Sunday, February 24, 2013

At First Glance #4

5" x 7" ink and watercolor on Fabriano Artistico rough paper
(Click to view a larger image)

This is the fourth At First Glance picture.  In this series I try to capture the essence of people that I see in Miami.  A more comprehensive description of the series is here.

It's funny about an image like this one.  I feel like I can tell you nine or ten things about this gentleman, without actually knowing a thing about him.

Part of the constraints I set for myself in the series is to draw in pen, with no advance pencil sketch.  The idea is to keep the "sketchiness", just as though I am out and about sketching from life.

Is that crazy, or what?   The first time I draw any of these folks, it is in variably too big.  Then I overcompensate and draw too small.  I am finding it takes four or five drawings to get it right.  And then comes the watercolor, which, thus far - knock on wood - I have had no problem with.

Conclusion:  This series is a form a self-torture that is just about better than anything.   When I am done with the series, I will just cut off my ear and be done with it.  


Note:  I have made a subtle revision to the original watercolor and have replaced the image in this post.  I apologize if any offense was caused by the earlier version.  Please know that I had not noticed the feature in the earlier version, and that it was unintentional.  If, like me, you didn't notice and have no clue what I am talking about then I am relieved.  Ah, the vagaries of watercolor..

Sunday, February 17, 2013

An Idyllic Scene

Ink and watercolor on 8" x 8" Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige NOT paper
I call this "An Idyllic Scene."  Is it?
What do you think?  (Feel free to enlarge the image by clicking on it.)

ARTIST'S THOUGHTS (Consider the picture.  Then and only then, read this):

I have an aversion to cliche' images, and  I was thinking about mortality and the swiftness of a life span when I drew and colored this.  So I included what I hoped would be unsettling elements:

1. There is a doll in the tree. If you look carefully, the doll's hair could also be read as a dark bird.

2. There is a discarded boy's toy as well, in the foreground. The wheel could be read as the tail of the squirrel. The squirrel is collecting a nut, an activity which is performed at the threshold of winter.

3. There is something watching the children from the tree on the right.

4. When I was done, I thought I spotted a ghost. Do you see it?  My most valuable critic thinks I am crazy on this one.  She is probably right.  So what else is new?

WHO IS RIGHT?  (Besides my wife)

So, what did you think when you studied the image?  Was there a scenario that came to mind?  Did that change when I told you what my ideas where?  Am I just nuts (like my wife says)?

I almost didn't tell you what my concept was - this was going to be a two line post.  But I think it is fun for you to know what I thought, and I'd love to know what you thought (if anything).  The picture is no longer mine when I publish it, it is yours.  So at this stage, your thoughts are more valid than mine.  Or are they?  Maybe in an idyllic world..

Monday, February 11, 2013


East Meets West, 10" x 8", 140 ' Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige NOT paper
Improv.  Hey Man, that's where it's at.


I've had many interests - music, art and writing among them.  But an aspect common to all that I have admired is improv.

Bluegrass and jazz, even classical, for example.  They have this in common.  They start with a theme, then the touch of the individual musicians are brought to bear.  The theme is squeezed and stretched and twisted and turned.

I painted this watercolor in just that way.  I perched in front of a building that, by the way, looks nothing like this, and outlined a few of its parts.  Then I began to improvise.  I drew lines that just felt right [yeah] in that they were visually pleasing to me geometrically.  And then I started to paint.  Aside from the awnings that really were pink (I think), everything else was improv.

So this painting is semi-abstract.

Take it away Allen, your stroll is different than mine, but oh so beautifully described..

[Note:  This is not read by Allen Ginsberg.  It is read by a gentleman named Tom O'Bedlam, who goes by the handle "spoken verse" on You Tube.  You can find other readings by this fellow, who probably comes from the North Midlands of England, here.]

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sunset Place

watercolor on 8" x 10" Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige NOT paper

Years ago, four of us were playing Scrabble. My brother-in-law laid down a word. The word was "ta" (rhymes with "pa"). It was triple word, triple letter, triple this, triple that.

"That's not a word!" we objected.

"Yes it is."

"Okay, what does it mean?"

"Uppity, hoity-toity, high society - we say that's "ta".


"Are you going to challenge it?" he asked, staring us down.

We decided not to challenge. And it was not a real word. Although now we have used the term for more than twenty years. He got his points, and he deserved them.

If you want to see a good example of "ta", go to L.W. Roth's wonderful post about the Washington elite in the early 1800's here.

My last post was a "ta" post, I suppose. And I've been fairly long-winded at the artist museum chats down here as well.  So I felt personally chastised when in his Twice-Weekly Letter, Robert Genn said about artists: "[T]here's always a long-winded, self-ordained pontificator. As Lao Tzu (4th Century BCE) pointed out, "Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know."

Is that me? I hope not.

So this will not be a "ta" post, and about the watercolor, I will only say this: This was my second attempt to paint a building called Sunset Place in South Miami. I didn't consider the first attempt to be publishable. At first I laid the most beautiful washes. Simplicity was my byword. But to me it was boring. So I began making changes, adding colors, spots and streaks, and only then did I consider that it was done. So yes, I can lay a simple wash. It's just that you will never, ever see it.

There. I'm done.

If there was too much pontificating then you now know what to say: "Ta!" (while rolling your eyes)

Monday, February 4, 2013

At First Glance #3

5" x 7" ink and watercolor on Fabriano Artistico rough paper
(Click to view a larger image)
Everywhere I go, there are people.  Who are they?  What do they do with their lives?  Where are they going?  Where have they been?

Most importantly, what is their essence?  Who is underneath what we see?

I can never have these questions answered.  I can only see people enter and leave my path of vision like props on a set.

But I can try.

This is the third in my "At First Glance" series.  I have self-imposed constraints in the series.  I use pen and watercolor on a white background - focusing entirely on the image.  Most, if not all of the images will be a frontal or near frontal view.  The figures must be derived from people I have seen in Miami.  I am using a sketchy style, reminiscent of my actual sketches in the field, but slightly more formal.  All of the drawings are very small, on a 5" x 7" sheet.  I work from photos.  I do not care as much that I obtain an exact likeness - in fact, I attempt to avoid exact likenesses, in respect for their privacy (and for legal concerns).

I attempt to capture their essence, an impossible task I know, but what the heck.  It is a "soul" painting, not a "body" painting, although the body is the device for this.  It is as much of their soul as I can capture in a glance.  I leave the rest for them.

How accurate is this?  I don't know.  But in her TED talk, "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are", here, Amy Cuddy says that a researcher at Tufts University showed that when people watched 30 second soundless clips of physician-patient interactions, their judgment of that physician's "niceness"  predicted whether or not that physician would be sued for malpractice.  She says that another study at Princeton showed that judgments from glances of only one second of politician's faces predicted 70% of the outcome of senate and gubernatorial races in the United States.

The first two in the series are here and here.

There has been quite a time gap between #2 and #3.  Part of the reason was my search for an indelible, waterproof, lightfast pen that would work for this size, this style, and the paper.  Thank you to  Sue Pownall of Art of a Nomad.  Thanks to her recommendation, I now use the Staedtler pigment liner .05 for these pictures.  It is a wonderful pen.

I also questioned every aspect of the series, the size and lack of a background, for example.  But the size is right.  When I have fifteen or twenty of them done, there will be a crowd, at this size.  To see an individual, you would have to walk right up to one of them.  It is very much like real life.  A background would distract from the person, and I want all attention on who that person is.

I had more trouble with this figure than either of the previous two - with the face, surprisingly, consider that is what I draw all of the time.  I am hoping the next few will be more straightforward, but maybe they shouldn't be.

There.  How much more can a guy say about a small figure not even seven inches tall?  Don't get me started.


Hey everyone, art philosophy guru Katharine Cartwright's blog is back!  It is here.  Besides being a great professional artist, she always raises interesting questions in her posts.  When her blog was active before we used to have wonderful discussions in the comments section.  So if you want an exhilarating, thought-provoking experience, start checking out her posts and participate!