Still Life with Gourd…and problems

What can you learn from a painting with problems? I knew the glass bottle I picked for my still life would be challenging with its transparency and reflections, but I decided to face the challenge with the help of my teacher. I did not anticipate that the folds of the black cloth and the elliptical shapes of the plate and bottle would also be tricky. I felt that the gourd would be forgiving – what’s a bump or curve here or there going to matter? You can draw a gourd that looks gourd-like even if it doesn’t look like that specific gourd in front of you and no one will be the wiser. But if you draw the perspective of a cylindrical bottle or round plate inaccurately, the drawing will look amateurish.

The photo collage shows (clockwise from bottom left) the still life in the studio, an early version of the drawing and a later version after two 2 1/2 hour classes and quite a lot of work at home. The drapery is toned down and blended, the black drape shows through the bottle and the sky is darkened. The whole drawing reminds me of some artists I like: Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and Charles Burchfield, but I can’t claim that was intentional.

Still life with gourd

Still life in progress

I learned that I need a lot more practice with basic drawing. I learned that folds of drapery are really tricky and that’s why all those Renaissance painters went wild with their virtuoso renderings of draped figures. I learned that using black is worth a whole study of artists like Whistler and Manet. I realized I was right about the gourd. Gourds are forgiving. Just don’t put them on a reflective, white plate seen at a foreshortened angle. Oh, the ellipses!

Still life with gourd, pastel

Art is never finished

“Art is never finished, only abandoned,” Leonardo da Vinci

This quote came to my attention recently on a day I had finally decided a drawing was as finished as it was ever going to get. The journey to get to that point follows.

Here is the drawing in its first incarnation after an evening at a charcoal drawing class.

Still life conch charcoal

Still life conch, charcoal on canvas

I drew this using soft vine charcoals sticks on a stretched canvas. I sprayed it with a home-made fixative, a mixture of water and gel medium which gave it an interesting drippy, watery background and some vivid white craquelure effects. Then I dried it with a hair dryer and went back at it trying to get darker, rich, velvety black charcoal effects. I repeated the homemade fixative but lost the vivid whites in the process, never to be regained. So that was a disappointing materials failure just as the class ended.

The homemade fixative is less toxic than store bought workable fixative and the idea is that it also produces some happy accidents with its watery effects. The unhappy accident of losing the lightest effects might have happened because the canvas was not primed enough. Regardless of the cause, the drawing had gone from good to not so good in one studio class. Ugh!

Still life conch

Photo of conch on books

Here is the photograph I used as my source. The conch has featured in many of my drawings and paintings over the years and my mother’s paintings before that. In addition to the very old shell, it is perched on an ancient Larousse French dictionary my father gave me. I arranged the still life, shot it with my iPad, turned it black and white and cropped and edited it a bit and then printed it out and took the printout to class.

The problem, as Leonardo said, was, should I try to finish the drawing or abandon it? The beautiful whites and watery effects were gone for good and the drawing lacked oomph. I left it on my drafting table for weeks and would add more charcoal marks to it and scrub at it with erasers and a stiff oil brush dipped in water as I wandered by over several weeks, but it continued to look blah.

With nothing to lose, I added some color using conte crayons. The black, sanguine and buff colors did the trick and I was finally happy enough with the results to spray on store bought fixative, (outside and careful not to breathe it.) I affixed a sawtooth hanger to the stretcher and hung it above my drafting table. Here it is. Not abandoned, probably finished. For now…

Conch still life

Conch still life, charcoal and conte crayon on canvas

What’s in a name?

After months of dithering, researching, pondering, procrastinating, I finally bought my domain name for this WordPress blog/website. That means I went from a free WordPress site to a Personal Plan. The thing that drove me over the edge to paying actual money to blog (not much money btw) is that I hated those advertisements on the free version of the blog. The second reason is that my URL will not have the word ‘WordPress’ in it now. So when I tell people what my website address is, it is now artbyasdef.com not artbyasdef.wordpress.com. There were other decisions to make. There always are. That’s where the prolonged procrastination came in. I thought and thought about changing the name of my website to my actual name, but in the end I kept the artbyasdef because I sign my work ASdeF which are my initials.

So this is a big/little step in becoming a late- blooming artist. Next: business cards!

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ (Juliet from ‘Romeo and Juliet’)

Below: a charcoal drawing of rooftops in Venice, Italy, as seen from my hotel room last Easter Week.

Venice rooftops charcoal drawingVenice rooftops

Storing your art

After you finish your work of art, you have to make some finishing touches. Just Google any of these phrases and you will see that artists think about these issues a lot. Before you see a work of art displayed in a gallery or on a website or in someone’s home, all these things should have happened:

Don’t forget to sign your work (search for ‘artist signature’ posts on the web)

(Seriously it’s easy to forget to do this!)

Don’t forget to use fixative, varnish or other preservative appropriate to the medium

Did you photograph it for your website or records?

Store it somewhere safe until you frame it for exhibit or sale

Storing your art

I am at the ‘store it somewhere safe’ step. The photo collage shows that I have safely ‘stored’ and (Bonus at No Extra Cost to me !) displayed, my two latest charcoal sketches by thumbtacking them to the walls of my studio space. One small pastel still sits on a tabletop easel taunting me: are you done or not? And my biggest recent work, a pastel of Verona, Italy, is clipped to a drawing board, covered with glassine and resting on top of the old wardrobe filled with crafts supplies. That’s me with my iPad snapping the pic of the resting pastel. The wardrobe itself is decorated with oil pastels, paper collage and acrylic sketches, so that’s another way to find storage space for your artistic efforts. Just paint on your furniture.

So anyway, to my friends and family who are super supportive and kind about my late-blooming artistic journey, this is what’s going on. It seems like a long way to get these works framed, exhibited, sold, gifted, turned into cards or pillows or even a proper website. But I am learning a lot and slowly producing work. And enjoying the process. And liking some of the results enough to thumbtack them to the walls without cringing or climbing up to change one more little detail. Progress!