Above are selected pages from my sketchbook work in February. Looking at them on a structural level, I see bright colors mixed with subtle or tempered hues, pattern explorations, imprints of light and shadow, and a contrast between controlled markings and those that seem to abandon control. Yet to me those physical descriptions also relay the concepts.
Some of the written entries in my sketchbook I included in my "thirteen" posts (2.5.13 & 2.22.13). Below are a few other excerpts, that may make sense only to me, but perhaps they reflect the confluence of tangible and abstract ideas.
"Time becomes defined by would have beens and..."
"Richter said something like, "he likes work he doesn't understand, or doesn't like work he understands. I agree."
"In the dark I wait. Light. Desert. Water."
On Friday I prepared a sheet of watercolor paper, about 18 inches square. Shortly after I started painting, the whole thing was annoying me so I tore it apart without hesitation. Then I could breathe and work unconfined by the patterns I had begun. I kept the broad marks and added details in graphite and watercolor. My intent for working larger is to prepare for several giant canvases I have that range in size from 2x3 ft., 3x4 ft., to one at 5 ft. I'm getting excited to work on them, and other than one big watercolor that I have going (at 4 ft. across), I think it's been since the late 1990's that I've worked on that scale. Yay big! Actually, I can cheer for both working small and large. I like to make small works that are intimate, quiet, emotional, and that draw the viewer in. I'm curious to see if and how I translate these ideas to the big canvases.
To be honest, in recent years I haven't been devoted to keeping a sketchbook. Is that a confession? Perhaps it sounds that way because of the perception that artists are to carry a sketchbook the same way people these days are glued to their smartphones. At least, that's what we were taught in school. No, I have always worked out ideas on individual pieces of paper, as I talk about here. But this year I started the practice of either writing, drawing, or painting daily, or almost daily, in a sketchbook. It's something I have always wanted to do, but I haven't committed myself. So far, it's going pretty well. Here's a look at a few pages from January.
So what about you, do you keep a sketchbook, or journal?
When I work on panel paintings, I take pictures of the process. It helps me see how ideas progress, how some elements remain important or visible while others become part of its history and only partially seen. I don't have a painting all planned out when I begin. It isn't interesting to me to work that way. Rather, I begin with one or two ideas, and block in loose areas areas of color, or shapes. Throughout the painting process, in writing and imagery, I connect overarching concepts with everyday observations. In this painting, grocery lists, patterned areas, bits of my own prose, ideas of strength in loss, hope in hardship, and symbolic notations build layers of experience. I have been thinking about stories, mine and those of others, and developing these stories through the slower nature of working with oil. Even though oil takes longer than watercolor, I do want my paintings to have a sense of spontaneity or intuitiveness like my works on paper. When an idea arises, I paint it. If it doesn't work, I move it or paint it into the surface. It's still there, it just becomes something else. Then as the painting nears completion, looking at the process photos allows me to step back and perhaps approach it more objectively. It is like looking through a reducing glass, seeing the painting as a whole, and somewhat removed.
The pictures (above) were taken in July, when I was working heavily on this painting. Last week I looked at it again (it had been turned around in my studio for months so I couldn't see it), and declared to myself that it is finished. But funnily enough, now that I look at it (removed again) on my screen, there is an area I may change. We'll see. It's ok to me that there is that question. I think that leaves it open, approachable, and a representation of experience.