Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Teaching Myself to Draw 4

Yesterday I went up to Jenner, CA, where the Russian River flows into the Pacific Ocean. This is well-known as a resort and vacation area. At Goat Rock Beach State Park, just south of the River mouth, there is an archway in a huge outcropping, out to sea some several hundred yards. I have photographed this location several times over the years, in different lights, different weather conditions, and at different times of day and year.

The strand per se was crowded with people, although no one goes very far into the water here, as there are dangerous and unpredictable riptides and undertows. (I discovered later that someone had drowned here the day before I was there.)

I took several photos of the water, the receding waves, the folded and faulted metamorphic geology, and driftwood: all similar, twisted, fractal forms.

On the way here, we stopped in Novato at an arts and crafts supply store, and I bought myself several very nice, very expensive Prismacolor pencils. I have been teaching myself to draw with cheap, ordinary colored pencils. I was told early on that it was a good idea to start with the poorer-quality materials, and learn my craft using those; that way, when I moved up to better materials, I would find them much easier to work with. I found this to be true almost immediately. The new pencils were smooth and sensuous, almost silky on the page, and extremely easy to draw and shade with. After taking lots of photos, and some video, I sat on an outcrop above the waterline and drew plein aire for awhile. The following drawing is from life:

This uses only two colors, blue and silver. It's pretty good, if sketchy. I feel like I have a long way to go, still, but I am able to convert seen forms into drawings a little more smoothly each time I sit down to draw now. I am going to try drawing this scene again later, using the photos as reference, for comparison. This is a loose sketch.

Today, I was sitting in a café on Mission St. in downtown San Francisco, sitting in the warm sunlight, waiting to meet up with a friend for conversation and snacks. I have found the archways in the islands along the Pacific Coast fascinating since I first encountered them, years ago. I keep taking new photographs of them, every time I go by. It's a topic that deeply interests me: what new worlds can be seen through these doors and windows into other worlds, into other light?

So it's no surprise that I drew the archway again this noon. This time, though, the drawing is in my straight-edged style, and drawn more from memory than from reference. It's interesting to compare the two drawings. The first is mostly realistic, while the second is abstracted from nature. It might be interesting to go a few more times through the abstraction process, till what's left on the page is lines of energy rather than a pictorial representation. This is of course one technique that the Cubists and other abstract artists started to explore almost a century ago, that led to more and more abstraction.

I am not interested in Abstract Expressionism, frankly; I am interested for now is continuing to learn to draw and sketch from nature more or less representationally. But neither am I interested in photorealistic depiction, or such draftsmanship precision that would take me days to execute. I enjoy drawing quickly, even if nothing Fine Art emerges from the process; I like the process of seeing what works, in the moment. And if a drawing fails, rather than trying to revise it towards perfection, far better to start over on a new drawing.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

What is interesting is how, in the one drawn from memory, your simplified the object. I'm reminded of Mondrian's trees and how they disintegrated into simple shapes over time.

5:54 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Except that Mondrian was consciously working towards his unique version of Cubism, under the influence of other painters while living in Paris, a phase he only stayed with briefly before moving on to even greater abstraction.

One does simplify things in memory to more basic forms. I think there might even be some cognitive research about that. It's an idea I've read in the writings of lots of painters, though.

But when you talk to a Rothko or a Mondrian about it, they say they are talking about discovering essences, the purity of forms behind the purely visual. Rothko writes quite explicitly in "The Artist's Reality" about this urge towards increasing purity of form. But even the most basic instruction to a beginning drawing class will tell the students that what makes it work is what you LEAVE OUT rather than what you include. Leaving out the details that are unnecessary to the painting is what makes for realism in painting, by not overloading the eye with extraordinary detail. Especially now, when photography can do that much better. Even the photorealistic painters alter details, their paintings are never pure copies from reference photos.

On the other hand, this is long ongoing argument in painting, so lots more could be said about it.

10:53 PM  

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