photo of motif Bonnard ideaFrom my mediations today on Bonnard’s art, I had one of those moments when you bang into the obvious.  “Pierre Bonnard’s art is indistinct.”  The thought floated into view in my brain like a boat that you see as it silently sails down the river.  Why should I feel some need to plan everything when his own starts (some of those exist) demonstrate how furtively he sometimes snuck up on his motifs?  And writing about the big painting conjured in me a great desire to begin, so I’ve begun.

I’ve started with his sketch, which I’ve decided to use like a map.  Certain key locations of the canvas I plot using this map.  I have things that I’ll be adding — most keenly the vase of flowers — that are absent from his motif.  The part of his canvas where my flowers will go is empty wall so clearly that changes everything.  But I sort of copy the general plot of his design.  My format is wider, too.  He has things in his picture that will not appear in mine — like ghostly Marthe on the left margin of his scene!  All these differences and the many that will follow will make the two images very different from each other. Yet I learn things about Bonnard’s painting already in even these most  cursory gestures.

I feel like Diebenkorn looks over my shoulder.  He studied Bonnard too.  And because I must change things from the outset, I become aware of all the changes that Diebenkorn introduced into his most Bonnard-like images.

And, oh! the things you notice.  Bonnard’s vertical lines are not plumb!  Not at all.  The frame of the window just veers off in wild fashion.  The painting entire holds together like an iron grill or like diamond thread — both delicate and adamant.  What gravity binds his image together … who can say?

Already the delight begins …. my delight … as I begin painting.

starts, stops, and dreams that continue

garden at baltimore

I been having an interesting conversation with a WordPress pal about the question of when a painting is finished and how you know when to stop.  Or, if you should ever stop. (Pierre Bonnard, we’re looking at you.)  I’m in a place in my art where I feel like I have to keep going forward with a picture until I really have no more ideas for it.  If I see something that I think I need to change, I change it.  I also make decisions with the specific aim of “finishing” the painting, but I find that I don’t really like the term “finishing” and I don’t seem to be alone.  I’m not sure why, as artists, we don’t want to finish the picture.  Would “complete the picture” sound better …?

One of the things I love about drawing is that there’s less pressure to finish something.  The drawing above is an example.  It is as “finished” as it’s ever going to be.  I was sitting before the actual scene on a summer day.  The clock ran out.  I assembled my things and returned home.  The ending of the drawing was abrupt and arbitrary, but the drawing does seem complete to me just as it is.

With paint you can always add more layers.  You can cover over an entire picture, if you like.  (As I’ve discovered in a big way with my current painting.)  So there’s really nothing to stop you from just painting and painting and painting.  And I do like the idea of getting into the weeds.  It can seem like there’s places deep inside an image that you can find, little corners where you can begin exploring, where you can get marvelously lost.  It’s not an idea that scores you points in art school discussions about composition, but it is an interesting dream-like way of staying inside a picture.  If you are willing to risk all, willing to blow the whole wad, you might completely screw things up but there are also potentialities — particularly in oil painting, a medium that seems designed for visual risk taking.  It’s a gamble, but certainly a more fruitful one than other forms of gambling.  There is that something that beckons.

Or should I say tempt?  I’m not sure.  I was looking through some canvases and found a couple that I thought were more or less finished and now I find that they are not.  Once I feel that way, I know I have to go back over them — otherwise, no matter what anybody else sees, I just see the “unfinished” picture.  It’s not even about an ordinary feeling that the picture somehow resolves.  It’s more that I just see too many openings for more visual information — stuff that ought to be there.

So that’s what I love, in contrast, about drawing — no pressure.

Okay.  So I say that, but as soon as the words escape I can think of a kind of painting that is very like drawing — a kind of painting where you reach a fecund moment when you — stop!  It’s wonderful.  When everything has just reached a nebulous, energetic, open-ended kind of fruition. I used to paint always, exclusively for that moment.  Now I’m wondering what it would be like to do that again.  And can you do it with a large painting?  Ooh la la, choices and decisions and longings.

Starting pictures is wonderful because the beginning is such a rich field.  The picture that you stop at the magical moment persists in that field of beginning but somehow rounds it out and makes it dwell in persistent potential, like a wave that crests but never falls.

Well, some things to think about.

new to do list

may 25 Limoges (2)

  • put something into each of the blue panels behind the flowers
  • adjust the curvature of the imagery on the vase near the roses
  • warmer red in the Sweet Williams on the left
  • add indication of the chrysanthemum on far left
  • pale the top of the cloth, and add elements of a bluer green (mixed warm/cool)
  • start messing around with the settled cloth elements — for color, as your mood instructs
  • fix that longer leaf on right (closer to the study)
  • more articulation in the white what’s-their-names flowers at top
  • figure out what patterns are sitting on the top of the hill
  • some time or other might want to do a couple drapery drawings … just because

Giving my brain some instructions.

Now, make it so.

  (As Star Trek fans will understand.)

not my flower

flower after old master

The tulip that I’ve decided to keep inside the picture is not my tulip.  I don’t know where it came from.  I found it while doing an image search on, I think, Jan van Huysum.  It resembles his flowers but probably isn’t his tulip study.

Anyway, I stole it.  Like the figs (Snyder’s figs, different painting).



The current painting began TWO YEARS ago!  Hard to believe.  It began with this drawing, a drawing that I never finished.

Well, I’m pursuing that thought now even without that drawing!


not one painting, many

background detail

Every part of the painting can teach you something.  This morning I’m learning to think like the pattern maker.

Working on a large complex painting, one needs to break things into parts.  It’s not just one painting: it’s many paintings stitched together.  Each section becomes almost a separate painting to me — I am learning more and more to do this — and I strive to focus on that part and to see the possibilities that it holds within it.

Then one stands back to look at the whole thing.  The introduction of these new parts has to jibe with the rest.  It’s a back and forth.

I’m letting Brian Tracy coach me this morning.  He writes, “The bigger your goal and the more intensely you desire it, the more likely you will be to exert your powers of self-discipline and will-power, and the more capable you will be of making yourself do the things that you need to do to get where you want to go.” (p 140, Maximum Achievement)

I must say, the color blue is a good coach too.  The color blue always makes me want to do stuff.

find me, I want to be found

love desire striving on instagram

I can’t help it.  I’m just so excited about Instagram!  Thank you to people who have found me! (My precious little group!)   Now, for the rest of you out there in the wide world ….!!

Meanwhile, I’d probably garner more attention if I didn’t fool around with the tags — but I can’t help myself (that’s your cue to look at the tags).

Just trying to be clever.


gallery visit / it finally stopped raining


dark flowersAnd thus I was able to photograph my painting.

Currently it hangs in the May exhibit at the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria.  Very pretty light in the gallery today though there were areas of flooded streets just outside the building.  Mother Nature dropped A LOT of rain on the Washington DC region.

Capricious Mother Nature.

Here’s a view of the installation:

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