Sea shells on the shelf, say that several
times quickly. When I finished drawing my late night owl of the previous post, I turned my attention to the sea shells with the ceramic bird. I have an oil pastel that I work on when the light is right, and this pen drawing, made from a different angle, in different light keeps me thinking about the forms.
I’ll bet you can’t tell what this is. A few years hence, I might not be able to tell what it is either. I might still like it, as I turn it this way and that trying to figure out which side is “up.” None of that matters. It was by means of this drawing that I made an amazing discovery about something in the motif that I had completely misperceived.
Every artist ought to have some space in life where he or she can pursue an idea with total freedom. It’s a mistake-free zone, a freedom of inquiry place. In that space you can do whatever you want to do. Sometimes for psychological reasons one builds this space on the cheap. It’s being cheap helps it feel free. I have stacks of little notebooks into which I pour my “anything” ideas. They aren’t even drawing notebooks: that helps their cheapness status. It means they have these lines for writing that interfere with my drawing from the outset, something I have to ignore, work over. It pushes forward my sense of “what the heck” to have these out of place parallel lines staring back at me.
Along with a not-drawing notebook I have the blue ball-point pens that were not intended to be artists’ materials. The not-for-drawing notebook and the not-for-art pens tell me that I can make not-for-art ideas. I can talk to myself. I can say, “hmm, does that line go here? or maybe it goes here? don’t know, let’s try both.”
Through the regular, occasional making of not for prime-time drawings, I learn all kinds of useful stuff. And as it happens I even love the drawings themselves. I love them. I think this is a delightful drawing. I’m so proud of myself. And you’ll never even guess what it is, and years hence neither will I.
This morning I draped my favorite cloth — the one with the pattern of big roses — over a chair and began drawing in a 9 x 12 notebook with a Uniball pen.
The drawing featured above was actually from my second cup of coffee. For the first cup I made a smaller drawing of the same drapery.
Some mornings you have to wake up gradually.
The materials shape the longing. You can want a precise line. You can want your fish to swim sleek as a knife through the water on the pointed pencil edge. Or you can have them crashing into the water with their sides thrashing flat against planes of liquid tension with colors popping lose from the shapes that formerly held them until the whole thing is chaos.
The materials can shape the longing of the physical reality into different forms, and thus loosed, one dream can transpose into another dream that’s very different from the first.
The koi impact the world in such beautiful ways. Their whiskers arrive first and water slides past to meet with the often open koi mouth (they seem to be constantly hungry). The sleek koi sides glide through the shifting planes of blue. Oh, and the way that the water’s surface slaps the air, continually presenting new planar surfaces to the atmosphere (as the koi unsettle it, shifting position always with swift swimming). It’s all so wonderful.
And my pencil tries to follow all these complicated agitations of water and watery beasts.
I was going through a pile of drawings at the secret bunker when I rediscovered this one. When my daughter was a crawler, she often scribbled over drawings as I was making them. I drew on the floor so that we could work “together.” Or else I taped my paper to the wall at a level she could reach. Lots of drawings on the floor we made during that all to swift and brief season (she’s almost a teen now). I think her scribbles always livened things up. Sometimes it seems like they were the best part of the drawing. And not in an “abstract” sense — not at all. Her scribbles had the force of real ideas to them, which is very different from adults trying to be “random” or whatever. It’s just that these were two-year-old’s pre-speech rigorous gestures and their meanings are rather opaque though forceful in grammar.
I was reading another of the late Paul Squires’s poems and it fits this picture so marvelously well that I republish it here, though you can find the original at Paul’s gingatao blog and get the total Paulesque experience.
Those who say that flowers have no sound have never heard the generousity of tulips in your smile nor watched the synchronicitous flight of gulls like white orchids at the whisper of your touch. They have not been released into the world of sunflower splendour or tiny blue delphinium delight nor set the direction of their dreams by the scent of apple blossom on a chilly night. They doubt the giggle of gardenias when I demonstrate my geranium brain again and are blind to that outrage of yellow hyacinth in the corner of your eye that warns of lightning strikes. I thought of them again this morning when I heard you laugh circus pink camellias into an azure sky and I hope that if they are reading this they experience now as I did then a truly gypsophila anticipation.
Paul was not afraid to depict beauty, as you can see.
I dug some large drawings out of storage to have a new look at them. Old koi more scribbly than their more recent cousins. These were made one fish removed from the real, abstractions formed of abstractions. What can I say? I like to scribble. In these exercises in thought fish, it’s hard to identify the top of the picture, so it doesn’t strictly speaking have an “up.” I made these somewhat like my old Aussie pal, the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye, my teacher I never met — anyway, I sat on the floor and drew with the fishes spreading out horizontally (as fishes should).
And so I compared the scribbly with their firmer finned friends — all this taking place, of course, at my secret studio in the capital of the USA.
Spent some time around the koi pond meditating on the agile delights of quickness. Sometimes you’re just of a mind to play. Today I drew fast swimmers. The fast study is very different from other kinds of drawing. Nicolaides called it gesture drawing when you seek out the essence of the thing from the inside out. I’m not embarrassed to call it scribbling, though it’s scribbling of a high order.
Made a couple of these today, as well as rediscovered a couple that I’d made in notebooks as exploration for previous paintings.
The gesture of the lines can take on a life of their own. It’s like listening to the syllables in a word. The beauty of the activity is something that the artist should continually seek. We are not just drawing things, we are drawing our thoughts, and discovering the forms and gestures of which thoughts are composed . Along the way one discovers a world of inner hieroglyphs.
My work began today with this drawing above — a study for the “Big Guy” of the koi pond featured in my previous post.
Agenor surfaced, too, while I was turning the pages of the notebook. He’s the star of my first big koi pond.
Here’s the view of the koi studio today with a few of the fish that jumped out of the pond.
I have a favorite painting at the National Gallery of Art, a dear old favorite friend of a painting. Me and this painting go back years! It’s Vermeer’s Girl with a Flute. The tapestry in the background, in particular, amazes me. The background alone contains some of the most astonishing bits of painting that I’ve ever seen. In the softly articulated, indistinct shapes of the fabric behind the girl, you find much of the painting’s music. Its flute notes are all piped in blending, meandering riverlets of color and tone. They are so out-of-focus as to be completely unrecognizable, yet they are persuasively, pervasively “real.” Whenever I see the painting I’m reminded that all of life is like this one scene. The world is luminous and mysterious, indefinite and mutable, meaningful and inscrutable.
And in something like this spirit of inscrutability I enter my garden of crepe myrtles. I don’t of course own the garden. I own the scribbles that establish the garden of my pencil. Though I have to follow the park rules about when I can visit my trees, with my pencil they transform into personal, imaginative property. I wander through them like the lady of the manor. And I abstract them with all the freedom that Vermeer taught me to feel before nature.
My pencil lines are thoughts about form. I say that the tree boughs shall grow to such height! I will that the greens be bright! I indulge all my whim for foliage and fond. If I want significant swaths of bright white paper peeking through, so be it! It’s my dream, my vague and transcendent fabric!
Today was a loose ends kind of day. Did a little of this, little of that, but had few chances to do a sustained bit of anything. Except I made this drawing. Pencil is such a moody, smudgy medium. Shiny too. Have to love the way that graphite gives off light as well as absorbs it.
The shell, too, reflected my thoughts back to me as well as absorbed some of them. The beauty of drawing is the way it lets your mind drift off to lazy, limitless, meditative places.