in the middle of things

yellow still life aug 21 whole 2

The last few days I’ve been working on a large still life painting.  It’s in the in-between state — a kind of messy place where some elements seem well realized and other features are inchoate.  I seem to have settled on colors and positions but I’m not sure they won’t change.

It’s a new way of painting for me because usually I’m working from a motif that I can look at whereas in this painting I am working from drawings, from direct observation of some of the objects in isolation and from old photographs taken at different angles from the motif I’m painting.

And I’m working from an idea, too, of wanting to emulate Bonnard my hero while also wanting to do my own thing.

The painting has a ton of texture.

yellow still life aug 21 detailI like doing new things.  Not sure where this one’s going, but the journey pulls me along.  I work on one section at a time.

yellow still life aug 21 detail 2

There’s so much stuff that it’s like working on several paintings within the painting.

yellow still life aug 21 detail 3

Some of it doesn’t quite make sense, so for instance, I’m not sure what to think about my out-of-kilter stacked boxes.  That’s one of the Bonnard quotes.  If you let the perspective drift — “just because” — because Bonnard did, what will that mean?  What does it mean in Bonnard’s painting? I don’t know.

I’m not expressing myself well.  I think it’s because I really don’t know where any of the picture is going.  It’s a strange mental place in which to be.  I don’t mind it, though, not at all.

Indeed, it feels like I’m learning something about painting that I’ve wanted for a long time to explore.

I feel like a painting tourist.  I’ll be content to walk around inside the picture’s world and gawk!

It will be interesting for me to look back at this post and compare wherever the painting ended up going with what it was like here in the middle.

Time travel

While I was at my mom’s house I found an old painting from long ago stashed away.  I am part squirrel — I hide things from myself that I retrieve later in the form of little surprises.  About thirty years ago I made this small painting of a tea set as a study in whites.  And is that a little proto-koi-pond in the background?

Teapot’s encore

teapot-again

I was thinking about how I used to  get so lost in looking at objects when I first started drawing, many years ago in my youth.  I did not then always start in a logical place.  Sometimes I just started with the first sensation of color or line that caught my attention. 

Sometimes my drawings were way out of proportion when I did not consider the whole object but instead fastened my gaze on one part — and then jumped to the next part that caught my notice — and then the next — and so on, like a grasshopper holding a crayon.

I was thinking this morning how delightful it would be to draw that way again.  To go where delight leads and let the lines fall where they may.

Naturally with my teapot sitting right there, it became the star of my rejuvenated experiment.
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And then there’s tea

A certain kind of drawing is fast and free.  If you were trying to think out loud about something, you wouldn’t worry about eloquence.  And in a certain kind of drawing you don’t worry about eloquence either. 

It’s like writing a “to do” list for yourself.  It’s like quick catching a first impression.  It’s a form of play.  You create your own coloring book drawing, rapid-fire lines that you fill with color — or that you leave empty — it doesn’t matter.

It’s like mumbling to yourself.  Hmm … this goes over here.  This goes over there ….

It’s really not a big deal.  That’s a kind of drawing, too.  I drew this tea pot as casually as I would drink the tea.

[Top of the post:  Tea pot and Cup, by Aletha Kuschan, pencil and watercolor]

Time Travel

If you copy something in order to learn to draw, it’s best to copy something by a great artist, for the great artist has more ideas and better ones than a lesser artist.  So you’ll learn more.  We tend to think that visual materials render transparent representations of things, as though the artist just presents what is there.  But it is, in fact, visual ideas that the artist creates.  They are ideas about appearances and of course they vary tremendously from artist to artist and from culture to culture.  Edgas Degas expressed it well in saying that “drawing is not form, but a way of seeing form.”

Copying a drawing is like doing a brief apprenticeship with its author.  He tells you what he noticed and what he ignored.  What he noticed is the drawing itself.  What he ignored you have to figure out for yourself by comparing his drawing with life.  Engaging in a conversation of this sort means being able to choose your teacher from any artist that ever lived — so long as you have access to his or her images!

I copied Matisse’s 1901 painting La Coiffure in a sketch book while visiting the National Gallery of Art.  It’s not the first time I’ve done so.  One earlier occasion I was visiting the gallery, plodding along a bit sleep deprived from a late night the night previous.  Sitting before Matisse’s picture I just relaxed and gazed admiringly at it.  The afternoon was growing late. I had to go.  But some impulse prompted me to make a fast drawing — just 5 minutes, I told myself.  So I began to draw with a pencil in a little notebook.  And then — amazing thing — it was as though someone were shining a flashlight beam at the painting upon each contour where I drew.  As I copied the line, my brain lit up that part of the painting. 

I was perfectly sober.  I’m a tea loving, tea totaler.  Sleep deprivation can have its own intoxicating effects.  But I want to give some credit to the pencil and my hurry, also.  And to Matisse, of course.  And to an over-worked, but grateful imagination.

[Top of the post:  Copy after Matisse by Aletha Kuschan, crayon on paper]