After I drew the more elaborate Lattice picture during the concert last night (earlier post), the thought popped into my head that “I could put anything anywhere.” It’s just a compositional sketch, after all. Why limit your thinking? To try out different options, I could rearrange the furniture of things that I knew I wanted in the painting. I could do it in the most unencumbered and straightforward way possible.
You just ask yourself questions. I begin (it’s an on-going process) by asking myself questions like: “what if I put the fish here?” “What if I put the owl there?” “What if the fence goes all the way to the bottom?”
“What if the water were flat?” “What if there were some tall grasses on the lower right?”
And so on.
These might resemble the “thumbnail” sketches taught in art school. They could not be further removed. The rearranging of things in the sketches has nothing to do with notions about good design or golden sections or whatever the thumbnail sketches are supposed to help solve.
The little compositional thingies are just visual ways of saying “what if the couch faced the window?” Or “what if we unloaded that stock and bought Company X stocks instead?” Or, “should we get a dog or a cat?” “Compact car or sports car?” “Cupcakes or cookies?”
They are exercises in brainstorming. They are a visual list. They are dream narratives. They are choices.
I set up still lifes for everything. Having a still life doesn’t mean that you have to depict it literally, either. You can use it as a platform for generating ideas. It gives you something to look at and think about. I simulate that process here by arranging some photos of a lattice (part of a baby gate) placed in front of a cloth decorated with a chain grid pattern. I altered the colors as much as my primitive photo edit program will allow.
Of course, by drawing something like this, I can alter the colors in any way I please. My “programming” is more variable.
WordPress’s photo format lets me further alter them by creating a composition made of square tiles.
This other photo below was edited through resizing, stretching one side while leaving the other side alone.
Fences keep things out and keep things in. The apertures of the chain link fence let many things in — to say nothing of all the things that fly over it. Animals and people are kept out or let in. Birds and insects don’t know there’s even a fence. For the bird or the insect, it’s a perch. For the spider it’s a place to build the web.
Lattice fences hold a fascination for me. I don’t know why. But I note that many other things that I want to put into the painting have lattices in them also — fish scales, owl feathers, cicada wings, dragonfly wings, a spider’s web, leaves (okay, that one’s a stretch — but Pierre Bonnard — ask him about little leafy squares), wave patterns ….
I had done the lattice before without awareness of the many connections, as the chain link fence in this drawing which is also a drawing for a painting that is “in the works.”
The lattice is the ultimate in negative space. Half the fun is that you can paint the thing and the space inside it too. I see the whole picture as a matrix and a veil in front of the eyes, a reality one creates like the dreamer of Ursula Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven.
Still riffing on the idea featured in yesterday’s posts, I made a compositional drawing while listening to a cello recital last night. Because I was at a concert, I pursued the drawing in terms of filling in most of the white page (except for the passage that would be light colored in a painting). It was mesmerizing to darken all those little squares while the music carried my thoughts into itself. But this drawing is not definite.
I don’t know what the composition should be. I am figuring it out. Yesterday’s posts were about a section of foliage in the picture. Last night’s drawing during the concert was a way of imagining the whole.
It’s fun to assemble them. One gets ideas from the group also. I look at four different ways I drew the same thing.
A recurring dream … one that I have while awake.
But there’s more to this dream ….
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.
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.
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 ….
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.
One of the ways that I get ideas for new works is from chance occurrence. While I was looking through image files, I found these two pictures side by side — rather as they appear here. The image on the left is a notebook drawing of the koi. The picture on the right is a scene from an old studio where a large drawing was nearly complete.
Seeing the two works together like this, the one on the left could almost seem to be the same size as the one on the right — and that gives you an idea how it would look enlarged. Making large works is not merely about enlarging small works. The large picture ought to seem as though it is simply “the right size” but seeing this small drawing in this context does suggest that it might look good on a much larger scale.
The process could as easily work the other way. You could see some huge painting in a museum and realize that it offers you a subject that you could do on a smaller scale. The key, whatever the circumstance, is to be open to new ideas.