I got into the habit of painting large pictures after I discovered that I could rehearse ideas by first making large drawings. And then the prospect of painting on a large canvas began to seem much less daunting. I knew that I could work out any problems or uncertainties using the less expensive medium. At first I even used cheap paper to make the preliminary drawings. Sometimes to make the sheet large enough, I taped together many smaller sheets. I got that idea from a cartoon by Carracci that I saw at the National Gallery of Art. It was one large image drawn on a sheet made from assembling many small sheets.
These days I use watercolor paper by the roll and artists’ crayons rather than crayolas. But I got my start with quite humble (and very amusing) beginnings.
Illustrated above is a large koi painting measuring 40 x 60 that’s almost complete, and a preliminary drawing for it that is slightly smaller, and which has undergone still further alterations, taking on a life of its own.
As to why I wanted to paint large, I think I merely wanted to surround myself with the images that I love — to be even more inside that world.
I’m live blogging my Big Tidy Campaign of 2017 — only live blogging for now. The drunk blogging may come later. So far, the work’s exasperating but manageable.
I am essentially moving my studio — or big chunks of it out of my sweet little house. That’s the plan. For the present I can only move the stuff to a kind of “staging area” for later transit. And even the things that I could theoretically move from the house today are mostly staying put because it’s raining.
Meanwhile Miss Dog is whining incessantly because, au fond, dogs are not very patient creatures. I told her that once all the work is complete, she can be Official Studio Dog, and then we will be inseparable. Today, however, we are not going to be spending time together because — let’s face it — dogs are not all that helpful to the house tidy routine.
Dogs are too nosey, for one thing. Every object must be sniffed. I don’t know why. But I haven’t got time for it.
Well, I am making physical, mental and spiritual progress. But I let the picture at the top represent these benefits. I cannot photograph the house itself. Work has only just begun — and it’s still in that horror movie stage.
Really, it’s just too scary. Even for the internet.
Ten times is probably a good number for deciding if you like a thing. And a hundred times is surely a good number for mastering it (or for beginning its mastery).
Degas thought you should repeat things the way that a ballerina repeats her dance steps or a musician practices a musical figure. You gain skill and sureness with each repetition. But sometimes you also gain ideas. The differences between one repetition and another can sometimes lead to new ideas. Thus it’s a source of invention in art.
“Il faut refaire dix fois, cent fois le même sujet.” You must redo — ten times, one hundred times — the same subject.
Certainly one hundred times is excessive if you don’t love the thing. But ten times is a way of gaining skill. And ten times offers enough repetitions to get to know the subject in a preliminary way — to learn it. With ten repetitions you find out if you do love the motif — whether or not it’s the right motif for you.
And if after you’ve done the subject ten times, you wish to explore it further then you know that your love is deep.
You could do ten versions of this, and ten versions of that, and discover through the process what kinds of things matter to you. Somewhere in that process you will find that the subject holds deeper meaning (even if you don’t know what that meaning is). At that point you want to plunge in and really explore its every aspect. Exploration leads to invention.
I have certain subjects that I return to again and again. I did not begin them with the idea that they would become my particular venues. I went into the subject innocently. But I was heeding some call — even if I was unaware.
I am not sure how many subjects I have — some I’m keenly aware of — the koi, flowers, seashells, certain kinds of landscape. If I did one hundred of each — GOODNESS — that would be four hundred right there!
Degas is a strict task master! But this is all stuff that one loves. It would be wonderful to do one hundred repetitions of each subject!
Today I’m beginning the Big Tidy Campaign of 2017 and part of tidying is taking inventory. I begin this inventory with an inventory of my thoughts — and of my fishes!
These were the prototypes. I have a big clean canvas ready for a new version of this motif. And I’m getting ready to begin it fairly soon. A large preliminary drawing is in the works.
But note, I used to have a lot of studio space as illustrated above. Now I’m inhabiting smaller quarters. Thus I am beginning the Big Tidy Campaign of 2017. The thought of being able to comfortably work on this motif is one of my incentives to action.
Tidying is the chore. The big koi pond will be my reward.
It’ll be fun to jump into the pond again … though I still have finishing touches to put on a companion piece. That’ll be fun too. But first I must reorganize.
I only learned about Wenzel Hablik a couple weeks ago. His painting is on the cover of a book my daughter has been reading. Soon after I happened upon a video in French about an exhibit at the Musee d’Orsay called “Beyond the Stars. The Mystical Landscape from Monet to Kandinsky” and there was a curator standing in front of his painting, talking about it.
I had no idea it was so huge! My painting is pretty big too. Mine above, his below.
Indeed, he’s got something in common with a lot of things I have painted but I’d never heard of him until very recently. It’s always fun to discover things like this — things I love that I didn’t know I loved until now. More of mine below.
Stars, water and kois have a lot in common!
The more things change, the more they stay the same — a good saying for artists who are practicing in the way that Degas advised them to do: “you must redo the same thing ten times, a hundred times.”
I made this little koi pastel above so that I could be often practicing the colors and positions of the koi fishes. It measures about 12 1/2 x 11 inches. It’s practice for a painting measuring 40 x 60 inches.
These are guppies for the big pond.
I have redrawn this motif again and again. Sometimes it transforms.
Simonides of Cleos is reputed to be the first to discover that a seating pattern helps you remember things. I was using his method to remember where my koi were in the latest koi picture. I was making an idle drawing while sitting through a slightly tedious lecture and used the time to review the painting I had been working on the night prior.
Strangely enough I had quite a difficult time accounting for all the fish graphically, by remembering their shapes. And so it was the “seating pattern” at last the filled in some of the blanks. I didn’t get them all, but I got most.
The Convergence shows a group of koi racing across the surface from left to right. When The Convergence hangs together with Racing Koi (below) as pendants, the koi fishes seem to be racing toward each other. In The Convergence brilliantly orange-colored fishes predominate and their complementary color contrasts brightly with the serene blue of the water. The fishes’ forms are modeled and dimensional. Some of their features are clear, and one senses the round slippery, firm shapes of the powerfully moving fish as they push through the water, as they companionably shove into each other. Koi are “brocaded carp,” specially bred fish noted for their beautiful color patterns and strong hues. In this picture the brightest colored fishes have accidentally gathered together, filling the center with vivid red-orange. A linear energy runs throughout their movements. Dark reflections in the water create lines that also parallel the strong contours of the kois’ bodies with energy that is vibrant and yet somehow soothing.
Converging Koi is a pastel painted on Canson Touch Mi-Teintes paper measuring 28.75 x 20.75 inches.
The companion picture Racing Koi, featured in the last post, is below.
Bach made thirty variations
of his aria for his Goldberg Variations. I haven’t made that many variations on any of my koi motifs yet. That’s an awful lot of fish to draw. But I do redo the same fishes again and again because I’m Degas’s dutiful student and he told me, “il faut refaire la même chose dix fois, cents fois.” Okay, maybe he wasn’t talking to me. But still I take these things to heart. So, I redo my koi — maybe ten times — not yet thirty — and goodness knows, Monsieur Degas, not one hundred times!
Watercolor at the top, then colored pencil, then dry pastel (a detail, below), and crayon (also a detail, below that).
What can I say? I need one of these:
In my own way …
Seeing other artists’ watercolors
puts me into a watercolor mood — that and the late springtime heat. I would love to dive into the pond with the koi. I’d also love to paint in watercolor again. I need to clean the studio (again). The watercolor palette is buried somewhere under the pile of things. I need an archeologist to help me excavate!
Here’s a detail.
These are more things that I found by visiting my facebook page to hunt down the owl. See, what you find when you go looking for an owl!