Reassertions

detail green flowers

When I was eighteen I thought I had an instinctive understanding of art. The things that I loved hit me with force.  I didn’t question the things I liked.  I didn’t question what I didn’t like either.  I moved toward what I wanted and ignored the things that didn’t appeal to me.  I had ideas — really they were closer to feelings — about what should be done first, about how a thing ought to be drawn, and about the inner nature of color.  I didn’t know at first how to mix colors, but I was pretty sure that I could learn it because something about color just felt familiar.  I thought I could see the “colors inside the colors.”

I make no representation about whether my ideas were “correct.”  It doesn’t matter because the whole notion of correctness is difficult to assemble anyway. These were simply my ideas. It never dawned on me to question them any more than I would question the wisdom of taking the next breath. They felt right.  But I also had hidden ideas, ones I wasn’t aware I possessed, ones that I note in retrospect from the advantage of age.  So, for instance, I would portray my motif a certain size without noticing that I was making the choice.  A particular, very specific placement of the motif into the canvas felt right and I had made the choice without first even asking the question. I had selected something that seemed obvious.  I wasn’t aware of choosing.

So I had a natural relationship to what I was doing. Ah, youth.  How easily one can spoil one’s happiness.  I was impatient as a young person (not an unusual quality in the young).  I expected things to begin “looking right” sooner than was even possible.  I made no provision for error.  What happens when you make a mistake?  I got easily discouraged.  I was impetuous.  Sometimes when a painting was actually going well, I abandoned it because it didn’t satisfy the ideal I had in my head that I was chasing.

That was then. Now I have noticed as I paint, as I have observed myself in a mental movie that plays inside the walls of the cranium, that I was putting down lines and marks technically in a fashion that’s a lot like the way I painted in my youth at the very beginning.  Moreover, I have seen a resemblance between the still life I’m doing now and one that I made decades ago.  How do I describe the delight?

It is almost as though I get another shot at one aspect of being young.  If you could travel via time machine to one random moment in your past, not even selecting some special moment, but if you could relive the most ordinary moment, but by so doing could recall the way the world seemed to present itself to your awareness at that young age — how marvelous that would be.  That’s how this experience feels now.  Not quite that intense, but I do get to re-experience some random thoughts I had long ago — only this time I get to bypass the adolescent impatience and self-criticism.  I just enjoy the surface of the painting as it unfolds.  It is as though one wakes up and looks out the window at the morning with the exuberance that a ten year old feels.

It’s an elixir of youth. Spring is coming, but not for the first time.  What if in anticipating the coming spring, one remembers the many springs of time past?  What is the combined impression of many spring times converging into the same channel?

Perhaps it’s the green of the table cloth that is like the green of new plants or the blanched background that wants to be bright like a bold, yellow sun.

new flowers

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A jar of flowers is like a microcosm of a garden.  Every combination of colors evokes its own attendant moods, drawing upon memories of days and hours past. These flowers are receptacles for so many evening and morning thoughts.

“The garden was bounded on one side by the house, from which it flowed and into which it ran, on two sides by the old village, and on the last by the cliff falling by ledges to the sea.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night

Pastel on sanded paper, 13 x 16.5 inches.  Available.

learning the owl

In idle moments I play in earnest.

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I get better acquainted with the subjects of my paintings. You cannot know an owl too well.  And the vase with the songbird design on it needs understanding too.  These late night drawings keep me musing over the topic of my picture. I drew them from this set up seen below, seen here in daylight.

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They are parts of this painting that exists as yet only in sketches and in thought.

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just back from the framer

The still life with flowers

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has got a new frame. I may continue tweaking the image — still figuring that out — but it has its frame so that in all changes going forward they will harmonize with each other.

Here it is below crammed into the studio. Sitting above it is probably the next thing that’ll make the trip to Georgetown Frame Shoppe, the pastel koi.

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Peter did a fabulous job on the corners of this beautiful molding.

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more notes to self/early stages

The color contrast in the photograph

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of this watercolor in its initial stage brings a violet into the picture that isn’t actually there. I wonder if I shouldn’t put violet into the wall of actual painting. Wouldn’t violet be better, and probably truer, to the light effects at dusk? Since the room’s interior is lit with warm yellow light, it’s hard to say what would be going on around the edges of the window, whether those passages would be yellow or violet, warm or cool.

There have been a bunch of things that I’m aware I need to solve. The falling off of the table was a question from the outset, when the still life was actually assembled. I was seeing the motif from two different angles. Now I’m trying to figure out how to split the difference.  The pattern of the cloth logically follows that decision. And how is it to look down at the cloth as it falls away when the painting is hanging on the wall?

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I was also just now wondering if the painting could reflect, could be about, a state of innocence. That possibility immediately brought to mind Fra Angelico’s San Marco frescoes. But I was also just thinking about the parlor of elderly woman whose home I visited thirty years ago, the woman who lived across the street from the church. The loveliness of that room was a microcosm of a whole civilization.

It’s such a beautiful day outside. The cool weather comes inside through the open windows, giving the rooms an oceanic feeling. We could be on a great ship sailing toward some magical place. The slow pace of life, awareness of the weather outdoors, shifts of light, movement in the leaves, interior and exterior meeting at the window are all qualities I want to materialize in this still life.

The flowers on the table. The flowers patterned on the cloth. The space that extends outdoors with the tree that’s visible on the other side of the glass, and also the reflections on the glass that are like a crystalline barrier. The panes of glass at the hour were reflecting the images of things inside the room. There were so many intersections of images meeting at the window panes.

An earlier version:

flowers window

Tracing paper is not just for tracing

Tracing paper is not just for tracing.

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You can draw on tracing paper too. You can draw directly on it as you would draw on any other sort of paper. The difference is that you can see through it. So when I place the tracing paper drawing on the cartoon, I can see what flowers will be covered up by the addition of a new flower. It will help me sort out the imaginary spatial relationships of the flowers in the bouquet relative to each other.

Drawing the flowers on the tracing paper rather than tracing them from the drawings I’ve made (or from the sources that I’m raiding) gives me yet another opportunity to rehearse their forms.

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I will have depicted each of the flowers several times by the time I make my painting, and these rehearsals are part of the rationale of this approach to painting. Having practiced them before, I’ll have a different level of preparation.  And I enjoy really learning these forms. It’s musical. It’s like practicing a piece of music.

All this process is part of creating the cartoon for a flower painting that’s in the pipeline, which I wrote about before HERE.

Casting the Flowers

In anticipation of the coloring book class I will be teaching in July, I am sometimes doing a more linear kind of painting

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than I usually do. This particular flower painting will also be a composite. The flowers will have never existed together. The vase is one I’ve never owned, and the first full version of the image is something that I am assembling on a large sheet of paper that will serve as the cartoon for the painting.  Only when that drawing is complete will I even have a clear idea what I’ll be painting. Right now, it’s casting call time.  I search for flowers for the major and minor roles in the picture.

bouquet mine start

Thus I am gathering flowers.  Don’t other flower painters do that?  They perhaps go to the florist, or to their gardens, or out to a field and gather the blooms to arrange in the vase.

flower after old masterMe, I raid art history books for flowers to steal, though I may also toss in a few flowers from life as well … In any case most of my flowers will have bloomed hundreds of years ago.

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These are some early candidates. The rehearsals won’t begin for a while.  The flowers haven’t even read their lines. This is just the beginning.

My pal Van Gogh

As the old masters go, Vincent Van Gogh is actually one of the younger old masters.  Some of the old dead guys have been living in the great hereafter much longer than him.  He’s just a new kid on the block.  And yet he has ties do the whole tradition in his painting.  He’s also the Patron Saint of Self Taught Artists, so he’s a good go-to guy for learning in the visual arts.

I learn from the old guys by copying their pictures, and since I’ve been thinking about flower painting a lot lately.  I decided I could benefit by a “refresher course.”

The Van Gogh painting that I copy above using the Blue Ball Point Pen was among those pictures Van Gogh made when he was in Paris in 1886.

Flowers Old and New

The end of the year is a time for reflection.  As I pour over internet postings, I am astonished to notice that “representation” is no longer an oddity.  When I was a youth, in contrast, it was axiomatic that picture-making was passé, “nobody” (one was told) “is doing that now.”  There was an avant garde that did not include renderings of the visible world.  And that was that.  While it’s true that the art world was governed by a kind of anything goes, what it really meant was “anything but that.”

Anyone looking at art today easily sees that the old rule is gone.  I am astonished how much figurative painting is unabashedly made now.  And I blame the Internet.  The “art world,” as has happened to so many other Establishments, has lots of competition now.  While it was always true that private galleries sold representational art, probably sold more representational art than abstract art, yet in the old order all the prestige accrued to whatever ArtNews crowned.  But that’s just not true anymore.

Well, it never really mattered anyway.  If you loved whatever it was, you were inclined to do whatever it was.  Lots of artists have persisted in my generation following their heart’s desire.  All I say is that it’s good they did because “ding dong the witch is dead” and Dorothy’s got her slippers, the Wizard of Oz has taken off for parts unknown, and the midgets are singing their hearts out.  And life goes on.

Before long, painting a simple vase of flowers is going to be the ne plus ultra.  It’s just a matter of time.

Ah, and you will have known me when!

(As for koi, don’t get me started ….)

These flowers aren’t shy

These flowers, unlike the ones I mentioned in my previous post, are not shy.  Moreover they comprise another “junk painting” that I’m doing.  And junk paintings are definitely not shy.  This picture appears over top a canvas that I painted and rapidly learned to hate.  The subject of the underpainting was totally different. But the materials were swell —  oil primed linen on sturdy stretchers.  So I turned the thing sideways and discovered that it became the perfect format for the development of a junk painting based upon a beloved junk drawing:  a marriage made in heaven, surely.

I love my junk drawing.  So far the junk painting looks different from its source, stiffer though bolder; and perhaps it will strike out its own path, yet it’s near enough to the junk drawing to have me feeling giddy and light-hearted about wielding the paint brush.  You really have to set your sights on delight sometimes.  Seriousness is important, but we cannot live in that place all the time.

Meanwhile the source for both the junk painting-in-progress and the junk drawing holds some sway over the process.

They each carry memories of this drawing.  And this drawing in turn was based upon another painting of the same subject.  I am incorrigibly addicted to redoing the same motifs …