Think Small

Sometimes an artist just wants to have fun.

Intriguingly enough, since camera storage is so big now even a tiny drawing can be easily enlarged and turned into a monster of an image. This detail of one of the thumbnail drawings is many times larger than the original, probably even when viewed on a smart phone. And of course the drawing reproduced above is much larger than the original.

All part of the fun.

detail of one of the little sketches

duck hunting

duck drawing 1

I am hunting for ducks — duck motifs.  I love looking at ducks and sometimes, as the drawing above hints, they seem to love looking at me too.  So it’s reciprocal.

Every so often a duck mood strikes me and I’ve got to draw ducks.  Don’t know what it is about these guys that’s so mesmerizing.

duck drawing 2

big sketch

study (2)

Several times already I have drawn the objects that are going to appear in “the big painting” of previous posts.  I draw and redraw the objects.  Drawing them is like solving an enjoyable puzzle.  Each iteration reveals different facets of the objects.  Redrawing them is like rehearsing a part in a drama.  Soon when the time comes to put them actually into the painting, they will already seem very familiar in their shapes and forms.

I have a little table where the objects are stationed that simulates the expansive table portrayed in the painting. I shift them around into slightly differing relationships trying to find the one pattern that connects them well to each other.

objects on table photo2 small file

These aren’t permanent drawings.  They are instead big sketches.  Art ephemera.  The one above is on a 24 x 18 inch sheet. But they help me find the solutions I need.

flights of fancy


Just now I found this whimsical drawing that I made, goodness knows when.  It’s a quick and spare copy of Bonnard’s huge and famous L’atelier au mimosa.  I saw the actual painting in the Phillips Collection exhibit on Bonnard in 2002 though I made this drawing from a book.

Bonnard’s painting is 50 x 50 inches square.  Seeing this little sketch I think about large spans of very bright — dizzyingly bright — color!  In truth all of reality is an amazing field of light that we see with our eyes each day.


starts, stops, and dreams that continue

garden at baltimore

I been having an interesting conversation with a WordPress pal about the question of when a painting is finished and how you know when to stop.  Or, if you should ever stop. (Pierre Bonnard, we’re looking at you.)  I’m in a place in my art where I feel like I have to keep going forward with a picture until I really have no more ideas for it.  If I see something that I think I need to change, I change it.  I also make decisions with the specific aim of “finishing” the painting, but I find that I don’t really like the term “finishing” and I don’t seem to be alone.  I’m not sure why, as artists, we don’t want to finish the picture.  Would “complete the picture” sound better …?

One of the things I love about drawing is that there’s less pressure to finish something.  The drawing above is an example.  It is as “finished” as it’s ever going to be.  I was sitting before the actual scene on a summer day.  The clock ran out.  I assembled my things and returned home.  The ending of the drawing was abrupt and arbitrary, but the drawing does seem complete to me just as it is.

With paint you can always add more layers.  You can cover over an entire picture, if you like.  (As I’ve discovered in a big way with my current painting.)  So there’s really nothing to stop you from just painting and painting and painting.  And I do like the idea of getting into the weeds.  It can seem like there’s places deep inside an image that you can find, little corners where you can begin exploring, where you can get marvelously lost.  It’s not an idea that scores you points in art school discussions about composition, but it is an interesting dream-like way of staying inside a picture.  If you are willing to risk all, willing to blow the whole wad, you might completely screw things up but there are also potentialities — particularly in oil painting, a medium that seems designed for visual risk taking.  It’s a gamble, but certainly a more fruitful one than other forms of gambling.  There is that something that beckons.

Or should I say tempt?  I’m not sure.  I was looking through some canvases and found a couple that I thought were more or less finished and now I find that they are not.  Once I feel that way, I know I have to go back over them — otherwise, no matter what anybody else sees, I just see the “unfinished” picture.  It’s not even about an ordinary feeling that the picture somehow resolves.  It’s more that I just see too many openings for more visual information — stuff that ought to be there.

So that’s what I love, in contrast, about drawing — no pressure.

Okay.  So I say that, but as soon as the words escape I can think of a kind of painting that is very like drawing — a kind of painting where you reach a fecund moment when you — stop!  It’s wonderful.  When everything has just reached a nebulous, energetic, open-ended kind of fruition. I used to paint always, exclusively for that moment.  Now I’m wondering what it would be like to do that again.  And can you do it with a large painting?  Ooh la la, choices and decisions and longings.

Starting pictures is wonderful because the beginning is such a rich field.  The picture that you stop at the magical moment persists in that field of beginning but somehow rounds it out and makes it dwell in persistent potential, like a wave that crests but never falls.

Well, some things to think about.

first flowers

flowers study first pass

First marks of paint for the flower study.  I set up the still life somewhat late in the day and didn’t begin painting until quite late.  Here’s how it looked on the first pass.  It’s really fun to begin flowers this way.  From the outset, there’s a riot of color.

This is the beginning of the first of what will be several studies of flowers for a large flower painting that I’ve just begun on what was formerly the beginnings of a koi painting (a couple posts previous).

My studio looks like a gypsy caravan these days.

corner of the studio

when I need flowers

flowers drawing 1a

The last time I bought flowers I decided to draw them with oil pastel.  It’s the easiest medium for me to use — very direct — just grab a sheet of paper, open the box, begin.

I made this drawing and the next on Strathmore 400 series 18 x 24 inch notebook sheets.  That makes the flowers approximately life size.  Drawing same size provides an interesting sensation as well — you can feel very connected to the thing when you draw it life size.

flowers drawing 2

Now I find these drawings become helpful when I need flowers for a flower painting.  More and more I find myself doing some of the flower pictures from composites.  And when I need individual flowers to put into a painting, I can turn to these drawings.

That fact, in turn, makes me want to draw more flowers — definitely a virtuous circle ….

thoughts of flowers, future tense

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Drawing some yesterday, planning future flower paintings — to take up the loose threads of paintings I began but never finished — and get new ideas for possible future works.  I love making pen drawings as a way of dreaming about things.  It helps me get acquainted with the objects.  The smallness of scale makes me feel as though I enter another dimension through the pen lines.  It’s a way of mentally moving among the objects.


Some objects need special consideration.  The blue compotier will be empty and its interior spaces will need to carry a lot of weight alone.

I will draw it over and over.  Each drawing helps me see it differently.


I was also inventing a still life in the notebook, adding things as I thought about them.  It’s just an idea for something where yellow is the predominant color (as my written notes attest).



Then there was a little sketch for another idea that’s already on the back burner simmering.  I day dream about this picture that I’ve written about before.



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