Finding the Abstract Details

I have been wondering, for myself and maybe it’s relevant also for some kindred spirit somewhere among contemporary artists, what happens if you begin in the place where Pierre Bonnard left off? How do you assimilate someone else’s insights, make them your own, and then take them in a personal, individual direction? I have loved Bonnard for a very long time, but I have always been a little timid about following him too closely because what if people thought that I don’t know how to draw?

It’s one of those silly thought patterns that interrupt one’s intention and disturb one’s courage.

The question about the path, however, is not exclusively about Bonnard. One could ask the question about any artist at all. You could love Botticelli or the Rohan Master and want to modernize them in the sense of reinterpreting the art through your own life and circumstances.

Anyway, to emulate one’s hero, there’s many things one has to learn. Also, you find the manner of learning that suits you. If you’re familiar with Bonnard’s art, for instance with the many drawings that lay behind his images, you’d recognize that the drawing above is not the sort of drawing he made. It’s too abstract. In this case it’s not a drawing of any thing: it’s a drawing (a further interpretation of) an abstract part of the painting I’ve been working on (below). It’s a scribble of some brushstrokes that were already without clear form. But for me it was simply a sketch I wanted to make. It was a way of thinking about the gestures of shapes.

The whole painting (above) measures 36 x 60 inches. I have made numerous drawings, some large, some small, for its design and I stole the initial motif from a famous artist who is not Bonnard. More and more I invent its parts, being guided by what’s already there. It’s like looking for objects inside clouds. I firm up things that seem to exist as hints.

And with thoughts about Bonnard I have become much more careless about the color too. As one sometimes does with drawing, I began painting parts of the picture with my non-dominant hand (left in my case). Using the non-dominant hand seems to break through much hesitation. I find myself not only working with a different freedom, but thinking about the picture with a noticable letting go.

The whole definition of a detail changes. The details are not leaves, grasses, tree boughs — or not exactly. They are instead blobs of color, dots, dashes, veils, strokes, various marks. Then you realize that there’s no obvious number of them, no obvious conclusion. You could continue dotting and dashing the picture forever in theory. (That was Bonnard’s problem actually.)

Of course one does stop eventually and at last. Whatever’s there when you do stop is the picture completed. I am not at the beginning of this process nor at the conclusion, but somewhere in between today — not sure quite where. But it’s an interesting development. It’s a change for me. And it’s nice to be continually learning.

Does anyone have a guess which famous artist I stole from?? If so, leave your answer in the comments. Other comments are much welcome too.

And if you liked this post, please consider sharing it on your social media. Thank you for reading!

Strategies for Invention

Making small colored pencil drawings is one of the ways I get ideas for my large paintings. The painting on the easel right now is 48 x 60 inches, and it’s well under way. But figuring out the details of the painting is a problem in invention, particularly as this is not a realist painting. It won’t be finished when it “looks like” the scene because the actual scene no longer exists. However, change can be a good thing. Not being able to revisit the real place offers up a great excuse simply to paint. But even when you’re “just painting,” you still need to get your ideas from somewhere. So I use the qualities of the various media as suggestions for surface details. My aim is to make the painting into something like a giant drawing, so that it might also possess all the freedom that drawings have.

So I make many drawings. Through much drawing, the forms of the image begin to fix themselves in my memory. And the drawing media, by virtue of their own innate qualities of beauty, offer something to “imitate,” since imitation is always one component of painting.

Small colored pencil drawings, like the ones above which measure smaller than 8 x 10 inches, are one way to think about the image. Neopastel (a Caran d’Ache product) offers another method on a slightly larger scale. The following Neopastel drawings measure about 18 x 24 inches. The larger drawings are getting closer to the gesture range of the large painting.

As you can see, I have taken the image apart and once components are separated this way they really do look more and more “abstract.” It’s good to remember that the whole surface of a painting matters. Even when you’re striving to produce realism, the details are still just shapes, colors and tones. The composition is the pleasing arrangement of all these bits of the picture even when the part does not directly correspond to something we can name.

The whole painting at present looks like this:

Those flower bunches in the sky need to be connected to the plants. And there’s much tweaking available in the large expanses. Some of the development of this surface really does wend into pure invention. So there’s lots of opportunity to “push paint around” and look for beautiful surfaces.

Ideas for this kind of work can start from small simple beginnings. Making broad gestures with big shapes gets you started and can provide a wonderful meditative way of musing about possibilities.

So if you take up drawing in colored pencils, beware. You never know where it will lead. Better get a supply of large canvas just in case.

In the meantime, enjoy your mark making.

passages

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Some random moments from The Big Painting, passages seen up close.  Nearly all of these things will be covered up in more paint.  But then I’ll take close ups of those too …

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It’s fun for me looking at the surface.  I hope it’s fun for the spectator too.  Many things are abstract seen up close.

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There’s lots of color contrast in this painting, both in the painting as a whole and in the smaller sections.

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The flowers will get more stuff done to them, but these flowers will probably never be anything other than painted flowers with details of paint but not details of botany.

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I am contemplating a plate.  It may go at the bottom.  Not sure.  Right now it exists only as a broken arc.  Blue jay’s tail is visible on the left.

my favorite part of the painting so far

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Some years ago I began the painting in which this detail appears.  Now I’m reworking it.  But this detail is my favorite element, and I’m not touching it.  Some of the bare canvas appears between lines.  There’s clear acrylic so it’s not actually bare canvas, but it’s got the color and appearance of the untouched canvas.

keen scribbles

corner crepe myrtle drawing

I feel an unabashed love for the material appearance of oil pastels (Caran d’Ache Neopastels to be precise).  I love to describe somewhat “loopy” forms with them.  I love mixing colors by abrasion.  I love the way that you can drag one color across another and create as it were almost veils of color.

So even when the situation is stalled (as I make drawings for a painting that I’m unsure how to complete), I can nonetheless love the act of drawing because the materials themselves are so beautiful.

I have rehearsed these forms many times and they still hold my interest.  Indeed, it’s stronger than that. They hold me captive.