My American Dream

My American Dream is to paint big pictures. As much as I’m able, I already do so. But I am also looking for the setting for the pictures — for the adventurous collector who wants a big koi pond for the indoors. These are not fish that you have to feed. These are fish that feed you — that feed your mind with dreams.

What sort of dreams, you ask? Dreams of swimming, dreams of water, dreams of the broad sky seen from under the water, dreams of the watery depths of feeling and imagination.

From drawing into painting, from many different sorts of drawings into paintings. The range of possibility is mesmerizing. There are so many lines, so many images. That’s the dream, I suppose.

In situ

I steal furniture. Fortunately, it’s virtual furniture so the theft gets carted away in bytes. I find rooms such as the lovely, quirky room above. Into such rooms I put my artwork so that people can get a sense of how a painting looks on a wall.

Because I love color, I particularly enjoy finding bold and cleverly colorful rooms. Finding a room as colorful as this one is a real delight. Strangely, it’s a fairly unusual occurence. It seems like most room decoration uses whites or neutral colors. Are people afraid of using bright color? I dunno. You can see how cheerful and welcoming this cozy room looks. I don’t know the identity of the designer.

The painting looks about the actual size relative to the couch. And here’s a view of the painting seen alone. Acrylic on canvas and available.

Strategies for Invention

Making small colored pencil drawings is one of the ways I get ideas for my large paintings. The painting on the easel right now is 48 x 60 inches, and it’s well under way. But figuring out the details of the painting is a problem in invention, particularly as this is not a realist painting. It won’t be finished when it “looks like” the scene because the actual scene no longer exists. However, change can be a good thing. Not being able to revisit the real place offers up a great excuse simply to paint. But even when you’re “just painting,” you still need to get your ideas from somewhere. So I use the qualities of the various media as suggestions for surface details. My aim is to make the painting into something like a giant drawing, so that it might also possess all the freedom that drawings have.

So I make many drawings. Through much drawing, the forms of the image begin to fix themselves in my memory. And the drawing media, by virtue of their own innate qualities of beauty, offer something to “imitate,” since imitation is always one component of painting.

Small colored pencil drawings, like the ones above which measure smaller than 8 x 10 inches, are one way to think about the image. Neopastel (a Caran d’Ache product) offers another method on a slightly larger scale. The following Neopastel drawings measure about 18 x 24 inches. The larger drawings are getting closer to the gesture range of the large painting.

As you can see, I have taken the image apart and once components are separated this way they really do look more and more “abstract.” It’s good to remember that the whole surface of a painting matters. Even when you’re striving to produce realism, the details are still just shapes, colors and tones. The composition is the pleasing arrangement of all these bits of the picture even when the part does not directly correspond to something we can name.

The whole painting at present looks like this:

Those flower bunches in the sky need to be connected to the plants. And there’s much tweaking available in the large expanses. Some of the development of this surface really does wend into pure invention. So there’s lots of opportunity to “push paint around” and look for beautiful surfaces.

Ideas for this kind of work can start from small simple beginnings. Making broad gestures with big shapes gets you started and can provide a wonderful meditative way of musing about possibilities.

So if you take up drawing in colored pencils, beware. You never know where it will lead. Better get a supply of large canvas just in case.

In the meantime, enjoy your mark making.

what to do, what to do

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Brainstorming

  • I can put more paint on the cloth in settled areas just to varigate the surface and to add further cover over earlier imagery
  • I can experiment with putting some of the design of the background blue curtain in it to see how the pattern would work
  • I can decide to paint over that tulip
  • I can decide to keep the tulip but join it to the bouquet
  • I can complicate the colors of the patterns in the green cloth even more just for the heck of it
  • I can continue developing the flowers, though I want to keep them painty and abstract
  • I can develop the bottom of the Limoges vase
  • I can figure out the area of cloth nearest to the Limoges vase
  • FIX the area of bouquet nearest to the vase rim — needs leaves, stems, something besides just the mass of dark green

My note to self above.

I rearranged the cloth again to get ideas.  I used crumpled craft paper to shape the mounds this time.  Got to remember that for future still lifes.

cloth rearranged further (2)

I’ve tinted the photo to have the cloth color match more closely the colors I’m using in the painting.  This is such a fabulous cloth.  One could make a wonderful painting of just the cloth.  Drapery as landscape.

Choosing between oil and acrylic paints

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Agenor’s Friends, acrylic on unstretched canvas, 92 x 86 inches

I was in an art store affixed to a local art school some months ago when a woman walked in asking the store clerk about the difference between oil and acrylic paints.  She was signed up for a class at the school in which you could use any medium. Since she was new to painting, she didn’t know what to choose. Being the busy body helpful person that I am, I considered offering some free advice. But the very complexity of the question put me into a kind of mental paralysis. So I just stood, blank stare, looking like a nosey store mannequin.

Anyone who has used either medium very much knows they are like night and day. I used to play around with acrylics in high school when they were still fairly new as a medium. Back in that era of my artist life, they posed no particular problem since I didn’t know much about paints anyway, my method was “go with the flow.” And to newcomers in the art world, I say take full advantage of the beginner’s mind and beginner’s luck. Nature loves a rookie.

However, after I had spent years and years painting with oil, I took up acrylic paints again because an artist friend was using them to wonderful effect. I got my palette and soon thereafter was ready to pull my hair out for frustration. The big mistake I made was in trying to make them behave like oil paints:  to make them do the things that I could so easily do with oil.  Well, it don’t work that way.

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Cabbage and Potatoes, oil on paper glued to panel

 

I gave my whole palette to the friend just to get the paint out of my life. Later, though, I bought more acrylics and began to accept that they have their own virtues. In time I made some paintings that I really loved and one painting of which I am especially proud, Agenor’s Friends (top of the post). All that came later of course.

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Still life of assorted bottles and props, acrylic on canvas

 

Ever since that random encounter (I eavesdropped on the clerk’s advice), I have wondered how I would explain the difference in the uses of the two kinds of paint. I have found no particularly satisfying explanation. For one, it really depends a lot on how you approach painting as to which medium you’re likely to find more congenial and someone who has never used either one isn’t like to have an approach yet.

And thus the only advice I know to offer to a beginner is this:

Get one of the kinds of paint. Flipping a coin is a good way to decide. Don’t invest the whole farm. Just buy a beginner’s set. Take a course with somebody who uses that medium. Or find a book. Check out Youtube for demonstration videos. Use whichever one you choose, learn some basics, then after a season give the other one a try.

Know that they are fundamentally different! One dries fast, the other dries slow. But, friends, I cannot impress upon you what a difference that makes!

(This post was inspired by something I saw at another blog. Smile.)

Art and not art

I’m not silly enough to attempt to define art.

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I’ll stick with “we know it when we see it” (knowing full well that nothing could be farther from the truth in these contentious times in which we live). Instead I simply invoke the idea of “Art” [fill in the blank here] so that I can say that lots of things that artists do are not art, but are sometimes instead preparations for art. I made the drawing above to be telling myself where various objects would sit on the still life table that I was arranging in my thoughts. So the drawing isn’t art, but it provides some first ideas concerning something that might afterwards be art.

Musicians understand this readily since there’s a whole lot of not-music that must be made for music to happen. Before all, you have to learn to play the instrument. Some drawings are the way you play your scales and arpeggios. Some drawings are more diffuse like a jazz player’s chord chart.I happen to love a not-art sort of drawing. I love freedom in its many guises.

A certain kind of drawing is like tuning the instrument. Or warming it up. A clarinet is going to sound a little different after the player has warmed it up. The vibrations of playing open the wood and the reed. And the musician and the artist also especially have to warm up the other instrument: the mind.

There’s all kinds of drawings. Drawings that sort out visual problems or ideas. Drawings that we do for pleasure. Drawings that are meant to be fully presented works in their own right. We’re all familiar with these. My father’s surgeon decades ago drew a very unscientifically illustrated picture to communicate how he would do my father’s colon resection — this, on the night before the surgery, and the lines wiggled this way and that, following the surgeon’s words. And when this virtual colectomy was concluded, he handed the paper to Daddy who eventually gave it to me (post-surgically — after everything was good again). I, in turn, put it in the back of a volume on Edouard Manet where the drawing remains to this day.

The surgeon wasn’t an artist and that drawing was about ideas expressed as a pictogram, a scribbling image where appearance didn’t matter as much as narrative. (I don’t recall the surgeon saying “I’m not an artist” as so many laymen do when taking up a stylus. I loved him for that. Drawing is not a special club to which only some people are allowed to belong. He just started talking and drawing.)

But what about another kind of drawing that isn’t art. I was just coming out of the Chinese restaurant with our take-out food when three birds flew across the parking lot at about the level of my head, turning instantly in formation to avoid me as I walked, whizzing past me to wherever they were going. I was wondering what it would be to draw the birds in flight. I never did properly “see” them in the way I see things that I draw in my life as an artist. They flew too fast to really see. And I have no use for them in the art I’m making now. But it would be interesting to attempt to draw what I remember.

However, I’m not sure what I saw. Did I see the birds’ bodies? In that instant that my brain thought “birds — wow — they’re flying right to me” did I also see the parking lot or much of the rest of the scene (my car, buildings across the street, other cars, power lines, miscellaneous urban stuff)? I think of their bodies in flight, their relationships to each other, the three of them flying like a squadron. These visual memories have nothing to do with art. If I draw them, I don’t think the drawings will be art.

I painted a spider ages ago because it had built its web on the front porch. But the painting is just a painting, and merely contains some thoughts about what a spider looks like.

spider-oil-on-panel-early-1980s

If the art part of my artist’s brain is like a room, then these images — both the ones I drew and the ones I didn’t draw — are like things tossed in the back of a closet. They aren’t art. But they are intriguing small incidents in the course of a life.

 

 

Flowers of the New

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We spent lots of our holiday drawing, my ten-year-old (soon to be eleven-year-old) art assistant and I, but the cloud cover always seems to thicken whenever anyone reaches for a camera so I’ll have to keep you in suspense a while longer regarding our results. 

Meanwhile, I rearranged the studio today — always a heady experience as I realize that I’ve misplaced half the items I own and find myself becoming reacquainted with them in the shift and bustle.  Greetings! There you are!  Where’ve you been?  Whatever possessed me to put you there? But reunited now ….

In preparation for new still lifes I have been planning, I shifted stuff around once more, finding old things, no doubt losing new items by disturbing their places.  But I have accomplished my goal: I have two flower still lifes set up for work.

I have been dreaming about these pictures, imagining them in my head, contemplating the meanings of flowers.  Finally I can stop dreaming now and begin working.

Flowers still “growing”

I tried to post this yesterday and wordpress wouldn’t let me (bit of a snafu).  And today I have tried a couple times to load some new photos to my computer and my Kodak Easy Share ain’t sharing.  This is what happens when technology rebells.

Anyway, this drawing is 30 x 48 inches so it gives me plenty to do.  I have some photographs of the still life, too, taken from different angles — helps me get ideas for other versions of the same motif.  Degas counseled the artist to “redo the same thing ten times, a hundred times,” and he thought you should look at the same motif from different angles.  Since I’m working in a pastel-like medium, his advice comes readily to mind.

This drawing is made with Caran d’ache water soluable crayons on Canson paper.  I’ve got a lot of quickly and vigorously drawn green lines down there at the bottom.  But I’m trying to work them into a dense Degas hatching mix.  More on that later.

If I can get my computer to cooperate! (Never let a PC see you sweat.)