the kitchen chaos

 

kitchen drawingThe view between the arching flower stems is what caught my attention, but afterwards I tried to put as much stuff of the chaos onto the page, knowing that parts of it would be out of proportion.  I decided to tackle something that I figured would be impossible really to depict accurately, especially in the time I was allotting.

The dark light of an overcast spring day made the (ad)venture doable.  So off and on I’ve been gazing at a jumble of things on the kitchen counter. (Remind me I need to clean that counter.)  It would be an interesting motif to do at night too with the overhead yellow of interior light casting down on the objects in that way that Bonnard taught us to love.

I’d love to do the view from the arching flower stems again in the future.  I’ll need more flowers.  These have already surpassed their prime.

color scheming

seashell red and yellow backgr 2

Sometimes I put the seashells into color environments that recall their ocean homes.  Sometimes I plunge them into a set up of bright colors that I favor.

Here the seashell is not ocean artifact — it is still life object, sitting on a tabletop covered by a yellow leaf and floral patterned cloth with brilliant red and bright violet backgrounds adjacent.  I realize now that some of my paintings record the evolution of still life table changes, that the different colored backgrounds feature a succession different objects as I cycled through various color and pattern choices, using them for various different objects.  Thus the same color scheme used for this seashell appears also with one of the flower pictures.

The still life table is like a theatre stage and the still life objects are actors that appear in different scenes of the drama.

Arrangement & Experiment

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I like to experiment with things.  Put the objects on the table, perhaps move them around a little, but not to think about them overly much.  Follow the instincts.  Set the stuff down and begin. Sometimes I paint the scene fast.  The painting above was done rapidly.  It’s a very small painting. It’s the size of a postcard.  I wanted to see how much I could convey without much fuss. The arrangement was crowded.  I think the general sense of it has come through.

Looking at it now, I see how much I borrowed from Matisse without realizing.  That’s the kind of influence that’s especially beneficial, when the earlier artist’s thought just seeps silently into your brain.  One learns by much looking. We learn about painting from seeing other pictures.  And there are so many ways of arranging things, maybe an infinite number.

 

This image is owned by The Baltimore Museum of Art; permission t
Matisse still life

 

 

For some time I have been portraying the objects on my table somewhat randomly as your eye might catch them when you walk into the room and scan the surroundings in an absent-minded way. They are composed and not composed at once.  The picture is a composition. It has structure.  But the things do not.  They are random.  The structure that the picture possesses is sleigh of hand.  The objects simply are.

sea shell in setup

Why shouldn’t objects be portrayed haphazardly?  Isn’t that how we encounter them?  And all the spaces between the things, the strange wonderful interstices, I like to discover those spaces.  I feel like I should make them as truthful as possible. I want to get the contours right whenever I can because that’s so much a part of the thing’s identity. The things have identities.  Shades of Plato!

Just the top of the teapot peeks over the edge of this picture. That’s where the paper ends.  It reminds you that the picture is artificial. The actual world seems not to have edges.  But the picture does.  So that’s where the objects stop.  And the accidental contours of their abrupt conclusions can be fascinating.

 

 

 

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.