daisy bouquet

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I painted the flowers in simple patterns, graphic in character — really more a way of drawing with color than of painting.  But the jar (actually a drinking glass) packed tightly with the flower’s stems attracted much of my attention.  I was consciously emulating the late flower paintings of Edouard Manet, one of which is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington and which I knew well.  I was aware of his other late flower paintings from books.

The white iris, however, that is still Van Gogh’s teaching.  My teachers were the Impressionist painters and Van Gogh.

They were good teachers.

In front of Manet’s still life

Always something to  learn when retracing


the visual steps of the old masters through a careful scrutiny of their works.

I’ve always loved that ceramic cup in the corner with the lemons in front of it.  Here (above) I was making a copy using crayons, and I was mixing colors on the paper and getting slightly different color effects than one sees in Manet’s more subtle and monochromatic but beautifully colored canvas where silver gray predominates.  I was able to copy the objects almost the same size as they appear in the painting, but I chose just the right hand corner for my small notebook. Below you can see what I was copying and its context in the painting as a whole.

Some art teachers will pester you about getting ellipses correct. And I urge you, Reader,  to notice how out of kilter Manet’s plate and cup are!  And yet — for some mysterious reason, perhaps known only by Manet’s astute visual imagination, the painting as a whole is immeasurably better, more dynamic, more psychologically intriguing by virtue of these “mistakes.”  Clearly he knows how to draw things in perspective.  Just observe the wonderfully foreshortened fork.  But the plate and the cup are a thousand fold more lovely by virtue of the quirky perspective.  Trust your instincts.

You can draw Manet’s picture too, even if you’re far from the museum by using Gallery’s zoom feature at their website.  But not yet!  The links are redirects ….  http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.46427.html

EXCEPT — when you wish to zoom on the ceramic cup which ends up being covered by part of the zoom widget itself.  However, never fear — WikiArts to the rescue.  A large version of the image is available here — click on the picture to access:

Between the two sources you can get a lot of visual information about the painting.



Shifting Gears

Been casting about for subject matter.  Or, it’s more than that.  I’ve been planning to do drawings of flowers or perhaps “still life” generally, but I’m trying to figure out not just what to draw, but how to think about it.  So, I whipped out some art books to look at the old guys.  Edouard Manet drew a bunch of flower still lifes near the end of his life.  They are small, painted like mirages with no “technique” just pure thought.  And I made a couple quick sketches of two of them as someone taking notes to herself, remembering something.

I like to think about things before I do them, and I like to consult with the old masters whose paintings I love.  These are my drawing-thoughts with morning coffee.

Dialing for Still life

I write to you from afar — I guess that doesn’t really quite make sense on the internet does it?.  Suffice it to say I’m not at my usual post, I write a dispatch “from the field,” and moreover I’m doing it with dial-up.

This picture above was something I found wedged inside one of my drawing notebooks.  I’d forgotten all about it.  But here it is.  It’s a little still life “painted” using artist’s crayons on linen.  I’ve both seen and read about some of Edouard Manet’s pastels that he did on canvas and decided to make this picture on cloth just to be doing the same thing Manet did.  It goes along with my theory of walking a while inside the old masters’ shoes.

After having made trial of it myself, I’m afraid I cannot report back as to why Manet chose to do pastel on cloth as though it were a painting.  In my own picture, perhaps the chief effect is that the colors stand out against the warm brown-grey of the linen, which one must admit is kind of nice.  But overall I suppose there’s no advantage in doing pastel on cloth (rather than on paper) that is immediately obvious.  It’s one of those things to do, I guess, “just because.”

So “just because” — here  it is.  Nothing ventured nothing gained.  The objects are ones that held a special warm place in my heart.  The aluminum cup is one my mother used to measure sugar.  Its battered interior catches all kinds of silvery glimmers of light.  The other principle object is a bottle of mercurachrome, once used in quainter times to treat small cuts.

You can make a still life of the most unpreposessing things.

My early still after Manet

When I was a youth, I made this still life of things around the house.  (The pink sloping surface on the right represents a typewriter covered with cloth.)  I was trying to do something Manet-like.  The particular painting I had in mind is Manet’s Still life with Melons and Peaches at the National Gallery.

As you can see, I didn’t quite finish my painting.  Lost my nerve, I suppose.  Or ran out of ideas.  Probably a little of both.  Still, I find that I like the painting as is.  It has all sorts of visible pentimenti — even in that respect it’s Manet-like.

[Top of the post:  Author’s early attempt at still life in a style of Manet, by Aletha Kuschan, 28 x 28 inches, oil on canvas]

All Dressed Up

Whenever I hear someone describe an artist’s work as “traditional” I always want to ask “which one?”  Which tradition do you mean?  (There are so many.)  The assumption in contemporary Western art is sometimes over-broad — so much that anything depicted in a manner that’s recognizable is “traditional.”  Yet within the most comprehensive reaches of the European inspired art, there are innumerable avenues for visual thought to travel.  Painting can be realistic, or “painterly,” or linear without being realistic.  It can portray everyday life, or it can portray very extraordinary, fanciful and imaginary themes.  It can be landscape, portrait, still life, mythological painting, and several genres besides, that don’t even have names.  It can resemble other artists of earlier times, and yet be very much its own thing — as Edouard Manet looks very 19th century French to us now, yet was a great aficionado of Diego Velasquez and other artists of the Spanish 17th century.

Skill is super important, but skill alone doesn’t make art.  An artist can be skillful and find himself or herself feeling needy.  The skill has to be put into something.   And the something is more than just subject matter — though that’s part of it — the something is an idea, an impulse, a meaning whose form needs to be seen.  When words fail, visual art steps in.  But it needs to have something to say.

When an artist is all dressed up with nowhere to go, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.  It just means you have a journey ahead of you.

[Top of the post:  the author’s pen and ink drawing after an Ingres figure — made in a very un-Ingrist way.]