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.


  1. What a terrific post - thanks so much!

  2. Love the playful outlook of your post Dan. Enjoyed the reading and the looking.

  3. Great "State of the Artist" address! Sounds like you've been having some fun! I don't think it's rude to paint when out to dinner unless its a serious dinner or you can't converse at the same time. If I were there you'd have plenty of time while I took forever choosing what to eat from the menu!

    I like your picture with the people left white. They stand out that way. Nice job on the whole picture!

  4. The State of the Artist is good! I think drawing and painting is similar to writing... leave things alone for awhile to see what else can be discovered-- like in your top painting. I do like the empty shapes of people and I agree with you that you aren't finished with it yet. (Those characters are too important to leave blank IMO.) It would be a great scene to paint in acrylic, don't you think?
    Your watercolor class sounds like tons of fun. Color is a great motivator for me artistically and it sounds like it is for you as well.
    I wish you much success with your hands project. I look forward to seeing more!
    Playfully incomplete... yes, the state of the artist is good.

  5. I like the top sketch as it is, I'd like to try sitting under an awning with water being misted over me to keep cool!

  6. I see a partial smile in the watercolor from your class! The sketch at the restaurant is great...and I am glad your wife convinced you to work on it even during the "social" time..it is good that you went along with it, because you were rewarded. I'll watch the film when I have a chunk of time..your profile drawing is super!

  7. I see a partial smile in the watercolor from your class! The sketch at the restaurant is great...and I am glad your wife convinced you to work on it even during the "social" time..it is good that you went along with it, because you were rewarded. I'll watch the film when I have a chunk of time..your profile drawing is super!

  8. great stuff, love the graphite sketch.

  9. :) Put a smile on my face. Fantastic post, awesome sketches Dan

  10. Just saw your comment on my latest post =) Yeah, it's dangerous, but no I am not working with Nukes, but somewhat lesser of a danger, gas+high temperature+high pressure. I guess I am stubborn when it comes to life, there's still so much to be done I can't really depart from it yet, hence I am always careful and watchful.
    Glad you like the blacklines. Actually they have already picked me to illustrate the book, I am just not sure if I need to do more work on the lines that's all. But to be honest...I am not a big fan of drawing buildings(trust me, I lost count of how many times I told my wife I hate drawing houses) But yeah..it took me half of my day off just to do the lines. Coloring won't take as long hopefully. Thanks again Dan, you're a wonderful friend.

  11. Very good read and pictures in this post, and I have to say I really like the half made page (first picture), I just like the contrast between the coloured space and the B/W. And I like the sketch of the woman (will watch the video after this) and the little sketch of the man near the end. Its neat to see all the different styles.

    Great Post!!!

  12. Such food for thought. . . I like how you tied it all back to being "playfully incomplete." That sketch that you did on the waterfront puts us right there, in the moment; it's terrific as is! I think the artist is in a really fine state :-) And now I am off to watch at least the first of that video!!

  13. I like your first drawing, of the people and the waterfront, it's so expressive I can feel the humidity in the air. It's funny how points of view can be different - to me, it's the people in the front that are emphasized by being white and contrasting against the colored background!
    Nice freestyle work on your moleskine, it made me think of Chagall, too. Hope your ankles don't swell too much, now I've told you that... (that's a french expression - hope you get it because I've forgotten the way to say it in english...)

  14. These are great drawings - the graphite one is so expressive. I like unfinished things, because usually, the important stuff is already there.

    I have a lot of post-its and backs of meeting agendas with portraits of coworkers, spheres, and doo-dads. Sometimes I tape them into my sketchbook so they don't get left out :)

  15. Hi Dan. Hope you don't mind if I post this to your blog and a bunch of others. Do feel free to wipe it if you think that's best however. Thanks.

    Just been looking at Dan's 2'n'fro blog where he and another artist are passing a sketchbook back and forth to complete each others pictures. It looks like a lot of fun and a great exercise and I'd love to give it a go if I can find a willing and reliable other to take part. check out Dan's other site and if you fancy giving this a go leave a comment on my blogs or contact me through my blogger account profile. If there's a lot of interest I may try putting people in touch with each other.

    Thanks Dan.

  16. Just a quick comment on what you said about now carrying a sketchpad with you. I've been doing this for years and it's a fantastic way to keep those drawing muscles toned. I've been finding it harder and harder to find a suitable pad though that meets my changing needs. Moleskines are great but so horrendously over priced I have problems bringing myself to put pencil etc to page for fear of wasting money. What I did in the end was by a heavy duty long armed stapler and a rounded corner punch and now make my own books in my choice of papers to fit all pockets. It's been a great money saver and a great inspiration as well.

  17. Wow - that's a lot of creative action! I like the fact that you are exploring several different media/ways of doing art... you never know when you'll run into something that really hooks you! I especially liked your mixed media moleskine spread - it seems to have a very tactile quality!

  18. Great post Dan. It's a valuable reminder to continue to play. Isn't it funny how when we try to be creative we (or at least I) tense up and conversely when we (again, I) have no intention of making art it turns out to be much more interesting or soulful or wowie-zowie or whatever?

  19. You alwyas show us different and interesting drawings!
    Thanks for sharing, Dan :)

  20. Thank you all so much for the wonderfully thoughtful comments! I hope those of you who liked the white figures in the front won't mind but I've begun to paint them. It is too tempting to explore how the faces are lit.

    Cathy - there is nothing better. I you are ever in Miami, my wife and I will show you!

    Celeste - I didn't notice that, but you are right - the slight smile was there during the whole class and after! What a delight to be with artists in the same room playing with paint!! Wish I could do it as often as you do.

    kazumiwannabe - Wow - I didn't realize..there is humidity in everything I paint here in Miami! And sorry, my ankles are swollen. :)

    Jenna - post-its are cool!

    Peter - I am so honored..thank you! Of course you can post it - I hope you find a great partner. Maybe someday, you and me - across the big pond! And I have wrestled with pads too. Never made one though.

    Anna - Tactile - that's cool! Thank you.

    Ruca - Yes! It is when my mind drifts away that I do my best! The zone..

    Thanks, everyone for visiting.

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