For this lesson you need an apple, a pencil and a Conté crayon (or charcoal, chalk or a crayon). I apologize for the jumping around of the visual and the fact that the camera isn’t always “looking” at something. It was challenging for me to hold the phone, look at the subject (an apple) and show you my work. Maybe I’ll get better at it. 😀
Footprints are very useful when you’re taking a new trail (ideally, a somewhat dusty trail), and you aren’t sure exactly where you’re going to end up. Footprints, landmarks and a compass. And dogs. I guess that’s always been my “GPS.” When I got new trail shoes of any kind I always made sure I knew what my own tracks looked like.
All of my dogs (and I) have enjoyed looking at animal tracks in dust and snow. Of course the dogs get more from it than I do as they get the enhancement of animal fragrances. Human olfactory receptors are, in the minds of dogs, pretty damned pitiful. But my superior eyesight and comparative height allow me to see the road ahead and who’s been on it. I’m not sure any of my dogs KNOW I choose our direction that way. They might think I’m following my nose.
The other evening Bear ran out the back door barking her very scary Livestock Guardian Dog Bark. It’s so rare that I had never heard it before. Teddy was right behind her. Apple trees all over town are heavy with fruit and it’s possible that there could be a bear in the alley. I went out the next morning to look for tracks. The alley dust was no longer ankle deep mud, but it was firm clay thanks to the snowpocalypse, so no tracks, but there was a distinctively chewed crabapple.
I suspect raccoons got too close to Bear’s fence. It was not to be born.
I tried painting an apple orchard like those I saw in Switzerland, but it didn’t work, so I got pissed off and tried to rub off the paint with a solvent soaked rag. All that happened was the paint got smeared.
I put the canvas away thinking sometime I’d paint over this failed painting. That was YEARS ago.
I recently dragged out the painting and liked it. “Hmm,” I thought, “what can I do with this?”
Then it hit me. I had to do a little drawing, and of course I had raw umber on my hand but what the hey…
I’m so glad I wasn’t in a hurry to paint over this thing. ❤
Yesterday I posted the written instructions I have given my two adult art students for “How to Draw.” Then I got the idea of making videos for art lessons.
If I were a great artist, a successful artist, I guess I’d be living somewhere other than in the back of beyond, but who knows? I’m not a great artist and certainly not a successful artist but a long time ago I realized how absurd a dream that is. Does doing good work lead automatically to success in ANY field? No. And art? Life is hard. Work is hard. Some things in our lives just SHOULDN’T be.
For a long time I didn’t draw and I didn’t paint. Well, I drew in my journals, “The Examined Life”. It wasn’t until 2012 when my stepson and his wife gave me brushes and a canvas that I thought of trying oil painting again. I hadn’t painted in oils since high school when I did a large oil painting and my art teacher told me I had no talent and more or less said he wasn’t going to teach me any more. I’m not sure he ever taught me which might be a salient point but WHATEV’.
It was late fall and rainy in San Diego County when I resolved to give it a shot. I had some oil paints that had belonged to friends. I took a photo of the cattle across the street and decided to try something I’d never done before.
Many Renaissance painters painted from dark to light, from dark, dark, dark brown or black, to light. My brother always said my paintings had no “depth” so I decided to start by painting my little canvas (11 x 14) with black Gesso. It was an incredible experience pulling a painting out of the darkness and I LOVED the painting even though, initially, one of the cows only had three legs (my bad). After that, I went for it. I bought paints and surfaces on which to paint.
I painted small paintings — 5 x 7 — because, in my mind, I was in school. I joined the local art guild and showed my work twice a year. I kept painting. It got me through some awful times, always a source of joy, discovery, distraction. The more I painted, the more I learned about painting, paints and colors.
It meant so much to me because in my “real” (ha ha) life I was teaching EVERYONE. I could go into my shed, paint and the whole stupid idiot expensive difficult outside world disappeared. And then, as it happened, in 2013, I got two paintings in juried shows. The one below was in a juried show put on by the San Diego Art Museum Artists Guild.
How did it come into being? Well, I’d been asked by my step-daughter-in-law to paint a scene of New York. In that scene the word “Stop” was painted on the street. I went to work and realized that the scene wanted to be a water color, not an oil. I put this panel away and did a water color that worked pretty well. Then I got a flyer from a fellow artist advertising her work in a gallery in Kansas. In that flyer was a photo of this sofa. I have always been amazed by how the old masters painted fabrics and wondered if I could paint velvet so I pulled out that “ruined” panel and painted the sofa. I let the sofa dry and put the panel away, but the whole panel was starting to intrigue me… I painted a lot of things on this panel that I cleared off with solvent before I painted this. I liked this panel a lot because it was interesting and mysterious.
Nothing I painted during this time was 100% successful (to me) but every one of those paintings (and those I do now) was 100% satisfying as an experience. I realized through this that the most important thing about art — for me — is its power to inspire me to keep doing it.
Lots of people stop because they’re not satisfied with their work. For me that’s a reason to keep doing the work. My great hero, Goethe, went to Italy in 1786. He was suffering a broken heart, inner turmoil, a personal crisis. One of the things he was looking for in Italy was inspiration.
In those days without cameras people had to draw their own souvenirs or hire a professional artist to do that for them. Goethe had a lot of talent as a visual artist and was torn about maybe, by writing, he’d gone in the wrong direction. He drew everything along his way as he had whenever he traveled. I have a little book of many of the ink and wash drawings he did on his journeys.
Somewhere on his Italian journey he decided he wasn’t good enough and he hired an artist to travel around with him. It seems that was the end of creating visual art for Goethe. If I could talk to him, I’d ask him about that. Like me, one of Goethe’s reasons for going to Italy was to look at paintings. Maybe he got daunted and, as Hemingway wrote, one should never get daunted. The featured photo is of one of Goethe’s ink wash sketches of a scene in Italy.
In imitation of Goethe, in 2004, in Giardino Giusti in Verona (which Goethe also drew) I drew this. It’s not that easy to keep a good record of what you see by drawing it.
My goal with my “students” is simply to inspire them to try without worrying about failing. Our world is so concerned with perfection and success that failure is undervalued. In the process of learning to paint or draw, there’s a lot of failure, but those failures are more useful than the things we “get right.”
There is a painting (sold long ago) that started out a thing of real beauty. I destroyed it (IMO) by forcing my idea of what it should be onto it. Funny thing, I have no photos of it once it was “finished,” but I have photos of it while it was still in the process of being painted, before I wrecked it. It was important to me to retain THAT moment, not the failed moment. Why? Because this painting taught me that it’s not all up to me. Creating the painting or drawing I WANT sometimes means stepping back and seeing what the painting or drawing itself wants to be. Anyone who tries is 100% sure to fail. The point is it doesn’t matter. Failure is — in art — the best teacher.
To help my students, I made a couple of very rough videos yesterday. I’ve put the drawing video at the bottom of this post. It seems to have worked with one of them, so that’s cool. It’s purpose is not to give any technical instruction, just maybe to inspire enthusiasm to try. Inspiration in instruction is often underrated because it cannot be measured or controlled, but I think, in art, it’s important. Not all inspiration leads to great masterpieces, but it always provides the energy to try.
For me, painting is like skiing. I was never — and will never be — a great skier but no one has more fun. The word “amateur” means, “One who loves.” I’m proud to be one.
Some friends were interested in drawing lessons once I started with the kids up the alley. I love that!
Anyway, here’s adult lesson 1.
The only thing you need is a How to Draw book of things you like, some paper and something to draw with. One of the kids has a “How to Draw Animals” and the other has “How to Draw Trucks and Other Vehicles.” A friend who loves to ride has “How to Draw Horses.” There are dozens of these books on Amazon and the more basic the better. I think a “how to draw” something you like is the best choice.
Here’s the first adult lesson: Starting to Draw
1) Assemble your tools — paper, pencils and your “how to draw” book. You can draw with anything, and it’s actually better to learn to draw with a tool you cannot erase, like colored pencils, but this is completely YOUR choice because IT DOESN’T MATTER AT ALL!!!!
2) Find a space without distraction, someplace tranquil where you’re unlikely to be interrupted for 30 minutes. Tell your family members to stay the hell away from you because you’re about to engage in something SUPREMELY COOL and holy.
3) Put on some music you like, put in your earphones.
4) TURN OFF YOUR PHONE and all irrelevant alerts.
5) Get a beverage that you like — I drink water with ice in it or sometimes decaf but it doesn’t matter at all. It should be what you like. Wine is good for those who can drink it (I can’t). Poor me.
6) Open your “How to Draw Book” and don’t read too much. Find an image you like or start at the very beginning (It’s a very good place to start, la laa laa)
NOW this is the hard part (for adults…)
Do your best and don’t worry how it comes out. Nobody cares.
Draw for thirty minutes, and if you are still engaged, keep drawing. Do this every day for at least 30 minutes.
Drawing is seeing. It’s amazing how the more a person draws, the more of the world in general they are able to see. It’s better to draw without erasing, to look at your drawing after a day or two, and try again if you’re not happy. Why? Because, the more you draw, the more you’ll see.
I would love to draw WITH you and we can do this via Facebook messenger, Zoom or anything else. Let me know. I think it can be more relaxing for someone to learn to draw when they’re drawing with a pal. Let me know if you want to and when, and I’ll be here to go online with you. I love to draw and I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to draw along with you.
I got two beautiful things yesterday from the National Gallery. Both are for the kids’ art class. One is a book An Eye for Art and the other is a set of activity cards, Famous Paintings. The book turns out to be not quite their thing at this point of their learning trajectory. The cards, though? That was a brilliant idea. On the back is information about the artist, the painting, the times in which it was painted and an interesting historical fact.
My plan is that out of six cards every few days they will each pick one. It will go into a notebook we’ll make this Friday along with worksheets that tell about the painting and the artist and five reasons they like the painting. I don’t plan to tell them how or why to like a painting. In my humble opinion, there ARE bad paintings, but a lot depends on who’s looking at a painting whether it’s good or not, becomes famous or not. And then there’s personal taste. Because I know them and how they have been raised, I want to stay within their realm of competence, only stretching it a little. My entire goal with the kids is just to get them to look at paintings.
The book is a textbook for art history and art appreciation. What I like about it is its organization — the chapters are not “arty” but instead they look at what the artists were doing in the making of their work. There is a chapter called “Studying Nature” (the first <3) and others “Telling Stories” and “Observing Everyday Life.” I love that. I love the focus ( ha ha ) on artists observing their world and representing it.
I included a geography component to this — in their notebooks they have maps and they have to identify the countries from which the artists come. And, as I was writing this, I realized that the kids are also going to take small journeys through time.
“Yada, yada, yada” pretty much sums up our lives in these times. People yammering on one side, people yammering on the other, people yammering about the virus, people yammering about race, people yammering about the climate crisis. It’s relentless and I’m yammering now. Yada, yada, yada.
And life goes on. The filter on the dishwasher gets clogged and there’s a puddle in front of the dishwasher. Yada yada. Then the tree that’s fallen in the back yard. Yada yada. Vet tech friend experiences some of the darker side of the profession (and humanity) and doesn’t know what to do. Yada, yada. Walk at the Refuge with Bear, look for cranes, see an egret. A man in a pick-up with his wife, stops to tell Bear and me we are “…so very beautiful” and it’s kind of incomprehensible. Bear gets sick in the car. “It’s all right, Sweet girl.” Yada, yada. “Oh my God, did I pay my car insurance?” Yada, yada, yada. “Ding!” phone tells me that Amazon is sending me something. “There’s a micro-chip in the flu vaccine! It’s the mark of the beast!” yada, yada, yada. Neighbor hangs his Trump sign back on his porch. OK, whatever, dude. Yada, yada, yada. Disembodied heads floating around everywhere, say this say that, stoke our grievances and fear, interview other disembodied heads and on we go. Yada, yada, yada.
The poet beans show a resilience no one (meaning me) ever expected, and I see in that requited love. It’s not. It’s just beans being beans but WOW. Silently, too.
When I saw the prompt for today a passage from the I-Ching immediately struck me, “If he make speeches, his words cannot be made good.”
I had forgotten which of the hexagrams that little sentence came from, so I looked up the words and found Hexagram 47 “Kwan” which is a picture of a lake under a marsh. That means that the water is inaccessible and the hexagram represents “Oppression.” Interestingly, it’s like the Refuge. Deep below that wetlands is an ancient lake.
Hexagram 47: The Judgement
OPPRESSION. Success. Perseverance.
The great man brings about good fortune.
When one has something to say,
It is not believed.
There is no water in the lake:
The image of EXHAUSTION.
Thus the superior man stakes his life
On following his will.
Translation by Richard Wilhelm In (the condition denoted by) Khwăn there may (yet be) progress and success. For the firm and correct, the (really) great man, there will be good fortune. He will fall into no error. If he make speeches, his words cannot be made good.
I don’t believe in the future-telling aspect of the I-Ching, but there are many times when I’ve found it oddly prescient and always interesting, often giving me something to think about. In these noisy days, I think this is a good Hexagram to think about.
From the joints where leaves broke or froze, new vines are emerging ALREADY. I love these beans.
MOON, RAIN, RIVERBANK
Rain road through, now the autumn night is clear
The water wears a patina of gold
and carries a bright jade star.
Heavenly River runs clear and pure,
as gently as before.
Sunset buries the mountains in shadow.
A mirror floats in the deep green void,
its light reflecting the cold, wet dusk,
freezing on the flowers.
FALL RIVER SONG
On Old River Mountain
A huge boulder swept clean
by the blue winds of Heaven
where they have written
in an alphabet of moss
an ancient song.
I was surprised my quilt and pillow were cold,
I see that now the window’s bright again.
Deep in the night, I know the snow is thick,
I sometimes hear the sound as bamboo snaps.
WALKING THROUGH SOUTH MOUNTAIN FIELDS
The autumn wilds bright,
Autumn wind white.
Pool-water deep and clear,
Clouds rise from rocks,
On moss-grown mountains.
cold reds weeping dew,
Colour of graceful crying.
Wilderness fields in October —
Forks of rice.
Torpid fireflies, flying low,
Start across dike-paths.
Water flows from veins of rocks,
Springs drip on sand.
Ghost-lanterns like lacquer lamps
Lighting up pine-flowers.
All paintings are framed and ready to go.
If you see a painting you like, don’t hesitate to contact me, even if you live outside the US. We can talk. 🙂
It’s pretty woodsy in my backyard at the moment. I went out yesterday with my trusty branch saw to reconnoiter and decided it was way too dangerous for me to approach. How do I know but what one little handsawable branch isn’t holding up the universe? I don’t. I said, “Teddy get out from under there,” and came back inside.
Today I’m taking the day off. Yesterday, I spent hours cleaning the remnants of the snowpocalypse from the garden part of my yard. I had a long chat with the beans, explaining that I was sorry a bunch of their leaves were hanging there near death from being weighted down by a wet and frozen bed sheet. I then told them the story of Faith, the Indomitable Aussie Pumpkin who came into the world this time last year and STILL grew to be almost 10 inches in diameter. “Buck up, Poets,” I said. “It was just a snowpocalypse. Not the end of the world.”
The tomatoes are just going, “Well THAT was different.”
Meanwhile, everything that’s not broken looks like nothing happened, like summer was never interrupted, and now it’s business as usual.
Today my Facebook memories brought a photo of me with a woman who was one of my dearest friends for thirty years. She was my boss at the first teaching job I had in San Diego, and our relationship evolved from a not especially great boss/employee relationship to real friendship. She was an extraordinarily talented painter, and some of her paints are in my “studio”. I don’t use them. I do use her palette knife and some of her brushes. In the paint box, in the colors she used, and even in the way the brushes are “worn,” I see Sally, her way of painting and, well, her. It’s very lovely. The featured photo is us together at her house, Thanksgiving 1997.