24 October 2014On October 23 I had to stop and reiterate my ideas about keeping a constant sketchbook while traveling.

The day found me pencilling the highlights and shadows of yet another faceted, sparkly glass object…my most ambitious, meticulous and realistic drawing to date. Strangely, the more detailed and exact I made it, the less pleased with it I felt. In fact, flipping back through just the last few days of drawings makes me think of botanical illustrations, of plates done by cataloguers…very conservative depictions, trying as much as possible to convey information, to be faithful to the object’s reality (objective reality?)

There’s a tendency to admire realistic art, but it’s a narcissistic, myopic admiration. What we’re really saying when we ooh and ahh over a drawing that “looks like a photograph” is “This is familiar! I know what it is because that’s exactly the way it looks in life! This work doesn’t push me outside of my comfort zones to leave me standing in the nebulous hinterlands of my lazy mind, or confront me with strange new ideas that I have no socially prescribed reactions for, and so it has my approval!”

For an artist like me, realism is risk-free. It’s safe, it’s popular, it needs no explanations, it doesn’t arouse anger or alienation in the average viewer. It doesn’t reveal very serious things about myself to strangers. It’s the gambit of a cowardly artist.

I don’t like realism in art, but I find realistic drawings relatively easy to do. I’m usually too lazy to work so conscientiously, but I can. The scene is in front of me, after all; I just have to slavishly copy what I see, like the receptor of a digital camera. There are decisions to be made, certainly, like “What color is that really?”, and “What’s the best way to recreate that effect?” But on the whole, it’s all about measuring, identifying, transcribing. The proportions of the object, the perspectives. The greyscale values, from 0% to 100%. The tiniest hint of green in that stainless steel grey. It’s less like art, more like industrial science. There is so little of me in these fastidious renderings.

This is probably why I admire abstract art and expressionism most of all…those works that “present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas”.

These sketchbook studies were intended to develop the habit of doing playful, spontaneous drawings of the world around me. To filter what my eyes see through the way I feel—humorous, joyful, peaceful, loving, fearful, angry, confused, bored, compassionate—and the things I think. They were to please no one but myself, and to document my going, my experiencing…never to produce a catalog of mundane objects, accurately recorded, painstakingly detailed, and that any camera could record better than I.

Hence this page, and the reminder to get back (off the beaten) track.


13 thoughts on “Redefine

  1. I agree completely with this blog post. The hyper realistic fine art painting that looks like a photo bugs me. Likely because I haven’t got the talent for fine art. My paintings aren’t loose enough either and I’m always afraid while painting that I’ll “screw it up” if I loosen it up. You post has inspired me to just let that paint dribble more.


    1. I don’t think it’s true that ‘realism’=’fine art’, anyway. Not in the 20th century, anyway. Before the invention of the camera, it made sense. But now that we have really good cameras to do the documentation for us, art should be free to interpret or depict what the camera cannot, emotions, subjectivity, fantasy, surrealism, synesthesia (what does music look like? what does taste look like, visually…) 🙂 Cheers for the tweet, by the way. good luck with the dribbling!


  2. This is soo true, and the pressure to conform and make sure your art matches reality somehow kills your will to even try sometimes, in the sense that we try so hard to make a copy of the object or the photograph in front of us, it becomes an uphill task and you get stuck easily. These days I just draw,leaving aside all prejudice and my preconceived notions, my only underlying thought is: Don’t compare it to the original.
    Thank you for the post
    All the best!


    1. Thanks! (just read your post about endearments, so I don’t dare call you by your name, and I don’t feel that any of the others would be suitable, either, so I’m avoiding it entirely! 😉 ) I am also trying to “just draw”…it’s easier said than done! 🙂 Thanks for your heartfelt response!


  3. I am constantly struggling with this, actually. I have had a lot of academic art classes, where we were taught techniques and true-to-life drawing/painting was supported…and I’ve found myself over the years to be genuinely STRUGGLING with drawing freely, without trying to make things look *real*. I’m just just learning it….and it’s freeing and scary and awesome. 😀


  4. I have the same thing with my photography. It’s easy to get into a rut and do the same things over and over, when I really need to expand my vision and my technical skills for post-processing.

    Keep up the good work! At least you’re defining what you want to get out of this and how you want to get there. It’s all a work in progress.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ooo, I’m very much enjoying read in the discussion your ink bottles have inspired! I must say though, that although Impressionism is probably my favourite too, (though I quite fancy a bit of surrealism as well), I do admire photographic realism for the skill that it requires. Probably because I have no ability to draw like that and was brought up with a mother who paints with detail and accuracy and so I felt I never measured up…art is very personal sometimes, no?

    I love this ink bottle too! It is indeed freeing and reminds me of envy and passion, with all it’s green wildness.


  6. I completely relate to what you’re saying. The whole reason I started this blog as opposed to continuing with my other blog is because I wanted to go in a different direction with the content. My other blog was safe reporting about the world around me, and when I wrote my first post on my current blog, I promised it would be the opposite…an honest, raw, account of where I really stand on things. Why then, am I falling back into the same old pattern? Partly because I don’t want to embarrass people in my life (that can be rectified, in most part, with keeping them anonymous). But mostly I think it’s because I’m more comfortable being safe and vanilla. I guess you and I will just have to push ourselves to keep moving away from the safe zone. Good luck to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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