looking back, thinking ahead

Dark and light, night and day

— elemental themes appeal to me.  They beckon like dreams. I do a lot of traditional kinds of pictures — and I love the discipline of tightly focused imagery like a vase of flowers — very basic — takes you to the foundations of seeing — it is to pictorial art what the sonnet is to poetry.  But I also venture periodically into stream-of-consciousness kinds of imagery.

Sometimes I hear that call again. I am not sure what sort of thing I’ve a yen for just now, but winter’s long nights and cold clear days are great for firing up the imagination.

Not knowing what’s next, I’m watchful for ideas.  In just such moods I find that ideas arrive.  Someone told me once that I needed to pick a theme and create a consistent portfolio, and I am NEVER — DOING  — THAT.  I follow the river current of thought because I know from experience that it leads to good places.

You go off in some tangent, but later you find that the wild explorations allow you to bring back knowledge — knowledge of a sort that you can apply again even to the traditional things — to even the simple vase of flowers.

Everything you learn enriches everything that you know already. So be bold, be daring.

More not-art

Maybe the concept of drawing that is not art

101_8614 (2)
rapid oil pastel drawing of the window at twilight comparing indoor light with the declining light outdoors

 

holds special appeal for me because when I first realized that I wanted to be an artist, when I was a teen, I found drawing so difficult. It should be noted that some painters never draw, and that drawing isn’t really essential to painting since the drawing of an image can be subsumed into the process of painting. But I wanted to draw. It was a puzzle too because sometimes I could draw and sometimes I couldn’t. I couldn’t understand why it should turn on and off, but it did. Now I have some ideas about why it can turn on and off and even now — after let’s not mention how many decades of drawing — my ability to draw still turns on and off sometimes. The difference now is that when it turns “off” I just continue along knowing that it will turn “on” again shortly.

101_8610 (2)
Bic Cristal pen drawing of leaves and a flower after Huysum, copying from the book “Miraculous Bouquets” by Anne T. Woollett [plates 7 & 8]

However, the problem of drawing persists in my mind and thoughts about the solutions to the problem also persist because I had so much anguish in early days. Moreover in finding out that the solution is to simply continue along, I learned over time to appreciate the gains of drawing particularly on those occasions when drawing seemed to be going badly. And I learned to love the immersion into visual perception. I have come to love the stenography of drawing, the use of a drawing tool as biofeedback for those occasions when I simply look at a thing and think about aspects of its appearance.

Having the pen in my hand cements something in the thoughts. It uses more of the body. It connects me more to the sensation than if I were only looking. In neurological terms it invokes neuroplasticity. I am drawing on the paper, but I am also drawing something on my mind’s surface too.

101_8617
oil pastel drawing of a fabric design that appears in a painting in progress

 

Art is associated with an image that ultimately gets presented to a public. Art is a cultural thing. Art is something we do for our neighbors — on some level. Maybe Vermeer was an extreme introvert (who can really know?) but his art came to enjoy rock star status in our era. I doubt Vermeer could have ever imagined its having such powerfully broad appeal across time and cultures. How could Vermeer imagine anything about our world? Okay, so that’s an extreme example. Putting a picture in a local exhibition or offering it for sale in an art gallery are also ways that it becomes “art” for the participation of lots of other people outside the artist’s narrow orbit.

But as fine a thing as art is, I also cherish privacy and the value of ideas that are not comprehensible. I involve myself in an irony by declaring the privacy of some of my drawings while writing a post on the Internet! It’s just that I know other people do these things too, and my point is to say, “Hey.  This is marvelous.” You cannot know what I experienced as I display my incomprehensible, scribbly bits of visual biofeedback. But I’m telling you this is wonderful stuff. And for a music lover, even the sound of a musician practicing scales can be thrilling. The sound of the instrument. These episodes are like that.

101_8611 (2)
another drawing from the Huysum book “Miraculous Bouquets” [frontispiece]

I am justly proud of the beauty of the line produced by the pen. Can you see how amazingly lovely some of this is? Bic Cristal deserves perhaps most of the praise, but I get some too for the use of the tool. And dime store pencils on cheap paper, and other tools used with devil-may-care freedom offer delights.

101_8623 (2)
oil pastel drawing that I’m glad I made because it gave me some ideas

 

Because I’m telling you — that while I was looking at these things, the objects on the still life table that I’ve drawn and redrawn a gazillion times, which I never find boring (I suppose these are some of my scales and arpeggios) or the really confused visually wandering thoughts about the plant and architectural forms that I see from the back door of my house, and thoughts about things seen in the dark, or the birds that flew past my head, the leaves of grass on the ground — I can scribble the thoughts of these things and the drawing has probably no verisimilitude AT ALL.  But I know what I felt. I will own the memory of this moment more strongly for having used the drawing tool.

101_8608 (2)
pencil drawing of Huysum’s leaf

 

Someday it may even work its way into my art also.

101_8619 (2)
little notes I’ve made to myself about a project

 

 

Tree Cartoon, the School of Fish

Every once in a while here, I post a collage or a “cartoon.”  This cartoon (large compositional study for a painting) belongs to the Big Tree idea that I posted in mid-June.

Other collages I’ve posted include this abstract image, this idea for a child’s mural, and this study of a detail of a painting.  It’s fun to organize them so that they can be compared.  I’ve never seen them together except here on line.

For almost every subject I undertake, I do studies.  Some of these studies take the form of collage. Collage is such a free and expressive media.  You can organize large areas of a picture in one swoop.

I like to explore the possibilities and details of the images I design.  Often these studies vary enough from the original to suggest new projects.  This particular collage was supposed to help me figure out the tree idea, but became more about the fish.  It takes on a new interest for me now as I embark on a new round of paintings of fish swimming.  Meanwhile the fish in this collage have found themselves quite a nice little pond where they bob up and down like corks.

[Top of the post: Cartoon for the painting “Big Tree,” by Aletha Kuschan, Xeroxed pictures glued to paper with crayon drawing]

Easy

Some complicated things are quite easy.  Interesting paradox.  In the previous post I wrote about my dream of a drawing discipline that seeks complexity.  I’m looking for a Few Good Artists!

Well, I’ve got to tell you my reader stats fell into the basement.  Readers, come back!  I’m not talking Everest here.  You already do a highly complex eye/hand/brain coordination task that has become so easy, you hardly notice that you do it.  You write!

Cursive.  Beautiful cursive.  Don’t the words alone transport you back to second grade?  Cursive involves eye/hand and small motor coordination that is far more demanding than what an artist uses in a typical drawing. 

You’re already doing really hard stuff, guys!  So, now I’m sending you on a new mission:  a Mission Possible!

Draw. Draw wonderful and challenging things.  Draw, darn it! (And that’s an order.)

Something Fishy

This little guy spawned in a notebook.  He is a drawing of an imaginary fish composed of paper mache who sometimes swam one direction and then swam in the other direction. 

He is an idea of a fish.

My Cezanne

There’s no better way to understand an artist than to walk a mile in his shoes.  This is one of many studies I’ve made of Paul Cezanne’s Vase de Fleurs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

Seeing Orange

A grand version of the idea I’m promoting is visible here, complete with bird’s nest.  A close inspection of the actual painting would also reveal insects.  Dutch artists loved to paint still lifes filled with living (and crawling things).  Ants were very popular.  Some of the roaches who make occasional appearances at my apartment may sometimes be found wandering through my still life?  Perhaps.  Though if I ever see them, I shall choose not to paint them. 

Notice that the Dutch 18th century artist (this National Gallery of Art painting is by Jan van Huysum)  likes the same orange that I do!