I visited Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, today for some outdoor drawing in its beautiful historic neighborhood. I was looking for crepe myrtles but didn’t find exactly the sort of tree I wanted, and so I settled instead for a drawing of a leafy shrub growing along the wall of someone’s town house. I have a painting project that includes many leaves in a dense pattern so drawing studies of leaves is an always helpful exercise.
For this drawing I used oil pastel on an 18 x 24 inch notebook. The ends of the metal easel are visible at the top and bottom of the photo.
I took a photograph of the plant and if anyone knows what it is, please leave the plant name in a comment. I am notoriously ignorant about plants, much as I love drawing them. But I do wish to learn their identities!
In making my drawing of leaves, I’m influenced by the way that Eugene Delacroix drew plants. Below is a drawing of hollyhocks (rose trémière) that illustrates his characteristic short hand way of drawing the contours of the plant’s parts.
With such a proliferation of leaves my drawing doesn’t deal with the whole plant in any way. I chose instead to focus on particular branches. During the course of drawing I got lost and forgot momentarily which branch I was drawing, which of itself provided some interesting information because it revealed how similar the different branches really are, right down to the shapes of individual leaves. I noticed then for the first time that the ends of the branches sometimes terminate in very similar leaf patterns.
So, as always when drawing from life, you learn something new.
My daughter and I set out for Capitol Hill yesterday in the late afternoon, she to walk and me to draw. Someone has a beautiful garden right off East Capitol Street, full of zinnias. I had noticed the flowers on a previous walk. So I tossed the old aluminum easel into the back of the pickup, assembled some oil pastels and off we went.
The mosquitoes didn’t start biting until really near twilight so I wasn’t munched too much. However I was concentrating so much on my drawing — how hard do YOU concentrate on your tasks? — that the whole bottom of my right leg was soaking wet before I realized that the gardener’s sprinkler was reaching my location. Is that concentration or what? Maybe it’s possible to concentrate a bit too much. A little less concentration and I might have avoided the soaking …
That discovery seemed like a good cue to switch motifs.
I drew the yellow ones until the mosquitoes started dining. Then it was clearly time to quit. We took a bit of a walk afterwards for exercise, my daughter and I, and I staked out some more locations to draw.
Capitol Hill residents are assiduous gardeners. There’s many lovely places to choose from — almost too many — it makes the choices harder.
These are drawings I may use in something or other, but I make them just to be outdoors drawing. I have been buying flowers for still life. And I have some lovely fake ones that I use also. Sometimes I take a flower from a photograph or an old master image. It’s fun to mix it up.
If I decide to do dog portraits, Capitol Hill residents are prosperous in that department too. While I was drawing, every manner of canine imaginable was being walked in a kind of impromptu, nightly, canine parade. That would be fun — not sure the owners would have the patience to wait for a full portrait though …
I have an idea for a project. On one of my walks I saw a garden that reminded me of my idea, so when I could, I visited the place and made this quick sketch using oil pastel.
Actually it looks nothing like my idea, but ideas are like that — they tend to occur in your head and sometimes bear only fleeting resemblances to particular things that recall them to memory. So this drawing doesn’t look like my idea though it does bear a sketchy resemblance to the actual place I visited.
Nonetheless I trust the drawing to connect me to my idea in ways I cannot fathom. While your hand records the forms, that invisible link etches deeper into the silent mind.
I have decided to go out into the field as often as my schedule permits to make drawings that relate to ideas, ones that have been rattling around in my head. Drawing is a form of research. Even when the drawing doesn’t look like the idea there will be some kinship, some je ne sais quoi that connects to the hidden motives that had called me to the place. If I draw the locale more times, the connection might grow clearer. It was pleasant being there — having to think on my feet, experiencing all the sensations of the motif — not just its look, but the air, the sounds, the breeze, the pull of gravity, the fatigue of standing and passage of time in the changing of the light.
So these are episodes of brainstorming. I make the drawing to call back to the idea, and perhaps it will call me again in echo.
Monet’s humongous painting of the women in the garden is visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. I finally get to see this painting. When I was a teenager, Monet’s painting made me want to be an artist.
I knew it was large, but seeing it in real life is quite thrilling. It’s part of an exhibit dedicated to Frederick Bazille.
My whole feeling for landscape grew from the Impressionist paintings I saw at the National Gallery of Art in my youth. They’ve influenced everything I paint.
I have been much away from my blog, and I feel suitably guilty. In my defense I can say that it’s been an extraordinarily busy time — and that I feel suitably guilty.
Anyway for starters we got a dog who we named Gallifrey, and as dog owners know a new dog is a lot of work. In between dog work, though, I have managed a first drawing of her (above), a quick, grab whatever is lying around sort of drawing of a dog momentarily still. And I’ve also done a large, first photo-based drawing of her (below).
Having the drawing sitting on the floor in the room is, for effect, almost like having another dog.
When I have not been monitoring the dog, or drawing it, I’ve been working on my arachnophobia.
We have a new spider too — a black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) living among the vegetables. I drew her from a photo. I’m definitely NOT drawing her from life, indeed I plan never to get close to her at all even though she is very pretty (in a spidery sort of way). Measuring an inch and a half in length from stem to stern, she’s much bigger than any spider that I could almost feel comfortable being near.
As things stand, I’m content knowing she’s in the garden munching bugs and that I’m in the studio adding finishing touches to my over-sized drawing. She measures 22 inches stem to stern in art ….
And lastly I spent a week in Baltimore drawing outdoors while my daughter attended a summer camp there. I made a bunch of drawings and studies. Among my favorites are studies I made of two trees.
This one, and this one …
And before all these things I was doing what I always do, I was drawing koi. Always the koi,
Outdoors behind the house, behind the garden in autumn, the vegetables now gone and the land going fallow, I drew the view of the shaded house against the glare of a brilliant blue day. Much of my past is tied up there in that house, amid these shadows. There are too many millions of things to see. Thousands of stalks of plants, glints of light, millions of leaves, a thick gauze veil of apertures through which bits of light peek through.
And every aperture, a facet of a kaleidoscopic mirage.
A couple days ago after having dropped my daughter off at school, I thought it was high time I began my foray into spontaneous drawing. There’s a mill along the path of my usual commute so I decided I’d stop there. It was pouring rain and “weather” was another of those categories of things I’ve been telling myself that I should take more notice of as regards my drawing ambitions. Thus spontaneously I decided to circumvent my plans and drop by the mill for a bit of sketching by the river. All I had was a little notebook I carry in my purse and assorted pens, but it was to be a “what the heck” adventure in seeing.
I listened to the radio. I drew. I commented to myself that these were not especially interesting little sketches, nothing much to look at, that I was going to have to learn a graphic vocabulary, sort of like what Van Gogh learned and used, if I were ever to get serious about landscape drawing. However, those thoughts didn’t bother me any. The whole purpose of what I was doing was to “see” more than to get results.
I made a few of these things. After a bit, I decided “okay, enough, it’s time to go.” Turned the key on the car. Nothing happened. Tried it several times more. Nadda. The very rain that had prompted me to change plans was now putting a big crimp in my new reality: I’m stranded, it’s pouring, and I haven’t even had breakfast yet. (Note: never do the spontaneity thing on an empty stomach.)
Well, fast forward. I made a phone call. Got rescued. We bought jumper cables and drove back to my car. I leaped out of my husband’s truck and on a lark put the key in the ignition, turned it and — voila! — it started! Has been running just fine since. Go figure.
Back nestled in the dry warmth of home, I made a little sketch in oil pastel based upon the line drawings from the site. I’m wondering whether it was quite worth the trouble, making these drawings, buying jumper cables, going without breakfast, for these little impressions. But Van Gogh says “you have to suffer for art.” On a suffering scale, I must admit (very gladly) that these inconveniences and automotive mysteries do not rank high. So, I won’t complain.
But I have a new rule: no spontaneity until after breakfast.
Drawing whatever you can, in whatever way you can, whenever you can has become something of a motto with me lately. I have put too many limits upon myself. Not that they’re bad limits, they’re not. They are very fine limits. But I wonder sometimes down what paths drawing might lead me if I were to draw things more randomly from life, as I once used to do, or if I drew even a few things that do not swim (though I won’t give up my koi, of course). In short, I find myself hankering after a more spontaneous life.
Some jonquils turned up around here, were deposited into a dark blue vase, and it happened to be a nice day, so I took them outdoors, placed them on a platform and drew them quickly. The fast and mostly unedited moment is presented above. Draw what you can, when you can, in whatever manner you can draw it. It’s a great motto!
I appreciate the colored papers after having made this largish drawing en plein air on white paper. There’s so much white to cover up, and so much green out there to look at, so much light and shade contrasting, and such swiftly changing patterns of light and dark. It took a while to settle into my drawing. I began as though I had five hundred years of leisure, meticulously observing every hair’s nuance of line and color in dainty little lines that were swallowed up by the large page. And seeing that my drawing didn’t remind me very much of the what I was looking at, and watching the shadows move, I decided I had better step it up!
So I let go of some residual timidity and started drawing faster and more evocatively. I have to say, though, there’s reason for doing the 500-year drawing method. If you can let go of the idea that the drawing needs to look like the subject, and instead let the drawing become a record of your feelings merely, the experience and possibly even the drawing that it leads to is worth doing.
In my on-going effort to relearn the art of painting en plein air, I sometimes make very fast drawings like this. I don’t remember all the circumstances. It was unseasonably cold, but some extra hardy early mosquitoes were biting anyway. I wasn’t exactly enjoying being outdoors, yet I felt “I must” draw. And so I drew as fast as my little fingers would move.
Done. I’m outta here.
I debated whether it was worth sharing this little snippet of an afternoon with the world, and then it dawned on me that life is composed of these little snippets. Even the great art of the old masters is composed of lots of little snippets, little snippets all sewn lovingly together.