Wrapping up the Pavese watercolor sketch

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There comes a time when we take into account the fact that everything we do will become a memory in due course. That is maturity. To reach it, you must have memories.

Cesare Pavese, Diaries, 10.1.1944

Narrating incredible things as though they were real–the old system. Narrating realities as though they were incredible–the new.

Cesare Pavese, Diaries, 11.11.1943

I’m closing out this Pavese watercolor sketch with two quotes from his diary that sum up his writing pretty well. The latter point especially is one that resonates with me, as it informed my writing style (if you’re curious, you can see it here).

To finish this sketch, I researched some Wyeth watercolors to help figure out the table color (Cerulean blue, cobalt teal blue, ivory black, cobalt blue over a mix of a light, bland reddish brown). This seems to bring out some extra interest in the arrangement and feels suitable for Pavese’s melancholy brilliance. After laying in the base of cerulean and cobalt teal I sanded it down to make it look more aged, then painted the shadow. I also scraped out the edges of the book where the cover was wearing out.

I’m wondering if I should exagerate some white highlights for more interest, but I will leave it as it for now. This is a very small work–5×7–and I’ve probably overworked it enough already.

And by an odd coincidence, Pantone’s color if the year is Marsala, which is strikingly similar to the dominant color in this sketch. How trendy.

Thanks for reading.

Revisiting the Monument, working with Dad

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I return to work tomorrow after a nice holiday break, so I am trying to build up an inventory on in-progress works so I can tinker with them during the weeks ahead.

I liked that Washington Monument painting I did a month or so ago for my Dad, and wanted to give it a try again in a different composition. The clouds and the mist were really interesting. Above is the beginning of the new one.

I want to keep a lot of paintings going on at the same time so I, and you my readers, don’t get bored with any of them and so I keep some momentum going. This one is taking on a pretty old style feel, but once the bent pines come in, it will get a little more interesting.

With the last few works I am shifting my approach to get a little more patient, to build the works up more. My drawing skills are improving, as are my abilities and confidence with the paint. Last year I was trying to work more aggressively, and I will retain that, but I think I worked a little too fast, was too free, and so might have missed some opportunities. A little more deliberation this year will be important.

Today I was working side by side with my Dad, who is getting back into fine art. He’s going to be working this up into a conte crayon drawing, but here’s his underdrawing.

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Thanks for reading.

Moving Along with Pavese and My Wife’s New Blog

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What is the real reason we want to be big, creative geniuses? For posterity? No. To be pointed out when we stroll in crowded places? No. To carry on with our daily toil under the conviction that whatever we do is worth the trouble, is something unique. For the day, not for eternity.

Cesare Pavese, Diaries, 7.1.1947

I’m coming to the end of this small Pavese watercolor sketch. I need to let it dry so I can sort out the final shadows and details on the mug. I’m also thinking about what color the table should be. Something with a greenish tint to make the red stand out more, or is there a better color than that? I need to think on that. I also need to scratch out the age of the book. It’s good to save something for tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’m excited to say that my wife started a blog today, and it promises to be pretty great (of course, I have a strong bias in her favor). She does pretty much everything–woodworking, fine art, design, fiber arts, food, gardening, running (a couple marathons, a Tuff Mudder, and counting), and she’ll cover all of that. Check it out here.

Thanks for reading.

More thoughts from Pavese

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We want Realism’s wealth of experience and Symbolism’s depth of feeling. All art is a problem of balance between two opposites.

Cesare Pavese, Diaries, 12.14.1939

Another revealing thought from Pavese that fits the painter as much as the writer. When it comes to painting, obviously I’m fond of the more realist work, though photo-realism isn’t especially interesting to me. I like to paint to explore, to understand, not so much to capture, but rather to convey.

In visual art, you can think of another dichotomy, between realism and abstraction. This composition is coming together a little more now that the basic colors of the book are laid in. I glanced at it out of the corner of my eye, and the tension between the rounded edges on the left and the angles on the right is pretty interesting. It’s realism and abstraction coming together with the close cropping if the mug, turning the objects into shapes, while retaining their identity as things, and hopefully taking on more potency than just that if I can execute this well enough.

A paperback book is not a very interesting subject to look at on its own, even a ragged one like this, but when painted, and all of the effects of watercolor are applied, I think the book can take on a more special quality. That’s what I’m hoping for at least. I’ll be darkening the book in places, trying to lighten the lettering, and scraping and sanding to capture the brittleness, which will be a nice contrast to the shine on the mug.

I am excited about this one as a sketch to work out a few ideas that might work well for larger works.

Thanks for reading.

The Apotheosis of the Ordinary

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In art one must not start with a complication but work up to it; not begin with the fable of Ulysses, to astound the reader, but with a simple, ordinary man and, little by little, give him the significance of Ulysses.

Cesare Pavese, Diary, 8.23.1949

I’ve been thinking about Pavese again as I’m revisiting some of my prior writings. There are a few writers who have been especially influential for me over time, the two most important being Italo Calvino and Cesare Pavese. Calvino for his inventiveness, and Pavese for his incisiveness. Pavese especially has a way of stating things so simply and so brilliantly over and over again that its both inspirational and intimidating, and that gives so many levels of meaning to even the simplest acts. He was Italy’s greatest post-war writer. Lines from The Devil in the Hills appear almost verbatim in Antonioni’s film l’Aventurra Basically, if you like Antonioni, you’ll like Pavese, probably more.

Pavese’s diary entry above might be an especially interesting one for a painter, particularly a painter of still lifes. I’m thinking of Wyeth, whose object-based portraits of people say more than their faces ever could.

Bringing about the apotheosis of the ordinary through art is an extraordinary achievement, especially visual art, because we don’t have the luxury of building scenes upon scenes over time like in a story. Each image must state and imply, (or denote and connote), and the power of the implication is the power of the art. How we do this, or try to, is the tricky part. Craft, genius, a mix of the two, whatever. This is what Pavese did so well, this is what Wyeth did so well.

This year, I want to be more deliberate about the connotation of my paintings (not all of them, of course, because painting itself is so much fun for me, it’s important just to do it, even if there isn’t much to it), and in so doing, I’ll be drawing more on my literary and critical theory side. As a nod to that, I think some books will start appearing in my work, especially still lifes. Who better to start that off with than Pavese for a little sketch.

Thanks for reading. Happy New Year!