This small painting Sea Flower will be on exhibit beginning this week in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, at the Torpedo Factory. It combines two of my favorite things — a Queen conch seashell and my favorite floral cloth.
Here’s another view of the cloth, a detail from another painting.
The favorite floral cloth ends up in a lot of things.
In Sea Flower the two subjects almost blend together in a fairly abstract image. It was the camouflaging of the seashell in the painting that made me realize that the Queen conch is kind of a flower itself, a hard beautiful calcite flower.
The painting on exhibit is for sale. Inquire for details.
Here’s some of the seashell drawings propped in the studio. Those readers who followed my Big Tidy Campaign of 2017 as it was inspired by Marie Kondo’s delightful book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, are perhaps shaking your heads now wondering where I fell off the rails.
Well, the Big Tidy continues. But sometimes the studio gets a bit cluttered. Tis all part of the creative process. (Or that’s what I tell myself. )
A year or so ago, I forget when it was, I decided to do the seashells larger than life. It was a distinct departure for me because previously I had always portrayed them apparent size or life size. But I had some pastels I wanted to experiment with and a yen to work large and the seashells were all sitting right in front of me so the synergy all lead toward a large seashell.
Those experimental drawings I made are sitting where I can see them and have been prompting me to have a new whack at the motif. Hence the drawing above. Looking at the set up that inspired the first large seashell, you can tell that I was seeing the seashells from above them. Given a certain artistic ambiguity that particular fact doesn’t completely register in the drawing itself.
However for the drawing I began last week, the shell sits on a shelf at eye level and fits into the representational scheme of “things seen on a ledge.” It also takes up much more of the paper than the first one did. The first large seashell drawing I made was on an 18 x 24 inch sheet. This drawing measures 19.5 x 25.5 inches. The seashell itself is about ten inches long. So the drawing portrays it about twice life size. This latest drawing is the start; it will be interesting to see where it leads.
Here’s an in situ view of the shell in progress.
It’s a rainy dark day today so I won’t be working on this seashell. It’s my natural light shell and sits recessed on the shelf so that it’s dark even in daylight. But I have a nighttime seashell that I work on too. Ironically the nighttime seashell is brighter than the daytime seashell because I draw in it artificial light.
Actually I draw in the dark a lot. I love drawing in low light. But when I began doing en plein air drawing again, the first shock was seeing how bright the sticks look in the sunlight! I usually never see them that bright when I’m working.
People have often commented on the bright colors in my artwork (I love color) but would be surprised to know how often I work in low light conditions where the actual colors aren’t fully visible. Nevertheless, I know what I’m doing (I think) because the pictures come out with a balanced effect. But I don’t always see what I’m doing.
It seems like a very natural way to work, in my view, because color changes all the time anyway. All the time, all day long, as the light changes, so does color. Therefore you might as well just chase color in the wild — in its natural habitat — and get used to it. The chase is where you feel the adventure!
The sound inside the seashell tells me that life is always changing. I remember in my youth how much I loved pictures and how I collected them. My art collection began with postcards and posters (of the former I soon had a veritable museum in miniature).
I liked collecting things too — especially leaves and pretty rocks. I still like collecting bits of nature to bring indoors where they can remind me of all things wild. Only later did I begin drawing and then I brought things “inside” by putting them onto paper or canvas. So it is that now I collect seashells that are composed of colors, sometimes made of wax crayon, sometimes composed with the pure pigment of the pastel stick, sometimes made of paint.
And in turn now I offer them for sale as posters so that I have come full circle, having begun as someone who loved the pictures that artists made to being a maker of pictures myself. I can only hope that my pictures will inspire others as I have been inspired.
You can find the seashell above at my page on Fine Art America where it is reproducible in an interesting range of materials, wood, metal, canvas. The image choices for this particular work are kept small so that the picture will be near to its scale in life. Over time I hope to offer a full “seashell collection.”
You can find it here:
What is the most transformative thing you can do?
I am running around in circles. I love clutter in the still life. The chaos of things that pour off the edge of the picture, the uncertainty about where the object will be cropped, the intricacy of the spaces between things, the patterns of a cloth, the light that changes.
But I need a more sure path to the goals I have about this house. The house is the tool that allows me to begin the new paintings. The new ones …
The house is the motif, but I need the house to be orderly and spacious and as empty as possible. The paintings can be cluttered. The house needs to be Spartan.
The conch lives in an orderly house. The seashell is a Spartan house.
Sometimes I make the seashells smaller than life size as here. The very small picture also has its own quality. Small things, ones that you can hold in your hand, seem precious. Sometimes a picture invites you to come closer.
When I visited the Joachim Wtewael exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, I admired the magnificent seashells in his painting of Andromeda. Those are life size. Andromeda puts her foot on one queen conch shell that is life size. But those very same shells appear in his microscopically small paintings too. Those are mind-boggling. I will never be traveling down that path. But it’s fun to see.
The drawing sheet was 18 x 24 inches large. As you can see the shell took up much of that space, but the real shell is not — no queen conch could be — that large. It would be a monster of a queen conch that was that large.
So what is the shell that’s larger than life size? It’s like a dream of a seashell.
I had so much fun drawing this shell. Seeing the photograph brings back the memory so vividly. It was a blast. I had to enlarge the thought while I was drawing and I loved it. I had never drawn any of the shells large before. I’ve never done it since.
But seeing this drawing now, I cannot wait to draw it large again. For now, though, I have other tasks because I am reorganizing my life. And I am tidying my home — just as Marie Kondo said I should.
In a previous post I wrote about making large paintings. When it comes to the seashells small is ideal. And the actual shell sitting in front of its portrayal illustrates some of the sensibility connected to painting things life size. I feel such a longing to have the thing be as actual as possible — which is not always the same as its being “realistic.”
I want to make a picture of the shell. I want the elements of the medium to be visible. Oil pastel is a beautiful substance in its own right. The drawing of the shell, wanting it to look actual, and the use of the oil pastel crayon, wanting to have the textures of the mark present in the picture — these things go together.
Then it’s fun to have the seashell “pose” in front of its portrait just as any sitter might do ….
The queen conch shell is essentially radial. It has these spokes that go outwards from its folding calcite structure. You could think of them as shapes somewhat like volcanic cones, and they sprout along the undulating surface of the shell, forming its outer layer. Inside, the shell rolls in upon itself creating inner chambers where the animal has lived during different phases of grow.
That’s the shell.
The background is a very dark blue cloth. It might be reminiscent of the sea, which is after all where the Queen Conch lives.
Above that imaginary horizon … I’m not quite sure what these other things are — triangle wedges. They are dynamic shapes. They echo the spikey-ness of the seashell. But beyond that, they (I refer to the negative shapes) have yet to be identified.
I’ve made a bunch of drawings and paintings of seashells, and soon I will make more. I started collecting seashells a few years ago, and I have a group of shells now. Each one is a little different from the others and in time I hope to have portrayed the individual differences. For now I just portray the shells broadly.
I like putting them into different settings, among different colors, especially among different patterns. I am always eager to discover what the surrounding colors do to change the mood of a picture.
When I have a sufficient number of seashells to cover an entire wall, I want to have them all framed and hung together as though they were one large work composed of the ensemble. But that project waits in the future. First I have to paint them one by one.