You can aim the camera in some random direction and encounter some intriguing possibility for painting. Or you could just aim your eyes or even your mind, your imagination, your memories, I suppose!
This photo sneaks in a view of my favorite still life cloth.
When you look at the details of a picture, you see how its illusion is created. The image above is a detail of one section of the flower bouquet. It zooms in on the flower patterns of the cloth that’s piled up against the vase of flowers. From this vantage, much of the expression of three dimensions is lost to sight. The shadows and the lights appear to exist on the same plane. In the detail, one realizes how much the third dimension of this particular drawing was created by the motif as a whole since without the whole motif we cannot see distinctions of figure and ground.
These “textile” flowers are as impressionistic as were the “real” flowers in the vase. Both are abstractions: shapes that appear in masses whose details consist of lines, hatchings and scribbles. So, for instance I began some of the flowers of the textile’s pattern as rough, smeared shapes of red crayon. And afterwards I went back into that red with lighter or darker shades to begin the process of imitating the tonal differences within the flower. The irony is that is so doing one makes a “picture of a picture” since another artist designed the textile that I use in my still life.
The character of the drawing materials is hard to conceal, and I made no effort to hide it. The visibility of the drawing is what attracts me to the use of crayons. But it makes the illusion of the subject harder to achieve. The tonal qualities of light passing over objects — the light and shadow of the cloth and its folds, or the diffusion of light around the contours of the vase, or the contrasts of light and shade amid the masses of flowers and leaves — all these effects have to be created through either hatchings or smudges and are refined by careful positioning of light or dark or warm or cool tones.
The visual qualities that pass before your eyes, the numbers of choices available to sight, are staggering in potential complexity. From among all these possibilities one chooses a path that is your rendering of the picture.
It’s as though you confront a vast field thick with flowers and wild plants. You see a prospect you want to reach, and you ponder what direction to take through the brush to reach your destination. If you follow something you learned from an old master, it’s as if you have found a path that you can walk for a distance. And when that path wears away and returns to the full wilderness of the meadow, from that point onwards you must walk your own path.
And this fact is not a difficulty. It is freedom.
When I found a blue compotier at a second hand store I felt as though perhaps I might bump into Bonnard in the next aisle. It’s not often that buying glassware feels like fate, but then most people buy a compotier to use rather than to paint.
While I am doing koi pictures, I post other things and this image is another where I discover that the subject matter has elements in common with the fish I paint now. The cloth on this table is one that I’ve loved ever since I first saw it, and it reappears time and again in my pictures. Perhaps it is not odd then that its big roses spiral in waves of floral pattern like my koi in the water. My koi are roses swimming in water. And my roses are koi dancing across a table cloth.
Sometimes it seems that one repaints the same picture over and over in many disguises.
[Top of the post: Floral Still life, by Aletha Kuschan, oil on paper]