a sky inside

100_1810 (2)

The color blue lights up the still life table.  It used to be yellow.  Now it’s blue.  It’s good to change things around.  It feels like new beginnings. It alters the whole mood of the room.

I love being able to move things around, to change all the colors, to seem to invent moods just by shifting some colors around.  I brought the sky inside.

apprendre le français

100_1817 (2)

The other book on the still life table is the French dictionary.  Because Monsieur Bonnard (mon professeur de peinture) said if I want to talk to him, I had better learn to speak his language.

He’s very strict.  (You’d never guess it from the paintings.)

light, roses, sources

101_1298 (3)

Still life stuff lying about is always there proposing ideas.  The light itself is an idea — the best idea and the hardest to manage — when it comes to whatever it is that you’re supposed to do with it.  With even fake flowers nature is still there — because of the light.  And your mind looking at it — that’s nature too.

watercolor & me

Seeing other artists’ watercolors


puts me into a watercolor mood — that and the late springtime heat.  I would love to dive into the pond with the koi. I’d also love to paint in watercolor again.  I need to clean the studio (again). The watercolor palette is buried somewhere under the pile of things. I need an archeologist to help me excavate!

Here’s a detail.


These are more things that I found by visiting my facebook page to hunt down the owl.  See, what you find when you go looking for an owl!

incremental change

Think about creating a walkway in a garden,


a path made with pebbles. Instead of dumping the bag of rocks into the path and pushing them around with a rake, you move them around pebble by pebble. Well, clearly I cannot do that — am not that crazy. But the changes to the picture seem like shifting pebbles around in a path.

I posted this before, and I have worked on it a little more. This is the larger version of the motif.  It’s on blue paper. The other smaller one is on brown paper.  I wonder if the changes are even visible to the spectator. More increments are necessary, I think, before the changes really take hold. I’m not ready to let this go, and yet the differences between where it is now and where it needs to be are slight.

I had posted details of the other drawing. Here are a few of the same passages from this drawing.


It corresponds to this detail from the other version (below).

101_8718 (2)

And the central portion of the large picture:


And the slightly smaller one (below):

101_8726 (2)

The one helps me think about the other.

One quality I love about pastel (both oil pastel and dry pastel) is the ease with which you can drag color over top of existing layers. The slight change in the surface, like rearranging pebbles in a garden path, makes the thing more tactile — and (somehow) seems (to me) to make it more real.

A garden scene of floating world with trees above and clouds below is not different from a herd of koi seen rushing through the water, the planes of water shifting as the koi move through. One is like the other. I often think that I am continually painting the same picture over and over, whether it is koi or landscape or flowers or something else.

DSC_0987 (2)

Why is a koi not just like a cloud?

around the pond again

Going through my drawing stash I found

101_8727 (2)

another pond. It was among a group of drawings that I started and didn’t finish.  I’m taking it up again and here it is in medias res — not as much at the beginning, but not complete either.

Something about the loopy shapes of distant trees and foliage fascinates me.  They are subjects I go after again and again. I want to have the sense of their shapes being very clear, very distinct, as though you could reach out to them and grasp them, which of course you cannot do in either a drawing or with distant trees — but it’s an imaginative gesture.

I also like the scribble as a way of indicating the randomness of nature. The scribble of thought and hand parallels Nature’s scribble of plants growing willy nilly here and there. Things are in front of other things, leaves of grass, fonds of plant, wave and meet your eye as an infinitude of layers. I like to think of the piling up of layers of pigment as a simulacrum of these things.  Chemicals imitating molecules.

Or something.

recasting the past

101_8726 (2)

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.

101_8721 (2)

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.

101_8719 (2)

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.

101_8723 (2)

Up close the passages are very abstract.

101_8718 (2)

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.

certain shapes & places

101_8706 (2)

Certain places mesmerize me. I go back to them again and again — figuratively, imaginatively.  I don’t even have to be there. Sometime about the motif, the shapes, the colors I see and the ones I imagine have a hold on me.

This drawing measures about 20 x 25 inches. It’s one of several versions of this motif that I’ve done. There’s at least four versions of different sizes. I was going through stacks of oil pastel drawings and found this one unfinished and resumed working on it. I’ll probably fiddle with it a bit more before I frame it.

The cropped horizon puts the sky on the bottom of the picture.  I’m thinking about the oval contours of the masses of foliage and the contours of clouds and the confusion where the things meet their reflections, enchanted by the world that floats on the rippled surface of water.

Juggling to the finish line

101_0284Maybe I’m a scatter brain.  But jumping back and to between one motif and another seems to work for me.  Perhaps even a scatter brain can be disciplined, though: I’ve set myself the task of finishing this little painting, this 18 x 24 inch koi painting.  I’m supposed to do it soon.

There, I’ve told the world.

I always mean to finish things and good intentions can mess you up if you’re not careful because time is not as abundant as we think.  We have enough, but I operate as though I’ve got a huge surplus.  Well, I suppose that’s better than giving myself the proverbial ulcer.

Anyway, if there’s one thing I learn by bouncing from the still life, to a model, to the koi — it’s that the page is just a page.  You put colors and lines on it.  At last, it hardly matters what the lines describe (or at least it doesn’t matter all that much to me).  So why not let yesterday’s session with the model inform today’s koi painting that needs finishing.  Yesterday’s boldness can inform today’s slower deliberation.

I’ve got a drawing of another koi too, that’s similar in format to the painting, same idea, different fish, that’s almost the same size. The drawing is made using oil pastel on a rich blue sheet of Canson mi-teintes. The paper color changes all the color relationships and shakes things up in a pleasant sort of way.


I’ve got to work more on the drawing too.  (Imagine sheepish grin here.)

It is possible to have too many things on the back burner.  Back burners in constant operation make for a messy stove.  Let’s hope that discipline can provide the cure.

Blue study still life, first thoughts

blue still life (2)

I have a still life that I set up so that I could better study the color blue.  It’s been sitting there for a while, and last night for the first time I decided to begin drawing from it.  The pastel above is the first attempt.  Objects in this drawing are a little larger than life size.  While I was working I got confused about the sizes of some of the objects relative to each other so I used passages of color to think myself through the drawing questions. Because I’m still sorting through the drawing questions, I have not really begun using it to study blue in earnest.  But the color questions as well as the drawing questions are ones that I begin thinking about with this first drawing.  It’s like reading through a new piece of music.  On the first read, you don’t worry about every note; instead you just want to get through it from beginning to end and hear how it sounds.

blue still life from memory (3).jpg

This morning while I was waiting somewhere I drew the still life from memory.  I was so proud of myself, supposing that I had remembered all the still life items.  It was only after I got home and compared the memory drawing with last night’s pastel drawing that I discovered I had forgotten the dome-shaped dark blue bottle.  How on earth did I forget it?  It’s a favorite, beloved object, one that I’ve portrayed many times.  But today in my mind as I sketched, it disappeared down the rabbit hole.

The violet colored pastel paper complicates the whole business of “studying blue,” but even when doing this as an exercise I find I want to add on other elements. And I am “studying blue” as another way of thinking about my koi paintings. And thus still life painting can sometimes help solve visual questions that pertain to other genres.