October 14, 2017

harvest moon
Norton Simon back garden at twilight, 10/6/17 (Derwent colored pencils and watersoluable marker on smooth surface drawing paper)

Fast and Loose, or How to Draw the Harvest Moon at Twilight

If you’ve looked at much of my art on this blog, you can see part of an artist’s lifetime of the right brain struggling with the left. Looking back at my pre-21st century work my left-brain self was absolutely in love with rendering the details of a plant or a bug part that could only be seen with a powerful scope. I was in awe of the artists (medical illustrators and scientific illustrators) that were in command of media like colored pencil, pen and ink and watercolor. In the late 80’s I was totally captivated with an artist named Barbara Adair. She had learned to command colored pencil to do her bidding when rendering the natural world of plants. I Googled her a couple days ago and found an amazing poster she did for the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD). Go to museumcollections.org and do a search for her name. A poster of a lovely Fritillaria (don’t know if it has a more common sounding name) should come up. And if you roll the cursor across the piece you will see the seamless smooth perfection that I am talking about. Oh how I strived to create such luxurious, velvety and exacting color.

Remembering Barbara Adair made me think of another master natural science artist who used a more mixed media approach for her fabulously real looking artwork. Her name is Lynnette Cook and in the late 80’s early 90’s she was one of the artists at the Morrison Planetarium at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Her real and unreal renderings of space are out of this world (no pun intended). And during this same time period she also did art for magazines and posters. Of course I was more than captivated that I too could be hired by a random publication to create such art, but that was not to be. Google her and you will be treated to examples of her amazing art.

During this time I was experimenting with the scientific wonder of life and all its infinitesimally small details. Taking classes at the Academy and working for various natural science scientists gave me endless pleasure. But of course there might have been a hidden danger with that kind of work. (Well, it might not have been a real danger, but I may have been in danger of totally boring friends and family with my endless stories of what I did all day. Like there was the one time that I sneezed and almost blew some very tiny Melastome seeds onto the floor…) There might have been some lurking OSHA violations with this kind of painstaking work as well. I was still married in the early 90s and I distinctly remember my then husband saying something like, “They should be paying you more than 10 dollars an hour if you are going to go blind drawing the tiny hairs that can only be found on wasp genitalia.” Enough said.

So, after that I moved on. (Don’t worry; I’ll get to this art in the next paragraph…) I didn’t go blind, but I did get a divorce. I started stretching canvases again, got a pretty good-sized easel and did a fair number of landscapes with acrylics and then oil. And all the while the right side of my brain was speaking up, encouraging me to speed things along and not worry about the small details. There was something to be said for turning on Miles Davis, Pat Metheny or Winton Marsalis and painting more quickly, and fast and loose.

Finally, I am up to the present, where my right brain has completely subdued the left and I have taken to creating “deconstructed” landscapes like this one. And this colored pencil piece was done in about 15 minutes, as the light was leaving the sky and I was racing to capture a moment. And I couldn’t believe my luck. There was music playing in the back garden at the Norton Simon that night—selections of Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” could be heard throughout the garden. And even if I had wanted the moment to last a little bit longer it didn’t matter because like it or not, the light would be fading to black and I would be done. And I chose colored pencils because it also seemed tailor made for a right brain manic scribble to music, with no time to mix colors or “chat” with my perfect “blues” in the paint box. Oh, and the huge yellow harvest moon I tucked up in the right corner didn’t really exist in that spot at that moment. I added it because you get to do that in your own art when your right brain is in command, with no explanation necessary.

So, what comes next? Will my art become more and more abstract? I was pondering this as the evening light was completely gone and my eyes wandered over to the water lily pond illuminated by outdoor lights. It made me think of Monet’s Water Lilies. He went to a great deal of trouble to put in the lily pond at Giverny. And he painted many amazing waterscapes (some 250 oil paintings) while gazing over that water. In fact, he pretty much dedicated the last part of his “painting” life, starting in 1912 till his death in 1926, painting his beloved water lilies and dealing with his failing vision (due to worsening cataracts). From what I read critics didn’t care much for his later work and pretty much ignored these paintings. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that they were found again and deemed not only note worthy, but ground breaking abstract art. Maybe I am destined to continue down the deconstructed landscape trail, much like Monet and his abstract Water Lilies. I realize I have just compared my art to the great Claude Monet (the Father of Impression), but I like that that gives me something to shoot for. Think I’ll try my hand at the water lilies in the back garden of the Norton Simon Museum, with plans to visit Monet’s actual water lilies at Giverny someday.

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