Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Playfully Incomplete

Ink and watercolor in moleskine
A lunch at Scotty's Landing, a cafe' by the water in Coconut Grove, Florida. My son, Ian, visiting from college. So there we were, my wife, my son and I. It was the first time any of us were ever there. There was an awning above us with fans and water mist spray to keep the patrons cool. A bar behind us, and in front of us the view - the ever-changing water, the boaters sailing by, and a soft breeze blowing our way. And of course I was exciting company - this was a view I could not ignore - so I took out my pen and drew what I saw. I snapped a shot with my cell phone, but that didn't come out too well. I would figure out how to paint it later.

Then, unexpectedly, I was returning a few weeks later, this time with my in-laws, and my sister-in-law, and my wife. And my wife told me before we went: "You can paint the page when you go!" "Wouldn't that be rude?" I asked. "Of course not," she said, "we're all family". I wasn't so sure. But excitement trumped manners, and they didn't seem to care. They were a bit amused by it, I think.

This time it was the weekend. This time again, good company, soft breezes, relaxing view. This time a guitarist playing tunes by Crosby Stills and Nash, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, and the like. Art and Good Music and Food at a dockside cafe'. And a chance to paint the scene on site. I was in paradise.

This page is not complete, but a few folks have told me they like it this way, so I decided to share it like this - playfully incomplete. Eventually I plan on filling in the faces though. I was observing (coincidentally) a bald man with his back to a plate glass window the other day. He had a penumbra of light at the edges of a face that was a bit darkened by the light backdrop. I want to paint that.

I have trouble leaving parts of pictures incomplete. And need to work on doing that, creatively. But at this stage the background is emphasized beyond the people, and the people are important to me.

Graphite in sketchbook, approx. 7-3/4" x 6"
The other day I saw a wonderful half-hour film at the website, Art Babble. The film is called "Conan O'Brien as seen by artist John Kascht." You can find it here. If you have limited time, at least watch the first two minutes twenty-five seconds. In those minutes, a beautiful portion of the film, John Kascht, mirrors my feelings on sketching from life. He says, for example: "I know from experience that most of the freshness of a drawing comes from the accidents. Drawing isn't exactly planned - it emerges as a kind of artifact of the struggle between what I intended, and what I did not intend." But watch the rest of the film and be prepared to be launched from pure enjoyment to total amazement!

During the first two minutes (and 25 seconds), Mr. Kascht sketches a woman, and for a short time, the video shows his model as the artist sees her. Well, that was enough for me. I had to pause the film and draw her myself in my sketchbook. I drew this fairly quickly. I could make slight adjustments to my final drawing to get a better likeness - to the nose, and to the chin, but have decided to let it go. I have portrayed a mood and don't want to destroy it. I note that John Kascht's caricature changes the shape of the nose as well - his nose bows in, while hers is flat with an ever-so-slight bump, so although her nose is more pointy than my drawing shows, I am not alone in letting some things pass, it seems. Watch the whole film and I am sure you will agree that John Kascht is brilliant. So if he can do it, why not me, right?

This is only my second post this month, so I want to catch you up a bit on my activities. I've been engaging in some research and development of late. If you've been reading my blog, you know that I want to improve my drawing of hands. So I've given myself a minimum daily quota on hands to draw. My hope is that I will one day be able to sketch hands just as I do faces and bodies at a public place, despite the shifting and movement. It is quite a challenge.

ink and watercolor in moleskine
One day I was restless. So I began randomly putting paint on a page in my moleskine. I smeared, I blotted, I swished and swirled. When I was done, I sat back and decided to find objects in the shapes, and this is the result. I am not really satisfied with the page, but parts have possibilities to me. Exciting possibilities for future works, I think, beyond washes over large areas. (You can enlarge the image by double-clicking, and perhaps you will see what I mean). One person told me it reminded him of Chagall. I'll take that.

3-1/2" x 6-1/2", watercolor
I took a watercolor class at the Bass Museum of Art this weekend. I have never painted in a group before with other artists. I have never taken a watercolor class. The class was for "emerging artists age 13 to adult". Thirteen-year-olds are truly emerging, I think. It was for "all skill levels", and was only $15 at a time when I was able to go. So even were I to be surrounded by seventh graders, I figured it'd be fun. As it was, there were all adults, except one, who was the child of one of the students. And it was great fun.

One exercise was to cover the paper with water and and let the watercolor spread. This is a basic exercise. We were also invited to play a little afterwards, which I did with the brush handle and in other ways. But what a reminder of the vividness and delightful unpredictability of watercolor! When I got home, I examined the page, and split it into two parts, and think the semi-random marks of this exercise are awfully fun to look at.

7-1/2" x 1-1/2", watercolor

I even named them. The tall one is "Sunspot", and the square one, "Amoeba Love." Why not?

But the most exciting part of the class was the large paper the instructor provided, 15" x 22". He said we should figure out what to draw. I had no clue, so I grabbed my moleskine and pretty successfully laid in color on a very large quick sketch of a man originally pocketsized! I had never painted in watercolor so large!

Then there is my sketchbook. Somehow in my moleskine I have restricted myself to these little ink and watercolor representational sketches. I find that my idle sketches on post-it notes and cheap paper are much more creative and free. So I've bought a sketchbook I take with me now, just to scribble, play with shapes or ideas, warm-up, or experiment. No self-imposed pressure to make a great picture. Like this sketch on the left - would make an interesting painting, don't you think? And it is more playful with line than when I stalk an image.

So there you go. This is my State of the Artist address. I see possibilities everywhere, and different directions to go. So much to learn. Much to experience. It is good to be restless, to be playfully incomplete.  I strongly recommend it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Still Here

Ink and watercolor in moleskine, sketched on site, colored later

Ya gotta hand it to James Taylor. I didn't know quite what to say in this post - I had too many words or to few, and then he sang it in only a few simple words: "So the sun shines on [a] funeral just the same as on a birth, the way it shines on everything that happens here on Earth."

Good 'ole James.

The sun continues to shine no matter what happens.

The old doomsayer in the news got it wrong. All he managed to do was give millions of young men across the globe the chance to use the greatest line ever for seducing young ladies, starting with "baby, the world is ending tomorrow.."

But the world is still here, and will hopefully continue to be here for some time yet. The headline on Google News this morning was "World Still Here". And this is good.

Ink and watercolor in moleskine, sketched on site, colored later

I grabbed my wife's Good Housekeeping magazine the other day (June 2011 issue) because there was an interview with Michael J. Fox, whom I greatly admire. He has Parkinson's Disease, and seven years after he was diagnosed, Mr. Fox had a revelation, and we can all benefit from his hard-learned lesson.

He says that having such a disease is like being in the middle of the road in cement shoes with a bus heading straight towards him. He knows it's going to hit him some day "but you don't know when".

Life for all of us is like that if you think about it, although more subtle. We never know what will come next. We do know where we will all end up, though, although we don't know when or how.

It was difficult to be diagnosed with such a disease. But eventually Mr. Fox remembered being taught as an actor to play each act in turn and not to focus on the final act, no matter what might or might not take place then. And he realized that he didn't have to "play the result" in life until the end either. Until that day, "there is all kinds of room in that space."

We can borrow his philosophy for our lives as well, of course. We can worry about all of the things that might happen in a given situation, but that's playing the result, isn't it? We can dwell on what might occur or dwell on a past event, but then we are not playing the act we are in.

We can give ourselves permission to play, to imagine, to enjoy, in our space.  That is truly living.