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.
Idle moment waiting in the car in the rain. I drew a little tree sketch in my pocket notebook. It was something to do. I like trees, love observing them in all kinds of weather. Drawing the tree was helping to keep me awake. It can be difficult staying alert during long periods of rain. Letting my eyes wander among the beautiful shapes made by the boughs of the tree was a pleasant venture.
It relates to other projects — even to other kinds of trees. I have a painting currently on hold that the little sketch helps me think about. I do paintings in waves of activity. Usually I start something, take it along a certain degree, then I put it aside. For me the interlude of separation appears to be a necessary part of the process of completing the picture. I used to chide myself for not finishing things. I didn’t realize that I needed the passage of respite from the image. I finish the pictures, but it takes longer than I had supposed. Now that I know this, I have a whole different relationship to the task.
I got into the habit of painting large pictures after I discovered that I could rehearse ideas by first making large drawings. And then the prospect of painting on a large canvas began to seem much less daunting. I knew that I could work out any problems or uncertainties using the less expensive medium. At first I even used cheap paper to make the preliminary drawings. Sometimes to make the sheet large enough, I taped together many smaller sheets. I got that idea from a cartoon by Carracci that I saw at the National Gallery of Art. It was one large image drawn on a sheet made from assembling many small sheets.
These days I use watercolor paper by the roll and artists’ crayons rather than crayolas. But I got my start with quite humble (and very amusing) beginnings.
Illustrated above is a large koi painting measuring 40 x 60 that’s almost complete, and a preliminary drawing for it that is slightly smaller, and which has undergone still further alterations, taking on a life of its own.
As to why I wanted to paint large, I think I merely wanted to surround myself with the images that I love — to be even more inside that world.
The subterranean aspects of house cleaning take you into the dark waters where sometimes dark fishes swim unseen in the murk. Okay, I guess that’s a mixed metaphor unless I have a koi pond in the house — oh wait — I do. I do have a koi pond in the house. I have many koi ponds in the house. I should count them sometime. But as I was saying …
House cleaning is like dreaming, and certain images — when you find them behind this or that item dredged up from the general disorder — take on renewed significance. I know that as I sift through things, I will find used ideas, and some new-to-me ideas — even though they are really my ideas — and yet my old ideas are like hand-me-downs from my past self to Present Tense Me.
Well, anyway suffice it to say that house cleaning is such a creative endeavor that you wonder why you don’t do it more often — except for the realization that it was the separation in time that gives the old ideas their new power.
House cleaning is an amazing experience. Try it. Marie Kondo says we will be transformed.
Cleaning house is a psychological event. I have already had more than one reunion with a long lost item. I am discovering while reading Marie Kondo’s book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” that many things that fill my house can easily be tossed. I haven’t used them in years. I don’t need them. I’ll never use them. Time to release such things back into the wild.
But I am also finding many things that were merely hidden under the crush of stuff. Retrieving these items is archaeology. Rediscovering these hidden items gives me access to other parts of my memory. They are like windows opening onto my past life.
And so cleaning house is a bit like dreaming.
I never know exactly what I will find. I open a door and an image is waiting there.
I am welcoming many long interred ideas back into my life. And it is changing me.
Memory is a source of invention.
These were the prototypes. I have a big clean canvas ready for a new version of this motif. And I’m getting ready to begin it fairly soon. A large preliminary drawing is in the works.
But note, I used to have a lot of studio space as illustrated above. Now I’m inhabiting smaller quarters. Thus I am beginning the Big Tidy Campaign of 2017. The thought of being able to comfortably work on this motif is one of my incentives to action.
Tidying is the chore. The big koi pond will be my reward.
It’ll be fun to jump into the pond again … though I still have finishing touches to put on a companion piece. That’ll be fun too. But first I must reorganize.
Neat people believe that a clean desk is the sign of a well-ordered mind. Messy people think that a messy desk demonstrates the resident’s vibrant creativity. Everybody rationalizes their habit into virtue. Me, I’m a messy person who aspires to be orderly. Actually at this point, I would be pleased merely to get stuff off the floor and have some space in which to move around. Hence, it’s time to tidy!
I got a book — because that’s how I roll — have an ambition — there’s a book for that! I’m reading “the life-changing magic of tidying up” by Marie Kondo. The author has spent more hours of her life endeavoring to make this a tidier world than I feel is strictly necessary, but let’s just say that it’s also the bonafide cynosure of her expertise in the topic. (I don’t think she’s ever heard of entropy.)
My dog will be happy because at present she cannot enter my studio, a circumstance that causes her to stand at the entrance of it and pout ostentatiously. There are simply too many things sitting around that can catch onto a dog’s tail, thence to spread pigment everywhere as the tail wags. But when I get things in order, she’ll be able to assume the much coveted role of official studio dog.
So, we’ll see how it goes. Marie Kondo assures her reader (and their canines) that the effects of her instructions are life transforming. I stand ready to be transformed!
When I want to get myself to do something, I write about it a little. I have a bunch of notebooks that I keep — journals — with writing in them — leftover habit from English major days. Sometimes I just think in ink — “what if I did X ?”
One of the things I thought about was that I should make more little sketches — incoherent little sketches that are to drawing what making lists in notebooks are to writing. Now I am much quicker to give thoughts a visual shape even when I have no motif in front of me.
Recently I made a little sketch of a still life.
I don’t know if I even realized that it’s a sketch of the ruby red still life. But next thing I knew the thought that I should make a painting of the pastel was firmly rooted in my brain, and I was sifting through the stacks of stuff looking for a canvas panel of the right size.
The big koi drawing got a rework.
A few days ago (April 2nd) I posted a large preparatory drawing that I have used to rehearse a large painting that’s in the works. The drawing is 50 x 42.5 inches large. One challenge an artist faces making large works is photographing them. In my case there isn’t enough natural light available in the room where I work to get a good photograph. Doing photography outdoors, of course, introduces its own challenges (not the least of which is how to drag the drawing and its huge heavy drawing support outside).
Well, I got the drawing and its heavy support outside. But then I had to locate a place with indirect light because the first and easiest location for my photo shoot produced the image seen below. Very charming, but not descriptive of the drawing.
The photo did however prompt a wonderful idea: the photograph with its “clouds” was so lovely.
Why not make those effects part of the drawing itself?
And I have since altered the drawing (new version at the top of the post) to introduce some of these lights that remind me of cloud reflections floating over the koi pond. The over-exposed sections of light, made more dramatic in contrast to various shadows, are not real clouds, but they’re close enough to push the picture in that direction, and do note that these effects were still natural ones.
These were lights and shadows I found in nature. I’m still imitating nature here.
Certainly it’s possible to continue a process of this sort, I’ve taken the reworked drawing outdoors again and repeated this process.
New lights and shadows in new locations on the reworked drawing.
Portraying Nature is a complex endeavor. Nature is everywhere. It’s in your head as well as “out there.” Time is a part of Nature too.
The stages are part of the lovely game of painting. Taking the picture into this direction is, granted, not the same thing as making a faithful representation of the motif en plein air. But it is nevertheless a kind of naturalism and a kind of fidelity too.