I believe in opposites (a thing and its foil) as a good principle for learning.
My first drawing of the still life naturally focused on the objects. You see the stuff. You draw the contours around the stuff. But I was wondering now if maybe I’d get a better handle on the idea of the painting by looking more closely at the negative spaces. The only problem is that there are no negative spaces to look at — or maybe it’s ALL negative spaces ever since I disassembled the still life.
It’s a small room. Anyway, I didn’t want to be too dependent on the actual still life this time. And I wanted to travel in hero Pierre Bonnard’s shoes a bit. More about memory.
I guess now’s a good time to look at Bonnard again with the negative spaces particularly in mind.
I just wrote a post about that sort of thing – the spaces between spaces — a day or so ago. That’s probably why I’m thinking about it now. I was looking at the sketch for the still life and wondering how it would be to think about everything that I wasn’t thinking about when I drew it. The task is greatly complicated by the absence of the actual still life!
Nonetheless (never one to be deterred) there are other ways to think about the spaces between things, even when drawing from memory. I can put parts of the still life together temporarily. I can also just have a whack at drawing the stuff between the stuff (even from imagination) and see what new stuff emerges.
when they recede in depth or when they follow folds in drapery.
I love the picture within a picture, putting something in the still life that has a picture on it, and making this other picture another space in the illusory painted space.
Another thing I love are the confusing bits of chaos that you see when you look at something through glass. I like to put bottles in the still life to draw the things seen distorted by the glass, love to draw the fruit in the blue compotier to see the blue alter the colors of the things.
Also the pattern on a cloth that sits flat on the table top between two objects, to contemplate that space as a special landscape of imagination —
— the way that pattern looks abstract because it’s partly covered up and is seen from an oblique angle so that’s it’s made twice unfamiliar. All those kinds of things are fascinating, are wonderful beyond compare.
Sometimes I like the interstices better than the objects. The “negative space” sometimes gets you closer to the perception because when you draw it you are no longer naming the things, but are instead drawing the spaces between the things, seeking to draw parts of the entire veil of light hanging in front of your eyes — seeing it as a veil.
To dematerialize the objects is part of the goal. A few times (admittedly rarely) I heard painting criticized because it is “flat.” Also because it’s static (as opposed to a movie). Painting isn’t modern, the critic said, because it’s flat and still. But I love painting precisely because it’s flat and immobile so the mind can enter it and move freely.
The pretended space is wondrous. I like to draw the rim to rim on anything that has a void in its parts, like the opening of a shoe, the interior of a cup.
I want to create the illusion of the thing on the canvas and the artifice of that delights me. But I also am glad that it is flat because in being flat it has design. Things are not just things but can connect to each other because some linear relationship that exists only in the mind and on the page begins to pull the things together into a motif.
“Motif” is a pictorial thing, a picturesque thing, it’s a scenic idea. Out in the world is raw reality (in whatever form it actually is). In the mind, on the contrary, are things with names to which meanings attach. I want to fix the meaning into a shape.
In the picture, are lines, colors and shapes that can delight the eyes and sometimes puzzle the brain and which pull and tug and affect the emotions in sometimes strange ways.
This pastel is almost ready for the frame. Once it receives its several light coats of pastel fixative, off to the frame shop it goes. After framing it will join its companion painting so that they can be pendants.
Once both works are framed, the fish can swim toward each other.
is a challenge. In anticipation of teaching a pastel class in the fall at McLean Project for the Arts, I’ve been trying out pastel ideas. The most basic relates to materials. What kind of pastels do I recommend for beginning pastellists? What sorts of surfaces will I recommend? At first I was leaning toward a 30 half stick set of Rembrandts, but certain colors of the sticks can be difficult to use. So I’ve purchased a 24 stick set of NuPastels which I’ll be testing for a while.
I’m already familiar with both brands, but the question in my mind is which small set of pastels would be easiest for someone new to the medium? NuPastels grand set is 96 sticks large. I love them. But I’m not recommending that the newcomer invest in a large set from day one. While some people in my class may have used pastels before, and may have their palette already well sorted out, I need to consider the absolute newcomer too.
Here are the pristine NuPastels vying with the bananas for attention. I got these at Artist & Craftsman Supply in Hyattsville, MD, a new store in this region. (You can buy stuff from them online also.)
While trying out materials with the beginning artist in mind, I was using Canson mi-teintes papers. That was the surface that certain Rembrandt sticks weren’t liking. When fighting with pastels — some sticks get slick and won’t crumble onto the paper and adhere — I was thinking what a shame it is that I cannot recommend sanded papers which work a lot more easily with all kinds of pastels. They’re expensive though and expensive surfaces are not good choices for newcomers. You don’t need to feel intimidated by a sheet of paper.
It dawns on me now that maybe using one of the acrylic pumice mixes might solve the problem so I’m headed back to Artist & Craftsman later today to get some Golden Pumice Gel to use on Strathmore watercolor paper. I’ll be testing this combination using both the NuPastel 24 sticks and the Rembrandt 30 half sticks. My chief question will be how full is the palette in range? How easily are these materials used in this particular combination?
When I did my kois which were the feature of the previous post I was working on UART fine sanded paper and Canson mi-teintes “touch” papers with a variety of pastel brands including NuPastels, Rembrandts, Senneliers, Richeson, Unison, Diane Townsend and Great American. They’re all wonderful. It helps that I had depicted the koi in other media before I began doing them in pastel.
Meanwhile, the drawing featured at the top, seen below in scale, was an experiment too, one made before I knew I’d be teaching a pastel class. I just wanted to make a larger than life size shell to see what that would be like, and I used ordinary Strathmore 400 series paper with Conté pastels.
I like to try things. Strathmore 400 series medium tooth paper is all purpose. It’s not designed for pastel, but it was not difficult to use. You wouldn’t want it for soft pastels, but it’s a decent surface for the harder ones. The notebook pictured on the easel is 18 x 24 inches.
If you look very closely you can see a highly specialized artists’ tool on the upper right hand corner of the drawing. It’s used for keeping the pages of the notebook tight while it rests on the easel. I believe it’s called a “clothes pin.”
The one on the easel has been pulled from storage and will make the trip to the framer soon. Hopefully soon. It needs an application of fixative for which I need to be able to go outdoors, and anyone in the Washington DC area can tell you that we’ve had an unprecedented season of rain. I have contemplated building an ark.
Last fall I made a lot of koi drawings in pastel. Other drawings are visible around the sides of the easel. I loved that long session of painting with pastel and am eager to resume using the medium again. Even though many of my life class drawings were made with pastel, I don’t think of those as being the same as these koi drawings since the kois were made on sanded paper. The sanded surface allows for options that the plain paper doesn’t. They are both wonderful, though — now I’m feeling guilty. All art supplies are wonderful, each in their own ways. But maybe it’s also the control I can exert while working in my own studio that isn’t possible in a life class. Most of my pastel palette had to stay home when I did the life class drawings.
Plus I like working large. In my studio I was working about as large as is practicable (unless I get a bigger studio). The largest work (seen behind the easel on its side above, and on the easel in the photo below) was made by taping together two large sheets of sanded paper. When the paper is large, the fish seem more real. They begin to approach life size. Kois can get big!
The board that the paper is attached to is 40 x 6o inches. But the biggest of the fishes (excluding the ones that got away) are on individual sheets of the large sanded paper. I put two sheets on a board and would cover up the one on the bottom whenever I worked on the top one to prevent pastel dust from falling upon it. They stay on these boards in storage until they’re ready to be framed.
During winter with the space being so close I have avoided the big pastel binge, but with the weather improving I long to return to pastel again in a big way. Need to find these guys a home, and then probably the next up will be flowers.
and I don’t like the drawing. The model was fantastic. I would have loved to do a straightforward portrait. I definitely wasn’t looking for a reclining pose, and the unaccustomed view was difficult to manage. However I was glad to get a version of the face that seems to have its parts in almost the right places. I found myself wishing I was painting for the sake of color and for paints greater ease of making corrections.
Before doing the life size version on the dark grey paper, I made a smaller color version on 9 x 12 Strathmore paper. I like it a lot better though its more caricatured. It seems sweet somehow.
I made several small fast drawings in the notebook at various junctures during the session, which I like better even though they are very spare and exaggerated.
They all appear at this blog as though they’re nearly the same size as the oil pastel, but the lines tell you that this is writing paper so you can judge that these are small images. It’s kind of fun to see them enlarged so that they compete with the oil pastel above which is approximately life size.
When I draw this way I am just thinking to myself. It’s a way of putting things where I think they belong, and with each subsequent drawing I strive to correct errors of prior attempts. And yet I’m not focused on error, just drawing and putting lines down.
I’m going to be teaching soon, beginning in July. I could have left these in the file but I include them because I am so often preaching about making mistakes and taking chances. I shouldn’t be lecturing anyone about mistakes if I’m not willing to make some very publically myself. Or — it’s not even that these are mistakes. They are drawings that are not particularly refined. They each have helpful information in them (helpful to me anyhow).
Sometimes artists will find a method that is pretty reliable that they can use in demos. When I teach I plan to avoid the prepackaged technique, and I’m hoping that the students will appreciate my high wire act. By taking chances I could, after all, fall on my fanny. And that would be awkward.
But if I do fall, I’ll dust myself off and continue drawing.
Representing the eyes as slits was especially delightful. I strove to pare things down to big essential shapes.
I turned this one around because I like it better from this angle. That’s another thing about making these sketches: they give me ideas. Here it’s not a reclining person, it’s a face of someone upright.
A pose like this one is difficult to draw and to get true. The positions of the features are confusing when seen at this angle. We’re used to seeing people upright. Also the effect of gravity changes the features and a really good drawing will capture that change. The movement of the face is toward the floor so the lower cheek will be drooping a little, even in a young model with very plastic features.
I rely on perception and I throw the line like you’d throw a baseball. Aim, throw. If you don’t take chances then a certain versatility never has a chance to occur. Sometimes you get one shot at something, and to do it the way you experience it may take bravado. But if we always demure and follow a safe route we never learn how to seize the moment, never prepare emotionally for the bold gesture.
If a befuddled robin happens to land on a limb in front of you while you’re drawing, you haven’t time to say to yourself “this is an oval, here’s another oval.” You better just start drawing — fast — before the bird realizes his mistake.
If I needed this pose for a painting, I’d hire a model and do several versions until I got it right. But in life class you do the day’s pose and then move on. You never know what you’ll get and you just try to be adaptable!
For my ego’s sake, I want to post a similar drawing I did that worked out. I drew it from a photo, but I still think it has some bragging rights.
This drawing in oil pastel is near completion. All the fishes still need a going over; some more than others (like the guy on the lower left who’s only blocked in). When I see it across the room I love the design and the overall affect of the colors. Partly for that reason I sometimes fail to notice how much is unfinished. My mind jumps to the things I like. Seeing the painting reduced in photography helps me sort out what needs attention.
It’s oil pastel (Caran D’Ache Neopastel) on violet Canson mi-teintes pastel paper. The darkish violet-purple is a wonderful tone to work on, making all the colors really strong, especially the lights.
This one’s going to the framer when it’s complete. Hopefully that will happen fairly soon.
If it looks familiar, that’s because I’ve also been working on this motif in a painting that’s still in the works too.
I like doing the same motif more than once. The differences interest me. I’m not sure why. They become variations on a theme as in music.
Certainly the white ground of the painting verses the violet tone of the paper makes them dramatically different in feeling and mood.
but I think most people have difficulty figuring out what they got right. Recognizing mistakes is often easy. (Making them is easy too!) When a picture has a lot of mistakes, how do you discover what you did right? How do you marshal skill to get things right, to recognize and correct mistakes, and to go forward toward new decisions? Sometimes it gets sticky.
In the picture above, which is a large practice cartoon for a painting idea, I have wanted to emulate Pierre Bonnard since I’ve loved his art for nearly as long as I can remember. Bonnard’s work is chaotic, “naïve,” fuzzy, idiosyncratic. His pictures are filled with features that could easily be categorized as mistakes. He made an art of mistake. So it seems unlikely that I’m going to get very far along his path if I assiduously strive to draw everything correctly.
How do you achieve the mistake that is art? How do you recognize the mistake that is a mistake? Context is everything. For most people, mistakes are things they wish to avoid. In the art that I’m addressing the mistake is a goal to be achieved because I’m seeking the kind of perfect mistake that is expressive, that uses exaggeration to reach a truth that cannot be gotten by following the path of precision.
Since this is a working drawing, made solely for the purpose of figuring something out, I taped a page over top of an area that was “more mistaken” than what I was seeking. Afterwards I continued integrating the new sheet into the existing image.
It’s a back burner picture right now since I’m busy with other things. I bring it out of the closet to think about what mistakes are and why we must make them if we want to learn new skills, and why sometimes they transform into marvelous discoveries if we just plow forward.
I also want to address the idea of appreciation.
I love the criss cross shadow cast by the compotier. The criss cross opening on the compotier basin is just barely indicated in this drawing — by some hatching beside one of the apples. I loved seeing this feature in the still life set up. I loved drawing it quickly and crudely in this drawing. I realized afterwards that I had hit some Bonnard pay dirt, since his art is full of hatching and squares of various sorts. And my still life was full of them too in ways I hadn’t noticed when I put it together. (Give your subconscious the respect it deserves.)
I can draw, I can draw! I’ve supplied various examples at this blog to demonstrate that fact to myself and to others. I did so just so I could grant myself the freedom to make a bushel basket full of mistakes if I want. Just look at how pretty the colors are, the marks as marks.
I don’t mind telling you that drawing this image was fun. And it’s not finished or anything, I just abandoned it because something else came up. I’ll go back to it eventually I suspect, if the past is any indication of the future. Look at how freely I drew some of this stuff. Look at the wonderful way that the crayon scumbles, light over dark. The texture of the paper is definitely a factor.
Since I’m emulating Bonnard, I include some of his painting for comparison.
Mine is a large drawing. I had to bend over to draw the bottom, reach up to do the top, move the thing around on the easel to get to this and that part. It’s physical.
Things are the wrong sizes relative to each other. Ellipses don’t work. The angle of vision is confusing. I have no idea where I would be standing to see it. Things are cartoonish. (I love the flowers.) Some of the colors are wonderful. The whole thing has a clunkyness that I sometimes love, sometimes hate.
I’m praising the good things about my picture because I think that’s what you should be doing as well (praising the good things in my pictureoops — I mean, praising the good things in YOUR pictures).
Another Bonnard, this one with a compotier:
Having standards will make you strive, and that’s a good thing. Developing appreciation nourishes your spirit. It’s hard to persist in a complicated project if you are often berating yourself. For those reasons, I give myself full reign to enjoy the pictures I make. I like drawing. I like this kind of inventive drawing, which is very different from setting up a still life and painting it directly. I began a new thing and gave myself a challenge. And I post these images here because they have a lot of mistakes in them. To succeed fully enough mistake has to be siphoned away or transmuted until just invention remains.
That’s a high wire act because people like different things. (Some artists and art lovers hate Bonnard.) At long last there’s no authority you can turn to that can assure you that you took the correct path. The definitions of success and mistake are amorphous. But if I succeed according to my own idea the picture will find an inner logic. I don’t know yet what the result will look like, but I am encouraged — in all my pictures, not just this one — to go forward toward finding that logic.
A detail of a large Bonnard still life below, notice the wonderful stripes:
Information about the painting above is available HERE.
I’ve written about mistakes but still haven’t identified the most significant mistakes of my picture. As I look at it now, its problems begin with the large design. Putting in more information will help sort out what the large compositional problems are (the whole lower left of the picture is still blank, for instance, though it’s supposed to feature a design on the table cloth). Until the additional stuff is there, it’s impossible to judge how the parts will relate to each other. And after I put more stuff in, it’s possible I might have to take some of it out again (which is the reason for making the practice cartoon in the first place).
All the figuring out what is a mistake is something I leave for another occasion. For now, I’m just focusing on what I like because people don’t pay enough attention to what is right when they are busy seeing “mistakes.”
Green and yellow, above, and energetic lines, colors that push up against each other: these are things I like.
once a week drawing heads larger than life size using bright invented colors. Each week the drawings seem radically different from ones I made in the class before, from which I conclude that I succeed in their being “experimental.” But I had more motive than just trying something new. I had a specific idea that prompted the whole thing. It was an idea about a color.
Remembering what prompted me to attempt this experiment, I realize that I haven’t used that color yet. I haven’t actually done what I thought would be the good thing to do.
It began because I was looking at someone else’s drawing, a drawing made in a life class, it was larger than life size and was conceived tonally. The lighting of the model was strongly directional and each student’s drawing had a cast shadow that fell from the model’s chin. A row of these drawings was visible from where I stood, each with the same cast shadow. Looking at one of the drawings, the thought popped into my head, “what if instead of a dark shadow, there was a shape that was a beautiful brilliant light violet color.” I’ve written about my project before HERE.
I know I’ve been affected by my fondness for works by Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Richard Diebenkorn and by the late works of Edgar Degas. In front of the actual model, one feels a tug toward realism — a kind of demand that you get the drawing right, obtain a likeness. I’ve been very free with color, but I feel this conflict about drawing and am never sure what I really want from the session. The artists I’m emulating were in each of their different ways, though, very free about the image. The most notable would be Matisse’s La Raie Verte.
The colors are completely invented. The drawing is very sparse and bold. And yet one gets the feeling that the identity of the sitter is present. I don’t want to paint my drawings in pastel like Matisse, but I am striving to get at a similar freedom. And it’s not that I want to paint in a fauvist way, but merely that I want to see where something leads. I want to understand this impulse from the inside.
When Richard Diebenkorn experimented with a similar idea (above and below), he did so quite literally, using the bold lines, summary drawing, exaggeration of drawing and exaggeration of color just as Matisse had used before him.
The arbitrariness or expressiveness doesn’t just arise from “modern art,” however. Degas used color, light, and paint texture very expressively in fairly early works. It’s a trend that always ran like a current in his art, sometimes classicist, but sometimes romantic.
In Degas’s late works the treatment of the figure both in terms of drawing and color becomes very rough and exaggerated. I particularly love his late pastels for their rugged beauty.
In the life class, I feel a tension also because the other people drawing are for the most part seeking realism. I’m the outlier. I’ve done realist drawing.
Yesterday however my drawing was very far from realist. I was not attempting to make it exaggerated in form, and the challenges of the particular pose were considerable: I draw the face much larger than life size so I am making decisions about proportion continually. The model is not always easy for me to see, and during several poses I’m having to look up at the model so that the pose is foreshortened. Sometimes I can’t get back from my drawing and with my nose to the paper I’m actually looking at my drawing from a foreshortened view, having to look up to see the top and down to see the bottom. Yesterday’s drawing was definitely not what I wanted. But there’s no experiment if you’re unwilling to make something that you didn’t exactly intend. The experiment lies in the not knowing the outcome, when deliberation and happenstance meet.
It’s strange that the exaggeration that I love in the works of my heroes makes me a little uncomfortable in my own painting. I’m not sure what the discomfort means.
Do I want a greater simplicity such as one finds in Bonnard (left) and Diebenkorn (right)? Bonnard’s works evidently sometimes had very chaotic beginnings and we know also that they had quite amorphous and complicated conclusions.
I have been mulling over my experiences in the life class trying to figure out what’s the best way to go forward during the remaining sessions. I have collected some images from the internet of things to draw at home to “practice” and am thinking about doing my next in class session by drawing the model at a smaller scale and then perhaps making the larger than life size pastel from my initial drawing (enlarging it) rather than directly from the model — or letting the first drawing be a quick rehearsal for the pose.
I just don’t know what I’ll do, what I “should” do, or even quite what it is that I seek as yet because it’s all part of this experiment. As chance would have it, however, I did not use a violet shadow in any of the drawings I’ve made so far. The color violet was the idea that prompted the entire project. I’m thinking that at the very least I should obtain a stick of the violet color I need and have it on hand next time to carry through that part of the idea.