Artists Transform Things
Pierre Bonnard painted walls, windows and surfaces that were festive with light and color, but those objects – by themselves – were simple. His decision to use bright yellows with flecks of cerulean blue and viridian green to render a plain white wall in his house has a message of permission bequeathed to artists after him; play with color. His paintings whisper to you and me: “Look for interesting geometry in your compositions, and monitor your values. And when you like the way your eye travels around your arrangements, host a Happy Hour with your colors.”
Bonnard in your Art Library?
Do you know about this book: Pierre Bonnard: the Late Still Lifes and Interiors – from the Metropolitan Museum of Art? The imagery depicts preliminary pencil sketches and finished paintings from Bonnard’s still life work later in his life, so it’s a little different from the landscapes and nudes featured online. Brew a cuppa tea, and be inspired here. You can purchase the book (out of print) on Amazon here or download the PDF of the book for free here. As a PDF download, you can zoom into the drawings and paintings on your computer to examine his pencil marks and the brushwork on his oils and watercolors. Think of all the inspiration to go a little wild with color on your next piece of art. ?
The Gift of Squinting
The interesting tidbit on Bonnard’s tiny pencil, watercolor and gouache study above – is that it appears loose, painterly and unfinished up close. The paper shows through at the table’s surface, and there are plenty of quickly applied dollops of pigment, and gestural pencil marks. But look at the painting from a distance (I’ve made it small on the left to demonstrate an across-the-room view). It reads as a beautifully lit and shadowed still life. Look at that teapot…
Perhaps Bonnards gift here is to remember that makers see the work up close while working on it, but viewers most often see the work at a distance, so be sure to step away from your work often, and squint every few minutes to check values.
The Role of Memory in Painting
If you’ve visited before, you might already know that I’m partial to painting from your own life, loves and environs. Pierre did too, which adds to my fascination with his work. Listen to this podcast produced by the Tate Museum (17 minutes) on the role of memory in painting. You could sketch your next still life while you listen, right? ??♀️
Consume Inspiration, and then Put it to Work
I’m working on a still life now, and I’m about to add watercolor. So far, it’s only a pencil drawing, since I’m using the same sequence as the last post. After pondering Bonnard’s still life work, I will endeavor to hike off the path and into the trees. I’ll wander from the colors in my reference photo. Even after a few hours and consecutive evenings of laying out the drawing, I’ll tell myself ‘It’s just paper and pencil marks. Don’t get precious. Avoid attachment. Go ahead and screw it up, because you learned during the process on this one, and you’ll carry those lessons to the next painting, whether this one works or not.‘ Is that what you tell yourself when you’re working on new art, and treading towards foreign creative adventures? I hope so. Let’s stay encouraged, okay?
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!
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I tried to paint [a bouquet of roses] directly, scrupulously, I was absorbed by the details… Then I realized that I was floundering, I wasn’t getting anywhere. I had lost my original thought and couldn’t get it back again; I couldn’t find what it was that had captivated me, my starting point. I thought I might regain it, if only I could recapture that initial charm…
Through captivation or an initial inspiration, a painter achieves universality. It’s captivation that tells him which subject to choose and precisely how a picture should be. Take away that captivation or initial concept, and all that’s left is a particular subject that overwhelms the painter.
From that moment on, he is no longer painting his own picture. For some painters – Titian for instance – that captivation is so powerful that they never lose it, even if they remain in direct contact with their subject for a very long time. I, however, am very weak. I find it difficult to control myself when my subject is right in front of me.