On the Subject of Style

I wanted to talk about style but quickly realized I couldn’t make any generalizations, because it’s so personal and subjective. Instead, I found myself looking at where I am as an artist.

I

I wrote the following description of my work a few months ago and it still holds true.

I like to look at what the most basic component of a drawing can do. EG, flow of a line or variations in line quality. There is often an interaction between two or more components: between the colors of each and/or how each occupies space. There may be a definable subject, like a vase or flowers. But I’m not exploring what an actual vase or flower looks like. I am exploring what the elements that compose the subject can do: the style of line, how it depicts the subject, how it may vary in what emotions it may elicit from the style itself.

When I consider color, I want the surface to get as much attention as the medium. So how smooth or textured a surface is can influence what medium I choose. It becomes one component that can interact with other components of the work.

Overall, my drawings are a meditative process as I mark the surface line by line. It is about interactions as much as it about rhythm.

It’s good to explore, but I think style goes beyond this; also, I might maintain some intent for a handful of works but then I’ll move on to something else. So my attempt at writing an artist statement above may have been premature.

Maybe a sense of style will reveal itself after a culmination of many works over time. It may require I get some distance from my work to see what path I’ve been on.

II

I’ve been thinking about how to create mood, and I find that watercolor helps me express a mood I currently enjoy as artist and audience. It’s often where I am or where I want to be, mentally.

I created color cards the other day, and the process of simply applying the medium to a surface was soothing and showed me the potential for larger works.

Color Cards for E-Sumi watercolor series Shadow Black by Boku Undo

I also created cards for washes of Lipton Black Tea and Sencha Green Tea. Lipton Tea is an old favorite while Sencha barely showed even after six washes.

I am looking for mediums that can produce a soft and subtle tone, although I say this while reading a book on Van Gogh as Master Draughtsman, whose use of oils were suitable for something more aggressive and exalting.

I mention him here only because I know I can admire his work while knowing I do not make the same choices for my own work as he had for his. I think it’s important to develop a sense of what your choices will be. I don’t want to reduce the creative process to a matter of taste, because one’s approach and intent also influence one’s choices, but at the same time I am guided by my sense of taste with almost every choice I make in the creation of a work.

Oasis (2020)

III

I want to go beyond relying on “intuition” and have a better sense of what I’m doing.

I think I may have been confusing intuition with taste.

Intuition, I believe, is the subconscious culling lessons learned and applying knowledge I might not be conscious of, while taste is a matter of what is pleasing to me. The latter is a product of my personal experience and my current frame of mind.

IV  

I’ve been breaking down the idea of being creatively blocked, at least for myself. I had to first see my overall work as going beyond any individual work. Being aware of my own frame of mind helps me change my approach from following how I feel intuitively to being conscious of the idea I’m responding to, asking questions and observing the idea at play.

Seeing my creative process as a way to explore, I had a silly notion that the more I know the less creative I would be. I say silly because I couldn’t possibly run out of things to explore. Moreover, being creative is equally driven by a desire to express oneself.

I think about how artists might go through multiple phases throughout one’s career, and I don’t think a change in one’s approach or intent for one’s work will necessarily change one’s style; although having seen more and learned more, one’s style might evolve.

When thinking about the style of a given artist, I ask myself, Do I see the same artist in one’s early work as I do in one’s later work?

V

It is important to know what I want to get out of being creative.

Overall, being creative is a way for me to think freely, and to do this, I have to see more and know more. I have to live my life. I have to engage with the world around me.

Of course, I don’t have to do everything all at once. I can manage my creative impulses on my own terms.

I believe there is a balance between engaging with others and being honest with what one shares.

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part III B)

In my last post, I said I felt “primed to make a mistake.” It was because, for this drawing to work, I would need to follow the rules of perspective, of which I have had very little practice.

Well, this drawing was very good practice.

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (2)

 

First, I made a couple of studies… and made some obvious mistakes.

 

I really like the outlines and want them to shine. I need to support them, the way merely coloring them in with watercolor did not. While looking to Michelangelo’s  Study of a Mourning Woman, however, I got carried away with the details. Or I thought only of light and shadow, and it was the wrong approach, and it became a mess.

I had to decide on how the lines could work for my flowers. In what way would they serve a realistic depiction of flowers and in what way would they be for effect?

My flowers were abstract from the beginning, and their outlines didn’t justify that much detail. I decided to borrow just one move from Study of a Mourning Woman — using multiple lines to emphasize the direction of each petal.

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (1)

I drew guidelines, the kind you use to draw a person’s face, to have an idea where the middle of each petal is, the direction it’s going in, and where there will be a curve that travels perpendiccular to its given direction. The curves will have their own path which needs to be consistent, so when a line crosses the path of a given curve, it will curve at the right moment.

 

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (3)

It was all trial and error. I used a pencil to put down tentative lines which I had to edit by simply asking myself, “Does this look right?” I didn’t draw a single petal the way I wanted to at the first go. But that’s okay. Like I said, it was very good practice.

flowers ii, edit i 012119

It helped me appreciate how multiple lines can be more substantial in doing what a single line can do — express movement and even feeling. Giving each petal a direction was like giving each a personality, and in this way, it went beyond style.

Flowers II, Edit I  012119, detail (1).JPG

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (2)

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (3)

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (4)

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part III)

Whenever I get “blocked” (think “writer’s block” but for artists), it’s psychological. I mean it’s not because I’ve inexplicably run out of ideas. It’s usually something else entirely. I’m distracted or… well, it’s usually because I’m distracted, but for a variety of reasons.

Maybe I was looking at Michelangelo too much… but I kept getting the feeling that I was primed to make a mistake, and I just didn’t want to botch something that could look so awesome. Which is absurd at my age… to buckle under some imaginary pressure to do well.

Or the pressure was real but not because of the work itself. It was pressure from just wanting to do it well. Have you ever watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn, when Holly Golightly starts going on about the “mean reds?” I can’t say it was as dramatic as that, but I was responding to something outside of what I was working on and the work is what suffered.

Not sure where this falls under the bell curve… but I’m better now. I put it aside for Christmas and New Year’s… and on… and then said, f*** it, and started going at it again.

I decided to keep doing what I had already been doing, which I had told myself not to do for fear of making the drawing look too simple. To my surprise, it does not look too simple.

Moreover, while seeing something that works take shape, I began to see the why’s and how’s behind how it works.

VS Michelangelo’s Study of a Mourning Woman (SOMW)

 

I had done a few studies with the ambition of making my flowers look as cool as SOMW.  I tried to apply the technique, above, and although I succeeded with the petal that points towards the left (fourth flower, below), I can’t say the same for the petals that are vertical.  Only when I reverted back to doing what I did for the first set of flowers (the drooping ones), did I realize the ambition to look like SOMW was a major part of what “blocked” me.

 

Michelangelo was probably looking at a real live woman, so his ambition was to draw her realistically. On the other hand, it’s not perfectly realistic; IE, there are some “short cuts” or places that don’t require as much detail because other places deserve more attention. These “short cuts” are abstractions  and involve choices having to do with style.

Choosing the balance between realism and abstraction can be a very conscious choice (especially if you’re like me and over-analyze everything).

My Flowers (1) are a product of my imagination and (2) I began with outlines, so my end goal must be an abstraction or much more of one than SOMW. To finish Flowers, I had to decide on the style of lines and follow through with that style. I had to decide on “doing more of the same,” regardless of my fears of ending up with a “simple drawing.”

Flowers II 011319.JPG

People believe SOMW was an early drawing of Michelangelo’s. He was doing what many others were already doing. He just did it extremely well. He had good lines and kept them evenly spaced apart, which yielded great visual rhythm.

My Flowers also rely heavily on visual rhythm. The technique is simple, but it relies on me doing it well. It’s a matter of having good eyes and good hands. and has manifested, thus far, from what was already there, organically.

 

To be continued… 

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part II)

When I got the idea of filling the flowers in with hashes, I was probably thinking of Michelangelo’s Study of a Mourning Woman. I’d made a copy of it in 2017, and one of the most important lessons I learned, while making copies in general, is that you have to know what you’re looking at.

Study of a Woman in Mouring, scan

When I tried doing the line-work for my flowers, I realized I didn’t have a clear idea of what they looked like if they had volume. It’s tricky because they’re imaginary. I have the freedom to make them look however I want to but it also has to make sense. I mean it can be easy to miss when my mind cheats and makes the contours move a certain way because the lines that represent them look prettier that way.  When adding hashes, it became more obvious that the flowers in my had couldn’t actually work that way… or something interesting must be happening to explain the shape of the outlines.

Maybe it’s the weather… but my head turned to pudding… or as the cliche goes, the work wasn’t “speaking” to me… For some guidance (and maybe some ideas), I took another look at how Michelangelo represented the Mourning Woman.

There are some moves that are very familiar because we see them everywhere in illustrations and cartoons. I imagine many of us used these moves as children when drawing rudimentary representations of household objects, clothes or even people.

Above, I’m looking at the edge of the sleeve, where there’s more light and no shadow between the threads. In real life, we don’t see the total absence of shadows but we do see a contrast, and that’s what this move creates for us. To apply this move ourselves, we need to know where the lines are between light and shadow, while remembering that each line follows a given contour which coincides with some perspective.

Same goes for the depiction of the edge of a fold. The lines, above, follow the contours of the lines or threads which follow the curve of the fabric, and where the lines end creates the path of another line, the path on which the light follows.

Below, the move is a little more sophisticated, and it’s something I hadn’t noticed before. As with the other moves, there are multiple contour lines which individually move in a curve, while the place of each curve varies along a path of a second curve moving in another direction, but the second curve isn’t represented by the lines ending. The lines continue, so the flow of contours continue in both directions.

And finally, below, I’m looking at the straight lines which are more for effect than posterity. It underscores the direction of the hand, which counters the downward direction of the bottom of the dress. It also adds a stiffness or a stillness to the area, which contrasts with the folds and fluidity of other areas. I borrowed this move for some of my flowers.

My flowers are represented in three stages of maturity: before they open, their being newly opened and their wilting. I borrowed the straight lines for the flowers which are not yet opened.

First, I made a carbon copy of just those flowers and then experimented on them. I began with the bottom right flower and tried using straight lines, just as it’s done in Study of a Mourning Woman. This didn’t work, because having lines calls attention to where you don’t have lines, especially where the lines end. It makes it look like there’s a lot of light in the middle of each pedal. It also makes it more childlike and playful and too much like it’s an abstraction. In a Study of a Woman in Mourning, it was for effect, and I realized that’s not what I’m doing here. So I extended the lines in the flower at the bottom left. The lines follow the contours of the flower so they curve in places but they also maintain the freshness of new flowers as their curves are minimal and there are no signs of aging (or softening and eventually wilting).

Looking at the whole picture, I noticed I may have a problem with how this flower overlaps with an opened flower. Would it be too many lines?

I added to the carbon copy and experimented with those two flowers, and yay, there aren’t too many lines. But in the original, the colors of one object change when overlapping with another, I thought maybe I could make every other line blue where the flowers overlap with the vase, so I tried it… and no, it just doesn’t seem necessary, and if it’s not necessary, it’s too much. Also, using the same move on the opened flower made it look a little too stiff.

Here’s Flowers II again.

Flowers II 120418.JPG

And here’s a close-up of where I made changes.

Flowers II 120418, detail

To be continued…