One of the ways I design koi images now is by combining little sketches in different, somewhat random arrangements to discover which overall pattern of fishes provides the most appealing composition. In these small drawings the goal is to get a large pattern established. Particulars of color, surface, anatomy or generalization, paint texture, etc. will all be sorted out later.
The finished painting might turn out to be quite large. So I spend time giving the drawing ideas a good stare to imagine how the imagery would look if expanded into a much larger format.
The fish placement isn’t really much different from putting fruits on a table to draw still life or to decide the relative positioning of anything that will create two dimensional movement across the picture plane.
We had a marvelous thunder storm last week. My town had a power failure around 6:30 pm. I drew in the twilight. I was using children’s crayons again, a most forgiving medium. I drew until I couldn’t see. Then I lit a candle and drew a bit more in that odd light. Here’s one drawing from inside the gloom. The photo doesn’t show what I saw, but reveals how the drawing looked when photographed in daylight.
The drawing is light. What I saw in the motif (copying from a painting) and on the page, those perceptions were both dark. I couldn’t tell what colors I was using. I couldn’t even read the words on the crayon label. I just picked up a crayon and drew. If I couldn’t see the line at all, I chose another.
It was a really fun way to spend the time. What else are you going to do when the lights go out? The power outage lasted until 8:38 pm. Observing my own mind’s responses was intriguing too. Drawing in the gloom was pleasant at first. After a while, I began to feel though as if it were a game. I was ready for the lights to be back on. That’s when I felt my keen dependence on modern technology. I really do love modern lighting! My mother grew up without it. Her childhood was lit by oil lamps. Strange to contemplate my nearness to that world.
Anyway, the lesson of the gloom was that your response to drawing can always grow in freedom. While I drew in low light, I drew without expectations since I could barely see what I was doing. When the lights returned, realizing how wonderful it felt to “just draw” I resolved that no matter how much acuity I enjoy that I will always aim to balance deliberation with letting go.
Every small thing has its name, English being a luxurious and commodious language. I am restarting my koi pond with some fry. I drew these fry using children’s crayons which, though impermanent, have a certain je ne sais quoi.
The fry are stock for the big pond. The big pond gets painted in acrylic paint. But first the fish need time to grow.
How do crayon kois grow? They get drawn and redrawn. Colors change. Heightening occurs. Highlights appear. Dark accents collect. The spaces between the koi take shape as well. The water asserts itself. Its form sharpens. The depths get deeper. The surface gains reflectivity. Air breezes into the picture. Light vibrates.
Making small colored pencil drawings is one of the ways I get ideas for my large paintings. The painting on the easel right now is 48 x 60 inches, and it’s well under way. But figuring out the details of the painting is a problem in invention, particularly as this is not a realist painting. It won’t be finished when it “looks like” the scene because the actual scene no longer exists. However, change can be a good thing. Not being able to revisit the real place offers up a great excuse simply to paint. But even when you’re “just painting,” you still need to get your ideas from somewhere. So I use the qualities of the various media as suggestions for surface details. My aim is to make the painting into something like a giant drawing, so that it might also possess all the freedom that drawings have.
So I make many drawings. Through much drawing, the forms of the image begin to fix themselves in my memory. And the drawing media, by virtue of their own innate qualities of beauty, offer something to “imitate,” since imitation is always one component of painting.
Small colored pencil drawings, like the ones above which measure smaller than 8 x 10 inches, are one way to think about the image. Neopastel (a Caran d’Ache product) offers another method on a slightly larger scale. The following Neopastel drawings measure about 18 x 24 inches. The larger drawings are getting closer to the gesture range of the large painting.
As you can see, I have taken the image apart and once components are separated this way they really do look more and more “abstract.” It’s good to remember that the whole surface of a painting matters. Even when you’re striving to produce realism, the details are still just shapes, colors and tones. The composition is the pleasing arrangement of all these bits of the picture even when the part does not directly correspond to something we can name.
The whole painting at present looks like this:
Those flower bunches in the sky need to be connected to the plants. And there’s much tweaking available in the large expanses. Some of the development of this surface really does wend into pure invention. So there’s lots of opportunity to “push paint around” and look for beautiful surfaces.
Ideas for this kind of work can start from small simple beginnings. Making broad gestures with big shapes gets you started and can provide a wonderful meditative way of musing about possibilities.
So if you take up drawing in colored pencils, beware. You never know where it will lead. Better get a supply of large canvas just in case.
Without knowing anything about Buddhism and with no particular intention to learn about Buddhism (except indirectly) I have been reading and rereading Shunryu Suzuki’s little book “Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind.” I’m on my 4th reading, and truly I find new things inside his simple commentaries with each rereading.
I got the book with the intention of seeing how it might apply to art. The application to art turns out to be very direct and useful. So, one notion found in this philosophy is to become fully active and aware (as much as possible) in doing whatever you are doing in the moment you are doing it. In art this can include the desired elements of focusing on the drawing, but it can also incorporate incidental elements like opening and closing tubes of paint, cleaning brushes, or standing back to look at the painting or at the motif.
Whatever you are doing, be inside it. Notice that you are here now doing this. The idea of no gaining is to let go of results, which is not the same as not having a plan or abandoning a plan, or abandoning standards or any of those negations. You can still have a plan, have standards and ideals, and want to paint a nice picture. However, you make yourself aware how future oriented all those tasks are, and thus focus your attention upon what you are doing now — this line, this color, this impression, and so forth. In doing whatever you are doing now, you can let go of the gain. It’s not that the gain is bad or unimportant. It’s merely that the gain is somewhere that is not “now.”
So one is simply focused on now. It is more focus, not less focus. It is to become part of the line, the color, the materials, the thought process — only in its unfolding rather than in its abstract and hoped for future manifestation.
Or, that’s my understanding at least. My understanding right now. I might understand it differently at some future moment, who knows ….
It stopped raining and even the birds are happy. Or, perhaps mostly the birds are happy — they are, after all, in the weather all the time. I can hear them singing outside my window. They sound most glad that the sun is shining again.
I’m drawing the moth today — preparations for a painting that’s in the works. But my thoughts keep returning to this landscape painting above that I began perhaps two years ago and which I return to from time to time — and which I need to finish fairly soon.
It will have a lattice across the middle to represent the chain link fence. At long last it will have many other minor additions of dot or color.
Something about drawing the veins of the leaves reminds me of the small passages of the garden painting and of the ways that I seem to re-enter the garden whenever I work on it — as though the flowers were still there, as though the blueberries were still being prepared for planting, as though time were standing still back one morning years ago and the shaded leaves still bent under the weight of the dew.
One seems to have a sense of the future, but you can’t really know what the future will be. The future one imagines is not the future that arrives. And the past that you relive is not the same as the past that occurred. The present — even the present shifts — even as you live inside it.