seeking order, finding order

My studio is small and it’s such a mess.


I straighten it out periodically, but it quickly becomes chaotic again. The chaos almost never interferes with my working, but it does interfere with my being able to move projects forward smoothly. I have pictures that I literally forgot I did. They still need work, but hidden behind something else, they slip down the memory hole.

The koi painting above is one little painting that’s not sliding down the hole. I wrote a post about how I was finishing it, and indeed it’s gotten some more work (which continual rain prevents me from illustrating in a photo … I will have to show its progress another time). A new goal of mine is to find ways to organize projects more efficiently.

detail of one fish that got some more attention

When I was learning art, the business world and the art world were assumed to be in strong opposition — almost like a war. To learn things from business was supposed to be very bad. (It corrupted your soul, made you a “sell out,” meant you weren’t using your feelings, etc.) But the books I read about business, in sharp contrast to the stereotype, make me wonder whether business people aren’t perhaps more creative than artists are. Some of the books have marvelous ideas and such spirit of daring-do.  The business environment is constantly changing and business people have to respond constantly to the challenge that change brings.

My art is always changing too. For a different reason.  I just can’t sit still. I’m not someone who likes to keep doing the same thing. But the restlessness also makes it easy to set projects aside before they’re complete. So I’m looking now at measures I can take to remind myself to return to projects, to keep them in a healthy rotation, to enjoy the variety without having pictures fall through the cracks.


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This is a huge drawing, measuring about 50 inches across. And I have forgotten it even exists more than once. Then I rediscover it behind other works. Happily it is finished.


Keeping a diary and writing a blog are two things that I find helpful. Putting plans into words makes a plan more definite than just thinking about it. When I reread my diaries I’m often surprised to learn that I had written about something before I did it because sometimes I forget that I had once envisioned it as a plan, as a far off “what if.” When at last I begin working on a project, it can seem like the idea just popped into my head. The earlier bit of writing, like the big drawing behind the canvases, can seem to have disappeared. What began as vague longing, what was rendered into prose, hidden in a diary, has finally remerged in a form that seems like a brand new idea!  Oh, the vagaries of forgetfulness! The version I wrote has been forgotten, too.  As you can see, there’s a lot of forgetting taking place. In retrospect, I believe that writing the thing down helped to cement its place in thought — even though I forgot having written it down! How can that be?

One can forget and remember at the same time because different parts of the brain are doing the forgetting and the remembering respectively.

I had a family member with dementia. Dementia is a complicated condition and can be as variable as the people it affects. Its appearance also offers hints about how the mind works when the mind is healthy. My family member lost short term memory and couldn’t consciously recall things very well when they were new experiences. I had given her a picture of my daughter, for instance, and she lost it. I was trying to help her find it while she was looking, while she was sorting through piles of stuff. It seemed hopeless so I said, “Well, it’s okay. Here’s another copy of the photo. Where do you want me to put it?”

She said, “Put it over there.” And when I was about to place it in that spot — well, you can guess what I found, the missing photograph.

Part of her mind still knew exactly where it was. Part of her mind didn’t know. The same thing can happen to us in health, too.

Our minds operate in ways that we cannot observe. I guess I take it on trust now that narrating ideas to myself in a diary will help advance some of the ideas I want to pursue. Usually you can’t do all the subjects that you think you’d find interesting. There just isn’t enough time. Somehow the ideas also get sifted and the things that you really want to do rise up to the surface. Other plans fall away.

Anyway, I read books on business now because the creativity of business solutions gives me ideas that I can apply to my work. And I’m trying to find out how I can make a more effective use of my calendar to move my paintings along to completion faster and to keep track of things in the midst of all the visual juggling and all the juggling of life’s chores that one must always do.


a glorious procession of days


Outdoors, drawing ideas about the garden, some of which might make it into a painting — or not. But my eyes see the color and the brain has got to be learning something. So some of it will seep into a little landscape I began this week, my little pochade of the backyard.

Huysum our new dog snuck into the drawing, having found himself a piece of wood to chew. He’s still a puppy and has all those little shark teeth itching his gums as the big dog teeth begin to poke through.


A new dog, a pencil and notebook page, a glorious spring day all conspire toward making the heart glad. I’m the day’s stenographer, swimming through time, in this little patch of earth, here to follow the angles of shadow on buckets and barrels and the sinuous lines of the squirmy puppy in the bright light.


Bold Drawing, heavens!

flowers pastelHeavens! (As Lady Mary would say).  Isn’t it obvious that an artist should develop his skill to the best of his ability.  (Or hers.)  (Of course)  You should learn to draw to such a degree that you can draw anything. Or if it makes you too nervous to think about it that way, then just draw.

But once you develop skill, then what? What is the point of skill?  Once you know that you can draw, why shouldn’t you use that skill in a daring way?  Sometimes slowly, carefully, yes.  Sometimes drawing boldly, faster than you can think. Draw experimentally, being all “what if” about drawing.

Draw the unaccustomed view. Don’t let the left brain know, what the right hand is doing. Or the left hand. Stamp a big TOP SECRET across your mind, across your thoughts, and just see. Be all eye and hand.

Make many drawings. Take many chances. Hurry!

[Above, large fast drawing, study for a painting, pastel on Canson Mi-teintes, 19 x 24 inches]

Nature’s pace


Part of becoming an artist is learning to live in rhythm with nature.  Though human society continually urges us to “hurry, hurry,” you learn — or periodically must relearn — the walking pace of twenty-four hours, the luxurious dawdling of childhood, the slowness and thoroughness of the body when it heals, the all deliberate speed of the body as it grows. Charitably let’s assume that flustered hurry serves its own purpose but often you find that it serves not your purpose

You can allow your attention to fall where it will, notice and enjoy the first attention grabbing item of your gaze.  You can follow the edges of objects with the lines of your pencil, steering those lines as carefully as you steer a bike along its route.

The path of attention pulls you toward this, necessarily pulling you also away from that, but you can accept these distinctions without needing to justify them.  Your interests are your own business and your mind’s attention as worthwhile as the clamor of society’s claims. Once you note that your mind, your eyes, your emotion has seized upon some prize, feel free to grasp it full and carry it off for greater perusal at your leisurely pleasure.  Like a squirrel with a nut, claim it for your own. Learn as much about the elements of the world as it pleases you to do, allowing your own natural curiosity to be a good measure of what store you need, of what to hoard and what to relish.

I can do as I please

I’ve been working on a painting of a butterfly the last couple days, putting it aside today so the paint can dry.  I’ll return to it later.  When I have several projects going at once, I get the most done. I flit from one to another, like a butterfly foraging among flowers, and some of them do get neglected, but my painting, overall, benefits from the casting around for ideas that comes from doing many things.

But sometimes an idea, a thing, a desire, an ambition gets put away for a long time, gets relegated to the attic of life.  How does one retrieve it?  Do you nose around in the attic to see what you’ll find?  Just yesterday we heard the announcement of a “new” Van Gogh. How many treasures has a person got stored away inside the attic of the past?  When is the last time you looked up there?

“When a passion lies inside, unable to be expressed, it will have a strength upon its awakening that will carry one forward with a greater determination than before,” said Linda, my internet friend that I’ve never actually met. She must have been reading my mind, as well as the minds of several others.

When I first began painting in high school, I made a picture of a butterfly. It was pretty awful, but I must have had a reason for choosing the subject. And these many years distance from my beginning, a butterfly has called me back.  Soon after my youth, I learned that my motifs and my ambition were considered old fashioned.  In my twenties I was already, by the “art world’s” reckoning, a dinosaur. I didn’t care. I did as I pleased.

It turned out that I wasn’t a dinosaur, that plenty other artists wanted to paint in ways similar to what I wanted, that the directness of seeing and recording was alive, well and vigorously being practiced as I would learn decades later via the internet.

But even if life had not given me permission to do what I please, I would have done it anyway.  I did do it anyway.  I thought my own personal life mattered.  And it did!  And it does still.  So I’ll paint all the butterflies that I please ….

Thought management for artists

pencil drawing after Bonnard


You have to find out what works for you — sometimes down to the very fine detail.  Should you stay up at night and draw into the late hours?  Should you get to bed early and rise with the dawn?  Do you need coffee to get started or a very cold bottle of water?  What kinds of notebooks are appealing?  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend a day going round with a small notebook drawing random sights?

Or perhaps you do that all the time, and what you need is to choose some very complex image and work at it relentlessly.  Do you work from life?  Make drawings from memory?  Have you investigated things that artists did in history and apply them to contemporary motifs?  Do plans and schedules keep you on track?  Or are you the sort of person who needs to feel spontaneous?

Whenever something isn’t working for me, I try something else.  Sometimes I just start drawing in medias res because I’ve lost the thread of my ideas.  Then I find that just moving my hands jump starts some thought process, like a dream remembered, and I rediscover the thing hidden in my mind.

everything they told me was wrong

Everything they told me was wrong, and it’s taken me thirty years to fully appreciate this fact.  Thank goodness I never believed them.  However I did listen because you tend to hear the things that people around you are saying even when you don’t agree.  Happily I was very stubborn and so I resisted the bad advice that I got from people all these years.

Now then, I wish I could say that their advice had been completely ineffective.  If I could say that I guess I’d be superwoman — or superartist.  I heard people giving me bad advice and some of that advice did creep into my brain, and it caused me to have doubts.  So for thirty years I’m doing paintings that are not really “art” and I’m doubting myself along the way.  But I have this big stubborn streak too so I’m doing what I want to do anyway because it’s my life.  And thank goodness, I was surrounded by other stubborn people in my family.  The worst of them were far more stubborn than me — which certainly could make living with them challenging at times — but there they were teaching me daily lessons in a kind of persistence that has served me well for those times when I want to do what I want.

I did sense that that the bad advice was bad advice.  But what if I hadn’t?  What if I had believed the forecasters of doom since they said they knew what they were talking about?

The beauty is that I had something in my own heart that tugged me where I wanted to go, so that even when the false narrative was most attractive I had this other happy impulse to follow.  It teased me along the way you tease a cat with a piece of string.  Even when the sound and the motion was quiet or slight, it was compelling in that beautiful way of desire.  And that siren voice kept telling me to be the artist I wanted to be.  And I listened because it was fun to listen.

And I’m still doing that.  And it’s still fun.

Slow motion

I’m learning a valuable lesson: that it’s motion nonetheless even when it’s slow motion.  My appointments with the easel have been less routine lately because I’ve had a bunch of rather mundane chores to do, but I nibble away at various paintings and marvel that even nibbles produce ideas.  The pictures happen more slowly, but they still happen.

Sometimes a lot of change gets compressed into a small space.  I don’t know what the effects of working slowly really are, how the painting done in captured moments will differ from pictures that I could do with sustained interest, but I am painting.  I am thinking about colors and lines.  I gaze at forests in imagination and at the atmosphere.

And who can say what influence my chores have, also, upon the pictorial thoughts?  Perhaps adding a beneficent influence from wider Life?

The point is that you just keep patiently working.  And stuff — good stuff — will happen.

Fudge factors

In mathematics the fudge factor is “a quantity introduced into a calculation in order to “fudge” the results: that is, either to make them match better what happens in the real world, or to add an error margin.”  Of course, in art everything an artist does is a fudge factor.  It’s all fudge.  Is a regular fudge factory.

(Hope I’m not making anyone hungry.)

No matter how carefully an artist draws (and artists should always draw carefully), one can never draw the world the way it is.  If you drew the world as it is, your drawing would need to be one-to-one.  And that sheet of paper is just too big.

So what you leave out and what you put in matters enormously.  And half of the genius of art lies in getting stuff wrong.  We live in the land of metaphor and analogy.

Live Posting

I have been stuck in a rut lately, wondering what to do.  And just when I needed some help, wouldn’t you know it comes from a fellow blogger.  Poet Gabrielle Bryden has asked for citrus fruits and so I’m going to draw (mostly) lemons.  And this will involve some “live blogging” because I’m just now starting.  The lemons came out of the refrigerator a little while ago.  They’re sitting on a plate.  I’m getting the crayons out now.

UPDATE:  The first citrus drawing made using watercolor pencils.  I am searching for the edges of things.  Trying to find the character of these patient fruit that sit here “looking” at me.  They’re all so dignified.  Wish I could get to the essence of their gravitas.  The shadows are deepening.  Not a quality to be well captured by watercolor pencils.

With the second drawing, I’m already encountering some problems.  I have the wrong crayon box with me.  Keep forgetting that this box has run out of certain colors.  It’s “limited palette” time.  And the yellow has already smeared into the blue outline I used.  I’m never getting rid of that smear.  A small matter, this smear, but defining.  Some artists would go to great lengths to avoid a smear from the very outset while I always figure that mistakes are inevitable.  Must work it into the plan somehow.

More stuff in the picture.  But do the citruses enjoy the status that one wants.  Is this an arrangement of shapes and colors or really a citrus picture?  Not enough citrus presence…