my favorite part of the painting so far

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Some years ago I began the painting in which this detail appears.  Now I’m reworking it.  But this detail is my favorite element, and I’m not touching it.  Some of the bare canvas appears between lines.  There’s clear acrylic so it’s not actually bare canvas, but it’s got the color and appearance of the untouched canvas.

bowl of fruits

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I’m working on another large still life.  Almost everything is inside the painting already, and yet the painting isn’t its things only; thus there’s still a lot of painting to paint.  I add colors without a plan, thinking “this might look interesting here.”

Almost everything is there and yet it still seems to have more potential than I quite know what to do with.


textures of the second kind


There are two kinds of texture in art.  Both are wonderful.  Both deserve consideration.  Sometimes both exist together.  Sometimes only one or the other is present.

There’s the texture of the things depicted:  the soft silk that looks like silk, the lemon that has a rough skin, the egg shell that seems to be brittle because it looks brittle.

Then there’s the texture of the art materials used to make the picture, and they are many. In the illustration above, a detail of one of the koi drawings, the crayon catches on the raised burr of the paper speckling the surface, creating a veil over the imagery below it.  It’s these textures of the second kind that I love to discover.  Every artists’ medium has a wonderful, special charm.

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In the detail above of a crayon drawing made after Matisse’s painting La Coiffure at the National Gallery of Art, the layers of crayon colors overlap.  Some of the paper texture breaks up passages of color.  In other areas sharp lines delineate forms and soft lines blend one passage into another.  Because the pigment can be applied in layers, warm and cool passages of color can interact with each other above and below.

In the pen drawing details above the color of the ink is a strong factor, and equally strong is the white of the paper.  In a pen drawing, sometimes what you don’t draw — the shapes of the spaces that you leave blank become dramatic effects in the drawing.  Of course the characteristic hatchings and wiggles and calligraphy of pen lines give a pen drawing its essence and its energy.


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Pencil drawing is a responsive medium for creating contours with line, for evoking texture through imitation and for creating subtle lights and darks that reveal forms — and in the case of portraits graphite provides the subtle gesture that gives way to visual expressions of emotion.

With pastel you can drag very soft passages of pigment over top of other layers, the layers can partially blend, and through these operations you can achieve very soft transitions and delicate blurry effects.

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Whatever the material, each medium has its own peculiar charms that the artist must seek out through manipulation and experiment.  Sometimes the natural textural qualities of the medium can be used to evoke the optical textures of the things depicted.  Sometimes the beauty of the material’s texture is sought as an end in itself.

Through these limited examples in my own art, I hope readers find another element of drawing that they can use to pull them closer into the magic of pictorial art.


recasting the past

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I would chide myself for not finishing things except that there’s also this upside to procrastination: I look through my stacks of drawings and rediscover them, take them up again, and complete them from the vantage point of a different place in time.  I found this drawing in a stack.  It’s 22 x 16.5 inches.  This picture depicts the same motif as one that I posted a few days ago. Everything’s a bit different in this one. Lines shake a little more. A color might be punched up a bit more. Also the paper color and texture are very different, and these differences affect everything else in the picture.

Oil pastel is a sensitive medium. You can do quite a lot of dragging color over previous colors and the combination of marks produces a dynamism.  It also allows colors to mix optically so you actually get different color effects than you would if you tried to mix the pigments into each other as you would with paint. You can see in the details that follow how textural oil pastel can be.

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I’m not using a “technique” when I do these marks. They are instead all decisions, responses to something that I’m seeing. I am drawing with the sticks and so the marks are drawing “ideas.”  For instance, in this detail there was a limb hanging out over the water and it separates from the background by its slightly brighter aspect.  I put down a light line, some marks for the leaves on the branch, and a dark line that marks the limb’s separation from the background.

It’s all abstracted and simplified in relation to the thing I’m looking at, but these are decisions.  They are specific, nonetheless. And a gazillion specific decisions adds up to lots of marking in the drawing.  And I find it really wonderful to think about the scene in these ways.  See this, put it there.  See something else, there it goes.

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It can make you feel very connected to the place. Here’s the same passage in a different orientation. I saw ripples in the water so I put down the ripples. I saw bits of lighter green so I just drag them across the darker green. The layers of pigment pile up in ways that imitate the density and confusion of light that comes from the scene.

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Up close the passages are very abstract.

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If when observing parts of the picture using a camera, they seem to be well composed, then it suggests that the process of thought going into the small elements of the picture are mimicking the compositional choices you make when you work on the whole.  The relationship between whole and part ought to be in harmony.  Any one of these details ought to seem like it’s the natural child of the parent image.

I like this version better than the one I posted a few days ago.  So, learning from the experience working on this one, I’ll return to the slightly larger format and carry it further some more too.

On the whole, I’m quite content that I never finished these when I first began them. Finishing them now is working out really well. I don’t know how exactly to use time in painting, but when events conspire toward a good outcome — I’m glad for it.

thrill of the lines

It will sound strange.  But that thrill is why one draws.  I was looking at the crystal creamer and finding myself thoroughly confused.  What with its complicated transparencies and my bi-focal befuddlements, I couldn’t tell what was where.  My drawing makes it seem simple when the real object and the real sensation is utterly mind boggling.  The crystal creamer is a labyrinth of lozenges and fond patterns.

Perhaps in other drawings I can get at the confusions and portray them.  For now I want to hold fast to the thrill of making this drawing — this drawing that I made just five minutes ago –because the ball point pen’s delicacy makes these lines, as you draw them, feel like glass.  How the medium and the object seem well suited!

I cannot say enough good things about this pen, this common dime store pen.

Life in Bits and Pieces

The beauty of materials is a good starting point in art.  It parallels the beauty of materials in life.  Look at the textures of life’s things, seen at any focal length, they are amazing.  You see the fish.  Closer in, one sees the scales.  Deeper into that, the cells.  The atoms.  The quarks … the whatnot of smallness in whatever scientific discipline has spied structure by means of an intense myopia.

Get in close to art, and you find the beauty of the drawing’s mark or the stroke of a brush.  The chalky texture of oil paint.  The luminosity of watercolor.  The spare bracing Attic logic of a pen’s pure line.

Marks are like thoughts, they pile on one upon another, coming from the unseen textures of mind. “Who has seen the wind/neither you nor I/but when the trees bow down their heads/the wind is passing by” was a nursery poem my mother read to me, but who sees thoughts except as we say them or craft them into this and that, and where do they come from?  If you want to get close to a mystery in nature, you need do no more than try following the thread of a dream back to its source.

The details of my pictures are like snap shots of the whole.  The pieces seem like echos.  I was thinking the same things, whether big or small.

The early stages of a drawing have a certain charm, too.  It’s narcissistic to gaze in this mirror, I’ll admit.  But when you go to the trouble of trying to make something, you might as well get to know the maker.  Yet I have so little clue what I’m doing as I draw, and this mystery fascinates me.  I think the artist preserves something of a child-like spirit.  They way that a small child can content herself with watching someone tie a shoelace.  (Well, it really is pretty amazing when you think about it — and children unlike us — well, they think about it.)

When you look into nature, even human nature, sometimes it looks back at you.  Kind of spooky, that!