musing on a favorite statue. Quick lyra sketching in trusty 3×5 inch pocket pad.
musing on a favorite statue. Quick lyra sketching in trusty 3×5 inch pocket pad.
Finally able to get back to my Paris studio. In general I’m always tweeking my road gear. Post pandemic, I’ve done some shorter trips but nothing with logistics of returning to Europe. I had no idea what to expect of others in regards to behavior while en route. With this in mind the lighter I could make my bags the better.
I have a great new notebook. It’s refillable and utilizes the disc system. What’s different about it is that the discs are inside the cover, so I can put it in my pocket. I bought a cutter which allows me to refill it with any paper I choose. I saved space by creating good sized pad comprised of watercolor paper, regular sketch and tan multi media.
I have several great arts stores around me so I will eventually get normal sized paper too. This is my first painting. 4×4.
While getting here, there were times of great crowds of people but thats nothing new for international travel. I didn’t find the vibe any different than normal. Regardless of rules, many people masked up. As the tips of the plane’s wings sliced off the edges of Grey silver clouds, I mused to myself. Masks.For me,it’s not about political affiliations, what happened to the concept of sometimes having to do a thing you don’t want to. That’s called being an adult. Truly, your life has not been too bad if having to mask up is the worst thing that has ever happened to you.
I am now still playing catch up with all the things I had put on hold for a year plus. I am very fortunate that none of it was extremely pressing. Dentist, roofers and a small parade of other things kept me from starting a painting or Cinefield®. I have slowly whittled the list down and started a new Cinefield®. These are labor intensive and so between the two things, it occurred to me I have not posted in awhile. While my studio is being taken over by sheets of tiny cut out images, i can not paint but I can still draw.
When i do short trips i do not bring my painting equipment with me, opting to just draw instead. Sometimes on longer trips even with my painting equipment at hand the weather conspires against me with rain or dark skies. By complete happenstance I discovered Lyra water soluble graphite sticks. I instantly got into this medium. It allows for painterly effects. I have a travel brush which folds into a tiny tube and this accompanying one of the graphite sticks which are size of fat crayon, now allows me to do monochromatic paintings on even short trips. The added bonus for me is that aside from how compact it is, I can use this medium at night (which I cant with regular paints) and in bad weather.
The expressionistic qualities of this medium greatly appeals to me and conveying emotion in only one color makes it that munch “easier” when utilizing a full palette.
I am already pleased with what I can do but am sure that down the line I will get even better.
For my last collage the emphasis was just on doing something lush & beautiful. With this one I wanted to return to my often achieved effect of an open ended narrative. I also have in mind the desire to collage when on the road. With my density achieved via so many small components the amount of time it takes to do the piece would mean that on a shorter trip I would only (if even) be able to do a collage and not also paintings, sculptures et al.
Right now I have two styles of collage. I have mainly been doing my denser mosaic style. The other style incorporates larger pieces and I achieve the density I prefer in my works via distortions of lines and parts. This style is perfect for on the road, while the challenge of getting my preferred density will keep me away from mere mannerisms.
As is always the case with my collages, there is no digital magic. I use my trusty scissors and adhesive applied with brush to photos which I personally took.
“All Night Music & Dance” 11×14
Everyone’s phone now gives them the ability to take great photos & movies. This is a blessing and a curse. It is nice to capture something, especially when on the road that one wants to show friends. The downside to this is, go to any big city in Europe and you see tourists so busy hunting the perfect instagram shot that they are not actually there in the moment. Ambient sights, sounds and smells are not absorbed into memory. The old adage that “travel broadens the mind” is a sort of shorthand for being open to experiences and impressions so that they add to you and become part of you. I’ve seen some lovely shots of Paris on friend’s social media sites but when asked about their travels, they can not convey anything aside from the day of their trip they were at the local.
This is not recent news though. Another less apparent negative effect is that, with the ability to snap a photo of anyone, hundreds of photos of a night out with new friends, people under a certain age have forgotten or never learned how to look at a painting.
The relationship between painter and model/subject is not supposed to be one of exacting reportage. Ideally, it is as if the painter is describing the model but using their own words. Words in this case being the painter’s style. Because of the ability to document in photos, a person, people want an exacting reproduction all done in hyper realism. (like their phone photos)
When Matisse painted a woman reclining on a couch, you knew her foot was her foot but you would never dream of doing an anatomical study from it. Largely, people do not want to see a painting which looks like a painting, where brush strokes are evident as is the artist’s hand. With my recent foray into social media, i have met some wonderful painters who are held back by trying to make their work look too real, too exacting and so stillborn. “Painterly” aesthetics is currently not as appealing to the masses as overly processed and perfected type thing which could be a glossy Haute couture ad.
Some museums during shelter in place have been offering free virtual tours. In a recent New Yorker column, Peter Schjeldahl, one of the finest living authors on art, suggested that viewing art online was not great. He drew the ire of many. There is though a huge difference between seeing an image of a work and actually being there. The digital image, even when shot in high definition still has factors which effect its appearance and impact such as the aspects of the device one is looking on. And the reality of looking at photos of paintings online, more often than not there will not be a sense of communion since chances are one has the television on or other distractions, the myth of multi-tasking. If one goes to a museum, instagram moment hunting aside, ostensibly you are there to experience art and nothing else. There is just an indescribable aspect to being in a building, in the same room as a work with it in front of you and others around you. There is not a “feeling” seeing it flattened out on a device’s screen. It gives the gist of a piece at best, it is akin to hearing a recorded voice not the voice speaking in the same space as you.
I get great pleasure in portraying human flesh in my works. How i do it is not a matter of degree of chops but intentional. It’s painterly and expressionistic. To do close up parts, it almost borders at times on abstraction. I have done pieces, close ups, where there is not the guide-indication of an eye or finger to tell of a body. It is even more abstract yet there is something fleshy about it. I feel very fortunate to be able to work the magic the makes a white square seem as if it has volume & mass, heat of blood flowing just below the skin.
Nocturne Watercolor & Paper 5×8 inches
I had unintentionally lucked out. Where I lived in Paris had five art supplies stores all within a five to ten minute walk. Each was good for specific things.
One aspect of all which was nice was that each was for working artists, this was reflected in the pricing, quality and selection. All the places were “historic” except the one closest to me. This one was still good though, it just meant the Soutine had never bought his pencils nor charcoal there.
All the staff at each place are artists themselves but they are almost shy about it. There is none of the (sometimes) overbearing networking as occurs in North America. I became Pals with Quintin. He finally showed me some of his work. intricate ink on paper works. I did not just offer up the small talk compliments but discussed technique with him which cemented our friendship.
After that, for years, every time I went into his shop I would get the sale price plus employ discount on my basket full of stuff.
A few years ago I went in early in the morning on my way to an afternoon of sketching and heavy lunching. We chatted and at first he seemed distracted but after a few minutes of talk it became clear it was more a type of embarrassment.
He was going to follow a girl he liked, really liked, to Ibiza where he would also work on his graphic novel. It was unclear if they would take him back on the staff when he eventually returned to Paris. I should load up as much as possible now as to take advantage of the deep discount.
It was the end of an era. Most likely a mistake on his part but that and/or an over earnestness is right of passage for youth as they find their way. I put things in my basket, he handed me blocks of watercolor paper. Seeing me doing math in my head, assured me not to worry about it.
Standing at the counter i knew to let the woman behind me go first, feigning to have forgotten something.
We were alone now, we shook hands. He turned around and grabbed a bunch of stuff off the backboard which he put in my swollen bags. Shaking hands, we exchanged information.
Back in my studio looking at all the stuff he gave me, I was pretty sure they would not be having him back. I had blocks of 7×10 French cotton paper which became one of my mainstays. I had so much of it that it lasted me several years.
I am constantly, from piece to piece switching what paper I use as it keeps things fresh. I do not know how it works for others but in my head i envision a piece before executing it and this vision includes its size too. This has kept my piles of paper dwindling but at a leisurely pace.
Despite plans already solidified, shelter in place finds me on the wrong side of the ocean, Paris right now for me as for most, just a magical daydream. I am very fortunate to be able to continue to work though. My stateside studio has taborets full of supplies.
Since I am going to be around, as i mulled over a new piece I carefully emptied them as to dust inside them. Something which was more busy work to contemplate by than actually needed. To my surprise I found that I had finally reached the end of my Quentin paper! It is all right I have plenty of other paper but this was, for me, the best cotton paper.
I decided to get a new paper to try, a 9×12 non-cotton paper. Right off the bat I enjoyed using the paper. It handles different from my French cotton paper but still enjoyable. Using the new paper, despite all going on, I get that familiar pleasure of serving the process & my craft. I hope Quintin is on some Spanish beach with his hippy chic drinking wine and looking out at the sea, I hope that I find myself walking around my arrondissement sooner than later.
“Blue Pillow” 9×12 Watercolor & Paper (new paper)
“Hand Selfie” 8×5 watercolor & Paper
What makes for a good trip or proper travel is not checking off a list of places to see with their associated objects;
The Louvre, Mona Lisa….
It is absorbing the feel of a place, ambience of scents, sounds..In taking time to do this, one notices how others live their lives & what is important to them. It also allows for a deeper memory retention of the entire experience which then adds to the “you”. It is what is actually meant by “Travel broadens the mind”.
For artists there is even more of a potential benefit.
Every artists works & travels differently. I am always “working” regardless of where I am in the world. The only variation is what equipment I am utilizing. Short trips will find me leaving the paints at home, filling my coat pocket with my trusty pocket pads as I like to travel as light as possible and most likely would not have time anyways.
Any give place should effect an artist. Not in the most obvious way such as “I am in London, I painted Big Ben”.
It is ambient light, the lines of architecture, they become further accoutrements to the palette. It does not mean that one enters artistic phases ala Picasso and Cubism et al. Rather, work done in one place does not look exactly as it appears back home. The artists voice is ever present but there are different components to the fore, mixed in with some of the more familiar.
If you have never been or only as part of a tour group, then every place in France is lumped in together. Despite some commonalities, each area is distinctive with their own cuisine and habits. It is the same with the ambient light.
Aix-en-Provence is all beautiful yellows punctuated by bursts of trees and the sounds of fountains. Lyon is soft pinks as if the buildings are made or at least coated with the delicate charcuterie which they are the masters of making. Paris in itself is diverse. From arrondissement to arrondissement, from the Left Bank to the Right .
People, myself included, proudly proclaim themselves of their side of the river and which number arrondissement.
I like even some of the seemingly “ugly” streets with their time worn dirty gray and fatigued creams. These areas tend to be where some of my artistic heroes lived, cheap rent and every third door a no nonsense bar having been the draw.
I like working with colored pencils on gray or brown paper. I limit my palette intentionally as a challenge to myself. Getting the effects that I want in this way makes it “easier” when using paints. Although I use mainly pinks, it is realistic in that in the real world there are seemingly limitless colors but go out on street look at buildings and the street. On encounters a fairly limited palette.
These pinks, urban children of Fauvists, remind me of some parts of Paris. Not that this color is found there but it is same effect, translated in my minds eye. This little corner I continue to pass almost daily. It has been there forever and i do not think it ever had any straight lines about it.
I initially encountered it when staying at my first great apartment. It was en route to my groceries and favorite bars. Four floors, impossibly winding stairs that made you drag your shoulder against the wall as you ascended since the light was always broken. The biggest part of the place was the bathroom, with a large old tub, frosted glass windows which opened up onto a shadowy verdant courtyard with its cracked flagstones. I kept the primitive hi fi in the bathroom doorway since it was connected to the bedroom. Only music with a minimal of voices sounded good as it was a mono player. Mostly Zoot Sims duets and Lester Young trios.The neighbors would lean against their window boxes of geraniums smoking and slowly nodding their heads to the music. Dark silhouettes with one wavering orange eye-dot that would flare with inhalation.
Hard work and I was fortunate to be able to trade up apartments. I remained in my neighborhood just moving a few streets down. The building has become one of the visual shorthand for the deep affection that I hold for the every day in Paris and those first exciting years.
Left Bank 9×12 colored paper and pencil
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
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
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.