So you paint the pictures as you might walk through the places, and you notice features and ask yourself questions about this and that as you go. Your painting is like walking, and you don’t know what the scenery will look like until you come upon it. The drawing as it unfolds depicts the real landscape, and you are moving through its spaces vicariously by the act of drawing. And the thoughts along each passage are like footsteps.
What I learned from Henri Matisse: “Look at Nature. Make stuff up.”
It’s not easy drawing from life. Clouds float away. The light changes. Stuff happens. If you attempt to depict everything “exactly” the way you find it you’ll go bonkers. So you look at Nature and make stuff up.
That’s what I did in this one, though I cheated a little, was looking out a window.
If you can imagine it, you can draw it. Took me many years to realize this fundamental fact about drawing. Much of the work of becoming an artist is caught up in learning how to “imagine it,” — in even recognizing what “imagining it” means.
I was looking at these flowers when I drew them, but the whole act of looking involves an imaginative gesture too. The image of “what you think you see” as it organizes itself in your mind.
I love my compotier so much, I draw it first thing I wake up, even if I wake up at 4 in the morning. It appears in the corner of a pen drawing I made this morning and described in an earlier post, but I give it a spotlight of its own because it’s my wonderful compotier — dreamed and imagined!
I woke around 4 a.m., stirred and then I realized I was really awake. Didn’t want to risk waking anyone else. So I padded to the kitchen and made a cup of hot chocolate, then I padded back to a comfortable spot. There was enough ambient light from the street that I never turned on a light indoors. And while I drank my warm cup, I pulled out the black pen and started drawing in the dark. I could see the large shapes, but not the details of the page. And there was no still life except the one I was thinking about.
It’s an interesting freedom got when you are drawing just thoughts without their having to be anything. And at 4 o’clock in the morning, one is not likely to demand of a drawing made over a warm cup that it be anything.
I noticed my kid’s latest art project today, chiefly because it’s sitting on the floor of the car on the passenger side, looking remarkably like one of those floor protectors that the mechanic puts under the pedals when he climbs behind the wheel of your car. It’s supposed to be a mask or something. Made from a large sheet, it has openings cut out to represent eyes and mouth. Maybe it’s a pumpkin. It might be orange on the other side. I don’t know. Never bothered even to look, it does such good service keeping the muddy feet off the pathetically soiled carpet on the kid’s side.
The appearance of this artifact set me wondering once more why art is not taught in schools. There are many recipes in the art curriculum, but not much thoughtful content.
Art teachers do not teach art as a subject like other subjects, as a discipline. They do not encourage exploration for exploration does imply that there is a destination at long last. What one gets in the place of curiosity are recipes — sure fire instructions for easily achievable ends. So I’m thinking that perhaps I shall start doing an occasional post expressly for school teachers. The first thing one must persuade teachers to embrace is the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes.
Artists draw all manner of exploratory images, sketches, caprices, ideas tossed off.
I pause from time to time while I’m working just like anyone else. And during one of today’s more memorable pauses my mind wandered off to consider the question of still life again. I was sitting facing my koi painting which I’m just now resuming, but my thoughts had drifted to the possibilities of cabbage — even of many large cabbages, perhaps. With them might be sleek white leeks, and dusty brown potatoes, and the whole was to be surrounded by the most lovely rich darkness of browns and inky black shadows. I began quizzing myself why I would be painting this thing, a large modern “larder” picture.
The larder picture would be a study in the beauty of young shades of green like the first sprouts of spring grasses or like the cold sturdy welcoming leaves of a stout cabbage. Around it all, darkness. So, how do you make the colors be like layers of light? Or the dark, like layers of darkness?
I got back to work today after a detour of over a week spent doing life’s unglamorous, necessary chores. Fittingly I dove into the koi pond again, ever my refuge. Here’s what I was able (joyfully, indulgently) to do during a day’s session.
My fish swim into the pond from left to right. Here they come now.
Before long the pond is full and almost everybody’s arrived.
The koi begin to separate into individual identities.
And as I left the pond today, the water was becoming a darker blue, some koi were getting their spots and stripes, and a reflection or two waved over the surface of the water. During my next visit to the pond, I’ll layer colors one over another through the whole pond, filling out fish personalities, peering into the pond’s entire watery warp and weft.
It’s good to be back.
Years ago I began a large painting, one of my first large pictures. Painted it in the living room of my parents’ North Carolina home using a ladder as an easel. The motif was based on a parcel of land down the street from their home. I tried to transform it into Renaissance Italy, the sort of place one of Giorgione’s gals would hang out.
These are samples of the several compositional drawings. (There was a bunch. I’m not sure what happened to them all.) Looking through old notebooks, I found this one made in pencil (above) and this other in conte crayon (below). The crayon adds to the Italian feeling, don’t you think?
My snow-proof refuge is my imagination fitted with an oil pastel box. After digging out of all that snow, I’m longing for the color green and cannot be bothered to wait for nature to provide it.
Of course spring is just a couple weeks away, and already we are feeling hints of pleasures to come. And you see robins everywhere.
Call me an early adopter. I’m doing greens now. I’m getting warmed up. And when spring breezes and leaves arrive in earnest, me and my paint box are going to be ready!