The Red Cloth & the Big Bouquet of Flowers

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A complex ensemble of varied objects sits on a table decorated by a large bouquet.  The table cloth is brilliant red.  The flowers are of many types: lilies, daisies, carnations, roses.  A couple of winter gourds, a queen conch seashell, and a blue pedestal glass filled with smaller seashells sits beside the flowers.  Behind them a cloth of pale blues and silver adds a sky-like element.  And off to the far right a deep red-orange cloth peeks out framed by some hanging purple flowers from a vase sitting outside the picture frame.

The complexity of a scene like this one gives the artist many sources of intrigue.  I love exploring the shapes of many things when they are bunched altogether.  It’s a passion that hopefully transfers to the spectator. In any scene of things, many wonderful visual features are always present.  One of the aims of visual art is to provoke us to look more deeply into the appearances of the world.  Every corner of the universe is filled with splendor.  And splendor can begin with the simple contemplation of even a color.  A brilliant red is a powerful sensation in its own right.  And the shapes of things, the colors of many things, the lines that the mind describes around things are all sources of the most powerful fascination.

The Red Cloth and the Big Bouquet of Flowers  is a pastel painting on sanded paper measuring 18 x 24 inches.

Glass Jar with Flowers

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If a simple glass pickle jar gives you joy, you know you are a joyful person. I found the pickle jar in my mother’s cabinet.  It was one of those things my parents kept out of a desire to give all possessions a second life. Emptied of pickles it became a flower vase.  I cleaned it up after its years of disuse and marveled at how lovely the light is that passes through simple clear glass.  The flower stems randomly distributed in the jar offer beautiful abstractions of dark green.  The glass also reflects and intensifies colors in adjacent objects — the table cloth, the backdrop cloth.  It catches highlights of daylight entering the windows.  It is in short a light catcher.  Whoever wishes to meditate on the meaning of the present tense can gaze into its interior and find passages of beauty to inspect.

The flowers are the heroes of any flower still life: comprised in this instance of carnations and a single large yellow tea rose.  But a clear glass jar also brings strong poetry to the scene.

Glass Jar with Flowers is a small pastel painting on textured paper measuring 14 x 18 inches.

Ruby Red: Flowers on a Red Cloth

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A glass pickle jar sits atop a table covered in a rich and brilliant red cloth.  Inside, the jar is filled with a spritely array of flowers of different kinds — mostly carnations of red, yellow and pink, with a couple lilies and red daisies and in the center a lovely yellow tea rose.  The jar diffuses the stems of the flowers in a soft way, heightening the light dark abstraction of the oblique lines formed by the stems.  The glass jar also catches the light of the room in intriguing patterns of reflection.

Ruby Red: flowers on a Red Cloth  is pastel painting that measures 14 x 18 inches.

Bouquet of Carnations

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Among the first of a suite of small flower paintings, this simple scene depicts a glass jar filled with flowers sitting on a table top with a gold-green cloth against a backdrop of rosy violet. The principle flower of the group is a large yellow tea rose and surrounding it are carnations of different hues, pale pink, rich red, pale yellow.  The green stems of the flowers create a lively abstraction in the jar’s interior where reflections of light enliven the pattern of light and dark shapes.

Bouquet of Carnations is a pastel painting that measures 13 x 16.5 inches.

A sense of scale

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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.

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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

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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.

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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,

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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.

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

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And the central portion of the large picture:

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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