Koi Silk

koi silk

I just learned that my large oil pastel Koi Silk will be exhibited in the January exhibit at the Art League in Alexandria, Virginia beginning January 9th.

UPDATE:  here’s a link to the installation view

https://alethakuschan.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/koi-silk-at-the-art-league/

Shimmering Surfaces

sea shell and compotier

The wing of the seashell, like the wing of a bird, evokes a freedom of spirit.  And the intense and varied colors of a seashell’s glassy surface offer visual effects that are stimulating and marvelous to contemplate. I love to look at and to draw seashells.

In this still life all the surfaces become mental territories — dreamlike in their intensity — whose colors vary and vibrate. Next to the queen conch, on the right, sits a blue pedestal bowl whose curves distort the background cloth seen through its glass. Both objects, though without clearly obvious meanings, seem iconic to me when I contemplate them in the still life setting — by their steady presence — by the way their abstract shapes lock together forming strong lines and contrasting edges.

Shimmering Surfaces: Sea Shell is an  oil pastel painting on toned paper that measures 14 x 11 inches.

Koi Silk

 

Kois are wonderful animals.

bright fishes

They are lively, gregarious fish.  They are beautiful, graceful and swift swimmers. I often seek a parallel expression when I’m drawing and painting the koi.  I want the drawing to represent the qualities of the fish themselves.  The drawing should be direct and swift-seeming. Sometimes that directness is best achieved through the most obvious means.  Sometimes I draw the fish quickly and boldly so that the gestures of drawing can echo the movements of the swimmers and the water that flows around them. Hatch marks (parallel lines used to create passages of color and tone in drawing) help to further convey a sense of things moving, and calligraphic gestures of line also evoke motion and urgency. This drawing is one where the sense of swift movement — even more than of form — becomes the subject of the picture.  One partly submerged fish is so blurred that his forms are broken into a broad abstract shape and the blur takes on a loveliness of its own. Some pictures of animals focus on their anatomy, but in my koi pictures I have sought the relationship between the fish and the water and the ways that they fuse visually.

Koi Silk is painted using oil pastel on Nideggen paper and measures 38 x 25.5 inches.

yesterday’s prep for today’s class

Went better.

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I began making some small oil pastels for practice, using photographic sources. I make them late at night and “some times the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t” as said the old Indian in an old movie I saw ages ago.

I also began making a copy of the head of a painting that I only learned about yesterday via Twitter. Wonderful thing about the internet is that you discover bits of art history that you never knew.  The painting is by Albert Herter.  What I post here will be just a detail from his painting. My oil pastel copy in the works appears immediately below, and his original below that.

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PS – in the “learn something new everyday category,” while I was looking for a link to Herter’s painting, having just learned about him yesterday, I misspelled his name. Well, it turns out that there’s an Albert Hertel who was a painter also.  You can learn about him here.

life class today

 

Very challenging pose

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Representing the eyes as slits was especially delightful. I strove to pare things down to big essential shapes.

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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.

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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.

reclining child

Similar idea except that this time it succeeded!

 

a koi drawing

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The central tangle of nervous lines is what I see first. I thought I had done about as much work on these koi as I could, but I now realize that all the dynamism occurs in the center. The upper part of the picture remains uncomposed. I put the field of blue there thinking that the solid color was all that was needed. But the nervous green lines of those central fish require some counterpoint from the other sections of the drawing. I was so mesmerized by the center that I didn’t recognize the problem.

I’ve worked on it some more.

I added a fish’s nose at the upper right, which is a better correspondence with the source photo I use.

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I had to get rid of as much blue as I could with a heavy eraser to be able to apply the orange.

After I added the fish nose, I began working on the opposite side simply to put more stuff there, stuff in this case being contrasting marks of dark and light blues.

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I press the oil pastel deeply into the paper sometimes and it frays away the top of the crayon, creating an impasto.

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Without the context of the rest of the drawing, details become episodes of abstract painting. The criss cross hatching on the right depicts a koi’s scales.

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Here’s the fish with the scales again. Ripples of water roll over the fish and into their open mouths.  The network of gestural lines follows these waves.

Here’s the whole thing again after these most recent changes. I might see more things to add or change after I look at it some more.

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It’s 18 x 24 inches on Strathmore 400 series. Usually colored papers work better for pastels (even for oil pastels), but this is a sheet of ordinary white paper. No doubt the white contributes to the over all luminosity of the drawing.

 

my super fast flower drawing

quick drawing

I have to leave for the life class soon. But it’s still possible to draw something.  So oil pastel for freedom, small notebook (8 x 10), little bouquet of fake flowers quickly assembled and then “draw fast.”

I love oil pastel’s freedom. So direct: think the thought, make the mark.

My my my Myopia

Myopia, nearsightedness,  is a visual defect in which distant objects appear blurred because their images are focused in front of the retina rather than on it.  A more serious defect than myopia, however, would be small-mindedness.

I voluntarily got entangled briefly in a discussion on the merits of British artist Howard Hodgkin, in which I found myself somewhat reluctantly coming to Mr. Hodgkin’s defense.  Some readers know I can be curmudgeonly where “modern art” is concerned, and though I like Mr. Hodgkin’s paintings, I did wonder if it was worth the bother to defend him, after I had been so cruel to harmless Ellworth Kelly.  And given that people simply like what they like, the defense seemed like it would be (and was) an exercise in futility.

Nevertheless, the buzz about Hodgkin prompted me to revisit a book that contains some of the artist’s own words about his art, and I always find his erudition totally charming and insightful.  So, armed with that, I was prompted to think some more about Degas, Hodgkin’s hero and mine.  Of Degas, Hodgkin writes, “His technique is amazingly inventive, but surely without conscious virtuosity; it was a search for a language of maximum directness and simplicity….”  He says further, “There is a tradition equating marks in nature and marks made by an artist which goes back to Leonardo and his blotchy wall, to Hercules Seghers, Turner, etc.  But there is something of a painter’s philosopher’s stone about the mark which is itself a final pictorial statement, and something representational in itself, and also emotionally expressive.  Degas looked for different ways of making these marks all his life and kept finding new solutions.”

I decided I’d try looking at Degas through Hodgkin’s painting (in my way).  Got the books out and set up to copy.  On a whim, I took off my glasses — thinking of the eye problems attributed to Degas in his later years.

You see, my glasses are laying there to the left.  And I’ve got Degas’s Dancers (Toledo Museum) and my notebook, and the Howard Hodgkin book open to two of his paintings, and Jennifer Bartlett snuck in as well at the top with pages from In the Garden.  The remote control is nearby so I can listen to Maria Rita.

Emboldened by Hodgkin’s abstraction and my own myopia, I just had at it for an hour or so.  To treat (a few) of the details of the faces in the Degas, I had to press my nose right up to the image.

And it was more of these quick days of pretending that oil pastel is paint.

I don’t wish to be too hard on narrow minded folks, though, for then I must reprimand myself, and furthermore I think sometimes we need our prejudices when they serve a purpose.  And artists especially sometimes dearly need their prejudice, what with the world being such an awfully, achingly big place ….