Emulation

 

bonnard gouache drawing for painting
Pierre Bonnard — sketch for La Salle à manger sur le jardin

 

I’ve been thinking ahead to the large still life that I plan to be painting soon.  This is the canvas that was going to be a large horizontal koi painting until I realized I just didn’t want to do that motif right now.  The canvas has since been up-ended vertically and the first early bits of paint mostly covered over with a pale blue (just because that’s the color that was already there).  I had decided to do “my version” of Bonnard’s La Salle à manger sur le jardin (regular readers may recall that I am in Monsieur Bonnard’s “classe” now — the one he teaches in the museums and in books from his perch in Heaven).

So I am asking myself exactly what it means to paint a version.  Do I use parallel color?  If so, as you can see from his sketch above, that means white table cloth, golden-ish room framing greens from the window above.  Am I using only his compositional idea?  Am I using a window something like the one he peered through in the lovely Villa Castellamare at Arcachon in 1930 (in earlier posts I went “window shopping”) or am I going to use my own humble window that looks out north on the yard, or perhaps the one that faces east and frames the holly tree?

Well, happily I don’t have to decide today.  I still have the “intermediate” picture to complete:  the tall bright vase of flowers on the green cloth with the blue background.  But it’s time to start thinking ahead….

fresh flower time

lilacs and other flowers in kitchen

I’m still busy reorganizing things in the studio — making good progress, too — I’m getting ready to shift into full flower mode.  With the weather warming, we’ve been taking many long walks and already I’ve begun making drawings of flowers during those walks.  I go equipped with a small notebook and a nubby pencil à la Bonnard.  And there’s so many flowers to see.  Gotta love spring.

These flowers above may become subjects for drawing, but for now they just sit on the table for our enjoyment.

the Big Tidy Continues

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The household reorganization continues, and it brings many joys.  Marie Kondo in her book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” recommends that you begin the big toss by starting with the easy things — starting first with clothes.  I did that earlier this week, and it was marvelous to get rid of old items.  I’ve trimmed down to essentials.  Many things are going to the dumpster and many to the thrift store.

But I have also rediscovered many wonderful old things.  Kondo, who is a great appreciator of art, has directed her book toward the non-artist public so she doesn’t address the whole still life question.  Clearly artists face a more than ordinary temptation to hoard stuff.  So I take her basic principles and merely apply them to this other category of things.  But going through the clothes, a few things have now transferred from “clothes” to “still life cloth.”  Some of those transfers are quite just because these are things that truly do “spark joy.”  Now the future joy will no longer be in the wearing but in the spectacle of seeing the colors and patterns behind various still life objects.

Nonetheless, the clutter gradually and steadily recedes.  New spaces and opportunities appear.  These are joyful days.  I reencounter many memories.  I discover new possibilities.

I seem to discard things and get ideas in their stead.  I become rich in ideas.  And I love ideas!  So I am indeed quite rich now.  Isn’t it marvelous?

[At the top of the post, one of the early paintings I encountered again.  I also retrieved the mustard colored cloth (actually a satchel) that appears in it.  The cloth will be making new appearances in the days ahead.]

what more to say

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I was making plans when I painted these just as I am making plans now.  I had forgotten.  The bouquets were experiments in painting.

I was leaving one place — literally leaving — I was quitting my job.  Husband and parents thought it was a bad idea.  I quit anyway.  I suppose they all knew me well enough to suspect that I would do whatever I wanted. And I thank each one now — daddy, momma, husband — in the quiet of my head and heart because they provided a healthy dose of obstacle — not that I viewed their reactions in those terms at the time.  Rather, I see it now.  Seeing the obstacle they manufactured — their gifts — makes me wonder right now about the obstacles that I face right now.  How many of them are gifts in disguise?

I have been the loud proponent of mistakes in art.  Through making mistakes you learn.  Art has the great luxury of affording human beings considerable latitude in mistake making.  In art sometimes the mistake opens a door into new territory.  Screw up a drawing,  learn that exaggeration in art hides expressive possibility.  You learn that lesson not in vague terms as I declare it now in words but in the precise, specific way of a tangible shape in some particular drawing.

Looking back I can see how taking my family’s advice also might have led to a good path. Perhaps I should have heeded them and this path I took was “the mistake.”  It’s difficult to say, really only a matter of interpretation.  Had I taken their advice, I would still have needed to make important changes. I thought back then that I needed to change my outward circumstances.  Now I’m more inclined to see the inward changes as being most needful.

“Six of one and a half dozen of the other.”  One thing I love about my family, especially remembering these events, is that whether I kept the job or left it none of them intended to make a big deal of it for very long.  They thought quitting was a mistake.  All of them thought so.  They said so.  I quit against their advice.  All the lines were redrawn. Life rolled along.

I trust my intuition.  I made the right choice.  And I needed the obstacle gifts they gave.

Anyway, the flower paintings were doors and windows.  I am building a new metaphorical house in thought and I decided to use — to install — these particular portals.  I want to look at a flower world.

Cleaning house has brought me close to the past. I find things that “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo puts it.  I have also found things that evoke regrets and loss.  Where to put things comes later in Kondo’s scheme.  First you discard, later you organize.  Me, I have parts of the past to discard — aspects of my own personality to discard also.  Or, at least I intend to put certain personality features into deep storage.  Impatience or a bad temper might be useful on some exceptionally rare occasion.  I’ll want my impatience and anger then — perhaps.

For now, I reshuffle aspects of my personality and intend to keep only the traits that I really use along with ones that “spark joy.” I write this so blithely.  Naiveté lends charm to certain bold acclamations.  I am building a mental house and hopefully the physical house will conform to it. For sure, the physical house is much easier to clean and arrange.

almost a year ago

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Almost a year ago I began working on this cartoon for a painting.  I don’t recall what prompted it. I carried it with me when my daughter was taking a class somewhere, and I worked on it inside an empty art classroom while I waited. It was my portable project.

I had plans for painting it that I still have not as yet realized.  But the idea has stuck with me.  It’s one of several thoughts I have about future flower paintings.  Now it seems almost fortuitous that I waited since the Frederick Bazille exhibit at the National Gallery of Art includes several large paintings of flowers.

I can begin my picture while I have all these exemplary models near by.  Also, you see, being in the midst of the Big Tidy Campaign of 2017, one becomes nostalgic. In fact I discovered that a year had passed after finding, while I was cleaning, an old notebook from a year ago where I had been recording the ideas.

I blogged about it too.  Somewhere I have a bunch of related drawings.  These reproductions will probably be easier to locate than the originals — even now — even as I sort through stuff.

dix fois, cents fois: Degas’s advice for artists

1157_10200754970055686_113377938_nTen 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.

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“Il faut refaire dix fois, cent fois le même sujet.”  You must redo — ten times, one hundred times — the same subject.

across the room jan 6 2012

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.

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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.

 

detail of the drawing

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!

more of these guys are coming soon

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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.

seashell collection

I’ve made a bunch of drawings and paintings of seashells, and soon I will make more.  I started collecting seashells a few years ago, and I have a group of shells now.  Each one is a little different from the others and in time I hope to have portrayed the individual differences.  For now I just portray the shells broadly.

I like putting them into different settings, among different colors, especially among different patterns.  I am always eager to discover what the surrounding colors do to change the mood of a picture.

When I have a sufficient number of seashells to cover an entire wall, I want to have them all framed and hung together as though they were one large work composed of the ensemble.  But that  project waits in the future.  First I have to paint them one by one.

the mind’s flowers

While I’m painting one thing, I think ahead to other subjects. Thus while painting koi, I am often planning flowers. We visited the National Gallery yesterday where I encountered the newly cleaned Vase of Flowers by Jan Huysum in the Dutch galleries.  In the American galleries we came upon Severin Roesen’s flowers. The latter is obviously indebted to the traditions of the former, and my pictures will lean fondly toward both while being very different from either of them.

The Huysum is a miracle of detail.  Here and there ants wander among the petals. Everywhere you gaze, you find descriptions of things. Dew on leaves, veins, moss in the bird’s nest, striations in the colors of the flower petals.  I look on those things with wonder and delight. But in my flowers I tend toward surfaces more messy and modern.  I recently got four books on Bonnard, and I look at his blurs and confusing forms with a kind of longing that I find hard to explain. I am drawn to his modern sensibility.

Bonnard’s way can seem easier, but it’s not. All these masters pose challenges, and happily when I paint my own pictures, I’ll be focused once again on the idea in my head and the flowers on my own table. Thus one can enjoy the pleasures of emulation while escaping its psychological peril.

I seek an in-between place, between realism and chaos, some way station between the splendor of enumerated things that you find in Dutch paintings (and among its ardent admirers like Roesen) and the perceptual chaos of vision sifted through memory that characterizes Bonnard.

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But all that lies ahead among the spring thoughts because for now I’m only dreaming and planning like the gardener with his seed catalogs. It’s winter. And I have kois to finish.