Posts Tagged ‘Willem de Kooning’

Beginning New Work in Studio Eidolons

August 21, 2020
Beginning Second Watercolor of a Dry Fly

When Leonardo was summoned by the duke, they ended up having a discussion of how creativity occurs. Sometimes it requires going slowly, pausing, even procrastinating. That allows ideas to marinate, Leonardo explained. Intuition needs nurturing. “Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work least,” he told the duke, “for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions, to which they afterwards give form.

cited from Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci

New work on a Royal Wulff fly pattern for my next commissioned watercolor has radically altered my studio habits. Inspired by recent readings in biographies of Leonardo da Vinci and Willem de Kooning, I take comfort in knowing that those two masters perfected the art of procrastination as they focused intently on the task at hand and how to execute it. Leonardo of course is known for the thousands of pages of copious notebooks he left behind. As for myself, my thousands of pages are comprised of journal entires, but not nearly as many art studio sketches and observations. Until now. For two days, I have been going through my storage drawers, extracting art supplies I haven’t used for years, most notably two large sets of Prismacolor watercolor pencils. Using the backs of watercolor paintings that failed, I have been covering the surfaces with various washes, color swatches and scribbled notes identifying the various combinations of colors I’ll need to copy this fly pattern that I’ve expanded to an 8 x 10″ photograph. I’ve also painted portions of the fly body, most notably the thorax and abdomen, studying the color patterns and trying to reproduce them as best I can. I would show the painting in progress, but the only thing I’ve completed to date is the bare hook–nothing really to write home about at this time.

Studies for the Royal Wulff project

My new studio space has surpassed all my dreams and fantasies for a place to make art. The studio is no longer crowded–I am able to work on the surfaces of two drafting tables, one library table and a rolltop desk. The best part of my art library is now in this same room, and the adjoining bathroom has two sinks, a long counter, two walk-in closets and built in cabinets offering an abundance of storage space. All my past watercolors, prints, pre-cut mats and drawing papers are now tucked inside a five-drawer lateral file cabinet for easy retrieval. I’ve only waited thirty years for such a space and cannot believe the day has finally arrived. I so look forward to sharing my art life with you in the pages ahead.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Living in the Shadow

October 29, 2014

First Charcoal Attempt at Still Life Since High School

First Charcoal Attempt at Still Life Since High School

Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom


Between the conception

And the creation

Between the emotion

And the response

Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

Shortly after I rose from bed this morning, I checked my phone for emails and found my “artist daily” message ( discussing the possibilities of erasure drawings with charcoal.  I had read in the past about Willem de Kooning’s erasure drawings, but I had never tried that technique for myself.  Thinking over my recent desire to create a large watercolor still life composition emphasizing a dimly-lit interior replete with shadows, I decided immediately that I needed to give this a try.  I have found it very difficult to paint dark compositions in watercolor, the paper surface is so bright, and I am a stickler for working in the transparent medium of watercolor.  I knew I needed to find my way to the shadows.  T. S. Eliot’s words were stirring in my imagination.

Coming home from school, I entered my newly-reconstituted garage/mancave, put on a VHS tape of Willem de Kooning, and set to work with charcoals, a kneaded eraser and an old flat brush formerly used in oil painting.  With these three tools in hand, I sketched quickly, first covering the paper surface with a dark layer of charcoal, then using the eraser and brush to highlight and mid-tone the objects.  I felt an unusual delight as I watched the shapes emerge from the gloomy atmosphere, and felt a connection with greatness, knowing de Kooning had been trained in these kinds of drawing techniques while a young art student in Holland.

No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone.  His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists.  You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead.  I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical, criticism.

T. S. Eliot, “Tradition adn the Individual Talent”

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Getting Back on my Feet Again

February 18, 2014

Getting Back into the Studio

Getting Back into the Studio

I don’t like to work in bounds, because when I’m falling, I’m doing alright.  When I’m slipping, I say, “Hey! This is very interesting.'” It’s when I’m standing upright that bothers me.  I’m stiff.

Willem De Kooning

As I limp my way back into the blogosphere, let me say how good it is to be at this stage.  An illness knocked me down over the past six days, and I’ve spent very little quality time out of my bed.  However, after two doctor’s visits and handfuls of prescription meds, I’m so grateful to feel human again, and, barring any setbacks, will return to school tomorrow (Wednesday).  I haven’t taught since Tuesday of last week.  I posted a photo of my studio as it looked when I abandoned it last week.  I wish I could say that I am painting today, but I am not.  However, I am reading once again, and loving it.  It’s so good to be able to focus my eyes again.  I guess I’m just feeling too weak to paint, to concentrate that intensely.  But I’ll get there.  I have the itch, no doubt.

I posted the De Kooning quote in amusement.  At this point, I wouldn’t mind being stiff and upright.  I think I’ll do better art work when I reach that posture.

Thanks for reading.  Back soon.

So what, if you have to move the whole thing over just two inches?

May 1, 2013

Close Up View of the Screen Door and Coffee Can in Progress

Close Up View of the Screen Door and Coffee Can in Progress

He would work on paintings for enormously long stretches of time, just simply be dissatisfied.  I would come in and there would be a terrific painting of a man, and Bill would grudgingly admit that it wasn’t bad, but then say: “But he has to be moved over two inches”, and he just eradicated him.  He was very discontented constantly.  It was what kept him going.

Elaine De Kooning, describing the painting habits of her husband, Willem De Kooning

This anecdote always amused me about Willem De Kooning and his constant studio revisions.  Long ago, I had been taught that some revisions were just not possible in watercolor.  Slowly, I’m finding all of these statements to be untrue.

Andrew Wyeth relayed the story that he was working on this composition of Karl Kuerner in drybrush, and it sported a gigantic moose head trophy on the wall.  When Anna walked in on him, perturbed, snapping at him in German, “Why didn’t you come down to breakfast when I called,” Wyeth was fascinated at the sight of the man turned away from his wife and the high-powered rifle pointing at her.  She allowed him to put her into the portrait, and he sanded the moose head trophy off the wall between them.

When I read that account, I thought, “Wow! They always told me that you could not erase watercolor, you’re just stuck with what you’ve got.”  So, I went back to a painting that I had recently finished and regretted.

Blues on the Corner

Blues on the Corner

Once this watercolor was finished, I regretted not having put a guitar player seated in a chair on the corner.  Having read of Andrew Wyeth’s revision, I purchased 150 grit fine sand paper from my local hardware store, sanded a full circle out of this painting until it was white, and then drew and painted this guitar player inside the circle, finally retouching all the background colors and textures I had obliterated.

Why am I going into all this detail?  Well, when I awoke this morning and looked at my current painting before leaving for school, I realized to my dismay that I had drawn the left frame of the screen door too narrow in proportion to the coffee can and the horizontal screen door slat below the can.  I was 3/8″ of an inch too narrow.  And I had already painted in the dark screen interior with masquing and painted the left margin as dark as I could get it.  My first reaction was “Too bad.  Nothing can be done about that now.”  Then I remembered Andrew Wyeth’s “Kuerners” and my own “Blues on the Corner” and thought “Why not?”  I laughingly recalled Willem De Kooning saying his man had to be “moved over two inches.”  I came home from school, measured the new margin for the left frame, and sanded the devil out of it, turning the entire page surface blue-gray.  A good scrubbing with the eraser turned the page white again, and then I started all over “aging” the wood with drybrush and graphite work.  I’m happy I decided to do it.  The widened door frame looks right now.  (Incidentally, the door frame is straight; when I shoot close-ups with my camera, the lines curve, and I don’t know enough yet about Photoshop to straighten those lines again.  The painting of the door frame is actually straight-edge straight).

I had to stop painting to put this stuff on the blog.  I really wanted to share it, with all the fun and laughs.  I feel “madder” than ever, as the scientist noodling around in his laboratory again.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Stretching My Watercolor into a New Direction

April 24, 2013

Beginning a New Still Life

Beginning a New Still Life

You know, the real world, this so-called real world is just something you put up with, like everybody else.  I’m in my element when I’m a little bit out of this world; then I’m in the real world–I’m on the beam.  Because when I’m falling, I’m doing all right; when I’m slipping, I say: “Hey, this is interesting!”  It’s when I’m standing upright that bothers me: I’m not doing so good, I’m stiff.  As a matter of fact, I’m really slipping most of the time, into that glimpse.   I’m like a slipping glimpser.

It seems that you have to be rather innocent; if you are too advanced or learned, you won’t be able to paint.  I mean, didn’t Baudelaire say you have to be a little stupid to sit around writing poetry all the time, no?

Willem De Kooning

I was fortunate to spend four hours in a TAKS testing room today, followed by three afternoon classes.  Again, I came home, wiped out.  But I’ve been poring over some Andrew Wyeth books filled with drybrush illustrations.  Taking the De Kooning dictum seriously, I decided that I wanted to launch into another direction, and I broke my own rule about not painting when fatigued.  I at least set up another still life in my Man Cave, drew out the composition, and laid down some broad washes to get a sense of what I want to do next. I want to go after another Andrew Wyeth “look” of a dramatically darkened composition with something catching the light in the midst. I have had this antique pail of pine cones sitting at my feet for over a year, and have painted them twice outdoors, beneath the trunk of a tree, but now I wish to place them at the bottom of a darkened door, and see if I can make something attractive out of them.

I am barely underway.  Once again, I’m having trouble darkening this bright white D’Arches watercolor paper.  It’s going to require some working and re-working.

I’m exhausted to the bone and need to retire to bed early so I can be somewhat fresh to go after another horrid testing day tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

When in Doubt, Paint

March 31, 2013

Vintage Bomber on Dark Green Field

Vintage Bomber on Dark Green Field

“He painted far into the night with an air of great seriousness,” said Finkelstein.  “He would go to the other side of his loft and stare fixated.  Then suddenly he would come alive and then step back again.  ‘Whoever he is, he must be one of the most serious artists,’ we said to each other.”  According to Betsy Egan Duhrsen, “Bill just worked.  He worked and worked.”  No matter how late the discussions went at the Waldorf, no matter what tensions arose in his personal life, de Kooning continued to work with the relentless intensity of one who strives always to reach the unattainable.

Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, de Kooning: An American Master.

After a restless night when I couldn’t shut down my brain and go to sleep until nearly 3 a.m., I awoke without an alarm around 7:00, rose, made breakfast, and brought it out into the Cave to enjoy the cool morning.  While eating, I watched a VHS tape documentary of Willem de Kooning from the “Strokes of Genius” series.  I became so absorbed with it, that I pulled my biography (cited above) that I had read in its entirety back in 2004, and began re-reading the chapter that covered his emergence in the fall of 1948.  One of the biographical notes that has stuck with me since my reading of this book concerns the drive of de Kooning that persisted for decades.  In earlier blogs, I have poked fun at his tendencies to spend more time looking at his work than actual painting, and then his constant revision (actually, erasure!) of work he had spent several hours putting together.

I rose from my reading chair, completely blank about what to do next, only that I needed to do something next.  So, I pulled out the vintage tackle box lent to me by a dear friend, pulled out this old wooden Bomber plug, and decided to put it on a dark field of green, instead of the white that I had always used before and found unsatisfactory.  Because of the layers of wet-on-wet, the painting is staying pretty soupy, disallowing me to do tight pencil work.  So I continue to read from this biography of de Kooning.

On this Easter morning, I post with amusement this illustration which has been my inspiration for over twenty years.  The illustration, known as the Flammarion engraving, first appeared in Camille Flammarion’s 1888 book  L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (“The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology”).  I have always loved the look of the inquisitive pioneer, pushing past the veil, to the primal workings of the world.  I have had this picture in my mind for over twenty years, every time I think of someone (or myself) trying to push into a new world, in discovering a new style, a new idea, a new pursuit.

I post it today, honoring the memory of Willem de Kooning’s endeavors during those late New York nights in his Fourth Avenue studio, trying to figure out what to do next in painting.  And I keep it before me today as I paint, trying to figure out what to pursue next.  When in doubt, paint.

Thanks for reading.

Arranging Studio Space for a New Student

March 19, 2012

Studio Workshop of Recollections 54

This space has certainly evolved.  For about the last four years, I have been in a perpetual migration, searching for studio space to experiment in watercolors.  I have enjoyed the extra bedroom in my house that formerly served as a study for my high school and college preparations.   I have also been grateful to the Burson Gallery in Hillsboro for providing studio space during summer months over the years.  I have as well enjoyed the back of my open Jeep Grand Cherokee, the idyllic pasture lands of Lyndon Acres in Burleson, and anyplace else I could park to work in watercolor, whether en plein air or in an enclosed room.

Over the past year, I have been carving out space in my garage, laughingly calling it the Man Cave.  But recently, I have taken this space more seriously, especially enjoying its sweet solitude late at night, with the door open, and the cool evening Texas breezes filling it.  During Spring Break, I spent most nights (and mornings after midnight) in this space.

Having recently moved my art festival booth furnishings to the perimeter of this space, I hatched this wild idea last week of converting this into a studio space to accommodate more than one person.  That idea filled some of the space of my Spring Break.  I especially enjoy now the presence of a portable TV/VCR where I have been rolling interview tapes of Willem de Kooning.  I’m also benefiting from my vintage stereo and turntable (LOVE listening to Muddy Waters LPs!).  I also have several easels upon which I can put up my works in progress and view them from across the garage while I’m working on something else.  I have two bookcases filled with my art, literature and philosophy monographs, as well as a number of comfortable chairs and reading lamps, along with five tables with ample space for organizing paintings, art supplies, journal, laptop and whatever else I need.  I feel that I could compete with Robert Motherwell as to library/studio/office space, though I could no doubt have used a portion of his financial fortune for a “prettier, classier'” space.

The timing of this couldn’t be better.  An artist from Wichita, Kansas is due early this evening to take several hours of private watercolor lessons from me.  He has come to visit his daughter who lives in a nearby town.  We met at the Grapefest art festival last fall in Grapevine, he took my business card and inquired about private lessons.  So, now he is choosing to give me a chance.

I don’t know exactly how to put this–I don’t feel like a “master.”  I don’t.  I’m still a curious student of watecolor, still learning, still experimenting, still reading, still devouring museum art and trying to find myself in this wonderful medium.  But having been a teacher of academics since 1985, I will honestly say that I love teaching, I love giving, pouring out my heart and passion, in any way that will benefit someone wanting to learn new things.  And I am profoundly grateful to this man for giving me yet another chance this evening to share these things.  I cannot wait for him to arrive (and I hope my space suits him, as he will be the first “customer” to enter and use this space!).

Thanks for reading.  I still have some tidying to do, as you can see from this photo.

Lunch at a Romantic Mountain Town Getaway

March 23, 2011

Romantic Musings

Pausing for a romantic luncheon in the historic business district of Eureka Springs, Arkansas last weekend, my wife and I could not stop gazing down at Spring Street  below us.  The more I looked, the more I thought of Edward Hopper’s birds-eye views of New York City that he painted so enchantingly.  I realized that I had never tried this, so it was time.  I have posted a link to the Basin Park Hotel, where we enjoyed lunch, and this fabulous balcony view.  The link shows the flat-iron building across the street that anchors this composition.

I am so pleased to get in-and-out of a small painting so quickly (this one is 8 x 10″ and will be available for $300 unframed).  I never thought it possible (for myself) to get so much minute detail crammed into such a small working space, and to be nearly finished this quickly.  I began on Sunday afternoon (the day after the luncheon), and have posted the picture as it appeared Tuesday.  I have yet to finish the handrails in the foreground, and still have some decisions to make on the overall composition (perhaps some broad darker tones in the background landscape, or the row of brick buildings–I don’t know yet).

My wife has suggested a diptych, again, something I have never tried in watercolor groupings.  I like the idea, so now I have the second one underway of the flat iron building, viewed from the end–an extreme low-angle view (worms-eye?).  The wet and sloppy sky is still drying, hence I pause to blog for a bit.  This second one is also 8 x 10″ and will be extremely, minutely detailed (I hope).

My poetic muse companions the past three days have been Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams.  I’m filled with a sense of wonder as I contemplate their theories of Imagism (Williams: “No ideas but in things”) and for the moment am attempting paintings of subjects that have no long-term personal history with me (The first time I visited Eureka Springs was last summer) but nevertheless arrest me with their grace and beauty.  In the cities I have always been fascinated with the co-existence of cosmetically beautiful objects and utilitarian ugly ones.  Ezra Pound noted in one of his literary essays that James Joyce juxtaposed the beautiful and the ugly in his stories.  Pound referred to these as the “bass and treble” of his arrangements.  Thus, in this painting (and the next) I am trying to present the  objects in which the tourist’s eye takes delight, as well as those which are either abhorred, or not even noticed at all.

One final thing I wish to point out–on that particular day in Eureka Springs, it was cold, windy, overcast, and there was absolutely no light or shadow to pick up on the objects.  I photographed it all anyway, and have chosen to paint it anyway.  Though the afternoon was a romantic one, it was nevertheless the last day of winter, and winter weather was in the air.  I tried to capture that gray, overcast, chilly atmosphere in the painting.

Thanks for reading.