seashell and its portrait

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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 ….

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.

la raie verte Matisse
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.

Bonnard three women
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.

TT54

 

Imagining it

I’ve done a certain still life motif many times and ought to know it by heart, and yet I find upon trying to draw it from memory that it becomes vague.  I keep wondering how I can train my visual memory, and the only way I can figure to do it is by simple exercise.  I make the drawings and see how much I can either remember or invent.

I suppose that’s the key:  when memory fails, begin inventing things that might be there.  Then if you cannot remember everything at least you have begun building another skill — imagination.

People who routinely draw from imagination may wonder why anyone would find it difficult.  But nearly all the drawing I’ve ever done has been done in front of something.  I am so habituated to looking at whatever I draw that it is difficult to pull things out of the empty air — or “from the space between my ears”  — but the more I do it, the more natural the task becomes.

Distortions in the Spacetime

If I wanted to copy the source photos I use to make my koi pictures, to make even an extremely accurate copy of the complex image captured by the camera both the fish and the water as they are frozen in a moment of time, with the myriad facets of atomized color, I could easily do it using any number of rational methods, as for instance using grids;  but interpreting the image is what I want, and the distortions that I introduce from my observations, both my deliberate changes as well as my “mistakes” offer so much material to explore, and so I resist the temptation (admittedly it is weak) to reproduce the photo in an exacting way. 

The photo already exists; why copy it?

But even if I did use a grid to transfer the image, and I may do that at last — I have done things like that with other works — within each of the small squares, I tell you, all the same freedom to muse and to invent still exists.  You can introduce the distortions at whatever level of detail that you wish, in every little square.

Drawing from Life

folliage and whimsy

I observed a scrupulous realism and yet my drawing has turned out rather vague!  Well, my subject was a little vague too as it happens.  I decided to draw the lush deciduous trees outside my window which I view at eye level (being on the 7th floor).  I followed the lines that caught my fancy as I saw them, but folliage does have a tendency to wiggle this way and that as does my attention span.  And lacking the context of buildings or other more solid objects to anchor the subject and make it more intelligible, I got this nice grouping of scribbles.  But I don’t knock them.  You’d be surprised how effective such experiences are for creating memories.  I’ll probably recollect the quiet morning of this drawing nostalgically someday.  Scribbling is almost olfactory in its ability to seize memories.

I rather like them.  I might call it a self-portrait since it registers the inner me rather keenly.  This is what it looks like:  the interior thought-world of someone who is perpetually in search of her car keys.  At least my inner thougths are nicely colored.

Drew this little sketch using my left hand.  Someday I’m going to assemble a whole blog devoted to nothing but my left-handed drawings.