No gaining

Without knowing anything about Buddhism and with no particular intention to learn about Buddhism (except indirectly) I have been reading and rereading Shunryu Suzuki’s little book “Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind.” I’m on my 4th reading, and truly I find new things inside his simple commentaries with each rereading.

I got the book with the intention of seeing how it might apply to art. The application to art turns out to be very direct and useful. So, one notion found in this philosophy is to become fully active and aware (as much as possible) in doing whatever you are doing in the moment you are doing it. In art this can include the desired elements of focusing on the drawing, but it can also incorporate incidental elements like opening and closing tubes of paint, cleaning brushes, or standing back to look at the painting or at the motif.

Whatever you are doing, be inside it. Notice that you are here now doing this. The idea of no gaining is to let go of results, which is not the same as not having a plan or abandoning a plan, or abandoning standards or any of those negations. You can still have a plan, have standards and ideals, and want to paint a nice picture. However, you make yourself aware how future oriented all those tasks are, and thus focus your attention upon what you are doing now — this line, this color, this impression, and so forth. In doing whatever you are doing now, you can let go of the gain. It’s not that the gain is bad or unimportant. It’s merely that the gain is somewhere that is not “now.”

So one is simply focused on now. It is more focus, not less focus. It is to become part of the line, the color, the materials, the thought process — only in its unfolding rather than in its abstract and hoped for future manifestation.

Or, that’s my understanding at least. My understanding right now. I might understand it differently at some future moment, who knows ….




The current painting began TWO YEARS ago!  Hard to believe.  It began with this drawing, a drawing that I never finished.

Well, I’m pursuing that thought now even without that drawing!


what to do, what to do

whole painting on may 23 (2)


  • I can put more paint on the cloth in settled areas just to varigate the surface and to add further cover over earlier imagery
  • I can experiment with putting some of the design of the background blue curtain in it to see how the pattern would work
  • I can decide to paint over that tulip
  • I can decide to keep the tulip but join it to the bouquet
  • I can complicate the colors of the patterns in the green cloth even more just for the heck of it
  • I can continue developing the flowers, though I want to keep them painty and abstract
  • I can develop the bottom of the Limoges vase
  • I can figure out the area of cloth nearest to the Limoges vase
  • FIX the area of bouquet nearest to the vase rim — needs leaves, stems, something besides just the mass of dark green

My note to self above.

I rearranged the cloth again to get ideas.  I used crumpled craft paper to shape the mounds this time.  Got to remember that for future still lifes.

cloth rearranged further (2)

I’ve tinted the photo to have the cloth color match more closely the colors I’m using in the painting.  This is such a fabulous cloth.  One could make a wonderful painting of just the cloth.  Drapery as landscape.

the fun that happens behind the scene

I got into the habit of painting large pictures after I discovered that I could rehearse ideas by first making large drawings. And then the prospect of painting on a large canvas began to seem much less daunting.  I knew that I could work out any problems or uncertainties using the less expensive medium.  At first I even used cheap paper to make the preliminary drawings.  Sometimes to make the sheet large enough, I taped together many smaller sheets.  I got that idea from a cartoon by Carracci that I saw at the National Gallery of Art.  It was one large image drawn on a sheet made from assembling many small sheets.

These days I use watercolor paper by the roll and artists’ crayons rather than crayolas.  But I got my start with quite humble (and very amusing) beginnings.

Illustrated above is a large koi painting measuring 40 x 60 that’s almost complete, and a preliminary drawing for it that is slightly smaller, and which has undergone still further alterations, taking on a life of its own.

As to why I wanted to paint large, I think I merely wanted to surround myself with the images that I love — to be even more inside that world.

The interior of thought

You can break down the process of drawing something into components for the purpose of learning.  Many of these elements of drawing are well known even to non-artists: composition, light and shade, proportion, perspective, free-hand drawing.  Of this latter, I have long wondered in a wry way what its opposite might be, though I must acknowledge it’s a wonderfully expressive term:  free-hand, as though to marvel at the degree of control and daring that one sometimes finds in drawing. 

The well known terms can be broken further down into even more expressive nuances.  For artists, one might list things like contour drawing, cross-contours, blind contour, gesture drawing, drawings that can be corrected through erasure (pencil, chalk, etc.) and drawings that cannot be corrected (pen).  For tonality, one notes that there are many ways to create the appearance of light and dark:  hatching, cross-hatching, stippling, continuous tone, curved hatching, smudging. 

For proportion, one studies accurate, “realistic” proportion in various ways, sometimes by the use of devices such as a perspective frame, or by measuring with the hand or another kind of sighting tool or by training one’s own internalized sense of measure (again another variation on that marvelous free-hand approach — a kind of “point and shoot”).  Of course, along with proportion are various discoveries of and uses for distortion.  Moreover one uses the angle of vision to enhance the quality of dimension in objects whose forms are more easily recognized by one facade rather than another.

And so on.

However, there are entirely different ways of breaking down the process of drawing.  You can break it down in time — drawings made quickly, drawings drawn out very slowly, drawings made incrementally over days or weeks.  Drawings that are timed. 

Drawings made to understand the nature of binocular vision, or that study the texture of something attempting to evoke the sense of touch, drawings made from memory, drawings whose sole purpose is to understand one aspect of something such as a study that answers a question that maybe only the artist herself is asking.