Above: The Bridge , March 20, 2019
The graffiti under the bridge comes and goes. Eventually the road crews cover it over and then the graffiti is painted anew. The layers of paint create their own designs. “Drew” has been under the bridge all this past winter (2018-2019). Probably not to the young person who painted the name, but to me, “drew” seemed a pun on the act.
Yesterday, looking at “drew” for the umpteenth time, in a moment of inspiration, I saw a painting of my own in my mind! Could I realize it? I decided to try. And then, well, I was like a naturalist on the hunt for an exotic butterfly–alert, on edge, camera poised, waiting for my prey to appear, the perfect car to complement the graffiti.
Needless to say, this is the first time I have painted graffiti. Believe it or not, it’s the first time I’ve ever painted a car either!
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Sir Alfred East (1844-1913)
Above: “Misty Moonrise” by Alfred East
Sketching from Nature, Equipment, Colour, Composition, Trees, Skies, Grass, Reflections, Distance — chapters rich with timeless oil painting advice by a master landscape artist, Sir Alfred East. East had an exceptional ability to capture the individuality of trees, the quiver of their leaves against the sky. “If we look at a photograph, the edges of the trees do not give you the feeling that the tree is a living thing, they are marked with hard precision against the light, like a solid building, and yet at the same time if we see them in Nature we hear the whisper of their leaves and know that they live and breathe. To express that is a greater truth than the camera can reveal, and a higher form of realism.” East served as president of the Royal Society of British Artists from 1906 to 1913.
If you enjoyed The Art of Landscape Painting, you might enjoy
Painting as a Pastime, by Winston Churchill
To look at two of Alfred’s East’s pencil sketches from The Art of Landscape Painting, see this blog post, Pencil and Palette.
Above: Myself reflected in a bubble, April 27, 2018
“Have you watched the agitated surface of a rapid stream? It displays an immense variety of lights and darks, more baffling than anything else in natural phenomena. It’s movement is so quick, the colors of the reflection objects are so diverse, as to render it almost impossible to portray its interlacing and intermingling forms… My present aim is to encourage the student to observe, and he will reap ample reward in the many surprises of this fascinating research.”
Ch. 10, “Reflections,” from Landscape Painting in Oil Colour”
by Sir Alfred East
I read an essay on how to paint reflections by noted landscape painter Alfred East for the 57th volume of the Nonfiction Collection. Like many of the short pieces I have chosen to read for LibriVox, this pick started not with subject in mind but rather with a walk in our nearby forest preserve that suggested a topic to explore.
On this particular day, I noticed that the current flowing around one of the rocks was creating giant bubbles as it hit an adjacent boulder. The process was mesmerizing, and I took some photos.
When I uploaded the bubble photos from my phone to my computer, I realized for the first time that every bubble, large or small, contained a miniature reflection of me, taking the photograph. I decided to use one of these quirky photos for the CD cover of Volume 57.
But then I had a dilemma. The cover needed a tie-in. What could I read that related to reflections in bubbles!?? For inspiration, I watched a BBC documentary on the physics of bubbles. This led to the writings of a woman scientist, Agnes Pockels (1862-1935), who, in 1891, published a pioneering paper on how to measure the surface tension of water; a possible read but a bit technical for me.
Then I remembered the chapter on Reflections in a book I had previously recorded for LibriVox, Landscape Painting. It is my most viewed book ( 240,668 times as of June, 2018). Alfred East’s artistic sensibility fitted in perfectly with my feelings about reflective bubbles, and I enjoyed revisiting his chapter for this volume of the Nonfiction Collection.
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When I was a small girl, 7 or 8 years old, I made a list of what I didn’t like about grownups, with the intention of reviewing it in later life, so as not to be like that. Sadly, I lost the list somewhere along the way of growing up. However, I still have another similarly intentioned list, begun in 1997, outlining what I should guard against when I got “really old.” (I was 56 at the time.) “Don’t wear pink!” I admonished myself. To which I added in 1998 “Don’t still be working!” and in 1999 “I don’t want to be dissatisfied with my life because I don’t think I’ve done it all.”
Lists of negatives . . . not the best approach to planning one’s “later years,” but, then, envisioning how life is going to play out in retirement is difficult, probably impossible. Too many hours, days, years, too many unknowns. But without doubt, having some idea of what you’d like to “do” when you don’t have to work and thus “have time” would be helpful.
I did have one fixed idea of what I wanted to accomplish in retirement. I wanted to learn to draw. By this I suppose I meant learn to draw realistically and with linear perspective. What I couched in terms of learning a specific skill set was probably just a wistful yearning for some creative outlet, but in my mind, it was the one definitive project I was going to tackle when I retired. I began retirement in 2003 by buying a drawing kit that came with a pad of paper and a fancy box of pencils. And now here I am, 15 years later with a website celebrating the public domain audio books that I’ve recorded!
The impulse to express oneself through drawing or painting, must run deep in the human psyche, because the most popular book I have recorded for LibriVox is Sir Alfred East’s The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour. As of December, 2018, it has been viewed on the internet over 250,000 times. I picked East’s book to read because of his perceptive chapters on how to draw and paint.
One of the delights of East’s book are his pencil sketches–which, of course, cannot be seen in an audio recording.
East devotes a chapter to “Pencil Drawing from Nature.” He recommends a pencil with a thick lead and then goes on to say “do not attempt to sharpen it to a point. If you wish to get a thin line, use the edge of the lead. Touch lightly, and in the faintest possible manner, the salient features of the subject, the main contours and position of the masses. This should be the merest suggestion of an outline, and when you are satisfied, draw it in with courage, in big lines, with a firm, bold touch. Do not hesitate. Include only those things which are important, characteristic, and essential.”
East’s almost scriptural description of the drawing pencil and it use brought back to me, in sharp relief, childhood memories of my father. By training an engineer, my father was scrupulous about the care of his pencils, which he sharpened with a pocket knife. He too, favored a flat sided tip, good for drawing lines. I was rebuked if I so much as touched his drafting tools, and to keep me out of his pencil supply, he finally resorted to giving me, once a year, a box of a dozen Turquoise brand HB pencils in my Christmas stocking. There was no asking for more!
Alfred East is a proselytizer for the theory of practice makes perfect. “Never let anything prevent your drawing a little every day. It is necessary discipline . . . One’s hand grows sensitively obedient to the brain, and answers directly to one’s power of observation, like the touch of a musician’s hand upon the keyboard. . . Draw anything, everything. You may do it badly at first. Never mind. In a week or two you will be surprised at the progress you have made.” I like East’s enthusiasm.
Have I learned to draw? Well, no. But I’m not so much bothered anymore by my “failure” in that regard, because I’ve taken up oil painting . . . How this came about is one of those serendipitous changes of direction that can happen when you let them, I guess. In my case, it happened in 2014. I was 10 years into retirement and still hadn’t accomplished my “one” retirement goal. “Better get moving on it, Sue,” I said to myself, ” before it’s too late.” So I thumbed through our local park district’s newsletter with its cheery listing of self-improvement courses: “Lunch Break Yoga,” “Windows PC Troubleshooting,” and, yes, there was what I needed: “Fundamentals of Drawing.” I signed up.
Anyone can imagine what happened next–a call from the instructor. “They got the description all wrong; it’s not a drawing class; it’s an oil painting class.” I still took the class. This early oil, dated March 7, 2015, is one of my very few attempts at realism. At best, it illustrates my fondness for watermelon!
Sir Winston Churchill was another person who slipped, serendipitously, into oil painting as a pastime. I’ve recorded his enthusiastic story, Painting as a Pastime, for LibriVox. Churchill writes “If you need something to occupy your leisure, to divert your mind from the daily round, to illuminate your holidays, do not be too ready to believe that you cannot find what you want here. . . Buy a paint box and have a try.”
Winston Churchill (1874–1965)
Winston Churchill took up painting “at the advanced age of forty,” as he puts it. He explains why in an article written for The Strand Magazine in 1921: “When I left the Admiralty at the end of May, 1915, I still remained a member of the War Council. In this position I knew everything and could do nothing. The change from the intense executive activities of each day’s work at the Admiralty to the narrowly measured duties of a counsellor left me gasping. Like a sea-beast fished up from the depths, or a diver too suddenly hoisted, my veins threatened to burst from the fall in pressure. I had great anxiety and no means of relieving it; I had vehement convictions and small power to give effect to them. I had long hours of utterly unwonted leisure in which to contemplate the unfolding of the war. And then it was that the Muse of Painting came to my rescue.”
Churchill has high praise for painting as a hobby: “Inexpensive independence, a mobile and perennial pleasure apparatus, new mental food and exercise, the old harmonies and symmetries in an entirely different language, an added interest to every common scene, an occupation for every idle hour, an unceasing voyage of entrancing discovery–these are high prizes.”
He adds this encouragement: “If . . .you are inclined — late in life though it be — to reconnoitre a foreign sphere of limitless extent, then be persuaded that the first quality that is needed is Audacity.”
I recorded Churchill’s “Painting as a Pastime” for volume 46 of the Nonfiction Collection. I have to admit that I was a bit bemused by Churchill’s characterization of age 40 as an “advanced age . . . late in life,” considering I did not try painting until I was 74. Oh well . . .
If you enjoyed Painting as a Pastime, you will probably like
The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour, by Alfred East
Above: “Lake on Purple,” one of my paintings inspired by Sargent
“In an altogether exceptional degree does Sargent give us the sense that an intention and the art of carrying it out are for him one and the same thing… In Mr. Sargent’s case the process by which the object seen resolves itself into the object pictured is extraordinarily immediate. It is as if painting were pure tact of vision, a simple manner of feeling.” Henry James
Henry James wrote an early assessment of John Singer Sargent’s art, which was published as an article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, October 1887. You can access the article in print here. I recorded this article for the 62nd volume of the LibriVox Short Nonfiction Collection. You can access my recording here.
I am a great fan of Sargent’s watercolors, and studying them has helped me a lot in matters of composition for my own paintings. His is a talent I greatly envy! My painting above was inspired by Sargent’s “Loch Moidaart, Inverness-shire, which he painted in 1896.
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Above: John Constable’s Clouds Meet Photoshop
Memoirs of the Life of John Constable
by Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859
I read a snippet of John Constable’s biography for the 61st volume of the LibriVox Nonfiction Collection. The author of the biography, C. R. Leslie was a friend of Constable and a fellow painter. A first edition was published in 1843 shortly after Constable’s death; a second, enlarged edition of the biography followed in 1845. Leslie’s book is still in print, or it can be read on line at archive.org; Leslie relied extensively on Constable’s correspondence with friends and fellow painters, which makes the biography a fascinating read for anyone interested in painting.
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Above: “Falling Through Space,” painted March 16, 2018
“The sun, the moon and the stars, the grass, and the water that flows round the earth, and the light air of heavens:
To You, greeting, I too stand behind these and send you word across them.”
Edward Carpenter, from his long poem Towards Democracy.
After 10 years of recording books for LibriVox, I have found that, in terms of what people download and presumably listen to, there have been distinct “winners and losers.” By far, the most popular book I have recorded has been Alfred East’s Landscape Painting in Oil Colour (recorded 2015; 251,000 views). At the opposite extreme, virtually my least popular recording has been the English intellectual Edward Carpenter’s autobiography, My Days and Dreams (recorded 2014: 1987 views (as of 1/1/2019).
In terms of impact on my life in retirement, Carpenter and East have been equals; they’ve both inspired me towards creativity–recording, writing, painting, keeping a website alive on the internet– to act on impulses that I might have hesitated to realize in earlier days.
Amid all the turmoil and the care–the worry, the fever, the anxiety,
The gloomy outlook, fears, forebodings,
The effort to keep up with the rush of supposed necessities, supposed duties
The effort to catch the flying point of light, to reach the haven
of Peace–always in the future–
Amid all, glides in the little word Now…
Alfred East, in his Landscape Painting in Oil Colour, writes: “Be not ashamed to do the drudgery of constant practice… You are responsible for your work done, and you only… Have your eyes and your heart open, always working… A landscape painter must have enthusiasm, and no shame in speaking of the pleasure he feels in his work.”
It’s for certain I’ll never become a great landscape artist, but one of my goals for 2018 has been to paint a picture (almost) every day, and hopefully, thereby, to improve my technique as a result of constant practice! In March, 2018, I set about implementing this resolve in earnest.
Listen to what Winston Churchill had to say about “Painting as a Pastime.”