The character of old Seattle still graces the ambience of the Pioneer Square area of Seattle and along Western Avenue to the Pike Place Market.

The Smith Tower

The Smith Tower

The 42-floor Smith Tower was the tallest building on the West Coast when it was built in 1914.

The 42-floor Smith Tower was the tallest building on the West Coast when it was built in 1914.

Totem Pole in Pioneer Square

Totem Pole in Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square totem pole

Another totem pole by the Iron Pergola

Another totem pole by the Iron Pergola

Ink sketch of Pioneer Square totem pole

Iron Pergola, Pioneer Square

Iron Pergola, Pioneer Square

Vine-covered wall along Western Avenue

Vine-covered wall along Western Avenue

Man hole cover on Western Avenue

Man hole cover on Western Avenue

Along Western Ave

Busker with duct-taped accordion, Pike Place Market

Busker with duct-taped accordion, Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

Sketch of rock fish

Sketch of rock fish

Anemones in a neighbor's garden

Anemones in a neighbor’s garden

I like the sprightly little balls of these anemones.  They look like the antennae of insects or invading Martians.  The delicate petals retain a faint pink blush.

A few cut anemones in a vase

A few cut anemones in a vase

Lovely window light

Lovely window light

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All of my attempts at painting these flowers seem too heavy-handed.  Sigh.

First watercolor sketch of anemones

First watercolor sketch of anemones

Second watercolor sketch of anemones

Second watercolor sketch of anemones

Third attempt -- ink drawing with watercolor highlights

Third attempt — ink drawing with watercolor highlights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tulips, Keukenhof, Holland

Tulips, Keukenhof, Holland

“I suppose there must be one or two people in the world who choose not to like tulips, but such aberration is scarcely credible.”
— Anna Pavord, The Tulip

We came to the Netherlands in April to see the tulips, but this year’s lasting cold weather meant that the tulip season was late.  We were too early for the blooming peak.  Still, we went forward with our plans to visit the famous Keukenhof gardens, and I’m glad we did.  The gardens there were spread out over acres, and it felt like we were walking on a grand estate, with flower beds under a forest of tall trees, a lake, a hedge maze, a windmill, arbors, outdoor sculptures, and several indoor pavilions with bulbs and blooms.  I hope my photos convey the pleasures of this day trip.

Early morning sun through the leafless trees, Keukenhof

Early morning sun through the leafless trees, Keukenhof

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View across the lake

View across the lake

Tulips waiting for a bit of warmth and sunshine

Tulips waiting for a bit of warmth and sunshine

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Nearby fileds in Lisse starting to show color

Nearby fields in Lisse starting to show color

View of the adjacent flower fields from the windmill at Keukenhof

View of the adjacent flower fields from the windmill at Keukenhof

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Indoors at the Willem-Alexander pavilion the display beds were in bloom for all to enjoy.

Indoors at the Willem-Alexander pavilion the display beds were in bloom for all to enjoy.

A photographing frenzy

A photographing frenzy

Still dressed for the cold in mid-April

Still dressed for the cold in mid-April

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View of fields near Lisse from the tour bus window

View of fields near Lisse from the tour bus window

Last look at Holland from the airpolane window, my last day

Last look at Holland from the airplane window, my last day

"Tulip" by Ellsworth Kelly, 1984 from the book, Plant Drawings

“Tulip” by Ellsworth Kelly, 1984 from the book, Plant Drawings

In the tradition of art training, this is my attempt to copy Ellsworth kelly's tulip drawing

In the tradition of art training, this is my attempt to copy Ellsworth Kelly’s tulip drawing

Watercolor and ink sketch of tulip "Schoon Solffer" copied from Bratholomeus Assteryn (1607-1667) found in Anna Pavord's book, The Tulip

Watercolor and ink sketch of tulip “Schoon Solffer” copied from Bartholomeus Assteryn (1607-1667) found in Anna Pavord’s book, The Tulip

Watercolor sketch of tulips

Watercolor sketch of tulips

Another watercolor sketch of tulips

Another watercolor sketch of tulips

“To live in the world of creation — to get into it and stay in it — to frequent it and haunt it — to think intensely and fruitfully — to woo combinations and inspirations into being by a depth and continuity of attention and meditation — this is the only thing.”
— Henry James

Moon Snail Shell # 100, ink sketch with watercolor

Moon Snail Shell # 100, ink sketch with watercolor

I’ve finished Moon Snail Shell # 100!

Some observations:

  • No big breakthroughs.  I didn’t push my boundaries nearly enough.  I was always conscious of my promise to post every painting, and opening my work to public scrutiny was an impediment to creativity.  I think that I would have found the project much more freeing if I had required myself to destroy every one of my first 100 sketches and then gone from there.
  • That said, I do like some of my sketches more than others.  Here are some of my favorites: Numbers 32 – 34, 39, 43 – 45, 67 – 68, and 72 – 79.

    A few of my favorites

    A few of my favorites

  • Looking back at the body of work, I do see that I have a rather consistent style or point of view.  I wish it had evolved more.
  • The assignment kept my interest.  Art has its own set of challenges — how to depict edges, how to show volume, how to express my feelings, how to translate what I see to the blank page . . .  I find each new drawing and painting absorbing and worthy of my attention.
  • I do like projects.  Unlike so many other things in life, projects have definite beginnings and endings.  I can bundle this experience and make it stand out in the long path to becoming an artist.  I will have to think up new projects in the future.

It takes so little in terms of material things to craft a meaningful life.  I want to live my life captivated by ordinary things, small moments.  And my moon snail shell embodies that principle.  I chose for my 100 Drawings Project a found object, something that cost nothing.  And yet, it provided hours and hours of focused absorption, contemplation, and joy.  I think I chose well.

“While we respond to the exacting demands of the environment, we must attempt to rediscover, during what leisure we can wrestle from the struggle, the value and the quality in little things.”
— Angel Pellegrini, The Unprejudiced Palate:  Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life

“Nearly all the best and most precious things in the universe you can get for a half penny.  I make an exception, of course, of the sun, the moon, the earth, people, stars, thunderstorms, and such trifles.  You can get them for nothing.”
— G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

“Joys come from simple and natural things, mists over meadows, sunlight on leaves, the path of the moon over water.  Even rain and stormy clouds bring joy, just knowing animals and flowers and where they live.  Such things are where you find them, and belong to the aware and alive.”
— Sigurd Olson

And so I leave this project as my gift to you.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

“Thus, the artist’s gift is not necessarily the artistic expression he or she imparts to the object created but, rather, the expansion of our awareness and our appreciation of the wonder, diversity, and unlimited opportunities of the world.”
– Barry Behrstock, The Way of the Artist:  Reflections on Creativity and the Life, Home, Art and Collections of Richard Marquis

 

“To build a simple hut is as much an art as to drink a cup of tea.”
Heinrich Engel, The Japanese House:  A Tradition for Contemporary Architecture

My moon snail carried its house on its back.  I suppose the closest I’ve come to doing the same is living out of a suitcase or backpack when I travel.  Invariably I learn that no matter how lightly I pack, I still carry with me things that I do not wear even once.  There are some important lessons here.

“How little do I need to have everything?”
— Ellen Meloy, The Anthropology of Turquoise

“Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens.  If you have them, you have to take care of them.”
— Peace Pilgrim

Less is more.

Moon Snail Shells # 67 & 68, ink sketches with watercolor washes

Moon Snail Shells # 67 & 68, ink sketches with watercolor washes

Moon Snail Shells # 69, 70 & 71, watercolor sketches

Moon Snail Shells # 69, 70 & 71, watercolor sketches

 

 

 

“That paper cutout, the kind of volute, that you see on the wall up there is a stylized snail.  First of all, I drew the snail from nature, holding it between two fingers.  Drew and drew.  I became aware of an unfolding.  I formed in my mind a purified sign for a shell.  Then I took my scissors.”
— from Meet Matisse by Nelly Munthe

The Snail (L'Escargot), 1952, Henri Matisse, copyright Succession H Matisse/DACS2008/Tate, London

The Snail (L’Escargot), 1952, Henri Matisse, copyright Succession H Matisse/DACS2008/Tate, London

I love how Matisse describes his snail shell as an unfolding.  The snail grows by an accretion of successive and continuous increments, curved to form a spiral.  And with seemingly simple paper cutouts, he expresses this unfolding in a stylized way.  Matisse expertly moves from direct observation to abstraction, from the particular to the general. I have no doubt that he worked through repeated iterations before arriving at the composition above.

“One must study an object for a long time.”
— Matisse

This is the lesson I hold in my heart and mind as I work through today’s sketches.

Moon Snail Shells # 40, 41 & 42, watercolor sketches

Moon Snail Shells # 40, 41 & 42, watercolor sketches

Moon Snail Shells # 43, 44 & 45; watercolor sketches

Moon Snail Shells # 43, 44 & 45; watercolor sketches

Moon Snail Shells # 46; watercolor sketch

Moon Snail Shells # 46; watercolor sketch

Moon Snail Shells # 47, 48 & 49; pen and ink drawings

Moon Snail Shells # 47, 48 & 49; pen and ink drawings

 

 

 

 

Snail:  One of a group of terrestrial or aquatic molluscs belonging to the Class Gastropoda, typically having a spirally coiled shell, a broad retractile foot and a distinctive head.”
— Peter Williams, Snail

The clockwise spiral of the moon snail shell

The clockwise spiral of the moon snail shell

Here is the lesson from yesterday’s drawing exercise.  For me, the most essential part of my empty moon snail shell is its spiral.  When I removed all the inessential parts, what was left was the distinctive spiral.

There is something mysterious and deep about spirals.  They hold such tightly coiled energy at their center, yet sweep outward in ever larger curves.  Open, yet closed.  Inward, yet outward looking.

“One of the most ancient symbols is the spiral.  It comes clockwise, counterclockwise, singly, in pairs, in clusters. No one knows exactly what it represents, perhaps those inexplicable natural forces:  the swirl of smoke, the vortex of water, a mysterious pull of energy.”
— Alan Fletcher, The Art of Looking Sideways

The orderliness of spiral patterns has always appealed to me when I see them in nature and in art.

Spiraling leaves of a succulent plant

Spiraling leaves of a succulent plant

Spiraling whorls of a sheep's horn

Spiraling whorls of a sheep’s horn

Spiral staircase,

Spiral staircase, St. Peter’s Church, Manhattan

Glory Window, Chapel of Thanksgiving, Dallas, TX

Glory Window, Chapel of Thanksgiving, Dallas, TX

It’s no wonder that I am drawn to the spiral shape in my moon snail shell.

Moon snail shells # 32, 33 and 34, simple ink sketch with Pigma Callipen and watercolor washes

Moon snail shells # 32, 33 and 34, simple ink sketch with Pigma Callipen and watercolor washes

 

I like the roundness of the moon snail shell

I like the roundness of the moon snail shell

“In general we are attracted, both positively and negatively, to those things in our environment that have meaning for us.”
— Barry Behrstock, The Way of the Artist: Reflections on Creativity and the Life, Home, Art and Collections of Richard Marquis

I have always favored rounded things.  I like the smooth feel of eggs.  Although I don’t drive one, I like the look of the Volkswagen Beetle.  I really, really want an Airstream trailer.  I love my Birkenstock shoes with their wide, rounded toes.  When my daughter asked for a tea kettle for Christmas, I bought her a Calphalon because it was one I would have wanted for myself.

Ink sketch of Volkwagen Beetle

Ink sketch of Volkswagen Beetle

Ink sketch of Airstream trailer

Ink sketch of Airstream trailer

Ink sketch of one of my Birkenstock shoes

Ink sketch of one of my Birkenstock shoes

Ink sketch of my daughter's new Calphalon tea kettle

Ink sketch of my daughter’s new Calphalon tea kettle

What is it that appeals to me about rounded things?  I think they have a feminine aspect, lacking the stiff, angular lines that I associate with stern males.  Smooth, round things feel good.

As I was musing about my love for round things, I happened to be reading The Notebooks of David Ignatow and came across this telling passage about the roundness of earth and what it signifies for the artist:

” . . . earth must be the projection of an artist, a creator above all creations, and since we believe that earth like ourselves is an expression of what it came from, we must, by reading into earth, discern the clues to its creator.

“In what are these clues?  In the minerals to be discovered.  In the form earth takes.  In the form, since form is the essence of matter and earth is round, as are all other spheres in heaven.  Then what does this roundness signify?  That in our limited terms there is a force that has no use for friction, for roughness.  It admits of roughness in mountains and holes but overall it shapes roundness.  The idea of that shaped earth is the perpetuum of existence to which roundness lends itself, and this perpertuum is another expression for God the Eternal.  We are back where we started from.  In what in ourselves then can we discover this perpetuum?  We love to play with balls.  As children we give machines wheels and ball bearings to move.  We ourselves have nothing round about us.  We are not eternal is the conclusion, but in our urge to create balls and wheels is the eternal.  The urge is eternal.”
— David Ignatow, from The Notebooks of David Ignatow, edited by Ralph J. Mills, Jr.

I like that my moon snail shell, in its roundness, is emblematic of the eternal.

“To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.”
— William Blake, from “Auguries of Innocence”

Moon snail shell # 6; ink drawing

Moon snail shell # 6; ink drawing

The ink sketches in today’s post were inspired by an exercise on “the positive aspects of negative space” described in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards (1979).   The shape of the primary object is to touch the edges of the paper or rectangular frame in at least two places.  The negative spaces are to be regarded as shapes and are consciously outlined.  Focusing on the negative spaces as discrete shapes helps improve the composition.  Edwards calls this “drawing something by drawing nothing.”

“Drawing is taking a line for a walk.”
— Paul Klee

Moon snail shells # 4 and 5; pen and ink drawings

Moon snail shells # 4 and 5; pen and ink drawings

What are the rules for my 100 Snail Shells Project?  I suppose I’ll be making them up as I go along. (After all, it is my project!)

The first question is whether or not I should show you all of my attempts to draw or paint my shell.  Or should I discard the obviously bad ones and count only those that won’t embarrass me too much?

I’m going to put myself out on a limb and show you all of my moon snail shells — the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And I will post them in the order that I create them, even though this will most likely mean jumping back and forth between drawings and paintings and who knows what else.

I want to see how my skills and observations evolve, and this might mean repeating myself — using the same techniques over and over again.  I trust that I will be learning something each time.  I take comfort in knowing that famous painters often revisited the same subjects — think of Monet’s haystacks or water lilies.  “When Claude Monet painted his three-hundredth canvas of a water lily, was he merely repeating himself?”  (James Hillman, from The Force of Character)

Today’s ink sketches were drawn with a Faber Castell  Pitt artist pen (black 199).  I remember learning about contour line drawing in Mr. Dvorak’s seventh grade art class.  It’s a great technique for slowing down and really forcing yourself to look at the object you are drawing.  I wasn’t able to draw my moon snail shells blind, without glancing at my paper.  I also failed to use just one, continuous line.

There is lots of room for improvement.