Val-de-Grâce

I used to work with pastels before seriously taking up painting. I greatly enjoyed the process but the pieces largely lacked the density, volume & mass that I prefer my work to posses.

Once I had obtained chops with my painting, I saw how I could have achieved the desired effects with the then abandoned pastels.

Like a lot of art things which become part of me/important to me, i fell into using colored pencils by complete happenstance. My painting showed me how to get what I wanted out of them much as it would have with pastels. There is a dichotomy to using colored pencils  in that to get what i want out of them, i need to concentrate while also utilizing a looseness which I avoid with my painting.

For subject matter, rarely do I do portraits with colored paper. I prefer instead landscapes and cityscapes.

I prefer to use colored paper, either gray or brown. I vary the size with the largest being 9×12. I intentionally limit my color palette, each piece only mainly using varying shades of three colors with the tiny splash here or there of  seemingly “wrong” colors. This i equate to the dissonant notes sometimes employed by Prokofiev and Monk.

Technique and conceptualization of colored pencil pieces are very different from my paintings. Having to utilize different approach & technique adds to how I think about painting. Aside from enjoying the process in itself, this gives it great value for me.

 

9×12 Val-de-Grâce

 

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Roman Senator’s Wife

I am reading Roland Barthe’s Camera Lucida. Some of what he says of photography is equally true of current figurative painting.

Everyone has a phone which allows them to now capture the minutia of their daily lives. This has effected photography as even someone with no artistic inclinations can take a shot which is frame worthy given the right location. now we are witness to location porn or given the ease of snapping photos, luck of happening upon an interesting moment more than compelling individualized photographic voice. Digital photos have become akin to infinite monkey theorem albeit at an extremely accelerated rate.

With painting the negative impact is slightly different. Regardless of an artist’s style, people expect a type of hyper realism, being able to capture and document their lives with a pocket sized device instantly would make anything short of this, espcially when time consuming posing is involved, seem absurd or archaic at best.

To paraphrase Barthes on being the subject of a (portrait) photograph:

I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.

While hyper realism bores me, I do aim for each work to capture the subject’s likeness. Not a disconnect but an unexpected effect sometimes occurs. The subject of a portrait has a definite image of themselves. The artist may notice something physically or psychologically that they do not see in themselves (or like).  The effect similar  to when one hears a recording of their voice. Few think it accurate.

Part of what Barthes has in mind, perception of oneself versus the relationship between artist and subject. With portraits, I want accuracy of portrayal but it has always been that it is the artist describing the subject using their words. Words in this case being the artist’s style/voice. I talk about you but I choose my own words to do so.

This is a 9×12 piece on French cotton paper. The inherent properties of the paper is a softness and delicacy of line.

 

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New pencil stroll

I had been to one of my favorite art supply stores. It’s one of three oldest remaining in Paris. It is very small. I always like the ones which are tiny but organized.

There is the perfume which excites, a melange of pencils, cardboard and that scent paint gives off which in itself is a marriage of several things. The close quarters gives the feeling of being in a warren similar, with  variations, to what each artist will return to with their treasures.

I stood behind a woman whose slowness made the wait seem interminable but which was indicative of the personal service offered up to each customer.

While waiting I grabbed randomly, a fistful of pencils by a company that I knew to be good but had yet to try.

My turn, the heat had made me drowsy. When I’m old and shrunken, if it’s not busy, I will ask to curl up and sleep atop one of the taboret like a cat. For now though, I went afterwards to Marc’s to wake up with some ice cold sancerre  and good conversation.

I did not immediately give any of them a try, nor did I even know exactly what I had grabbed. They were all various “B” (soft lead) pencils.

I greatly enjoy Blackwing Palominos, which i would describe as semi soft with a creamy property. I constantly mix it up with what equipment I use but there is always a Blackwing in my kit too.

The Lyra 669 5 B is made in Germany. It had an easy glide across the paper. I noticed that the first portrait I used it for on 9×12 70lb paper, it had a very graphic look.

I have a thing for pencils which have their own distinctive voice.  It’s great fun to learn when  its specific  properties will best suit collaborating with me on a piece in the same way a musician uses specific instruments for certain type of song.

9×12 quick sketch portrait

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New Companion

I can borrow a pen from a waitress to mark up a paper place mat or the nubbin of a pencil and some scrap paper and be satisfied doing my thing. The results need not be frame worthy or even worth saving (after seven years,  having moved my long term studio, I am now of the mind that i need not save every single foot, hand etc woodshedding sketch that I do). The pay off has become the process.

Although I no longer feel the need to save every bit of visual minutia that I birth, ego does demand it still look good, even knowing that  some of it is mere exercise destined for the barrel.

I like to challenge myself by trading off what equipment i use, even for mere woodshedding, every few days. The (proven to me at least) theory behind this is that, regardless of what equipment I have on hand, I will be able to make something worth while as I am not rigidly dependent upon specific things to create.

Even with my flexibility, I feel out of sorts and naked were I to leave home without at least my trusty pocket pad on hand. I travel with various amounts of equipment and sized paper, the specifics being dictated by location and length of stay.

The constant is always my pocket pad. Called “The Passport” on account of its size, it is from Midori. Before seeing one in person, there had been a huge push on some of the sites i interact with, especially Flicker. There were beautiful photos of these notebooks sitting on a well turned out desk next to some great fountain pens and other accoutrements. Or on a bedside table at the Ritz by a pocket watch, brass Art Deco key chain and cigar cutter.

In each case, the photos made me want not  just the notebook but most of the things in the photo.

I have no idea if they were the first to come up with it but Midori notebooks used The Midori system. They were refillable, and highly customizable. You could get all kinds of extra sleeves, charms, pockets and all kinds of other things not all of which are necessarily practical if, like me you are going to constantly be using it off and on throughout the day.

They come in two sizes, the traveler (6x 4.4x 0.09) and the passport  (3.86x 5.28). I got the passport. Upon initially looking at it, I was far from enamored. The paper it came with was too thin for sketching and was not easy to get at the time nor cheap for someone who could easily go through at least a pad a week sketching.

However, the system itself was clever. It was a leather square folded in half with a slit at the halfway mark. Going down this slit was a thin elastic permanently held in place by a lead disc which has become a recognizable part of the midori aesthetic.  There is also a smaller elastic loop pushed through one side of the cover held in place by a knot. This loops around the book to hold it closed. Midori offers these elastics in all kinds of colors now.

The center elastic slips over the center page of the book where the staples are. You can add as many books as you want by pressing covers back to back and putting standard elastic through the center page.

As much as I thought that the actual notebooks looked far nicer in the photos and the paper was not a good match for me, I did like the system. I made my own booklets to slip into the cover, usually grouping them together in threes.

Midori offered among other things, plastic zipper pouches. They are attached the same way as you would a booklet. I go three booklets with one zipper pouch containing a bunch of pencil blenders and tiny Blackingwing eraser along with one extra elastic in case one ever breaks.

No matter where I have been in the world, at the end of the day my Midori has been in my pocket or resting at night by my bedside table. It gives me an odd comfort but also inspiration.

I have large collection now of pocket pads and while the midori is not the nicest nor any longer the easiest (I have many now where pad slides into covers and also lays far flatter than the midori which forever wants to close even as I use it) I would feel strange not having it on me even were I to have another pad too.

The Place Maubert market in Paris. There are great kiosks selling all kinds of foods. The scents of spices and meats takes one away to places even further afield than being there. Also to be found are small tables selling everything from typical flea market junk , to shirts and pullovers in  Breton Sailor style. Wedged between tables of cheeses being kept fresh by straw and pastries made from honey and rosewater are artisan tables.

This year I met a man who handmade leather journals. He did it all using old school hand tools. The styles wildly varied, some of it clearly aimed at the tourists. Regardless of size, they all snapped shut and the blank pads slipped into the cover/holder. The paper it came with is surprisingly nice, blank booklets.

We chatted a little. I showed him my little Midori. He pinched the leather cover between thumb and index finger and while he maintained  politeness he also seemed to feel sorry for me. I fought the defensive urge to tell him of my large collection.

One part of his table was full of comparably sized notepad. Being handmade, they were surprisingly inexpensive. He threw an extra blank pad in my bag.

Although it is a different manner of holding the paper than my midori, I was able to use a similar trick, slipping elastic in middle, to have this new pad hold one of midori zipper pouches. Seemingly this gives me the best of both worlds but I do not see myself retiring the midori ever completely as he has been too good a friend, having seen everything without shock nor complaint.

 

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Two

I have a definite methodology to how I work. But on the road there are variations. This is an aspect of how I feel a location should subtly add its flavor to work being done (there). In the states, I do my hour or two of woodshedding at night, the end of my day.

In Paris the lighting is better to do it in the morning with my coffee.

Even in my stateside studio, different times of year present better hours to paint by, as I use natural light to do so. It takes anywhere from three days to a week to really nail down what hours to pick up the brush. I am lucky though, that there are some aspects of a piece that I can do in less than ideal lighting.

I do not go to museums every time I am in France, as I know that I will always be back. Sometimes all I need is the poetry of the streets to inspire.

There is the constant though, of chatting with my peers.

While here, a huge sale by a post-pop artist got us all talking. The question of “Is it art?”

Eventually we all got bored with gnashing our teeth and started discussing nudity in art and the conected social mores in North America.

There is a cyclical debate of what seperates art from eroticism (“dirty” or “porn” labels)

Some say it is merely a matter of intent. This is too simplistic and facilitates filling the room with devil’s advocates and semantics.

Of course,  intent is always important as proven by Duchamp, but a more reliable yardstick which also keeps in mind a modicum of rationality are the components and concept of the work.

A work can seduce or excite but is it doing so because a main componant is titillation? The same question can be asked of shock value. If a work happens to induce heat, then regardless of why, it can’t be “dirty”. Someone setting out first and foremost to excite makes it so that a different label may be appropriate to apply.

Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde comes to mind. It is graphic to some but beautiful, there is no question that it is art.

The first question being asked should never be “Is there nudity?” nor even necessarily “is it art?” but rather, “is it good ?”

Having to ask if it is art is sort of like  guestioning yourself if there has been too many drinks to safely drive home, it becomes almost besides the point.

I used my canson watercolor paper 140 lb. A thing which appeals to me about it is that it’s not temperamental, being effected by wet weather as the French cotton ones that I used to solely use was.

For photos of my work I am just using my phone and as the paper has little tooth, the photos (I never work any digital magic on pics) gives accurate gist of a piece.

Song & Bellissima 5.5 x 8.5 watercolor and paper

 

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Raspberry tart

Where a painter who eventually becomes famous worked/lived does not necessarily reflect their posthumous reputation.  This is because more often than not the factors in no particular order are location, price and availability.

Not apparent from the work with which he became known, Paris was very important at the start of painter Ellsworth Kelly’s career. Several years ago, address in hand, I hoofed it over to this first studio (which remains just an apartment, having probably passed through dozens of hands since he lived there).

It looked just like all the other apartments arround it, neither more spacious nor with better light.

This year having read Jed perl’s excellent book on Alexander Calder, I decided to take a look at where on of his studios was. Once again, it was the same thing with the added touch which I think he would have appreciated, of a Chinese restaurant below his place.

Most people, when they think of an artist’s studio are imagining a large space, perhaps with a skylight or two. Or at the very least something which will look suitably dramatic and cinemesque upon seeing it after the fact.

For every Cezanne studio museum, there is Kelly’s or calder’s.  This is because no artist is thinking in terms how it will look once they are famous and gone. Calder liked most of his Paris studios because they were an easy walk to the cafes he frequented and his friends, yet slightly set back as to avoid the noise keeping him up.

Kelly’s motivation  had been the even more pragmatic financial one.

Another aspect of the painter life which many give no conscious thought to is the personal visual lexicon. This ever growing vocabulary is made up of the intentional such as portraits but also the instinctual. This is the every day as encountered by the painter, not made dramatic but rather it’s beauty drawn out. Cezzanne’s apples, soutine’s elevator operator et al.

The painter is not bragging of the incredible life lived a la some instagrammer’s vacation or food photo. They are recording the every day encounter(s) whether it’s the view from a studio window or some utilized necessity such as hat or groceries waiting to be put away.

I had no ambitions towards this as I had been unaware of the phenomenon until I started practicing it. The concept of “draw/paint from the guts” doesn’t mean to viscerally go at it until some sort catharsis is achieved. This misconstrued point is more about conveying the true, the reality without over thinking it nor worrying about drama.

Now one of my greatest pleasure in life is capturing on paper some little thing as it is from my daily existence. As ever, serving the process has become the pay off to me.

This is my second Paris painting this year. A dessert I had meant to try for a while, which was delicious.

I used 5.5x 8.5 spiral bound canson watercolor  paper 140 lb. When i first started painting i used exspensive blocks of french cotton paper. This was initially my practice paper. Although the paper’s “voice” is inherently different, I have now long used it for fully realized pieces, espcially when traveling.

Raspberry tart

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Paris Painter

I have said time and again, for me truth is beauty. I am interested in the real, real bodies real emotions. Even and espcially those which seem counter to traditional ideas and portrayal of beauty.

This honesty has  always been the facilitators of the emotional resonance that is my raison d’etre for all my work.

By no means am I doing something new. From Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville back to Tintoretto and courbet, honest portrayal of people has been utilized to create a powerful, real beauty made even more so because of the seeming imperfections.  Proudly, I am merely adding my voice to the chorus.

Traditional beauty bores me except in the smallest doses. It’s akin to the frosting flower off of a cake. I’m not adverse to now and then taking a bite, but it’s sweetness has no true flavor.

The thought of using my work merely to shock or insult is anathema to me. I work too hard on my chops and conveying my philosophy for such things.

This is my first painting back in my Paris studio. Unintentionally approp as today is mothers day in North America.

It has been overcast. The sun would come out, then retreat like a shy friend, then blaze too bright to see the paper properly.

I had to go slow,  it ate into my record buying time, but I am pleased to the extreme with the results.

5.5x 8.5 watercolor and paper

Michelle

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