Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reasons Not to Post

Today is February 27th, and this is the longest gap between posts that I can remember. So, I'll follow it up with the longest post ever (in three parts) to overcome my posting withdrawal (and hopefully yours).

Then again, you can skip to Parts II and III - they're shorter, and fun. Or you can just look at the pictures. There are three - two drawings and one photo - around and beyond all those darn words.


Despite the gap in posting, I haven't stopped drawing and painting. And my hunger to do art still exists. In fact, I am famished. This time, though, the meal was me.

Raena said recently that she is following my advice of a long time ago: quantity, not quality. But that's not the whole of the advice, exactly. At least I don't think so.

I told her of an anecdote in a great book, "Art & Fear", by David Bayles and Ted Orland, about a ceramics teacher that divided his class into two groups. One group was to be graded on the quantity of their work, and the other on the quality. On the last day of class he would weigh all of the pots of the quantity group to determine the grade. The quality group would only have to produce "one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an 'A'."

Who made the best pots? The quantity group. They were learning from their mistakes each time, whereas the quality group, as the authors described it, "had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

[If you're tingling with excitement right now because you love discussions like this, visit Katharine Cartwright's blog, who dishes this out virtually every day.]

So I, like Raena, have been following this example. I draw or paint in every spare moment. I have many things going. As Wil says, "when I'm sitting I'm drawing." But I don't believe that quality is ever far from any of our minds. I, for one, would like for each drawing or painting to be a masterpiece, but of course it won't be. And I'd like a nice easy upward linear transition to excellence, and it's not like that either.

I don't think the "quantity" potters would have learned from their mistakes if they were not also concerned with quality, do you?

I drew the above band in my new Moleskine at the Coconut Grove Arts Festival on a beautiful day a few weekends ago (my apologies to Diahn who's been weather-oppressed). I drew in pencil for a change. It was great fun. At one point a gentleman, who was videoing the event, panned his camera over my drawing. What a hoot!

Then came the painting. I worked in layers of light washes, building up the musicians, but the paper seemed to suck up each layer and seep the life right out of them. I even compared the book to my old Moleskine to see if the paper was the same. It was. I have no idea why the painting remained so light with successive washes. My color choices, perhaps. Maybe the colors were too diluted.

This was just a Moleskine page. One 3" x 5" page. But I was obsessed with getting it right. It was as though the plankton had swallowed the whale. I was going to finish.

Then I painted the vegetation in the sign behind them. Suddenly the color of the sign was so strong that it overpowered the musicians. So I had to dampen it back with a wet cotton ball and with some lifting with a brush, which, to my relief, worked. But then, of course, the page was insipid again.

This picture remained in its gangly adolescence during virtually the whole process. Finally when I began doing the boxes and shapes in the back, I was able to play a little with color and shapes - almost creating an abstract - and the little picture seemed to come together.

Then I went to scan it. And the scan changed the colors a bit (as they tend to do). And made the picture a bit more lively. The value contrasts were better. I liked the scan better than my art! And I began to think, I can change that, and I felt myself being sucked in once again. But then this post would never have been done, would it? So I'll probably try another time.


Sometimes art is frustrating, but that's okay. Because on the page, I am a god, though in an ancient Roman or Greek sense, I think - all-powerful, though vulnerable.

At the art festival, I drew this old guy in pencil. He was stretched out on the lawn in an odd position, reading the paper. He didn't look to comfortable to me, but eminently drawable. And he had a backpack at his feet, like a 20-year-old.

I painted him in drybrush. As I understand it, drybrush is done by thoroughly covering the brush with watercolor, and then squeezing the water out. This is my first attempt. It seems that with more pigment and less water, the colors are more vivid. Also it seems good for detail work. I think it would work well for details over watercolor washes as well.

Then I decided to paint a loose wash around him: the green grass below, and the blue sky above. Both washes came out fine, but I did not like the way I had shaped the curve of the sky above. I couldn't post that. But, of course, I am a god. So I made the sky into mountains. But the mountains also displeased me. I didn't want to post them. So I turned the mountains into a wall. And had to add a window. More delay, but that's okay. I am a god. On paper, anyway.


If you are ever frustrated with your art this is what you can do: grab a square of toilet paper, and then draw on it - maybe the view from above of a person diving, or a fish, or something else suitable - and toss it in the toilet bowl just so, and then flush. This is - take my word for it - great fun.

Or you can just take a shadow shot, for Shadow Shot Sunday:

Monday, February 15, 2010

We Must Dance, You and I

I drew the girl on the left in July of last year. After that, I went every so often (over a matter of months) to the same Quiznos restaurant where the drawing was done. When I could, I would sit at the very same table, and paint on location. [The manager now greets me as a co-conspirator. He smiles and asks, "So who are you going to draw today?"]

In those days, I painted using a Koi watercolor brush set with nine colors. I never finished though. I'd painted all but the girl. So this weekend I painted the girl with my Winsor & Newton paints and a traditional brush.

More recently, I drew and painted the picture below, with a similar color scheme.

We take steps forward, and we take steps back. Learning to paint is nothing, if it is not a dance.

In this instance, while I appreciate some aspects of these sketches, there is so much I would like to do better. That's the way it should be, I guess.

This weekend I attempted to paint wildflowers for Valentine's Day. This, as you probably know, is not my usual thing. Suffice it to say that the weeds took over the field. Then they reached out from the paper, as weeds will do, and finished me off.

The weeds strangled me.

My final thoughts were these: It's happened again! I've forgotten how to paint! I never knew how to paint! I only know how to color! I should use crayons!!

I have since recovered with, by the way, a newfound respect for those who do that sort of thing. And I will try again.

In any event, my computer has H1N1 or some other virus, and I am sending it away for repairs. So I missed Shadow Shot Sunday, and Valentine's Day too. Today I am posting with another computer.

So belatedly I offer one rustic rose for the occasion.

Take it.

Place it between your teeth, and dance. Take one step forward and one step back, as all artists do.

And when you do, although math would seem to contradict, you will not be in the same place as before.

I was at an art show today. One artist offered this advice: "Stick with it."

And I will.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Poor Stepchild

In my poor stepchild of a Moleskine - the one that doesn't take watercolor - I sketch, I experiment, and I play. The exploding mandala, of a couple posts back, was in there, and much crazier stuff too that won't see the light of day. On some pages I literally just scribble (with style). On one page, I create faces from imagination to find out what comes to me without actually looking at a person - to check what I know automatically. Raena was doing this on her blog the other day.

It is necessary for growth to do the rough and ready that no one will ever see, I think. But here's a peek inside. You can pretend that the rest of the stuff in there is just like these.

I'd like that.

I usually don't carry this other moleskine with me, but one day I found myself sitting in a waiting room for some time and drew the bamboo plant on the right.

One thing that I've been doing, and plan to do more of, is to copy sketches of other artists. This is in the hope that I might divine what they are doing, and learn something for myself. I was delighted to find out that Nancy has been doing the same thing, though much more methodically. Great minds think alike, eh, Nancy? Anyway, I didn't spend any real time doing these, I tried to sketch quickly but follow the lines of the artists themselves - to get a feel how they would do it. I wasn't worried about being exactly correct, and that is good because they are not.

My copy of a the sketch of a little girl by Jean-Antoine Watteau is on the right. He drew his version in the 1700's. Amazing how we must learn again what people already knew so well, so long ago, before we can progress.

I've been quite impressed with everything about Andrew Wyeth's Helga drawings and paintings. I copied some of his sketches too.

These are copies of his sketches that are in the book Andrew Wyeth, The Helga Pictures (1987), by John Wilmerding, which is a picture book, mostly. His sketches, his watercolors, and his drybrush are phenomenal.

On the left I drew the arm twice, because I hadn't captured the subtle turns in the line the first time. I can do anything in this book!

This other Moleskine is almost full, and there was a time that I wondered whether I would ever buy another, with its thick yellow pages, useless for watercolors. But I will, because in it I can be free! And there is no end to what you can do with such a book (just plug the words Moleskine Detour in the search at Youtube and you will see what I mean.)

So adopt a poor stepchild. The reward will be yours.