Monday, July 29, 2013

Sheaves of Wheat - The Harvest

 Today is July 29, the 123rd anniversary of the date of Vincent's death.

For those of you who may not know the story of the final days of Vincent's life, I cannot encourage you enough to check out Van Gogh, The Life (see reading list at right), which offers a comprehensive look at all of the theories of Vincent's "suicide," as well as a fascinating epilogue on the events that played out immediately and in the years after his passing.

The painting which you see at above (Ici Repose, Vincent) is my truly final painting for the Vincent Project project.

This is a depiction of the gravesite in Arles where Vincent and his brother Theo were laid to rest.  You can see by the dates that Theo died not long after his older brother, and, in death as in life, they remain closely connected for eternity.

I did the painting using only black, white, and grey hues; I chose these colors because, with Vincent's death, a little bit of color went out of the world forever.

I have spent the last few weeks focusing my artistic thoughts and efforts on two things:

I thought a lot about what doing the Vincent Project has meant to me, and I have started an entirely new series of completely NON derivative paintings - expressing my own ideas and thoughts in a new and (hopefully) unique way.  If you are curious about what I am doing, I am going to post those paintings in a new blog:

In a way, this feels very much (for me) like a graduation from a school led by my kindly old professor Van Gogh.  Now that doesn't mean that I am done learning about art or Vincent or living a creative life - quite the opposite - it means that I am ready to stop learning how to be an artist and start just being one.  I am very grateful to Vincent for that.

Let me take you back a few weeks to the time when I had just finished the 52 paintings that I had required of myself for the project.   There was a mad dash to finish everything on time, and just after I had completed the last painting, my husband took me to Dallas, where he was attending a conference.

Like all weekends I have ever spent in Dallas, it was miserably hot, and the city itself felt like nothing more than a continuous and interwoven strip of overcrowded and smog filled freeway.

There were cool islands, like our hotel (the new Aloft hotel in Downtown - absolutely awesome!)  or several lovely little restaurants, and, of course, a visit to the downtown Asel art supply (which was surprisingly not as good (at least for me)) as the one in Austin.

But mainly, it was a lot of freeway driving directed by rather idiotic gps instructions from the dashboard of my car.

Then I got to go to the museums.

My first stop was the Meadows Museum, which is located on the shaded and very lovely SMU campus.  This was a sober and academic museum experience, and the collection is focused primarily on Spanish Art.  I was there specifically to see paintings by Picasso and Velazquez.  I very much liked the Velazquez, but the Picasso was (in the words of American Idol Judge Randy..) just allright for me, dawg.

But any day in a museum is always better than being on the Central Expressway, so I kept on exploring.

I wound my way through the galleries of somber courtiers and ladies buried under yards and yards of heavy silks, then climbed the staircase at the center of the building to the very top floor, where I found the special exhibition presented by the Meadows.  This exhibit was an extremely comprehensive look at the works of Martin Rico, a Spanish post impressionist en plein air painter who was living and working primarily in Italy, France and Spain during the same era (roughly) as Van Gogh.  His European landscapes (particularly those of Venice) were sublimely atmospheric and Rico was an absolute master of water.

What was truly impressive to me, however, were the hundreds of Rico's sketchbooks that the Meadows had on display.  Filled with meticulous pen and pencil drawings, these sketchbooks were a fascinating glimpse into the artist's eyes and life as he explored a very lovely period in European history.    The dozens of leather bound little sketch books showed that not only could Rico draw extremely well, he was also a champion of precise composition and nuanced detail.

But at the end of the day, I was getting a little bored.  Pretty landscape after pretty landscape.  Multiple klatches of saucy vixens laundering clothes in the river.  A whole museum full of stiff court paintings, with only just a few cubist and modern works thrown in to relieve the monotony.

The Meadows was a fine museum and a worthwhile experience, but it was more like diving into a plate of nutritious vegetables when what I wanted was a taco.

The next day, I went to the Dallas Museum of Art.  This was an impressive space filled with just the type of exhibits that you would expect, displayed in the way that you would expect them to be, in a major city museum.  Stifling a yawn, I thought to myself, "here we go again..."

That is, until I got upstairs.  I knew that there was a Van Gogh at the museum (I tried to get you a link, I can't get it to work... sorry!)  because I had looked it up on their website prior to our trip.   Vincent's painting (one of two in the Dallas museum) is his beautiful double square landscape entitled "Sheaves of Wheat" from July 1890.  This piece was one of 12 similar landscapes that Vincent completed in the the 2 months just prior to his death.   According to the museum website, the argument could be made that these dozen paintings were a series that Vincent was developing; I think that this theory serves to back up the idea that the Dutchman's death was not a suicide.

Like most of the great works hung in museums, Vincent's painting was not the first thing to see when stepping off of the elevator.  Once on the correct floor, I wound my way through a few galleries until I came upon what looked like the entrance to a nice European country house.  I stepped inside to an entryway filled with a most interesting display of decorative iron hinges, door knockers, and other objects set against a small room made up of clean whitewashed walls and inviting arched doorways.

I learned that this section of the museum had been donated by a couple (Wendy and Emory Reeves), who basically replicated their vacation home, including furnishings, knick knacks, and artwork right in the heart of the Dallas museum, so all could enjoy their lifetime of collecting and curating.  It was an extremely interesting glimpse into how fun it would be to be super rich and able to buy amazing art instead of just looking at it.  That said, this level of art really should not be in private homes or offices or (worse!) storage.  I appreciate that this couple made such a generous and interesting gift be their legacy.

Anyway, that first passage led to a light filled and welcoming reception room that was beautifully decorated with comfortable looking benches, warm rugs, and invitingly displayed art work.  I felt as if I had just stepped into the glossy pages of a high end decorating magazine.  My eyes started scanning the room, which looked and felt nothing like any museum I had ever seen before.  In addition to a tall exterior window and accompanying paintings on the two story wall opposite the entrance, there were roped off staircases flanking either side of the room.  Everywhere I looked there were pretty paintings hung over expensive but quite comfortable looking furnishings.  It looked just like the house of a very wealthy friend or relative: relaxed, informal, and luxe.

Then I turned to see the view behind me and finally, my eyes took it in.  Vincent's Sheaves of Wheat.  I knew what I was looking for before I saw it; in fact, I was hunting for it, but when I saw it - the vision of it - the contact with my eyes literally took my breath away.

Vincent had painted that beautiful image.  Vincent had stood almost in the same position that I was standing in.  Vincent had orchestrated his brushes in a symphony of light, and color, and warmth.  The wheat that Vincent painted fed me and lifted me, and suddenly, I just burst into tears.

As the salty flow dripped down my cheeks, I stood there in the museum and cried.  I thought about what a dear friend and teacher Vincent had been to me during this past year.  I thought about how hard his life was, and how much he had enriched mine.  I wept for the beauty of his brushstrokes, the fine restraint and unabashed fervor that he had balanced to perfection in the painting.

People walked by looking at me like I was crazy.  I wasn't sobbing and dripping snot like I could have been; I was just standing there in silence while my mascara puddled onto my chin.  I didn't care if people thought I was nuts.  Vincent was certifiable, but Vincent made THAT, and I was right there in front of it!  I felt like he was standing exactly beside me, thinking about something he could have added or tweaked.  I thought he was going to ask me to hand him a brush... and I thought he might even ask me my opinion!

And although it sounds a little off the deep end as I am rereading this, it really wasn't crazy at all.  I had read and learned and thought so much about Vincent during this past year, that I felt like I really knew him and understood him in that moment.  I didn't feel at all like I was alone, even though I was standing there all by myself.

And isn't that connection, that communication through his painting, that recognition by another person of what it was that he was trying to convey when he painted, what Vincent wanted most of all?

Vincent and me in Dallas.
It was, honestly, one of the most moving experiences I have ever had.  It was certainly the most moving artistic moment of my life.

After some amount of time - I have no idea how long - as I kept on staring at the painting, words started coming into my head:  Prussian Blue, Naples Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Deep.  Ultramarine Light, Thalo Green, Yellow Ochre.  Of course, the colors weren't those exactly, but I knew, in my very soul, that those were the roots of the colors he had used.  And I didn't have to look it up, or confirm anything.  I just knew.

And in that moment, that very moment - where I instinctively understood how Vincent had used the colors, I felt myself at last to be an artist.  Vincent and I had had a year long talk about art, and painting, and history, and the human condition, and finally, and confidently, I completely understood  what it was that he had been trying to tell me.

It was just like Dorothy with the glass slippers - I had always had the solution, I just had to believe it myself.

Thank you, Vincent.  Thank you.

Before starting this project, I was just another unsure and unconfident adult, longing to express herself, who ended up doing anything and everything that wasn't art.

But, like Vincent, who also tried everything he could think of before the art took over, the creativity kept on "leaking" out of me.

I would sign a card with caricatures of myself, my husband, the children and our dogs.  I would sew ridiculously over the top halloween costumes, and "help" my children a little too much with their school art assignments.  When we moved, I opened a box in my attic marked "art stuff" and was stunned at the number of drawings, sketches, pastels, paintings, weavings, an other "art" that I had thrown into the box over the years.

I never thought of myself as an artist.  I thought I was OK at drawing, but that wasn't really art.

I thought everyone (and I mean everyone) could do art at at least the level I could, and most could do it a lot better.  I thought art was just an indulgence, a hobby, busy work to pass the time.

I thought that all the needlepoint kits, and sewing projects, jewelry making, doodles, and decorating jags were just things that middle class women in America were expected to do.  I never saw these past times as truly artistic, unique, or in any way making any kind of significant contribution - to the world or anybody else.

But I was wrong.  I wasn't making a contribution to the world, I was making one to myself!  I couldn't help but making art, and making the art was what was keeping me whole.

I think that Vincent and I have that in common.

I know now that all these creative projects were expressions that needed to get out.  Making art wasn't a hobby, it was a necessity to my own self actualization as a complete human being.

PBS ran a show a few months ago on Neanderthals.  In it, they said that one of the differences between the Neanderthals and Modern Humans was the human ability to create symbols, evidenced by the cave paintings that were left behind (there is some evidence that those paintings may have in fact been Neanderthal works...).

In the program, the narrator stressed that making symbols, or art, is a fundamental human need, and all cultures around the earth engage in this activity.  Symbol making is not a hobby, or a past time or an indulgence.

Symbol making is part of the human experience.  Without our culture, without art, would we be anything more than just highly intelligent animals?  Art does not have to serve any purpose other than the expression of the artist.  Great art takes it a step further by serving as a communication between the artist and the observer.

The symbol serves as language to bind us together as a family, tribe, community, culture, the world.

Even if Vincent has been gone for 123 years, he is not gone for me at all.  He lives on for me, for you, for all the generations to come as long as his work is preserved and enjoyed.

The Vincent project changed my life.  I don't know if it made me a great painter, or artist, or person, but it fundamentally shifted the way I think about who I am and what I am here to do.

Thank you, Vincent.  Thank you.

And thank YOU for reading along and sharing this journey with me.  The blog gave me a level of accountability and commitment that kept me going, even when I seriously wanted to quit.  I literally could not have done it without all of you.

And thanks to Bryan, the Art Demi God, my patron, supporter and confidant.  I hope that you know how much your encouragement has meant to me.

Catherine Hicks
The Artist.  Really.

Please look for me on the new blog, and feel free to follow along.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Portraits of the Artists as Young Men and Women

Hello again!

Vincent, Age 13
Amidst my flurry of ink drawings (see blog published just prior to this one) - as I continued into my research of Vincent's work, I was very struck (again!) by a photograph of Vincent that was taken when he was 13 years old.

I printed off and taped up a copy of the photo on my studio wall, and little Vincent watched over me as I operated my own deadline driven art factory.  I kept on looking up at and really thinking about the young man with the intense blue eyes and careful, enigmatic gaze.  I observed his very prim and buttoned up suit and tie, which had obviously been quite carefully arranged in anticipation of the photographer's exposure, and I noticed especially how hidden he looked, despite the fact that the photograph was a complete reveal.

Of course I had seen the photo many times; I first ran across it quite early in my research for The Vincent Project.  Initially, I was struck - simply by what a beautiful little boy he was.  He seemed so different from the bearded, strange man of his adult self portraits, but you could still see - around the eyes, with their steady, even gaze - that he was indeed the Vincent he would grow up to be.

Although his life had already been difficult, with a strict mother who criticized his every action, the Vincent in the picture was still an innocent.  He had not been afflicted by failure and illness, nor had he experienced the rejection and banishments which were to come.

my Vincent, Age 13
What was he thinking about art, and beauty, and nature?  Did his hand doodle pictures while his teachers bored him with their lectures?  Did he think about color?

As I played with the pots of multi hued inks that were scattered all over my desk, I decided that I wanted to make my own portrait of Vincent, age 13.  I wanted to see if I could capture not only who he was, but who he was to become.  I wanted to spend at least a day thinking about the boy Vincent, rather than the man Van Gogh.

I did not trace.

I drew a free hand Vincent on some pastel paper, emphasizing his large and intelligent eyes.  I paid careful attention to the stiffly held mouth, which had undoubtedly been told to "hush" as he sat down in the photographer's chair.

At first, I did what was essentially just a line drawing, outlining the facial features, hair, and handsome polka dot tie.  I could have stopped there, and it would have been a fine and recognizable drawing.  But something made me press on.  The more I added to the portrait, the more I was thinking about Vincent, and what drove him to become an artist.  How was he transfigured from this insecure, yet supremely intelligent boy into the man who captured the sky, the sunflowers, the fields, the iris, and, most importantly, himself?

Picasso with his sister
How did he become Van Gogh?

After finishing Vincent's portrait, I decided to research photographs of other artists as children.  The first one I looked up was Pablo Picasso.  The great Spaniard was a beloved child of a father who was both a painting academy teacher and a fine artist in his own right.  Picasso's father nurtured his talented son, eventually giving the child his own paintbrushes when he realized that his son's talents were far greater than his own.

From the date of his birth, Picasso had been told that he was not only an artist, but a great one.

You can see in the portrait of Pablo and his sister, at right, that young Picasso's affect is (how to put this?), markedly different than that of young Van Gogh.

Little Pablo is absolutely chilled out, and completely dominates this image.  His sister adopts Vincent's posture - erect, polished and without a hair out of place.  Pablo is thumbing not only his nose, but his whole body at the photographer and any later viewer of the image.

Pablo's clothes are (seemingly purposefully, as if by his own hand) askew, his hair is a tousled mess, and he sits in a wide open, completely relaxed posture.  I doubt that many adults, even professional models, could achieve his attitude of nonchalance.

Pablo is looking directly, defiantly at the photographer, while Vincent's gaze is distantly focused.

Pablo's is the portrait of a baby lion.  Vincent's is the portrait of an entrapped mouse.

How did each of these very different boys grow up to become the most influential artists of their generation?

I tried very hard to do a portrait of Picasso from the picture with his sister, but ultimately I failed because the quality of that old picture was just so low, and I could not see enough detail in the image to capture a good likeness.  So I looked around for another picture.

There were many portraits of this imposing, confident boy, but I settled on one (at right) that was taken when he was around age 15.  In some ways, the picture does not look like him because his hair is closely shorn, and he has the serious, manly look that only a 15 year old boy can muster.

You may note that his clothes, like the clothes in the earlier portrait, are rumpled and sloppy; they look like he either slept in them, or at the very least, directed his maid to pick them up from a stepped on heap on the floor.  I do not get the idea, from this view, that a Mother was allowed to fuss or groom him before the shutter was snapped - I think that any such feminine hand would have been irritatedly swatted away.

The finished portrait of Picasso
I settled on the age 15 photo primarily because it was a clearer image, but I also liked the way his pose more closely approximated Vincent's.

For the portraits of both of these young artists, I decided to work on pastel paper, which can take a bit of wet application.  I did tape down my supports to lessen buckling, and I worked with my reed pen and colored, black and white inks.

At left, you can see my final portrait of Pablo.  I simplified his shirt, which was quite fussy and too out of focus for me to reproduce.

I inked Pablo in blue for his blue period.  Pablo is #43.

At right and below are two photos of a drawing that I started, but ultimately abandoned when I found the shirt too difficult to render.

I fussed and fussed with the shirt (which I think was actually a frilly, lacy, ascot type of garment) until I completely destroyed the drawing.

I was sad that I messed it up, because it was actually the better drawing than the one that you see above.

Honestly, I think I was so tired after doing all of those ink drawings en masse (see previous blog) that I just ran out of patience  to try to fix this drawing.

Regrets?  I've had a few.

So that was Pablo.  But what about other artists in their youth?
When I did the painting for the billboard competition, I included self portraits done by Vincent, Pablo, Rembrandt, Frieda Kahlo and Matisse. I knew that there was very little likelihood that I would find an early photograph of Rembrandt, so I started with Frieda Kahlo.

I knew that Frieda had a "look," and I wanted to see if she looked like Frieda Kahlo when she was just little Frieda.

The finished portrait of Frieda

She did.

You can see for yourself the strong, independent little girl looking with directness at the camera.

Her large and floppy hairbow is almost an exact match to one worn in a similar portrait of my mother.  I am also touched by the necklace, which presages the jewelry which Frieda made iconic.

I inked Frieda in purple because the color reminds me of Mexico.  Frieda is #44.

I looked and looked for photographs of other young women artists, but found only one other (the great portraitist Alice Neel).  Post photography era male artists were much better represented, a fact which I found very curious.  (For that matter, there were many, many more established male artists than there were women artists.)  What gives with that?  Why did nobody take pictures of these little girls, or were the pictures taken and then destroyed?  Why are there so few of them, and why is their record so sketchy?  This is something that will require much more investigation and thinking about.

So, I decided instead to find some other uber iconic artist to portray.

And who is more iconic than the original fine art pee-er himself, Andy Warhol?

So, back to Google Images for a quick look for young Andy.  Naturally, there was a wealth of well styled photos to choose from.  The early Mr. Warhol seemed to fancy himself a bit of a James Dean, and, with his narrowed eyes and swoop of blonde bangs, I think he actually was quite a handsome teenager. Looking through the black and white and ink tinted photos, I settled on the least self aware image I could find, a portrait of the very young Andy Warhola.

I set to work immediately, choosing a tomato soup colored paper, and a pot full of money green ink for the future very successful commercial artist.  For good measure, I tried to make my portrait distinctively "Andy" by repeating his image in it.  Painting two Andys simultaneously was such a good exercise to do - the two portraits are no where near exactly alike, and it was quite fun to see how different they were, even as I was painting them side by side.

I found the photo to be completely adorable, and I just loved the way that Andy's collar curled up on the right side.  He looks neat and conventional, just like a favorite son, but there is enough cheekiness and edge in the image to know that young Andy was up to something big.

I painted Andy's face and shirt with extra whiteness (as compared with the other artists) because I thought he would appreciate that exaggeration.  This portrait (Andy is painting #45) was brought directly to you from my own version of the Factory.


OK.  That's enough child's play.  It is time that Vincent and I began our last, most serious discussion.

Throughout the Vincent Project, I had always intended to reproduce several of Vincent's iconic self portraits.  Although I had dabbled a bit into this oeuvre...

For an illustrated envelope; this was instantly mailed away.

"The Conversation"
Rembrandt, Van Gogh, me, Kahlo, Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian
Not a complete portrait in the bunch.

...the truth was, that I was scared to paint Vincent's most iconic work.  After all, I wasn't really an artist.  I couldn't possibly even try one of his portraits before I felt like I was "ready." You know what I mean by "ready." Worthy.  Capable.  Good Enough.  A REAL Painter.

But it was week #51, and the time had come.  I couldn't hide from him, or from myself anymore.

I googled "Van Gogh self portraits, and came up with six that I wanted to do.  I will present my versions on the left; the originals are on the right.  (And I did my best to line these up, I just could not figure out how to do it.  Much thanks to the wikipedia article on Van Gogh self portraits, and much irritation with Blogger!)





 A portrait of Vincent van Gogh from the left (good ear) holding a palette with brushes.  He is wearing a blue cloak and has yellow hair and beard. The background is a deep violet.


What was it like to paint Vincent 6 ways?

On one level, it was really just about the mechanics of each portrait.  I tried to pick both the more iconic portraits, as well as portraits that showed differing styles or periods.  The more I painted, the less scared I became.  I took things a dip and a stroke at a time.

I can tell you from having now repainted all of Vincent's work, that each original portrait was rendered in a very distinct fashion.  His eyes are a different color in every one of them, with some eyes being different colors within the single picture.  His nose, mouth, hair and beard were all similar, yet very different from portrait to portrait.  In looking closely at each image, you could tell how he thought about himself at the particular time that each was painted.

In each of the six images, I saw the little 13 year old boy.  In each of the six images I saw a lot of pain.

I will confess that I painted frequently during that week with tears rolling down my cheeks.  I felt both so close and so far from this painter who has moved me so much with his art.  Painting Vincent's portrait 6 times and in 6 different ways felt both very intimate and not intimate at all; it was like having 6 kind of drunken bar conversations with a stranger who, for at least an evening, had become a friend, but by the next morning you can barely remember a thing they said.  I feel like I know Vincent, but really, I don't know him at all.

My next blog, featuring painting #52, will be a summation of my experience with Vincent - how this project has changed my life, and what this has meant to me.

But for now, thanks for reading along and sharing this journey with me.  I will be posting within the week about my profound, tear filled, very public final experience with my favorite Dutchman, and how Vincent taught me to tell him good bye.

Have a beautiful, art filled day!


Vincent and I race toward the finish line, toast each other with a large bottle of ink.

Hi all!

Author's note: I started this posting of the blog about three weeks ago, when I had about 22 more paintings to do in order to meet my project goal of 52 paintings in 52 weeks.  Because I chose to focus my time on painting rather than on blogging (because of my June 20th deadline), this blog is being written after the completion of the paintings.   

OK, so let me restate this, because it just sounds crazy as I look back on it: my deadline was June 20th, and as of the first of June, I had completed only 30 of the 52 paintings.  Thus I had tasked myself with completing 22 paintings in less than three weeks.  Yeah, that goal was indeed crazy! Maybe I was becoming more and more like Van Gogh.

I needed to find a way to paint faster.

Yet instead of diving into a frantic painting frenzy, I took a breath, poured a glass of wine, and procrastinated by perusing my books about Vincent.  After a few sips of white bordeaux, I looked down at my stacks and noticed the appropriately entitled: "Becoming Van Gogh."    OK, Vincent, I'll bite.

Published by The Denver Art Museum in association with the Yale University press, "Becoming Van Gogh" was a companion publication to an exhibit at the museum (October 2012 - January 2013) which explored the works and artists which influenced Vincent as he transfigured himself from the oft failed "Vincent" to supremely successful "Van Gogh."  I am horrified that I missed this exhibit, but grateful for the opportunity to have a make up session with this fine and insightful book.

As I leafed through the tome, I came across an essay by Timothy J. Standring entitled "Vincent's Progress."  This essay focuses on Vincent's prolific work using pen and ink on paper.  Standring explains that much of the foundation for Vincent's later success with oil painting came directly from the hundreds of ink drawings he produced early in his artistic career.  These drawings gave Vincent the confidence in his draftsmanship that he needed in order to take the risks necessary to produce his masterworks.

Then (God Bless Timothy J. Standring!), the essay goes on to explain just exactly how Vincent did it!

Standring describes Vincent using both reed and goose quill pens, and his method of working from light to dark in tone after first setting up the basic drawing in pencil.

The book also features numerous reproductions of Vincent's ink drawings, and describes how he later used some of these drawings as the basis for his paintings.

Because he wrote daily with ink pens, Vincent was very facile with this medium.  What artistic advantage is there to typing on a keyboard?

I had done some work with inks (both colored and black india ink) many years ago because, like Vincent, I found the inks to be both cheaper and less intimidating to use than actual paints for creating artwork.  You can see above a drawing that I did for my introduction to design class.  (When I first did this, the figure was very black, but the ink has now faded to brown; perhaps I need to get this out of direct sunlight...)  This experience of working with inks made me comfortable with them, and I knew that once out of the bottle, ink dried very fast, and I would not waste any time waiting for color to set.

I concluded that if I were going to have a chance to reach my goal, I would have to loosen my definition of "painting."  I figured if Vincent worked in inks, and his ink drawings counted as bona fide Van Gogh's, then it would be OK for me to do a few ink drawings in an effort to finish the Vincent Project on time.
I got out some bristol paper, and a pot of ink, some paintbrushes, water and an old nib and holder that I had, and I made a whole page of scribbles (above).

At left you can see my pot of ink wash, which a few drops of the full strength india ink mixed with some water in a little cup.

I do like the way you can see all of the images I have taped to the wall above the cup reflected in the inky blackness.  Cool!
You can see at right the nib holders and nibs that I was using.  The silver nibs just shove down into the plastic nib holders, making a pen with interchangeable "heads" for different effects.

Certain nibs fit certain holders; that is why there are different ones.

Standring's essay featured a detail from Vincent's View  of Arles from Montmajour, (below) which he drew in 1888.

Vincent van Gogh's View of Arles from a Hill Drawing

I liked the drawing, primarily because of all of the different textures Vincent used in it.  There were puffy clouds, rough trees and rocks, cultivated land, and even factory emissions in the drawing, and Standring practically invited me to copy with his extensive description of exactly how he thought Vincent did it.

With a fresh piece of paper, working, as Standring suggested, from light to dark, I started with a wash for the sky.

I then added in a few horizontal lines, along with some texture in the foreground.

After loading up my nib with full strength ink, I started to sketch in the outlines of some of the buildings.  Everything was going well until I touched down with an overloaded nib and it released a huge blob of ink (below) right where I did not want it!

But the ink is so wet and easy to move, I decided to try just sucking it back up with a very slightly dampened paint brush.  I dampened the brush in water, then tapped it off onto some paper towels until it was the hair equivalent of "towel dry."  (I was worried if the brush was too dry, it would just smear the ink around; fortunately, the damp bristles worked exactly the way I wanted them to, so everything came out OK.)
You can see above and at left what happened when I touched the damp brush to the blob; the paintbrush sucked up the excess just like a straw!

I was able to incorporate the gray mark that was left, and I was glad that I did not have to throw out my painting because of the "blob."
You can see at the right that I liked this method of removal so much that I tried it again later on in the drawing.

I guess that was the sequel.

Summer movie season.

Nothin' but sequels!

And on I went.  The ink dried so quickly that there was not much time to take photos.  What you see at right is the drawing as I was nearing completion, and below is the finished drawing with the addition of some darker tones on the trees and in the clouds.

(I think I overdid this; what do you think?)

My drawing is above, and Vincent's is shown below (in the book).  So that was #31.

I liked doing the inks, and quickly (re)embraced the medium.  Below you will see some of the other ink drawings I did; I was averaging about one and 1/2 9X12 drawings each day, and in some cases I was even working on multiple drawings at the same time.  I am going to just enlarge these photos and let you have a look at the process:

I started with some penguins, which came from a photocopy I made from a Time Magazine article about animals.



this is the paper I used, it is called bristol or bristol board.

You can see that it is a little thicker than regular paper, but not as thick as cardstock.

Yes, I started by tracing - I had a schedule to keep!

I am ready to start inking it in, and will use my penguin magnifier for inspiration and magnification!

At about this point, I starting trying to think of a caption for what was starting to look like a "New Yorker" cartoon...

The bodies are filled in with pure ink.

I added in some washes for shadows, and some dots to make the birds look rounder.

The final drawing - please feel free to add a humorous caption if you can think of one!
That was painting #32.

I was feeling a little guilty because I was not painting with paints, so I decided to do a quick, small painting of a shoe, another image that I had previously cut out of my Time Magazine.

I started with a tracing of my image, then laid out some paints, below.

Along with some genuine reed pens and inks in lovely colors, I had picked up some exciting new Golden brand shades of grey at Asel Art supply near the UT Campus in Austin. I do want to encourage everyone to look to Asel, as well, when you want an excellent selection of art supplies, along with a friendly, and knowledgeable staff.  Really, genuine thanks to David Lamplugh (, who was a great help to me when I stopped in.  One of the coolest things about becoming an artist is getting to meet the really nice and interesting people in the art community.  David is high on that list.

OK, on with the SHOE!
Aren't these gray colors nice?  I wanted to use blacks and grays as I was really thinking in those terms because of the pen and ink drawings.  I had decided to render my shoe in black and focus specifically on the tonality of the image and the relationship between lights and darks, shadows and highlights.
the beginning

the middle

the end

some details

the heel

a really big shoe!
That was #33.

OK, what follows is some experimentation with inks, gouache (opaque water color) and transparent water color.  This was purely just playing around.  This work does not count on my list, but I am including it because I think there is value in following along to see where the end of my pen (or brush) leads me.  


Dragging with the tail end of the nib holder.

I try painting with the leftover gouache on an old fragment of canvas with a cartoon of Vincent's face.

I turn him into the Wolfman!

this was an abstract experiment to use up my leftover gouache.

After reviewing some of Vincent's pen and ink drawings, I decide to use some of them as tracings for my own versions.  I know it is cheating, but I just lost a day "experimenting" (above) and I have got to get myself back on time.

To make up for it, I do a completely freehand drawing of Brio and Poco on The ArtDemiGod's leg in my sketch book (below).  Ah, sleep!  I wonder what that is like?

OK, the night cafe tracing is done, and I am beginning with some black india ink.  Notice how the edges of the paper are taped down to keep them from buckling when the paper is wetted.

For this, I used blue painter's tape (which I had on hand) but I am not recommending this because it left a sticky residue on the edges of my drawing.

I have since learned that there is a specific artist's tape that does what the blue tape does but does not leave a residue.  I will use that in the future.
At right is india ink soaking into the nib of my reed pen.  You can see that the reed pen is essentially just carved out from a stick of bamboo.  Although the pen was initially challenging to use, I quickly learned to love it, and delighted in the constant "scratchy-scratchy" sound that it made when I moved across the paper.

I cleaned my reed pen before I started using different colored inks.  The black that you see on the pen is a stain, and will not come off with the new color.

This also shows how the reed pen works - ink is drawn up the slit and rests in the little hole until it is deployed onto the paper.

Thanks again, Asel Art!
You can see how transparent the ink is on the paper toweling at right.  Isn't it a yummy color?

I decide to use some opaque yellow gouache.  The opaque, transparent and translucent principles are the same as when painting with acrylic.

the finished drawing
The night cafe is #34

I am going to do an owl (after Vincent's drawing) for my friend, Dawn, who was just elected mayor of Johnson City, Texas!

She is smart, and will be a great mayor!

She also really really loves owls.

This time, I start with a wash of brown ink.

To keep the paper flat, I cover the wet image with a sheet of waxed paper and lay on a heavy book while it dries.

Thanks, Vincent!

And now I am working on another version of the Sower.

I start this one with a yellow ink wash, which I set to dry while I resume work on the owl.

The owl and branch are defined in black.
And here is the finished owl.

The owl is #35 

Now back to the sower.  On top of the yellow, I add in some orange and cross hatch with violet.
I added some white gouache to the violet in my cup, along with a good mist of water to keep it loose and flowy.
The opaque mixture above is added to the figure's boots, and sketched loosely into the field.
Yikes!  The damn blue painters tape ripped the paper as I was trying to remove it!

A thin bead of paper glue, some protective waxed paper, and another press with a heavy book made for a seamless repair.
here is the finished sower
That one is #36.

Next, I am going to ink a moth, some trees, and a rocky hillside, all based on drawings that Vincent did.  I am starting to understand how a tattoo artist feels, and my studio is starting to look a bit like a production line. I have to pause just a moment to consider art on a deadline.  Are deadlines good for art? I have an inkling (ha!) that they are not.

OK, enough stalling! 

 I want to experiment by adding some transparent water color to my ink.  I have no idea if adding gouaches or watercolors is "allowed" in haughty art circles, but I just dipping a reed pen into ink and coloring in between the lines was getting a bit boring...

I had several tubes of old water color (I think I inherited these from my Mother; they are probably at least 15 years old.  I have no idea if freshness will count in this experiment.)

In the background you can see my cartoon of the moth.

Starting with just a few drops of blue ink, I suspended (see right) a blob of the green water color; I did it that way so that I could mix it in very sparingly and see what I got.

These stainless steel condiment cups from the restaurant supply are working pretty well for me.

And here we have the addition of a couple of fine mists of water and a tiny bit of the green in with the blue.
 You can see on the paper toweling the original blue ink on the left and with the addition of the green water color on the right...

Notice how my paper toweling is taped down so that I can rub against it one handed with my brush.

The moth is inked, yet not documented photographically.

For the tree drawing, I decided that the turquoise color was too bright, so I dulled it down with the addition of just a whisper of black ink.

These trees are also based on a drawing that Vincent did - mine will be in color, though.

I am keeping things really thinned down with constant mists of water.  This perfect little sprayer is a recycled eyeglass cleaner sprayer.

For the rocky landscape (which Vincent later made into a painting which I have visited many times at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston), I wanted very little color, so I used some white water color with a little black ink to make shades of grey for the rocks and scrubby trees.
I apparently decided that I had added too much green, so I scaled back considerably on the amount of white in my cup.

Because these ink drawings are fairly small, I am using a quite small angled shader for the application.

Here is the grey that I got.

At left is a shot of my work in progress on the rocky hillside.

I used blue ink for the sky.

You may note that the ink by itself is transparent; the leafy portion of the tree in the drawing still comes through the wash of ink.
And, like Andy Warhol's studio, here is my "factory" setting.

Like all artists that work with nibs, I keep them secured in a recycled altoids container.

Vincent's original Sower paintings can be seen in the book propped open on my table.

Here is the progress on the trees, at left, and below near completion.

You can observe how I had the drawings taped down to my desk so that they would not buckle.
OK, so here, in order are the finished ink drawings in this series:

#31 Landscape at Arles after Van Gogh (ink on bristol)

#32 Penguins (ink on bristol)

#33 Night walk (acrylic on board)
#34 The Night Cafe after Van Gogh (ink on bristol)

#35 Owl (for Dawn) after Van Gogh (ink on bristol)

#36 The Sower after Van Gogh (ink on bristol)

#37 Trees after Van Gogh (ink on bristol)

#38 Moth after Van Gogh (ink on bristol)

#39 Rocky Landscape at Arles after Van Gogh (ink on bristol)

#40 The Poppy after Dongen (MFAH) (ink on bristol)

#41 Poco in repose (ink on pastel paper) (Awww!)

unnumbered (bonus!) bee from my window (ink on bristol)

Thus ends that series with painting #41.  The final 11 paintings, a series of portraits, will be presented in my next blog.  Thanks for reading along, and inspiring so much of this journey!