Time Time, Mind in a Bind.
Thoughts in a Mold, Blockages Unfold
Writing by Mary Ahern. February 20, 1978
Illustration by Mary Ahern, October 22, 2013
Time Time, Mind in a Bind.
Thoughts in a Mold, Blockages Unfold
Writing by Mary Ahern. February 20, 1978
Illustration by Mary Ahern, October 22, 2013
One of the methods I use to visualize my Art is to take snapshots of my models and modify them on my computer. Since I’m not a photographer I only have a small point and shoot camera that I use to take photos in my garden or in my studio.
I import these snapshots onto my computer and using Photoshop I delete the backgrounds, modify the colors and otherwise play around with the image. I print the images from my Epson printers onto matte cardstock papers.
In this particular Art work, after making a completed tonal drawing which I discussed in my previous post, I traced the outline of the tulip onto 300lb hot press paper using a lightbox and a 2H pencil.
Then, using Winsor Newton watercolors, I put down my first layer of paint. Once dry I used my set of Prismacolor colored pencils to draw over the watercolor.
For some reason I find this process to be very relaxing and meditative for me. If I need some calmness in my life, I can go to my studio at any time and pick up right where I left off. No fuss, no muss, no bother.
There are so many ways to create paintings. As an Artist who has been creating for over 35 years I have developed a variety of methods to arrive at my finished work. Sometimes it is interesting to get a peek behind the process, so here is one style I enjoy.
Since I’m not a photographer, I take snapshot of flowers I either buy or grow. I usually select them for color or just for form. I find myself attracted to large bold shapes rather than the more frilly inflorescences. I then decide what mediums I will work in and whether there will be one finished Art work in one or more mediums or whether the work will be part of a series.
I love creating tonal drawings so I often do a finished piece in graphite before I start a painting just because I like the feel of drawing. It also is a great way to work out values of highlights and shading.
If the work is part of a series, I need to imagine the size of each piece and the total overall impression I’m looking for. This ups the level of complexity considerably and actually makes for quite a nice challenge to my visual imagination and my technical consistency.
For a series of work I need to choose the size of each work and the size of the overall series.
I also need to create a composition that stands alone as well as works for the series.
My work must not only be accomplished to my own standards for each piece but it must be consistent across all the work. This can be tricky if you don’t create all the work during the same or close to the same period of time.
Now that I make my living by creating Botanical Fine Art, image my surprise when I stumbled upon my first botanical drawings, dating from 1976. In an effort to document my classical art education I have gone to the attic to retrieve my early drawings and paintings along with the schoolwork I saved from the excellent Art Education curriculums I attended at York College and Queens College, (CUNY), City University of New York during the 1970’s.
Without any historical background regarding the long tradition of botanical drawing, I documented the branch structure, flower and leaf as well as the knothole of a branch, which I more than likely retrieved from my garden in Queens Village, NY. I was an avid, but highly amateur gardener, tending to a huge cherry tree, a multi-stemmed white birch and three peach bearing trees in my tiny garden.
Drawing of a dead branch
The drawing of my houseplant has been badly damaged by mold but it describes nicely a succulent houseplant I nurtured for years without realizing that it would ever flower. When the plant finally graced me with a huge, star shaped hairy flower, the stench it emitted attracted an abundance of houseflies much to my dismay. The flower itself was stunning. Very large in proportion to the plant itself with reflexed petals and patterned markings. I, many years later, found that the common name of my trophy was, the Carrion Plant, and the Latin name is: Stapelia Gigantia, from the Family of Asclepiadaceae.
Considering the amount of flies that I remember finding their way into my home I am not surprised to have discovered that it was known to attract pollinators by emitting the horrendous odor of dead meat. I don’t remember exactly what happened to the plant but I think that it failed to flourish after blooming that year. That may either have been because the effort it took to produce that huge flower weakened the plant or it may be because I was so offended at the smell that I was not longer enamored enough with it to tend it with care.
I actually enjoy drawing the folds in fabric more than drawing the nude figure. The anatomy of bone and muscle structure is so compelling in studying the nude but the intricacies of fabric on the figure adds another dimension of complexity. I love the pull of a belt on a waistline or the cinching of the fabric at the bend of an elbow or knee.
I enjoy contemplating the lighting as it casts over and under the folds. Where is the source of lighting? I stare at the shadow type underneath to determine if it is soft and diffused or hard and linear. Now, thirty years later, I still am fascinated by the curves and shadow of figures and lighting though now I don’t draw the figure. I concentrate instead on my favorite subject matter, flowers. These life drawing were the beginning of the process of learning to see.
In most cases in the classes I attended at York College, CUNY, Queens, NY in 1976 when these drawings were created, the lighting was not dramatic or controlled. The classroom lighting was positioned from the surrounding windows and the overhead fluorescents to provide enough light for the students. The emphasis was not to create distinct lighting on the models. These drawings were from my second semester in college so are my first attempts at figures and folds.
Life drawing classes are the traditional method for teaching the drawing of the human figure. Live models are used so that students can study the muscles and anatomy of the figure in order to render the volume and dimensionality of the human body. Using photographs instead of models can often cause students to render the figure in too flat a manner.
Drawing classes that I attended at York College, CUNY, in Queens NY in the 1970’s, were held in 4-hour segments. Poses were held for short bursts of sketching time such as 5 or 15 minutes in the early part of a class to allow the artists time to warm up their drawing arm and eye. As the class progressed, poses often were held for longer periods and were in fact upon many occasions maintained for the entire remainder of the session. When the model took a break they would then return to their position in the center of the class so the students could continue to work on the drawing of that pose.
Life drawing is such an fundamental part of the curriculum of any art school that it is hard to believe that in the not so distant past these classes were taboo for women. Throughout history women were banned from traditional art school under the guise of protecting their delicate sensibilities. In order to pursue their art many women took a separate path towards expressing themselves and gravitated to watercolor paintings of flowers and gardens. These were considered acceptable mediums and subjects for a well-protected and well brought up middle class woman.
And then along came Georgia O’Keeffe and everyone saw flowers in a very different way. She helped to forge an acceptance of woman as artist and the doors of art schools flew open.
Brown Kraft paper bags are a wonderful subject for learning to draw. They don’t move like people do. They don’t wiggle or whine. They don’t go rotten and deteriorate like fruits and vegetables. They’re cheap and easy to find. Not only can you pack lunch into the smaller bags you can bring home your food shopping in the larger ones and as an extra bonus, you can then use them to take out the garbage.
Need I mention that when I was in school, we cut down the large grocery bags and used them as book covers to protect the textbooks that the public school system in New York City provided to us on loan. So versatile, so useful, so filled with nooks and crannies they make for a great student model.
These 4 drawings of paper bags were done while I was in the second semester of my Freshman year in the Fine Arts Program at York College, CUNY in Queens NY. They were done during a two-week period from 3/21/1976 through 3/4/1976. All the dates of the drawings are noted at the bottom of each piece. I’m very glad that I was prescient enough to not only keep my student works but also to have dated them so that I could, 30 years later, look back on them and study the progression of my classes.
At the time of these drawings I had been paying attention to art for only 2 years since I had spent my Junior and Senior High School years immersed in music. I came late to art but at the time of this writing in 2007, I’ve been an active artist for over 30 years.
The mediums I was experimenting with in these drawings are plain pencil, pencil and wash and Conte crayon. I seem to be able to create volume using contrast in these pieces but I haven’t set each of the still lives up with a particular light source that is consistent throughout each piece.
The composition of each work is fairly good in relation to the page and utilizes the scale properly except perhaps the last piece. I believe the drawing would have been better served had the paper been turned horizontally.
Too late to fix the original now but as I would say in this day and age: “I’ll fix it in Photoshop.”
The art of drawing boots and shoes is taught in all college curriculums since it is logical to select subjects readily available to even the most cash strapped students. In fact, the older and more beat up a shoe the more character it has and sometimes that goes for humans as well. These drawing studies were created in the second semester of my Freshman year of York College in Queens NY, 1976.
The first drawing of boots, with the heel cropped on the bottom of the paper, either indicates an advanced notion of composition or the inability to judge the size of the paper. These were denim boots I bought for my son Chris and they made him the coolest kid in elementary school. The drawing is dated 3/7/1976.
This drawing was one of my first attempts at using a stick of Conte crayon. I had moved beyond using just the weight of the stroke to indicate dimension and had begun to include shadows and light source.
Earth shoes were my footgear for most of the ‘70’s since they were comfortable and easy on my back. This conte drawing is lacking the completion the assignment probably called for but I was amused at seeing my shoes again for the first time in 30 years. In fact these shoes might be having a renaissance as I’ve seen them advertised in one of the flood of catalogs that show up at my door. This drawing is dated 3/8/1976, which makes it the day after the denim boots shown above and is probably the reason for their lack of detail.
The pen and ink study of Frye boots dated 3/11/1976 was a very early attempt at controlling an ink wash. The composition, in my mind, is more successful than the first two drawings since they utilize the format and dimensions of the paper with a greater sensitivity.
I have no recollection of whether these drawings were done in the classroom or as homework assignments. Given the length of time it would have taken for me to complete each of these drawings I presume most of the work would have been done on my dining room table after my sons went to sleep for the night.
Among the first drawing assignments I learned in the early days of my college education at York College in Queens NY in February and March of 1976, was to create volume using line weight. My first attempt at drawing the extension cord had an even pencil stroke on each of the turns of the coils. This is my second attempt and looking closely you can see that as the object comes forward to the picture plane the line becomes thinner and lighter while thickening and darkening as it recedes. This use of the line supports the 3-dimensionality of each of the objects in a rather subtle fashion.
These 3 drawings were done on cheap sketching paper using an ordinary pencil with an under-sharpened point. The composition of each piece took into consideration the entire page, which is here shown without cropping.
Doing drawings such as these simple objects sharpens the eye for composition and detail. Changing the line weight in one movement of the pencil helps to develop control of your hand and wrist. Selecting simple standard objects removes the complexity of movement, lighting changes, composition of multiple objects and for me allows a somewhat meditative appreciation of the object.
Looking back on these drawings of pieces of hardware are strangely nostalgic.The doorknob was one of the original knobs in the house I owned in Queens Village at the time of this lesson. The handles were made of clear faceted glass and the bases were brass. They felt good in the hand when you turned them and opened a door.
The vise belonged to my Father who, since he had no need, was not at all handy. I played with it as a child in our basement in Brooklyn, putting small objects in the clamps and tightening the handle gently. I loved the sound of the metal handle as I clanked it from end to end. This green vise has traveled quite a bit in this lifetime and now lives mounted on a workbench in my garage where it is finally being put to real utilitarian use. And now that it is, I no longer notice the sweet sound of the handle and the smoothness of the moving clamps.
Classical art education classes began for me when I was accepted into the Fine Arts program at City University of New York, (CUNY) York College in Queens NY during the mid-70’s. My first drawing class brought me to the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadow Park to study and sketch the plaster casts of the Greek, Roman and Renaissance eras. As I studied Art History I found that this was a method of training Artists with a tradition going back centuries. I feel proud to have been taught in the classical art tradition in which the Masters studied. I am so glad that I had that platform as the basis of my entire Art career.
I remember feeling totally honored at seeing those casts so up close and personal in the hidden rooms of the museum. I felt like I was being introduced into a select world, the world of the Artist. It was the beginning of being a part of a long tradition of people who were looking to learn their craft so they could find ways to describe things and views and images and ideas.
I wasn’t yet thinking of expressing my voice. I was just learning my craft. I had studied music in Junior and Senior High Schools and one of the ways I learned to master my trumpet was to play the scales up and down endlessly. Drawing, in the beginning, was very much like doing the scales. I needed to own the medium before I could begin to be creative with it. You become an Artist when the process takes backstage and your creative vision can flow.
I practiced, practiced and practiced my trumpet but never made it to Carnegie Hall. I did however, by practicing, become a professional Artist.