A sense of scale


Well, here I was pretending to draw on this thing just like in the art books!  But this was just a photo op.  It provides a sense of the drawing’s size, the picture’s scale.  The lines, the smears, the hatchings are all fairly largish.  Many of the fishes are the same size as the actual koi — the “little guys,” that is.  There was a fish that we nicknamed “Moby Dick” who would require an extra-large sheet if one portrayed him in his full grandeur!

These are heavy, weighty matters. Sometimes the fish are big.

studio view of koi drawing

And sometimes they are small.  These fish in a notebook below are very small, but they are quite musical.  One might say that they are ascending scales.


Sometimes a sense of scale implies a sense of SCALE — get it.

Above leaps the fish whose scales I stole, and beside him the Hiroshige print from which I stole them.

Sometimes the drawing is small but the idea is grandiose when fish swim in the skies.  And then sometimes the clouds swim like kois in a koi pond.

I like the various permutations of the fish. And I don’t know why I like them so well. I just do.

Usually people go out to catch the fish.  But in my case, it’s the fishes who have caught me.

fast swim




art diary

I was away


from my blog for a long time, and now that I’ve returned to writing fairly regularly, I am sometimes at a loss as to what my blog is supposed to be. Whatever intentions I had in the past, those are loose threads now. So I’ve decided that the blog might as well serve as a diary. It can remind a future me what things I was working on, and in roughly what order. It’s worth doing as an experiment. As it is public, it’s a spectator diary. Or a virtual studio where visitors drop by from time to time.

The last life class met on Tuesday. The model adopted the same pose as the session previous, though I changed my position slightly. The model had the most extraordinary cheekbones. I tried to capture their elusive subtlety but never quite managed. I am pleased overall, but still one owes Nature her due. Human beings are by their Creator marvelously fashioned.

101_8743 I drew relatively small (9 x 12 and 14 x 17 inch notebooks) using oil pastel.  Made a few preliminary drawings in pencil and charcoal pencil to get acquainted with the pose and his features.


I have already posted the main drawing from the previous session, but here it is again.

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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).

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And the central portion of the large picture:


And the slightly smaller one (below):

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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.

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Why is a koi not just like a cloud?

yesterday’s life class

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It finally stopped raining.  We’ve had more rain in the last month here in the Washington area than I remember from EVER. The first rain is surpassingly lovely.  The 17th day of rain, on the other hand, can be a tad disappointing.

But the rain has stopped. Hurray! Nonetheless I do not find myself bounding with energy.  I decided to adopt a more laid back approach in the life class.  I am not abandoning larger than life sized, fauvist colored portrait heads forever but I might be finished with them for now.  I’m not sure.  In yesterday’s class, I made a smaller drawing.  It still involved having to draw the head larger than I see it, but the enlargement was much less dramatic and thus easier on the brain.  I also used local colors. I decided to phone it in.

It’s a life class so the poses are not really set up for portrait anyway, which made all my previous drawings that much more of a challenge. There’s challenge too, though, in the simple, straight-forward drawing, so my new approach to the model for probably the duration of the class will be more laid back. Draw whatever is there.  No straining for a certain viewpoint (I sat on the floor in one class session).  Just open my eyes, be grateful, draw.  That’s the plan.

the kois in pastel

Back in September, the koi were everywhere.

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The one on the easel has been pulled from storage and will make the trip to the framer soon.  Hopefully soon.  It needs an application of fixative for which I need to be able to go outdoors, and anyone in the Washington DC area can tell you that we’ve had an unprecedented season of rain.  I have contemplated building an ark.

Last fall I made a lot of koi drawings in pastel.  Other drawings are visible around the sides of the easel. I loved that long session of painting with pastel and am eager to resume using the medium again. Even though many of my life class drawings were made with pastel, I don’t think of those as being the same as these koi drawings since the kois were made on sanded paper.  The sanded surface allows for options that the plain paper doesn’t.  They are both wonderful, though — now I’m feeling guilty.  All art supplies are wonderful, each in their own ways.  But maybe it’s also the control I can exert while working in my own studio that isn’t possible in a life class. Most of my pastel palette had to stay home when I did the life class drawings.

Plus I like working large.  In my studio I was working about as large as is practicable (unless I get a bigger studio).  The largest work (seen behind the easel on its side above, and on the easel in the photo below) was made by taping together two large sheets of sanded paper. When the paper is large, the fish seem more real.  They begin to approach life size.  Kois can get big!

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The board that the paper is attached to is 40 x 6o inches.  But the biggest of the fishes (excluding the ones that got away) are on individual sheets of the large sanded paper.  I put two sheets on a board and would cover up the one on the bottom whenever I worked on the top one to prevent pastel dust from falling upon it. They stay on these boards in storage until they’re ready to be framed.

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During winter with the space being so close I have avoided the big pastel binge, but with the weather improving I long to return to pastel again in a big way.  Need to find these guys a home, and then probably the next up will be flowers.

talkin’ to myself

Notes to myself, some things to consider

after Matisse


for the next life class.

One is to work smaller. I could do a drawing at a comfortable size (apparent size) from anywhere in the room. Go back to the easel, copying my own drawing (that I just made) make the actual pastel at the easel location, enlarging the drawing to whatever size I want, inventing color based on whatever view of the model I have at the easel (even though it’d be a different view).  Down side is having to move back and forth between the two locations (which would be distracting for other participants). Up side: you’d have to rely heavily on memory and invention, good skills to develop.

Another option is working on smaller versions through the whole session, having less investment in a specific image. (No more larger than life size.)  Spread out the risk, less stress.  If one drawing turns out to be particularly good, you could enlarge it at home. You could, after you’ve done all you can in the pastel, also gather more information using another drawing that you make with pen in a notebook.  Advantage is that you stay put.

after Ingres


Another option is that you can be all que sera about it. If you get the back of the model’s head, draw the back of the model’s head. Let Fate decide. Stay with the larger format, do everything you were doing before, accept whatever you see from your easel’s location. Fully accept the challenge of the uncertainty.

after Degas


Or you could stand holding a notebook (no easel) and work in spaces between other participants’ easels using oil pastel (less messy than dry pastel). Down side: how much space is there, really, between easels?

Invest in one drawing — biggish, though maybe not larger than life size — or not very much larger. You could spend a lot of the time on the drawing as a whole. Working in vine charcoal to get the form right; then do pastel from that point forward.  Would be a way of thinking about the large lines of the drawing (like certain Matisse drawings), using erasure as an effect.  I’m sort of leaning toward this choice.  Thinking of Diebenkorn’s riff on Ingres. However, this option assumes you have a good pose.

after Ingres, imitating Diebenkorn

Also, giving more attention to drawing (at the outset) means being less spontaneous than what I was being before. The recklessness prompted me to make bolder use of pastel as a medium, but maybe it’s time to move toward getting a core for the motif.  Less about color, more about line.

(Paintings from life classes long ago.)

What to do, what to do ….

UPDATE: just saw this on twitter and am thinking now that if I put my own background behind the model (imaginatively) it matters less what the pose is.  So there’s another possibility.

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Albert Herter “Woman with Red Hair,” 1894 detail


drawing the model in life class

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— near the end of the session I made some small sketches. The one above is about 4 inches in height.  I had drawn the head in pastel, larger than life size, on a standard sheet of Canson paper. I had been looking at the pose for most of the three hour session and I could no longer see my drawing.  The drawing was right there. My eyes were working fine.  Glasses, clean. But my brain was “give out” as my relatives used to say so I made some sketches to address the questions that lingered.

I was sitting in front of other artists. To avoid blocking their view I was sitting on the floor and the model on the stand was slightly above me so I saw her head slightly at an angle, slightly foreshortened.

I made the first of the sketches in my pocket calendar. This drawing is about three inches high.

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This smallest of the drawings felt most connected to my large drawing.  It’s rainy today so I’ve just photographed the pastel on the easel in the present light, such as it is. At least the easel communicates some of the scale of the drawing.


I see now that I forgot to take the manufacturer’s sticker off the sheet of paper!

My other little sketches are less structured, yet each one seems to get some little bit of information. After a while I was tired but it was still pleasant to think with the pen.

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Even an inaccurate drawing communicates a bit of mood sometimes.  Ideas sneak in.

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The proper structure of the underside of her jaw was a big question. The other special challenge was getting the left side of her face since in the course of posing it would wax and wane as the model shifted slightly.  She was an amazingly disciplined model. No one can sit perfectly still.  Her left eye wasn’t even visible most of the pose but it appears in my large drawing so perhaps it was visible at the beginning.  I’m not sure …

(Some of the other drawings from the life class are here. And the first ideas for the series, here.)

Head seen through color

With a very specific goal in mind, I began

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attending a drawing group a couple weeks ago, and I set myself the task of drawing heads. They will be always larger than life size and always in pastel. Moreover, my idea is to use color to understand the forms — even arbitrary color.

I got the idea when my daughter was attending a portrait drawing workshop taught by Teresa Oaxaca. Whether it was by instruction or happenstance, all the participants produced charcoal drawings that were either life size or larger — many were larger. Their method if I understand it correctly (I only saw the drawings during their breaks and wasn’t privy to the conversations that took place) was to conceive the head in terms of light and dark. The model was strongly lit from one side so that many of the heads had a cast shadow of the chin raking across the shoulders.

Looking at the several drawings, an idea popped into my head: “what if the shadow, instead of being dark, was pale violet?” And in my mind I could see a kind of pale violet such as you often find in Bonnard’s palette.

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Influenced by Fauvisme, I decided to use color somewhat arbitrarily in the ways that Matisse, Bonnard, Diebenkorn and others used color.  Thus I make these images fairly rapidly and instinctively.  There’s much information to process. I see many things I want to record so I just point and shoot. The goal is not to produce a likeness, but to capture as accurately as I can some of the visual incident that catches my notice — however, I am also running the ideas through this mental lens of exaggerated color.  See something, draw it in the manner that you think about it.  So my pictures begin in odd ways and follow no logic per se except that of my attention.  Whatever I notice first, I begin drawing first.

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I discovered afterwards, though, that some priorities govern my choices.  The first priority is color. I choose the colors to relate to something I’m seeing, though the relationship is not literal — not local color.  Sometimes the warmth or coolness of the color relates it to formal aspects of the figure, to whether something comes forward or recedes in space. Sometimes the color relates tonally, but not chromatically to what I’m seeing.

Sometimes the color is a whim, a feeling, a hunch. On the whole, I choose color over tone. Next in priority is line when something linear strikes me as especially intriguing and lastly tone for the sake of the form — in that order.  More or less.

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I have no idea where it will go.  And I like that too. When I’m there, actually drawing, I do very little evaluation of the image. Mostly I react to what I see.  And thoughts about the resulting images are something I leave for later on — for some future meditative moment.

Yesterday the session was all short poses so I never made a large pastel.

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These short drawings are on small sheets or in a notebook. The sheets are about as large as regular photo copier paper.

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This last drawing is a rapid sketch using oil pastel.

Far from sea

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I put the shells onto many different kinds of backgrounds, backgrounds that are not ocean, not sand. The olive ground is earthy, almost like grass.  The shell has a sort of wing, like a stone bird. Drawing the sea shell launched it into a sort of motion that I never intended.  Drawing often leads to various surprises. Draw to learn, draw to see, draw to think.

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The little sea shell is dwarfed by koi.

The pastel is dust.  Shell of dust, colored like earth and sky.

Blue study still life, first thoughts

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I have a still life that I set up so that I could better study the color blue.  It’s been sitting there for a while, and last night for the first time I decided to begin drawing from it.  The pastel above is the first attempt.  Objects in this drawing are a little larger than life size.  While I was working I got confused about the sizes of some of the objects relative to each other so I used passages of color to think myself through the drawing questions. Because I’m still sorting through the drawing questions, I have not really begun using it to study blue in earnest.  But the color questions as well as the drawing questions are ones that I begin thinking about with this first drawing.  It’s like reading through a new piece of music.  On the first read, you don’t worry about every note; instead you just want to get through it from beginning to end and hear how it sounds.

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This morning while I was waiting somewhere I drew the still life from memory.  I was so proud of myself, supposing that I had remembered all the still life items.  It was only after I got home and compared the memory drawing with last night’s pastel drawing that I discovered I had forgotten the dome-shaped dark blue bottle.  How on earth did I forget it?  It’s a favorite, beloved object, one that I’ve portrayed many times.  But today in my mind as I sketched, it disappeared down the rabbit hole.

The violet colored pastel paper complicates the whole business of “studying blue,” but even when doing this as an exercise I find I want to add on other elements. And I am “studying blue” as another way of thinking about my koi paintings. And thus still life painting can sometimes help solve visual questions that pertain to other genres.