automatic drawing

Contour cross hatching appeals to me a bit more than linear cross hatching.

Contour Cross Hatched Spheres and Saucers

I started with a sphere and saucer pencil doodle that I blocked out following the contours of the shapes in preparation for cross hatching with ink.

Preliminary Pencil Sketch

After about fifteen minutes I relaxed a bit, loosening my death grip on the fountain pen. The lines flowed with better rhythm and I sensed a bit of spontaneity in the marks I made.  Spontaneity is not a word I thought I would ever use to describe my experience of cross hatching.

I used a Noodler’s eye dropper fill Fountain pen (looks just like a Preppy Fountain Pen) filled with Noodler’s Whaleman’s Sepia Ink.

In my twenties I made a habit of sleeping with things I loved.  My two favorite bed companions were my EB’s (rock climbing shoes) and a collection of Morandi’s drawings of bottles (the only book I’ve ever seriously contemplated stealing from the library.) I did several miserable cross hatch drawings that left me frustrated and determined to avoid cross hatching for the rest of my life.  I much prefer squiggle drawings.

Automatic Cross hatch Drawing. Is there really such a thing?

However, I still love Morandi’s drawings.  The John Ruskin exercises taught me perseverance and patience.  Sometimes it simply takes more lines, a lot more lines. I decided to give cross hatching another try.  I started off drawing a few directional lines thinking it might go in the direction of my pencil orb drawings.  Instead, this man carrying a cake with a Seuss-like appearance emerged and kept me entertained during the long and tedious cross hatching process.

Just when you think you're done .... you're not.

I’m not sure that the progression of the drawing is obvious.  Moving from left to right:

A.  I thought I was done.  Scanning drawings helps me to see the weaknesses.  I felt that the strange cake decoration looked flat.  The value was too light and drew attention away from the man carrying the cake.

B. I thought I was done. The white shapes of the forearm and rolled up shirt sleeve looked like cut outs glued onto the drawing.

C. I added a few lines to the forearm and shirt, connecting those shapes with the figure.  I thought I was done.

D. I darkened the background, creating a better sense of space behind the arm and around the cake.

My sketchbook is so forgiving.  It doesn’t care about the technique, the subject matter or the struggles expressed on its many pages.  I might just take it to bed with me tonight.

Drawing: Preppy Fountain Pen with black ink cartridge.

Knowing it would take six hours from Newark to Seattle, I packed my ipod and Bose Headphones for the flight.

Pencil Meditation, Newark to Seattle

In my own world of music, with the drone of the engines as background, it was easy to slip into a state of meditative drawing.  The first pencil sketch progressed along a similar path to the journal orb series I drew several years ago.  It then veered off in another direction reminiscent of Salvador Dali.

Wing of the Boeing 737-800

On the return trip I was treated to a view of mountain peaks poking through a layer of clouds as we flew from late afternoon light toward sunsets and darkness.  The cloud cover opened to reveal snow-covered crop circles before the light of day was left behind in the west.

Snow-covered Crop Circles

As we flew into darkness and I switched on my overhead light I returned to pencil squiggle meditations.

Pencil Squiggle Abstraction

Be forewarned, this entry is disjointed, triggered by a Tom Waits song that mentioned the “one-eyed Jack”.

My first ribbon painting, watercolor

The image shown is the first of the paintings I did that exposed the ribbons of my brain.  I had learned a watercolor glazing technique at a workshop I attended back in the 80’s.  I find it a bit interesting that I used my least favorite complementary color combination of green and red.

Several month ago Kathleen asked me if I have songs constantly running through my brain as a background to everything else.  No, I don’t.  I have ribbons of color and light constantly running as a background to everything else in my brain.

Since that conversation with Kathleen I have asked several of my musician friends the same question.  The reply in most cases is “yes”.  That appears to be one of the main reasons that many musicians don’t have music going as a background sound while they are at home.  The music on the stereo system is constantly in conflict with the music that is running through their brains.  Though they can choose the music on their ipods or stereos, they have no control over the music that runs through their brains.

I’m thinking that the reason I want to listen to music is that I don’t have it running through my brain.  Watching the ribbons dance through my brain makes me feel deaf when there’s not music to accompany them.  I watch the movement of the ribbons, wondering what they are dancing to.

Painting to live music is expressing the physical manifestations of some of those ribbon movements that are my constant companion.  Perhaps that is why, more than any other paintings or drawings, I feel connected to those quick little paintings.  It’s as if my brain can finally spit out a bit of what it’s been watching forever.

So then, why aren’t more of my paintings like that?  Hmmmm.  Good question.

Back to the one-eyed Jack….

As a young child I spent hours combining dominoes, checkers, chessmen and playing cards on a masonite checkerboard, inventing stories of adventure and romance.  I found the two one-eyed jacks (the jack of hearts and the jack of spades) a bit scary.  The jack of diamonds and the jack of clubs were much friendlier and far less intimidating.  I would generally settle for the less intimidating jacks to be the chosen mates for the queens.  I’ m not sure why the kings were never chosen. The queens, however, became bored quite quickly and ended up thinking about the one-eyed jacks.  I ended the game before the queens ever had a chance to shake up their lives.

I’m not sure what the connection is to the ribbons, but I know that right after the memory of the childhood games was triggered, the ribbons of light became extremely intense in my brain, coming to the forefront rather than staying in the background.

The question to all of you is “What is it that runs as a constant background in your brains?”

If I were asked to invent a robot to function in space it would look something like this:

AeRobotic Number One - Watercolor

Or maybe this:

AeRobotic Number Two - Watercolor

If you need to gather light, transform it and store it you might use this one:

Light transformer - watercolor

For collecting assorted particles that are flying through space you would use this gathering tree:

The AeRobotic Gathering Tree - Watercolor

And now back to oil painting for a while….

Another swerve off the path:

"Juggling Geisha" pen, ink, watercolor - automatic drawing

Here is the automatic drawing I mentioned earlier in the week.  The inspiration came from having completed a pencil drawing of my new little orchid and a delightful card I received in the mail.

The drawing of the orchid succeeded in terms of a realistic rendering and good value scale choices.  On the energy level scale it scored poorly.  It isn’t a drawing that engages my eyes, my mind or my heart for more than fifteen seconds.

Phalaenopsis Orchid, pencil study

I will make another attempt before the beautiful flowers fall.  I like the way the blossoms alternate along the stem.  That part of the plant is hidden from view in the above drawing.

My mind was sparked back into gear when I opened the mail and saw the StoryPeople note card Mlle. Jane sent to make me smile.  StoryPeople cards are designed by artist, author and illustrator Brian Andreas.  I find them energetic, playful, fun and fuel for my spirit.

I found myself doodling in a restrained, geometric fashion when I next picked up my sketchbook, the result of the combined academic and playful experiences of the morning.  Below is the first automatic drawing which then led to the second drawing, the “Juggling Geisha”.

Automatic pen and ink geometric drawing

What fun it is to follow my whims.

No matter which direction I explore, I end up back at orbs and branching lines.

Cyberspace, Orbs No.5 - Watercolor and Gouache

Cyberspace, Orbs No.5 was painted in 2005 and measures approximately 28″ x 22″.  I still feel a strong connection with the painting, a rare experience for me.  There was something about the Rosebush (see earlier entry) drawing that made me think of the Cyberspace painting and the daily, automatic drawings that I did several years ago.   Those sketchbook drawings all ended up as orbs of one sort or another, connected by the energy of lines, hoops or force fields.

There was also the series of figures in which orbs appeared.

"Balance" - Watercolor

My current study of trees and the unique patterns of branching is bringing me back to that place of inspiration.  Leslie mentioned how the oak branches looked like tendons to him.  I agree.  There is an overlapping of pattern similarities that is tying together the elements of design and the expression of something that has kept me asking questions and looking for answers since I was a young child lying on the grass late at night staring up at the Milky Way.  That space between stars, between planets, as well as the space between the blades of grass mystifies me and fuels my passion.

Another drawing from a sleepless night:


Automatic Squiggle Drawing - Pen and Ink


I began the drawing by simply squiggling a dark spot just left and up a bit of center.  The squiggles began to take on the shape of a tornado funnel curving around itself.  At one point the man on the left appeared.  As I developed his features, the funnel disappeared and the woman on the right stepped into the picture.  The hours passed and I grew weary enough to fall asleep.  It was 3 am.

Drawn with a no name fountain pen, fairly fine point, and Noodler’s Black Ink.  It is, basically, one continuous line.  There are a few skips here and there when I lost concentration.  This is the first time I attempted to keep one line going from beginning to end.

Oil painting inspired by Vieira da Silva (30" x 40")

In 2004 Nicole and I drove from northern Portugal across Spain to Barcelona where we discovered the paintings of Vieira da Silva.  She achieved a sense of speed through vast space using only a high key palette.  Upon returning to my studio, the impact of seeing her work was reflected in a series of paintings.  The painting illustrated here currently hangs next to my bed.  If all my paintings except for one were to be destroyed, this is the one I would choose to be saved.

Last Sunday, while standing in the center of a large gallery in the Philadelphia Museum of Art staring, as if for the first time, at Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase I experienced short flashes of the painting above as well as the drawing illustrated below.  I had seen Duchamps’ Nude several times before.  Though I liked it, I didn’t feel a close connection with it.  That was prior to my Zakar Art and my Orb Journal Entries.  That was also prior to my recent John Ruskin Exercises.  The moment must have been right, an overlapping of influences that caused a perfect storm within me as I felt myself overwhelmed by Duchamp’s painting.

In hopes of a better understanding of my reaction, I gazed back and forth between Nude Descending a Staircase and the paintings in that gallery, many that I also responded strongly to.  Duchamps painting, in my judgement, far surpassed the others that attempted to depict a degree of form within the broken down shapes of objects.  Duchamps shapes moved freely, connected yet mobile, through an illusion of expansive space.

Figure turning 360 degrees

During the same period of time that I was painting the series inspired by Vieira da Silva, I had returned to the study of anatomy so that I could moved figures through space without being limited by the pose of a model.  Just as I captured the movement of a dancer in the quick strokes of my Zakar Art, I wanted to depict a figure’s movement in a more rendered image that represented a series of positions. I wanted the effect of layering positions atop one another as if one were to layer the photographs of  Edward J. Muybridge.

The John Ruskin exercises have taken me full circle back to my roots, roots that I had not acknowledged.  Though I still don’t see the entire picture, it is becoming clearer.  The Orbs are the link.  The Ruskin exercises have led me back to the orb Journal Drawings, developing another skill to explore further.  I have a long way to go and I’m excited about the journey.  I feel that my diversity is no longer holding me back as I jump from one medium to another and one genre to another.   Through my diversity I am approaching something deeper, closer to my core, that I will soon express through my drawings and paintings.

The drawings below depict this morning’s orb sketch as it developed.  It was drawn with a medium nib, Waterman fountain pen. It could go further, but it won’t.  It’s a beautiful, sunny day and I’m going to paint outdoors.

'Departure' Oil on Kraft Paper

‘Departure’ measures 48″ x 36″, painted in oils on Kraft paper cut from a giant roll and tacked to the wall.  Painted in 2007, it was the first of a series of seven large oils on Kraft. (Link to earlier blog entries featuring two more paintings in the series.) The palette is simple: cadmium yellow pale, cadmium red light, ivory black and a mix of permalba white with a touch of cadmium yellow pale and a touch of cadmium red light.  The only mixed color is the white, the others are used straight from the tube.

I had become frustrated with the haphazardness of my watercolor method, that of throwing paint onto the surface, layer after layer, waiting and watching for the suggestion of an image to be triggered in my mind.  This method often led to hours of patient layering only to carry the large watercolor paper down the stairs to the work sink to be washed off for a new beginning.  It was painful watching the expensive pigments running off the paper and down the drain. I needed a change.  Time to switch back to oils.

Having the cost of materials on my mind, using a large, costly canvas to sooth my frustration didn’t seem like a good idea.  I needed a break in my routine.  While painting for gallery exhibits my normal attitude of playfulness had been replaced by an attitude of overly cautious work.  The large roll of kraft paper used for dust covers on framed pieces beckoned from the corner of my studio, a perfect solution.

Another consideration as I tacked the paper on the wall, was allowing something from my own life to spill out onto the canvas.  Too many of the abstract watercolor figures were not connected with my personal history, they were simply energetic, playful abstractions in which the human figure emerged as a recognizable element.  I felt it was time to allow my own stories to surface from wherever they might be hiding.  I still wanted to work intuitively.  I did not want to begin with a preconceived idea of the story to be told.

Beginning with orbs felt like the right thing to do since orbs have always tapped into something unconscious within me. (Link to sample of orbs paintings.) I also wanted to allow figures to impose themselves if that happened at any point.  Spheres often become ovoids and can lead to figures.  That is exactly what happened during the drawing stage of  ‘Departure’.

Getting back to an analysis of the simplicity of value and color, there are only four values in the painting.  The white mixture works as the lightest value.  Cadmium yellow pale brushed thinly over the paper so that the color of the kraft paper tones it to a more neutral hue acts as the lighter mid-value.  Cadmium red light painted more opaquely acts as the darker mid-value.  Ivory black works as the darkest value. Each shape is varied and strong.  The shapes in the two lightest values (white and yellow) fit together well, creating a unified shape juxtaposed against the unified plane of the two darker valued shapes, the red and the black.

What I find most interesting about this painting is that I had no idea of the story I was telling until the painting was complete.  This rarely happens and I consider it a gift.  Had I intended to tell the story of my mother’s death bed, I would not have been able to constrain my tendency towards realism and the impact would have been compromised.  Finding that balance between realism and abstraction is always a challenge for me.

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