new year’s resolutions

monet 1
Claude Monet – Haystacks

January is a natural time for making plans.  A whole year’s calendar sits there all open and full of possibility.  I’ve been reading a lot about goal setting during the last year and so my “new year’s resolution” this year is to be more consistently resolved!  I have always enjoyed making plans but I never realized that there’s a real art to planning itself.

I’ve been reading books by Brian Tracy, the best of which, in my opinion, are “Maximum Achievement,” “Goals!” and “Eat that Frog.”  And I just read Tony Robbins’ book “Awaken the Giant Within” which is full of wisdom.  Some of his stories are a little dated now, but the ideas are pristine.

The first element of goal setting is self-examination.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want from art at this phase of my life.  I look back at some of my earliest heroes, artists like Claude Monet (above).  I want to figure out how to emulate my heroes.  So, for instance, I’d like to master large landscape painting.

As the goal books will tell you, big plans need to be parsed into smaller, doable, trackable chunks.  For that reason I’m doing a gazillion small landscape paintings, and I’m approaching them in many different ways.  I’m using acrylic paint because it dries quickly but I know that much of what I learn from free-wheeling acrylic painting can be translated into oil also.  And I’m going to translate it.

There are many other facets to my particular plans and I won’t bore readers with the details.  Each person has different goals and every project needs to be thought through in its individual paths.

I just want to share some of my enthusiasm for the beginning of another year.  It’s a blank canvas.  It is full of possibility.  You have many choices about how to paint your year.  And I encourage you to embark on the new year with joy.

So, eat that frog!  You can even paint that frog.  If you’re an artist, you can have your frog and paint your frog and eat it too!

(You’ll have to read Brian Tracy’s brilliant book, though, if you want to get the joke!)

frog detail 3

Shopping for ideas


I’ve been visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington on recent weekends.  Monet’s painting of his garden has been a particular destination.  I’m painting landscapes now, and I look at Monet’s surfaces and seek answers to questions that I’m encountering in my own painting.  I have five landscapes in the works at present, each in different stages of “almost there.” Mine are small paintings, 18 x 24 inches.  Monet’s painting is quite large. His measures almost 60 x 48.  The room is so large that the painting doesn’t seem that big when you’re standing in front of it, but — wow — it is. Some sense of the scale is available by seeing it with museum visitors.


Details of Monet’s painting are visible on NGA’s website.  You can zoom into the nuances.


New-to-me Monet

Met Monet I've never seen before

I was browsing the Met’s collection of Monets on line, looking for something else, when I found this Monet that I’ve never seen before — by which I mean that I have never seen it reproduced despite my having perused a gazillion books on Monet over the past 30 odd years.

I wonder why they keep it so secret.

I have wanted to paint something like this, have tried my hand at my own version of a similar idea, as for instance in this large drawing here.  And I knew about this sort of image via works by other artists, like Wolf Kahn — or even by the backdrop in the National Gallery’s large Degas, where the theatre set features a rather “Monet-like,” broadly conceived landscape.  JMW Turner, of course, did things like this — probably where Monet got his idea.

Or perhaps he got his idea by looking at the backgrounds of Claude Lorraine.

Who knows where Monet got his idea.  But there’s certainly no use in the Met keeping this picture under wraps because the idea already escaped long ago.

Art Book Companions

There’s a story about Delacroix, his suffering indecision, not being able to figure out the colors of a detail in his painting.  He tells his assistant to order a coach for him so he can visit the Louvre where he would, no doubt, consult Rubens.  So the assistant orders the coach and Delacroix prepares to board it, when seeing the shadow of the coach on the ground, he is suddenly confronted with his solution in the form of yellow lights and violet contrasts.  Thus he sends the coach away and continues with his painting.  Nature came to his rescue!

Me, I need art history for my rescue — not that I face any problem as thorny as whatever Delacroix was trying to resolve.  I could have summoned my own coach to take me to the National Gallery of Art.  All I’d have had to do is put the key in the ignition.  Zoom, zoom.  And I’d have been there.  Today being Sunday, I’m quite sure I could easily have found a parking place.  Sometimes these days just finding a parking place seems like reason enough to do a victory lap.  Of course, if you did that you’d risk losing the space you had just found …

Well, I don’t need to actually visit a museum today.  I have a really terrific art library and the books have their own magic — not as grand as seeing actual works, but nothing to sniff at either.  A good art book is a boon companion.  Right now I’m consulting Monet about my drawing.  Seeing his “The Manneporte, Etretat” I am struck by how solidly everything is realized.  The foot of the cliff that reaches out into the sea is so heavy and physical.  The light that covers it like a cloak is so beautiful and true.  The half lights are perfect.  What was moving, transient and probably damp and messy — thinking about the cumbersome business of his taking canvas to such a location and dealing with the wind that ripples the sea in such a lively way — he resolves all that with such admirable visual logic.  Meanwhile, my picture’s characteristics are so different.  For the drawing I’m doing at the moment, I don’t even have the subject in front of me, and the action takes place entirely on the sheet of paper, deriving what energy it has from the contrasts of the colors themselves and the character of lines.

Still Monet’s sea picture is like an anchor.  It steadies my thoughts — is like taking a walk along the beach during a pause in my drawing.   Monet was among my first loves, among those who first led me into the way of painting, and I find that all these years later he’s still a welcoming teacher.

Monet, “The Manneporte, Etretat,” 1886, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Painting is a Mirror

All an artists’ works are a series.  Monet only made patent what all true art had implied.  And Delacroix had expressed the idea when he noted that the painter paints himself, his own soul.  In that lies the unity.  I have seen many interconnections in an artist’s works that owes nothing to the current fashion for multiples.  I’ve seen people organize space in parallel ways over different canvases.  I’ve seen the same activity take place in my pictures. 

Sometimes the effect is subtle.  It reflects unconscious impulses.  It demonstrates something about how your mind organizes its thoughts. 

Whenever a real break comes, one that causes you to organize things differently – now that ought to provoke one’s curiosity!  Do I now think differently?  Am I somehow changed?  And perhaps I wasn’t even aware….


One of my first intimations of the koi paintings came while my daughter was a crawler, though I didn’t know it at the time.  I was studying Monet’s water lilies, the nympheas, and also the works of Joan Mitchell and Emily Kame Kngwarrey all of which seemed linked in my mind to the rigorous scribblings of my toddler, her bold vigorous lines.  In naptime breaks while she slept, I was able to recapture aspects of my previous artist’s life, and sometimes I made fast, big drawings like this one (which I recovered from a pile at the secret bunker).

Cast your line

I want you to imagine something with me.  Imagine we’re at a sparkling lake.  Someone is fishing — perhaps even you.  Definitely not I, but someone is.  He or she is casting a fishing line.  Can you see it?  Slow it down now in your thought.   Play it in slow motion like a film in your mind.  It’s the part of the movie with the most enchanting music. 

And as the fisher casts the line, we see it — and hear it — suspended in the air.  We see the filament unraveling the air, bending with a most exquisite grace, bending backward, reaching forward, as though alive.  It propells forward.  It straightens slightly.  It catches up its own elegance into graceful curves.  It stretches out into space.  The filament cuts into the air.  Molecules slip out of its path.  And it seems like a little eternity that it just hangs there, loose and reaching, ever reaching and finding.  It is a completely sure and true spectacle of beauty.

It is pure linearity.

Hold the thought of it a minute like holding a breath.

That, friends, is what Monet’s drawing is like.  Hidden inside his notebook — like a graphite treasure of simplicity and wisdom — in his unprepossessing carnet, are these lines that drop onto the page endowed with resilient freedom. 

Cast your thoughts upon the vacant air, and they will look something like a Monet line.  See the plain daylight fall into the pond’s depths, see that the reflections are lines like these, thought lines that catch a living reality.

Now that’s a fine, plump fish indeed.

Find more sketchbooks here.

Yellow Snow


In the previous post I complained about the Carolina snowfall that has intruded upon my travel plans.  I had contemplated the possibility of making a picture of the snow  à la Monet, but gosh darn it, even looking at the stuff from the window makes me cold.  Then I fell upon this very modern idea.  And it’s partly a tribute to my Ellsworth Kelly fans since it’s just a rectangle filled with one color, and I know they like that sort of thing.  Yet, it has meaning too for those who still want a little narrative in their art.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I present you with my latest work: “Yellow Snow.”

It’s certainly faster and easier to do this Ellsworth Kelly inspired art, I gotta tell you.  Think how much more trouble it would be to follow Monet’s example (below from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris), to say nothing of how it might freeze my delicate toes.


Still I am very grateful to how the Ellsworth Kelly folks boost my stats.  Thank you!

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Copying Monet

With further research, I find that the Monet Sunflowers lives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  It is cropped in the image I used in the earlier post.  Click on the word “Sunflowers” in the previous sentence to see what the Met has to say about the painting, as well as to see a full image of it.  Meanwhile, I found this sketch after the painting by Karen Wall Garrison at her website.  She made the drawing after visiting the Met.

Ms. Garrison says of copying (in regard to a different picture, but the principle holds): “As I often like to do at museums, I stood in front of the painting … and sketched it. Not so much to make an accurate rendering, but to anchor into my memory the details.” [My emphasis.] 

All the drawing one does might be so described.  We “anchor” the images of things into our minds.  What an eloquent expression.  It goes to the very heart of why one paints at all.  We are grasping directly at aspects of life when painting, anchoring ourselves into the life we are living.

[Top of the post:  Drawing after Monet’s Sunflowers, by Karen Wall Garrison.]