Drawing at the National Gallery is always enjoyable, especially when you’re drawing with a friend. This time I made a drawing after Rodin’s “Bust of a Young Girl.” It’s very relaxing after working with so much focus on the Big Painting studies to be looking at and drawing something that’s not a flower — much as I love drawing flowers ….
At odd moments I draw some of the flowers with pencil. I like to think about things in terms of line. I like lines. Putting contours around shapes, seeing the shapes in relation to the other shapes, one flower’s location relative to another, is how I think about them. Somehow I feel like drawing must strive for accuracy, accuracy of flower positions, as though they are planets in a star system of flowers.
It honestly doesn’t make any difference. But I feel obligated to seek out their true positions as closely as I can manage. The bouquet will look different from its first indications at long last once they enter the final painting. Because stuff happens. Everything changes. My brain shifts things around. Or the flowers themselves shift around. Or something. However, the impulse to get this “accuracy” is a force I heed.
I respect the impulse but I make no claims for the outcome. Outcomes change. Flower painting is a sneaky business.
Today’s plan is to get some grocery store flowers to paint as a study for the flowers in the big painting. I need some actual flowers to put in the virtual Limoges vase that will sit in Bonnard’s window at the Villa Castellamare.
I am still trying to decide what objects will also sit on the table. The frog teapot (remember the frog teapot), a second smaller bouquet of flowers, the songbird figurine, the black teapot with flowers, and a couple of oranges.
I’m also thinking that I should include a seashell because I’m always painting seashells. Of course the compotier with lemons has a prominent place, and the porcelain basket (which I got from the internet) sits in the closest foreground. Maybe the honey jar.
I’m trying to figure out a way of setting up a still life in the studio so that I can put the objects in better relation to each other. Logistics … The virtual objects will, of course, have to be content with the place they occupy in my imagination.
Been busy this week cleaning and organizing my studio — and getting ready for an even bigger cleaning event — the BIG SPRING CLEAN! So not so much painting in the last few days.
However I did go to the National Gallery of Art yesterday for a few hours and while I was there I made this drawing after a Rodin sculpture.
Spent some time looking at still lifes too in anticipation of my switch from landscape to still life which is coming, coming — soon! Every time I am out where cut flowers are for sale I am thinking also about still life. Soon, soon!
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.)