’s not bad for time management.  I give myself a “gold star”!

Bonnard’s painting has a lattice design along the two far edges and I have indicated something like that on this canvas.  I’m not really sure how this will go because his painting includes various things omitted from mine — most notably a spectral Marthe.  Thus if I have a lattice pattern, it will be even less clear what it references than in Bonnard’s original.  Perhaps it’s a design in wall paper?  Anyway, I LOVE lattice patterns and have used them often in my art.  I probably get the enthusiasm for lattices from Bonnard’s art (where they are everywhere — even in the foliage).  So, I’m all for including it, but I have to figure out the how and why of it a bit more.

He also has patterns in the very topmost part of those edge sections, and I haven’t quite figured out what I’ll do yet.  Even something like the stripes in the cloth is not straight forward.  Oh, how I wish I could see his actual painting again!  (It’s been 20 years.)  Color changes all along the path of each stripe are possible things to fiddle around with so revisiting even just that one feature will be exciting.  And changes to one element affect the everything else.

Frog teapot and the blue jay figurine need to be made really present.  Ditto for the other objects.  Lots of painting ahead.  The whole scene visible through the window is as yet undetermined.  But oh how I enjoy this….


thoughts unfolding

peonies opening better (2)

The peonies are the latest among the grocery store flowers.  They started opening last night. I don’t have specific plans for them so I will either paint or draw them later just to have some flower images for future use.

I have been contemplating the next stage of the Big Painting, the otherwise nameless painting of the moment. I continue making studies of individual objects or objects in groups as I sort out the placement of the things that will sit on the table.  The questions are visual for the moment — what shapes, what relationships between objects, how their placement will affect the rest of the painting, etc.

But I am also wondering what it all means.  That’s a sticky question and bothers me a little bit.  I chose things for their appearances because I like the way they look.  Contemplating their appearance is very appealing — shapes, color relationships, drawing.  The hope is that the spectator will find them equally intriguing — or will find their portrayal intriguing.  Portrayal and existence are different things.

Do they mean something?  My sense is that perhaps they do.  I say that because I tend to think everything means something.  I used to major in English in college.  I call it “English major syndrome” — the oppressive notion that everything means something.

But what if everything does mean something? Then what?  Am I supposed to know the meaning of a blue jay figurine, a dark blue compotier with lemons, two oranges, a large bouquet of flowers, a smaller bouquet of flowers, two teapots (but no teacups?), a seashell ….?  If the objects introduce into the painting a bird and a couple frogs — indirectly — what is the consequence?  Then there are the flowers in the vase verses the flowers on the vase.  And the table sits in front of a window with a view of some trees whose antecedents were growing by a gorge at Glen Echo.  Does the “echo” of Glen Echo enter in?  Particularly since the appearance of the trees tells nothing of consequence about their actual location on the planet. Or did the echo sneak in somehow?

Of course the whole thing refers back to Pierre Bonnard’s painting.  I wonder what his painting meant and why I love it so much?

Truly painting is like a dream and can be difficult to decipher.

looking for what you want

frog teapot in other pochade (3)

Looking through my posts, I noticed something about this detail that I hadn’t seen before. It’s a quality in the thought process of the painting that I want to put into the big painting that’s in the works.  I don’t know if I can even describe it.  What got my attention was the pale blue flower on the left hand side of the frog teapot near the lid — something about the color relationships and the summary aspect of the drawing.  What I noticed first was the thin highlight that creates the top edge of the flower.  I never noticed it before — then the rest of the brushstrokes.

The warm/cool color variations in the blue blob next to the flower (it’s also a flower) does also hint, hint, hint at something that I’m looking for.  An answer is here inside my own little study (for a different painting) from a couple years ago.

It came like the solution to a puzzle.  And I’m asking myself if there is any way I can put effects like this into the whole painting — into all the parts of all the things that are going into a 60 x 48 inch canvas.

And the obvious answer seems like it’s “no,” because I wasn’t even aware until now that I had made this small effect in this little painting.  Though as I look at the little painting further I find additional little qualities that I think could form the technical structure for the painting in progress.

It’s really kind of crazy.  But I see — dimly see — a path toward the painting that becomes now “mine” and not Pierre Bonnard’s anymore.  I began the picture to study something about Bonnard and now I find there’s something about my own way of painting that I am struggling to understand and to recapitulate — to develop.


frog teapot in other pochade (4)

I write these things to remind myself because I’m often forgetting ideas.  Somehow this painting above has many of the answers to the questions I’ve been asking myself lately.  Still not quite sure how to use this information.  But you start sometimes from hints since hints are better than nothing.  So one is wise to follow them.  They are compass bearings.

This is one of the reasons I produce this blog, because in sifting through my own past ideas, I get new ideas.  And they help me paint.  I hope it doesn’t sound too self-involved, but whatever it is I need to post a sign for myself saying “do this” — so this post is the sign.

the partisan of line

elephants in line

I like lines.  I think in lines.  If I had my way the whole world would be outlined.  Okay, maybe I wouldn’t go quite that far.  But when I look at the whole world, I often think about it in lines — lines that run round the contours of surfaces with a few lines tossed in willy-nilly just because.

Expressing this opinion got me into a bit of a kerfuffle recently at an artist’s post on social media.  Unbeknownst to me the author of the site where I commented offers drawing instruction and has very particular ideas about how to draw, believing that things should be constructed geometrically.  While I have nothing against geometry, I offered an opinion that geometrical approaches only capture certain features and omit others.  The same is true about contour line of course. (She acknowledges reluctantly.)  Nothing wrong with the information that a geometrical approach emphasizes.  It’s just that the vast everything else that geometry misses deserves a shout out as well.

I guess I notice the sieve aspect of a pedagogical approach most when it goes contrary to some manner that’s habitual with me since we all tend to use ourselves and our familiar routines as templates for understanding the world.  (Didn’t Leonardo da Vinci do a blog post about that …?)


Anyway, I got into trouble.  It happens sometimes.  My host and sympathetic guests appeared to assert that there really was no other way, that all things are at long last reducible to geometry.  If you’re a mathematician of a certain stripe that idea might ring true, but it’s not true of art.  If I had offered my drawing below, sketches of a dog (which wisely I didn’t) I believe I would have been informed that I drew the dog’s head in a geometrical way because it seems to have form.

page of dog drawings

But actually I just drew contour lines around stuff (and shaded in parts).  That dog paw in the center of the page, for instance, is all line.  The dog’s paw itself — the actual paw on the actual dog — has form — even geometrical form (if you incline to think that God (hearts) math).  But my drawing of the paw is just line.  It’s so just line that I’m pretty sure the dog would not comprehend it as a dog paw.  (Though dogs do recognize pictures of dogs in certain contexts! Or so I heard via the internet so it must be true.)

Anyway, I think there are many ways to think visually and sometimes one way has nothing much in common with the other ways though any of the ways might have a lot in common with features of the visual world that the techniques are meant to imitate.

Or not.

At least we weren’t fussin’ about the things that people usually fuss about.  Give me a good knock-down, drag-out fight about ART any day.  I fought a battalion of geometricians all by myself! Anything that gets people feeling passionate about art!

If I had my way the whole world would be outlined.

trying to see into the future

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On the studio floor putting the one canvas atop the other helps me visualize how the bouquet would look in its vase and also anticipates how much space this arrangement will take up in the painting for which these are studies.

They come out bigger than I expected.  So I’m not sure what I’ll do about that, whether I use this motif anyway or maybe make it a little smaller.  The vase is a little farther away than other objects on the table.  I am unsure how much smaller that would make it appear. Will have to wing it, perhaps.

Anyway, I thought this arrangement turned out interesting.

Monsieur Bonnard’s thoughts on color

bonnard mimosas

Il s’agit de noter aussitôt que possible ce qui vous a frappé. Si l’on a dans la suite une simple couleur comme point de départ, on compose toute une peinture autour. La couleur a une logique aussi exacte que celle de la forme. Il ne faut pas lâcher, avant d’avoir réussi à rendre l’impression première.

It’s important to notice as soon as possible whatever shakes you up.  If one takes a single color as a point of departure, you can compose an entire painting around it.  Color has a logic that is as exact as the logic of form.  You must not let go until you have succeeded in rendering the first impression.

So that’s what we learned in Monsieur Bonnard’s class today.  And I have to compose my whole painting around even one color perhaps — one amazing color that has shaken me to my foundations.

staying the course

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I’ve been painting a study of the flowers that will go into the big painting I’m working on — the painting that I’m doing in emulation of Bonnard’s “Dining Room overlooking the Garden.”  As often happens, though, while I’m in the process of painting a motif in a certain manner I begin thinking about other ways that I might use instead.  It can lead to doubt and dissatisfaction.

So many little hindrances can crop up.  For instance, I find it hard even to see the picture sometimes.  I thought it was my imagination but then I take a photo and discover that the camera is also having difficulting “seeing” the painting.  Oil paint when it’s wet can become shiny enough to affect your awareness of tonality.  Thus parts of the picture that are dark look lighter than they should.  It’s one example that I use to make a point about psychology.  I’ve been painting a long time, but I still find myself affected by this distraction.  Duh!  I have to pinch myself as it were.  “The painting will look different in a day or so after it begins to dry.”

You have to make sure that you don’t let little things knock you off course.  Because the painting that I’m doing the study for is really large, I remind myself that each of the studies provides me with information that I need.  And information of itself is neutral.  If it were to happen that I decided I didn’t like my study, I can always paint another one.  Or I can use the study, but alter it in various ways when I adapt it to the larger work.

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I ask myself how much more energy I will have for this task when I learn how to banish all the negative thoughts that creep in.

I was beginning to think that the forms in the bouquet lack dimension, or that they seem loopy the way they’re painted.  That’s an even more insidious idea that I must cast out of my brain.  I remind myself — “HELLO, self!  Remember the whole idea has been to emulate Bonnard.  Loopy! It goes with the territory.”

For some crazy reason when Bonnard paints forms in a “loopy” way, I love it.  Then when I do it — when I do it successfully — I feel many doubts.

This too is another bump in the road.  It’s important to keep going with an idea and see where it leads.  If I get critical too early in the process, I succeed in doing nothing except erecting obstacles in my own path.  Clearly that makes no sense at all!

At any rate I have stayed the course.  I carry on with the still life, with the studies, and I’m advancing work on the large painting by gathering this information.  However, I ask myself how much more energy I will have for this task when I learn how to banish all the negative thoughts that creep in.  They are unnecessary friction.  Yes, I’m still “moving” but I’d move more smoothly without the friction.


grocery shopping


drawing after a Van Gogh painting of flowers


Today’s plan is to get some grocery store flowers to paint as a study for the flowers in the big painting.  I need some actual flowers to put in the virtual Limoges vase that will sit in Bonnard’s window at the Villa Castellamare.

I am still trying to decide what objects will also sit on the table.  The frog teapot (remember the frog teapot), a second smaller bouquet of flowers, the songbird figurine, the black teapot with flowers, and a couple of oranges.

I’m also thinking that I should include a seashell because I’m always painting seashells.  Of course the compotier with lemons has a prominent place, and the porcelain basket (which I got from the internet) sits in the closest foreground.  Maybe the honey jar.

I’m trying to figure out a way of setting up a still life in the studio so that I can put the objects in better relation to each other.  Logistics …  The virtual objects will, of course, have to be content with the place they occupy in my imagination.