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.
At the National Gallery of Art in Washington I made a study of the head of a Rembrandt portrait. I was consciously trying to think about the drawing in a way that fit what I know of Rembrandt’s drawings. So I was looking at the painting, but thinking about Rembrandt drawing and trying to imagine what an early version of the painting might have looked like — when Rembrandt was drawing in the features with his brush.
The morning coffee drawing was supposed to be about “unimpeded thought.” I had been learning about free-association as a means of invention in writing. Ray Bradbury had said that “we’ve become so conditioned to worry about grammar, word choice, and punctuation that we deny ourselves the luxury of unimpeded thought.” So I was asking myself what would be comparable in drawing? The trip to Unimpeded Thought sounds like just the destination I’ve been looking for: forget these adverts for world cruises to all the tropical paradises. Just put me on the slow boat to Unimpeded Thought. Hey, I like luxury as much as the next person.
Only problem is that I’m not sure how to get there.
Have to contemplate it some more ….
In the interim I sought to remove all mental barriers between me and my still life objects, they who pose so nicely for me day and night.
Driving through the most rural stretch of my trip, during that long passage where all you see is the road ahead flanked on either side by miles of trees, I was wondering about the ways one could learn to deepen perception – your awareness of living in the present instant and the desire to notice “everything.” Henry James described the artist as “one on whom nothing is lost.” How does one make awareness more intense? When you are looking at the motif or at the painting’s surface itself, how does the artist ramp up the sharpness of involvement?
Especially as regards landscape, not only seeing just a motif in front of your eyes but responding to everything, how do you effect a complete immersion into that place – finding that aspect of it that Bonnard longed for: the peripheral vision that is circular, having no beginning or end?
A picture should enjoy an aspect of ambiguity, just like persons. It needs some enigma. A friend once told me “a little mystery helps.” And it does.
I’m not sure where the path is leading here, whether into the meadow or up into the sky.
I’m heading south the next few days for a little R & R.
Don’t worry, I’ll be taking a koi notebook with me. (Mad Koi Artist on vacation.)
One thing I love about working on large paintings (or drawings) is that the details sometimes become little worlds into themselves. The painting Boo Dreaming pictured in the previous post has this slightly larger than life-size 17 year cicada sitting on the fence.
He’s looking right at you!
Did a little reorganizing today so that I could move the big koi drawing to a different wall. It gets the drawing away from direct light and sets it beside the next big drawing in the series. I added some new fish at the bottom. So everybody’s in the pond now, I think.
Once everything that’s going to be in a picture is in it, work takes a new direction. Then it’s nuance time.
I like nuance time.
The one that I’m painting on the floor is coming along. I first pictured it here. It seems that these days I am constantly making pictures of koi, almost everywhere I go. Fortunately, I do not draw koi when I am standing out in the field looking at the field pen in hand. That, I think, might be bad.
So, let’s see. That’s koi at the regular studio. Koi at the secret bunker. Koi in the little library. Koi at the child’s violin rehearsals.
Well, somebody’s gotta do it.
Along my morning walk this morning I decided to carve out imaginary space by drawing a corner of the tree horizon in my notebook. The white of the page is the field. A few shadows, I could not resist scribbling them in. But mostly I wondered to myself about the contours of the trees, analyzing their relationships to each other. The lines are like handwriting that asks questions. Who is taller? Which is fuller? What linear paths reveal these feathery silhouettes?
Took the walk before working today. The air was cool, the sky slightly overcast. My walk was still quite hot enough after an hour. Washington is humid this time of year. I managed not to wilt.
Passed my friends the koi, but we didn’t speak. They were being lazy, and I was preoccupied. We passed each other in friendly, understanding silence.
This is one of several fast drawings I made. Quick thoughts and impressions. Mentally to travel the zigzags of leaf and stem where their tops cross the sky with my pen like a finger pointing.