art diary

I was away

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from my blog for a long time, and now that I’ve returned to writing fairly regularly, I am sometimes at a loss as to what my blog is supposed to be. Whatever intentions I had in the past, those are loose threads now. So I’ve decided that the blog might as well serve as a diary. It can remind a future me what things I was working on, and in roughly what order. It’s worth doing as an experiment. As it is public, it’s a spectator diary. Or a virtual studio where visitors drop by from time to time.

The last life class met on Tuesday. The model adopted the same pose as the session previous, though I changed my position slightly. The model had the most extraordinary cheekbones. I tried to capture their elusive subtlety but never quite managed. I am pleased overall, but still one owes Nature her due. Human beings are by their Creator marvelously fashioned.

101_8743 I drew relatively small (9 x 12 and 14 x 17 inch notebooks) using oil pastel.  Made a few preliminary drawings in pencil and charcoal pencil to get acquainted with the pose and his features.

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I have already posted the main drawing from the previous session, but here it is again.

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materials of art

Finding the right combination of materials

Kuschan sea shell  in pastel large 18 x 24

is a challenge. In anticipation of teaching a pastel class in the fall at McLean Project for the Arts, I’ve been trying out pastel ideas. The most basic relates to materials. What kind of pastels do I recommend for beginning pastellists? What sorts of surfaces will I recommend? At first I was leaning toward a 30 half stick set of Rembrandts, but certain colors of the sticks can be difficult to use. So I’ve purchased a 24 stick set of NuPastels which I’ll be testing for a while.

I’m already familiar with both brands, but the question in my mind is which small set of pastels would be easiest for someone new to the medium? NuPastels grand set is 96 sticks large. I love them. But I’m not recommending that the newcomer invest in a large set from day one. While some people in my class may have used pastels before, and may have their palette already well sorted out, I need to consider the absolute newcomer too.

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Here are the pristine NuPastels vying with the bananas for attention. I got these at Artist & Craftsman Supply in Hyattsville, MD, a new store in this region. (You can buy stuff from them online also.)

While trying out materials with the beginning artist in mind, I was using Canson mi-teintes papers. That was the surface that certain Rembrandt sticks weren’t liking. When fighting with pastels — some sticks get slick and won’t crumble onto the paper and adhere — I was thinking what a shame it is that I cannot recommend sanded papers which work a lot more easily with all kinds of pastels.  They’re expensive though and expensive surfaces are not good choices for newcomers.  You don’t need to feel intimidated by a sheet of paper.

It dawns on me now that maybe using one of the acrylic pumice mixes might solve the problem so I’m headed back to Artist & Craftsman later today to get some Golden Pumice Gel to use on Strathmore watercolor paper.  I’ll be testing this combination using both the NuPastel 24 sticks and the Rembrandt 30 half sticks.  My chief question will be how full is the palette in range?  How easily are these materials used in this particular combination?

When I did my  kois which were the feature of the previous post I was working on UART fine sanded paper and Canson mi-teintes “touch” papers with a variety of pastel brands including NuPastels, Rembrandts, Senneliers, Richeson, Unison, Diane Townsend and Great American.  They’re all wonderful. It helps that I had depicted the koi in other media before I began doing them in pastel.

Meanwhile, the drawing featured at the top, seen below in scale, was an experiment too, one made before I knew I’d be teaching a pastel class.  I just wanted to make a larger than life size shell to see what that would be like, and I used ordinary Strathmore 400 series paper with Conté pastels.

Kuschan sea shell in pastel large studio view

I like to try things. Strathmore 400 series medium tooth paper is all purpose. It’s not designed for pastel, but it was not difficult to use. You wouldn’t want it for soft pastels, but it’s a decent surface for the harder ones. The notebook pictured on the easel is 18 x 24 inches.

If you look very closely you can see a highly specialized artists’ tool on the upper right hand corner of the drawing.  It’s used for keeping the pages of the notebook tight while it rests on the easel.  I believe it’s called a “clothes pin.”

At McLean Project for the Arts registration is open for my “coloring book” class — a study in line.  That happens in July.

 

the kois in pastel

Back in September, the koi were everywhere.

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The one on the easel has been pulled from storage and will make the trip to the framer soon.  Hopefully soon.  It needs an application of fixative for which I need to be able to go outdoors, and anyone in the Washington DC area can tell you that we’ve had an unprecedented season of rain.  I have contemplated building an ark.

Last fall I made a lot of koi drawings in pastel.  Other drawings are visible around the sides of the easel. I loved that long session of painting with pastel and am eager to resume using the medium again. Even though many of my life class drawings were made with pastel, I don’t think of those as being the same as these koi drawings since the kois were made on sanded paper.  The sanded surface allows for options that the plain paper doesn’t.  They are both wonderful, though — now I’m feeling guilty.  All art supplies are wonderful, each in their own ways.  But maybe it’s also the control I can exert while working in my own studio that isn’t possible in a life class. Most of my pastel palette had to stay home when I did the life class drawings.

Plus I like working large.  In my studio I was working about as large as is practicable (unless I get a bigger studio).  The largest work (seen behind the easel on its side above, and on the easel in the photo below) was made by taping together two large sheets of sanded paper. When the paper is large, the fish seem more real.  They begin to approach life size.  Kois can get big!

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The board that the paper is attached to is 40 x 6o inches.  But the biggest of the fishes (excluding the ones that got away) are on individual sheets of the large sanded paper.  I put two sheets on a board and would cover up the one on the bottom whenever I worked on the top one to prevent pastel dust from falling upon it. They stay on these boards in storage until they’re ready to be framed.

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During winter with the space being so close I have avoided the big pastel binge, but with the weather improving I long to return to pastel again in a big way.  Need to find these guys a home, and then probably the next up will be flowers.

yesterday’s prep for today’s class

Went better.

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I began making some small oil pastels for practice, using photographic sources. I make them late at night and “some times the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t” as said the old Indian in an old movie I saw ages ago.

I also began making a copy of the head of a painting that I only learned about yesterday via Twitter. Wonderful thing about the internet is that you discover bits of art history that you never knew.  The painting is by Albert Herter.  What I post here will be just a detail from his painting. My oil pastel copy in the works appears immediately below, and his original below that.

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PS – in the “learn something new everyday category,” while I was looking for a link to Herter’s painting, having just learned about him yesterday, I misspelled his name. Well, it turns out that there’s an Albert Hertel who was a painter also.  You can learn about him here.

life class today

 

Very challenging pose

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and I don’t like the drawing.  The model was fantastic.  I would have loved to do a straightforward portrait. I definitely wasn’t looking for a reclining pose, and the unaccustomed view was difficult to manage. However I was glad to get a version of the face that seems to have its parts in almost the right places. I found myself wishing I was painting for the sake of color and for paints greater ease of making corrections.

Before doing the life size version on the dark grey paper, I made a smaller color version on 9 x 12 Strathmore paper.  I like it a lot better though its more caricatured. It seems sweet somehow.

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I made several small fast drawings in the notebook at various junctures during the session, which I like better even though they are very spare and exaggerated.

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They all appear at this blog as though they’re nearly the same size as the oil pastel, but the lines tell you that this is writing paper so you can judge that these are small images. It’s kind of fun to see them enlarged so that they compete with the oil pastel above which is approximately life size.

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When I draw this way I am just thinking to myself. It’s a way of putting things where I think they belong, and with each subsequent drawing I strive to correct errors of prior attempts. And yet I’m not focused on error, just drawing and putting lines down.

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I’m going to be teaching soon, beginning in July. I could have left these in the file but I include them because I am so often preaching about making mistakes and taking chances. I shouldn’t be lecturing anyone about mistakes if I’m not willing to make some very publically myself. Or — it’s not even that these are mistakes. They are drawings that are not particularly refined. They each have helpful information in them (helpful to me anyhow).

Sometimes artists will find a method that is pretty reliable that they can use in demos. When I teach I plan to avoid the prepackaged technique, and I’m hoping that the students will appreciate my high wire act. By taking chances I could, after all, fall on my fanny. And that would be awkward.

But if I do fall, I’ll dust myself off and continue drawing.

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Representing the eyes as slits was especially delightful. I strove to pare things down to big essential shapes.

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I turned this one around because I like it better from this angle. That’s another thing about making these sketches: they give me ideas. Here it’s not a reclining person, it’s a face of someone upright.

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A pose like this one is difficult to draw and to get true. The positions of the features are confusing when seen at this angle. We’re used to seeing people upright. Also the effect of gravity changes the features and a really good drawing will capture that change. The movement of the face is toward the floor so the lower cheek will be drooping a little, even in a young model with very plastic features.

I rely on perception and I throw the line like you’d throw a baseball. Aim, throw. If you don’t take chances then a certain versatility never has a chance to occur. Sometimes you get one shot at something, and to do it the way you experience it may take bravado. But if we always demure and follow a safe route we never learn how to seize the moment, never prepare emotionally for the bold gesture.

If a befuddled robin happens to land on a limb in front of you while you’re drawing, you haven’t time to say to yourself “this is an oval, here’s another oval.”  You better just start drawing — fast — before the bird realizes his mistake.

If I needed this pose for a painting, I’d hire a model and do several versions until I got it right. But in life class you do the day’s pose and then move on. You never know what you’ll get and you just try to be adaptable!

For my ego’s sake, I want to post a similar drawing I did that worked out.  I drew it from a photo, but I still think it has some bragging rights.

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Similar idea except that this time it succeeded!

 

Another koi drawing

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This drawing in oil pastel is near completion. All the fishes still need a going over; some more than others (like the guy on the lower left who’s only blocked in).  When I see it across the room I love the design and the overall affect of the colors. Partly for that reason I sometimes fail to notice how much is unfinished. My mind jumps to the things I like. Seeing the painting reduced in photography helps me sort out what needs attention.

It’s oil pastel (Caran D’Ache Neopastel) on violet Canson mi-teintes pastel paper. The darkish violet-purple is a wonderful tone to work on, making all the colors really strong, especially the lights.

This one’s going to the framer when it’s complete.  Hopefully that will happen fairly soon.

If it looks familiar, that’s because I’ve also been working on this motif in a painting that’s still in the works too.

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I like doing the same motif more than once. The differences interest me.  I’m not sure why. They become variations on a theme as in music.

Certainly the white ground of the painting verses the violet tone of the paper makes them dramatically different in feeling and mood.

 

talkin’ to myself

Notes to myself, some things to consider

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after Matisse

 

for the next life class.

One is to work smaller. I could do a drawing at a comfortable size (apparent size) from anywhere in the room. Go back to the easel, copying my own drawing (that I just made) make the actual pastel at the easel location, enlarging the drawing to whatever size I want, inventing color based on whatever view of the model I have at the easel (even though it’d be a different view).  Down side is having to move back and forth between the two locations (which would be distracting for other participants). Up side: you’d have to rely heavily on memory and invention, good skills to develop.

Another option is working on smaller versions through the whole session, having less investment in a specific image. (No more larger than life size.)  Spread out the risk, less stress.  If one drawing turns out to be particularly good, you could enlarge it at home. You could, after you’ve done all you can in the pastel, also gather more information using another drawing that you make with pen in a notebook.  Advantage is that you stay put.

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after Ingres

 

Another option is that you can be all que sera about it. If you get the back of the model’s head, draw the back of the model’s head. Let Fate decide. Stay with the larger format, do everything you were doing before, accept whatever you see from your easel’s location. Fully accept the challenge of the uncertainty.

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after Degas

 

Or you could stand holding a notebook (no easel) and work in spaces between other participants’ easels using oil pastel (less messy than dry pastel). Down side: how much space is there, really, between easels?

Invest in one drawing — biggish, though maybe not larger than life size — or not very much larger. You could spend a lot of the time on the drawing as a whole. Working in vine charcoal to get the form right; then do pastel from that point forward.  Would be a way of thinking about the large lines of the drawing (like certain Matisse drawings), using erasure as an effect.  I’m sort of leaning toward this choice.  Thinking of Diebenkorn’s riff on Ingres. However, this option assumes you have a good pose.

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after Ingres, imitating Diebenkorn

Also, giving more attention to drawing (at the outset) means being less spontaneous than what I was being before. The recklessness prompted me to make bolder use of pastel as a medium, but maybe it’s time to move toward getting a core for the motif.  Less about color, more about line.

(Paintings from life classes long ago.)

What to do, what to do ….

UPDATE: just saw this on twitter and am thinking now that if I put my own background behind the model (imaginatively) it matters less what the pose is.  So there’s another possibility.

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Albert Herter “Woman with Red Hair,” 1894 detail

 

More drawings of faces

I draw faces with a pen.101_8650 (2).jpg

It helps me get ready for the life class. I like scribbling and trying to create the face evocatively, pulling it out of the darks. I love making the dark areas using hatching lines. I love the deep blue of the bic cristal pen’s ink and the way that you can smudge it subtly with a paper towel.

Then there’s oil pastel. Drawing with oil pastel helps me even more directly, helps me think about how I’ll use color in the life class.  Copying the Victorian photos using fauvist colors provides practice thinking about color as a form of invention. And it’s nearer to what I  do in the life class where I’m using dry pastel as my tool. The pen drawing above and the oil pastels below are more inventions based on Julia Margaret Cameron’s Pre-Raphaelite photographs.

 

101_8652 (3)These oil pastels are small drawings, on Canson mi-teinte pages measuring 9 x 12 inches.

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Revisiting my idea

I’ve been doing an experiment in a life class

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memory of my original impulse illustrated

 

once a week drawing heads larger than life size using bright invented colors. Each week the drawings seem radically different from ones I made in the class before, from which I conclude that I succeed in their being “experimental.” But I had more motive than just trying something new. I had a specific idea that prompted the whole thing.  It was an idea about a color.

Remembering what prompted me to attempt this experiment, I realize that I haven’t used that color yet. I haven’t actually done what I thought would be the good thing to do.

It began because I was looking at someone else’s drawing, a drawing made in a life class, it was larger than life size and was conceived tonally. The lighting of the model was strongly directional and each student’s drawing had a cast shadow that fell from the model’s chin. A row of these drawings was visible from where I stood, each with the same cast shadow. Looking at one of the drawings, the thought popped into my head, “what if instead of a dark shadow, there was a shape that was a beautiful brilliant light violet color.” I’ve written about my project before HERE.

I know I’ve been affected by my fondness for works by Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Richard Diebenkorn and by the late works of Edgar Degas. In front of the actual model, one feels a tug toward realism — a kind of demand that you get the drawing right, obtain a likeness. I’ve been very free with color, but I feel this conflict about drawing and am never sure what I really want from the session. The artists I’m emulating were in each of their different ways, though, very free about the image.  The most notable would be Matisse’s La Raie Verte.

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La Raie Verte, Henri Matisse

 

The colors are completely invented. The drawing is very sparse and bold. And yet one gets the feeling that the identity of the sitter is present. I don’t want to paint my drawings in pastel like Matisse, but I am striving to get at a similar freedom. And it’s not that I want to paint in a fauvist way, but merely that I want to see where something leads. I want to understand this impulse from the inside.

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Richard Diebenkorn portrait face

 

When Richard Diebenkorn experimented with a similar idea (above and below), he did so quite literally, using the bold lines, summary drawing, exaggeration of drawing and exaggeration of color just as Matisse had used before him.

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Diebenkorn, page from a notebook

 

The arbitrariness or expressiveness doesn’t just arise from “modern art,” however.  Degas used color, light, and paint texture very expressively in fairly early works. It’s a trend that always ran like a current in his art, sometimes classicist, but sometimes romantic.

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Edgas Degas

 

In Degas’s late works the treatment of the figure both in terms of drawing and color becomes very rough and exaggerated. I particularly love his late pastels for their rugged beauty.

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In the life class, I feel a tension also because the other people drawing are for the most part seeking realism.  I’m the outlier. I’ve done realist drawing.

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Aletha Kuschan, self-portrait using a mirror c 1987

 

Yesterday however my drawing was very far from realist.  I was not attempting to make it exaggerated in form, and the challenges of the particular pose were considerable: I draw the face much larger than life size so I am making decisions about proportion continually. The model is not always easy for me to see, and during several poses I’m having to look up at the model so that the pose is foreshortened.  Sometimes I can’t get back from my drawing and with my nose to the paper I’m actually looking at my drawing from a foreshortened view, having to look up to see the top and down to see the bottom. Yesterday’s drawing was definitely not what I wanted. But there’s no experiment if you’re unwilling to make something that you didn’t exactly intend. The experiment lies in the not knowing the outcome, when deliberation and happenstance meet.

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one of yesterday’s drawings in pastel

 

It’s strange that the exaggeration that I love in the works of my heroes makes me a little uncomfortable in my own painting. I’m not sure what the discomfort means.

Do I want a greater simplicity such as one finds in Bonnard (left) and Diebenkorn (right)? Bonnard’s works evidently sometimes had very chaotic beginnings and we know also that they had quite amorphous and complicated conclusions.

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unfinished Bonnard painting

I have been mulling over my experiences in the life class trying to figure out what’s the best way to go forward during the remaining sessions.  I have collected some images from the internet of things to draw at home to “practice” and am thinking about doing my next in class session by drawing the model at a smaller scale and then perhaps making the larger than life size pastel from my initial drawing (enlarging it) rather than directly from the model — or letting the first drawing be a quick rehearsal for the pose.

I just don’t know what I’ll do, what I “should” do, or even quite what it is that I seek as yet because it’s all part of this experiment.  As chance would have it, however, I did not use a violet shadow in any of the drawings I’ve made so far. The color violet was the idea that prompted the entire project.  I’m thinking that at the very least I should obtain a stick of the violet color I need and have it on hand next time to carry through that part of the idea.

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More not-art

Maybe the concept of drawing that is not art

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rapid oil pastel drawing of the window at twilight comparing indoor light with the declining light outdoors

 

holds special appeal for me because when I first realized that I wanted to be an artist, when I was a teen, I found drawing so difficult. It should be noted that some painters never draw, and that drawing isn’t really essential to painting since the drawing of an image can be subsumed into the process of painting. But I wanted to draw. It was a puzzle too because sometimes I could draw and sometimes I couldn’t. I couldn’t understand why it should turn on and off, but it did. Now I have some ideas about why it can turn on and off and even now — after let’s not mention how many decades of drawing — my ability to draw still turns on and off sometimes. The difference now is that when it turns “off” I just continue along knowing that it will turn “on” again shortly.

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Bic Cristal pen drawing of leaves and a flower after Huysum, copying from the book “Miraculous Bouquets” by Anne T. Woollett [plates 7 & 8]

However, the problem of drawing persists in my mind and thoughts about the solutions to the problem also persist because I had so much anguish in early days. Moreover in finding out that the solution is to simply continue along, I learned over time to appreciate the gains of drawing particularly on those occasions when drawing seemed to be going badly. And I learned to love the immersion into visual perception. I have come to love the stenography of drawing, the use of a drawing tool as biofeedback for those occasions when I simply look at a thing and think about aspects of its appearance.

Having the pen in my hand cements something in the thoughts. It uses more of the body. It connects me more to the sensation than if I were only looking. In neurological terms it invokes neuroplasticity. I am drawing on the paper, but I am also drawing something on my mind’s surface too.

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oil pastel drawing of a fabric design that appears in a painting in progress

 

Art is associated with an image that ultimately gets presented to a public. Art is a cultural thing. Art is something we do for our neighbors — on some level. Maybe Vermeer was an extreme introvert (who can really know?) but his art came to enjoy rock star status in our era. I doubt Vermeer could have ever imagined its having such powerfully broad appeal across time and cultures. How could Vermeer imagine anything about our world? Okay, so that’s an extreme example. Putting a picture in a local exhibition or offering it for sale in an art gallery are also ways that it becomes “art” for the participation of lots of other people outside the artist’s narrow orbit.

But as fine a thing as art is, I also cherish privacy and the value of ideas that are not comprehensible. I involve myself in an irony by declaring the privacy of some of my drawings while writing a post on the Internet! It’s just that I know other people do these things too, and my point is to say, “Hey.  This is marvelous.” You cannot know what I experienced as I display my incomprehensible, scribbly bits of visual biofeedback. But I’m telling you this is wonderful stuff. And for a music lover, even the sound of a musician practicing scales can be thrilling. The sound of the instrument. These episodes are like that.

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another drawing from the Huysum book “Miraculous Bouquets” [frontispiece]

I am justly proud of the beauty of the line produced by the pen. Can you see how amazingly lovely some of this is? Bic Cristal deserves perhaps most of the praise, but I get some too for the use of the tool. And dime store pencils on cheap paper, and other tools used with devil-may-care freedom offer delights.

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oil pastel drawing that I’m glad I made because it gave me some ideas

 

Because I’m telling you — that while I was looking at these things, the objects on the still life table that I’ve drawn and redrawn a gazillion times, which I never find boring (I suppose these are some of my scales and arpeggios) or the really confused visually wandering thoughts about the plant and architectural forms that I see from the back door of my house, and thoughts about things seen in the dark, or the birds that flew past my head, the leaves of grass on the ground — I can scribble the thoughts of these things and the drawing has probably no verisimilitude AT ALL.  But I know what I felt. I will own the memory of this moment more strongly for having used the drawing tool.

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pencil drawing of Huysum’s leaf

 

Someday it may even work its way into my art also.

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little notes I’ve made to myself about a project