In anticipation of the coloring book class I will be teaching in July, I am sometimes doing a more linear kind of painting
than I usually do. This particular flower painting will also be a composite. The flowers will have never existed together. The vase is one I’ve never owned, and the first full version of the image is something that I am assembling on a large sheet of paper that will serve as the cartoon for the painting. Only when that drawing is complete will I even have a clear idea what I’ll be painting. Right now, it’s casting call time. I search for flowers for the major and minor roles in the picture.
Thus I am gathering flowers. Don’t other flower painters do that? They perhaps go to the florist, or to their gardens, or out to a field and gather the blooms to arrange in the vase.
Me, I raid art history books for flowers to steal, though I may also toss in a few flowers from life as well … In any case most of my flowers will have bloomed hundreds of years ago.
These are some early candidates. The rehearsals won’t begin for a while. The flowers haven’t even read their lines. This is just the beginning.
If you have questions about techniques or just curiosity about the how to of art, drop me a line by way of a comment. Might make good material for a post, because if you have a question, there’s bound to be others who are wondering the same things!
The presumption is that if you want to learn to draw, you take classes. And it would be hard to argue that taking classes would be a bad idea. But a real artist, whether he takes classes or not, is in a certain definite way an autodidact. The kind of study that leads to great art, or “serious” art, or whatever we want to call it, means being able to teach yourself. The alternative to teaching yourself would be to have someone else telling you what makes something great or important. And if you need to be told, how could you possibly create anything great or important yourself?
An innovative artist, or one who does something with exemplary ability, or one who sees things deeply has to learn to find the meanings of things within himself. Why? Because the alternative is an artist who needs someone holding his hand, leading him along, guiding the way — and who could this guardian be? At what juncture would this dependency end? Great art, the best art, the most thoroughly explorative art has to be something individual. It’s a syllogism, really. Insight abides in a logic that we can feel — that we get through a hunch. Great art has to be innate. It will arise from earlier traditions. But it distinquishes itself by a living element that differs from the tradition. And that something comes from the artist.
The drawing above was made by a great artist. I once stood in front of it with a friend who’s an art historian who asked aloud how sure we can be that Van Gogh actually made this drawing. It’s “very crude” — as indeed, it is. For this particular drawing, much of the evidence rests with the provenance which is quite strong. I should add that my art historian friend’s expertise lay in other areas, not in 19th century European drawing.
However, her point was an excellent one. We now regard Vincent Van Gogh as having been one of the greatest artists of the latter 19th century. What are we to make of a “weak” drawing by a great master? How do we find the roots of greatness in an image such as this one? When did Van Gogh change from an awkward draughtsman working in a period style to a great master who creates a radically idiosyncratic, individual style? And what do the transitions from one to the other mean?
[Top of the post: The Zandmennik House, by Vincent Van Gogh, c. 1879/1880
charcoal over graphite on wove paper, overall: 22.8 x 29.4 cm (9 x 11 9/16 in.)
The Armand Hammer Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.]
Perhaps because paper was once in short supply, we note that the old masters drew on their rare pages with more joyful abandon than is typical of artists today. And they were more thrifty. Often a page of old master drawings will have several subjects on the same page, and they will not necessarily have anything to do with each other. Often they are at right angles to each other. And sometimes artists (like Ingres or Rubens) would even put more than the correct number of limbs on their figures — all presumably in the interest of deciding what the pose should be. Four armed ladies? Let’s not go there. Save that for another occasion.
In our era of anything goes, it’s interesting that this conceit — this putting lots of things onto the same page hasn’t caught on as a revivified trend. Heck, a lot of artists could do it and suppose that they were inventing something brand new (the ones who have not studied history, that is).
Besides things that happen to rent space on the same page are the colors that halo objects. Everything in the world is colored and if you look really closely at all the color, it can drive you nuts! There is so much of it to notice. I didn’t peer too deeply in this drawing, but just enough to put some blue on top and green on the side of the marigold.
[Top of the post: Studies of Plants by Aletha Kuschan]