Birds & stuff — just because

bird sheet

I like to draw a lot. Sometimes these days I’m inclined to draw just to be drawing, choosing images somewhat randomly. I decided to draw a blue jay and made four versions of him together.  I think the face was already there.  Flowers came later, and some kind of fruit hidden among leaves. There’s still lots of white space left so other items many join the group.   We’ll see.

Why not?

Note to self: fighting & the beginning

dogwood tree at moms

A really wonderful painting with minimal technique is something to be sought (if technique is construed as “knowing the means of doing a thing”).  The problem with the beginning is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Usually you don’t know what you do know either.

Generally people think of the beginning as being where the rookie is. What is less often noted is that anyone can be at the beginning in some context. Artists who do the same thing over and over, having mastered it (whatever It is), are arguably no longer at the beginning. They have achieved a mastery in the sense of being able to predictably repeat past performances at a similar level of difficulty with no loss in quality.

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But if you’re the sort of person who wants to be doing something new because you distrust sameness then the beginning is a place you can enter again.  It’s harder, though, than one might suppose. I can become a beginner if I adopt certain kinds of subjects that I have never portrayed. That might be great if these things were things that I want to paint. But lots of things that I never did consist of things that I never wanted to do. Doing those things now wouldn’t represent growth, it would just be stupid.

beeing

So instead the challenge about doing something new relates to doing something that you want to do but have never done before, and more particularly doing something that’s difficult to achieve even at one’s present level of skill so that the challenge really puts you out of the comfort zone.  And THEN, not using one’s present knowledge to just think oneself logically through the technical problems, but rather using one’s ignorance itself as a tool so that you can dig, grab, flail your way along.

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I think I would rather struggle with a new thing than to use what I already know to render the new thing into some homogenized facsimile of what I already know.  Innovation — seeking and striving to get it — is more about immersion in a new experience than it is like coping by using all the old skills on new ideas. I don’t want to prettify the new thing with the contours of the familiar old things.

bonnard boxing
Pierre Bonnard self-portrait

 

I want to confront the new thing in all its new-to-me-ness and fight my way through it just like I fought with subjects when I was a young artist.  Is that why Bonnard portrays himself as a pugilist in the series of late self-portraits made in the bathroom mirror?  Well, I don’t know. Bonnard’s intention and his thoughts across a hundred years is not available to me. But I want to find subjects that are hard in ways that formerly would send me to the fainting couch except that instead of retreating to the couch I want to stand and fight.

lattice ptg

Art doesn’t have to be a fight.  I’m not saying that. Art can be refined, easy-going.  It can be a long walk. I’m just saying that if it’s a long walk, I want to walk somewhere I’ve never been before. I am looking for new experience, even in the things I’ve done again and again. I want to experience them in some innocence. I want to be overwhelmed by them. I don’t want to know what I’m doing. I want to figure something out as I go.

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odds & ends

Draw everything.

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You can’t of course. But why not just pretend that you can. There may not even be an everything to draw (philosophically speaking).  Who is to say how much stuff there is in even a corner of a still life. All that notwithstanding, when you tell yourself that maybe you’ll just sit down and draw everything now — you free yourself from the need to first draw this, and then draw that, and find the center of interest, and make sure to get the half-tones, and blah, blah, blah.

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This is a really neat still life. It’s a visual forest that a person’s eyes can wander around in for hours. It has twists and turns. It has passages of light and shade. It’s abundant in RED. There’s the black vase, too, with its patterns on the surface and its depths and reflections in the black — with the window reflection that takes you outside if you peer into it really deeply!

In the carnival glass compotier, as I was drawing, I saw a patch of white and wondered what it was. Looking closer I saw that it was the inverted, distorted reflection of the white creamer! In every centimeter there’s a wonder to behold. In such a visual jungle one cannot possibly draw everything and yet if you are, like me, too thrilled to choose, and must draw a bit of this and a bit of that, then you find splendors in every direction. Oh, to an ant it’s a palace of ineffable grandeur and beauty! (Well, that’s if ants’ sensibilities include enjoyment of the scenery.)

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I’ll tell you a secret, though I buy the best artist materials I can afford for the works that I plan for sale, I also adore working with very cheap and common things — expressly because they are ubiquitous in our society. I bought this notebook at RiteAid.  It’s cover caught my eye one day as I was leaving the pharmacy.

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You can see how it has the busy bright design that I like.  I’ve been drawing with Bic Cristal in this notebook this morning — that would be the world’s cheapest and absolutely most wonderful and expressive pen — ever!

My parents were survivors of the Great Depression and instilled in me (without their realizing) a great love for the common tools that are abundantly available. In regard to drawing, when I pick up simple dime store tools and draw, I feel like I’ll always be able to draw come what may. I sit here in the corner of a room like an oriental pasha with my wealth of colors and thrift store treasures, exploring the seemingly infinite reach of my territory!

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I have long admired the fishes on the Chinese tea pot and I decided to zero in on one of them at the risk of having the shape of the pot go somewhat crazy on me. If you care about the pot’s shape, you draw that first, but if you care about the fish — sooner or later you have to make a wild lunge for the fish, pen in hand.  If that puts the proportions out of whack, so be it.

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After several drawings, I decided to draw with watercolor. It is similarly scattershot. But the brightness of the whole I find satisfying.

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I’ve have drawn all afternoon en plein indoors sitting beside my still life table.

One more.  This one in oil pastel.

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I drew this one very fast and began with the reflection of the window because it had been so beautiful, really pearlescent! But the light changed so fast and I wasn’t actually able to observe the effect that had brought me in. Still it’s interesting that the whole drawing began with that reflection, like the axis of a wheel.

late night sea shells

Sea shells on the shelf, say that several

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times quickly. When I finished drawing my late night owl of the previous post, I turned my attention to the sea shells with the ceramic bird. I have an oil pastel that I work on when the light is right, and this pen drawing, made from a different angle, in different light keeps me thinking about the forms.

 

learning the owl

In idle moments I play in earnest.

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I get better acquainted with the subjects of my paintings. You cannot know an owl too well.  And the vase with the songbird design on it needs understanding too.  These late night drawings keep me musing over the topic of my picture. I drew them from this set up seen below, seen here in daylight.

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They are parts of this painting that exists as yet only in sketches and in thought.

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someone else’s art

My daughter can draw really well

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which is not surprising given that she was holding a crayon before she could talk. But she doesn’t really know she can draw. Modern schools have a way of persuading children that they cannot draw, so it’s difficult to keep a young artist’s momentum going.  A young woman now, she picks up a pencil now and then. She’s on the verge (I hope) of rediscovering her talent.

Yesterday she drew the plaster cast (actually it’s made from cement, but same idea).

She has given me permission to post her drawing here. It’s a lively drawing, if a mom may say so herself …

the map is not the territory

If I redraw the vase enough times

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I’ll get some sort of map of it inside my head. The map is not the territory, but a drawing is not quite a map either.

It is not the thing, but it contains ideas about the thing. The thing is sitting over there on the still life table.  And these, on the contrary, were some of my thoughts in linear blue scribbles.

And it’s not just the vase, but the songbird on the vase (who is companion to the owl). So, it’s complicated.

different media & variations on a theme

Bach made thirty variations

fish watercolor

of his aria for his Goldberg Variations. I haven’t made that many variations on any of my koi motifs yet. That’s an awful lot of fish to draw. But I do redo the same fishes again and again because I’m Degas’s dutiful student and he told me, “il faut refaire la même chose dix fois, cents fois.”  Okay, maybe he wasn’t talking to me.  But still I take these things to heart. So, I redo my koi — maybe ten times — not yet thirty — and goodness knows, Monsieur Degas, not one hundred times!

fish colored pencil

Watercolor at the top, then colored pencil, then dry pastel (a detail, below), and crayon (also a detail, below that).

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What can I say?  I need one of these:

I'd rather be fishing

In my own way …

the owl I did before

I will do many owls.

other owl drawing

But I was looking for this owl because I wanted to think about the way I had drawn him before. I think I made this drawing about four years ago around the time that I got the candle owl from the thrift store.

plans postponed

We’ve had a lot of rain.

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I began a little still life from the objects stored on the shelf. They were not set up to be “the still life,” I just store them on the shelf. But each time I look at them, their arrangement beckons. The other day I started a drawing in low light. The photograph below shows the objects but not the lighting which is too slight for my photography.

shells on the shelf

I love being in a slightly darkened room, drawing things I like. But the rain has taken away so much sun that I cannot work on this any further today.

studio today

I even had a still life I was doing from life in sunny light and I haven’t worked on it in weeks. All the still life objects have a layer of dust on them. But as diligent as one would like to be, you cannot fight Nature.

She has set her heart on rain, so rain it will be. Perhaps I should start portraying landscapes of rain.

As for today, and its faintly realized still life, the other thing I like is the arrangement of things as they’re stumbled upon. To discover the composition while making it, while looking at it — while staring over a length of days of idle thought. I picked a sheet of Canson pastel paper. It is the size it is. I had no idea how much of the scene even to include, had no notion where the edges would be. I just began drawing that first sea shell that I particularly love and let the other things gather round it.  I didn’t even know where to place the sea shell on the sheet. I just began.

I don’t know what it will all look like when it’s finished. And of course I don’t know when it will stop raining, when the light will come back.  This is why it’s good to have many projects. Eventually one will come off.