This is a view from the top of the old PSFS building at 12th & Market Streets in Philadelphia, looking towards South Philly. I'm so entranced by this tremendously sweeping view of the city I lived in for 20 years.
I'm becoming accustomed to working from life again, after a year or so of painting exclusively from photos (well, to be precise, from my computer monitor). It's not that I don't think good paintings can be made from photographs, it's rather that, for me at least, painting from life is so much more enjoyable. In some ways it's more difficult, some ways it's easier. But at least I feel really excited about it.
Drawing from life, just for fun, has been a big help.
This little black and white painting with a bit of warm yellow is meant to a little vignette, simply described. I am not totally happy with it but not aghast either. I wish it had a bit more color in the set-up, but it's been a big help in getting me over my hump. Thanks for looking.
Sometimes when I try to set up a still life, I find it difficult to get a good composition that doesn't look overly posed. I like the sort of set-up that looks a little haphazard, but still works.
I may turn this into a painting, which would take quite a while. The actual scene is so much nicer in color- most everything is a shade of white, except for the big yellow waterlily that snakes its way to the back of the table, and the glass bottle in the middle, which is a beautiful pale blue, and a few other color accents.
Here are two drawings of a little studio presence, a blowfish I got in Florida years ago. The first one I completed in about 3 or 4 hours, but the second one took about twice that long.
I recently started an evening job, which has been helping me to feel more free in my work. I've been drawing just for fun lately, not caring so much whether what I'm doing will result in a sale or not (which is a quick way to kill your creativity). I'm not even sure if I should post these as for sale or not!
Whew. At last I'm coming out of a major block against working from life, which started several months ago. I'm not sure if it's because I was getting too used to the convenience of working from images, or the increased possibilities of interesting subject matter, but I sure have been having trouble setting up a still life and feeling like I care.
I love painting vegetables, fruit and flowers, fish and seashells and other typical still life subjects, but I realize that in order to feel strongly enough about these small things to paint from them, I need to really push unusual viewpoints and dynamic lighting- whatever it takes for me to feel like they have something to say. Notice I wrote "they", not "I", because I honestly feel like this beautiful acorn squash is the one talking here.
I find the great photographer Edward Weston's images of vegetables to be especially inspiring. Here are some of his sensual interpretations of common vegetables:
This is part of an unknown city with a major thoroughfare snaking its way to a graceful bridge over an unknown river. I wanted it to seem dream-like.
Every time I begin a graphite drawing I feel vaguely guilty, because most people want to see paintings. I've had this itch, though, to continue my theme of aerial views of various cities, and I can best express what I want to say in graphite.
There is something about a view from a great height that really captures my imagination. Looking down with a birdlike- or even godlike- view of a complex city seems to me to be like being able to contemplate the course your life has taken with sudden clarity. When I draw these kinds of scenes, lines from Jane Hirshfield's poem It Was Like This: You Were Happy always come to my mind. Here the speaker has at last been able to look clearly, but without regret, over her life:
Now it is almost over.
Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.
It does this not in forgiveness— between you, there is nothing to forgive- but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.
Meanwhile, my Mom's been encouraging me to paint the more cheerful subject of flowers, so I'm off to the market to have a look.
I've become bored with still life, but I remember the days when I'd spend three or four hours arranging fruit and folds of cloth until I was satisfied with a composition. These days I much prefer to look for satisfying arrangements of things that has happened naturally, or if constructed, without much aesthetic consideration.
I wanted this drawing of a girl crossing a bridge to seem to mean something beyond the obvious subject. I just kept working and reworking the drawing until it finally began to take on a mysterious air.
You know what's so great about drawing blond hair in the sunlight? The shadows have an inky blackness that contrasts so beautifully with the highlighted hair, and it's heavenly to try and capture it with a soft 8B drawing pencil.
I've had a couple of wipers this week, first a sheep, then a dog- but finally am happy with this portrait of a cow. It was a challenge to see if I could make a decent painting from my image, as the face is entirely in shadow.
One of the things I love about cows is that gentle and curious gaze they give you.
Since I intend to spend longer on my work, I spent several mornings on this painting. I haven't painted snow before, and will probably be able to try again soon. This has been the most snowy winter I remember since my early childhood in Minnesota (I'm in Pennsylvania now).
I think it's hard to create a good composition of a horse's face. After all, their heads are basically shaped like logs. Beautiful, intelligent and sensitive creatures, but a little tricky to fit on to the paper or canvas just right. Here I think all the empty space works well.
In case you didn't know, I have another blog about other artist's art. January and February have been devoted to asking other blogging artists to create posts about their favorite one or two paintings from 2013. You might enjoy it.
I spent a full week on this drawing, and my process was the usual back-and-forth of adding detail upon detail, then erasing and blending to get rid of too much clarity. Too much clarity doesn't give a feeling of atmosphere, and atmosphere = poetic. Sounds a little silly but true.
I know this scene might be thought of as kind of ugly by some, but with the right lighting it becomes gorgeous. Also as usual, the backlight of early morning was the way to go.
This is a painting from a very long time ago, when I used to have patience. I've become so accustomed to following the guidelines of the "Daily Painting Movement" that it's become difficult for me to slow down and give my work the kind of time that it needs.
My intentions are to move away from my four + year habit of finishing a painting in 1-2 days. This isn't really a decision that I felt free to make: I honestly don't think I can continue to work that way anymore without becoming quite unhappy. Now and then I'll work quickly, but most likely it'll be a way to work out an idea for a larger painting.
There isn't anything wrong with "Daily Painting", and there are many painters out there who work that way with awesome results. It's just that I think MY work is better when I slow down. I'm also a naval-gazer by nature, so slowing down and really stewing over a painting is a better fit for me.
Thanks for reading this! I'd love to hear what you think. Here's another older painting, one that I spent more than a month on:
Mirrored Still Life with Shell oil on linen 24"x 30"
I've always found ginger root beautiful, and when food shopping I'll purposely choose the nicest shaped root I find, so it seemed natural to paint one. This one looks to me like it's practicing the yoga "tree" pose, but cheating by resting against a bottle for support.
Hoo-boy. I'd been so tired of my long practice of painting so many small paintings, one right after the other, that I was determined to work on something larger. I wanted a subject that I could really get my teeth into.
This painting went through so many different stages- loose, then tight, then loose, and so on. It was a back-and-forth process, and sometimes enjoyable, sometimes extremely difficult and maddening.
So now I remember why I like working small, but also remember what I like about working larger, and spending longer on a painting. I like working small because I don't have a chance to get fed up & impatient with a painting, and I paint more spontaneously. I like working larger because sometimes it's good to slow down and work more patiently.
To condense the above, sometimes I feel patient, but sometimes I don't.
I'm feeling a strong pull towards working larger and spending more time on my paintings. The "Daily Painting Movement" has overall been good to me, but I do believe it's time to start moving on. In fact, I'm so excited about some plans for larger paintings that I've been having trouble sleeping!
Here is an aerial view of a still life that I carefully set up on my little blue table. I like all the circles; the circle of the table, the cloth, the lemon and the roundness of the vase. I also like the way the seashell in the distance looks like it's torpedo-ing towards it all, hoping to create some chaos.
This lady is standing next to Pablo Picasso's painting Man with a Violin. I like the busyness of the folds of her shirt, and its pink color as contrasted with the more sober colors of the cubist painting.
I'm still in the midst of a good book about modern art titled What Are You Looking At?: The Surprising, Shocking and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art.It's so good! I went to a wonderful school for learning the traditional craft of painting (The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) but didn't learn enough about art past the Impressionists. I've always loved cubism, though, and especially enjoyed that section of the book. I didn't know that Matisse and Picasso were so extremely competitive, or that Juan Gris and Picasso could never get their cubist mojo back after the huge interruption of World War I.