Getting it Right

Everyone talks about what’s wrong

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but I think most people have difficulty figuring out what they got right. Recognizing mistakes is often easy. (Making them is easy too!) When a picture has a lot of mistakes, how do you discover what you did right? How do you marshal skill to get things right, to recognize and correct mistakes, and to go forward toward new decisions?  Sometimes it gets sticky.

In the picture above, which is a large practice cartoon for a painting idea, I have wanted to emulate Pierre Bonnard since I’ve loved his art for nearly as long as I can remember. Bonnard’s work is chaotic, “naïve,” fuzzy, idiosyncratic. His pictures are filled with features that could easily be categorized as mistakes. He made an art of mistake. So it seems unlikely that I’m going to get very far along his path if I assiduously strive to draw everything correctly.

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How do you achieve the mistake that is art? How do you recognize the mistake that is a mistake? Context is everything. For most people, mistakes are things they wish to avoid. In the art that I’m addressing the mistake is a goal to be achieved because I’m seeking the kind of perfect mistake that is expressive, that uses exaggeration to reach a truth that cannot be gotten by following the path of precision.

Since this is a working drawing, made solely for the purpose of figuring something out, I taped a page over top of an area that was “more mistaken” than what I was seeking. Afterwards I continued integrating the new sheet into the existing image.

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It’s a back burner picture right now since I’m busy with other things. I bring it out of the closet to think about what mistakes are and why we must make them if we want to learn new skills, and why sometimes they transform into marvelous discoveries if we just plow forward.

I also want to address the idea of appreciation.

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I love the criss cross shadow cast by the compotier. The criss cross opening on the compotier basin is just barely indicated in this drawing — by some hatching beside one of the apples. I loved seeing this feature in the still life set up. I loved drawing it quickly and crudely in this drawing. I realized afterwards that I had hit some Bonnard pay dirt, since his art is full of hatching and squares of various sorts. And my still life was full of them too in ways I hadn’t noticed when I put it together. (Give your subconscious the respect it deserves.)

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I can draw, I can draw! I’ve supplied various examples at this blog to demonstrate that fact to myself and to others. I did so just so I could grant myself the freedom to make a bushel basket full of mistakes if I want. Just look at how pretty the colors are, the marks as marks.

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I don’t mind telling you that drawing this image was fun. And it’s not finished or anything, I just abandoned it because something else came up.  I’ll go back to it eventually I suspect, if the past is any indication of the future.  Look at how freely I drew some of this stuff. Look at the wonderful way that the crayon scumbles, light over dark.  The texture of the paper is definitely a factor.

Since I’m emulating Bonnard, I include some of his painting for comparison.

bonnard still life

Mine is a large drawing. I had to bend over to draw the bottom, reach up to do the top, move the thing around on the easel to get to this and that part. It’s physical.

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Things are the wrong sizes relative to each other. Ellipses don’t work. The angle of vision is confusing. I have no idea where I would be standing to see it. Things are cartoonish. (I love the flowers.)  Some of the colors are wonderful. The whole thing has a clunkyness that I sometimes love, sometimes hate.

I’m praising the good things about my picture because I think that’s what you should be doing as well (praising the good things in my picture  oops — I mean, praising the good things in YOUR pictures).

Another Bonnard, this one with a compotier:

fruit-bowl-1914 bonnard

Having standards will make you strive, and that’s a good thing. Developing appreciation nourishes your spirit. It’s hard to persist in a complicated project if you are often berating yourself. For those reasons, I give myself full reign to enjoy the pictures I make. I like drawing. I like this kind of inventive drawing, which is very different from setting up a still life and painting it directly. I began a new thing and gave myself a challenge. And I post these images here because they have a lot of mistakes in them.  To succeed fully enough mistake has to be siphoned away or transmuted until just invention remains.

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That’s a high wire act because people like different things. (Some artists and art lovers hate Bonnard.) At long last there’s no authority you can turn to that can assure you that you took the correct path. The definitions of success and mistake are amorphous. But if I succeed according to my own idea the picture will find an inner logic. I don’t know yet what the result will look like, but I am encouraged — in all my pictures, not just this one — to go forward toward finding that logic.

A detail of a large Bonnard still life below, notice the wonderful stripes:

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Bonnard, detail of a large still life

Information about the painting above is available HERE.

I’ve written about mistakes but still haven’t identified the most significant mistakes of my picture. As I look at it now, its problems begin with the large design. Putting in more information will help sort out what the large compositional problems are (the whole lower left of the picture is still blank, for instance, though it’s supposed to feature a design on the table cloth).  Until the additional stuff is there, it’s impossible to judge how the parts will relate to each other. And after I put more stuff in, it’s possible I might have to take some of it out again (which is the reason for making the practice cartoon in the first place).

All the figuring out what is a mistake is something I leave for another occasion.  For now, I’m just focusing on what I like because people don’t pay enough attention to what is right when they are busy seeing “mistakes.”

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Green and yellow, above, and energetic lines, colors that push up against each other: these are things I like.

 

Today’s catch is flowers not fish

I was supposed to paint today, but I never got the lid off the paint tubes.  Instead I just had to draw.  I am drawing the stuff that I am going to paint — that I have already started painting.  But before I even did that, I took my walk.  Did my “walk” drawings.

Have a little notebook to carry.  Now just for the record, these were not made with the favorite pen.  It’s a very nice pen that I used, but was not the favorite.  The favorite pen stays behind when I walk.

Made a couple little “detail” scribble thingys.

One of these, surely, ought to be turned into a postage stamp.  Is about the right size.  Wouldn’t you want to put this on your envelop?

Then back at the ranch, I drew some more.  My flowers are so patient.

They’re also very cheerful.  Or maybe it was me that was cheerful.

Got the vase to stand for one alone, too.

After that, the grand finale … for today anyway.

Today’s Catch

Back at work on the forth of the large koi drawings.  I start out not knowing quite where to recommence, but soon I’m swinging crayons around again and am enjoying myself immensely.

Here’s the picture as it looked when I stood back to judge the whole.  Koi drawing number three hangs up high to the left.

In the detailed shot, you can see that these drawings get very scribbly.  That’s what I adore about crayon drawings. 

Someday when all the various koi drawings are reunited, it’s going to be wonderful to compare them.  But for now I draw them and stash them away.  Only have one little corner of wall to use as my drawing board, so it sees a lot of turn over. 

I have a big pond.  Lots of fish.

Revisiting Fishes

These guys made an appearance in the latest koi drawing (of the previous post) and here they are as I had drawn them once before.  I thought it would be fun to repost them and see how they relate to their new twins.

There’s a lot of ideas available in the same motif, even in the same leitmotif of a motif.  And at’s a lot of motifs.

grateful wanderer through the big outdoors

Finally!  I began my much longed for return to drawing en plein air.  I spent much of the late winter doing landscape indoors from photos and have longed to encounter Mother Nature again face to face.  Mother Nature can be very capricious when she spies an artist drawing in the landscape, but she was so kind to me today!

Nonetheless, it wasn’t slugging about with a backpack over hills and dales — not for me.  No, it was more like a delightfully pensive walk with a few tools round the sparsely visited park.  And the one above I did while sitting in my car having lunch.

Swimming in Slow Mo

koi drawing at studio Oct 28

It was just a day or so ago I announced the beginning of the “last” koi painting (with “last” being understood as a relative term).  I am in finishing mode, I said.  The picture above, stored at my secret bunker studio in an undisclosed location in Washington DC is among those in need of the finishing.  Having established that fact, I promise I will not discuss the koi pond every day between now and the final strokes (of either the brush or the crayon).

Finishing the pictures is a task unto itself, with its own erratic schedule, creative whimsy, strategies and longish time spans.   Finishing is like Phase II in relation to which creating the first overall image (or “blocking in”) was just the framework.  Everyone is different.  I seem to never start a picture and continue straight through to its completion.  I start a whole bunch of pictures, often supposing that various ones are “almost” done, only to go back to them again and again realizing that the topic held much more than I ever supposed.

On one level, one could say that finishing a picture involves adding more details — except that the details are as variable as the whole picture is, as amorphous, as open to discovery.  Indeed, it’s in the discovering of whatever “details” there are that I seem so often to find out what the painting is.  As though the painting were a large flat surface filled with doors, each detail seems to provide an access to some kind of world lying behind the picture’s surface.

koi shadow upper left detail

I often don’t know where to start when I recommence work on a picture.  I just pick somewhere and get to scribbling.  It’s almost as though you could play a piece of music by beginning arbitrarily upon any measure and still turn out okay!  (A reason why I prefer painting to music.) 

Since the koi are (and must be) based upon photos, this opening of doors, happens when I translate sections of photos into the picture.  The transcription of a photo into a picture can be a very creative endeavor, and the same is equally true about the details of a photo.  I find that the details become virtually pictures in themselves or almost pictures within pictures. 

koi photo crop enlarged

I look at a bit of photo that is perhaps a few centimeters across as I hold it in my hand (enlarged above) and draw whatever features I notice, whatever strikes my fancy, exactly in the order in which my fancy is struck.  You can see a fish that swims underneath what looks like a reflection caught in the wave crests.  The warm orange colored koi with black spots and stripes slides under and also (it seems) through this dark veil.  The reflection both reveals and hides the fish. 

Translating it into crayon, as seen below on a different koi, I draw and scribble out shapes of colors.  Later I go back into these passages with other colors, that adjust or contrast with them.  The drawing with crayon resembles a warp and weft of fabric strands and can produce the most astonishing color effects, that seem naturalistic from a distance, but which are a crazy quilt of transpositions up close.

koi drawing detail of a fish textures

It’s both naturalistic and abstract simultaneously.

Later in the morning I was turning round in my mind the question of whether to add a large koi to the lower left of the picture.  I have a good candidate, but I wasn’t sure whether to put him in there or not.  I decided to rough him in, drawing over top an earlier idea that I had for that section.  When I was younger, I would never have attempted to put something so haphazardly into a drawing of this kind, but these days I know I can draw the guy.  It’s just a question of yes or no.  Slopping him into the pond with a few scrubbly colors doesn’t faze me because I realize my drawing skills are up to the task of rendering him, and I know these crayons are tough enough to take enough layers of work to “forgive” a few tactical changes.

koi drawing lower left first lines of new fish

The fish shapes get his size and position.  I’ll put more fish into his form on another occasion.  In the picture above he still floats over the shape of the earlier version.  By the time I got finished this morning’s work, some of the earlier drawing had already begun being covered up.  I’m going to draw the guy, too, on a separate sheet to get to know him better.  I can’t help begin thinking of these fish as individuals, almost as though they were pets. 

koi drawing with big fish added oct 28 09

Still standing back to see how the new guy will get along with the rest of the pond.  He’s a big guy, a regular Moby Dick.

Koi …. continued

lastest version of large koi drawing

My large drawing of koi continues. 

Deep blue/green paper.  Smudgy crayons.  Bright colors.  Memories of water.  Static photo.  Interpretation.  Hallucination.  Sore arm muscles.  Contemplation.  And Michel Petrucciani playing on the stereo for good luck.

The supplies in the foreground belong to the artist who shares the studio with me.

This sheet measures 45 x 60 inches.  (114 x 152 cm)