One more from my last portfolio…

…in which it is observed that my theme was plants and flowers, and that each image referenced itself back to a word from a specific culture, referencing differing concepts of “beauty.”  I used plants, largely because I’ve got a fairly decent library of different types of plant images.  I just figure that something has to be there, when I have more images of plants than I do of humans…

Today, I picked up some more flowers — both the live, cut kind, and the silk kind, before I realized that we would be visiting the produce market.  I spent about $12 on silk flowers, and my godmother bought me a bunch of Mini Gerbera daisies, which was about $6.

It was upon bringing these home that I realized that whatever it was that I drew in the below, wasn’t exactly a Gerbera daisy:

Daisies in water (by the author), ~7″x10″, sepia ink on Mixed Media paper

This aesthetic didn’t appear in our text, however.  It’s a result of our final assignment, which was to find an artist whose work was different from our own, and after studying their aesthetic, integrate some aspect of that into a drawing.

I chose Van Gogh, for his directness and liveness of line and mark.  It was interesting.  I’m not sure I have the energy in me to detail what I found out about his work at the moment, though I know it will be invaluable to me to have recorded that somewhere, in the coming years.

I’ll try.

Basically, in one of the books I found on him, it was said that Van Gogh considered drawing as fundamental to painting.  In a different book, I found reproductions of his letters to his brother, Theo, who supported him financially in his later years.  The words, in either sepia or walnut ink (I’m guessing from the shades — he used quill and reed dip pens regularly in his drawings), were interspersed with images done entirely in this red-brown color against the tone of the paper.

The style which reads to me as unmistakably Van Gogh has strong elements of linework and markmaking, which together create texture and dimensionality in his images.  I realized that, before the very end of his life, in which his style was beginning to change and develop into something else; in the middle to late parts of his career as an artist, cross-contour lines featured very heavily in his paintings.  It wasn’t until I undertook the process of trying to integrate this in something like his style that I realized why, though.

When one is drawing with a dip pen, monochromatically — everything about the image which one wants to get across has to be encoded in two colors:  the color of the paper, and the color of the ink.  There is no shading without moving into brushwork or dilutions (I saw another example of this in a Rembrandt ink drawing at the Legion of Honor), though there is hatching and, as I’ve said earlier, cross-contour line, stippling, etc.

If you believe drawing is fundamental to painting, and you’re really trying to get drawing down, to really know monochrome and use it well, what you learn in drawing is going to overflow into your painting.  Each line drawn in sepia, then, indicates the directionality of the brush stroke used in each painted mark, laid onto your surface.

There is also the possibility of differing nib widths, which I didn’t take advantage of in the above; I had enough on my mind, trying to get through this assignment.  (As a note, I was using a mid-sized, somewhat worn [I’m trying to save it], bamboo dip pen and sepia ink.) However, once started, I realized how direct and easy it was to draw “what I was seeing”…given a caveat.

In the above image, I wasn’t literally trying to draw what I viewed.  There are a lot of elements integrated in there of what I did “see” — that is, what made this flower different from all other flowers, what made it have the character it did, what it simply was giving me in terms of “feeling” and emotion — the latter of which is what I mean when I talk about thinking in terms of art, and my reasoning behind wanting to keep an art journal.

As an aside:  After two to three quarters of Japanese language lessons, I found it easier at times to think in Japanese.  After however many of these art semesters I’ve been through (I can’t recall anymore, and they’ve been spread out over the last eight years), I’m learning to think in terms of wordless emotion, feeling, and expression.  It isn’t encoded verbally.  The way it gets out is through image creation…a rather slow process, at least at first.

In any case, I’ve read that Van Gogh always saw nature in the context of humanity, and I tried not to stray from that.

So instead of drawing what the flower might objectively be, what it might be to itself; I drew what I allowed it to let me feel.  This priority, even though it might be a bit existential (with meanings possibly unknowable to any other human, and all — which philosophy may account for some of Van Gogh’s troubles), meant that I did not have to hold tightly to photorealism.  Instead, when I got to a certain part of the daisy, I would look at that part of the daisy and see what was going on there, and integrate notable elements of that into the work.

This is without worrying about whether the petal was in perfect position relative to all the other petals, or whether there were the right number of petals anywhere in the drawing, or how closely the drawing matched the literal image at the back of my retinas.  (This is after having drawn in the basic shapes very lightly in pencil, as I’ve seen traces of in Van Gogh’s drawings.  I didn’t erase the pencil.  Can you see it?)

I’ve learned that a photograph — which all of my other drawings for this portfolio were based on, sans the purple silk rose I posted earlier, and this one — isn’t a perfect representation of what it makes me feel.  The two things aren’t remotely the same; the effect is magnified when doing photo editing and having a plastic version of the image.  The photograph simply is a reminder — of what I want to say, is almost all of an essence of what one felt the first time one saw it.  But it isn’t all; there are major issues with viewpoint, time, dislocation, and dimensionality, not to mention scent, temperature, what happened to be on one’s mind at the instant the photo was taken, etc.

Hopefully, the photo can be a reminder of this, but without being critical about our own photos, we — or perhaps I should say I — am led into photorealism, where I try to record everything exactly as it was, because I don’t know what caused me to feel what I felt, so I painstakingly denote everything in the hopes of feeling that same thing again.

But, at this point, I think that it isn’t necessary, and it isn’t worth it.  I’ve seen the same thing happening with mindfulness training, where people know that it works, but they don’t know how it works, so the program basically includes everything a certain Master taught — even if it’s irrelevant (or unnecessary; or in the worst cases, harmful).

What I have to do is find what I’m feeling upon seeing, in what way the image or the setting is speaking to me, where it’s speaking to me from, and then in some way be faithful to those elements (and perhaps magnify them with other elements of the composition).  That is, I have to use my critique skills to analyze the photo before embarking on generating a drawing from it.  What works, what could be better?  How?  This is, even if what speaks is a constellation and not a single star.  Being faithful to the rest of the “reality” of the image is not as relevant as gaining those psychological “keys.”

I say this while being very early in on my journey, though, so if it doesn’t work for you, don’t feel bad.  I’m just trying to express this somehow…

What I was doing was a combination of generalization, and expressing the feeling I gained on viewing my subject (but which I should make clear, is distinct from anything the flower may have “caused” me to feel — it isn’t universal, and I need to own my own feelings).  After all, it’s the feeling and the captivation that kept me there and made me want to draw this, of all things.  The physical form is just a key to get to that state.

This means, thus, that even though I did feel that something with actual life energy in it would be the best subject for this drawing, it isn’t necessarily the case that I would need a living subject to be my key.  (Hey, I just saw what I did there.)  What I seem to be responding to, as in the variant aesthetic to kalon, may be something more along the line of the world of Forms…or Archetypes…?  Hmm.  That’s something to consider delving more deeply into…


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Haru ("Codey") is a second-year Master's student in Library and Information Science, hoping to find a way to fuse their desire to make the world a better place and to finance their art.

3 thoughts on “One more from my last portfolio…”

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