I began two new paintings of the hills motif since the last debrief. The image above shows the second canvas in block-in, and a third version that’s underway is the most generalized of the group. More photos to come once the rain stops. Three neopastel drawings measuring about 23 x 29 provide the motif in each case. I liked the drawings enough to make each one the basis for a painting. These additional paintings switch the schedule around a bit. So the Hill & Shrubs canvas is still only in the first stage, and I began reworking the Mountain but am not finished with it.
I’ve been wondering what motifs to use in the next suite of drawings. Have been looking at Monet late works in search of ideas. Yesterday’s whimsical post on the UFO topic reminded me of Chang Dai-chien’s mountains, which I hadn’t thought about in years. So last night inspired by the memory, I began fooling around using the computer art program and created a few image ideas.
I have to do a long session of drawing before I can figure out an actual motif that I could use to create variations. Experimenting with images on the computer prompts ideas.
This morning I woke thinking about how easy it would be to apply the lighter yellow-white to the passage where the hill meets the sky (in the current painting). Doing all the obvious, easy things, step by step is how you move each project along. Eventually even the things that seemed hard will reveal their easy aspect. One decision moves you in the direction of other decisions, some of which will seem obvious and inevitable as the ideas congeal.
A documentary I was watching about Bonnard featured projections of his notebook drawings onto the wall of his studio.
I see the idea I’m looking for inside parts of things, as in the lower portion of the picture I already posted.
The Oriental spaciousness that Monet admired is there, most apparent when you crop the design into a scroll format. There’s another element that I find I want, but not sure how to characterize it in words as yet.
Large ribbed cliffside, growth of trees and shrubs at the bottom, suggestion of caves that St Jerome would have found congenial. Colors could change. A sort of acid, neon, copper, Flemish green in this version. Just thoughts now. Won’t matter until they become drawings. From drawings to painting.
Reminds me of sitting on the floor doing the large two part koi drawing. Sitting on the floor influenced the image considerably. It was not simply the only way I could manage the large sheets (at that particular time). It affected how the drawing proceeded because of the limits it imposed on what you could see while drawing.
Thinking about using Fridays to debrief myself. I have been thinking a lot about productivity and how it’s managed. Usually what holds the artist back is not obstacles per se, but doubts. Sometimes situations can mess up your schedule, that would be my week this week — spending hours on the phone trying to straighten something out with no success at all so far. Before yesterday was over, though, I told myself I’m going to get some painting done. During the evening, as a consequence, I had one very productive session of painting. These days, at the very least I tell myself: “Just open the tube, put some paint on the canvas, pick a color, any color, put it anywhere.” That’s enough to prime the pump and get some real painting going.
In the past I have done small junk paintings, various “nothing is not right/anything goes” paintings for the purpose of learning. I’ve never done a big one. Always a bit more cautious about bigger things. One worries about wasting materials. But I know enough about subliminal painting now that I am much more able to throw caution to the wind. That’s actually part of the plan for the coming days: to create a few larger devil-may-care pictures.
Wu wei. Isn’t that what it is? That’s the Oriental name for a certain kind of not-trying, a complete nonchalance. The sprezzatura of Castiglione’s courtier. One wants to be a James Bond of art. Fearless, relaxed in danger, elegant. Yet to pull it off, you must be always finding ways to trick yourself. Turn off the hesitations, go directly into the perception. I am continually trying (and more often now succeeding) at just painting.
When I paint it should be similar to the way the dog wakes me in the morning. He’s polite but insistent. Sticks his nose in my face, looks me straight in the eye and informs me that it’s time to get up and feed the dog, please. I have to work on my drawing skills so I can portray that beguiling wild look. He has the most extraordinary keenness in his eye. And he makes sure we’re eyeball to eyeball. Insistent but polite.
Lately I’m making these small colored pencil drawings. No particular reason why colored pencil. Just a change from the oil pastel. Whenever my schedule permits I’m going to do some traditional pastel images, but it’s too complicated now. Just too much bother. The colored pencil drawings are fun. They’re small and manageable. Sometimes I do them while watching a program. They’re a great sort of automatic drawing. I don’t even have to pay attention very closely.
I’m developing a kind of musician’s fake book of images, tunes that I can revisit and use for improvisation. At some juncture I’d like to paint a large picture completely from memory and imagination. So that wouldn’t be so different in truth from what Diebenkorn did all the time. But we get to a destination by different routes. And it’s not as though I want to do that from now on forever — it’s just another thing to try. All my previous work habits still suit me just fine.
The drawings are already interpretations, usually from photographic sources, though not always. Drawing from a drawing or painting from a drawing creates an interpretation of an interpretation. It becomes imaginative drawing, making things up as you go along — or at least a path toward that direction.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the format as a Cartesian space, one where you could theoretically put any shape anywhere. You try “this spot” — what’s that look like when things are organized around “this.” What about if you change that first notation in the succeeding little drawing: I want to learn at some point how to do a painting from one of those little blue ball point pen scribbles that I enjoy making so much. Monet did a loose representation of one of the waterlilies in a notebook. Loose sinuous lines suspended across the page, the sparest silvery graphite traces.
I’m very eager to produce a lot of the largish landscapes, rather as quickly as I can. I want to see what effect the speed of production produces also. Sometimes if you work quickly enough, you don’t have time to think. That too is a way of tricking oneself into intuition. I also like the physicality of it: it’s like mowing the lawn or washing a big stack of dishes. You can look back afterwards and see the clear effect, the job accomplished.
The picture at the top is there to remind me of the destinations — pictures in rooms, rooms as mental and emotional spaces, moving through rooms of a house as though through passages in a dream. Quotidian topography. The shape of moods, times, and moments. Bonnard notebook drawings as rooms, thoughts about rooms. Your smallest notebook jottings can produce a grand effect. The singularity before the big bang. Never underestimate the little notebook jotting.
The disruptions of the week were unfortunate, but c’est la vie. The three pictures in the studio now are the focus. Retrieve that focus by deciding now what each one needs.
The hills motif is the most free for all. Complicate the color effect in whatever ways seem interesting in the moment. You can get the linear aspects from the source drawing or leave them out.
The hills, shrubs, trees & reflections picture can remain basic. Stick to the pristine version. The looser more drawn version can save for another time.
The mountain picture shifts back toward the drawing. Draw over the painting thus far to get the lines back using bits of both linear source drawings.
Start the California scene from the two small darker painted versions. Also a good motif for the next sequence of colored pencil/Miss Marple drawings. (Or whatever you’re watching next.) Getting the image blocked in will make up for the vast waste of time encountered from this week’s mindless bureaucratic distractions.
Finish the three canvases by next Friday. God willing.
If you’re reading this and you’re not me, I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing me talk to myself. Do wish me luck getting the three canvases completed by Friday for this week has been in some ways a productivity disaster — except for the marvelous background sound of red-eyed cicada song. Certainly the bugs have done their utmost to serve as artistic muses.
Another note to self. I want to remember to put the frog teapot on the imaginary table in Bonnard’s dining room at the Villa Castellamare in Arcachon. The whole right hand side of the table at present is empty. I was wondering what to put there. Remembered the frog teapot.
I’m also going to add some oranges — in the foreground — on the left.
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.