Shifting Gears

Just a reminder that I’m using this blog much less now (doing a few reblogs and redirects from time to time) and am shifting my attention to a new blog Trace Elements. Come see what’s going on at the new blog, which you can find HERE.

On words & writing

I write like I paint. I see something, I describe it. Later when a word seems wrong I swap it out for another. The thesaurus becomes a good friend. It’s a field guide to words. Each word, like a familiar or an exotic bird, has its near relations. Follow the word and it will take you to its unique habitat of thoughts. Once you’re inside the habitat, well — there’s no telling what you’ll find. If you’re like me, you may get lost admiring the habitat’s flora and fauna and forget the original thing that was the goal of your search.

What was the question again?

Words are like colors in the artist’s palette, too. Some words are especially lovely just as some colors are keen and bright. When I find a lovely word, one whose meaning rolls out intriguing imagery or whose sounding beguiles, I just want to use it for its own marvelous sake alone. Art for art’s sake … words for words’ sake.

English is a big capacious language — in no small part because its speakers, like magpies, are always stealing. We fold the words of other languages into English, give them hearty welcome, and sometimes use them with such alacrity that they seem to be entirely our own possession. We forget that once upon a time we stole the words from someone else.

Plant words like seeds in a garden and see what sprouts. Give them the warm light of your admiration. Create a fertile soil with much reading and thinking. Even if the produce of your planting turns out to be weeds, know that those native plants are extraordinarily well adapted and hearty.

I began with a metaphor about birds. I didn’t forget. So, there’s a bird above. Exotic bird. Made of glass, “a hard, brittle substance, typically transparent or translucent.” Synonyms are few for “glass,” but it has lots of related adjectival companions: clear, transparent, crystalline, translucent, limpid, pellucid, unclouded.

The picture above is clouded rather than unclouded, but it has its glass-like elements. The water is a mirror that reflects, refracts, echoes the light falling on its moving surface. In life. Of course a picture doesn’t move. And neither do words, once you set them into place.

But thoughts move. Thoughts, restless, are constantly changing like weather. Thoughts and their words move so feel free to chase them. Never know where they’ll lead.

New path ways in the Blogging Life

I have neglected my little blog lately while I rethink my path forward.  It’s not been so much a case of “writer’s block” for I have been writing copiously in my little notebooks in that arena of my life that is strictly low tech.  But I have lacked ideas for blogging.

And I guess it shows!

And I cannot present my paintings here for a season — though there’s plenty of paintings in the archives, of course.  For reasons that I cannot quite explain, the paintings I’m doing right now need to be secret.  Koi can be shy.  And these koi need quiet at the pond, invisibility, freedom.  So I have planned to write less about painting and more about …

well, more about something or other — just as soon as I figure it out.  Meanwhile, drawing a creamer is always good for keeping yourself busy while you’re figuring.

Regular readers know that I am my stuff.  That’s me up there!  Me as a creamer… yeah, it’s kind of weird.

Making it Write

Write to yourself about why you paint.  Everyone wants an “artist’s statement” these days — I haven’t the foggiest idea why but evidently they just do.  Apply for anything and it asks you for an “artist’s statement” so apparently they are hot commodities!

As for me I say, “sit right down and write yourself a letter, and make believe it came from you.”  Tell yourself why you do what you do.  The left brain can explain the whole business to the right.  Those guys should stay in touch more — you know.  In fact, if you want to get really fancy, send yourself a Hallmark card — with the explanation, why you paint, all that.

What are you trying to achieve?  What do you want from your work? 

What I wanted above is to paint pomegranates. And then “I’ll be glad I got ’em.”

Hit it, Nat!

My Guest Spot at Gabrielle Bryden’s

As some readers have already discovered, those who popped over for a squiz, I was a guest blogger at Gabrielle Bryden’s Blog.  Gabrielle is the Australian poet I met via the confluence of Paul Squires’s poetry at Gingatao and Chinese silky chickens and hamster jealousies too complex to relate here.  Suffice it to say, I’m delighted to be featured there.  And the Koi are delighted as well.  The hamster, on the other hand, now has something new for her jealousy.

Now that my pictures are getting to be better known, I guess it’s just a matter of time.  I think I’ll sit a while and wait to see if the Museum of Modern Art calls.

Word verses Image

During my absence from my blog I did continue writing.  I’m a fanatical journal writer — so much so that I’ve begun to think of my journals as my “brain,” and I’d be hard pressed to even think if I couldn’t write a lot of my ideas down.  Writing seems like the only way of making thoughts become real.  Perhaps that’s because I’m otherwise rather badly organized and prone to forgetfulness.

Anyway, writing is so habitual for me that I’ve wondered sometimes if writing isn’t really what I should be doing instead of painting.  Then it hit me.  One reason I don’t do art when I’m “between places,” as I’ve been for over a month now, is that I always seem to need something to actually look at when I work.  I’ve never been one of those artists who doodles, or who dreams things up in imagination.  I like to have a subject of some kind sitting right in front of me.  I’m an observer.  I draw what I see.  It might be a combination of things.  It might be sometimes a real object, sometimes a photograph, sometimes a drawing that I look at and record.  But it’s always something.  I want vision to be rich, immediate, a real-time sensation from eye to brain.

So, maybe it’s time I branched out a little.  I often advise others to try new skills and get out of the comfort zone.  Here’s an instance where maybe I should take some of my own advice.

The image at the top of this post is one of a series of large paintings by American artist Jennifer Bartlett.  Given that it’s a painting of little pieces of paper with notes jotted on them, it illustrates my theme of the tug-a-war between words and images.  She attacked it pretty directly.  She did paintings of writing.  It’s from her series 24 Hours Air.

And then there’s tea

A certain kind of drawing is fast and free.  If you were trying to think out loud about something, you wouldn’t worry about eloquence.  And in a certain kind of drawing you don’t worry about eloquence either. 

It’s like writing a “to do” list for yourself.  It’s like quick catching a first impression.  It’s a form of play.  You create your own coloring book drawing, rapid-fire lines that you fill with color — or that you leave empty — it doesn’t matter.

It’s like mumbling to yourself.  Hmm … this goes over here.  This goes over there ….

It’s really not a big deal.  That’s a kind of drawing, too.  I drew this tea pot as casually as I would drink the tea.

[Top of the post:  Tea pot and Cup, by Aletha Kuschan, pencil and watercolor]

Portrait drawing

When I was working on one of the commissioned pictures I alluded to earlier, I made numerous studies of individual parts; and in the process of drawing and redrawing the face of one of the figures I was painting, I began more and more to identify with her.  She became for me like a character in a story.  As a novelist learns to watch the people in her fictional world, I began to “watch” this woman I was drawing, and I tried to figure her out. Or, like an actress learning a part, I tried to learn who she was merely by prolonged peering into her face.

I had a group of photographs to work from, and one photo was the pivotal one.  I redrew this photo several times.  And each drawing was a little different from the others.  Sometimes artists worry about the differences between what they are seeing and what they produce in their drawing.  But I liked and sought subtle differences from the photo.

The photographic image never changed, but my drawings did.  Even though they captured the general likeness of the photo, the act of drawing brought out various little bits of expression and emotion and thought.  For me, it animated her photograph.  I felt like I had drawn the woman herself — from life — rather than having just copied something static.  Looking at this, I don’t think anyone could tell she wasn’t there in front of me though she had died a decade earlier.

[Top of the post:  Study for a Portrait, by Aletha Kuschan, pencil drawing]

Est ce que Van Gogh aurait aimé bloguer?

Bien sur Van Gogh serait bloguer extraordinaire.  On pourrais dire il etait bloguer avant la lettre.

Do you think Van Gogh would have loved blogging?  Of course, Van Gogh would have been an extraordinary blogger.  One could say he was a blogger before it was hip.  [I hope that’s what I wrote up there.]

He wrote innumerable, wonderful letters to his brother and to various friends in French, Dutch and English.

Meanwhile you can find the image above and other equally wonderful ones at artlex.

UPDATE:  You can find a blog of Van Gogh Letters here.

HERE’S: a scholarly internet site with the complete letters

[Top of the post: Vincent van Gogh, Tree with Ivy in the Asylum Garden, May 1889 (Saint-Rémy), pencil, chalk, reed pen, and brown ink on Ingres paper, 24 x 18 1/4 inches (61 x 47 cm), Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam, F 1532.]