remember the frog teapot


Another note to self.  I want to remember to put the frog teapot on the imaginary table in Bonnard’s dining room at the Villa Castellamare in Arcachon.  The whole right hand side of the table at present is empty.  I was wondering what to put there.  Remembered the frog teapot.

I’m also going to add some oranges —  in the foreground  — on the left.


more brainstorming

bonnard flowers
Pierre Bonnard – flowers

I need to get some more flowers so that I have some for the new painting.  When I get them, it’s going to be wonderful making another painted study.  While I was looking for something else I found these above by Bonnard.  Found them at a wonderful site, link below.

I discovered the flowers while I was searching online for a painting from the book “Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature,” the exhibition catalog for a 2003 show that took place in Australia. The painting is “The Green Path and Canal,” c 1919.  Somehow looking at the picture made me wonder if the view through the window (in my painting) should be a storm.  Bonnard’s painting is very dark and ominous looking.  We’ve been having lots of storms lately.  Summer storms can be so incredibly beautiful for color.  Then there’s the further heightening of contrast between indoor and outdoor, warm and cool, man and nature.

It’s not that I want to imitate the picture that I cannot show you here.  It’s just the source for an idea that popped into my head, which I’m not even sure I’ll use at long last.  An idea about blue-green and darkness.

We’ll see.

I’m putting violet around the edges of the picture.


photo of motif Bonnard ideaFrom my mediations today on Bonnard’s art, I had one of those moments when you bang into the obvious.  “Pierre Bonnard’s art is indistinct.”  The thought floated into view in my brain like a boat that you see as it silently sails down the river.  Why should I feel some need to plan everything when his own starts (some of those exist) demonstrate how furtively he sometimes snuck up on his motifs?  And writing about the big painting conjured in me a great desire to begin, so I’ve begun.

I’ve started with his sketch, which I’ve decided to use like a map.  Certain key locations of the canvas I plot using this map.  I have things that I’ll be adding — most keenly the vase of flowers — that are absent from his motif.  The part of his canvas where my flowers will go is empty wall so clearly that changes everything.  But I sort of copy the general plot of his design.  My format is wider, too.  He has things in his picture that will not appear in mine — like ghostly Marthe on the left margin of his scene!  All these differences and the many that will follow will make the two images very different from each other. Yet I learn things about Bonnard’s painting already in even these most  cursory gestures.

I feel like Diebenkorn looks over my shoulder.  He studied Bonnard too.  And because I must change things from the outset, I become aware of all the changes that Diebenkorn introduced into his most Bonnard-like images.

And, oh! the things you notice.  Bonnard’s vertical lines are not plumb!  Not at all.  The frame of the window just veers off in wild fashion.  The painting entire holds together like an iron grill or like diamond thread — both delicate and adamant.  What gravity binds his image together … who can say?

Already the delight begins …. my delight … as I begin painting.



Some artists are very particular about ellipses, getting them right.  Monsieur Bonnard on the contrary used distortion a lot in his art, as did others of his contemporaries, like Vuillard, Matisse, Braque, many others.  While there’s nothing wrong with getting your ellipses right, getting them “wrong” poses a different sort of conundrum.  What kind of distortion gets the proper meaning?  Something about that creamer above, its overly wide rim, its weirdly strong echoing shadow appeals to me.  I like the crudity of this little painting that I made a long, long time ago.

I am wondering if I can properly manage a similar kind of sharp elbowed kind of drawing-in-the-painting now … and can I do so on a large scale?  Can I do that in the forth-coming big still life?

I wasn’t trying to distort the creamer when I painted this, and I had an actual motif that I was looking at.  I won’t be looking at the motif when I paint the big painting, and can one respond in that angled way to an image that floats in your brain?  An image that is really large in scale?

I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.  Writing about these things makes me eager to paint them.



bonnard gouache drawing for painting
Pierre Bonnard — sketch for La Salle à manger sur le jardin


I’ve been thinking ahead to the large still life that I plan to be painting soon.  This is the canvas that was going to be a large horizontal koi painting until I realized I just didn’t want to do that motif right now.  The canvas has since been up-ended vertically and the first early bits of paint mostly covered over with a pale blue (just because that’s the color that was already there).  I had decided to do “my version” of Bonnard’s La Salle à manger sur le jardin (regular readers may recall that I am in Monsieur Bonnard’s “classe” now — the one he teaches in the museums and in books from his perch in Heaven).

So I am asking myself exactly what it means to paint a version.  Do I use parallel color?  If so, as you can see from his sketch above, that means white table cloth, golden-ish room framing greens from the window above.  Am I using only his compositional idea?  Am I using a window something like the one he peered through in the lovely Villa Castellamare at Arcachon in 1930 (in earlier posts I went “window shopping”) or am I going to use my own humble window that looks out north on the yard, or perhaps the one that faces east and frames the holly tree?

Well, happily I don’t have to decide today.  I still have the “intermediate” picture to complete:  the tall bright vase of flowers on the green cloth with the blue background.  But it’s time to start thinking ahead….

seeing things

flowers drawing 2 (2)

It’s been a while since I bought some flowers to draw.  I need to do that again.  Drawing is a way of getting to know a thing.  The drawings that I love best have as their primary purpose the recording of a moment.  Flowers are wonderful to look at, to hold, to smell and they are wonderful to draw.

You choose an edge and let your eyes travel around that edge, and your hand records the journey — a trip through the flowers.  Drawing is freedom.

aiming the thought

sentinel tree drawing

I have a painting of a sentinel flowering tree that I’m trying to figure out. The drawing in oil pastel is near the same size as the painting (16 x 20 inches).  I’m not sure what color I want for the sky — or even for any of the features.  And I’m seeking a way of making the dimensional sense of the tree strong.

The painting (and the drawing) as they stand are focused on the surface whereas I want the tree to emerge from the surrounding vegetation and to look surrounded by the broad surface of other plants, plants growing so thickly as to be like a sea of leaves and flowers.

Neither the drawing nor the painting has this dimensional feature as yet.  In the drawing I was trying to figure out the color for the sky and thoroughly neglected the sense of dimensions.  Dizzy lines vibrate all over the place.  Forms flatten out.

I’m not really sure what I was doing. Sometimes drawing happens as stream of consciousness.  I’ll probably work on this drawing some more.  Then perhaps turn to the painting again.  Or perhaps I’ll make trial of another sheet of paper first.  But I can see that to get this feeling I want for the tree, I am going to need to direct my attention exclusively there.

And to have the bushes turn into forms would also be nice.  I try to maneuver my thoughts, to aim them.  But I don’t know even quite where to aim them until after I have done some drawing first.





rearranging the furniture

lattice sketch #1

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.

lattice sketch #2

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?”

lattice sketch #3

“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.

various lattice setups together

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.

lattice set up #2.png

the intricate fence


lattice new compositional drawing (2)

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.”

garden drawing (2)

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.