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:


  1. Wow! Flushable Art! What a great concept. Maybe you could do an installation and have several functioning toilets in the middle of a room with some drawing tables juxtaposed with large quantities of toilet paper (No Charmin! - industrial strength only) and soft point markers. Using strategically placed graphics with explanations elaborating on the importance of art, invite visitors to partake and flush. All work must be flushed (including masterpieces), none can get passed the security guards at the exit. All would be on video and well documented with close-ups of each work and ensuing flush!

  2. Dan- Yet another delightful, creative, lively, funny, interesting post!! Did I mention how much I enjoyed reading and viewing? Aside from your fantastic ability to render scenes from your live observations- you are a remarkable writer- talented- I like that about you. I always feel as if I'm sitting right next to you listening to how your day went- smiling, laughing, feeling. Yes that's it- feeling. And have you ever noticed how every photograph you post is so thoughtful, yet seemingly not composed, yet very much composed- how I always look twice or thrice at EVERYTHING? And you know you are in the presence of an artist when their entire being is creative- that's you. Oh- and I hope when I'm old I'll be drawn reading a newspaper with a backpack at my feet. And I hope when I paint- I'll learn how to change the sky to a mountain to a wall with a window- just like Dan the god. Oh- and you and Stan should take the flushable art concept on the road- really.

  3. The building sure creates some unique shadows. Good job!

  4. great post--fun to read. I like how much you are enjoying this journey. Despite all the ups and downs of engaging in artistic endeavors--I know you couldn't do anything else. Sometimes I think the visual artist is chosen somehow..because it is as if they can't escape it. Good paintings!

  5. Haha, I didn't know somebody else is doing "toilet paper art" (also great sometimes: write to or draw the person you're really mad at - and flush ;) )
    I like your drawings as well as your post! I really can't see anything frustrating in your beautiful work, but of course I can perfectly FEEL and relate to what you mean...
    Also, I second your "quantity vs quality" approach. I try to draw or doodle around as much as possible too. I think it was a quote in one of Danny Gregory's books when somebody said that everybody has a million bad drawings inside them - and the sooner one gets them out the better.
    Anyway, basically, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your real life drawings - the band, the girl in the restaurant... They're just great!

  6. Another great post - interesting and encouraging. Many thanks.

  7. That book is excellent isn't it? I have often found that my work gets worse before it gets better - it's as if the new learning I have turns everything I thought I knew upside down for a while, then sooner or later it gets integrated and I realise I have progressed.

  8. Sometimes that darn Moleskine paper gets in the way of our perfect artistic vision! Nothing like bad paper to prevent the perfect painting.

    On your first painting, remember the advice you just gave about the two groups - quantity over quality. Don't fret and re-do the band painting, trying to perfect it. Just take what you learned from it and moved onto something else. My motto, particularly when I don't like how something turned out, is "NEXT!!!". It's a motto some of us art buddies have adopted. But good for you for sticking to it and not giving up!

    Glad you are still creating art daily, even if real life is preventing you from posting it!

  9. Quantity-a great reminder. Now flusable art-love it!

  10. I enjoyed "Art and Fear" too. Lots to think about while we take this journey. And thanks for the links, some cool sites to check out. I like your watercolors so much and the fact that you are doing these from life. I think something would be wrong if we didn't get frustrated with our work from time to time, it's just the way we grow as artists.

  11. Oh definitely have to agree, quality is always lingering in the mind!! Just don't get frozen, afraid to put down the first line because it has to be perfect! My interpretation of it is to--just go for it! As long as you are doing!

    On the paper, sometimes the sizing isn't consistent from batch to batch. So, don't think your crazy there! I've even heard that some moleskine sketchbooks are less yellow than others. Which is a bummer because mine is very yellow and I dislike that!

    I really enjoyed your musings and your art! I think you've been wonderfully adaptive, god-like. So glad you posted, been missing you!

    PS. I am fairly ambidextrous too! When I bowl I change hands as my wrists get tired! It drives people nuts! I can do a lot with my right hand, I've just never reached out and grabbed a pencil, unintentionally with my right!

  12. great post there, nice story and the paintins r so beautiful and sensible x) nice job

  13. I, along with everyone else, have missed your blog, too. I love reading about your struggles, they are so much like mine. The flushable art reminds me of my husband who also paints, he makes what he calls "garage art", not quite good enough for the house but wonderfully decorative in the garage.

  14. Great anecote about the pots and an inspirational post. Now where did I put that toilet paper..!?

  15. Packed with emotions and wonderful experience in this post Dan. The way things revolve around you and the way you express them is phenomenal which defines the whole idea of being an artist. :)
    It's just so typically you, and that's why we all keep coming back to your site.
    Thank you Dan for your comments.

  16. Thanks for taking the time to post and share your art travels and trials. It is so encouraging to learn that others who are very talented (like you) have their struggles too. Good art.

  17. Funny how paintings and drawings can take on a life of their own and just insist on being what they want to be. I loved your post and your paintings! It's always a great time visiting your blog. nancy

  18. An interesting and funny post, you have the talent of capturing attention. Quantity over quality is something I hadn't really thought about, but I do know my art improves the more I sketch and I've learnt the most from the pieces that ended up 'unfinished' or in the bin!

  19. Well, it may have been a while but at least we got a good post when you did do it! Always insightful, always creative and always full of info. Love the pics, but especially the band! Love the body positions and it just feels like it ought to feel. Does that make any sense? It does to me! But now that I look at him again, I like that old guy too.
    Hope that quantity means we get to see even more!
    Great photo again!

  20. Hi, Dan. You are a true storyteller. Your transparency and humor serve you well, in both writing and sketching. I love your paintings because they are often a scene from everyday life, a story in the making. I wonder what the people were thinking and feeling at that very moment...they're so alive! Same with your writing. Except that YOU are the person in that particular painting. I'm glad that you write, sketch, paint, and most of all, that you share it with us.

  21. Thanks for stopping by my EDM 259 and cat sketches post. Don't feel bad about not posting.... just keep drawing! I have the same problem, I was thinking it would be more realistic for me to post 10 things 3 x a month?? I love Wyeth's drawings too! Your Watteu sketch is lovely and the bamboo!
    Continued success!

  22. Hi Dan,

    Great post. I have learned to believe in quality, but it took me years to discover it. We had a nasty storm which kept me hunkered down and the result is a pile of "sketchy" ink and watercolor drawings that will never see the light of day (or my blog). I learned from and really enjoyed the process. It all about the journey.

  23. I've been reading and enjoying several of your posts. I love your sense of humor and I especially like your musician paintings and the old guy with the backpack. I feel re-inspired and encouraged. Thank you! :)

  24. Your drawings and your words are interesting. I enjoyed the post.

  25. Very inspiring post - and it came aong just when I needed it! Thanks, Dan.

  26. Thank you again Dan for your comment and generous compliments. I've never really done pure color pencils drawing/sketches before, most of the times I just mix colors around to get the effects that I thought would look good. :) I am glad this one turned out alright.

  27. Nice post Dan!!!!
    I admire your sketch of the band -- so well done-- looks like you caught them in mid-song-- not easy to do!
    I'm in the middle of reading that book "Art and Fear". I found the ceramic class experiment very interesting!!!!
    Keep sketching! you're a delight!

  28. Dan--new art---Dan---new art----Dan---new art!

  29. Well, I am commenting after my next post, and Celeste has stopped chanting, but I could not let this go. I so appreciate all of your heartfelt comments. I am surprised that some of you were inspired, and glad. I'm very happy that you all could relate to what I was saying. And thank you also for the advice. Celeste - it's true, I feel as if I must do this. At times it becomes a true distraction from my obligations. I like the way you put it. Krista - thank you for your advice and motto. I will adopt it as my own!

  30. If you like thinking about what Gods do (in a humorous way) Check out "Love is Money" by Richard Condon. Although he wrote Manchurian Candidate (for which he is perhaps justifiably better known), I like this one as what it says about people, their beliefs and guarantees is more accessible to me. It's available used in the usual places... but alas, I couldn't find an online summary. It's about Greek Gods starting Insurance companies and scame. You know how those Greek Gods were!!