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July 29, 2017

prelude and bernardo

There is a book of Juane Xue’s work called , ‘Color is my wealth’. I share this sentiment, as color is the driving factor in most of my paintings.

But lately I’d been craving the feel of charcoal in my hand, the smooth way it goes onto the paper, the play between dark, rich passages, and lighter ones lifted out with a kneaded eraser.  When I was 10 years old, I started out learning to draw with charcoal in my art lessons with Abe Weiner. It remains a medium I’m familiar and comfortable with. The fact that color doesn’t figure in charcoal drawings lets me focus on form and texture. Very relaxing actually. In painting you have to juggle form, value, intensity, all the while keeping an eye on color balance as well.

Our neighbor who keeps his horses in the field behind our house is very ill. Over the past 20 years, we have had so much pleasure from Bernardo, a large Groninger work horse and jumper. I rode him once, and D let me help train him, and taught me to fit him up with all the carriage equipment and harnesses. Whenever D was away, I attended to Bernardo’s sore hoof, and made sure that he had enough food and water. Now his owner is in the hospital, the horse will probably be sold.

I made these drawings for him to remind him of the good things in life, while he lies in pain in a bed far from his home and horses. The second sketch is of Junarla, and her new foal, Juno, quite a character already as you can see below. D bought Juno in a more optimistic time, to have a new horse to train because Bernard is already around 20 years old. I sent the drawings off last week, hopefully they are giving our friend some solace. I guess Juno, now 2 1/2,  will be sold as well.

juno n junarla

Juno and Junarla, ‘Come on mommy and play’  charcoal on paper 18 x 24″

Abstract (watercolour sticks)

Abstract (watercolour sticks)

Watercolour sticks are affording me a new freedom. Believe it or not, the drawing/painting above started out as, ‘Beet still life with pomegranate’, you can see the shadow of the open pomegranate in the top right quarter. It was acceptable still life, but is was boring, so I rubbed it all out with water and just worked into some of the shapes that were left.

Next, a magazine photo caught my eye and I did a quick study using the watercolour sticks full strength.

Ceramics (watercolour sticks)

Ceramics (watercolour sticks)

So, the medium can be used to create powerful forms and light and shadow. I refrained from working on this too much.

Next, I drew a loose grid in the way I usually start my oil pastel drawings- filling areas in as I went. The main influences were the books I am reading right now- Robert Mac Farlane’s wonderful, ‘The wild places’, and ‘Women who run with Wolves’, by Pinkola Estes.

Wayfaring (watercolour sticks)

Wayfaring (watercolour sticks)

In the lower left corner, a little fox makes his first appearance. And there is a lighted house in the woods where the old  lady sits near a roaring fire, waiting for the tired wayfarer to come in and be held and healed.

When I was in London in January, staying in my aunt’s flat after her death, I remembered a similar time 13 years earlier, staying in the same fifth floor flat while my mother was in her last days. There were several things that comforted me at that difficult time, one was looking down on a row of garage rooves and sighting a little fox curled up, resting after a night’s hunting in the city. He had made a nest of leaves on the warm roof, under some overhanging branches. I always looked for him after that, and derived an extraordinary sense of peace from seeing him safely ensconced in his little refuge.

I found myself looking for him this time as well, silly after 13 years, of course. No fox.

But one morning a few days before I left, I looked down and there was a fox, sleeping in the same place as his predecessor (well, who knows? How long  do foxes live?). He returned every day, late in the day, secure in his little warm place under the branches, curled up with his soft bushy tail wrapped around him in the weak January sun. So he became a sort of totem for me, and an important part of my time in London. I decided to draw him, and what emerged was a sort of visual journal after the fact.

Visual journal - Fox (watercolour sticks)

Visual journal – Fox (watercolour sticks)

There was already a peacock appearing, (top right) which led me to the next drawing -of the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. My grandparents, aunt & uncle, and mother all lived very close to this wonderful park. It has been as much part of my psychic inner landscape as anywhere I’ve ever lived. After my mom had died, I stayed in the Holland Park youth hostel, also right in the middle of the park. One more letting go for me- this past trip, I went to visit some of the staff who had become friends by now (hi Sally and Simon), and the hostel had been closed down.

Peacocks run wild all over the park, my mom and I, and later my aunt and I always walked though the gardens, wandered through the formal Kyoto garden, looking at the carp and waterfalls; we smelled the roses in the rose garden, looked in wonder at the gorgeous meters-long mural near the Orangerie,  and stopped for a cup of hot cocoa in the little café.

Visual journal- Holland Park (watercolour sticks)

Visual journal- Holland Park (watercolour sticks)

 

Sunday morning by Samuel Rosenberg  (source)

My parents were good friends with the respected American artist, Samuel Rosenberg and his wife Libby. When I was still a child, they asked him advice on how to encourage my love for drawing and he suggested that when I was old enough they should send me for lessons with Pittsburgh artist, Abe Weiner.

I’ve mentioned my dear teacher and mentor here in previous posts, but I’ve been wanting to write in depth about that relationship. Before I even had a blog, I’d written an essay on what those years meant to me, but it has been lost. So I will try to recreate that tribute to him here.

My father was a doctor and both my parents were anxious to move out of the little duplex in the crowded Jewish neighbourhood they had come to as immigrants from Ireland, into the more spacious suburbs. I’d grown up in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh from age 3-9, and was used to walking everywhere with my mom to do errands on Murray avenue or Forbes.

That intimate relationship with the city stopped when we moved to Churchill and everything was done by car. Our shopping focus shifted from the city to the malls and we became suburbanites. I only went into town via carpool to go to temple, and later to go to my lessons with Abe.

But those lessons were what reconnected me to my city in a way growing up in my affluent family never could.

Abe Weiner was a quiet, humble man. He must have been in his early 40s when I came to him as a 10 year old. I only every remember gentleness from him, and humour, and the most all encompassing belief in me as an artist with ability.

Every Saturday for 6 years, except for summer vacation, I went by bus from Temple to the Weiner’s home in Squirrel Hill. In the first years we drew in and around their home. Abe and Anne’s 3 children were often present in the house, sometimes sitting down to draw with us. Friends would drop by, and since Abe’s studio was on the ground floor between the living room and kitchen, we were always at the heart of whatever was happening in the house.

After a few lessons when my teacher got an idea of what my stage of development was, we started to venture farther afield. Pittsburgh’s rich cultural heritage opened for this child, as Abe took me and often Shari his eldest girl, to draw at Phipp’s conservatory or the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. First I drew Greek statues in charcoal and pencil, when I could handle values well we graduated to my first box of pastels. I remember opening it for the first time, and all the colours took my breath away.

Abe’s method of teaching art was……

continued in part 2   (scroll down)

Picture

Untitled, Abe Weiner,  acrylic and dry pigments
source

Abe Weiner’s method of teaching art was to present the student with a subject to draw which would be familiar enough to provide security at the beginning, but complex enough to challenge them to go beyond their current level of ability.

It was a classic way of teaching,- perspective, chiaroscuro, proportion, composition were all handled. And when we worked with colour, complements, colour wheel, colour theory all were addressed. But none of this was presented as theory. It all came up naturally during the course of drawing; when I’d hit on a problem I couldn’t solve, only then would a piece of information be offered which I could use right away to go to the next level.

The lessons went like this- I’d arrive and we’d gather some materials and in the later years,almost always go directly out in the car with one of more of his kids (Shari the eldest- just a bit younger than I, Jonathan, and Kim, the youngest) . We’d arrive at the museum (admission was free in those days), and seek out a subject to draw. I remember spending several consecutive lessons on one dinosaur skull. When I revisited the museum 30 years later, I went right to this particular skull out of dozens displayed, because I’d come to know it so intimately.

What did he do during the lessons? He’d talk, make jokes, he was totally present without ever interfering or steering too obviously. He might give a few pointers while I was doing the first sketch if I was going horribly wrong with the composition or had missed an important element. But he usually simply held the space unobtrusively and was there when I got myself into a pickle, to help with kind suggestions as to how to dig myself out. He guided quietly, he observed, he didn’t praise or cut down, he was with you during the process and his total trust in your own abilities was palpable. If I was pleased with the result, so was he. And he also knew how to navigate my increasingly stormy teenage moods when things went wrong.

I learned through doing, through being supported in a safe space where the ante was upped a little more every time I made a step in my own development. So that learning to draw with Abe and paint with pastels was a slow, gentle curve to increasing skill and confidence.

My family life in those teenage years was chaotic. My father was bi polar and had a personality disorder; he’d been institutionalised a few times, but no one outside the family ever knew about that.  And I only knew he’d been ‘ill’ and had to ‘go away’ for a few months. When he was home my mother and I were at the mercy of his manic moods and depressions and rages.  That is why for 6 years, my weekly 3 hours in Abe’s home and even-keeled presence helped me through that turbulent childhood, and is why I am probably less scarred by it all than I might have been had I not had that refuge.

And I learned to draw, really draw. And to see, which is the heart of being able to draw.

On the days when we stayed at their home, Abe would occasionally work on one of his paintings while I was drawing. Looking back I see how much effect seeing his art unfold colour by colour, had on my own artistic vision. That merits another post.

My dear friend and mentor died in 1993. Luckily, I’d had the gift of another series of lessons from him after I was married and gone to live in Holland. I came back to Pittsburgh for several months and revisited his home with lovely Anne still there as well, and I learned to paint.

This man was a key person in my life, he not only grew me as an artist and influenced my vision and work, but his generosity and his family’s provided a haven for a sensitive child surrounded by the emotional turmoil of her own dysfunctional home.

And together we went and drew the still mills from the Hill. We went dahntahn and drew skyscrapers, we went to East Liberty, to Schenley park and drew the cherry trees in blossom, we lost ourselves in the tropical green houses of Phipp’s conservatory, we drew  animals at Frick Natural History museum. Through Abe’s eyes, I learned Pittsburgh in a way my parents never saw it,from their dinners at the Park Schenley or Concordia club, or dos at Montefiore where my father practiced.

It is Abe’s and my Pittsburgh I carry in my heart, and in my art.

Creative drawing classes

November 17, 2013

These were made by one of my course participants after our pen & ink sessions. They are particularly heartening because she had a hard time getting a handle on the medium most of the session. Then right in the last 5 minutes she totally  ‘got’it. The next week she came in with these sketches from a recent outing. Aren’t they lovely.

The last session this season, we combined collage and oil pastel to create a drawing from our imagination. We leafed through magazines for pictures which suggested a story, cut those out, then pasted them on white paper and worked into them with oil pastels. The results were free and colourful.

Silver teapot   pen, brush and ink

Silver teapot         pen, brush and ink

It seems like some of my best drawings happen during demonstrations for my ‘Creative Drawing’ class. We worked on reflections recently. I wanted them to get a feel for ink line combined with wash tones; and silver shiny objects seemed to lend themselves to this. It was a complex assignment, but they did really well. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of their work this time.

The next week, to continue with the technique and work on perspective as well, we worked from old IKEA catalogues. They chose an interior or part of one, to draw, then work with in pen and ink and wash.

Cozy chair    pen, brush and ink

Cozy chair         pen, brush and ink

This chair was a nice challenge, and since in the first lesson I emphasised loose, rather non-chalant application of strokes and wash, I wanted to demonstrate with the chair that pen and ink wash work can get detailed and precise if wished.  The teapot was done quite quickly and directly. The chair was built up out of light, then subsequently darker layers of wash which were left to dry between layers. It took the better part of an hour.

If you keep a sketch book or are interested in trying these for yourself, they are nice exercises. In this first demo below, I let the wash bleed as I added subsequent layers.

Camping cup     pen, ink and wash

Camping cup        pen, ink and wash

You might find that the tendency with this technique is to blend too much or begin ‘scrubbing’ the paper. Try to avoid this and work staccato, leaving out too much detail and applying cleanly separated areas of grey. Where there is a subtle gradation from light to dark, you could add some wash while the first layer is wet. But for the velvety sharp darks which define the silvery surface, it is better to let previous layers dry before adding the darkest tones.

Have an extra clean damp brush at hand to soak up unwanted sharp edges if necessary.
I used India ink, but Pelikan fount india is also nice, and normal fountain pen ink can give some unexpected effects by breaking up into blue or green tints when water is added.

I briefly worked into the bottom cup drawing with coloured pencil. This technique forms a great base for multi-media work.

mare and foal   summer 2013

mare and foal summer 2013

We are blessed this summer to have two mares and their foals living in the field bordering our back garden.

There is a horse breeder who keeps his prize stock in this area, other years we’ve had a whole herd one field further away.

But it is nothing like this summer, having them right outside our back door where we can watch and interact with them daily.

back field

horses in late spring 2012

Other years, Bernardo and Prelude have been in this field-  soul mates who hate to be separated, yet usually are every winter when their respective owners board them in different stables.

So I have had adequate opportunity to make endless sketches of various horses over the years. When I was small, horses were all I ever drew. As an adult I have had to learn the proportions all over again through continuous observation, as well as some anatomical study.

It is ongoing learning,  but I am happy with the freshness of the watercolour at the top of this post, which is a product of all the work that had gone before.