bleeding hearts - a drawing

Bleeding Hearts; graphite on paper; 11" x 14"

This was a challenge and took me most of the day.  There are a few leaves missing but other than that it's true to life.  Luckily, bleeding hearts are very sturdy after they've been cut.  I really didn't see too much change as the day progressed.

The flowers are quite amazing.  Their structure is so complex and from every angle they pose a new profile.  And somehow, each of them had a personality and a slightly different hanging length from their little flower stems.  I'm glad I got to know them.

This was made with my Staedtler 6B graphite held in a pincher-like lead holder on Strathmore 400 series Premium Recycled paper.  I've been searching around for alternative mediums and papers lately.  Roz Stendahl keeps a fantastic blog where she, among many other things, talks a lot about drawing materials.  I've gotten some ideas there.  Also WetCanvas has a very useful forum on Drawing and Sketching.  Palomino Blackwing pencils seem to be surfacing as the top choice there - on Canson papers.  Hmmmmm.

from 2004

January at the Marsh; oil on panel; 10" x 16"
Nine years ago, I started this outside and later finished it in the studio.  I was set up not far from the parking lot of The Marsh - a wonderful local health club.  I remember having a lot of fun playing with the trees in the studio - "growing" them out of paint dots place one on top of the other.  They took on a lively-bouncy feeling that way.  It was also fun finding spots of different light coming through them and varying the color slightly with each one.  The cerulean almost in the center of the painting was a bit of whimsy.  It wasn't that vivid in real life.  Actually, there was a lot of color enhancing that went on both outside and in.  I tend to overstate my color and then tone it down as I go along.  Part of that is because I don't use any solvents or mediums when I paint - just pure paint placed first with a palette knife and then manipulated later with brushes.

I'm thinking back to this piece right now because I've been greatly admiring the work of Frank Edwards.  His use of color is both thoughtful and expressive.  And I love how he uses lots of paint.  His work has a real lusciousness to it.  I'd like to get back to painting more like that again.


on the easel

The Marsh before the Greening; oil on linen; 8" x 13"

It's called Deer Island by the locals (the land mass in the far left of the painting and in the upper left of the aerial view in this link) because it's surrounded by wetland.  There's a way to get out there by foot although it's recommended to do so with plenty of daylight ahead of you.  Apparently, it's very easy to get disoriented out there and lose your way. 

I painted with my pants tucked into my socks to deter the ticks that come out about this time.  I'm happy to report no ticks, so maybe that helped.  It was also a day to paint near my car as a potentially heavy storm was on the horizon.  As it turned out, it missed us.  But I still felt the urge to paint quickly and avoid bad weather.

The marsh took on the most wonderful orange-tinged hue under the overcast sky.  The vast surface area of the fallen reeds reflected almost as much light as the sky.  It was really amazing to see so much of one color.  I've been to the Netherlands at tulip time and the fields of color there are indeed spectacular.  This marsh, although much more subdued, reminded me of those monochrome-seemingly-endless masses of color. 

It seems I've set myself up now for painting The Marsh after the Greening.  That will have to come later next month.  Today I'm off to the zoo to draw monkeys!


pinwheel prone

Pinwheel Prone with a Thread Attached; graphite on paper; 7" x 10"

The point going off to the lower left was the hardest part to draw in this little piece.  I wanted it to "rise" off the page and that took some figuring out.

These past few drawings in graphite caused me to do a little research on papers and pencils.  I went on Etsy to see what other artists are using there.  Bristols by Winsor & Newton and Sennelier were common.   There was even a deckled bristol that sounded quite nice.  But the sweetest drawing I saw there was one done on Canson acid-free drawing paper.  Not far off from what I use: Strathmore acid-free.  I have quite a few drawing books that talk about materials too.  Bristols, watercolor paper and sketching pads were top choices there.

Wet Paint is having a Try It! night tomorrow evening (5:30 - 7:30) where you can drop in and try out some special drawing surfaces.  They'll be prepared with various Golden gessos and mediums to affect absorbancy and toothiness.  I'm thinking of going.

paper moon

Paper Moon; graphite on paper; 11" x 14"

My morning's efforts: a philodendron that caught my eye yesterday when I sat on the chair adjacent to it.  The extreme perspective of being so near the plant really got me going.  That and the translucency of the leaves, the stem-like appearance of the lamp stand and the problem of keeping the brightest object furthest back.  I confess I made up the leaves that slightly obscure the lamp.  All else is fairly true to life.

It was fun to do this first thing in the morning.  Yesterday was a busy day with my grandson and then a cookout in the evening.  I didn't have any time to put medium to substrate and I so missed it. 

Today is busy too - again with grandbaby.  But I'm determined to do either another drawing or a painting study.  Tomorrow's post will tell.


a pail on the easel

pail study; oil on linen; 13" x 8"

This is a study - of a pail - hanging by a rope - with a lot of colors - but they're in bits here and there - so the painting makes you think of shiny metal - or grey space - with light coming in from above.  The rope hasn't been painted.  What you see there is the linen primed with clear gesso.  So you see the linen nice and raw and rope-like.

I've been meaning to look up haiku.  It could be that my blog posts would be better served in that format.  I remember writing a few in grade school.  But I can't remember the grade - 7th maybe?  I do recall that they're fairly easy to construct but very difficult to get right.  I think there's a lesson there.


lilacs complete

The Frangrance of Lilac Cuttings in a Bowl with Stones; 11"x 14"; graphite on paper

How do you know when a drawing/painting is done?  My pieces "ping" when they're finished.  It's hard to explain but it's very distinct, satisfying and impossible to time.  I've learned to sense when all of the little irritants are put to rest and harmony and unity prevail.  There's a lot of walking to and fro involved - and looking at things from all angles, including from in a mirror.

To go over this line may spoil everything.  One mustn't overcook things.  You want to go for al dente and leave something to chew on - something for the viewer to do. 


blind contour

45 minute blind contour drawing; 14" x 11"

Here's one of my longer blind contour drawings (done without looking at the page.)  I can't seem to last the full recommended hour but I got closer here.  This is of my fireplace with the little vents skewing first up and then down, the objects on the mantle piece juxtaposed and the texture of the brick popping up here and there.  There's a bellows in the lower right with brads, folded leather and two handles for pumping.  My fireplace sits at a 45 degree angle in the room and you can see the ceiling structure responding to this configuration as it angles off to the left above.

This is part of the drawing sequence I've been following in Nicolaide's book.  He aims first to separate all of the elements of drawing and then bring them back together again at the end.  So right now, the emphasis is on the tactile.  While drawing blindly, you rely on your sense of touch to find the edges of things.  Not literally of course, but in the most real sense you can conjure until you're convinced, in your mind, that your pencil tip is caressing the seen borders.  Like meditation, I kept losing that train of thought and continually had to bring myself back to feeling with my pencil tip.  I think that's what it's all about though - returning - over and over again.


from 2006

Mushrooms; oil on canvas mounted on board; 4" x 5.5"; 2006
Some bloggers like to organize their content by announcing certain days for special topics.  They come up with cute names for their weekly structures, like "Flashback Fridays" and "Tool Time Tuesdays."  I know this, because I was about to do the same.  Thankfully, I googled "Flashback Fridays" and saw not only the blogs that are guilty of this practice, but also a lot of commentary, mostly derisive, cautioning one against this rather hokey practice.

But routines and habits are important to me - and they're important to my work.  In the end, one's personal style simply boils down to what one does over and over again.  The tools they prefer, the materials they can't live without and the daily mechanics that put them in motion - these are the meat of what makes an artist unique.  Yes, there's a lot of stuff that goes on between our ears and it's wonderful to write and read about it.  And it might be pretty boring listing habits and routines.  But then again, maybe not.  Isn't that what makes studio visits so fascinating?  You cut through all of the verbiage and see the stuff and grit of the day to day.

So, from now on, Fridays here are a day for me to reflect on past work.  In order to examine what has been constant for me throughout time, I've chosen to post an image from the past and talk about 1) why it called to me through time 2) what I was thinking then 3) what it can teach me today.  I just won't give my Friday posts a hokey name.

As seen on a T-shirt recently: "What if the Hokey Pokey is what it's all about?"

And - Robert Genn has a lovely click-back on habits and routines (scroll down a bit)  - referencing Twyla Tharp's book, The Creative Habit.


oil with palette knife

palette knife study; oil on linen; 13" x 8"

Here's what's on my easel today: a little palette knife study of my grandson playing with blocks while backlit by a low-North-facing window. 

I didn't plan to use only a palette knife.  This painting simply evolved in a way that brushes were never considered.  The composition has a lot of sharp contrasts and a dichotomy of cools and warms.  The knife was an excellent tool to keep clear boundaries between those two effects. 

The photo reference I took was displayed on my monitor while I painted at the easel.  In the painting, I moved the blocks around to create the movement and tension you see above.  I also simplified the background quite a bit and again, because of the knife, the features and digits are more suggested than rendered.

I'm very happy with how this little study turned out.  I'll have to think about whether it's something I'd like to do larger.  I just read an excellent post considering that question.  It's by Keith Bond and lists the pros and cons of large studio paintings and smaller plein airs.  I know my little study above isn't a plein air but I think the points will apply similarly to the situation here.

crawling gestures

action sketches; 8.5" x 5.5"

My 8.5 month old grandson is starting to maneuver from point A to point B now. His movements remind me of those of a butterfly - they look seemingly ineffective but manage to get the job done.  He's close to the classic crawl but is still a bit clumsy with it.  It's been a good drawing exercise trying to capture some of those movements.  I should simply concentrate on the body as a whole but I can't resist going in and getting some of his facial features - when he pauses - which is rare.



Reaching; graphite on paper; 8.5" x 5.5"

I love how the leaves of this aloe seem to be searching and reaching.  It took on the feel of a sea creature the more I studied it and tried to capture it on the paper.  And I just barely got it completely on the page - it so wanted to escape.

Knowing how much to add of the dark background came to me little by little.  I'm very happy with the final result but I wasn't sure at the time if it should rise up more and embrace the newer leaves.  As it is, the dramatic tallest leaf really benefits from standing alone against a white backdrop.  I could even add the little spikes along its edge without feeling fussy about it and like I needed to add them to all of the leaves.  The spikes couldn't have happened without all of that wonderful white space.

And the shadows - my favorite part.  They're like a tripod base, or roots that have outgrown the pot, or some other fantastic shape that takes on Rorschach possibilities. 

drawing in graphite

Innocence; graphite on paper; 8.5" x 5.5"

I watched my grandson for a few hours last night and had a chance to do some very quick gesture studies of him.  The gestures I caught were of rather awkward positions because yesterday he was still learning to crawl.  (He actually crawled today - my DIL sent me a text to let me know!)

Last night, though, after struggling with the life studies, I eventually took some photos of him to see if I could get something that caught his characater.  The pose above really seemed to capture him at this point in time.  While standing and viewing the photo on my monitor, I made the above drawing with a 6B pencil and paper in hand.

He's 8.5 months old in the pose above - and ready to go.


drawing in charcoal

orchid study just before flowering; 10" x 14"; vine charcoal on drawing paper
The way this evolved, with its graphic chiaroscuro, makes me think I must've had Wanda Gag's drawings in the back of my mind.  Her children's books, Millions of Cats and Nothing at All, are two of my very favorites.  She had a way of making her drawings come alive using just black on white - and often times with only inanimate objects as her subject matter.  Her picture of a spinning wheel is amazing.

on the easel

Axes Real and Imagined; oil on linen; 13.5" x 8.5"
The pins in the image above (stretching the canvas for this photograph) - and the central pin (painted) in the pinwheel - all seem to be playing nicely together.  The real axis, however, is the hole in the top of the pinwheel where the thread is attached.  This real axis is from where, and how, the pinwheel spins in this contrived configuration.  A contrivance used to elevate, examine and look anew at a universal symbol of childhood.  One wherein many of us first discovered the delight and magic of the wind.  Whoosh.


white's colors

on the easel - in progress; oil on linen; 13.5" x 8.5"

The pinwheel above, made of a single sheet of white paper, reminded me of how subtle and impressive the colors of white are.  The impressions they make are largely dependent on the focus of the viewer.  And there's nothing formulaic about painting them.  One needs only to take the time to look and have a willingness to be impressed.  Something that can be said about so many things in life.

A very gifted instructor once had us all make a painting of a roll of toilet paper so we could learn to see the colors in white.  Thank you Frank.


the natural way to draw

Potted Violets in White; graphite on paper; 5.5" x 8.5"
I've returned again to Nicolaide's instruction book: The Natural Way to Draw.  I love the idea of a regimen and the discipline of all his neatly laid out schedules.  And I adore the materials he requires: manila paper, 3B graphite, watercolor in only Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Black, lithograph crayon, etc.  But the practice of his method can be quite unpleasant and frustrating because it seems like you're deliberately drawing in a most unnatural way.  The hope is that the efforts will yield breakthroughs and new insights.  And I think the hope is well-founded.  But there really is no way to measure one's progress.  Maybe by recording my experiences on this blog I'll see some concrete evidence of improvement.

Ironically, the drawing above came about after a frustrating attempt at contour drawing.  I simply wanted to break free and draw my own way.  This, I can see, is my natural way to draw with lots of tonal variations and selection of emphasis.  Plants are so complex with all of their overlapping elements and changing light on dark and then dark on light.  They're definitely a favorite subject of mine. 


mobile - hanging in 3D

Christmas Memories; 36" x 48" x 48"; copper wire, birch plywood, thread and housepaint

While influenced by Alexander Calder, I made this mobile to replace my oak leaf mobile - which had an unfortunate encounter with a radio controlled helicopter - at Christmastime.


self portrait as a dress form

And now for something entirely different: Self Portrait as a Dress Form; linen, poly fill, thread, silk, plywood, pine, and a 5# barbell weight; 31" x 9" x 6"

I've been meaning to share this for a while and Olga's recent post gave me the nudge I needed.  She writes beautifully in her latest blog post about her desire to explore three dimensional ideas.  I'm excited to see where this will take her.  For me, I have one more sculpture to share here - I'll do that tomorrow. After that I'm back to painting.  I have a group of snowflake paintings floating around in my head.  Must get them out - after all, it's almost summer time here.


by the creek

outdoor sketch, oil on linen, 6.25" x 10"
Here's how I spent my afternoon yesterday.  The weather was beautiful - high of 58 and sunny.  The ducks, swans and goldfinches were all in fine form.  I'm sure there were other creatures out there too but those were the ones that came into my field of view.  I was painting by a little walking bridge and as it turned out, the vantage I chose gave the passersby a front row seat.  It's always nice to hear their kind comments.  And I like having plenty of people around because I feel much safer that way.


bud break scan

outdoor sketch; oil on linen; 6.25" x 10"
Here's a scan of the little sketch from Wednesday.  It's dry enough to scan now - which makes for a much better representation.  Also, if you click on it to expand the image you'll see quite a bit of detail.

I'd like to get out and paint again today.  The weather's beautiful and the trees are leafing out even more now.  If I can't get out though, I'll draw.  I've been having fun going over one of Andrew Loomis' books - the one on drawing the figure.  Love those frolicking skeletons!


snowflake thumbnails

thoughts on larger snowflake fields


flurries continue

snowflake studies in progress
These are doing what I want so far - surprising me.  Not unlike when a newly cut paper snowflake is first opened up.


a flurry

three snow flake studies in progress
I love how the backgrounds (green, red and blue gradients) affect the flakes.  No favorites yet, I'm just enjoying the play of color and value on the flakes and how the different fields create varying moods and intensities.


bud break by the marsh

outdoor oil sketch, oil on linen, 6.25" x 10"


packing up

To mix things up, tomorrow I'll head outside to paint.  Here's a scan of the brush box I clip to my French easel when I'm in the field.  It's hard to read the packing list on it because the box wouldn't lie flat in the scanner.  So here it is again a little easier to read:
  • brushes
  • brush box (an old Creamette angel hair pasta box)
  • brush box clip
  • bungee cord
  • 7 colors
  • comment book
  • eraser
  • hat
  • mirror
  • 2 paper towels (per support)
  • pencil
  • phone
  • repellent/sunscreen
  • support(s)
  • trash bag
  • wipe
  • view finder
My puppy chewed on my view finder years ago but I still like to use it:
Can you see the little saw kerfs that mark half-way on each side of the opening?


done studying

Paper Snowflake; 10" x 6.25" oil on linen
I'm really happy with this little study.  It's given me a lot to bring forward into new work and a feeling that I did my best to bring this idea to life.  The idea being that tiny things like snowflakes, real and snipped from paper, have a weight and presence all their own.  They have significance.


snow flake in progress

work in progress, 10" x 6.25" oil study on linen
I might want to try a paper doily at some point.  But for now, these flakes are nice. 


12 sided study

10" x 6.25" oil study on linen
This may become an under painting.  When dry, I might want to work in the design now that the facets' values are looking like creased paper.

Sometimes I miss painting cast shadows.  My models hang in large fields of color and, by design, there are no surfaces for shadows to be cast upon.  With the rare exception of a stem casting a shadow on its pear or apple, these paintings only allow for light to fall on a part of the object itself.  Without cast shadows in the field, the surrounding space seems infinite - heightening the weight of the object and the attention it attracts.

When I saw this snowflake's shadow on the wall however, I saw again the beauty of a cast shadow - how it echoes the shape of the object and cools the surface it plays upon.


oil sketch on linen, 10" x 6.25"
No two are alike.  Maybe that's why I ended up improvising the design as I painted.  Or it could be focusing on tone, edges, color and paper-ly-ness above all else. 
I really do like the design of the model though.  Next time I'll try to add more accurate representation.  But for now this is enough.



paper snowflakes and a ribbon


paint on the floor

The painting studio is coming along.  All of the sewing things are out now and all of the painting tools have been moved in.  The twisting tape measure (you can see the little sketch in the upper left above) and the white night gown are two ideas that need more examination.  So thoughts of next paintings are moving in along with the practical means to make them.

You can see the floor of the studio in the photo above.  There used to be plush white carpeting there - it came with the house.  With a dog and woods, I never did a very good job of keeping it white.  So it's been ripped up (the padding too) and replaced with 6 coats of water-based house paint - 2 of primer, 2 of light brown and 2 of satin varnish.  The design along the edge ties the room to the rest of the house - at least I think it does.