textures of the second kind


There are two kinds of texture in art.  Both are wonderful.  Both deserve consideration.  Sometimes both exist together.  Sometimes only one or the other is present.

There’s the texture of the things depicted:  the soft silk that looks like silk, the lemon that has a rough skin, the egg shell that seems to be brittle because it looks brittle.

Then there’s the texture of the art materials used to make the picture, and they are many. In the illustration above, a detail of one of the koi drawings, the crayon catches on the raised burr of the paper speckling the surface, creating a veil over the imagery below it.  It’s these textures of the second kind that I love to discover.  Every artists’ medium has a wonderful, special charm.

after-matisse la coiffeur (3)

In the detail above of a crayon drawing made after Matisse’s painting La Coiffure at the National Gallery of Art, the layers of crayon colors overlap.  Some of the paper texture breaks up passages of color.  In other areas sharp lines delineate forms and soft lines blend one passage into another.  Because the pigment can be applied in layers, warm and cool passages of color can interact with each other above and below.

In the pen drawing details above the color of the ink is a strong factor, and equally strong is the white of the paper.  In a pen drawing, sometimes what you don’t draw — the shapes of the spaces that you leave blank become dramatic effects in the drawing.  Of course the characteristic hatchings and wiggles and calligraphy of pen lines give a pen drawing its essence and its energy.


two-faces-one-delacroix-one-from-life (2)

Pencil drawing is a responsive medium for creating contours with line, for evoking texture through imitation and for creating subtle lights and darks that reveal forms — and in the case of portraits graphite provides the subtle gesture that gives way to visual expressions of emotion.

With pastel you can drag very soft passages of pigment over top of other layers, the layers can partially blend, and through these operations you can achieve very soft transitions and delicate blurry effects.

101_0022 (2)

Whatever the material, each medium has its own peculiar charms that the artist must seek out through manipulation and experiment.  Sometimes the natural textural qualities of the medium can be used to evoke the optical textures of the things depicted.  Sometimes the beauty of the material’s texture is sought as an end in itself.

Through these limited examples in my own art, I hope readers find another element of drawing that they can use to pull them closer into the magic of pictorial art.


Part and Whole

koi detail

It’s always seemed to me, when looking at the works of the old masters, that the parts of their paintings, as you get close to see them, are as enchanting as the entirety of their paintings and that the structure of the small details echoes the organization of the whole.  A certain logic governs throughout the image and that logic scales so that the same thought process is carried through pretty much wherever you look.

I want that quality in my paintings.  Moreover, thinking about it in this way gives me ideas about how to finish a painting.  After all, what if I take some portion and pretend that it’s now the whole image. It gives everything a new relationship to everything else.  Imagine a grid overlaying the whole painting and inside that grid are smaller paintings, each one needing attention.

koi detail 4

But this grid isn’t static.  It’s not as though I really drew a regular, mathematical grid over the painting, rather — imagine a grid that moves, that changes its scale depending upon where you’re looking.  And for all the shapes and forms contained in that grid at whatever juncture, there’s a new painting — one that needs to make sense in all its parts.  The part becomes a whole that has in its turn smaller parts.

koi detail 2

This is more of an ideal than a specific practice.  After all my problem is procrastination.  My imaginary grid turns one painting potentially into many miniature paintings.  That would seem to multiply the problem rather than solve it. So I don’t take my analogy literally.

But I do look at the painting as needing to make sense all over, in the large scale and in the small.

Life in Bits and Pieces

The beauty of materials is a good starting point in art.  It parallels the beauty of materials in life.  Look at the textures of life’s things, seen at any focal length, they are amazing.  You see the fish.  Closer in, one sees the scales.  Deeper into that, the cells.  The atoms.  The quarks … the whatnot of smallness in whatever scientific discipline has spied structure by means of an intense myopia.

Get in close to art, and you find the beauty of the drawing’s mark or the stroke of a brush.  The chalky texture of oil paint.  The luminosity of watercolor.  The spare bracing Attic logic of a pen’s pure line.

Marks are like thoughts, they pile on one upon another, coming from the unseen textures of mind. “Who has seen the wind/neither you nor I/but when the trees bow down their heads/the wind is passing by” was a nursery poem my mother read to me, but who sees thoughts except as we say them or craft them into this and that, and where do they come from?  If you want to get close to a mystery in nature, you need do no more than try following the thread of a dream back to its source.

The details of my pictures are like snap shots of the whole.  The pieces seem like echos.  I was thinking the same things, whether big or small.

The early stages of a drawing have a certain charm, too.  It’s narcissistic to gaze in this mirror, I’ll admit.  But when you go to the trouble of trying to make something, you might as well get to know the maker.  Yet I have so little clue what I’m doing as I draw, and this mystery fascinates me.  I think the artist preserves something of a child-like spirit.  They way that a small child can content herself with watching someone tie a shoelace.  (Well, it really is pretty amazing when you think about it — and children unlike us — well, they think about it.)

When you look into nature, even human nature, sometimes it looks back at you.  Kind of spooky, that!