she sells small seashells by the seashore


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.

wtewael conch closeup


accidental pairings

One of the ways that I get ideas for new works is from chance occurrence. While I was looking through image files, I found these two pictures side by side — rather as they appear here.  The image on the left is a notebook drawing of the koi.  The picture on the right is a scene from an old studio where a large drawing was nearly complete.

Seeing the two works together like this, the one on the left could almost seem to be the same size as the one on the right — and that gives you an idea how it would look enlarged.  Making large works is not merely about enlarging small works.  The large picture ought to seem as though it is simply “the right size” but seeing this small drawing in this context does suggest that it might look good on a much larger scale.

The process could as easily work the other way.  You could see some huge painting in a museum and realize that it offers you a subject that you could do on a smaller scale.  The key, whatever the circumstance, is to be open to new ideas.

A sense of scale


Well, here I was pretending to draw on this thing just like in the art books!  But this was just a photo op.  It provides a sense of the drawing’s size, the picture’s scale.  The lines, the smears, the hatchings are all fairly largish.  Many of the fishes are the same size as the actual koi — the “little guys,” that is.  There was a fish that we nicknamed “Moby Dick” who would require an extra-large sheet if one portrayed him in his full grandeur!

These are heavy, weighty matters. Sometimes the fish are big.

studio view of koi drawing

And sometimes they are small.  These fish in a notebook below are very small, but they are quite musical.  One might say that they are ascending scales.


Sometimes a sense of scale implies a sense of SCALE — get it.

Above leaps the fish whose scales I stole, and beside him the Hiroshige print from which I stole them.

Sometimes the drawing is small but the idea is grandiose when fish swim in the skies.  And then sometimes the clouds swim like kois in a koi pond.

I like the various permutations of the fish. And I don’t know why I like them so well. I just do.

Usually people go out to catch the fish.  But in my case, it’s the fishes who have caught me.

fast swim




Far from sea

shell on olive backgr (2)

I put the shells onto many different kinds of backgrounds, backgrounds that are not ocean, not sand. The olive ground is earthy, almost like grass.  The shell has a sort of wing, like a stone bird. Drawing the sea shell launched it into a sort of motion that I never intended.  Drawing often leads to various surprises. Draw to learn, draw to see, draw to think.

101_0316 (2)

The little sea shell is dwarfed by koi.

The pastel is dust.  Shell of dust, colored like earth and sky.

thinking small

Small drawings offer a special kind of freedom because you have no unmanageable expectations regarding their importance.  And so from the outset it’s easy to let yourself go.

Thus doing small insignificant drawings can become one’s laboratory of invention and helps an artist form the habit of spontaneity.  One needs tasks that lead to occasional carefree moods.

Add to the small scale drawing an uncooperative subject such as a wild bunny and you have even more compelling reasons to let go of all caution.

Fake flowers will sit still, but lively wild bunnies will not.  And you have to catch whatever you can and be glad.  There ought to be some space in every day for drawing that is like breathing — that just is — that has no barriers.

And so sometimes line is set free …

The Big Unknown

I want drawing to be direct.  I want to draw the way I imagine an archer aiming a bow.  You see, decide, you let go.  I am always trying to be as direct as possible.  I think the color goes here, that this is the shape of the line, and I put it down.  Sometimes — no, make that “often” — I don’t quite know what the shape of the line is.  I perceive the line as an idea that I only partly understand.  There’s an opportunity hidden in this ignorance, for when you don’t know what the shape is you’ve found the moment to be bold.

What I might look like if I weren’t so beautiful

Okay, maybe I would actually look like this at the time of my arrest.

The kid and I went to see an exhibit of student art yesterday.  Among the works that caught my attention were several self-portraits, almost all of which were larger than life size.  Since it’s harder to draw something either larger or smaller than “apparent size,” I left wondering how all these kids managed to do such masterful jobs with their pictures.  (I have a working theory, but I’m keeping it under my hat.)

Anyway, inspired, I decided to go home and have a wack at it myself.  This is the first.  I know I look awful, but do remember (or know — those friends who find this in other countries) today is the day before the Federal Tax is due.

Here’s some of my colleagues (who don’t pay taxes — yet) looking really super.  These kids are all in either junior or senior high.

This one’s by a friend of ours!

There were many fabulous others.  Yes, I know.  I like the kids’ versions better too.  Hey, it’s my first try!

Scale in art has its own effects, different in every case.  To give an indication of how large this drawing is I photographed it against things (things that demonstrate how erudite I am!).

I’m going to revisit this theme again.  Some happier day — with make-up!  Until that day, here’s looking at you, kid.

Small Fry

small koi drawing adjusted

Sometimes I pass the time with drawing, as for instance when I sit through my daughter’s orchestra rehearsals.  Drawing while the orchestra practices is “my knitting.”  Knitters have real knitting.  Drawing is my knitting.  I must say, though, it’s hard to concentrate on drawing sometimes during the rehearsals because the conductor is very entertaining.  And the musicians are amazing.  It’s fun to watch them at work.

But drawing is fun, too. 

My koi drawing gains me an audience of my own.  People are unaccustomed to seeing artists are work so whenever I draw in public I usually attract a small audience. 

They come.  They peer into my koi pond, frozen in time.  My line and color fish are almost as entertaining as the real ones.


This particular drawing is very small, quite unlike most of the koi drawings I’ve been making lately in which the fish are nearly life size.  The small scale gives them intricacy.  They are every bit as loosely drawn as the larger fish, but they feel more detailed.  These guys are gold fish sized.

They are guppies. 

Small fries.

Offspring of the Drawing


I made a smaller version of the large flower drawing that I posted previously.  The smaller scaled drawing feels different, and I like that.  One of the beautiful things about drawing is that (within reason) you can make the world whatever size you want it.

Of course the two drawings appear approximately the same size in this blog.  And that’s the neat thing about photography is that it can take two things of different size and reproduce them in the same scale.

Wonders all around.

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