narrating

The leaves on the tree outdoors

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or the panes of glass considered individually, seen in late afternoon. This painting with a window has so many possible ways of being taken apart, with each section of the image being like a portal that one can enter.

When did my fascination with still life begin? Maybe it was in childhood when I would stare at the row of figurines that my grandmother collected that lined her front windows, row upon row of strange curiosities in her narrow little house in southeast Washington.

The owl is a big figurine and the bird on the bud vase is another feathered companion. I’m not sure why they’re in the painting. Central casting sent them here. What am I supposed to do with them?

An earlier version of the owl looks like this:

owl in watercolor

I’m going to figure out how to get the pattern across the vase, particularly along the edge. I’m going to keep drawing it until I can find a version that’s flat and right in tone and color.

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more notes to self/early stages

The color contrast in the photograph

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of this watercolor in its initial stage brings a violet into the picture that isn’t actually there. I wonder if I shouldn’t put violet into the wall of actual painting. Wouldn’t violet be better, and probably truer, to the light effects at dusk? Since the room’s interior is lit with warm yellow light, it’s hard to say what would be going on around the edges of the window, whether those passages would be yellow or violet, warm or cool.

There have been a bunch of things that I’m aware I need to solve. The falling off of the table was a question from the outset, when the still life was actually assembled. I was seeing the motif from two different angles. Now I’m trying to figure out how to split the difference.  The pattern of the cloth logically follows that decision. And how is it to look down at the cloth as it falls away when the painting is hanging on the wall?

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I was also just now wondering if the painting could reflect, could be about, a state of innocence. That possibility immediately brought to mind Fra Angelico’s San Marco frescoes. But I was also just thinking about the parlor of elderly woman whose home I visited thirty years ago, the woman who lived across the street from the church. The loveliness of that room was a microcosm of a whole civilization.

It’s such a beautiful day outside. The cool weather comes inside through the open windows, giving the rooms an oceanic feeling. We could be on a great ship sailing toward some magical place. The slow pace of life, awareness of the weather outdoors, shifts of light, movement in the leaves, interior and exterior meeting at the window are all qualities I want to materialize in this still life.

The flowers on the table. The flowers patterned on the cloth. The space that extends outdoors with the tree that’s visible on the other side of the glass, and also the reflections on the glass that are like a crystalline barrier. The panes of glass at the hour were reflecting the images of things inside the room. There were so many intersections of images meeting at the window panes.

An earlier version:

flowers window

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.