Solar Flare I and II

It’s a little difficult to talk about editing when talking about a work in progress that’s abstract. In writing, you might focus on grammar, flow and veracity, for example. But in abstract art, what do you focus on?

For Solar Flare, I think it’s not the intent but specific elements.

Solar Flare I Ink on paper, 18″ x 20″

I began this work in 2018 and then stepped away from it because I was overwhelmed by the idea of ruining it. Which is silly. It’s been so long I’ve changed in my role as audience. I no longer see the “problems” I’d seen as problems anymore but simply as a starting point.

I had been concerned about creating a “wallpaper effect,” and to this I can only argue that I’d approached it with the intent to use a specific element over and over. I just didn’t want it to look like I did. Maybe knowing this, I was self-conscious and couldn’t help but see the “wallpaper” effect.

Either way, I decided I could focus on what’s good about what I already have instead of running away from the final product before getting there.

To be honest, I do not actually like the “flower” element but I do like another element — an imperfect, wavy curve (for a lack of a better description).  

I liked it in 2018 and very easily picked it up again, unlike the flowers which felt very unnatural.

I did find myself drawing a looser version of the flower element (left) when completing Solar Flare 2, because having only the wavy curves made the drawing a little boring. So… it’s more complicated than liking or not liking the element(s). The idea works better with the two elements interacting with each other.

I ended up with two versions: I completed the original drawing just because I wanted to see it through, and this became Solar Flare I, while Solar Flare II is the completed “edited” version.

Solar Flare I does seem messy in places but it also seems more complete compared to Solar Flare II.

I also like the wavy curves in the lower right hand side of Solar Flare I more than in any other place of either version.

Solar Flare II Ink on paper, 18″ x 20″

Oasis

Oasis Ink on paper 18″ x 24″

Oasis (above) is an exercise in line work. I began the idea in 2018 and wanted to extend the initial idea (left) to cover the entire 18″ x 24 surface.

For my previous drawing, I allowed the size of my hands to guide me in determining how to draw the lines. For this drawing, the curves of the line often required me to move my arm across the page, as opposed to keeping my arm stationary and pivoting from my wrist.

I had to keep in mind the relative shape of the line and not the physical experience of drawing the lines.

I allowed myself to put each new line down with pencil before going over it with pen, which made the lines scratchy once I’d erased the pencil.

I consciously did not clean up any of the lines until I’d put down enough lines to cover the entire surface, as I knew the process of “cleaning it up” would allow for many “mistakes” which would make me inclined to make some lines heavier than others and maybe add additional lines.

Or I counted on this, and would later welcome the mistakes. But before allowing the “mistakes,” I wanted to add lines based on how I wanted to compose the drawing.

Once I’d finished “cleaning it up” and adding lines based on “mistakes,” I added more lines to give more weight to the upper part of the composition… which required me to clean up more lines…

Sadly, I found myself making more and more of them equal in how heavy they are, making them maybe too uniform. There’s not as much focus as there was in the version before I began cleaning up the lines.

I might want to revisit this later but for now I’m going to take a break.

Loose Ends

Loose Ends Ink on paper, 12″ x 18″

Loose Ends (above) was an exercise in creating a “good” line and being brave. Or it began with a sketch I’d drawn in 2011 (left). I was with my parents who were visiting friends in San Francisco and I decided to spend some time by myself at a small diner and drew this on the back of one of their menus. I was just doodling.

But I liked the result so much I didn’t want to mess with it… until 2018, when I set out to extend it to something bigger, and that’s when it became an exercise in bravery. I only got as far as making a carbon copy of the original sketch onto water color paper (which I’d prepared with several washes of tea).

I believed I had to recall what the original intent was or some idea behind the line work before I could extend the idea further. I decided finally, in the last week, to not worry so much about going back in time and doing more of what I’d already done, but instead continue the lines in whatever way my hands wanted to.

I worked on it over the course of several days, section by section, starting with the lower right-hand corner (left). I decided not to use pencil because that would allow me to second guess myself… and I got a mess of lines. (I later covered these lines with heavier lines so they now feel like something in the background.) It occurred to me that the curve of the lines was influenced by the size of my hands and where they naturally wanted to bend the line. When it veered from a smooth or “good” line, I simply took the pen off the surface and resumed where it took a “wrong turn.”

The next day, I moved onto the upper middle section and tried to create some uniformity by allowing the lines to criss cross within these pod-like shapes. (Below) It got a little boring and formulaic, so I found myself extending some of these lines beyond the confines of the pods.

On the third day I moved to the upper right-hand corner (left) and may have stayed on it longer than I should have. It became again a mess of lines. It had occurred to me that this was an exercise in a third idea and that was “saving” the drawing from one “mistake” after another — or this was apart being brave by trying one line after another, knowing full well I was going to make many more mistakes.

Or maybe it undermines the exercise in being brave, as being able to save the drawing from these mistakes makes it not so easy to make a mistake I can’t recover from. (Why does it feel like I could apply this to life in general?) I eventually turned to making certain lines heavier than others so my eyes could have something to focus on.

I though i was done, but on the fourth day, I realized there still some empty spaces, so I lazily extended any loose ends, allowing again the size of my hands to determine where the lines would bend, until they found their way the edge of the paper. The upper left-hand corner is above and the lower left-hand corner is below, left, and the lower right-hand corner is below, right, after I’d gone over certain lines with heavier lines.

On the fourth day, I started to lose my nerve and began by allowing myself to use a pencil before committing new lines to pen. I eventually stopped worrying so much and started and ended the last few lines with a pen.

Graphics of the German Expressionists

Sabarsky, Graphics of the German Expressionists

I’m looking to German Expressionism for how both the line and colors can fill up space, as opposed to only the “flow” of the line.

I happened to have the book, Graphics of the German Expressionists (1984), by Serge Sabarsky, on my book shelf. (I found this gem in a used book store.) The historical context (1910’s – 1930’s) from which this kind of work arose helps me to understand the intent and approach of the artists.

Sabarsky explains…

The confusion and disorientation of modern man at the turn of the century created a need for immediate and tangible meanings… This opened the way to the rediscovery of graphic techniques. In… their woodcuts, the German artists, especially the members of the Brücke, developed a style that used crudely simplified… forms…

… The printing of manifestos especially was almost exclusively done with carved woodblocks. These… were characterized by an immediacy that makes them… as modern today as they were six or seven decades ago. (pp 9-10)

Looking at the the works in 2019, I think “immediacy” refers to how pieces were intentionally made flat and simple in order to be emotionally accessible.

Much of the work is in black and white, and much of the potency I think is in the contrast between the two colors. Many of the works use large blocks of colors and thick bold lines — which could be referred to as forms or shapes, as opposed to lines that flow with their own “intent” to move in a certain direction.

The figures seem to stand their ground. Wood blocks, in particular, can be described as emblematic — something abstract but something you can recognize right away, and despite it being so simple, it is very emotional and evocative.

Some artsits used hashing, but I only focus on how broad strokes, IE those of a brush, fill up space and the interactions between positive and negative space.

Following two short essays that give some historical context, there are nine sections that each give a brief introduction to an individual artist before showcasing examples of their work.

Max Beckmann Otto Dix Lyonel Feininger Erick Heckel Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Otto Mueller Emil Nolde Max Hermann Pechstein Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

Getting Unblocked

Gaa Wai 062019 Tree 4

So I’ve been a little blocked… is an understatement. (That and “life” has been keeping me busy.) But no excuses.

I’ve been watching many (many) studio vlogs on YouTube, trying to find my way back, and the variety of work helped me put some things into perspective.

I’m thinking of furrylittlepeach and Christie’s interview with Wayne Thiebauld, as well as Ping Zhu and Leigh Ellexson,

If given the task of drawing any inanimate object, each artist could make it look unique from the other artists… But what is unique? To say this is a matter of style seems to oversimplify what they do, as does ‘following an attitude.’ (Even though that may very well be what guides them.)

I think while developing one’s “style” to what it is today, each artist had to answer many smaller questions, which bridged the gap between “attitude” and form.

Looking at my own work, I noticed that I’m very drawn to a particular color scheme: background colors made from red tea and blue-grey’s (more grey than blue) and red-orange lines. While browsing Artsy (I searched Chinese ink, as that was the medium I’m already drawn to) I found myself adding one Chinese artist after another, as their color schemes seemed to be answers to questions for how to develop my own color scheme.

Overall, I want to say it’s “smoky” or airy. Maybe ethereal… which sounds… like I don’t have a clear understanding of what they’re doing. I do know that I like it though, and knowing this, as opposed to following a trend or simply being intrigued and curious, is crucial in being able to answer the smaller questions, as those aren’t apparent in finished work. I have to have an idea, even if it’s only intuitive, to focus on, to have somewhere to go (as opposed to being where everyone already is).

OTOH, seeing a variety of others’ work and looking back at my own work, I feel like treating this — not wanting to be guided entirely by any aspect of others’ work — as a rule was something that was blocking me.

While I ended up veering away from the styles I copied, I can not say it was my copying the drawings which led me to go in another direction; and while I did reflect on the experience of making a copy, I didn’t go further and think of how it could apply to work of my own.

So thinking of my own work… the questions of line, color and form remain. These will only really be answered with each specific work, but I think I’m getting closer to a combination of broadly defined aspects which can guide me… intuitively…

Line: For the brush, I think I should change my approach from using the brush to guide me to being weary of what objects will lend themselves more to lines made by a brush (thicker and greater variety in quality of line from thick to thin, etc).

More on this…

Color: I think I can benefit from more exposure to others’ work. I like what I’ve seen on Artsy. (Wang Quian, Lin Yang Qiang, Zhang Yanzi, Yiming Chai, Arnold Chang, and Xu Ming) I’d like to emphasize that I was already trying similar colors for my own work before looking at other artists.

Form: I’ve been focusing so much on my line, I’ve actually focused on forms surprisingly little or close to not at all. When looking at others’ work, I’m drawn to stories in Surrealism and/or collage. I’m thinking of Shahzia Sikander, who does this and follows a color scheme similar to the one I’m trying to develop for myself.

… I may be over-thinking this. But being blocked is a matter of psychology and I think it’s worth it to think things out, even if it seems obvious (especially after writing it down) because it helps to get the brain going through the motions.

So much of art is a matter of psychology.

 

 

Finding My Line

Bear with me as I use this blog to talk through some problems, namely with being more abstract on a fundamental level. (It’s a technical post that asks a handful of questions and provides no answers… although it may help to know that these are problems you may encounter when transitioning from a Western approach to an Eastern approach.)

Gaa Wai 062119 Tree 1

I went to a local park last weekend and discovered a very interesting looking tree. I thought I could open up the idea of this tree by taking parts of it and deconstructing it, so that I would have a new way (or my own way) of showcasing some of its nuances. I couldn’t. In hindsight, I realize I had some obstacles to overcome.

1) I was using a new vehicle (a brush) for a familiar medium (ink).

2) My moves were bigger by virtue of my using a brush.

3) I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. a) “Deconstructing” was my way of zen drawing but I didn’t put two and two together — that I had to have that approach (the one for zen drawings) to produce the same kinds of results for previous zen drawings.* b) I was outdoors and I had never tried to draw outdoors before, while in that head space.

How did I respond?

1) I went home and instead of making the video I intended to make (about the tree), I made a video on materials. (Not very exciting and, honestly, very basic. But if you’re interested, you can find it here.)

2) I pulled out two books in Chinese (Wei Xin Yi  and Li Xue Ming) from my personal library, each of which focus on the art and style of a given Chinese artist, looking for ideas. 

3) I went to the park again, but instead of going to the tree, I sat down on a bench and reconsidered my approach.

Obviously, using a different tool will have an influence on one’s approach. The moves you make with a brush will of course be bigger than those with a pencil. But there it is. Because they are bigger moves, they will be more abstract and thus I will have to be more conscious of the process for making choices. This seems to take me out of the “zen” frame of mind I would go to while drawing with a pencil.

… And yet, the sketches of Hiroshige, for which Hiroshige used a brush, look very zen… as do the works in the two books I mentioned earlier.

Hmm… I think about what I’ve seen so far in this genre. Yes — there are a lot of big moves. One of the most basic elements is the depiction of a leaf or segment of a branch with one stroke of a brush. The body of the figure below, from Li Xue Ming, is composed of a few continuous, thick lines that remind me of Chinese calligraphy, as though, for this artist, the skills for calligraphy are the same for depicting how a figure is enrobed in fabric.

Very different than the painstaking line-work of Italian Renaissance drawings. And much more abstract.

Li Xue Ming from book Li Xue Ming

Eh… getting back to me. I am very inclined to make small moves and build (ever so slowly and organically) from basic elements.

This had presented its own problems: IE, small moves can lead me to follow a subject too closely so that I simply “copy” what I see. To address this “problem,” I would simply see this approach through to the end and be more extreme. What could this approach yield for me? I knew I wasn’t capable of “copying” it that well, like a camera, and when my eyes got lazy, I knew my brain would have to interpret for my hands what it saw but on an abstract level. This is when — if I am consciously thinking of style — I can choose what kind of interpretation I will make.

This approach has worked very well for me while using a pencil or ball point pen. The [new] problem now is that I’d taken for granted how the line of a pencil or pen is consistently fine and predictable. I’d even incorporated these features into how I think, visually, and conceive of a given subject on an abstract level.

In short, a line produced with a brush varies in width and texture and is not as predictable, and I have to learn to do more with fewer moves because each move is bigger and uses up more surface area. Sketches with fewer moves also look more elegant and efficient.

To be continued… 

____________________________________

* I use the term, zen drawing, loosely. I could just as well say contour drawing.

 

 

Chinese Painting

Collection of Chinese SketchingsA Collection of Chinese Sketches By Ancient Well-Known Artists (1997), was compiled by a family friend, Yu Tong Ho. He distributed photocopies to a handful of people when he was planning to teach a course in Chinese painting. The course never came to fruition, and sadly, he is no longer with us, but I kept the copy given to me, and I’d like to use it to develop a sense for how to compose in a similar style with particular attention on how to use the negative space.

I chose a sketch I could immediately appreciate. Gaa Wai Copy of a Chinese Painting 051219 original

Specifically, I could see four things: the individual gestures of each of the thicker leaves, the gestures of the thinner leaves, the direction or composition of the thicker leaves as it moves across the page and how the thinner leaves kind of support the composition of the thicker leaves. The thinner leaves offer another layer which gives a sense of depth, as well as lead you out into the distance, which contrasts with how the thicker leaves make your gaze want to focus on them and to stay in that general area. 

Knowing how to appreciate the original helped me focus on what was and was not necessary in my own version. 

I should note that I was informed by one other experience painting in this style. It was a course with a professional painter who was invited to teach a handful of people from the Chinese community, and it was while I was in high school. She taught us how to paint bamboo and leaves, and I vaguely remember her telling us that going from one end of a section of bamboo to another is one motion. The thickness varies only by how much pressure you apply, letting the hairs flay out more, then less and then more again.

I painted a handful of bamboo so my hands could remember and so I could become more familiar with how much paint/ink is suitable for the surface I was using, given the brush I was using. I don’t have a name for the ink (my apologies), as it was also given to me, but the brush I bought from amazon, and the paper is just newspaper print.

Below is my first attempt…

Gaa Wai Copy of a Chinese Painting 051219 1

… and my second.

Gaa Wai Copy of a Chinese Painting 051219 2

 

Salvaging Old Drawings: Fire Balloons

 

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Figure 5c

Like the initial drawing for Solar Flare, the figure above is an old drawing which I want to make use of. I’ve been thinking of creating layers and using sketches as elements in a larger story.

In my sketchbook, the figure fills the page, but it’s like the detail of a larger image. You get a character and not a full vignette, much less a full story.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Oracle.JPG

The challenge of creating a story for the element goes hand in hand with the challenge of making the new drawing look like everything in it was meant for one drawing. I was looking for something simple and which the figure could naturally support. I randomly thought of fire balloons.

I prepared the paper with tea and created my first layer, which were lines depicting clouds, in the style of old Chinese paintings and painted with coffee.

I then made a carbon copy of the figure with the idea that it would act as a double image: an oracle and a fire balloon on fire.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, sketch (1).JPG

Midway, I thought of titles, but I may have gotten ahead of myself or ahead of the drawing. I thought of “Oracle on fire and there are people watching,” and I let the words guide me, because I couldn’t think of how to complete the drawing and sketched in silhouettes of people on the bottom.

I put it away for a couple of days and when I was ready to paint, I realized it was too much or it felt contrived or it didn’t seem like the drawing was developing organically in that way. (I can’t quite articulate the problem, but people on the bottom was not the right choice.)

So I replaced them with a close up of one of the balloons, which gave me an opportunity to have two elements interact.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons

I knew, even while painting it, there were too many colors or it’s not a unified color scheme, and I definitely need to spend some time developing basic skills in watercolor. However, having completed the drawing, I could look at it critically. I could also look back at the process, which has revealed to me a few things.

Elements

New elements, like the wisps of smoke near the figure’s head and the fire/smoke in the balloon at the forefront of the picture look pretty and I’m already using them effectively as elements in this drawing, so I know I can use them again in other drawings.

They’re simple and can be used as building blocks, unlike the oracle, which seems too complex to use again in the same drawing without it looking like wallpaper or contrived in some way.

Line

In the original drawing, the lines in the bodice of the figure feel like lines from another drawing, so it looks confused.

However, if the bodice is really a balloon and the smoother lines are really fire and smoke, there would naturally be tension between the two elements, and using different lines for each can be seen as supporting this tension.

Story

It’s in the context of the story that this can work. It makes use of the structures that are already there and helps explain them.

There’s also the theme of Man vs Nature, and thus the oracle. Fire balloons are sent to float up into the heavens with the hope of granting wishes, while an oracle is burning. Or is the message too didactic?

The oracle having a girl’s face seems a little too explicit. Maybe I should focus more on the fire and less on the oracle… but the face is what’s pretty about the oracle. … Maybe it’s the hair, which looks too much like hair. Yes.

I’d forgotten the initial drawing had the face as the centerpiece and everything flowed from the figure of the girl, so it looked too much like a girl. It demands your attention and competes with the fire balloon as the center of everything, when it’s not anymore.

Color

I originally had the figure in red, but decided midway that it would be difficult to use it and have an overall unified color scheme, so I added blue to make it purple.

I’m not very good with colors, and it’s something I need to work on in terms of finding what I like. You have to like what you draw in order to gauge whether or not it’s getting better or worse each time you edit the piece.

I tend to approach my work with the idea that Less is More, and for this drawing, as with many others, I want to show off the line. I tend to use the variety of colors (if there is a variety) to help me do this.

Like Flowers II, each color can help a viewer keep an eye on an element while it interacts with another element.

The elements for this drawing are Fire (bodice of the oracle, bottom fire balloon), smoke, fire balloon (intact), fire balloon (not intact) and Oracle. (Some parts double as parts of two elements.)

Technique

Layering two colors of ink looks really cool.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1 sketch

So I decided to limit the colors to red and black (Fire vs Smoke vs Fire Balloon) The smoke and fire balloon will both be in varying hues of gray, which suggests the fire balloons, even the ones intact, are floating up like the smoke; they are both the color of ash.

This makes room for the color of the clouds, which are painted with coffee.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1, sketch 2

I had considered not having clouds and actually freaked out a little when I added them midway, because they seemed to be overwhelming the figure, but after applying ink to the bottom fire balloon, it all balanced out again. One of those things you don’t know until you try.

Because they are in a different color and are a different style of line, they do not readily interact with the figure and fire balloons, and therefore add another layer or the illusion of depth. They also make the transparency of the ink more noticeable, which underscores the idea of the fire balloons being beautiful and fragile, which creates tension with their being dangerous and their power to wreak havoc on the environment when their thin shells inevitably burn and start fires elsewhere.

WIP

I still have to finish the larger balloon and add and color in a few smaller balloons but the overall idea is there.

 

Salvaging Old Drawings: Solar Flare

I have a few things that are products of automatic drawing, which I’ve put aside for a while. I always wanted to do something with them but, until now, I couldn’t think of anything.

They are works in progress. (Sorry, more incomplete work.) But they share something in common: each were completed in one sitting but can be used as an “element” in a larger work.

For the first two, I was limited by the actual surface area.

033018

When I ran out of room, I simply stopped. This was last year and at the time I wasn’t at home, where I could reach for a larger piece of paper, and once I was home, I had stepped out of the right frame of mind and didn’t bother trying to find it again.

Drawing, Teel SaleWell, in 2009, I had bought a book that takes you through techniques in contemporary drawing (Drawing, 5th edition (2003), by Teel Sale, et al), and recently, an image I’d seen while flipping through its pages, had lead me to a place, mentally, where I could expand on the above ideas.

It was Brice Marden’s Cold Mountain Addendum 1 (1991-1992). It’s on p. 60, in Chapter 2, which is on “gesture and other beginning approaches,” and is used as an example of a continuous drawing.

Brice Marden, Cold Mountain Addendum, 1991You know how they say, “There’s no role too small for an actor?” It reminds me that, no matter how basic one’s approach is, you can still create something as moving and intriguing as this.

Material used were ink, ink wash and gouache on paper, which also gives me ideas, although, for now, I’m sticking to ballpoint pen, at least until I’m sure of what I’m doing.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch  (1).JPG

I’m tentatively calling this Solar Flare. I made a carbon copy of the top drawing (above) and considered simply repeating it over and over again… but it quickly started looking like a wallpaper design.

Do you see how in the initial drawing there appears to be a girl’s head? It’s fine if I do it once, but it’s easy to notice if I do it more than once. I thought it would be enough to change all but one of those places where the girl’s head shows up.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch  (2).JPG

But it wasn’t enough. I began noticing how the other part of the initial drawing was making patterns. It was becoming “easy,” which doesn’t incline a viewer to keep one’s eyes roaming through the whole work, and although I’d wanted to call this “Wires” before, and even had planned on drawing half of the lines in green pen, I can’t help but see this other part of the initial drawing as a flower.

On the other hand,… maybe I was being too ambitious. Maybe I should see this approach through (using one drawing over and over again). I could be hanging onto the idea only because I like parts of it, mostly the new parts… and it takes a lot of time… and there was so much hope for the initial idea… Sigh…

But I decided to start over again with the intent to use the flower as a recurring element, but to space them out with new lines and to make sure no two flowers are going in the same direction or doing the same exact thing.

I’m in the process of making a carbon copy of the larger work, and along the way, editing the lines or making different choices than the first attempt, one 9″ x 12″ sheet of tracing paper at a time.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch (5)

I never do a good trace, so I really am drawing the image over again, which is good practice for drawing “good” lines and maybe even developing a style… ?

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, edit 1, sketch (6)

So far, this is what I have for my second attempt.

Next: Fire Balloons