My American Dream is to paint big pictures. As much as I’m able, I already do so. But I am also looking for the setting for the pictures — for the adventurous collector who wants a big koi pond for the indoors. These are not fish that you have to feed. These are fish that feed you — that feed your mind with dreams.
What sort of dreams, you ask? Dreams of swimming, dreams of water, dreams of the broad sky seen from under the water, dreams of the watery depths of feeling and imagination.
From drawing into painting, from many different sorts of drawings into paintings. The range of possibility is mesmerizing. There are so many lines, so many images. That’s the dream, I suppose.
One of the ways I design koi images now is by combining little sketches in different, somewhat random arrangements to discover which overall pattern of fishes provides the most appealing composition. In these small drawings the goal is to get a large pattern established. Particulars of color, surface, anatomy or generalization, paint texture, etc. will all be sorted out later.
The finished painting might turn out to be quite large. So I spend time giving the drawing ideas a good stare to imagine how the imagery would look if expanded into a much larger format.
The fish placement isn’t really much different from putting fruits on a table to draw still life or to decide the relative positioning of anything that will create two dimensional movement across the picture plane.
Every small thing has its name, English being a luxurious and commodious language. I am restarting my koi pond with some fry. I drew these fry using children’s crayons which, though impermanent, have a certain je ne sais quoi.
The fry are stock for the big pond. The big pond gets painted in acrylic paint. But first the fish need time to grow.
How do crayon kois grow? They get drawn and redrawn. Colors change. Heightening occurs. Highlights appear. Dark accents collect. The spaces between the koi take shape as well. The water asserts itself. Its form sharpens. The depths get deeper. The surface gains reflectivity. Air breezes into the picture. Light vibrates.
Lucy and Zoomie photobomb the picture I’m trying to take of a 30 x 40 inch acrylic canvas I found in storage that I’m going to over-paint with landscape. It’s exactly the same size as the painting that has got me stuck — so I could use it to rehearse a second version.
It’s the wrong size to serve as a proper format for an idea that I have in the hopper. But I’m inclined to use it to rehearse the new idea anyway (rather than deepen my obsession with the troublesome existing painting). Changing formats is like changing media — it can shake things up in interesting ways.
It will be interesting sometime later on to recall that this picture was underneath whatever landscape I decide to paint here.
I have some pictures available in reproductions at Fine Art America. And the Fine Art America website has introduced a feature that makes it easier to imagine the image hanging in a room. With their new feature, you can get a sense of how the image size you’ve chosen might look in an actual room. All that’s left is to imagine how it will look in your room and in your life.
Got a chance to see the January exhibit at the Virginia Art League and to photograph my oil pastel Koi Silk in situ. I love the framing which was done by Carriage House Framing. The whole thing measures 41.5 x 29 inches.
Here’s another view for scale.
The exhibit in historic Old Town Alexandria goes through February 4.
I have been away from my blog while deeply entrenched in a project to reorganize my whole house and studio. It’s been quite an adventure, has provided a massive physical workout, and I’m still not done.
However, I am so much closer to my goal and that fact makes me feel marvelous. I was inspired in part by Maria Kondo’s insightful book “the life-changing magic of tidying up.” Her advice comes in handy as I plow through decades of possessions.
For now though, for today, I’m taking a bit of a breather. I decided to fiddle faddle around with an old watercolor of koi. It’s been over a month since I’ve done any painting so I’ve earned a little art time. Once I get the first phase of my project completed, though, I’ll be able to use my still life table in ways I never before dreamed!
Zig-zagging, radiating reflections announce the movement of the koi that swim in lazy formation toward the spectator. The calm quietude of the koi contrasts with the reflections created by their wake. They are dynamic in effect even when their actions are measured and smooth. The waves the koi make as they swim through the pond travel far from the fish ensemble. Their waves announce them to distant places and telegraph their presence to distant shores, saying, “The koi were here.”
Where the koi assemble, coming toward the spectator, passages of warm yellow, orange and red mix with pale luminescent silvery blue and mild violet tones in the level water. They swim in our direction and those jagged reflections begin to fall far behind them.
Dynamic Swimmers is drawn using Neocolors on Nideggen paper and measures 38 x 25.5 inches.
Crayons are a medium that produce a particularly soft effect, accessible through a careful hatching technique. The fish can seem suspended in a truly restful moment of easy floating in this picture in part because of the silkiness of the crayon marks themselves. Parallel lines weave together like strands in a tapestry making gentle gradations of color, like undulations of wave that fuse contour and form. From this shimmering quality of light, the picture takes its name.
Shimmering Crowd Caran d’Ache Neocolors on Nideggen paper, 38 x 25.5 inches
They are lively, gregarious fish. They are beautiful, graceful and swift swimmers. I often seek a parallel expression when I’m drawing and painting the koi. I want the drawing to represent the qualities of the fish themselves. The drawing should be direct and swift-seeming. Sometimes that directness is best achieved through the most obvious means. Sometimes I draw the fish quickly and boldly so that the gestures of drawing can echo the movements of the swimmers and the water that flows around them. Hatch marks (parallel lines used to create passages of color and tone in drawing) help to further convey a sense of things moving, and calligraphic gestures of line also evoke motion and urgency. This drawing is one where the sense of swift movement — even more than of form — becomes the subject of the picture. One partly submerged fish is so blurred that his forms are broken into a broad abstract shape and the blur takes on a loveliness of its own. Some pictures of animals focus on their anatomy, but in my koi pictures I have sought the relationship between the fish and the water and the ways that they fuse visually.
Koi Silk is painted using oil pastel on Nideggen paper and measures 38 x 25.5 inches.