Hey, wait a minute!
Hey, wait a minute!
I have been looking for butterflies without much success. We used to have a garden that attracted butterflies, but not this year. And the few I have happened upon accidentally have flitted away before I could fetch my camera. They are known for their flitting.
However, in the absence of actual butterflies, I see no reason why one couldn’t invent one’s own. So now I’m hunting things that are like butterflies and the first items that have answered my search are these two leaves that are early in their transformation, anticipating autumn.
Like the inventor in The Artist of the Beautiful, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s haunting short story, I’m out to create my own do-it-yourself flitter critter. My version of the quest is less haunting and romantic, more optimistic and can-do in spirit. But mine is also less actual in yearning for painting is illusory from the outset — my quest more so, is unreal two-fold, an illusion of an illusion.
He flew on earth decades ago. He flies in heaven now, heavenly moth.
I have pictorial plans for this guy. The wheels are turning. You see, one finds all manner of strange and curious things during the Big Tidy Campaign of 2017.
” I am playing with the idea of letting a painting dictate
its own direction…,” said my artist friend Fritz at his blog Fruitful Dark.
Those words describe the way that I try to relate to perception. I am always striving to be more connected to the motif, to discover things about it, even in random ways. I want something that is opposite of technique (as usually understood) — instead to have a direct line of thought between what I’m seeing and what gesture I make on the painting or drawing. What if the most notable thing in a certain motif is, say, the reflection on a vase? The usual advice (and I’m not knocking it) is to start with the big shapes first and go toward details — for this approach is a way of organizing the picture to get at a kind of realism or even just the awareness of the whole. And I have worked on my drawing chops for years to learn about proportion and the big sense of the image, and so on. But sometimes now I go the opposite direction — I let my mind work with the first thing that really pulls me, no matter what it is or how illogical a process it might invoke. Because one interesting idea is not something that just sits in isolation — it leads to other ideas, places and feelings.
The odd detail will help you notice some other feature that maybe you hadn’t seen. I am not fastened to one picture even — though certain pictures become ones where the aim is completeness. Those I will wrestle with over whatever time span is necessary. But other works are passages of travel through various ideas. They don’t have to be finished. They can proceed willy nilly.
Of course none other than Corot said to continually attempt to get back to the first impression — that first sense of “ah!” — and you might not even know what provoked THAT feeling. It is somehow mixed in with everything all at once. And it’s hidden inside lots of separate items. It stands behind the details like a gravitational force.
But horses for courses. I don’t have to do the motif the same way every time. I can go totally illogical with it. I can fasten down a detail if it suits me, why not? And I can leave details hanging suspended in chaos for the sake of experiencing a passage of thoughts. The things learned will accumulate. They’ll go somewhere more connected in time.
I have gone squirrel hunting, with the blue ball point pen and with other tools, stalking squirrels using notebooks of various sizes, hunting night and day. I am training my squirrels for the hunt. I cleaned the window near the favorite tree so clean that the glass disappears. Such clarity unnerves the young squirrels, but they cannot refuse their noses, and they show up anyway. I put food that squirrels find irresistible on the sill.
I aim the camera and start snapping the pictures. You might think the proximity would catch some wonderful close-ups, but they fidget quite a lot because they see me poised too close, so I must train them even more. The best shots, for now, are the ones I get from the kitchen window where hungry squirrels sit patiently a few feet away, looking iconic-ally cute.
I’m training them to associate the camera with such impossibly tasty food — pistachios! Who can resist? And I am learning their wonderful squirrel forms, the agile hands, the glistening fur, the sturdy rodent bodies, drawing them again and again.
I have a very ancient fellow that some might recognize who helps me learn.
In time I hope to draw some of them from life, when they will have gotten used to me, when nothing separates us but the empty air. But I get ahead of myself. You don’t count your squirrels before you’ve hunted and tamed them.
Here’s one of the models, himself.
Who knows what’s reflected in his beautiful eye? Look closely and you might see me!
Let’s say you don’t know what to do. What if you had to survey all the stuff of your life just to find out what it was that mattered? You catalog your stuff — your mental furniture — one thing at a time. You reexamine each still life object, or your garden at various times of day, you look at your own hands with new questionings, you carefully study the jar of rocks on the window ledge, your creamer, your house, even your weather.
We’re not talking about casual glances here. What if each thing needed really careful scrutinizing? What if your being an artist depended upon it!
Perhaps this is beginning to sound scary. (I don’t wish to frighten anyone.) Let’s walk this back. We’re not urging millions of drawings on anyone. And anyway to catalog your world could be wonderful.
I am merely suggesting that if you did need to revisit all the reasons, to retake your bearings, that you would just have to do it. And you’d start from scratch. You have to start somewhere. Anywhere.
That first decision — I bet it would be interesting — wouldn’t that gesture take on a whole new meaning?
The white paper between pen lines — if only you were there! — it hums with hidden insects. We play hide and seek with spiders. They hide. We find (not meaning to seek). They dash. We shriek!
The rolling hedges hum with cicadas singing. The air fills with vibrations from insect wings.
The intense green of the grass, the intense blue of the sky, the golden sunlight pouring over everything, the heat that lifts in waves from the ground, that makes you fold down onto the ground, makes you sit upon the grass, that stills the hurry and puts you back down onto the earth, the real earth of this moment in time.
The straw hat scatters light over her face, the warm tones of her face glow as she laughs. The child knows how to live in a simple summer day. A child knows what it is for. This just being here now. In joy.
For today’s morning coffee drawing I looked out the window and drew the dense confusing foliage of a beautiful, but enigmatic tree. When presented with something like the dense confusion of masses of leaves, you do well to simply let yourself go. I let the pen trace the edges of what I thought I saw. I wasn’t concerned about its ever looking like a tree. Honestly it doesn’t really “look like a tree” even in real life. It’s simply a wall of green.
Of course I know it’s a little wood out there so it doesn’t need to “look” like mine or anyone else’s idea of a tree among trees. However in drawing one sometimes wants the stuff to “look like” what it is. Were I too insistent upon that goal in this instance, I suppose I would just never draw this wood because it IS a confusing mass of leaves. Period. That is the reality. There is no beautifully differentiated sense of lovely trees hanging out with other trees. If you were a bird zooming down looking for a branch to light upon, you’d better have terrific navigating skills. Cause it’s a jungle out there.
So sometimes in drawing you let yourself enter the jungle of lines. You just wander around scratching at this and that. Watch the light pour over things and pretend you’re taking a photon’s journey. This didn’t need to be anything more than a meditation upon tangled green confusion.
And that’s what it is. Oh, and the coffee was great.
Renoir painted a vase of roses, which I know only from a book. His “Roses mousseuses” of 1890 (now in the Musee d’Orsay, Paris) has enchanted me from the first day I encountered it. I know it must be a thousand-fold more lovely seen in real life. I copy Renoir’s flowers every once in a while to reexperience their magic, to feel the full force of the enchantment.
This copy appears in a small Moleskin notebook, done with Uniball Signo gel pen.