If life brings you lemons, of course you paint them. And if life would bring you lemons, you wouldn’t have to go to the grocery store to buy them. Maybe it’d mean you have a lemon tree. Or perhaps you have people who just bring you lemons — that’s what I need — I need staff.
On my still life table, the lemons repose in a blue compotier. So it’s kind of like heaven here.
I’ve done a certain still life motif many times and ought to know it by heart, and yet I find upon trying to draw it from memory that it becomes vague. I keep wondering how I can train my visual memory, and the only way I can figure to do it is by simple exercise. I make the drawings and see how much I can either remember or invent.
I suppose that’s the key: when memory fails, begin inventing things that might be there. Then if you cannot remember everything at least you have begun building another skill — imagination.
People who routinely draw from imagination may wonder why anyone would find it difficult. But nearly all the drawing I’ve ever done has been done in front of something. I am so habituated to looking at whatever I draw that it is difficult to pull things out of the empty air — or “from the space between my ears” — but the more I do it, the more natural the task becomes.
When you write you create an alternate personality. What I write in my blog reflects my true ideas, and yet there is something a bit different about the “me” that writes and the me that does everything else I do. Reflecting upon the difference, I can’t help wonder what it would be like if the writer me participated more fully in the life of minute-to-minute me. Could a better integrated personality, a consolidation among the “me”s lead to the invention of an internal literary dialog? It could float in that air between my ears like a tv crawl, and along the back of my head prose observations pertaining to vegetables and floor cleaners might compete with philosophy of toothpaste and anticipated toilet paper purchases. Along the byways of the Safeways I could become a veritable grocery store Socrates!
Of course one detects a potential conflict here. There might already be more gravitas in the grocery store than a person requires. Don’t the tabloids at the check out, on display next to the varieties of gum and breath fresheners, offer really all the literary commentary that a shopper ever truly needs?
In pictures I often fancy that I am the things I draw. (Maybe I have a complex going here.) And while these musings persuaded me to leave my errand persona alone, I still don’t mind becoming various sets of lines and shapes. So on that note, let me just say that though I look nothing like her (sigh) I am — I really am — that girl pictured above.
I am her, and she is me. My blue ball point pen said so itself.
Last night I was drawing my small deep blue copy of the dark and moody Van Gogh still life of potatoes (above). And that is a great night meditation, let me tell you, those deep shadows and the humble potatoes, the basket-like-a-bird’s-nest. And then this morning the sun rises and I have new yellow still life objects just discovered at the second-hand store!
Day and night wonders.
A reader asked me recently if I dream in color, and I had to ponder the question a bit. I knew that I sometimes have had dreams that included color, and my dreams as a whole are keenly visual, yet though I often recall images in dreams and might even know in a rational way what colors things are (that “grass is green”) I won’t specifically remember a color perception — and yet, and this is the really puzzling aspect — the dreams are certainly not monochrome either.
I was reminded of this just two days ago when I had a sort of dream that is very rare for me — I dreamt about art. In particular I dreamt about a very large landscape painting I had made (no such landscape actually exists) and I was looking at it with someone and commenting that the right side of the painting might need repainting because the scenery on that side was flattened out in comparison with the middle where trees and shrubs and foliage were rounded and dimensional and engulfed in atmosphere. But looking at the right side, I also noted that it was beautifully realized — very flat and subtly painted, with lots of visual incident and beautiful colors — there were various shades of pale rose, and blue and violet. (I can brag all day about it because it was my dream painting, eh?)
So, yes! That was clearly a dreaming “in color” but what did the rest of the dream look like … that was not quite “in color” but was not “black and white” either?
Colors are sensations, but they are — oddly enough — also ideas. And in dreams we can have ideas come to us abstractly, in possession of only some of their specific, life qualities while amazingly lacking other essential features, yet we can find that we nevertheless fully accept as somehow just “normal” the dream form of half-rememberance ….
When I woke something of what might be the dream’s meaning came to me. I was thinking in my “waking up” mind about how lovely the “flawed” part of that painting was, and while my dream self was prepared to repaint it as necessary to fix the errors, my waking-up mind was thinking that perhaps it was best to leave well enough alone. It’s hard to achieve beauty in art, and sometimes when it happens — even if it is not perfect — sometimes it’s wiser to be glad for what is there and to simply accept beauty’s appearance when it comes.
[Above, a landscape in progress]
The honey jar is a clock and its facets tell the time. You can draw the honey jar anytime, day or night, winter or summer. And the sum of its faces are time spelled out in a recondite facet language of photons bouncing off flat glass surfaces. Now, I don’t pretend to be able to read this clock — nor do I know what its time tells. I only know that it provides a place to watch — a kind of scenic overlook — from which one gets glimpses of the Cosmos.
The colors in the facets are astonishing. I do try to paint them. But even in drawing them, though they aren’t recorded, I did see them. And these drawings that are etched in the mind — they do matter. Take heed what you look at, notice what makes you stare, or what images send you off into reveries. For they were etched into the drawing tablet of the mind, stored like accounts in a bank.
Do choose good things. Store up fine images in your mind. Think ahead like the bees who make their honey. Like squirrels who prepare for winter, find things to remember and put them somewhere where you can expect to find them again. And those memories will also be kinds of clocks, like the facets of the honey jar.
I have never yet been to England. Perhaps someday I’ll go. Until then I have to be satisfied with the England of my thoughts. And my thoughts have been amplified by seeing England in photographs. And recently an acquaintance I’ve never met, another artist, posted photographs from his en plein air group. So I decided to join the group vicariously.
It’s better to do landscape directly from nature, though the old masters usually made their landscapes in their studios. Degas claimed to believe that landscape painting out of doors was a vice. Of course he had a remarkable visual memory and could make his landscapes par coeur like those great Japanese and Chinese painters of old.
Well, I don’t mind using a photo now and then. If God hadn’t meant for us to use photography, He wouldn’t have nudged our species to invent the camera.
Draw any way you can. Just draw.
I would have posted sooner but I was busy battling spiders during significant portions of the last 24 hours. (Don’t ask.) Happily I can proclaim that so far the score is Aletha – 3 — Spiders – 0.
Anyway, before the spiders’ debacle, I had begun drawing faces again. Inspired by Julia Kay’s Portrait party as well as by some interesting books, I decided it was time for some more faces made with the blue ball point pen. I used photos from Julia Kay’s Portrait party even though I’m not participating officially in that large and now famous group.
I try not to let anything keep me from my art, but sometimes we have to bow to life. I could have decided to use the blue ball point pen also to make some more spider drawings — as a way of seeking cure for my incommodious arachnophobia. But the picture of each spider smeared so unfortunately upon the carpet would not make for happy art. The third one was returned to the wild, where he’s learned a valuable lesson.
Just when I was making progress … alas. I was trying to like them, and unfortunately they sought rather unwisely to reciprocate ….
I got a new set of pen nibs yesterday. First time I’ve been nib shopping in over two decades. Inspired by something I read, I decided to use a calligraphy pen for some of my drawings in the interest of finding different textures of line. I am assuming that the annoyance of having to keep recharging the pen by dipping it into ink will be worth the difference that’s available. And I’m sure it will be. I really am. All artists’ materials have their advantages and disadvantages. With this calligraphy pen, you have an extra step and the delay irritates a little — and yet from the experience overall one learns not just new techniques but how to be more patient. So all in all, it’s worth the effort.
The drawing above was made using one of the famous blue ball point pens — this particular ball point pen lays down extra bits of ink at unpredictable moments and gives the drawing an accidental element of rhythm that I like. The drawing below was made using the new calligraphic pen, and it takes a beat away whenever the pen runs out of ink.
So one pen gives you an extra note, and the other pen adds rests. Is a very musical sort of drawing, if you ask me ….
As with most motifs I draw, I redrew the cat several times. I used a photo (not having an actual cat anymore) and made several very different drawings from the same source photo.
So, I guess we’d have to call them “mistakes” given that they do not accurately reproduce the photo. But I love my “mistakes” — they turn one cat into several, each with a different mood.
Cherish your mistakes, artists, and be sure to make as many of them as you can! Il faut refaire la même chose dix fois cents fois. [You must redo the same thing ten times a hundred times.] Mr. Degas said it! And we must do it!