Not Cool

I read a lot. I mix it up though, not sticking merely to one type of thing. One genre that I like to read is biographies on artists and/or artistic eras and movements. It has become much easier to appear in print, especially if one has a hook such as “Secret Lives of …”, so I highly recommend reading up on whether a work of non fiction is accurate or not beforehand.

Having read all the better biographies on the impressionists it spurred me on to seeing their work in person. Their works retains an emotional power, sometimes more than that of a few of the modern masters who came after them. Even with this retention of power though, their work has lost its “dangerous” aspect. Unless well versed with their era, looking now at a Monet or Renoir one would never suspect how they had upset and scandalized Parisian culture.

Matisse who proceeded them had similar problems. After a small showing of some of his works, newspapers said that the colorful “blobs” were germs and that viewers risked catching something by viewing them.  This taunt would even be repeated while he was within earshot in the streets. Looking at his works now with their radiant joy and color, it’s difficult to imagine that they had at  one point been considered scandalous.

All of this underscored what I had already known, I would rather put my energy & attention towards creating as I want, rather than trying to be “cool” or cutting edge. Today’s “dangerous” (which seems to go hand in hand w/ “cool”) work is destined to not necessarily become unappreciated but most likely made safer by whatever generationally comes down the line.

A then radical innovation I cribbed from the  Impressionists which many painters I admire continued with  is the  painting objects & people from my every day life. I do not look for the drama but rather the real and let the truth supply the emotion.

I have an ongoing Series titled “A Valentine of Sorts”.  All the pieces are 5.5×8.5 and compositionally, are often a small section of a larger scene (i.e just my hand instead of my entire body, just a glass instead of an entire tablescape). Their commonality is in being things from my every day life, observed and then captured.

“Her First Docs”  Watercolor & Paper 5.5×8.5

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Blue Pen

I have an ongoing informal series called “A Valentine of Sorts”. The things in it I do not seek out but paint when they organic have popped up in my life and have the color palette I have used in the series. In general, I never beforehand think about subject matter nor color scheme but always do what appeals to me as I bump into it.

 

The whole series is 5.5×8.5 Watercolor & Paper

 

The Sea (for Kini)

I used to do large paintings, acrylic on canvas. Door sized things. I was not very good at the time and I sometimes think the real art was in the making of the pieces as I often had an audience. Everyone liked the works but I think it was being caught up in the moment or after the fact, remembering the time.

I got serious about painting, I got good. I am far better with watercolors than I ever was with acrylics. I got rid of 95% of my old works.

My paintings and drawing tend to be far smaller now. my largest graphite pieces are 9×12 with the paintings being 7×10. (more often than not 5.5×8.5)

I have a logic to this. I want the viewer to feel as if ease-dropping in on whatever scene I am putting forth. As important as the emotional effect, i have the first time or new collector’s in mind.

When  first getting into art there is a vague sense of what one likes. The more you delve into art, the more exposure you have, the palate becomes fuller formed. To get one of the larger pieces so en vogue when first starting out, you run the risk of it dictating the timber of a burgeoning collection.

I want a collector to live with my works, not under them. For people where space is at a premium, the now seemingly typical big-boys dominate a room. The real big pieces, you have to almost put goggles over the mind’s eye, you stop noticing it except for rare instances and this defeats the purpose of having art.

With my now firmly established voice, I have no idea if my technique would even work with large pieces. As a challenge for myself I have decided to do a few larger (for me) pieces. Regardless of whether I can make it work, I still do not see myself going as big as is popular. Bigger is not better it is just “more”.

This is my first “big” piece.

The Sea (for Kini) graphite & paper 14×17

 

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Left Bank

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.

W.Wolfson ’19

Left Bank 9×12 colored paper and pencil

 

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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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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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