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.
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.
I have been off doing other things to the utter neglect of my little bloggie. But let all that fade into mystery for one blog post follows another, does it not, and who needs pay attention to date stamps? Is not the information and its passage all of a sequence nonetheless?
I drew a super fast version of a face after Caravaggio one day. Sometimes I like to draw very fast — just to catch forms as you’d reach out to catch a baseball zooming toward you.
In such endeavor, you either catch it or you don’t!
A friend said, “One of the biggest lessons to learn in art is to proceed fearlessly and to look at things in the light of making them more right.”
Why do we allude continually to our mistakes or to those things we perceive as mistakes? There is always the disconnect between intention and consequence. Though one uses the word “mistake,” and it carries all sorts of negative connotations, yet we need the word, we need to make mistakes, the mistakes are just the trace of however much striving an artist went through to get to a certain place.
You can guarantee that you’ll never make mistakes. It’s very simple. Attempt only easy things. As long as you do only those things you know you can do, you’ll never make a mistake — or hardly ever. Attempt that which you know to be challenging and you’ll be always making mistakes. And yet you will be always doing something new, always gaining skill and steadiness.
I have learned over the years to suspend judgement about what constitutes a “mistake.” If you press on, continually working to sharpen both your perception and your skill in putting things “where you think they are supposed to go” then interesting things can happen. There’s some editing in art — as in writing — that can wait. It’s like a wine, you have to allow it some time to cure. I draw, I put things aside to work on other drawings, and later I look at things to decide what’s what.
In any case, you cannot escape alterations between what you thought you wanted to do and what afterwards you discover you did, so you might as well plunge ahead and keep learning.
Here is the same vase of flowers of my many nocturnal and diurnal repetitions, drawn larger this time, 18 x 24 inches, in pencil. Each time I draw this motif I notice something different about it, and by the motif I refer to the entire scene. I have spent so much attention on the flowers — because in a picture with a vase of flowers you almost have to — and yet I’m not sure if it isn’t really the cloth behind the vase, the patterns on the cloth and the two other objects, the creamer and the rice bowl that interest me more than the flowers.
Indeed, I think what interests me most when I look at the still life itself is some quality about the whole, particularly the way light crosses all the objects. When you redraw something over and over, you are in a process of discovering what it is. I am not really interested in these objects as much as I am intrigued by gravity weighing down the cloth and light moving through the space. And I haven’t captured either of those qualities yet. So though I’ve drawn it a lot, its substance has still eluded me.
“Il faut refaire la meme choses dix fois cents fois,” as Degas said: You must redraw the same thing ten times, a hundred times. Or as a Spanish friend translates for me, “Necesitas re-dibujar la misma cosa diez veces, cien veces.” Italian anyone?
Coffee, notebook, chair near the window, pencil and the creamer. Sitting there near the window watching light mold the porcelain surfaces of the creamer. The character of light as it reveals objects has particularities so grand and yet also so small and intricate — and the intricacies are as grand as the grand things are grand. The whole of it is a marvel, and the parts are marvels too.
Light and shade are spoken of as elements of technique in art, but that’s the wrong way to think about it. Light and shade are elements of reality. Watching them, imitating them has you participating in something miraculous. It is far too complex to be encapsulated by technique. So let the pencil move with your thoughts and let your thoughts be vagabond wanderers.
I just returned from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC where I got my first look at the just opened Willem van Aelst exhibit. Evidently most peoples’ reactions to seeing these intensely realistic-looking paintings is to take a photograph, and photography is prohibited (since the paintings are all loaned by various different parties some of whom don’t want their property photographed). The guard was having to tell people over and over again while I was there, “No photography!” I said to him that the invention of the camera was the bane of his existence, and he corrected me: “No, the cell phone is the bane of my existence.”
So, obviously everyone should do like me and make a drawing! There’s no prohibition against drawing. This drawing is a detail from, “Still life with Snail,” one of the several ornate and sumptuous still lifes. It’s a beautiful exhibit. Sharpen your pencils, everyone, and get thee there. (And leave your camera at home.)
I have a still life going, but I can’t show it here yet. These flowers are very shy, too shy to expose to light. They are shade-loving flowers. I make a grisaille of them using only black, white and Naples yellow. Later there will be colors. But I begin with a drawing-in-paint. It’s a bit like this pencil drawing above, which I copied from Jan Bruegal — like this in hints of gold and silver though my flowers have an entirely different personality.
The flowers are an alter-ego. They symbolize the way of being in the center of one’s own life, and having put oneself into a vase, watered one’s feet, having sought nourishment from air, from gravity’s pull, from the sun, from the rain washing over one’s face. You put yourself into a kind of stance, a spot, that frankly says “this is me.” That part, though very strange to admit, is necessary for being human — this having to confront the world with this identity that each one has. Here I am. I am on display (somewhat) but more mysterious than anyone ever knows. Mystery to oneself as well. And each one is thus ….
I want to own an Ingres drawing, but they’re all already mostly spoken for and a bit out of my league financially those that are still floating about.
So I copy.
And then you own something. Your thoughts about it that you made with your pencil and with your mind!
It’s hard to really know people, and that fact, I think, applies as much to oneself as to others. It’s hard to know who you are, and it’s sensible and not narcissistic to occasionally inquire into the nature of one’s self.
The means of mirror gazing are many. For artists the self-portrait is one means.
Naturally just as one witnesses different aspects of other people, just in that way it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to discover that one finds different facets to oneself.
And you can portray yourself in different ways. And why not deliberately seek to know these other aspects of the self? Or if one only stumbles upon them, that too is knowledge….
The old masters are so much more complex than any of my ways of understanding them, as I discover when I go back and revisit drawings I made.
“But you cannot let yourself be sad — even — in noting the distance between oneself and them,” I tell myself.
You have to be the artist you are.
[Above, my copy after a Velasquez lady.]