Notwithstanding that “why ask why” is a good adage, I still wonder to myself why I am fixated on flowers in vases. There are probably lots of reasons. I find one reason in a doodle, tucked in a pocket notebook, a drawing made during an anonymous day of a remote past. With lines that stretch upwards, a vase like a person who just stands there, the flowers having arms, lift them in a bodily gesture. All the things artists paint have stories or meanings tucked away inside them. Here the vase is like a being. The flowers that expand from its top are like arms that stretch out. Everytime I have drawn trees I’ve understood them that way too — as beings like human presences, their branches like arms.
I was a tree hugger avant la lettre. And am a flower hugger too.
Here is the same vase of flowers of my many nocturnal and diurnal repetitions, drawn larger this time, 18 x 24 inches, in pencil. Each time I draw this motif I notice something different about it, and by the motif I refer to the entire scene. I have spent so much attention on the flowers — because in a picture with a vase of flowers you almost have to — and yet I’m not sure if it isn’t really the cloth behind the vase, the patterns on the cloth and the two other objects, the creamer and the rice bowl that interest me more than the flowers.
Indeed, I think what interests me most when I look at the still life itself is some quality about the whole, particularly the way light crosses all the objects. When you redraw something over and over, you are in a process of discovering what it is. I am not really interested in these objects as much as I am intrigued by gravity weighing down the cloth and light moving through the space. And I haven’t captured either of those qualities yet. So though I’ve drawn it a lot, its substance has still eluded me.
“Il faut refaire la meme choses dix fois cents fois,” as Degas said: You must redraw the same thing ten times, a hundred times. Or as a Spanish friend translates for me, “Necesitas re-dibujar la misma cosa diez veces, cien veces.” Italian anyone?
I have succeeded in my goal of drawing without thinking, hence I have to remind myself where the shadows fell in the night still life so that I can tell the night still life from the daylight version. Having done that mental math, I can vouch for this being one of the drawings I made late last night. Had I the stamina to take the drawing as deep into shadow as I actually saw it, it would be a dense mass of lines for the late night lighting was spare. That would be a moody drawing. Got to do that some insomnious night.
But these drawings I made last night were little caprices to help me learn the forms of the still life as well as to ward off sleep. Sometimes you just want to stay awake a while longer. When the drawing is going well, I am reluctant to sleep. Just a few more lines ….
Go down that path far enough and perhaps the pen records your dreams …?
This is not a morning coffee drawing. This is a tea drawing. I ran out of coffee (gotta get some). I don’t know if there’s a discernible difference between coffee and tea drawings. Others will have to judge. I can vouch that there’s a difference felt in drinking the beverages. Tea is gently pleasant in contrast to coffee’s fine “wow.” Tea certainly wakes you up more slowly and meditatively.
The pen had a mind of its own and left dots of ink hither and thither adding an interesting and unintended effect. Sometimes you have to go with the flow of gravity. The materials are what they are, and I have learned over years not merely to respect them, but to love them. Particularly, I love the material if it’s a blue ball point pen.