In keeping with the theme of my last article about Keeping The Dream Alive, I’m posting a link here to a post from 2010. Some things have changed since then, but not the part about art. I hope you’ll find some inspiration in the article. Go here: Thoughts on Age and Art
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
~ Henry David Thoreau
I was reminded of this quote recently in a Facebook post by artist and FB friend Bill Kassel. When I saw it, I had to ask myself if I had lived up to it. As a teenager, I was a dreamer, but my dreams were not like those of most of my peers. The life I had imagined was a bit bohemian for the times: sidewalk cafes, poetry, jazz, coffee shops and cool art galleries. Keep in mind I was a teenager in the late 50s. I remember being interested in art, Norman Mailer and Jack Kerouac. My dream was to be an artist. It wasn’t a life pursuit that was encouraged, so I probably didn’t go after it with confidence. At some point, reality stepped in and making a living became the driving force.
Fast forward to just a few years ago, when the new president of the last company I was employed by interviewed each employee. During our interview, he finally said “…so basically, you’re an artist who has spent his life working at crappy jobs to make a living.” Talk about cutting to the chase. That was one of the most concise descriptions of my life I had ever heard. Don’t get me wrong here. I’ve had some good jobs, some in art, some in management, a couple of them have taken me to some interesting places, and provided a good living. But there was always that underlying desire, almost like a life force, that said “but you’re an artist.”
The ultimate dream was to actually make my living as an independent artist, working in my own studio, selling my art through galleries. That did happen a couple of times, but through a variety of course deviations and some setbacks, usually of my own doing, it didn’t happen often or very long. Now, in my seventies, I sell some paintings and drawings, but it certainly isn’t a living. Did I fail in the pursuit of my dreams? Some would say yes, but I’m not so sure. Throughout my lifetime, drawings and sketches may number into the thousands. In the past few years, in what I suppose are my “golden years”, I have produced several hundred paintings and studies.
Today, the internet is my coffee house, where I can share and converse with other artists, and my sidewalk café, where I can watch the passing parade of humanity. It is my Jackson Square, where I can lean my art against the digital fence for the passing world to see. And it is my art school, where I can continue to learn from others, and study the work of old and modern day masters.
I’ve been writing this art blog for several years. Much of it has been focused on my use of gouache as a painting medium. When my enthusiasm has flagged and I’ve wondered if I was just having fun listening to my own voice, and if I should continue, I get another comment or email from someone thanking me for the inspiration an article has given them. So here we are, still at it.
Being a studio artist is a sedentary activity, and now, at 72, my body complains when I’m more active. I now have checkups with a cardiologist, my primary care physician wants to see me more often, and a recent back sprain has me seeing a physical therapist.
The physical therapist asked me what I wanted to accomplish by working with him. Without a second thought, I said I wanted to be able to hike to a good painting location, carrying my art equipment, and stand for hours at an easel. I don’t even consider myself a plein air painter, but maybe in order to keep my body in better condition, I need to become one. In that regard, expect to see more mediocre paintings as I struggle to learn a new painting medium, continue to stretch my wings and produce new art.
So what is the point of all of this? The point is that, however haltingly I’ve done it, even with all the meanderings and detours, yes, I have followed my dreams. All those years ago, I honestly imagined myself living in a little place either in the woods, or in the mountains or near a beach, spending my days painting and drawing. While my studio may be tiny, I still make art, and I share my life with the most wonderful partner I could ever have hoped for, in an environment not too far from the original vision. If it’s not the life I imagined, then it’s pretty darn close.
The dream only dies if you let it
While I do love painting, Nell and I tend to agree that drawing is where my true passion lies, and pen & ink is my first love. In all my years of drawing, I don’t remember ever doing many landscapes, especially in ink. It just seemed too complicated. When I started painting, I focused on landscapes, and have come to love observing the lay of the countryside, the shapes of trees, and compositions with boulders and rocks and water. The work I’ve done over the past year… the whimsical trees and houses, the storybook forests, and even the urban sketching… have all brought me back to the pen. Just recently, I decided to try my hand at some serious landscape work, strictly in pen and ink.
Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio was a good source of subjects to start with. The canyons, caves and boulders in this fascinating natural wonder provide a wide range of textures and forms. I’ve found myself going through my reference images looking for the seriously complicated subject matter that I have tended to avoid in the past.
Hocking Hills gives the impression of the kind of landscape the Hudson River School of painters recorded so masterfully. The patina of old rock, trees growing right from the edges of stone overhangs, along with the carpet of leaves, bark and twigs all present a new challenge when restricted to black and white.
When I started painting several years ago, an artist mentor asked if I wanted to be an impressionist or a realist. At the time, I thought it was pretty thoughtful of me to say I wanted to be a little bit of both, painting in a realistic manner, using impressionist techniques. I’m not sure I ever really mastered what I saw in my mind’s eye.
My pen and ink landscapes are tending more toward the realistic, which, to be honest, is the way my brain actually works. However, I can see the possibilities of playing with compositions and lights and darks even while taking a realistic approach.
I think it’s going to be one of the most serious drawing challenges I’ve ever taken on.
When I get to thinking that I’m developing a drawing/sketching style, I stop and look at the work I’ve done over the course of just a couple of weeks. There is quite a variety, both in subjects and in the way I’ve drawn and rendered them. Some artists might be concerned about that, thinking “but I’m not developing a style!” At this point in my life, I find I’m more interested in how I can produce this image at this hour on this day. The variety is part of the fun, and it almost seems as if the diversity of my past work is telling me “this is who you are. Don’t fight it. Just let it flow.”
“Live Bait’ could be an illustration for a story about the Texas Gulf Coast. The scene is a bait shop on an inlet near Aransas Pass, Texas. I’ve simplified the view considerably, eliminating other boats, a shoreline across the water, and a multitude of flotsam that’s normally found lying around and hanging in places like this.
“Pennsylvania House” is an entirely different style: clean and simple, but much more loosely drawn and less precise than the boat scene above. The story here might be a family history surrounding life in this old Victorian house.
The structure itself is Virginia’s On The Bay, a seafood restaurant that is one of our favorites in Port Aransas, Texas. Dinner on a weekend often calls for waiting in the foyer or out on the patio. A friend told me this didn’t look like Virginia’s, because it didn’t show the steps and patio at the entrance, which is by the palm trees shown in this drawing. In this case, I wanted to indicate the architecture of the structure as well as the fact that there is a marina next door to the restaurant. The drawing, while still loosely done, is a bit more precise, and reflects a bit of my architectural rendering background.
The houses in Mount Vernon, Ohio have always fascinated me. especially up from the square along High Street and Gambier Street. This one never fails to capture my attention, with its covered balcony and corbels above the front porch. Although I did do a rough pencil layout first, I kept the ink line work very loose and suggestive. A relative saw this sketch on Facebook and immediately saw a haunted house.
When I was an art major in college, I wanted to be an illustrator. Bernie Fuchs was one of my idols. Somewhere deep in my psyche or memory or artist’s soul, I have apparently never given up the desire to portray things in an interesting manner.
I’m continuing to explore sketching a wide variety of subjects, from urban architecture to country landscapes. Since old barns have always been a favorite, I wanted to find a way to draw and paint them with pens and watercolor. Working from a reference photo, I went into this one working directly with a Sharpie Extra Fine Point. The first application of watercolor was a simple wash of ultramarine blue and with a touch of burnt umber over part of the barn. From there, I continued to build up color in the barn, the silo and the foliage. Once the color was dry, I went back in with the Sharpie as well as a Micron No. 1 to add texture on the barn. I’m really pleased with this little drawing.
This little sketch was fun to do. A simple scene with an old building and a chimney standing in the middle of the lot, I think what makes this image come to life is the tree. After doing so many storybook trees, this one, while somewhat faithful to the interesting tree that was actually there, almost drew itself, but I did work at keeping it loose and free-flowing.
If you want to see some outstanding drawings of this nature, look up Marc Taro Holmes.. Holmes is an amazing Urban Sketcher.
Sketches like this are good exercises in perspective. Fortunately, because it’s a loose sketch, I didn’t have to be too precise with the shapes of the dryer doors. In spite of that, hopefully I managed to capture the feel of the place. While I practice a lot with photographs, this one was actually done on location while we waited for the machines to do their work. I did a reasonably accurate pencil sketch first before inking it. Since I didn’t take my full sketching kit, the watercolor was added after we got back home. A neighbor saw it later in the day, and has bought it. There is a lesson in here somewhere: Never choose your subject based on whether someone might want it. Choose what catches your artist’s eye and just enjoy the doing.
Bakery Café, 5×7, Ink & watercolor
For the record, almost all of these are being done in a Canson Mix Media spiral sketchbook. Very inexpensive. I find them at Walmart in the craft aisle. The one I prefer is 5.5″ x 8.5″. 98 lb paper, 60 pages. I’m using Sharpie Fine Point and Ultra Fine Point pens along with Microns No. 1, 3 & 5. I use a Windsor & Newton 12 color portable palette. Brushes are typically a #10 Kolinsky and a generic No. 5 round. To see more of these, go to the Urban Sketching page.