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.

Michelangelo (Copy of a portrait)

I found a good picture of Michelangelo online, and assigned myself the task of copying it to a sketchbook. I’d copied pictures before but I’d cheated by using grids (or other means). This was my first time I’d copied something with such intricate line work by eye.

There are a couple of things that helped me along the way.

1) General rules for proportions of the face. EG, you can divide the face into equal thirds between the hairline and bottom of the nose and chin. You might notice some lingering guidelines in the first picture.

2) The face is seen at a 3/4 view and on a slight tilt, so I made a guideline that followed the contour of the eyes to get the relative height of the eyes and drew everything else by using my best judgment.

3) I had been thinking of following lines so much that it felt like too much of a challenge to gauge the relative placement of the lines. For this drawing, I learned to think of the face as a three dimensional object and to gauge the relative placement of pieces of the face. EG, I had seen the temples as two curves in an outline, like the face was two dimensional, but here I saw the temples as pieces that sat at the upper right and upper left of the eyes.

I was tempted to leave it at that… but what was so appealing about the original picture was its line work

So to get the courage to begin, I allowed myself to draw the way I felt most comfortable drawing, by shading and with a pencil. I then went over it with a colored pencil so I wouldn’t have to worry about rubbing the lines away and to minimize second-guessing myself. I then took a deep breath and started applying ink… which was fine until I got to the creases of his eyes, which is when I took the fourth picture. I was filled with regret and thought that I should’ve stuck with the pencil… and glued some paper over my “mistakes” to go over it with pencil again.

I waited a day and after looking at it again I realized this was stupid and scratched off as much of the glued pieces of paper as I could… which muted the harshness of the lines but still allowed something to show through what was left of the paper and glue.

Not my proudest moment. But I felt inclined to add more ink over other features… then eventually went back to the eyes because there was a level of anguish expressed in the pencil that I had erased or which was overwhelmed by the intensity of the ink.

I realized that once you have ink the pencil can’t compete. You have to fully commit to ink and use colored pencil to supplement the ink.

Or I want to say I could fully commit… but I didn’t have the nerve.

Instead I focused on the jacket. There was some very obvious “moves,” like hashing in opposing angles. Similar to something Michelangelo did in his drawings was branching off of opposing lines, so the lines didn’t appear out of no where. I didn’t see this in the collar and so I didn’t try doing this in my own drawing, and I think it made the collar in my own drawing more two dimensional. I notice now, in the original, that at the bend in the collar there is a corresponding branching off of opposing lines; IE, the horizontal lines dip just where the vertical lines dip as each follows its own contours.

I know, it’s a far cry from the original (below). But there was a lot to learn here.

I wish I knew who to credit for the original. If you know, please comment below and I’ll add an attribute.

Copying Li Xue Ming (Part II)

Gaa Wai Copy of Li Xue Ming b 082419

This is Part II of Copying Li Xue Ming. In the video, I’ve chosen a portion of a painting by the artist to sketch. It’s the same painting as the one in Part I, but I focus on the cave, as opposed to the figure inside. I begin by commenting on the work as a whole and then talk through (often rambling, sorry) what I’m thinking while responding to the work with a brush.

It’s fairly long (30:06), and I start sketching (after a trial run) at 6:25 or so.

 

 

Copying Li Xue Ming (Part I)

Li Xue MingI recently moved, and out of the 437 that I own, this is one of the few books I could bring with me. I bought it at a brick and mortar store in China Town in San Francisco a few years ago.

I was having fun exploring the area, so discovering the artist, Li Xue Ming, may seem a little random.

I’ve been saving it for a rainy day, so to speak (IE, just one of those days when you want to discover something that sparks joy in your life), and hitting two birds (or if you want two bottles or two inanimate objects) with one stone, it also gave me a chance to think about how to develop my own style of line by looking at somebody else’s.

This video is of me preparing and using Chinese ink the old-fashioned way while sketching a figure inside one of his paintings.

I’m also preparing Part II, where I give a response to the work and sketch what surrounds the figure.

Gaa Wai Copy of Li Xue Ming 082419

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

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

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)