More Words + One Image

August 16, 2020

Today I need to change the subject, or subjects, of the world that presses on us in these strange times. I am putting aside news of the pandemic and of politics. For a moment I need to look away from the wrongs, the injustices, the unkindnesses, the cruelties, and the violence directed towards others. Kindness, beauty, gratitude, and joy are on my radar today. And love, of course; however it shows up. 

As part of today’s practice, this morning I picked up a book that I had set aside for a bit, The Book of Delights by Ross Gay whom I came across on an episode of On Being. If you aren’t familiar with him or his writing, I encourage you to look him up; he and his writing are remarkable. The Book of Delights was begun as a daily essay about something that struck the author as delightful. He writes as though he is speaking casually with the reader over coffee or on a long walk. He might be meandering around a mundane idea or topic when a profound truth or bit of wisdom quietly slips in unannounced, as if conjured through some alchemy of the writer’s words. 

This morning I turned to Chapter 14 “ ‘ Joy is Such a Human Madness’ ”  which Gay begins with a reference to the essay “Joy” by Zadie Smith. It would only be in quoting the entire essay that I might convey the full beauty and power of the writing, but I want to pull out a small favorite bit here. Towards the end of the essay he writes:

“Among the most beautiful things I have ever heard anyone say came from my student Bethany talking about her pedagogical aspirations or ethos, how she wanted to be as a teacher, and what she wanted her classrooms to be: ‘What if we joined our wildernesses together?’ Sit with that for a minute. That the body, the life might carry a wilderness, an unexplored territory, and that yours and mine might somewhere, somehow meet. Might, even, join.

And what if the wilderness…is our sorrow…. It astonishes me sometimes – no, often – how every person I get to know – everyone, regardless of everything, by which I mean everything  lives with some profound personal sorrow. Brother addicted. Mother murdered. Dad died in surgery. Rejected by their family. Cancer came back. Evicted. Fetus not okay. Everyone, regardless, always, of everything. Not to mention the existential sorrow we might all be afflicted with, which is that we, and what we love, will soon be annihilated.  Which sounds more dramatic than it might. Let me just say dead. Is this, sorrow… the great wilderness? Is sorrow the true wild? And if it is – and if we join them – your wild to mine – what’s that? For joining, too, is a kind of annihilation. What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying. I’m saying: What if that is joy?” 

Again, I have to say that one should read Ross Gay’s essay in its entirety for full effect, for that punch-to-the-gut feeling that his words offer up. For me, this essay illuminates my understanding of the bittersweet of life and touches on thoughts of no light without the dark – thoughts that cover the distance from metaphor to the reality of the physical world. 

No light without the dark. In drawing and painting, light and dark are critical; value/relative value (think grayscale) is everything! In making recent drawings I am constantly reminded of this. Color is important but the value, the light or darkness of that color, is what makes the most difference to the drawing. It is not unusual for the most subtle value shift to make a drawing sing. I am sharing here a recent soft pastel drawing for a consideration of light and dark and the relative values of color.

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Pure Pigment

February 22, 2020

The medium of soft pastel is as close as it comes to working with pure pigment, as long as the pastels are of a professional grade. The sticks are made of powdered pigment and enough binder to hold the pigment in stick form. The softest pastels can turn to dust in the hand, and then the drawing process becomes a matter of rubbing the pure color dust into the paper surface. Here is another batch of soft pastel drawings. The previous post describes more about my process, so I won’t repeat. All are approximately 12 x 20 inches.

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Two Swimming

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Summer Sweet

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Deep Water

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Field Study

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Beyond the Dark

Last of the Birds

February 18, 2020

Almost all of the birds have flown the nest. I am writing of the abstract soft pastel drawings that were based on bird coloration. There are only these two framed pieces remaining from the original series. In addition, there is one framed drawing, Dove + Crow, from a series of larger drawings. This was the only one of that series to be based on birds, and it followed on the group of crow drawings which you can see in an earlier post. Most of the crow drawings are available still, although unframed, and many of the larger drawings are also available unframed. Check back here to see some of the larger pieces later in the week.

Making these soft pastel drawings is all about color, the medium, and the process. I am interested in the laying down, layering, and sometimes lifting of the colors, as well as the color relationships. The lush colors and the materiality of the pastels (primarily Schmincke and Sennelier) are very appealing; color becomes both subject and object in these abstract drawings. The pastels, fragile sticks of colored dust, have their own way of behaving, and much of the process involves welcoming in the unexpected and being willing to be out of control. Even if fixed with fixative, the finished pieces are somewhat fragile and will change, however imperceptibly, over time, as particles of color release from the surface. I love that these drawings have a life of their own once I am done with them.

Let me know if you would like more information about any of the work…or if you would like to see it in person. You can comment here.

Dove V. 2

Dove – soft pastel, 6″ x 6″

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Jay – soft pastel, 6″ x 6″

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Dove + Crow – soft pastel, 12″ x 21″

An Assortment of Abstractions

December 18, 2019

In a shift from working with landscapes, I love exploring the color possibilities offered by soft pastel. When working with these pure colors (nothing more than pigment and a bit of binder), reducing the image to abstraction allows the focus to be more simply on the colors and their interaction. When I am working on them, these pieces have a life of their own and require me to be fully engaged with what is happening on the paper.

Here are a few small (4″ x 6″ color studies) done in preparation for larger pieces. If you are interested, you can see them as well as other soft pastels at the Open Studio this Saturday, December 21, 1-5:00. Comment here if you want more information.

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Crow #1

Crow #1: The Dark of Black

 

Crow #2

Crow #2: Still Point

 

Crow #4

Crow #4: Shimmer

 

Thanks to a few unseasonable days of warmer weather, I was finally able to photograph the rest of the crow series of small soft pastels in natural light. So much dark and black can be tricky to photograph accurately, and how these images appear here depends on my camera, my screen, and your screen. The process of making these drawings was an engaging bit of research on blacks, darks, and the effect of a slight shift in color or value on the light in the piece. To read more about this group of drawings (and see the missing crow), just scroll back a couple of posts. It’s always best to see the work in person!

 

Crow #5

 

Crow # 5: Sheen

 

Crow #6

Crow # 6: A Measure of Light

 

It’s All in the Dust

January 28, 2019

 

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Light and Shadow

 

Version 2

Of  the Mountains

 

Soft pastel is pure pigment held together with a little binder. The medium is the color; the color is the medium. What could be more satisfying than laying down a film of pure color and then layering another on top, each veil changing forever what had been put down before. Or that color dust can be rubbed and pressed into the paper with the next color applied on top – rubbed in or not.

 

There is no going back with soft pastel, only change and moving forward. Even if a section is removed, swept off with a stiff brush (like a small broom sweeping up the dust), it is never possible to go back to a clean surface; some of the color remains as a record of what has been and also a ground for and part of what will come.

 

Art making has always offered me a model for life, teaching me useful lessons in an accessible way – a sort of experiential guide book. For a few examples, drawing with soft pastels shows and reminds me: not to lament the parts that are lost, to be open to surprises, to pay attention and respond to what is happening in the drawing, to take joy and delight in the richness resulting from the evolution of the drawing process (which was most surely difficult or painful at times), and on…all easily more than lessons for art making alone.

 

Soft pastel drawings can be strong, rich, and solid and their color even bold, but the dust is fragile and potentially transient. Even a fixed drawing will dust off a bit over time. This is certainly a reminder that I am not in control. And I love the thought that even after I have finished my work, a drawing will continue on to have a life of its own, changing and evolving, however imperceptibly, over time.

 

The difficulty of soft pastel is in the dust, the messy dust that covers studio surfaces, me, and everything I touch when I am working. But that dust is the essence and beauty of the medium. It is what makes it so pure, direct, elemental, and appealing.

 

The drawings in this post came from a need to work larger than the 8” square Crow series as well as a craving to bring in more color while still making room for the mystery and depth that the blacks and darks allow for. The drawings from this group are all around 12” by 21”, and these were the first two.

New Flock

January 22, 2019

crow #3

Crow #3: How Much Light Do We Need Against the Dark

 

I’m playing a bit of catch up here, posting recent drawings that haven’t yet been out in the world. After a break working in other media, I got back to soft pastels last spring and decided to begin by returning to drawings based on birds and their coloration. As I have written before, I begin the drawing using colors based on a particular bird and also keeping in mind other characteristics of that bird that might be helpful. But the demands of the drawing take priority, and the finished work may not be such an obvious reference to the bird that inspired it. For this new batch I decided, with some initial hesitation, to work with the crow. If you check out crows carefully, you will see that everything about them is black: feathers, beak, eyes, feet. The color comes in with the purple/blue gloss on those shiny black feathers. While this was a bigger interpretive challenge than my other choices, I was curious about what might happen. Black is not a color I use often or much of, but with the first drawing I was immediately hooked on the blacks in my box, the variations, and how I might create subtle shifts and relationships by adding in other darks and, in some instances, even soft graphite. There were six crow drawings that arrived all together in that flock (perhaps more to come). And they led in their own way to the next series that I will begin to post soon.

 

While I was working on these, I picked up my copy of Sean Scully: Resistance and Persistence, Selected Writings, as Scully has been a big influence on these pastels. His thoughts (page 36) on color and darkness resonated with me, so I want to share this bit here:

 

Thinking about the colour in my work, and its darkness…I often think about how the light in my work – the light produced by this colour, which is so emphatically attached to its own body weight, it own gravity – has a tendency to fall back into the painting. The painting has to be opened up.

             The colour, of course, could be opened up. Red could be bright red. Yellow could be the colour of flowers. And green could be leaf green. This would make the painting more immediate, more obviously communicative, more readily available…and less burdened by the issue of interior content.

            My painting, however, is a compression: a compression of form, edge, weight. And colour participates in this density. The painting is immediate since it is painted aggressively, by hand; yet it is difficult because it is compressed. The light in the painting has to be opened up, pulled out.

             And it is exactly this difficulty that gives the work its interior life. It is an incarnation, not an explanation.

 

The Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. is showing Sean Scully: Landline until February 3. Hopefully the doors to the museum will be unlocked in time to see this powerful work before then! But, that’s another subject…

 

To wrap this post up, I want to share a more poetic name for a flock of crows that I learned this morning; it can be called a ‘murder of crows.’  Who has heard that before?!

 

Flown the Nest

January 21, 2019

It seems right to start the New Year with some updates about the work and images of new work. I am happy to say that a few more of the small pastels based on birds have found new homes including these three:

 

Flicker

Flicker

 

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Chickadee

 

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Indigo Bunting

 

 

There are still a few more perched on the wall, so give a shout if you want to see images or if you are interested in stopping by to see them in person. And check in here soon for a look at the newest work in the studio.

[Work]

June 25, 2018

The annual faculty/staff/board show [Work] is open in the gallery at VisArts and will be there until August 19. The exhibit is interesting and diverse and includes work in many different media. I’m showing some small (4 1/2″) soft pastels including these:

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Hummingbird

 

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Dove II

 

There are quite a few more of the soft pastels in the studio, so stop in to see those too. Here are a couple:

 

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Dove

 

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Indigo Bunting

For a bit of information on these drawings and how they came to be, scroll down a few entries to the one titled “For The Birds.”

Birds Continued

December 6, 2017

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Cedar Waxwing

 

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Chickadee

 

These are two more of the soft pastel drawings based on birds. Both of these are 4 1/2 inches square. Stay tuned for more work to be posted soon@