because I like the shapes

seashell and bottle

I painted the seashell and bottle together because I like the shapes of each.  That’s why I bought the bottle (another of the thrift store hauls) and why I collect the seashells.  I love their shapes and colors.  Looking at their surfaces fascinates me.   I like the color blue.  I like the folds in a cloth.  I like the random things that end up being the edges of the painting when you paint without a plan.

This is a little picture — only 9 x 12 inches — painted on Arches oil paper, which is a wonderful surface, enjoyable for the artist.

I began doing still lifes in a random way, choosing the object I wanted particularly to portray and letting the rest of the picture arrange itself according to the dimensions of the format, and now I love the randomness of it.  The edges become a new area of exploration.

Some people climb mountains or dream astronaut dreams — I explore the edges of the painting — far more sedentary, much safer physically, but still wonderful — I assure you!

How does one express this love of the edges?  Or of the spaces between things?  Do you believe me when I tell you that they are marvelous territories?!  And while I rhapsodize the edges, do not suppose that I oppose the middle — I like painting’s interior too.

A Yellow Vase

yellow vase study (2)

I’ll be teaching a pastel class in the fall and so I do many of my studies these days as pastels.  This is the first time I’ve focused on this yellow vase, which I got at a thrift store, love at first sight. I’m using a set of Rembrandt half sticks, 30 count, to determine whether to recommend them as a beginning palette.  The paper is Canson mi-teintes in the 12 x 16 inch pad. I drew as someone humming to herself, with no plan, until the lateness of the hour sent me to bed.

The flowers are a rich purple, and the set has nothing in it that begins to approach the flower color so I used two dark blues, a violet-ish red, a pale blue for highlights and black for the darkest darks.  I think the overall mélange creates a decent approximation of the local color.  Optical mixtures can scramble your brain, but if you just have-at-it and don’t bother overly much, you can get interesting effects.  Remember that full color printing uses only three colors and black.  Surely you won’t be outdone by a color Xerox machine, now, will you?

The photo approximates what I was looking at:

yellow vase photo (2)

My drawing is “cropped” just as the photo above is cropped, which is to say that I run out of paper.  And I like drawing until I run out of paper.  I arrange the still life so that I will always “run out of paper” with something around the bend, just like life. The edges of the page, particularly when they are only partly visible, can be an enigmatic place.  But getting the tonal/color balances is tricky if it is to support the notion of the things being “back there.”  Obviously to draw the stuff on the edges, I look directly at them, seeing them in greater detail than I do when my eyes glance at the whole or when I stare fixedly at the lovely vase with its sunny and bewitching yellowness.  Tonal and color relationships are different when you look directly at something, though to see at all one’s eye scans all over the place as is its wont.

Recall that the image you see is not on the retina, it’s in your brain — particularly as you have two retinas both visualizing different angles and only one brain.

I think its intriguing to attempt to drawing “everything.” Sometimes I try drawing the oblique pattern on the cloth, but it was late and an artist needs her beauty sleep. And yet there is minutia to draw before one sleeps ….

Here’s more of the table.

flowers drawing set up

Looking backwards, going forward

I have been thinking a lot about beginnings — thinking back to the time when my desire to paint was brand new.  After thirty years I bought a new paint box — a compact box, with a sturdy handle and clean new surfaces.  After thirty years’ practicality I thought it was an innocent enough gesture.  Let myself feel young, left my artist’s heart feel brand new.

I have four dozen of small panels.  I’m ready to explore my own household, survey its common objects and do inventory.  To be an anthropologist of my own life strikes me as a very worthy goal.  What ordinary things are lying about for my inspection?

I want light, shadows, colors, edges and some in-between-ness of things.

At the top is a painting I made long ago — can be exemplary for me — I painted a leaf from my yard and a farmer’s apple.  The tree that made the leaf is gone now and a garden has taken its place.

Today’s Serious Sea Shell


Another shell, today’s sustained drawing, this one using watercolor pencils.  The light outdoors and hence indoors was diffuse.  We had mostly cloudy, humid weather with scattered thunderstorms and a high temperature of 80 degrees F, here in the Washington DC suburbs.  So I started another drawing of the shell sitting on top my black desk. 

The shades of color and different densities of darkness inside the black are as fascinating as the shell itself.  As you can see, I didn’t get as far as to create a complete background for my shell, more of a vignette around the edges. 

There’s so much to look at in small things.  All the differences around the edges can carry you a long ways.

Thoughts up Close

When you look at the details of a picture, you see how its illusion is created.  The image above is a detail of one section of the flower bouquet.  It zooms in on the flower patterns of the cloth that’s piled up against the vase of flowers.  From this vantage, much of the expression of three dimensions is lost to sight.  The shadows and the lights appear to exist on the same plane.  In the detail, one realizes how much the third dimension of this particular drawing was created by the motif as a whole since without the whole motif we cannot see distinctions of figure and ground.

These “textile” flowers are as impressionistic as were the “real” flowers in the vase.  Both are abstractions: shapes that appear in masses whose details consist of lines, hatchings and scribbles.  So, for instance I began some of the flowers of the textile’s pattern as rough, smeared shapes of red crayon.  And afterwards I went back into that red with lighter or darker shades to begin the process of imitating the tonal differences within the flower.  The irony is that is so doing one makes a “picture of a picture” since another artist designed the textile that I use in my still life.

The character of the drawing materials is hard to conceal, and I made no effort to hide it.  The visibility of the drawing is what attracts me to the use of crayons.  But it makes the illusion of the subject harder to achieve.  The tonal qualities of light passing over objects — the light and shadow of the cloth and its folds, or the diffusion of light around the contours of the vase, or the contrasts of light and shade amid the masses of flowers and leaves — all these effects have to be created through either hatchings or smudges and are refined by careful positioning of light or dark or warm or cool tones.

The visual qualities that pass before your eyes, the numbers of choices available to sight, are staggering in potential complexity.  From among all these possibilities one chooses a path that is your rendering of the picture.

It’s as though you confront a vast field thick with flowers and wild plants.  You see a prospect you want to reach, and you ponder what direction to take through the brush to reach your destination.  If you follow something you learned from an old master, it’s as if you have found a path that you can walk for a distance.  And when that path wears away and returns to the full wilderness of the meadow, from that point onwards you must walk your own path.

And this fact is not a difficulty.  It is freedom.

Adjacent To

Perhaps because paper was once in short supply, we note that the old masters drew on their rare pages with more joyful abandon than is typical of artists today.  And they were more thrifty.  Often a page of old master drawings will have several subjects on the same page, and they will not necessarily have anything to do with each other.  Often they are at right angles to each other.  And sometimes artists (like Ingres or Rubens) would even put more than the correct number of limbs on their figures — all presumably in the interest of deciding what the pose should be.  Four armed ladies?  Let’s not go there.  Save that for another occasion.

In our era of anything goes, it’s interesting that this conceit — this putting lots of things onto the same page hasn’t caught on as a revivified trend.  Heck, a lot of artists could do it and suppose that they were inventing something brand new (the ones who have not studied history, that is).

Besides things that happen to rent space on the same page are the colors that halo objects.  Everything in the world is colored and if you look really closely at all the color, it can drive you nuts!  There is so much of it to notice.  I didn’t peer too deeply in this drawing, but just enough to put some blue on top and green on the side of the marigold.

[Top of the post:  Studies of Plants by  Aletha Kuschan]