Here’s the final version of a recent commissioned portrait. There are aspects of commission work that are exciting and enjoyable. And there are also aspects that can be disconcerting. My enthusiasm with such a delightful/lovely subject to paint can be dampened by wondering whether the person who has commissioned me will like my use of colors in the skin and hair, or will appreciate a vignette approach instead of a cover-the-entire-paper approach, or whether I’m capturing the personality of the person/child I’m painting, etc. etc. Typically, I would have a “meeting” with the individual to discuss some of these details, but working long-distance makes this difficult. I plan to be more fully prepared the next time I go out of town to offer my portrait work. All in all however, this was an enjoyable process. The gentleman was delighted at the resulting portrait of his granddaughter. What makes commissioned art work even more appealing is that the only folks who need be satisfied are myself and the person commissioning me. There is no need to fret over the arbitrary requirements of some exhibit “judge”. I am free to work hard at making a well-observed and aesthetically pleasing portrait for the one commissioning the piece. Thus far, this has worked out well in every opportunity I’ve had to paint/draw portraits for others. I consider it a privilege when creating a portrait for commission.
This Saturday I hopped over to Reidsville where a group of lovely gals gathered to learn about Visual Journaling. Everyday Art Gallery hosted it…many thanks to Teresa for giving me the opportunity to share this wonderful art form with others. The workshop was designed to inspire them to chronicle their lives and thoughts through image, either collaged or painted & drawn images. Here is the cover of one of my sketch journals, and a page from the inside. I fill my pages mostly with sketches of things that draw my attention…either to document moments or illustrate thoughts. This sketch of our cat Lucy gazing out the window at our bird feeders made me think about my own life: “From her perch Lucy dreams of chasing and conquering…I wonder if she’s grown accustomed to living with her dreams and is OK with never being able to act on them…In this, she is much like me…though I’m not sure I’m ok with it. 1/23/09″ This was written/drawn on one of many days in my life where I feel intensely the overwhelming demands on me from so many areas of my life–motherhood, church-life, household chores. We had a good time talking of these and many other things this Saturday at our workshop and I encouraged them to make visual journaling a part of their everyday lives in hopes that they too will experience a connection between their creative life and their everyday life. When the stuff of our everyday lives becomes the inspiration and subject for our art, then we approach a more integrated self. Conversely, as we say yes to being creative, we find we have more energy and motivation for the “everyday” stuff. It becomes a fluid cycle where each fuels the other, instead of fighting against each other.
I’ve been re-reading some terrific articles on drawing with lines in the Spring 2006 issue of Drawing magazine, published by American Artist Magazine. I love how they recognize that employing line is a powerful tool in an artist’s hands even though line is a fairly arbitrary way of rendering things…there are actually no real lines in nature, only places where masses are next to each other and therefore create an “edge” that we often render on paper as a line. Two of the articles speak of combining line work with the traditional mass approach, or using line to indicate light and shadow. I enjoy seeing what I can make of this when I draw, especially nature as it allows for lovely squiggly lines to be built up for the darker masses and fewer of them for the light areas. I’ve tried it to render faces as well, with some success, but sometimes end up with lines on the face that are not terribly attractive. Old Man Beeson was perfect for this however, with his burly beard, mustache, and eyebrows. Here’s a quote from one article for you to think on–
” ‘There are no lines in nature!’ This variously attributed aphorism, echoing down the corridors of art academies, ironically spells out why line remains at the core of drawing: Lines are contrived. All the other elements of art–color, texture, value, form–exist independently in the world; only line is a construct. Observation must undergo a radical and active translation to be rendered into line. To draw in line is not to report what we see but to comment upon what we see, to respond to rather than replicate. The artist winnows away superfluous information, simplifying, emphasizing, extracting essences from the everyday clutter of our visual field. This and similar exercises of the intellect are what separate art from mere imitation and help set line at the very heart of artistic drawing.” pg. 78
I’m not sure it is possible to capture the sweetness and loveliness of a young girl who has just curled up in a chair with her favorite stuffed animal after waking up on a Saturday morning with foam curlers in her hair…I was going for that at any rate. Our youngest daughter could hardly wait to get the curlers taken out. But I managed to get a sketch or two while we chatted and then take a few photos. The morning light coming in from the window (off to the right) was just the icing on the cake. This is the second work in color (first being Birthday Blowout) since taking a most excellent class on Drawing from Scott Burdick and Sue Lyon (you must check out their website-www.scottburdick.com). I learned SO much in this class over December/January and now it’s changing how I work in color also. Indeed, I do not feel I have my bearings very well yet…so many questions…but I’m having a great time exploring and trying to figure out the answers. It probably goes without saying…but I do love painting my children. It blends two things I love so much in the world–art and my family. And it brings a sense of wholeness to what might otherwise be opposing pulls on me.
One of the many things I enjoy about teaching drawing is that I get to jaw about it to a captive audience, who is, at least to some degree, interested in what I may have to say on the subject. I began waxing poetic about the virtues of drawing to some fine folks at Iggy’s Art Supply yesterday for the first of 6 classes on drawing. After exploring a multitude of materials available to us to draw with, we plunged right into contour drawing–one of my favorites! (Though I will say this every time I talk about a different aspect or approach to drawing: gesture drawing; mass/modeled drawing; light & shadow pattern drawing; shape drawing, etc.) There are even several ways to approach contour drawing: blind contour, quick contour, and continuous line contour, to name a few. I enjoy them all.
I draw a lot. Taking my sketch journal and pens wherever I go affords many opportunities to explore line–either at the park with my kids, at my son’s soccer practices, at sketch group on Mondays here in K’ville, or even at life drawing groups. It’s a wonderful way to be “present” in my life, to slow down a bit and enjoy the people and places I encounter, to fully inhabit the world I live in and to celebrate even the simplest of things like someone reading a book at an outdoor cafe. I am a bit evangelistic about all this drawing stuff…you really should try it!!
Everyday Art Gallery is one of my favorite galleries. Located in downtown Reidsville, NC it is a homebase for all kinds of wonderful art and fine crafts. Saturday I went for their Spring Starving Artist Sidewalk Sale and I demonstrated charcoal drawing at my easel while my favorite potters, the Talleys of Farmhouse Pottery, made all kinds of terrific clay creations on the wheel and handbuilding. I had the opportunity to meet lots of folks, talk art, and sketch this lovely young girl, whose grandfather asked me to paint her portrait in color for him. It will be an honor!
Everyday Art Gallery began about 3 years ago with the philosophy that art is made by everyday folks like you and me. One need not go to New York or Atlanta to see beautiful, high quality, creative artwork…it is literally in our own neighborhoods. The owner, a fabulous mosaics artist herself, runs the gallery as a homebase for local and regional artists to showcase their work either by selling it or teaching it, as she also offers classes for folks to dabble in everything from clay works, to jewelry making, to painting, drawing, knitting…you name it, Everyday Art Gallery offers it! A short road trip to Reidsville is well worth the visit. You can grab lunch at the Backstreet Cafe just down the street or any other downtown eateries. Next time I go, I will be teaching a Visual Journaling class on Saturday, April 25th from 10-noon. This is an exciting way of chronicaling your life through visual images, either collaged, drawn, or painted…and any combinations you can come up with. Come along with me and have fun learning about this great way to journal.
Learning to see is an artist’s lifelong ambition. We train our eyes to see the world around us either more truthfully or from a different vantage point than one might readily see. Some artists see and translate color in a way that catches our breath. Other artists render interior worlds to show us something beyond reality. An artist uses a multitude of means to show us what he or she sees–line, shapes, light & shadow, color, tones, texture, edges, composition, on and on we could go. Winter heightens my vision of a world of lines with bare-limbed trees, brush, and crusty grass. With spring my eyes see more shapes around me…globs of color, and shapes of light everywhere. I’m also captivated by the human face…I continually “see” new aspects of the face and am constantly training my eyes to approach drawing the face or figure without preconceived notions of what a face is. Charcoal, for me, is a perfect medium for rendering faces. Even an artist’s choice of medium is part of his/her attempt to show you what he/she is seeing. For myself, I love the simplicity of a charcoal drawing–a bit like poetry, distilling the information down to only essentials. Even this, the essentials, is what we have to train our eyes to see…not to get lost in rendering the eyelashes and pores of skin.
It seems that this is also helpful for life. Learning to see the larger, essential shapes of our lives is far more beneficial than getting bogged down in the minute details. Learning to live more truthfully, learning to see beyond the veil if you will, and training our eyes and hearts not to rely on preconceived notions, but to really peer into things and find the beauty in them. It isn’t easy…this learning to see. But it is rewarding and fascinating. Again, I hear my favorite poet, Mr. Frost: ” Two roads diverged into a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
There are so many ways to approach drawing…all the possibilities make me giddy. Shall I do a contour drawing or better yet–blind contour? Shall I draw the light and dark shapes? Shall I design shapes that have a nod to realism but take off in interesting directions? Shall I draw the large masses and work my way to the smaller ones? Shall I build up these masses with line, or color, or…? The possibilities are endless. Here are only two versions of a gentleman who is a Kernersville character. I have seen him for several years sitting in his golf cart on Beeson Rd. with his dog. Apparently he used to ride his horse around town. I have referred to him as Old Man Beeson until I recently learned his real name. I may work in color for my next version of him…who knows? Part of the fun is dreaming of all the ways I could approach drawing & painting a portrait.
One of many reasons I love art is so that I can celebrate the people and events in their lives that are meaningful to me. One of my dearest friends had her first baby at age 42! And this is their precious little girl around 6 months old. I had knitted the little bolero/sweater for her and they took her picture in this oh-so-grown-up pose. I could not resist capturing it in charcoal. A baby is quite a challenge to draw…their proportions are so different from older children and adults. I was not only mesmerized by her face, but also by the hand draped over the side of the chair or sofa. I learned a ton from attempting this portrait and I also felt like I got to know something of her personality at this fleeting stage of her young life.