Posts Tagged ‘edgar degas’

Studio Sanctuary

September 7, 2016


It is very well to copy what one sees. It’s much better to draw what one has retained in one’s memory. It is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.

Edgar Degas

Finally, FINALLY I am afforded the opportunity to return to the studio! I’m in my third week of a new school year and have managed to do plenty of pencil sketching in my journal the past few days, but I have had an uncontrollable itch to pick up the watercolor brush. So, when I saw a gap in my schedule this afternoon, I charged full-bore into a 20 x 24″ stretched paper surface and have felt such a rush of eudaimonia throughout this afternoon and evening.

My subject I recognize as an abandoned filling station I photographed this summer, I believe in the vicinity of Brookfield, Missouri on Highway 36. About a month or so ago, I did a small watercolor of a brightly-colored restored gas station further east along that same stretch of highway that friends had pointed out to me.

station new

Painting from last summer near New Cambria, Missouri

My current project will have far less color, just a white frame building with all its signage and pumps removed. Still, the sprawling highway alongside the abandoned structure has such an Edward Hopper kind of feel, and I have always loved his painting titled Gas. 


Edward Hopper, Gas

Most viewers with whom I’ve spoken are fascinated with the solitary man at the pumps. As for me, I’ve always been more interested in the white frame building, the pavement, and a dark forest framing the composition. When I drove across Missouri last summer and saw the remains of that gas station to my right, I knew I had something very near to my recollection of a Hopper composition.


The evening has also been delicious because of the quiet time and space to work on my art history for tomorrow. With each passing day, I am getting more attached to my students in the three A-Day art history sections. I am trying something new this academic year, and so far I’m pleased with how it is working. For about four years now, I have been hammered by “experts” that collaborative learning is the wave of the educational future, and that we should be forcing the students into such groups to enhance their learning. This is completely counter to the way I learned during my significant years, and cuts against the grain of how I am comfortable teaching. I have heard the scoffers ridiculing the lecture format, referring to it as the Dark Age of schooling. I couldn’t disagree more. For one thing, when I lecture, I continually throw questions out on the floor to engage students willing to engage, and for the most part they are willing. Last year, I almost completely abandoned the lecture format in favor of group learning and discussion, and I found the year among the most dissatisfying in my nearly three decades of experience.

This year I have compromised, working earnestly to cut each ninety-minute class period into collaborative portions, in additon to lecturing portions as well as time for independent work with chrome books or smart phones. Each session still has a thesis, and I don’t lose sight of the goal. But I am very pleased to watch how these classes have developed. For instance, in my last session, our focus was on early dynastic Egypt, and we studied three select sculptures from the day’s unit. And as the three figures were examined, I sought a healthy balance of independent computer research, group collaboration and lecture. And once the ninety-minute period was completed, the students not only were exposed to the historical background and technical vocabulary of those three pieces, but when prompted by me to connect with what they had worked on during the first two weeks, there emerged from the discussion allusions to the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic eras of Greek art, along with ideas from Heraclitus, Parmenides and Plato. In further discussion, ideas were dropped as well from the lives of Isaac Newton, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. That provided quite a rush for me, and I hope it did for them as well.

It’s been a great week, and I’m so pleased to be making art again. Thanks for reading.



Degas Redux

January 30, 2012

Ballerina in Oil

Over the weekend, I spent more time watching my private art student paint than engaging in my own work.  I’ll post my own watercolor momentarily, but first wanted to show you this piece.

I am posting the results of the second day spent on this oil painting of a ballerina.  My student spent the first day toning the background and blocking in the body without the tutu.  Today, she continued rendering the shadows and highlights throughout the body, and then scumbled the first layers of the tutu.

As I watched this painting emerge from the gloom, I could visualize Edgar Degas carving out a female form on toned paper, with a stick of pastel in hand.  Indeed this young student seemed just as fast and deft with a brush as I imagined Degas in his studio.  Watching this ballerina come forth from the gathering darkness was quite an enchanting experience for me, and I am sure my student felt the same level of thrill and accomplishment.  What an amazing experience the artist knows, watching life emerge from the abyss, knowing that s/he is the one making it happen.

Again, I must express amazement at this student’s level of concentration and focus on the work at hand.  Viewing a projection of a black-and-white photo of this subject, this young artist chose a sepia background, mixing her own combination of green oxide, cadmium yellow deep, ultramarine blue and burnt umber, with traces of cadmium red medium.  Turning to the figure, she chose to work lavenders into the shadows and yellows into the highlights, again using no “factory” flesh pigments, but blending her own flesh tones from a combination of primary and secondary colors.  This canvas is approximately 14 x 16″ (not in my possession at the moment) and my student has put in about 3 hours on it so far.  She will probably complete it at the next session.

I cannot express my level of pride in her work.  As stated in previous posts, she is currently in the ninth grade, seeking entrance into a magnet school for the visual arts in the fall.  She is about two weeks away from submitting her portfolio of drawings and paintings.  I have had the privilege of working with her only since last October, and am amazed to see what she has produced.  She has so much to offer to the world of visual art, and possesses as much enthusiasm as ability to create.