a center of interest

sea shellWhat 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.

she sells small seashells by the seashore

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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

once I made the seashell large

seashell in progress

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.

seashell and its portrait

seashell-and-its-portrait (2)

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 ….

because I like the shapes

seashell and bottle

I painted the seashell and bottle together because I like the shapes of each.  That’s why I bought the bottle (another of the thrift store hauls) and why I collect the seashells.  I love their shapes and colors.  Looking at their surfaces fascinates me.   I like the color blue.  I like the folds in a cloth.  I like the random things that end up being the edges of the painting when you paint without a plan.

This is a little picture — only 9 x 12 inches — painted on Arches oil paper, which is a wonderful surface, enjoyable for the artist.

I began doing still lifes in a random way, choosing the object I wanted particularly to portray and letting the rest of the picture arrange itself according to the dimensions of the format, and now I love the randomness of it.  The edges become a new area of exploration.

Some people climb mountains or dream astronaut dreams — I explore the edges of the painting — far more sedentary, much safer physically, but still wonderful — I assure you!

How does one express this love of the edges?  Or of the spaces between things?  Do you believe me when I tell you that they are marvelous territories?!  And while I rhapsodize the edges, do not suppose that I oppose the middle — I like painting’s interior too.

seashell blue

seashell blue (2)

When an artist paint things, she always hopes that others will understand the thing the way she understands it. The little seashell painting (9 x 12 inches in size) catches a mood for me (who am far from the sea) of water, waves and wind.  The conch is a tropical animal and even the warmth of a faraway place comes to me when I portray the shells.

The nervous brushstrokes are the way I experience drawing the object whose forms are so incredibly lovely and complicated.  I love following all the passages of color than I can manage to imitate.  I am always longing to imitate all of it, everything that I see, and I don’t know if that is possible.  But the longing is an end in itself.  I cherish the longing that the beauty of the seashell evokes.

Part way there

two shells

Part of this picture I love.  The central shell has a nice presence.  The smaller shell needs adjustment.  But it’s been a good painting day.

I need to wipe out the smaller shell and redraw it.  But it’s been a good painting day nonetheless.

color scheming

seashell red and yellow backgr 2

Sometimes I put the seashells into color environments that recall their ocean homes.  Sometimes I plunge them into a set up of bright colors that I favor.

Here the seashell is not ocean artifact — it is still life object, sitting on a tabletop covered by a yellow leaf and floral patterned cloth with brilliant red and bright violet backgrounds adjacent.  I realize now that some of my paintings record the evolution of still life table changes, that the different colored backgrounds feature a succession different objects as I cycled through various color and pattern choices, using them for various different objects.  Thus the same color scheme used for this seashell appears also with one of the flower pictures.

The still life table is like a theatre stage and the still life objects are actors that appear in different scenes of the drama.

a joyful blue — another seashell

second seashell ap 11

I’ve been in full seashell mode lately.

I like to do the same motif many times.  This is the same seashell of the same set up that I posted previously, but it’s painted on Arches oil paper — a very different surface than the earlier one which is painted on canvas panel.  And it’s larger, a 12 x 16 inch sheet, compared to the earlier one of 9 x 12 inches.  Consequently the shell is a little bigger, though still not life size.

I should do it life size too.

That would be such a different way to experience it, a more tactile way.  I can do one life size using the 12 x 16 inch paper because the shell measures about 8 x 8 1/2 in its length and height.

I left the decorations of the cloth out — for now — possibly forever. The cloth is covered with a bunches-of-wild-roses pattern.  Though I love highly decorated cloths for still life, it’s also nice to do this motif in a plainer way that is more directly evocative of sky and sea.

I painted the picture late at night and left its right side in a peculiar state of incompleteness.  Intriguing these passages of thoughts that trail away.  It looks a little abrupt.

Each iteration of the painting reveals new things about the subject.

Each individual conch shell rewards sustained contemplation.  Hopefully the paintings will also capture some of the object’s inherent magic.

further progress on the seashell

seashell ap 12 reworking.jpg

This little turquoise seashell painting progresses bit by bit.

I have a bunch of seashells ranged on the table in a composition that extends along the length of the table.  When I began this painting, I put one of the shells in the center and I could have portrayed it alone.  There is another shell beside it, though, and I drew that one too simply because it was there.  I knew that the edge of the picture would crop part of the second shell.

Lately I’ve been painting still life that way, letting the picture extend as far as it will, letting it end wherever it ends. It alters one’s relationship to the edge. Then edges of a picture can become fascinating places to describe. I remind myself that the frame will cover about a quarter inch.  Sometimes I find I am getting caught up in little details that occur on the part of the panel ordinarily covered by the rabbet.  And I don’t want the frame covering them.  Certain of my paintings probably need to be glued to a second support so that it can be framed in a floater.

It’s a bit of an odd problem to have, or an odd fascination.  But there it is.

The contemplative nature of still life is what I love: the fact that you can find intriguing bits of vision throughout the whole set up, so that the more you look, the more you see.  I never quite know how far the image will spread — once I’ve begun putting the central things into the composition.  Some object gets cropped — it goes without saying — and what will afterwards be occurring at the edge is unknown.  I like surprises.  I like visual mysteries.