Minimalism, Mastery, and Plein Air Work
There is nothing like Springtime to inspire me to go walking and biking with my field kit. Pictured here is my kit which I purchased from Cheap Joe's Art supplies. You will notice that it is a converted traveling bar for two. I was unaware of this when until it arrived. The dead give away was the inclusion of the metal swizzle stick! When it first arrived I had a good giggle about this, but believe it or not it has proved to be a wonderful artist's toolbox! Since it is "for two" if you do opt for it to serve a duel purpose, just be sure to label your water container, ha! ha!
My first bike ride out for this season I was captivated by a cheery tree. There was something poignant and lovely about this time worn little tree blossoming into life again. As I drew, I was thinking a great deal about two artists I admire: William Hamilton Gibson and William Trost Richards: in particular, their sketchbook works. I truly aspire in my own works to their mastery of minimalism in media, line, and value in capturing the essence of their subjects. The more I draw and paint the more it seems to me that the great modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was so right, "Less is More." Despite the fact that it seems strange to compare 19th century painters with a 20th century architect. And although I am by no means an expert, I know this seems to be true of poetry as well. Exact word choice and the ability to be expertly concise lends great power to the poetic work. This struck me recently as I have been reading Rilke's The Book of Hours (Babette Deutsch's translation). It is a beautiful series of poems that celebrate God, humanity and the artist as the most conscious aspect of humanity. What truly astounds me is the spontaneity with which both painters and this poet created. It seems to me that this too is the hallmark of a great master of one's chosen medium.
My minimalist tendencies continued when I awoke the next morning to find my cat in a state of feline bliss while napping in our bed. Sometimes a line it seems, like the right word in the exact spot, can speak volumes about your subject. At least that was my goal in sketching him and it gave me great appreciation for the wonderful cat sketches in ink by Theophile Alexandre Steinlen.
To see more of Steilen's works check out this blog post from the Met:
One would think with all this advance "think time" the opportunity to paint landscape would be completely embraced. However, just the opposite was true. Being concise has never been my strong point in either word or deed. When faced with an entire landscape I was truly stymied. Even the inspiring landscape of River Farm on the Potomac River could not aid my lack of skill! So despite this, I embrace my "Inner Bob Ross" and sallied forth. One can't disappoint the artistic spirit of one of the most well-know artist/educators of the 20th century after all.
I would love to say that I'm proud of my work, but in this particular case I am choosing to focus on the creative process. So, what did I learn? Well, I was reminded that humility and a sense of humor are absolutely necessary as an artist! That River Farm is a beautiful and artistically inspiring landscape that I would love to revisit. That I was indeed fortunate to be surrounded by like minded artistic companions. I learned too that I did possess juuust enough self-discipline to turn my back on rows and rows of breathtakingly beautiful tulips, suppress my detail oriented eye and engage in a new broad perspective: landscape painting. Lastly, but, most importantly I learned that landscape is all about values, and not color.
But, of course, the very weekend next bike ride I sat for a pleasant hour and painted this fine fellow on the side of the road. It felt like such a compliment that he dozed off as I painted.
However, don't worry, I haven't given in to my baser desires and abandoned landscape painting. For some strange reason, I've always wanted to become proficient in this, so expect more attempts because after all Einstein said: Genius (or rather mastery) is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, and I have the summer ahead for that!