For the last three weeks I’ve been attending a life class that meets at the historic Arts Club. As I get back into the habit of drawing from a model, I’m thinking about different ways to focus the experience. Last session, though, I had no particular plan and I ended up drawing very fast, and it was a wonderful session. The model was lit by a bright studio light in the front and by cool outdoor light in the back. The outdoor light brightened as the session lengthened and I had the opportunity to observe some fabulous color effects.
I’ve approached each session so far a bit differently. And that makes sense given the differences in the models and the set up. But I think I’m developing a plan for what I want to achieve from life drawing. So next session might be a little more structured — for me — in terms of what I draw, what materials I use, and so on.
New thing. Always got to keep shaking loose the ideas. Drawing the figure is utterly different from what I’m pursuing in my regular work, so the class offers a chance to change gears.
But last session was intense. I just drew. Not much thinking about it. Indeed, for some reason I felt that I had to draw as fast as I can. So it was a bit of a race. And when it was over I was suitably tired! That’s a great feeling. I could tell that the model was getting tired as well. When he was most tired, he got a fierce look on his face that was marvelous to behold which I tried to capture. I think he was striving to hold still as his muscles were getting fatigued from the stillness. And that strife in his face …!
Well, you can’t tire someone out on purpose so just take the images that the moment gives you and draw them as well as you can!
I have been painting a lot lately so much that I haven’t had time to blog about it. And nearly all of the paintings depict flowers. The painting above measures 30 x 40 inches. After having painted so many flowers in vases on tables, I wanted to do something amorphous. The theme of amorphous arrangements is one that I’m just beginning to explore, and there will be others besides the one above. Indeed there’s an even larger painting in the works.
I still paint the flowers on table tops, of course, and one of the recent pictures is a traditional still life because I love the flat receding plane of the table top with its still life theatre.
Long time readers know that I like to paint pictures of koi swimming and this still life has a fish component, so that was fun. The painting above measures 16 x 20 inch inches so it’s small, but it’s got attitude. And what’s particularly new about these paintings is that I painted them using acrylic paint which I haven’t used in a long time. I have had such a blast using this fast drying paint. Each kind of artist material has its own peculiar charms and I like to range among the opportunities. I think particularly now that using acrylic paint is going to teach me things that I can afterwards apply profitably in oil painting.
The fish pattern paper featured in the second painting comes from a wonderful store in Old Town Alexandria called The Paper Source. It will be fun showing the store’s staff what I did with the beautiful deep blue paper I bought there — the first of the paper’s soon-to-be frequent appearances in my art.
My flower mélange is partly inspired by the store window of Caruso’s Florist at 17th and M Streets in Washington Dc where there’s a dramatic window display. I was walking in the evening in mid-September, strolling around the block a couple times because I was early for a meeting. That’s when I came upon Caruso’s store window. It was one of those great felicitous accidents of happening upon something that you had been hoping to find! When I returned to the store the next day with my camera, the store’s owner greeted me. He is just about the nicest guy you’re likely to ever meet. So, if you visit Washington DC and want to meet somebody delightful, make a straight path for Caruso’s Florist.
I have a lot of project ideas right now. Some of them are underway, others are just buzzing about in my brain. It’s been a very exciting time of full days.
In other news if you received one of the cards with a reproduction of my paintings and are a new visitor to the blog, welcome. Hope you find many things to enjoy.
My daughter and I set out for Capitol Hill yesterday in the late afternoon, she to walk and me to draw. Someone has a beautiful garden right off East Capitol Street, full of zinnias. I had noticed the flowers on a previous walk. So I tossed the old aluminum easel into the back of the pickup, assembled some oil pastels and off we went.
The mosquitoes didn’t start biting until really near twilight so I wasn’t munched too much. However I was concentrating so much on my drawing — how hard do YOU concentrate on your tasks? — that the whole bottom of my right leg was soaking wet before I realized that the gardener’s sprinkler was reaching my location. Is that concentration or what? Maybe it’s possible to concentrate a bit too much. A little less concentration and I might have avoided the soaking …
That discovery seemed like a good cue to switch motifs.
I drew the yellow ones until the mosquitoes started dining. Then it was clearly time to quit. We took a bit of a walk afterwards for exercise, my daughter and I, and I staked out some more locations to draw.
Capitol Hill residents are assiduous gardeners. There’s many lovely places to choose from — almost too many — it makes the choices harder.
These are drawings I may use in something or other, but I make them just to be outdoors drawing. I have been buying flowers for still life. And I have some lovely fake ones that I use also. Sometimes I take a flower from a photograph or an old master image. It’s fun to mix it up.
If I decide to do dog portraits, Capitol Hill residents are prosperous in that department too. While I was drawing, every manner of canine imaginable was being walked in a kind of impromptu, nightly, canine parade. That would be fun — not sure the owners would have the patience to wait for a full portrait though …
Flowers, on the other hand, are very patient.
I have an idea for a project. On one of my walks I saw a garden that reminded me of my idea, so when I could, I visited the place and made this quick sketch using oil pastel.
Actually it looks nothing like my idea, but ideas are like that — they tend to occur in your head and sometimes bear only fleeting resemblances to particular things that recall them to memory. So this drawing doesn’t look like my idea though it does bear a sketchy resemblance to the actual place I visited.
Nonetheless I trust the drawing to connect me to my idea in ways I cannot fathom. While your hand records the forms, that invisible link etches deeper into the silent mind.
I have decided to go out into the field as often as my schedule permits to make drawings that relate to ideas, ones that have been rattling around in my head. Drawing is a form of research. Even when the drawing doesn’t look like the idea there will be some kinship, some je ne sais quoi that connects to the hidden motives that had called me to the place. If I draw the locale more times, the connection might grow clearer. It was pleasant being there — having to think on my feet, experiencing all the sensations of the motif — not just its look, but the air, the sounds, the breeze, the pull of gravity, the fatigue of standing and passage of time in the changing of the light.
So these are episodes of brainstorming. I make the drawing to call back to the idea, and perhaps it will call me again in echo.
Since the Bazille show is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, I’m getting ready to study several of the beautiful flower paintings featured in the exhibit. It’s great good fortune for me that these works are visiting now because doing large flower compositions has been one of my ambitions for a long time. I knew of the early Impressionist flower compositions from books but I haven’t been able to see any of the actual paintings until now.
Above is a flower painting I did many years ago. And below is Bazille’s grande machine of flowers currently in the exhibit.
And here they are side by side (magic of the internet):
I painted the seashell and bottle together because I like the shapes of each. That’s why I bought the bottle (another of the thrift store hauls) and why I collect the seashells. I love their shapes and colors. Looking at their surfaces fascinates me. I like the color blue. I like the folds in a cloth. I like the random things that end up being the edges of the painting when you paint without a plan.
This is a little picture — only 9 x 12 inches — painted on Arches oil paper, which is a wonderful surface, enjoyable for the artist.
I began doing still lifes in a random way, choosing the object I wanted particularly to portray and letting the rest of the picture arrange itself according to the dimensions of the format, and now I love the randomness of it. The edges become a new area of exploration.
Some people climb mountains or dream astronaut dreams — I explore the edges of the painting — far more sedentary, much safer physically, but still wonderful — I assure you!
How does one express this love of the edges? Or of the spaces between things? Do you believe me when I tell you that they are marvelous territories?! And while I rhapsodize the edges, do not suppose that I oppose the middle — I like painting’s interior too.
I started with the red. Because — red! Just putting the paint down straight from the tube, I enjoy seeing it so beautiful, luminous. This is why I love painting — because color transmits wonder just in itself, even before you do anything.
I’m making a painted version of the pastel still life with flowers, the one with the red cloth. It’s one of my favorites from among the group of pastel still lifes that I did in the fall. I’m thinking that I may do painted versions of my three favorites. Time will tell. Certainly I had to paint the ruby red one.
Totally different pictures, motifs — indoors and outdoors — but the same arching canopy on the left.
Who knows what one’s brain is up to? I say, just let your brain do its thing.
When the colors are beautiful simply as colors, when it’s a silky blue and a pale green the color of early spring, I find that I like looking at the colors for themselves alone. They are their own raison d’être. Big expanses of pure color gives the artist delight, something that you hope to share with the spectator. The lines and forms of the objects build upon that foundation. I wanted the vase of flowers to rise upwards like a bold tree, a symbol of life.
I make lots of studies for pictures. This one rehearses the motif for a large painting. This crayon drawing (made with Caran d’Ache Neocolors) measures 24 x 36 inches. (The related painting measures 30 x 48 inches.)
When an artist paint things, she always hopes that others will understand the thing the way she understands it. The little seashell painting (9 x 12 inches in size) catches a mood for me (who am far from the sea) of water, waves and wind. The conch is a tropical animal and even the warmth of a faraway place comes to me when I portray the shells.
The nervous brushstrokes are the way I experience drawing the object whose forms are so incredibly lovely and complicated. I love following all the passages of color than I can manage to imitate. I am always longing to imitate all of it, everything that I see, and I don’t know if that is possible. But the longing is an end in itself. I cherish the longing that the beauty of the seashell evokes.