repetitions for a mythological garden

foliage study #4 (2)

Let it never be said that I lack a work ethic.  I have made several versions of the foliage imagery.  I enjoy going over it again and again.  It’s incredibly scribbly.  Many little bits of leaf, many pieces of light and shadow — and yet also many ways of thinking about the organization of the large forms.

I did this drawing using Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencil.  Then put a bit of watercolor over that.

I have lost count how many variations this is.  I love this motif, but it’s just a part.  I need to figure out how it will relate to the other sections of the idea.  I haven’t even made the first compositional drawing yet.

It’s just one part of an idea.  Each time I draw, each time I write, I get a few more bits of the idea. It’s like lucid dreaming.

sight reading a page inside the book

foliage study #3a (2)

Scribbling out the idea … it’s like sight reading in music.  I’m not sure how the music sounds yet.  I haven’t actually heard it.  I’m reading the parts, getting figures in my head.  First I have to find out what is there.  Later I will look for interpretation.  First comes practice.  At some future juncture my hands will go straight to the notes.  You must assimilate the music.  It has to go from the page to the interior of your head.  You have to hear it a while, get a feeling for the whole, discover its anticipations, its revelations.

There’s a beginning, a middle and an end.  I don’t even know what the beginning is.  I compose the visual music at the same time that I learn it.



foliage study #3

I was at the U S Arboretum a few years ago when they were giving away old books.  Most of them treated obscure topics.  I found one book that I thought I could use for making sketches.  It sat in the back of my car for a long time.  When I cleaned my car, it migrated indoors.  It sat in one spot, then another.  After I started reading Marie Kondo’s book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” I figured it was destined for the trash pile. Something stayed my hand.  This morning it “struck joy,” to use Kondo’s phrase.  And I’m drawing one of the third or forth foliage studies I’ve made so far for a project that crept into my head last night.

This book feels kind of perfect for what I’m doing.  I have felt so excited that I wanted to write about it and I haven’t even finished the first drawing yet.  But it is so perfect.  We are definitely striking joy this morning.

The book is so perfect that even the panels in it, the lines drawn on every page are as though designed to help me figure my foliage studies out.  The text is minimal and offers simply some random extra texture on a related theme: flowering plants.

The Big Tidy Campaign of 2017 is on-going.  It will be a while before I complete my household transformations.  I continue with my regular work during interludes — and while my muscles rest from the exertions of much moving stuff about ….

foliage abstractions

foliage study #1

I got an idea for another imaginary garden, dream garden, mythological garden — a motif that has drifted in and out of my head over the years.  So I have begun just scribbling aspects of it.  Drawing and redrawing it in sketches is a way of also redrawing it in my thoughts. I’m not sure the element of foliage even comes through the drawing, but the large abstract movements do.  They need to be developed too — perhaps more than the descriptive element of foliage.

what more to say

100_9661 (3)

I was making plans when I painted these just as I am making plans now.  I had forgotten.  The bouquets were experiments in painting.

I was leaving one place — literally leaving — I was quitting my job.  Husband and parents thought it was a bad idea.  I quit anyway.  I suppose they all knew me well enough to suspect that I would do whatever I wanted. And I thank each one now — daddy, momma, husband — in the quiet of my head and heart because they provided a healthy dose of obstacle — not that I viewed their reactions in those terms at the time.  Rather, I see it now.  Seeing the obstacle they manufactured — their gifts — makes me wonder right now about the obstacles that I face right now.  How many of them are gifts in disguise?

I have been the loud proponent of mistakes in art.  Through making mistakes you learn.  Art has the great luxury of affording human beings considerable latitude in mistake making.  In art sometimes the mistake opens a door into new territory.  Screw up a drawing,  learn that exaggeration in art hides expressive possibility.  You learn that lesson not in vague terms as I declare it now in words but in the precise, specific way of a tangible shape in some particular drawing.

Looking back I can see how taking my family’s advice also might have led to a good path. Perhaps I should have heeded them and this path I took was “the mistake.”  It’s difficult to say, really only a matter of interpretation.  Had I taken their advice, I would still have needed to make important changes. I thought back then that I needed to change my outward circumstances.  Now I’m more inclined to see the inward changes as being most needful.

“Six of one and a half dozen of the other.”  One thing I love about my family, especially remembering these events, is that whether I kept the job or left it none of them intended to make a big deal of it for very long.  They thought quitting was a mistake.  All of them thought so.  They said so.  I quit against their advice.  All the lines were redrawn. Life rolled along.

I trust my intuition.  I made the right choice.  And I needed the obstacle gifts they gave.

Anyway, the flower paintings were doors and windows.  I am building a new metaphorical house in thought and I decided to use — to install — these particular portals.  I want to look at a flower world.

Cleaning house has brought me close to the past. I find things that “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo puts it.  I have also found things that evoke regrets and loss.  Where to put things comes later in Kondo’s scheme.  First you discard, later you organize.  Me, I have parts of the past to discard — aspects of my own personality to discard also.  Or, at least I intend to put certain personality features into deep storage.  Impatience or a bad temper might be useful on some exceptionally rare occasion.  I’ll want my impatience and anger then — perhaps.

For now, I reshuffle aspects of my personality and intend to keep only the traits that I really use along with ones that “spark joy.” I write this so blithely.  Naiveté lends charm to certain bold acclamations.  I am building a mental house and hopefully the physical house will conform to it. For sure, the physical house is much easier to clean and arrange.

a center of interest

sea shellWhat is the most transformative thing you can do?

I am running around in circles.  I love clutter in the still life. The chaos of things that pour off the edge of the picture, the uncertainty about where the object will be cropped, the intricacy of the spaces between things, the patterns of a cloth, the light that changes.

But I need a more sure path to the goals I have about this house.  The house is the tool that allows me to begin the new paintings. The new ones …

The house is the motif, but I need the house to be orderly and spacious and as empty as possible.  The paintings can be cluttered.  The house needs to be Spartan.

The conch lives in an orderly house.  The seashell is a Spartan house.

that’s dark back there

seashells on the shelf

House cleaning changes have exposed these still life items once again, which were formerly behind a humongous, large board that held a large drawing.  Now that I can see them again, I want to draw them again.  I had begun by merely storing them, but discovered they make a nice still life in that arrangement — until the clutter had hidden them, buried beneath the layers of good intentions, as sealed away as a mummy in King Tut’s tomb.

I feel like an archaeologist.  House keeping does that to you when you have neglected it for too long.

There’s a kind of drawing where you just talk to yourself.  People learning to draw get hemmed in, sometimes, in believing that the drawing has to represent the whole whatever-it-is.  But I always sought my advice from the old masters and in their drawings, the old masters often studied certain qualities of a scene while ignoring others. Drawing was frequently used as a tool rather than as an end in itself.  It’s purpose was to gather visual information for paintings.  Some drawings are very fragmentary.

And I seek to do that here. Except this drawing is more fundamental still. I haven’t seen the still life in a while. I look at it and feel rushed. It’s as though I need to draw all of it quickly.  So I tell myself what shapes things are (or seem to be).  I realize that the first contours get the proportions wrong, I draw over top them.  I realize that the sizes of the shells don’t match up relative to each other.  More drawing over. I look at the light/dark pattern — “how can I simplify it?”

I tell myself, “it’s dark back there.”  Do I have to describe in minute detail how dark exactly?  Of course not.

seashells on shelf photo
A scene impossible to photograph in the available light, and one’s eyes see much more light dark variety in the objects and their background  — the photo exaggerates the differences in tonality.


It’s just one drawing.  It’s a mood as much as a drawing.  I feel in such a rush.  Been reading a book on mindfulness too.  So, okay, I am noticing that I feel in a rush.  So I hurried.  Maybe the shells will move.  Maybe the big drawing will jump back in front of the still life and obscure it again.  I have so many things to do. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

Whatever.  If life seems to rush you along, as an artist, then just draw faster. Not always, not everyday, but simply now that you feel rushed.  It gets you to draw fast — which is a useful tool also.  Draw fast before everything changes!

Sometimes the voice says “this is in front of that.”  “The pointy end of the shell sticks out about this far.”  “It lines up with the other shell’s bottom edge, here.”  Listening to myself think, I slow down a little.

Later you can draw slowly.  Once you calm down.

draw your dog

dog drawing ap 30

The drawing catches little of the actual situation.  Lucy lies inside her kennel where it is dark. She lies on a black mat which makes the darkness more amorphous.  The edge of her dark muzzle against the black mat is difficult to discern.  Meanwhile, I draw upon a white sheet of paper.  It could hardly be less amenable to the subject matter.  And I use a blue ball point pen (wonderful tool) which if used to create dark passages requires many scribbles, and I am feeling fundamentally lazy today.  This is abstraction and mindfulness.  There’s a species of drawing possible — that seeks out the keenest realism — that nevertheless often fails to resemble its subject.  Here it is.  I recommend it highly.

dog drawing 2 ap 30

I began again.  The first drawing — sequence of heads — lacked room to put in her ears.  Below her muzzle I played around with zigzag lines that pretend to treat some of the form of the mat she lies on — that black mat which fuses the edges of her nose into indistinct lineless contour, soft dark on dark.

dog drawing 3 ap 30

Even in the deepest darks, one has a sense of the contours of a thing.  I pretended that the tonality wasn’t even there.  I just made lines around forms of the dog’s head.  I followed curves, depressions, convexities, concavities, searched out the end of the nose, the flap of the lip, the edges of the ears, and so on.  If you don’t know where a thing goes (this works temporarily for house cleaning too, so take note), just put it somewhere.  You’ll figure it out later.   Perfection is the enemy of the good.  A useful catch phrase.  Remember it.

Then Lucy turned over!  A very relaxed dog!  I found myself looking at a beautiful pose:  the dog head upside down, underside of the chin, lovely honey colored spots on a white patch of an otherwise brown dog.  I started drawing (not shown).  Thirty seconds into it, she resumed the first pose again. Ah!  Gone so fast.  I decided to draw it — such as I might — from memory based on the not illustrated fast contour.  The memory drawing is below — not sure if it’s at all legible.  Doesn’t matter.

dog drawing 4 ap 30

Sometimes you draw just to draw.  Your hand describing the forms in concert with your active looking begins teaching you to understand the forms.  It’s a relaxing and useful thing to do.  It stills your mind.  It hones your focus.  Look at one thing at a time and react using the line as a form of biofeedback.  It’s a form of meditation.

The notation “figure this out” visible at the top of the first drawing has nothing to do with the drawing.  It’s the last words of notes I wrote myself regarding another topic — but it seemed like a good subtitle for the post so I let it remain.

“Figure this out.”  Another good motto to tell yourself whenever you are looking at something and drawing.  Figure it out.  Wander around inside the visual idea. Get your bearings.  Record what information you can.  Leave the rest to float in airy thought until another day.

Answering the question “why”

drawing of a basket by Pierre Bonnard

As I said already, the path to a clean the house is not a straight line.  I take detours. Reading Marie Kondo’s book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” gives me ideas for how to clean my house and unclutter my mind. Once I am living inside that less cluttered mind, there’s the question of what to do. I am also reading a book on mindfulness.  I found it at the end of the aisle at Barnes and Noble.  It’s a “bargain book.”  Costs under eight dollars.  Thus even as I am moving other books out, I acquire new books.  Such is life.

This book on mindfulness asks me at the beginning of the third chapter (after I have tasted a raisin) why I am reading the book.  It’s kind of a talking book.  It asks questions and you’re supposed to answer them.

I bought the book because I read books on psychology.  Mindfulness is a topic that interests me.  But why now?  It was at the end of the aisle where it caught my attention.  And it cost less than eight dollars.  Seriously.  That was the reason.  Okay.  But why did I not notice the myriad other books on the ends of aisles?  Barnes and Noble stores have many aisles.

Psychological topics interest me. I buy the book to learn how to talk about mindfulness, but mindfulness itself is familiar territory. Of course, one can always learn new lessons from familiar things.  When I was a youth we called it “being lazy.”  In my family’s world sometimes you disparaged something that in fact you really believed you need — so don’t be mislead by the description. No one wanted to be always working and lack time simply to live.

The book asks me questions, I can ask questions too.  Why a basket?  Why Bonnard’s basket to illustrate this post? You don’t have to answer, though, not unless you want to.

WHAT?  What kind of question is that?  Why did I post a basket or why did Bonnard draw one?  Either question will do.  Or some other.  I’m not particular. But the topic is basket. My subconscious chose it.  If you have a problem with that, take it up with my subconscious.  Not my area …

An artist draws this and not that.  The subconscious is always posing suggestions — “draw this.”  And the suggestions raise questions, “why this?”  And the questions are often difficult to answer.  Sometimes the answer I offer myself is “why not?”  But that reply is not an answer, it’s an evasion.  It can be taxing to answer questions. Laziness (in the way my family understood it) is a way of getting answers by evading the questions in the first place.  You just let your mind wander around.  Not that we were even self-conscious enough to notice we were being mindful.

As for the book I read its name is, aptly, “Mindfulness: a practical guide” by Tessa Watt.  Someday — perhaps even soon — I’m going to begin writing a book called “Drawing: an impractical guide.”  But that’s a matter to take up in future posts.