Monday, February 15, 2010

aiming high

Courting the Muse by Daniel Merriam

I'd like to be a good artist. More to the point, I'd like to be a very good watercolorist. I can draw moderately well but when it comes to painting there are some who are so many miles ahead I feel like the race is over while I'm still looking for the gate. It's the last day of a four day weekend, part of which I spent working on the painting a week test scheme I came up with around Christmas. It turns out to have been an overly ambitious plan. I get distracted quite easily by little things like household duties, grocery shopping, reading, watching movies - any excuse will do to avoid the hard work of trying with my limited skills to paint something I'll actually like.

Among modern practitioners one of my long-time favorites has been Daniel Merriam, born in the early 60's and raised with six siblings in a small New England town. His father was an architect and Daniel trained and worked as an architectural artist until the late 80's when he turned to fine art as a full time career. His skill as a draftsman is clear but what really impresses me is his amazing ability to utilize color, particularly over very large areas. Almost all of his paintings are large - some in the range of 4x5' - and I recall reading an interview with him years ago where he said once a painting is begun he stays with it from wet paper to dry until it's complete. He also said he paints almost everything with a number 2 Windsor Newton Series 7 round brush. For those who don't know that's a very small tool.

By yesterday morning I had this drawing (with most of the pencil marks lifted) ready to begin coloring. It was raining and I had no excuse to go out so I spent the day mixing colors and testing gradations on a cheap watercolor block I keep for that purpose. The drawing is bigger than the last few and I was afraid of making a bad decision. Since my art books are in storage I decided this morning to go find some inspiration from what Daniel Merriam has been up to recently. Although I have a fair supply of high quality paints I decided perhaps I just need some new colors and so I went to visit another Daniel (Smith). Any excuse will do in a storm - including writing a blog post rather than painting.

"The fabric of the night sky glides off the brush in this heavenly new shade. Granulating lunar black floats above a phthalo undertone, perfect for capturing a moonlit sky. Inky as midnight, or diffused as the moon on water, semi-transparent Lunar Blue lifts beautifully, leaving behind a mere shadow of itself. This moody new watercolor is sure to entrance."

With descriptions like that you'll understand that painting something beautiful should be as easily done as water flowing off a ducks back. Now that I've written a post and have ordered a couple of new colors I have no further excuse for not heading back to the drawing board.

A girl can always dream. See you soon :-)


  1. Ah Susan I think your work it very good. wish I had the remotest artisitc talent!

  2. Wow, I can see why you like his paintings. Good luck with your own painting/artistic process. I love that purse you painted. I think you are a painter now!...not some wanna be, and you are damned good at what you do.

  3. jams - I appreciate your saying so but there's always room for improvement and I know I could do better.

    liberality - It's the fact he paints in watercolor that really amazes me. With oils I wouldn't be quite so impressed. I really am grateful to know you like what I do now.

  4. You wrote: "I'd like to be a good artist."

    You are!

    "Good" is relative. We're always the hardest on ourselves. I let others tell me I am an artist or a writer or an Elder or whatever they want to call me. I go as far as to say, "I don't care what people are saying about me, as long as they're saying something."

    Aspirations are good to have. It promotes inspiration and motivation. You are in the thick of it and doing quite well.

    Peace to you friend.

  5. susan, if i were sitting beside you, you would have been whacked upside the head by now...

    your talent is uniquely yours, and wonderful in all it's special youness, including your use of paint...i believe some are technically more practiced, including this amazing artist(who enchanted me with such a small brush), but that does not make an artist an artist, that makes them a very talented technician! when one takes their heart into their work and puts it on the page in a way that captures another, magic happens and that, my friend, is what you me, that is an artist..your work is a most special gift that you offer to's magic lightens my heart, makes me smile and ponder your message... you are an artist with a talent unmatched and one whose work enchants me more than the first daniel.

    the second daniel is a good example of one being exceeding good at selling watercolor and now, guess where i'm going? ;)

    consider yourself whacked lovingly♥

  6. spadoman - Once I'm inside a painting I have no problem seeing where I have to go next but sometimes I get frightened of taking the first step because I get lost in possibilities.

    You're words are wise ones and I really appreciate the compliment. Yes, I'd have to agree you fit all of those titles :-)

    linda - Oops, I think I just got whacked upside the head. Wow, I feel better.

    You know the funny thing is I both like and dislike Merriam's work in equal measure. The magic elements, the extraordinary focus on detail and his color sense are all wonderful.. and, as you say, technically amazing. On the other hand I find his characters, especially the human ones, remarkably soulless. It's rare to find a place in his paintings where you can imagine being comfortable in spite of the light and the bubbles and the silly creatures. Another thing I noticed about his work is that you can find a likeness of him in most of his paintings.. strange.

    I'm so very glad to know you like my pictures and I will be getting on with this one with a lighter heart now. Thank you, my friend.

  7. Why shoot for good when you are already great?
    I LOVE Linda's comment. Hilarious and true!
    Why can't we see how others see us? Really! I wish I could loan you my eyes. You would be amazed by wheat you see.

  8. once i painted a wooden bar stool, with grass and flowers along the legs, going up into blue sky, and a nice pink sky on the seat, it was the hardest thing i ever did lol i'll never be a painter, i admire you...

  9. there it is, as plain as chromium oxide!
    a crack.
    it's the same one i step on day after day after day. after day.
    why do we compare ourselves with others? where did this crack come from, i'd sure like to know.
    painting a big canvas with a tiny brush isn't efficient, but it works for someone.
    never judge a work of art by the size of the brush.
    or as they say in carpentry, everyone makes mistakes; it's how you hide them that matters.

    remember, it isn't how flawless you look *after* applying the makeup... er, paint. it's the heart or soul that shows *through* your art that makes it unique and timeless.

  10. Oh no, you've opening the crack of doubt just enough to let a verbal expression of expectation out, therefore I assume we'll see a gallery's worth of paintings very soon and no excuses for laziness since you're not an American. ;-)

  11. belette - That's very high praise and I appreciate it but I know for a fact I could be better. Then again, sometimes it's my own eyes I mistrust. Linda's remarks were great and you've made me happy today :-)

    elaine - It sounds like a great bar stool and one I hope is still in your collection. Goodness knows, I'm not a photographer but you most definitely are.. and a good one too.

    sera - Hah! True enough. We limit ourselves through a fear of failure or not matching up to some impossible expectation. I don't even believe he does all that with a tiny brush - I think he was taking the mickey out of the interviewer. But it's only natural to test our limits and try to get beyond them. If there wasn't always the possibility that the next one would be better we'd have no reason to make the effort.

    randal - It's not the laziness so much as needing time to slow down. Arts and letters demand contemplation, n'est ce pas?

  12. It's so hard to judge our own work. It's so hard to paint our own work when we know we're going to judge it - especially if we feel we are going to find it lacking...

    Anything can be a fair excuse to not paint. I read that in your post and it sounds more familiar than any other line in it.

    While you might not be happy with your recent paintings, wishing they were more polished, perhaps, I'm just aware that no one but you could paint them. They do a good job of carrying a part of you out to all of us, and we like that a lot. And I think your paintings have more life than the (admittedly impressive) architectural whimseys of Mr. Merriam.

    Back to my brush. Louise and I were working on something before I got tired and a bit lost and decided to stop. Your post gave me a nudge back into the paint.

  13. steve - Thanks for coming by to read this post and offer your kind words of understanding. Sometimes I look at all the possible color choices - from my very old box of Pelikan opaques (40 years - a talisman now), to the newer Pelikan pan and on to the growing collection of fine Rembrandts and Daniel Smiths - and I get confused by the surfeit. Quinacridones, perylines, rare earth shades and all the admixtures can make me crazy. I know the answer is to just get on with the job at hand but that isn't always easy to do as I'm sure you know. When I'm feeling confident nothing can break my concentration but when the confidence is lacking I dither about everything.

    I understand your connection with Louise particularly well since I have the same relationship with a particular Series 7 number 3 round. A number 6 is the largest brush I ever use for the most part because beyond that I don't feel in control.

    I'm very glad to know you enjoy seeing the paintings I've done up until now and I appreciate you always taking the time to look at them closely. When I started the blog I'd stopped painting but my artwork was really the only thing I had to share. Adventures Ink was wonderful because it loosened me up a lot but now I want to get back to the full spectrum and explore the images that come before I fall asleep.

    I really like your paintings too and I'm still enthralled by M. Moustache who lives over a nearby case of favorite books. Each one of us holds a magic unlike any other and that's part of what makes life so precious.