making progress

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I have been away from my blog while deeply entrenched in a project to reorganize my whole house and studio.  It’s been quite an adventure, has provided a massive physical workout, and I’m still not done.

However, I am so much closer to my goal and that fact makes me feel marvelous.  I was inspired in part by Maria Kondo’s insightful book “the life-changing magic of tidying up.”  Her advice comes in handy as I plow through decades of possessions.

For now though, for today, I’m taking a bit of a breather.  I decided to fiddle faddle around with an old watercolor of koi.  It’s been over a month since I’ve done any painting so I’ve earned a little art time.  Once I get the first phase of my project completed, though, I’ll be able to use my still life table in ways I never before dreamed!

 

the fish that foretell

two fishIf the past is prologue, if past behaviors predict future ones, what shall we say about choices we make?  Certainly some of a person’s personality is like a plot of land.  Put there by an invisible nature, shaped by what kinds of weather and forces, against what winds and tides, unknown and unstudied until we begin to question ourselves. I don’t wish to sound narcissistic.  I simply allude to the fact that we can wonder about what we do and why we do it.  The mind is a place.  Dreams are the thoughts that roamed when someone was not even aware of having motives.

Why’d I do that?  I recall the day. My father, then living, full of vigor, was outdoors too, his trestles set in the yard under the boughs of the maple trees, ready for mechanic work. In my mind I see him now, him ever curious, turning to watch me as I began, his face shaded by the brim of a straw hat he always wore.  I had bought two fish at the grocery store — a unique extravagance.  I had bought them only so that I might draw them.

Why fish?

I have made so many pictures since around the year 2000 of koi that they have become a sub-category in my art.  Did these two fish predicate the koi?  I find it intriguing to reflect back on all kinds of other paintings or drawings I’ve done of fish.  Of course I loved Winslow Homer. He nudged me in fishy direction.

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Winslow Homer, watercolor

 

Now I seem to have a real fetish going.  I made my drawing a very long time ago, long before I knew that fish would be a staple of my artistic diet.  I can remember vividly that I purchased the fish from the Giant Food grocery store. I unwrapped them from the stiff white butcher paper, and set them up outside in the open air.  I had colored a sheet of drawing paper by hand in advance using ground up pastel mixed with diluted Elmer’s glue which I brushed over the surface and let to dry.  I made the drawing using pencil, Chinese sumi ink and touches of watercolor.

Needless to say that while they were fresh for drawing; after the session, they were not so fresh for eating.  They are immortalized here.  Does it seem like they’re looking at you?  It sure seemed like they were looking at me, somewhat accusingly at that.

Did two fish foretell these guys below?

So what are you doing right now that predicts tomorrow?

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watercolor updated

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I worked some more on today’s “morning coffee drawing. While the features are a little lopsided, the frog and flowers appear on the frog tea pot’s surfaces.  And the fish vase gets darker. And I begin thinking about the pattern on the cloth a little.  I posted an earlier version of the drawing already — the “morning coffee part.”  Coffee was long over as I continued working on this watercolor into the afternoon.

I’m getting well acquainted with my still life objects.

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I like looking at the accidental features of the watercolor marks in details such as these. And they suggest ideas for ways of portraying these objects in the large oil painting for which this watercolor is a study.

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I think I might switch now to the oil study I began for the painting, and work more on the fish vase and frog tea pot in it — let some of the watercolor ideas spill into the oil study. This is how I left the oil study.  Clearly there’s plenty more things that I can do with it.

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I like switching back and forth between media, letting each one suggest things peculiar to its material character.

 

 

blue bottle

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I have made additions to the watercolor of the blue bottle. And I’m having trouble with the paper, one that I bought for another purpose (an inexpensive student grade paper I meant to use as an experimental surface for pastel grounds).  As a watercolor paper, its purported use, it becomes a cantankerously unpredictable.  The colors don’t sink into the paper, but instead seem to float on top of the paper (which has to have been sized with something).

Anyway, I kept painting on the drawing just because.  It’s practice for the oil painting that’s in the works. However,  for the future watercolor studies,  I’ll be using a different paper.  No point in going to all the trouble with the study when the surface is so unreliable. No point in fighting with the paper.

The earlier version is below:

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Began thinking about the blue vase on the patterned cloth that will feature in the still life I’m working on.  Made a first pass in watercolor just to think about the shapes and colors.

Yellow and Orange

When you paint as much blue as I do

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sometimes you need some yellow and orange. The koi pictures that feature so prominently in my life and studio make one need strong warm colors from time to time as a foil to the watery blue reflections of sky that dominate those works. Since I have an ancient squash that’s been sitting on the kitchen shelf for longer than I’m willing to admit, and as I don’t think I’m interested in cooking it anymore, I decided that it’s perfectly suited to the still life table where it sits very nicely.

squash and shell oil

I painted it with watercolor in the picture on top, and afterwards decided to have a go at it with oil paint too. For the oils I paired it with one of the sea shells.

The light comes in from the window facing south at the backyard and also from an east facing window that bounces light from the neighbor’s light colored house, filtered through the leaves of shrubs I need to prune.  I have a bright yellow plastic table cloth that I bought for a dollar at the grocery store, purchased for its brilliant color and assembled together the items and ambient light all make for much bright yellow wending warmth.

So, there they are — today’s immersions in a foil to blue.  The balance of the color reproduction is off.  The pictures are cooler and more lemon shaded (especially in the cloth) than gets captured here. But I learned long ago that the camera sees things a little differently than our eyes do.  And the reproduction catches the general sense, and hence is as we say “close enough for jazz.”

 

 

morning coffee drawings

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I have neglected my flower project so this morning I decided to resume thinking about the project by doing some studies of flowers. The flowers on this watercolor page are actually two different vignettes from the artificial flowers I have in my studio still life. They will probably none of them find their way into the painting that’s in the works, but they help get me into flower-thinking-mode.

And the mode is important too.

Just now as I was on the porch photographing the watercolor page, I was surprised to note that there was still water puddled here and there. Don’t know if it’s visible in the photo or not.

I was also very mindful of the humongous spider that I see in that same location at night.  I think he’s strictly nocturnal so I don’t anticipate encountering him in the daylight.  At least I hope not!  He’s very big, very scary (for the arachnophobic). and besides that I’m worried I might trip over him.

Seriously.  He’s big.

Anyway, in episodes of coffee sipping when I waited for passages of the watercolor to dry, I made a quick oil pastel of the same central rose. I’m looking at a volume on Sargent lately and I marvel at how much the man was always painting or drawing something. Little vignettes, random sketches, you name it. The lesson for me is this: be often drawing.  Look all around you, and draw what you see.  It’s that simple sometimes.

rose oil pastel

odds & ends

Draw everything.

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You can’t of course. But why not just pretend that you can. There may not even be an everything to draw (philosophically speaking).  Who is to say how much stuff there is in even a corner of a still life. All that notwithstanding, when you tell yourself that maybe you’ll just sit down and draw everything now — you free yourself from the need to first draw this, and then draw that, and find the center of interest, and make sure to get the half-tones, and blah, blah, blah.

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This is a really neat still life. It’s a visual forest that a person’s eyes can wander around in for hours. It has twists and turns. It has passages of light and shade. It’s abundant in RED. There’s the black vase, too, with its patterns on the surface and its depths and reflections in the black — with the window reflection that takes you outside if you peer into it really deeply!

In the carnival glass compotier, as I was drawing, I saw a patch of white and wondered what it was. Looking closer I saw that it was the inverted, distorted reflection of the white creamer! In every centimeter there’s a wonder to behold. In such a visual jungle one cannot possibly draw everything and yet if you are, like me, too thrilled to choose, and must draw a bit of this and a bit of that, then you find splendors in every direction. Oh, to an ant it’s a palace of ineffable grandeur and beauty! (Well, that’s if ants’ sensibilities include enjoyment of the scenery.)

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I’ll tell you a secret, though I buy the best artist materials I can afford for the works that I plan for sale, I also adore working with very cheap and common things — expressly because they are ubiquitous in our society. I bought this notebook at RiteAid.  It’s cover caught my eye one day as I was leaving the pharmacy.

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You can see how it has the busy bright design that I like.  I’ve been drawing with Bic Cristal in this notebook this morning — that would be the world’s cheapest and absolutely most wonderful and expressive pen — ever!

My parents were survivors of the Great Depression and instilled in me (without their realizing) a great love for the common tools that are abundantly available. In regard to drawing, when I pick up simple dime store tools and draw, I feel like I’ll always be able to draw come what may. I sit here in the corner of a room like an oriental pasha with my wealth of colors and thrift store treasures, exploring the seemingly infinite reach of my territory!

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I have long admired the fishes on the Chinese tea pot and I decided to zero in on one of them at the risk of having the shape of the pot go somewhat crazy on me. If you care about the pot’s shape, you draw that first, but if you care about the fish — sooner or later you have to make a wild lunge for the fish, pen in hand.  If that puts the proportions out of whack, so be it.

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After several drawings, I decided to draw with watercolor. It is similarly scattershot. But the brightness of the whole I find satisfying.

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I’ve have drawn all afternoon en plein indoors sitting beside my still life table.

One more.  This one in oil pastel.

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I drew this one very fast and began with the reflection of the window because it had been so beautiful, really pearlescent! But the light changed so fast and I wasn’t actually able to observe the effect that had brought me in. Still it’s interesting that the whole drawing began with that reflection, like the axis of a wheel.

Stuff I love

I love drawing patterns on cloth

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when they recede in depth or when they follow folds in drapery.

I love the picture within a picture, putting something in the still life that has a picture on it, and making this other picture another space in the illusory painted space.

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Another thing I love are the confusing bits of chaos that you see when you look at something through glass.  I like to put bottles in the still life to draw the things seen distorted by the glass, love to draw the fruit in the blue compotier to see the blue alter the colors of the things.

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Also the pattern on a cloth that sits flat on the table top between two objects, to contemplate that space as a special landscape of imagination —

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— the way that pattern looks abstract because it’s partly covered up and is seen from an oblique angle so that’s it’s made twice unfamiliar.  All those kinds of things are fascinating, are wonderful beyond compare.

Sometimes I like the interstices better than the objects. The “negative space” sometimes gets you closer to the perception because when you draw it you are no longer naming the things, but are instead drawing the spaces between the things, seeking to draw parts of the entire veil of light hanging in front of your eyes — seeing it as a veil.

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To dematerialize the objects is part of the goal. A few times (admittedly rarely) I heard painting criticized because it is “flat.”  Also because it’s static (as opposed to a movie). Painting isn’t modern, the critic said, because it’s flat and still. But I love painting precisely because it’s flat and immobile so the mind can enter it and move freely.

The pretended space is wondrous. I like to draw the rim to rim on anything that has a void in its parts, like the opening of a shoe, the interior of a cup.

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I want to create the illusion of the thing on the canvas and the artifice of that delights me. But I also am glad that it is flat because in being flat it has design.  Things are not just things but can connect to each other because some linear relationship that exists only in the mind and on the page begins to pull the things together into a motif.

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“Motif” is a pictorial thing, a picturesque thing, it’s a scenic idea.  Out in the world is raw reality (in whatever form it actually is).  In the mind, on the contrary, are things with names to which meanings attach.  I want to fix the meaning into a shape.

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In the picture, are lines, colors and shapes that can delight the eyes and sometimes puzzle the brain and which pull and tug and affect the emotions in sometimes strange ways.

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narrating

The leaves on the tree outdoors

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or the panes of glass considered individually, seen in late afternoon. This painting with a window has so many possible ways of being taken apart, with each section of the image being like a portal that one can enter.

When did my fascination with still life begin? Maybe it was in childhood when I would stare at the row of figurines that my grandmother collected that lined her front windows, row upon row of strange curiosities in her narrow little house in southeast Washington.

The owl is a big figurine and the bird on the bud vase is another feathered companion. I’m not sure why they’re in the painting. Central casting sent them here. What am I supposed to do with them?

An earlier version of the owl looks like this:

owl in watercolor

I’m going to figure out how to get the pattern across the vase, particularly along the edge. I’m going to keep drawing it until I can find a version that’s flat and right in tone and color.

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more notes to self/early stages

The color contrast in the photograph

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of this watercolor in its initial stage brings a violet into the picture that isn’t actually there. I wonder if I shouldn’t put violet into the wall of actual painting. Wouldn’t violet be better, and probably truer, to the light effects at dusk? Since the room’s interior is lit with warm yellow light, it’s hard to say what would be going on around the edges of the window, whether those passages would be yellow or violet, warm or cool.

There have been a bunch of things that I’m aware I need to solve. The falling off of the table was a question from the outset, when the still life was actually assembled. I was seeing the motif from two different angles. Now I’m trying to figure out how to split the difference.  The pattern of the cloth logically follows that decision. And how is it to look down at the cloth as it falls away when the painting is hanging on the wall?

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I was also just now wondering if the painting could reflect, could be about, a state of innocence. That possibility immediately brought to mind Fra Angelico’s San Marco frescoes. But I was also just thinking about the parlor of elderly woman whose home I visited thirty years ago, the woman who lived across the street from the church. The loveliness of that room was a microcosm of a whole civilization.

It’s such a beautiful day outside. The cool weather comes inside through the open windows, giving the rooms an oceanic feeling. We could be on a great ship sailing toward some magical place. The slow pace of life, awareness of the weather outdoors, shifts of light, movement in the leaves, interior and exterior meeting at the window are all qualities I want to materialize in this still life.

The flowers on the table. The flowers patterned on the cloth. The space that extends outdoors with the tree that’s visible on the other side of the glass, and also the reflections on the glass that are like a crystalline barrier. The panes of glass at the hour were reflecting the images of things inside the room. There were so many intersections of images meeting at the window panes.

An earlier version:

flowers window