One wonder of drawing in notebooks is the experience you get opening the notebook after a chunk of time has passed and having a day of your past life come rushing back into being. If there were one reason that stands above all others why artists should indulge the practice of drawing in notebooks, I’d say it was this. Indeed, the notebook is like a diary except that rather than relying on words it deals in images.
Both diary and drawing have their unique capacity for distilling time. I don’t praise one above the other. All I do is exhort people to keep them, one or the other, a record of words or pictures — at least for a season.
It’s like canning peaches. This is my canning: only I canned a whole pond and included some ducks too.
I have been thinking a lot about beginnings — thinking back to the time when my desire to paint was brand new. After thirty years I bought a new paint box — a compact box, with a sturdy handle and clean new surfaces. After thirty years’ practicality I thought it was an innocent enough gesture. Let myself feel young, left my artist’s heart feel brand new.
I have four dozen of small panels. I’m ready to explore my own household, survey its common objects and do inventory. To be an anthropologist of my own life strikes me as a very worthy goal. What ordinary things are lying about for my inspection?
I want light, shadows, colors, edges and some in-between-ness of things.
At the top is a painting I made long ago — can be exemplary for me — I painted a leaf from my yard and a farmer’s apple. The tree that made the leaf is gone now and a garden has taken its place.
I want to tell the whole story of my art, of your art, of anybody’s art. Whatever I learned, I got there by a particular path. It wasn’t always a brilliant success. I’ve made many bad drawings along the way. (What about you?) Yet sometimes it happens also to be true that a drawing had a specific purpose, humble though it might have been, that formed a necessary bridge from here to there.
I find old notebooks stashed away that hold strange and mysterious pictures. Sometimes I cannot identify what it was I drew. Cannot tell up from down. Don’t know what purpose they served, what thing I sought. They are things that just float. Fragments of fragments, unhinged from any goal.
Yet they have a weird sort of charm (for me at least). They are the refrigerator pictures of my artistic childhood. I was an adult in making them, but I was only taking baby steps toward whatever destination I had set for myself. They are visual mumblings.
Some of them, that is. This one is a brilliant success.
Back in 1986 the National Gallery of Art mounted a beautiful exhibit of Matisse’s paintings from that period when he lived in Nice. Mom and I saw the show together. It’s hard to believe that was a quarter century ago! I was looking through the catalog while talking to her on the phone today. She didn’t remember our visiting the exhibit, but I reminded her that we did. We had wandered through that enormous exhibit like two ladies of leisure. I remember well the lazy way we paused in front of pictures and enjoyed the beautiful colors, the clear light of those paintings, and the feeling of elegance and serenity those paintings evoke. It was as though peace and calm and quiet orderly life might go on forever.
While I was talking to mom, I made a pen drawing of one of Matisse’s exotic young women. They look out from the pictures with a dewy youth that is eternal. Today’s “phone conversation drawing.”
When I painted this back in August of 2002 my secret bunker studio was “brand new” (new to me). Had just moved in and the space was very open and empty. Zen like. Just the thought of it rekindles a sense of mysterious possibilities.
The space has seen many transformations since that early time. I have done a lot of work, made a bunch of paintings. And it’s getting crowded in there — all those fish and a few other dreams besides.
The little place has its magic, that’s for sure. Even if it lacked its modern day security system it would still be a charmer.
I love my studio. I really do. But nonetheless, I could use a bigger place.
This property would be nice. I like the light a lot. And it’s got nice architecture. But I don’t want any movie stars bothering me while I’m working. I’ll have to make sure I post a sign, “please, no movie stars.”
My kid, though, has been less burdened by architecture than me. Was a time when she could carry her whole studio in her arms. And I have to hand it to her, her method has had great utility.
Draw any time, anywhere. Be free as a bird. Let the world be your studio.
I drew my parents years ago. My mother, pixie-like.
My dad, engrossed in a television broadcast, coiled with the energy of his attention. His shoe, I find, also expressed somehow his mood, his relaxed and yet intense focus.
I found her at a second-hand shop. It was a shop I frequented back when my daughter was a baby. I remember seeing the Spanish guitarist on the shelf, turning it over to find the price (it wasn’t very expensive), and placing it back on the shelf. I don’t know why I hesitated, but I left the store with some other items.
It was after I had driven all the way home, I was seized with the thought I had to have it! I needed particularly to get it for my daughter (why I don’t know). I got back into the car. Was there time? Would the store be closed when I got there? They close early on Sunday. Would the Spanish guitarist still be there? (Suddenly she had become a rare and coveted item, every shopper eyeing her and calculating their purchase.)
Well, you know the ending. There she is. My daughter never played with her, of course. It’s not a thing you play with, and I don’t think my daughter ever even expressed the slenderest interest in the little figurine. I’ve drawn her lots of times. She represents my obsessions — though she has something to do with being a mother. She’s my childhood sought, not my daughter’s. And I heard her smooth, shiny, crystaline, glass music from afar.
I used to sit on the back porch and look at the tree limbs in the dark. Darkness teaches mystery. You can only see clearly up to certain edges, and then into the shadows the unknown reigns. The limbs of the trees seem almost to hang upon the sky at night, and they reach out to you with scary ghost hands (as every child knows).
I was going through a closet at my parents’ house, in the back room that was mostly my dad’s domain. I was very curious what he had squirreled away over the years, and I found plenty of junkque to be sure, but I was very surprised to find hidden away at the bottom of the closet a bunch of drawings I made my first year in college (that would be during the Jurassic period for any geologists reading this). Thank you, Dad.
Woaw. It’s like going back in time and meeting yourself. I found stuff I didn’t remember ever making, as for instance this collage above. And the collages (there were three of them) were especially intriguing because I thought that my interest in making pictures by cutting up and gluing bits of paper was of fairly recent vintage, but I see that I was doing the Matisse thing for about as long as I’ve been an artist and long before my love affair with Henri.