spider web drawing

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Crayon lines form a landscape of assembled scribbles, like a drawing made of brightly colored spider web threads.

When I was engaged in the thick of my Big Tidy Campaign of 2017, having read Maria Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I found things that had disappeared into life’s alluvia.  I found, for instance, the photographic inspiration for this fanciful landscape at around the same time as I found the drawing itself, which I had started as only a vague sketch. Having the two things converge in time once more seemed like a token from the universe that maybe I should continue drawing — and so I did. 

It was a great confluential good fortune, actually, because I had really loved the idea but I don’t recall now what event interrupted my work, causing the drawing to languish.  With photo and drawing reunited, I could take up the theme once more.  Indeed, I found the photo first and remembering the drawing thought to myself to have a new whack at it.  But then soon after I also found the drawing.  It measures 24 x 36 on beautifully woven, straw colored Nideggen paper.

I love the devil-may-care approach afforded by crayon drawing.  It’s scattershot, a roll of the dice.

I love the dynamism of scribbled lines applied to a peaceful foggy clouds covering rolling serene blue mountains.

Here’s some wispy, spider-webby details ….

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and another

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tall vase of flowers

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When the colors are beautiful simply as colors, when it’s a silky blue and a pale green the color of early spring, I find that I like looking at the colors for themselves alone. They are their own raison d’être.  Big expanses of pure color gives the artist delight, something that you hope to share with the spectator. The lines and forms of the objects build upon that foundation.  I wanted the vase of flowers to rise upwards like a bold tree, a symbol of life.

I make lots of studies for pictures.  This one rehearses the motif for a large painting.  This crayon drawing (made with Caran d’Ache Neocolors)  measures 24 x 36 inches.  (The related painting measures 30 x 48 inches.)

finding the fish

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A close up view of the fish drawing is pure abstraction.  You can hardly tell there’s a fish there except for a bit contour — that along with being told — does vaguely produce a minimum of fishiness.  I am an abstract artist — in some respects.  Someone told me this, one of my insightful students.  I wasn’t even aware.

Why do I like the scrawl of the crayon more than the specific features of the fish itself?  Well, I only like them better in some pictures.  In other pictures I’d be quite content to imitate the look of a koi sliding through the water. But here the energy of crayon markings in bright colors has gotten the better of me.  The markings capture some of the alacrity of koi energy.

There’s still fish there.  And it matters too that they’re fish.

This detail occurs in the giant rehearsal drawing.  I reworked it based on some random lights and shadows that fell on the drawing when I was outdoors photographing it.  Here’s a picture of it indoors with the tool box and step stool to give a sense of its actual size.

drawing indoors

koi variations

The big koi drawing got a rework.

 

big koi april 9 drawing state 2 (2)A few days ago (April 2nd) I posted a large preparatory drawing that I have used to rehearse a large painting that’s in the works.  The drawing is 50 x 42.5 inches large.  One challenge an artist faces making large works is photographing them.  In my case there isn’t enough natural light available in the room where I work to get a good photograph.  Doing photography outdoors, of course, introduces its own challenges (not the least of which is how to drag the drawing and its huge heavy drawing support outside).

Well, I got the drawing and its heavy support outside. But then I had to locate a place with indirect light because the first and easiest location for my photo shoot produced the image seen below.  Very charming, but not descriptive of the drawing.

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The photo did however prompt a wonderful idea: the photograph with its “clouds” was so lovely.

 Why not make those effects part of the drawing itself?

And I have since altered the drawing (new version at the top of the post) to introduce some of these lights that remind me of cloud reflections floating over the koi pond.  The over-exposed sections of light, made more dramatic in contrast to various shadows, are not real clouds, but they’re close enough to push the picture in that direction, and do note that these effects were still natural ones.

These were lights and shadows I found in nature. I’m still imitating nature here.

Certainly it’s possible to continue a process of this sort, I’ve taken the reworked drawing outdoors again and repeated this process.

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New lights and shadows in new locations on the reworked drawing.

Portraying Nature is a complex endeavor.  Nature is everywhere.  It’s in your head as well as “out there.” Time is a part of Nature too.

The stages are part of the lovely game of painting. Taking the picture into this direction is, granted, not the same thing as making a faithful representation of the motif en plein air.  But it is nevertheless a kind of naturalism and a kind of fidelity too.

textures of the second kind

 

There are two kinds of texture in art.  Both are wonderful.  Both deserve consideration.  Sometimes both exist together.  Sometimes only one or the other is present.

There’s the texture of the things depicted:  the soft silk that looks like silk, the lemon that has a rough skin, the egg shell that seems to be brittle because it looks brittle.

Then there’s the texture of the art materials used to make the picture, and they are many. In the illustration above, a detail of one of the koi drawings, the crayon catches on the raised burr of the paper speckling the surface, creating a veil over the imagery below it.  It’s these textures of the second kind that I love to discover.  Every artists’ medium has a wonderful, special charm.

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In the detail above of a crayon drawing made after Matisse’s painting La Coiffure at the National Gallery of Art, the layers of crayon colors overlap.  Some of the paper texture breaks up passages of color.  In other areas sharp lines delineate forms and soft lines blend one passage into another.  Because the pigment can be applied in layers, warm and cool passages of color can interact with each other above and below.

In the pen drawing details above the color of the ink is a strong factor, and equally strong is the white of the paper.  In a pen drawing, sometimes what you don’t draw — the shapes of the spaces that you leave blank become dramatic effects in the drawing.  Of course the characteristic hatchings and wiggles and calligraphy of pen lines give a pen drawing its essence and its energy.

 

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Pencil drawing is a responsive medium for creating contours with line, for evoking texture through imitation and for creating subtle lights and darks that reveal forms — and in the case of portraits graphite provides the subtle gesture that gives way to visual expressions of emotion.

With pastel you can drag very soft passages of pigment over top of other layers, the layers can partially blend, and through these operations you can achieve very soft transitions and delicate blurry effects.

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Whatever the material, each medium has its own peculiar charms that the artist must seek out through manipulation and experiment.  Sometimes the natural textural qualities of the medium can be used to evoke the optical textures of the things depicted.  Sometimes the beauty of the material’s texture is sought as an end in itself.

Through these limited examples in my own art, I hope readers find another element of drawing that they can use to pull them closer into the magic of pictorial art.

 

Big and bigger

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I like to paint big pictures. One way that I rehearse images before painting is by making large drawings. In that way, I also have twice as much fun because I make two big pictures — the preparatory drawing and its related painting.  The two works are not necessarily in a one to one relationship though.  This drawing, for instance, measures 50 x 42.5 inches but is a rehearsal for a painting measuring 60 x 40 inches.  However they are close enough together that making the drawing offers genuine preparation for painting.

Someone told me that opera singers rehearse their parts in sotto voce to avoid straining their instrument.  Maybe these big drawings are to the paintings what sotto voce is to the opera singer’s full throated singing.

I have another 60 x 40 inch canvas waiting in the wings.  And another large sheet of paper waiting to be made into drawing.  Seriously good fun is just around the corner because this artist likes to paint and to think BIG.

Dynamic Swimmers

advancing swimmersZig-zagging, radiating reflections announce the movement of the koi that swim in lazy formation toward the spectator. The calm quietude of the koi contrasts with the reflections created by their wake. They are dynamic in effect even when their actions are measured and smooth. The waves the koi make as they swim through the pond travel far from the fish ensemble. Their waves announce them to distant places and telegraph their presence to distant shores, saying, “The koi were here.”

Where the koi assemble, coming toward the spectator, passages of warm yellow, orange and red mix with pale luminescent silvery blue and mild violet tones in the level water. They swim in our direction and those jagged reflections begin to fall far behind them.

Dynamic Swimmers is drawn using Neocolors on Nideggen paper and measures 38 x 25.5 inches.

Koi Silk

 

Kois are wonderful animals.

bright fishes

They are lively, gregarious fish.  They are beautiful, graceful and swift swimmers. I often seek a parallel expression when I’m drawing and painting the koi.  I want the drawing to represent the qualities of the fish themselves.  The drawing should be direct and swift-seeming. Sometimes that directness is best achieved through the most obvious means.  Sometimes I draw the fish quickly and boldly so that the gestures of drawing can echo the movements of the swimmers and the water that flows around them. Hatch marks (parallel lines used to create passages of color and tone in drawing) help to further convey a sense of things moving, and calligraphic gestures of line also evoke motion and urgency. This drawing is one where the sense of swift movement — even more than of form — becomes the subject of the picture.  One partly submerged fish is so blurred that his forms are broken into a broad abstract shape and the blur takes on a loveliness of its own. Some pictures of animals focus on their anatomy, but in my koi pictures I have sought the relationship between the fish and the water and the ways that they fuse visually.

Koi Silk is painted using oil pastel on Nideggen paper and measures 38 x 25.5 inches.

In front of Manet’s still life

Always something to  learn when retracing

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the visual steps of the old masters through a careful scrutiny of their works.

I’ve always loved that ceramic cup in the corner with the lemons in front of it.  Here (above) I was making a copy using crayons, and I was mixing colors on the paper and getting slightly different color effects than one sees in Manet’s more subtle and monochromatic but beautifully colored canvas where silver gray predominates.  I was able to copy the objects almost the same size as they appear in the painting, but I chose just the right hand corner for my small notebook. Below you can see what I was copying and its context in the painting as a whole.

Some art teachers will pester you about getting ellipses correct. And I urge you, Reader,  to notice how out of kilter Manet’s plate and cup are!  And yet — for some mysterious reason, perhaps known only by Manet’s astute visual imagination, the painting as a whole is immeasurably better, more dynamic, more psychologically intriguing by virtue of these “mistakes.”  Clearly he knows how to draw things in perspective.  Just observe the wonderfully foreshortened fork.  But the plate and the cup are a thousand fold more lovely by virtue of the quirky perspective.  Trust your instincts.

You can draw Manet’s picture too, even if you’re far from the museum by using Gallery’s zoom feature at their website.  But not yet!  The links are redirects ….  http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.46427.html

EXCEPT — when you wish to zoom on the ceramic cup which ends up being covered by part of the zoom widget itself.  However, never fear — WikiArts to the rescue.  A large version of the image is available here — click on the picture to access:

Between the two sources you can get a lot of visual information about the painting.

 

 

Cezanne Shapes

I got to see an old friend

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after many long years separation.  Cezanne’s Vase of Flowers is back on view at the National Gallery of Art.  For years and years it had its own special place and I visited it, studied it, drew it, copied it — and then it was gone.  But it’s back, and recently I made this quick and rough drawing in front of the painting, drawing a portion of its features approximately life size.

It’s not the sort of drawing for getting a likeness.  I was instead keen merely to make the gestures that I see in one small part of the painting. And I want to do many more such drawings in the future — private drawings that I make for my own use even if I do also afterwards make some of them occasionally public by posting them here.

The painting, for those not familiar with it, is reproduced below.

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You can learn more about the painting and can use the zoom feature to see it more closely here: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.45867.html

I’ve drawn it many times before, as for instance here: https://alethakuschan.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/my-cezanne/

The portion of the painting I was drawing above can deciphered by comparing the same area from one drawing I made in the past.