When the colors are beautiful simply as colors, when it’s a silky blue and a pale green the color of early spring, I find that I like looking at the colors for themselves alone. They are their own raison d’être. Big expanses of pure color gives the artist delight, something that you hope to share with the spectator. The lines and forms of the objects build upon that foundation. I wanted the vase of flowers to rise upwards like a bold tree, a symbol of life.
I make lots of studies for pictures. This one rehearses the motif for a large painting. This crayon drawing (made with Caran d’Ache Neocolors) measures 24 x 36 inches. (The related painting measures 30 x 48 inches.)
The tulip I picked from the yard this morning has moved around while I’ve been painting and observing it. Apparently “still life” is terminology that tulips don’t understand. I don’t mind the flower moving around. It’s just a little strange to observe.
Flowers are not these placid, exemplars of stillness that one supposes. They fidget.
They merely do so on a time scale unfamiliar to human perception. Drawing helps reveal it. Cezanne asked, “Does an apple move?” Well, friend, he never would have asked that question concerning a tulip. Believe me, they move.
Hold on a minute, I was certain the contour was over here ….
My dog Lucy deserves most the credit. Lucy is an early riser, ascribing to the old saying of Benjamin Franklin, “Early to rise, early to eat.” Oh, wait ….
Anyway, Lucy claims that’s what he meant no matter what he actually said.
I was looking out the window at the spring, this being the studio window which overlooks the back yard, the window that hasn’t been cleaned since whenever I last wrote about cleaning it. (I can relax knowing that no one is likely to ever look that up.) It’s an exceedingly messy window, much in need of repair. Here’s where the squirrel came to munch on the internet access cable. Here’s where each year, generation after generation of spiders makes a home between layers of glass because, apparently, whole civilizations of bugs also make residence between the window proper and the storm window frame.
So looking out at the view I’m confronted with abundant visual complexity. A chronicler of days could find an entire magnum opus with this view alone. For outside I see the lovely spring composed of new green, and I see pale overcast sky, and bare branches reaching up in every direction ready to leaf, and new leaves from the early strivers of the tree domain.
The architecture of the window is there to confuse the geometrically perplexed (such as myself). But there are other subtler features too.
The glass (very dusty dirty and spider webby) catches reflections. It dulls over the passages of color lying behind it. Some areas of the tree trunk nearest the window (remind me that I need to cut that down) are affected by this grey veil of dullness, that softens passages of the elegant tree trunk form, leaving other parts full rich in tree trunk darkness. The warm/cool changes in all these passages are mind boggling.
So I draw it with morning coffee, fully aware that I cannot depict these many perceptions. Even sorting out which to attempt and which to exclude puts my caffeine addicted brain to task. It’s mostly for the loveliness of beholding and the idleness of contemplation that I decided to draw this scene. It was here. I have coffee to drink. So why not?
Does it count as plein air landscape when you’re sitting inside looking out the window?
I was rummaging through an old notebook and found this drawing. And I add it now to my idea(s) about a still life painting that’s in the works. I can’t use this angle for the picture I’m planning, but I like the idea and so I note that it might work well in another, future version of the motif.
Thus it joins this drawing.
And this one.
And joins the idea catalog for this motif below which is still just an idea in the mind so far.
It’s a good thing I have this blog to help me keep track of this stuff.
Yesterday evening I worked more on the oil study for my painting in the works. Earlier versions of this oil study and of a watercolor of the same motif appear in earlier posts. The painting is 9 x 12 on Arches oil paper.
The idea for the particular colors in the cloth came from the watercolor version I did earlier. I liked the colors there and decided to use them here as well.
Now I need to transfer these ideas to the mysterious big painting in the works.
After working on a watercolor version of the two objects, I decided to do some more painting on a little oil study I made on paper. I made dramatic changes to the fish vase, and sometime soon I’ll have to work on the frog tea pot also.
All these recent pictures are studies for a painting — a large still life — that’s in the works.
Here’s a detail of the fish’s face and a similar passage from today’s watercolor.
I worked some more on today’s “morning coffee drawing. While the features are a little lopsided, the frog and flowers appear on the frog tea pot’s surfaces. And the fish vase gets darker. And I begin thinking about the pattern on the cloth a little. I posted an earlier version of the drawing already — the “morning coffee part.” Coffee was long over as I continued working on this watercolor into the afternoon.
I’m getting well acquainted with my still life objects.
I like looking at the accidental features of the watercolor marks in details such as these. And they suggest ideas for ways of portraying these objects in the large oil painting for which this watercolor is a study.
I think I might switch now to the oil study I began for the painting, and work more on the fish vase and frog tea pot in it — let some of the watercolor ideas spill into the oil study. This is how I left the oil study. Clearly there’s plenty more things that I can do with it.
I like switching back and forth between media, letting each one suggest things peculiar to its material character.
I made a first drawing of the lion’s head. It’s a decoration on a vase in the picture. And the lion’s head has deep, echoing meanings for me. I dreamt about a path guarded by lion statues once, eons ago. And of course everyone’s favorite artist Johannes Vermeer has lion’s head finials in two of his paintings.
The lion vase is one feature of the painting that I’m joyfully anticipating. I will think my way through it many times, in various drawings. I merely whet my appetite here.
Today’s morning coffee drawing is a watercolor. I don’t know whether I’ll work on it more today or not. I drank all the coffee, and I need to begin today’s session with the big painting for which this is another practice.
Before I began the watercolor, I drew the two things a little in a notebook where many of the ideas for the painting develop.
I am redrawing the same features again and again. It’s like music that I’m striving to learn. The objects are the music.
In a careless drawing like the one above, you can really think aloud. The contour of the green fish vase goes right through the frog tea pot. And the tea pot’s spout was originally about a half inch to the left. I simply put the lines down where they seem to go. This drawing records random thoughts about lines and their positions and about passages of light and dark, though the tones don’t conform to the scene overall — that would mean too much drawing. I’d run out of ink. My wrist would be killing me!
I got the frog’s face in one of these studies. I think this is the first time the frog’s face has materialized so clearly. Hopefully everything will appear at last — in the painting for which these are the rehearsals.
I’m focused on one painting for a while, one that I’m not ready to picture here. It’s a largish still life. I make small practice paintings concerning parts of it. The picture of two bottles on a varicolored cloth is one such example. I brushed this together quickly and so far it provides just a kind of rehearsal for the forms. But I plan also to use some of these studies to test out color and drawing ideas before I try them in the actual painting. That way if something clearly isn’t effective, I’ll know. Hence more stuff needs to be added to this little pochade for its experiment to be complete.
I like the breezy, sketched appearance of this little study. But when it dries I will begin indicating the pattern on the cloth. During that phase, who knows but I might completely wreak this picture. Or not. I’ll find out. In any case it’s practice so it’s role is to provide me with information.
It’s a bunch of fun to paint. A lark. I love little things like this. It’s 9 x 12 on Arches oil paper.