Moon Snail Shell # 85, watercolor painting

Moon Snail Shell # 85, watercolor painting

 

“See what a lovely shell
Small and pure as pearl
Lying close to my foot,
Frail, but a work divine,
Made so fairly well
With delicate spire and whorl,
How exquisitely minute,
A miracle of design.”
— Alfred Lord Tennyson, from “Maud”

Moon snail shell # 17, tongue-twister

Moon snail shell # 17, tongue-twister

I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this.

As I’ve been thinking about associations with my moon snail shell and this project, the words of the tongue twister, “She sells seashells by the seashore,” have been replaying in my mind.  And this led to the idea of creating an image out of the words.  I started playing around with the concept, incorporating handwritten words.  After finishing Moon snail shell # 17, I accidentally dropped water on it, causing a word to bleed.  Since I was depicting the waves lapping the shore, I went over all of the wavy words with a wet brush to give the feel of water (and camouflage my drip).

I like Moon snail shell # 18 best of all of the images in this post — it’s got the cleanest and simplest lines.

Moon snail shell # 18, tongue-twister

Moon snail shell # 18, tongue-twister

Moon snail shell # 19, watercolor overlaid with words

Moon snail shell # 19, watercolor overlaid with words

Moon snail shell # 20, watercolor overlaid with words

Moon snail shell # 20, watercolor overlaid with words

I am ambivalent about the success of most of today’s moon snail shells.  This project is a learning experience, and I won’t be pleased with everything.  That’s all part of the process.

“Assignments are supposed to broaden your ideas about what your work can be, and to teach you how to solve problems in art.  But they also, possibly, acclimatize you to the idea that failure and humiliation are part of the deal, and that without them you can’t be sure you’ve really exhausted a possibility.”
— Mamie Tinkler, from Draw It with Your Eyes Closed:  the Art of the Art Assignment, edited by Paper Monument

Moon snail shells # 13, 14, 15 and 16; watercolor sketches

Moon snail shells # 13, 14, 15 and 16; watercolor sketches

I think it’s fair to say that there is something gimmicky about my project to draw or paint a moon snail 100 times.  But I prefer to see the experience as a valid art assignment, and I hope to become better at making my hand represent what my eyes see.  I’m open to learning other lessons, too, about my threshold of boredom, my persistence, my ability to stick with a project through completion, how to better use my materials, and random philosophies about life in general inspired by contemplating my moon snail shell.  I’m hoping  that the value of this project goes beyond the works themselves.

“Yet as artists, we give ourselves assignments all the time; this is what it is to have a practice.  If we are reasonably thoughtful, however, we understand these assignments not as ‘that which will produce work of value,’ but ‘as that which will allow the work to happen, perhaps producing the conditions through which something of value might take place.'”
— Colleen Asper, from Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment, edited by Paper Monument

 

 

“When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke

Wonders to behold, looking at a moon snail shell at Carkeek Park with my daughter, August 1991

Wonders to behold, looking at a moon snail shell at Carkeek Park with my daughter, August 1991

My moon snail shell “model” came from the beach at Carkeek Park, one of Seattle’s city parks along Puget Sound.  When my daughter was young, we spent many days at the beach there, turning over rocks, looking for little crabs, collecting shells, playing in the sand.  Every year I would get a tide table and mark in advance on my calendar the days of minus tides, the best days for beachcombing.  Then we’d pack a snack or picnic lunch, a fold-up lawn chair for me, and head out to Carkeek Park.

Back then I felt like I was a good mother.  (I am less certain of my mothering talents after surviving the teen and young adult years.)  So my moon snail shell holds mostly good memories for me, and gives me something to hold on to when I’m discouraged, uneasy, and anxious.

Moon snail shell # 12, pencil sketch

Moon snail shell # 12, pencil sketch

 

 

Moon snail shell

Moon snail shell

Today I am finding my inspiration from Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese woodblock print artist known for his work, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.  He was a prolific artist, and clearly he had not exhausted his interest in Mount Fuji after completing this series because in his seventies he began another called 100 Views of Mount Fuji.

What I find inspiring about Hokusai is his persistence and curiosity.  His passion for art sustained him throughout his life.

“From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.”
     —  Katsushika Hokusai, from the postscript to One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji

I would do well to emulate Hokusai, to approach each new drawing and painting of my moon snail shell until I, too, reach the stage where “every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive.”  I have a long way to go.

Moon snail shell # 7, ink contour line drawing

Moon snail shell # 7, ink contour line drawing

Moon snail shell # 8, watercolor sketch

Moon snail shell # 8, watercolor sketch

Moon snail shell # 9, watercolor sketch

Moon snail shell # 9, watercolor sketch

Moon snail shell # 10, watercolor sketch

Moon snail shell # 10, watercolor sketch

Moon snail shell # 11, watercolor sketch in Payne's Gray

Moon snail shell # 11, watercolor sketch in Payne’s Gray

Starting with Moon snail shell # 9, I realized that if I drew the white parts with a white Crayola crayon, the wax would act like a resist and repel the paint, thereby keeping my white highlights white.

I find that when I do ink drawings, I focus on line and form.  When I use watercolors, my focus shifts to mixing colors and tones.  I am slowly getting better, I think, at using tones to give my shells more three-dimensionality.

I wanted to narrow my focus to just tone for Moon snail shell # 11.  I remembered that I still had a tube of Winsor & Newton’s Payne’s Gray from an undergraduate art class.  I pulled it out of storage for this painting.  According to the price tag still attached, I paid $1.20 for this small tube of paint at the University of Minnesota Bookstore in 1975 or 1976.  It still works!

This tube of Winsor & Newton Payne's Gray is over 35 years old!

This tube of Winsor & Newton Payne’s Gray is over 35 years old!

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.

Some of you requested more (and better) photographs of the embroidered sea shells that decorate my jars of sea shells from Hawaii.  I searched for and found the pattern I used, from This is . . . “The Magic of the Sea” by Annie Designs, copyright 1980.  I haven’t done counted cross-stitch embroidery in a very long time, so it was fun to resurrect these old embroideries for you.  Thank you for your interest in them!

Cross-stitched embroidered sea shell jar cover

Cross-stitched sea shell jar cover

Embroidered strawberry shell with cross-stitch pattern

Embroidered cone shell with cross-stitch pattern

Pocketable Treasures

July 7, 2012

“I fetched my sea-born treasures home.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Each and All”

Sun-bleached sea urchin shells

“Many of us beach-comb.  I think in a pretty mindless way, hoping that when we later look at our gatherings, we’ll feel the charge of the beautiful, happened-upon, pocketable things . . .”
— W. S. Di Piero, from “Saints”

Since I began painting flowers, leaves, seeds, and other natural things, I’m constantly carrying home “found” treasures.  They often become models for my watercolor sketches.  Something ineffable has drawn my eye and hand to these little gifts of nature, and I find that taking the time to sketch or paint them deepens my appreciation for them.  But interestingly, once they’ve been captured on paper, I seldom feel the need to keep them in my possession.

Di Piero is aware of the “charge” of the beautiful in shells and other found objects.  But Emerson warns that the “gay enchantment” often dies once the object is removed from its natural setting, pocketed, and taken home.  He repines that his sea-born treasures have “left their beauty on the shore.”

I found my sea urchin shells on a beach in Hawaii almost 30 years ago.  I’ve kept them in a small glass jar and still treasure them.  Seeing them brings back memories of my first trip to Hawaii and the secluded beach where I beach-combed for shells.  So in some respect, these pocketable treasures have kept their charge over the years.

One cannot always hold on to beauty.  But sometime we can come pretty close.

My collection of sea urchin shells

Sea urchin shell

I keep my Hawaiian shells in two small glass jars. I embroidered the little shells on the jar covers.

Ink sketch of sea urchin shells