Return to the Man Cave, Ezra Pound and the St. Elmo Watercolor

St. Elmo, Colorado

Sandi plans to leave around 5:30 a.m. to work horses.  It’s good to see her pursuing her bliss as retirement commences.  I’ve decided to rise early as well, and see if the man cave is cooler than the 92 degrees it was at 11:00 this evening.  I loathe Texas summers.  Sure, the sunlight creates potentially pleasing landscape subjects to paint.  But it also invites heat stroke, skin cancer and plenty of other assorted wholesome features.  At any rate, I’ll work in the man cave in the morning for as long as the temperatures allow, then move my work inside and work under whatever light I can set up.  I’ve posted the St. Elmo painting that I started and abandoned over two weeks ago.  I would love to finish that one in the morning.

Today I stood in a 45-minute line at Arlington’s Municipal Court to settle up on a traffic violation from last month.  I brought with me Literary Essays of Ezra Pound.  It was good reading while I stood and waited.  I’m extrapolating his three tenets of Imagist poetry and applying them to my ideas of watercoloring:

1. Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.

Edward Hopper, when referring to his earlier days of plein air painting, said that he used to work “from the fact,” but in later years, relied on his memory and imagination.  In my plein air work of recent years, I have tried to focus more on a single, concentrated subject on which to build my composition.  My greatest challenge in painting on site is learning to focus on one subject, and trying to disregard all the other objects in front of me, all clamoring for my attention and focus.

2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.

I am trying to return to the “vignette” approach of watercoloring, allowing the perimeters of my composition to go out of focus, and eventually fade to white.  Taking a step further, I am trying to avoid detailing elements that are not central to my subject.  I’ve always been attracted to the words of Andrew Wyeth, saying that the strength of a composition is not what you put in, but what you leave out.  I also liked Henry David Thoreau writing that a person was rich in proportion to what things he could leave alone.  I’m still working on this, the idea that less is more.  My watercolors too often have too much in them, competing for the viewer’s attention.

3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome. 

I may be misinterpreting all of Pound’s tenets, but I’m at least using his words as a springboard for my own ideas as I pursue my place in the art enterprise.  When I read statement #3, I think of my notion that there are no sequential rules to painting out a composition.  I don’t always start with the sky.  I don’t always lay down my planes of color before detailing.  I don’t always draw out every detail in pencil before laying down water and pigment.  I just don’t follow a sequence of steps from start to finish in a painting; I work on what I feel like working on, from one moment to the next, and the only time I am forced is when the painting becomes too wet in one area, and I must devote my attention to another place where it is dry and controllable.

So.  There is my though of the day.  Ezra Pound’s tenets for Imagism (I like William Carlos Williams: “No ideas but in things.”) applied to my own watercolor ideas.

In less than two weeks, I have the privilege of traveling to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to teach a one-week plein air watercolor workshop.  I have already spoken to seven of the nine students enrolled in the course, and found them all to be fascinating and engaging in conversation.  I cannot wait to meet them and get to work.  This will be my third year to do this, and I absolutely love that school, its staff, its Board, and that town.  I cannot wait to get there.

Thanks for reading.

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