Shimmering Crowd

Each substance has its own peculiar beauties.

koi swimming crayon (2)

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

green fish vase

The green fish vase,

fish vase wc (2)something that I found at the thrift shop, is a favorite object for me.  I have been drawing it today in watercolor and oil pastel, making drawings for a painting. Green Fish Vase (I should call it GFV for short) has a prominent place in a still life I’m developing.  These drawings are for practice and joy.

Both drawings are totally sloppy.  I have been throwing color at this thing aggressively. I am thinking about shapes and colors, and I’m very untidy about it.


Both drawings are a little vague on the right hand side because in the painting something else will be sitting in front of Green Fish Vase.  So the contour I draw here won’t actually find its way into the painting. But I like knowing the object well. The drawings are not just about the view in the painting.  They are about this wonderful, clunky, imaginative vase of green glass in the shape of a fish.

The second drawing completes the notebook of the post prior. It uses the last sheet of paper.


I’m beginning an oil study today, June 25.


101_8955 (2)

random notebook

Looking for a notebook to draw in, I found this one whose contents I post below.  I thought it would be fun to reproduce a notebook, at random, just as is.  This notebook is 11 x 14 inches, Strathmore 400 series drawing paper, 24 sheets, medium texture, 80lb.  The drawings are posted in the order in which they occur.

In almost all the drawings, I used the whole sheet.
























Most of the drawings are made using oil pastel. One is colored pencil. The last drawing above, the sea shell, looks like it’s made using a special drawing pencil whose name escapes me.

Some of the drawings are studies for paintings.  Some were made on the go, made while I was waiting for someone.  Some are experiments, trying out an idea or a new motif (as with the transparent jar head).

I like to draw.  I can guarantee you — regarding all these drawings — I was having fun.


odds & ends

Draw everything.


You can’t of course. But why not just pretend that you can. There may not even be an everything to draw (philosophically speaking).  Who is to say how much stuff there is in even a corner of a still life. All that notwithstanding, when you tell yourself that maybe you’ll just sit down and draw everything now — you free yourself from the need to first draw this, and then draw that, and find the center of interest, and make sure to get the half-tones, and blah, blah, blah.


This is a really neat still life. It’s a visual forest that a person’s eyes can wander around in for hours. It has twists and turns. It has passages of light and shade. It’s abundant in RED. There’s the black vase, too, with its patterns on the surface and its depths and reflections in the black — with the window reflection that takes you outside if you peer into it really deeply!

In the carnival glass compotier, as I was drawing, I saw a patch of white and wondered what it was. Looking closer I saw that it was the inverted, distorted reflection of the white creamer! In every centimeter there’s a wonder to behold. In such a visual jungle one cannot possibly draw everything and yet if you are, like me, too thrilled to choose, and must draw a bit of this and a bit of that, then you find splendors in every direction. Oh, to an ant it’s a palace of ineffable grandeur and beauty! (Well, that’s if ants’ sensibilities include enjoyment of the scenery.)


I’ll tell you a secret, though I buy the best artist materials I can afford for the works that I plan for sale, I also adore working with very cheap and common things — expressly because they are ubiquitous in our society. I bought this notebook at RiteAid.  It’s cover caught my eye one day as I was leaving the pharmacy.


You can see how it has the busy bright design that I like.  I’ve been drawing with Bic Cristal in this notebook this morning — that would be the world’s cheapest and absolutely most wonderful and expressive pen — ever!

My parents were survivors of the Great Depression and instilled in me (without their realizing) a great love for the common tools that are abundantly available. In regard to drawing, when I pick up simple dime store tools and draw, I feel like I’ll always be able to draw come what may. I sit here in the corner of a room like an oriental pasha with my wealth of colors and thrift store treasures, exploring the seemingly infinite reach of my territory!

101_8815 (2)

I have long admired the fishes on the Chinese tea pot and I decided to zero in on one of them at the risk of having the shape of the pot go somewhat crazy on me. If you care about the pot’s shape, you draw that first, but if you care about the fish — sooner or later you have to make a wild lunge for the fish, pen in hand.  If that puts the proportions out of whack, so be it.


After several drawings, I decided to draw with watercolor. It is similarly scattershot. But the brightness of the whole I find satisfying.

101_8823 (2).jpg

I’ve have drawn all afternoon en plein indoors sitting beside my still life table.

One more.  This one in oil pastel.


I drew this one very fast and began with the reflection of the window because it had been so beautiful, really pearlescent! But the light changed so fast and I wasn’t actually able to observe the effect that had brought me in. Still it’s interesting that the whole drawing began with that reflection, like the axis of a wheel.

the owl I did before

I will do many owls.

other owl drawing

But I was looking for this owl because I wanted to think about the way I had drawn him before. I think I made this drawing about four years ago around the time that I got the candle owl from the thrift store.

the wise old owl at midnight

I drew the owl late last night.


In dark owl time I drew him darkly to begin thinking about his wise place under the flowers in the large still life in front of the window at twilight. These are not the colors of the picture. They are the colors of the corner of the room at that comfortable hour. For the quiet nocturnal enjoyment of drawing inky shadows, I arranged him in a mantel of blues and blacks far removed from the light and airy pictorial table under flowers.

But this drawing is for getting better acquainted with the owl, not for figuring out the specifics of the painting — which is still a plan for a painting, not an actual painting.

I took some photos of the set up, back when it existed. It’s long since been disassembled. The camera distorts all the relationships between objects so that they don’t conform at all to the large cartoon I made for the painting. But the mind distorts things, too.

And yesterday I added the window behind the flowers using the blue pastel made at twilight, added it in a pen drawing, the first version of the altered idea.

The idea of the owl in that sketch is fuzzy and scribbly. The scribble version by its incompleteness can offer suggestions of ways to go forward with the idea. Indeed that is the chief virtue of scribbles, their openness to suggestion, the ways that they reveal possible paths without insisting on any singular interpretation.

101_8736 (4)

And now it’s sunny outdoors, a lovely bright and warm spring day.

UPDATE: In response to Judith’s comment I’ve included a close up of the owl in the drawing (the ability we have now to enlarge digital photographs this way is marvelous).

101_8736 (5)

The owl is an inch high in the actual drawing. You can see if you look closely that his body was longer at one point and that I just indicated his face and the holes for the candle light in his body by a few marks then sort of scratched over the whole to make him dark. The whole concept is gestural and quick.

There’s a kind of drawing where you just record your ideas and you don’t fuss over them. Imagine how many drawings one can make in a day — when there are no worries. And if you are, nonetheless, being specific about the thoughts then the drawing still records a lot of information. Think of it as like taking notes.  It’s not a kind of drawing to submit to “critiques” (you would never invite someone to critique the notes you take at a meeting, would you?) and yet sometimes such drawings will turn out to have a delight all their own.



Small sea shell against colors reminiscent of the sea

sea shell

This one now joins two similar shells painted in oil pastel.  All three are framed and ready to make their way in the world.  Ah, now for that part!


Here’s the other two.  I also got a frame for a small shell painting.  The beautiful framing is done by Georgetown Frame Shoppe.

incremental change

Think about creating a walkway in a garden,


a path made with pebbles. Instead of dumping the bag of rocks into the path and pushing them around with a rake, you move them around pebble by pebble. Well, clearly I cannot do that — am not that crazy. But the changes to the picture seem like shifting pebbles around in a path.

I posted this before, and I have worked on it a little more. This is the larger version of the motif.  It’s on blue paper. The other smaller one is on brown paper.  I wonder if the changes are even visible to the spectator. More increments are necessary, I think, before the changes really take hold. I’m not ready to let this go, and yet the differences between where it is now and where it needs to be are slight.

I had posted details of the other drawing. Here are a few of the same passages from this drawing.


It corresponds to this detail from the other version (below).

101_8718 (2)

And the central portion of the large picture:


And the slightly smaller one (below):

101_8726 (2)

The one helps me think about the other.

One quality I love about pastel (both oil pastel and dry pastel) is the ease with which you can drag color over top of existing layers. The slight change in the surface, like rearranging pebbles in a garden path, makes the thing more tactile — and (somehow) seems (to me) to make it more real.

A garden scene of floating world with trees above and clouds below is not different from a herd of koi seen rushing through the water, the planes of water shifting as the koi move through. One is like the other. I often think that I am continually painting the same picture over and over, whether it is koi or landscape or flowers or something else.

DSC_0987 (2)

Why is a koi not just like a cloud?

around the pond again

Going through my drawing stash I found

101_8727 (2)

another pond. It was among a group of drawings that I started and didn’t finish.  I’m taking it up again and here it is in medias res — not as much at the beginning, but not complete either.

Something about the loopy shapes of distant trees and foliage fascinates me.  They are subjects I go after again and again. I want to have the sense of their shapes being very clear, very distinct, as though you could reach out to them and grasp them, which of course you cannot do in either a drawing or with distant trees — but it’s an imaginative gesture.

I also like the scribble as a way of indicating the randomness of nature. The scribble of thought and hand parallels Nature’s scribble of plants growing willy nilly here and there. Things are in front of other things, leaves of grass, fonds of plant, wave and meet your eye as an infinitude of layers. I like to think of the piling up of layers of pigment as a simulacrum of these things.  Chemicals imitating molecules.

Or something.

recasting the past

101_8726 (2)

I would chide myself for not finishing things except that there’s also this upside to procrastination: I look through my stacks of drawings and rediscover them, take them up again, and complete them from the vantage point of a different place in time.  I found this drawing in a stack.  It’s 22 x 16.5 inches.  This picture depicts the same motif as one that I posted a few days ago. Everything’s a bit different in this one. Lines shake a little more. A color might be punched up a bit more. Also the paper color and texture are very different, and these differences affect everything else in the picture.

Oil pastel is a sensitive medium. You can do quite a lot of dragging color over previous colors and the combination of marks produces a dynamism.  It also allows colors to mix optically so you actually get different color effects than you would if you tried to mix the pigments into each other as you would with paint. You can see in the details that follow how textural oil pastel can be.

101_8721 (2)

I’m not using a “technique” when I do these marks. They are instead all decisions, responses to something that I’m seeing. I am drawing with the sticks and so the marks are drawing “ideas.”  For instance, in this detail there was a limb hanging out over the water and it separates from the background by its slightly brighter aspect.  I put down a light line, some marks for the leaves on the branch, and a dark line that marks the limb’s separation from the background.

It’s all abstracted and simplified in relation to the thing I’m looking at, but these are decisions.  They are specific, nonetheless. And a gazillion specific decisions adds up to lots of marking in the drawing.  And I find it really wonderful to think about the scene in these ways.  See this, put it there.  See something else, there it goes.

101_8719 (2)

It can make you feel very connected to the place. Here’s the same passage in a different orientation. I saw ripples in the water so I put down the ripples. I saw bits of lighter green so I just drag them across the darker green. The layers of pigment pile up in ways that imitate the density and confusion of light that comes from the scene.

101_8723 (2)

Up close the passages are very abstract.

101_8718 (2)

If when observing parts of the picture using a camera, they seem to be well composed, then it suggests that the process of thought going into the small elements of the picture are mimicking the compositional choices you make when you work on the whole.  The relationship between whole and part ought to be in harmony.  Any one of these details ought to seem like it’s the natural child of the parent image.

I like this version better than the one I posted a few days ago.  So, learning from the experience working on this one, I’ll return to the slightly larger format and carry it further some more too.

On the whole, I’m quite content that I never finished these when I first began them. Finishing them now is working out really well. I don’t know how exactly to use time in painting, but when events conspire toward a good outcome — I’m glad for it.