just back from the framer

The still life with flowers

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has got a new frame. I may continue tweaking the image — still figuring that out — but it has its frame so that in all changes going forward they will harmonize with each other.

Here it is below crammed into the studio. Sitting above it is probably the next thing that’ll make the trip to Georgetown Frame Shoppe, the pastel koi.

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Peter did a fabulous job on the corners of this beautiful molding.

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Stuff I love

I love drawing patterns on cloth

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when they recede in depth or when they follow folds in drapery.

I love the picture within a picture, putting something in the still life that has a picture on it, and making this other picture another space in the illusory painted space.

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Another thing I love are the confusing bits of chaos that you see when you look at something through glass.  I like to put bottles in the still life to draw the things seen distorted by the glass, love to draw the fruit in the blue compotier to see the blue alter the colors of the things.

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Also the pattern on a cloth that sits flat on the table top between two objects, to contemplate that space as a special landscape of imagination —

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— the way that pattern looks abstract because it’s partly covered up and is seen from an oblique angle so that’s it’s made twice unfamiliar.  All those kinds of things are fascinating, are wonderful beyond compare.

Sometimes I like the interstices better than the objects. The “negative space” sometimes gets you closer to the perception because when you draw it you are no longer naming the things, but are instead drawing the spaces between the things, seeking to draw parts of the entire veil of light hanging in front of your eyes — seeing it as a veil.

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To dematerialize the objects is part of the goal. A few times (admittedly rarely) I heard painting criticized because it is “flat.”  Also because it’s static (as opposed to a movie). Painting isn’t modern, the critic said, because it’s flat and still. But I love painting precisely because it’s flat and immobile so the mind can enter it and move freely.

The pretended space is wondrous. I like to draw the rim to rim on anything that has a void in its parts, like the opening of a shoe, the interior of a cup.

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I want to create the illusion of the thing on the canvas and the artifice of that delights me. But I also am glad that it is flat because in being flat it has design.  Things are not just things but can connect to each other because some linear relationship that exists only in the mind and on the page begins to pull the things together into a motif.

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“Motif” is a pictorial thing, a picturesque thing, it’s a scenic idea.  Out in the world is raw reality (in whatever form it actually is).  In the mind, on the contrary, are things with names to which meanings attach.  I want to fix the meaning into a shape.

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In the picture, are lines, colors and shapes that can delight the eyes and sometimes puzzle the brain and which pull and tug and affect the emotions in sometimes strange ways.

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different media & variations on a theme

Bach made thirty variations

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of his aria for his Goldberg Variations. I haven’t made that many variations on any of my koi motifs yet. That’s an awful lot of fish to draw. But I do redo the same fishes again and again because I’m Degas’s dutiful student and he told me, “il faut refaire la même chose dix fois, cents fois.”  Okay, maybe he wasn’t talking to me.  But still I take these things to heart. So, I redo my koi — maybe ten times — not yet thirty — and goodness knows, Monsieur Degas, not one hundred times!

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Watercolor at the top, then colored pencil, then dry pastel (a detail, below), and crayon (also a detail, below that).

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What can I say?  I need one of these:

I'd rather be fishing

In my own way …

watercolor & me

Seeing other artists’ watercolors

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puts me into a watercolor mood — that and the late springtime heat.  I would love to dive into the pond with the koi. I’d also love to paint in watercolor again.  I need to clean the studio (again). The watercolor palette is buried somewhere under the pile of things. I need an archeologist to help me excavate!

Here’s a detail.

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These are more things that I found by visiting my facebook page to hunt down the owl.  See, what you find when you go looking for an owl!

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.

Another koi drawing

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This drawing in oil pastel is near completion. All the fishes still need a going over; some more than others (like the guy on the lower left who’s only blocked in).  When I see it across the room I love the design and the overall affect of the colors. Partly for that reason I sometimes fail to notice how much is unfinished. My mind jumps to the things I like. Seeing the painting reduced in photography helps me sort out what needs attention.

It’s oil pastel (Caran D’Ache Neopastel) on violet Canson mi-teintes pastel paper. The darkish violet-purple is a wonderful tone to work on, making all the colors really strong, especially the lights.

This one’s going to the framer when it’s complete.  Hopefully that will happen fairly soon.

If it looks familiar, that’s because I’ve also been working on this motif in a painting that’s still in the works too.

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I like doing the same motif more than once. The differences interest me.  I’m not sure why. They become variations on a theme as in music.

Certainly the white ground of the painting verses the violet tone of the paper makes them dramatically different in feeling and mood.

 

Getting it Right

Everyone talks about what’s wrong

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but I think most people have difficulty figuring out what they got right. Recognizing mistakes is often easy. (Making them is easy too!) When a picture has a lot of mistakes, how do you discover what you did right? How do you marshal skill to get things right, to recognize and correct mistakes, and to go forward toward new decisions?  Sometimes it gets sticky.

In the picture above, which is a large practice cartoon for a painting idea, I have wanted to emulate Pierre Bonnard since I’ve loved his art for nearly as long as I can remember. Bonnard’s work is chaotic, “naïve,” fuzzy, idiosyncratic. His pictures are filled with features that could easily be categorized as mistakes. He made an art of mistake. So it seems unlikely that I’m going to get very far along his path if I assiduously strive to draw everything correctly.

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How do you achieve the mistake that is art? How do you recognize the mistake that is a mistake? Context is everything. For most people, mistakes are things they wish to avoid. In the art that I’m addressing the mistake is a goal to be achieved because I’m seeking the kind of perfect mistake that is expressive, that uses exaggeration to reach a truth that cannot be gotten by following the path of precision.

Since this is a working drawing, made solely for the purpose of figuring something out, I taped a page over top of an area that was “more mistaken” than what I was seeking. Afterwards I continued integrating the new sheet into the existing image.

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It’s a back burner picture right now since I’m busy with other things. I bring it out of the closet to think about what mistakes are and why we must make them if we want to learn new skills, and why sometimes they transform into marvelous discoveries if we just plow forward.

I also want to address the idea of appreciation.

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I love the criss cross shadow cast by the compotier. The criss cross opening on the compotier basin is just barely indicated in this drawing — by some hatching beside one of the apples. I loved seeing this feature in the still life set up. I loved drawing it quickly and crudely in this drawing. I realized afterwards that I had hit some Bonnard pay dirt, since his art is full of hatching and squares of various sorts. And my still life was full of them too in ways I hadn’t noticed when I put it together. (Give your subconscious the respect it deserves.)

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I can draw, I can draw! I’ve supplied various examples at this blog to demonstrate that fact to myself and to others. I did so just so I could grant myself the freedom to make a bushel basket full of mistakes if I want. Just look at how pretty the colors are, the marks as marks.

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I don’t mind telling you that drawing this image was fun. And it’s not finished or anything, I just abandoned it because something else came up.  I’ll go back to it eventually I suspect, if the past is any indication of the future.  Look at how freely I drew some of this stuff. Look at the wonderful way that the crayon scumbles, light over dark.  The texture of the paper is definitely a factor.

Since I’m emulating Bonnard, I include some of his painting for comparison.

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Mine is a large drawing. I had to bend over to draw the bottom, reach up to do the top, move the thing around on the easel to get to this and that part. It’s physical.

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Things are the wrong sizes relative to each other. Ellipses don’t work. The angle of vision is confusing. I have no idea where I would be standing to see it. Things are cartoonish. (I love the flowers.)  Some of the colors are wonderful. The whole thing has a clunkyness that I sometimes love, sometimes hate.

I’m praising the good things about my picture because I think that’s what you should be doing as well (praising the good things in my picture  oops — I mean, praising the good things in YOUR pictures).

Another Bonnard, this one with a compotier:

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Having standards will make you strive, and that’s a good thing. Developing appreciation nourishes your spirit. It’s hard to persist in a complicated project if you are often berating yourself. For those reasons, I give myself full reign to enjoy the pictures I make. I like drawing. I like this kind of inventive drawing, which is very different from setting up a still life and painting it directly. I began a new thing and gave myself a challenge. And I post these images here because they have a lot of mistakes in them.  To succeed fully enough mistake has to be siphoned away or transmuted until just invention remains.

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That’s a high wire act because people like different things. (Some artists and art lovers hate Bonnard.) At long last there’s no authority you can turn to that can assure you that you took the correct path. The definitions of success and mistake are amorphous. But if I succeed according to my own idea the picture will find an inner logic. I don’t know yet what the result will look like, but I am encouraged — in all my pictures, not just this one — to go forward toward finding that logic.

A detail of a large Bonnard still life below, notice the wonderful stripes:

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Bonnard, detail of a large still life

Information about the painting above is available HERE.

I’ve written about mistakes but still haven’t identified the most significant mistakes of my picture. As I look at it now, its problems begin with the large design. Putting in more information will help sort out what the large compositional problems are (the whole lower left of the picture is still blank, for instance, though it’s supposed to feature a design on the table cloth).  Until the additional stuff is there, it’s impossible to judge how the parts will relate to each other. And after I put more stuff in, it’s possible I might have to take some of it out again (which is the reason for making the practice cartoon in the first place).

All the figuring out what is a mistake is something I leave for another occasion.  For now, I’m just focusing on what I like because people don’t pay enough attention to what is right when they are busy seeing “mistakes.”

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Green and yellow, above, and energetic lines, colors that push up against each other: these are things I like.

 

Revisiting my idea

I’ve been doing an experiment in a life class

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memory of my original impulse illustrated

 

once a week drawing heads larger than life size using bright invented colors. Each week the drawings seem radically different from ones I made in the class before, from which I conclude that I succeed in their being “experimental.” But I had more motive than just trying something new. I had a specific idea that prompted the whole thing.  It was an idea about a color.

Remembering what prompted me to attempt this experiment, I realize that I haven’t used that color yet. I haven’t actually done what I thought would be the good thing to do.

It began because I was looking at someone else’s drawing, a drawing made in a life class, it was larger than life size and was conceived tonally. The lighting of the model was strongly directional and each student’s drawing had a cast shadow that fell from the model’s chin. A row of these drawings was visible from where I stood, each with the same cast shadow. Looking at one of the drawings, the thought popped into my head, “what if instead of a dark shadow, there was a shape that was a beautiful brilliant light violet color.” I’ve written about my project before HERE.

I know I’ve been affected by my fondness for works by Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Richard Diebenkorn and by the late works of Edgar Degas. In front of the actual model, one feels a tug toward realism — a kind of demand that you get the drawing right, obtain a likeness. I’ve been very free with color, but I feel this conflict about drawing and am never sure what I really want from the session. The artists I’m emulating were in each of their different ways, though, very free about the image.  The most notable would be Matisse’s La Raie Verte.

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La Raie Verte, Henri Matisse

 

The colors are completely invented. The drawing is very sparse and bold. And yet one gets the feeling that the identity of the sitter is present. I don’t want to paint my drawings in pastel like Matisse, but I am striving to get at a similar freedom. And it’s not that I want to paint in a fauvist way, but merely that I want to see where something leads. I want to understand this impulse from the inside.

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Richard Diebenkorn portrait face

 

When Richard Diebenkorn experimented with a similar idea (above and below), he did so quite literally, using the bold lines, summary drawing, exaggeration of drawing and exaggeration of color just as Matisse had used before him.

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Diebenkorn, page from a notebook

 

The arbitrariness or expressiveness doesn’t just arise from “modern art,” however.  Degas used color, light, and paint texture very expressively in fairly early works. It’s a trend that always ran like a current in his art, sometimes classicist, but sometimes romantic.

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Edgas Degas

 

In Degas’s late works the treatment of the figure both in terms of drawing and color becomes very rough and exaggerated. I particularly love his late pastels for their rugged beauty.

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In the life class, I feel a tension also because the other people drawing are for the most part seeking realism.  I’m the outlier. I’ve done realist drawing.

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Aletha Kuschan, self-portrait using a mirror c 1987

 

Yesterday however my drawing was very far from realist.  I was not attempting to make it exaggerated in form, and the challenges of the particular pose were considerable: I draw the face much larger than life size so I am making decisions about proportion continually. The model is not always easy for me to see, and during several poses I’m having to look up at the model so that the pose is foreshortened.  Sometimes I can’t get back from my drawing and with my nose to the paper I’m actually looking at my drawing from a foreshortened view, having to look up to see the top and down to see the bottom. Yesterday’s drawing was definitely not what I wanted. But there’s no experiment if you’re unwilling to make something that you didn’t exactly intend. The experiment lies in the not knowing the outcome, when deliberation and happenstance meet.

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one of yesterday’s drawings in pastel

 

It’s strange that the exaggeration that I love in the works of my heroes makes me a little uncomfortable in my own painting. I’m not sure what the discomfort means.

Do I want a greater simplicity such as one finds in Bonnard (left) and Diebenkorn (right)? Bonnard’s works evidently sometimes had very chaotic beginnings and we know also that they had quite amorphous and complicated conclusions.

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unfinished Bonnard painting

I have been mulling over my experiences in the life class trying to figure out what’s the best way to go forward during the remaining sessions.  I have collected some images from the internet of things to draw at home to “practice” and am thinking about doing my next in class session by drawing the model at a smaller scale and then perhaps making the larger than life size pastel from my initial drawing (enlarging it) rather than directly from the model — or letting the first drawing be a quick rehearsal for the pose.

I just don’t know what I’ll do, what I “should” do, or even quite what it is that I seek as yet because it’s all part of this experiment.  As chance would have it, however, I did not use a violet shadow in any of the drawings I’ve made so far. The color violet was the idea that prompted the entire project.  I’m thinking that at the very least I should obtain a stick of the violet color I need and have it on hand next time to carry through that part of the idea.

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More not-art

Maybe the concept of drawing that is not art

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rapid oil pastel drawing of the window at twilight comparing indoor light with the declining light outdoors

 

holds special appeal for me because when I first realized that I wanted to be an artist, when I was a teen, I found drawing so difficult. It should be noted that some painters never draw, and that drawing isn’t really essential to painting since the drawing of an image can be subsumed into the process of painting. But I wanted to draw. It was a puzzle too because sometimes I could draw and sometimes I couldn’t. I couldn’t understand why it should turn on and off, but it did. Now I have some ideas about why it can turn on and off and even now — after let’s not mention how many decades of drawing — my ability to draw still turns on and off sometimes. The difference now is that when it turns “off” I just continue along knowing that it will turn “on” again shortly.

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Bic Cristal pen drawing of leaves and a flower after Huysum, copying from the book “Miraculous Bouquets” by Anne T. Woollett [plates 7 & 8]

However, the problem of drawing persists in my mind and thoughts about the solutions to the problem also persist because I had so much anguish in early days. Moreover in finding out that the solution is to simply continue along, I learned over time to appreciate the gains of drawing particularly on those occasions when drawing seemed to be going badly. And I learned to love the immersion into visual perception. I have come to love the stenography of drawing, the use of a drawing tool as biofeedback for those occasions when I simply look at a thing and think about aspects of its appearance.

Having the pen in my hand cements something in the thoughts. It uses more of the body. It connects me more to the sensation than if I were only looking. In neurological terms it invokes neuroplasticity. I am drawing on the paper, but I am also drawing something on my mind’s surface too.

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oil pastel drawing of a fabric design that appears in a painting in progress

 

Art is associated with an image that ultimately gets presented to a public. Art is a cultural thing. Art is something we do for our neighbors — on some level. Maybe Vermeer was an extreme introvert (who can really know?) but his art came to enjoy rock star status in our era. I doubt Vermeer could have ever imagined its having such powerfully broad appeal across time and cultures. How could Vermeer imagine anything about our world? Okay, so that’s an extreme example. Putting a picture in a local exhibition or offering it for sale in an art gallery are also ways that it becomes “art” for the participation of lots of other people outside the artist’s narrow orbit.

But as fine a thing as art is, I also cherish privacy and the value of ideas that are not comprehensible. I involve myself in an irony by declaring the privacy of some of my drawings while writing a post on the Internet! It’s just that I know other people do these things too, and my point is to say, “Hey.  This is marvelous.” You cannot know what I experienced as I display my incomprehensible, scribbly bits of visual biofeedback. But I’m telling you this is wonderful stuff. And for a music lover, even the sound of a musician practicing scales can be thrilling. The sound of the instrument. These episodes are like that.

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another drawing from the Huysum book “Miraculous Bouquets” [frontispiece]

I am justly proud of the beauty of the line produced by the pen. Can you see how amazingly lovely some of this is? Bic Cristal deserves perhaps most of the praise, but I get some too for the use of the tool. And dime store pencils on cheap paper, and other tools used with devil-may-care freedom offer delights.

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oil pastel drawing that I’m glad I made because it gave me some ideas

 

Because I’m telling you — that while I was looking at these things, the objects on the still life table that I’ve drawn and redrawn a gazillion times, which I never find boring (I suppose these are some of my scales and arpeggios) or the really confused visually wandering thoughts about the plant and architectural forms that I see from the back door of my house, and thoughts about things seen in the dark, or the birds that flew past my head, the leaves of grass on the ground — I can scribble the thoughts of these things and the drawing has probably no verisimilitude AT ALL.  But I know what I felt. I will own the memory of this moment more strongly for having used the drawing tool.

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pencil drawing of Huysum’s leaf

 

Someday it may even work its way into my art also.

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little notes I’ve made to myself about a project

 

 

Not Brain Surgery

One of the marvels of painting (or drawing) is that you always begin again from nothing.  The openness of the blank page is very humbling.  With each picture there is the potential of relearning your vocation from the ground up.

When I draw something – it can be anything – one of the attractions for me is that you can begin the thing from any beginning.  A landscape could begin with the sky, or with a point in the distance where a path disappears, or with a particular limb of a particular tree.  You can start without things at all, you could decide to work from the top of the image to the bottom if you wanted – or from the middle to the sides, from left to right, from an all-over-ness to details, or you can begin with details and work out toward the large forms.

Various art schools will tell you that any of these possibilities are wrong, but you always have the option of ignoring the advice to experience for yourself what happens when you try the forbidden procedure.  This is very different from doing surgery or flying an airplane.  The surgeon and the pilot cannot arbitrarily decide to reinvent their entire methods.  But the artist can.  Artists are wise to keenly observe the fact that nothing crashes and no one dies.  You can experiment and should.  You are under no obligations to take anything as settled or sacrosanct.