Archive for May, 2008


May 10, 2008

Where raindrops hung


all winter long, with

diamonds on every branch,

garnets now sprout

tiny new leaves

On bare cherry branches

snow flakes have descended,

exploded and turn to pink.


Composition and early photographers

May 10, 2008

In a recent post, I was looking at whether early photographers were using the Golden Section/Divine Proportions/The Golden Ration in their work and whether or not they might have been introduced to geometrically based composition through their attendance at either Architectural school or Art School.

One comment I received suggested the following photographers

Irving Penn:

Les Bouchers (The butchers)

Irving Penn was born in 1917 and studied at the Philadelphia Museum School. He had a decidedly traditional visual education. That is not to say that he stayed with it his entire career. Some of his work fits the Golden Ratio quite well, but he obviously experimented with other means of composition that are quite interesting. There’s a good biography on Wikipedia and some of the references at the bottom of the Wikipedia entry give sites to visit to see his work.

Edward Steichen

The Pond, Moonlight

Edward Steichen was born in 1879 was an American photographer, painter, and art gallery and museum curator, born in Bivange, Luxembourg – I’ve taken this info from Wikipedia also. He most certainly would have known about the Golden Ration and he uses it. Of the few pieces I was able to view on the Internet, all showed a strong use of this compositional device.

Albert Steiglitz

Alfred Stieglitz, born 1864, died 1946 was an American photographer and promoter of the arts. He had a gallery in New York City in which he showed avant garde work. He was determined to raise photography to Art status and his success in this has been a boon to all photographers ever since. Again, more information about him can be seen in Wikipedia. Nothing indicates that he went to art school, but he had studies in Mechanical Engineering and he would have been aware of the Golden Rectangle and the Golden Ratio from that training. His early pictures demonstrate a strong use of this compositional device.

Edward Weston

Edward Weston, born 1886 and died 1958, was an American Photographer from Illinois. From Wikipedia, it seems that he was truly self-taught and/or mentored. While his early photographs demonstrate affinity with the pictorialism of photography and image making in art of the time, he rejected it and opted for straight photography which emphasized realism without any manipulation of the object being photographed neither by artificially setting up composition nor by technical manipulation. His subject matter focused on images of natural forms – the human figure, seashells, plants, vegetables, and landscapes and with exception of his early work, does not try whatsoever to use the Golden Ratio as a compositional means.

On his web-site maintained by his family, at www. I found these two images that illustrate work that appear to not have used the Golden Ratio.

Ansel Easton Adams

Ansel Easton Adams was born in 1902 near San Franscisco. He died in 1984. He is best known for his nature photography in the West of the United States. He was home schooled for much of his education and originally worked towards a career in music. His abilities in photography developed through mentoring, self study of photography publications of his time and a diligent documentation of everything he was doing in the production of photographs.

I’m not including photographs of his since I couldn’t quite tell if it would be transgressing copyright to reproduce his work here. The Ansel Easton Adams web-site provides lots of images, if you are interested, at:

Despite his lack of formal education in the arts, whether consciously or not, his photographic images carry the stamp of 19th Century emphasis on Divine Proportions, the Golden Ratio and geometric composition.

Installation Art – again

May 9, 2008


I’ve been exceedingly happy as my garden reveals itself for the first time to me. I took possession of the house in July last year. The spring flowering was over. Much of the summer flowering was gone too!.

I knew that the family that had it previously had cared for the garden to the extent their time allowed, but it was overgrown and I had no idea what kind of perennials were lurking just below the soil waiting for the sun and rain to nourish them into exuberant plants in spring.

Well here we are, and already I have a profusion of colours, shapes and forms.

For the past three weeks, this lovely Camellia shown above has been producing exquisite flowers. The tree is rather messy – it deposits flowers on the ground without hesitation. They don’t seem to have an attachment to the stem that works. I was out cleaning up the resulting mess two days ago, gathering up these brilliant blooms and discovered that it wasn’t just the ones that were tired, weak and brown edged from relative old age that were falling. Some perfectly good , flawless blooms were falling too. I hated to waste them.

Since no one is here to tell me that my playfulness is silly or stupid, I started to play with them on the lawn, racking them up in a grid on the fresh and lusty grass; and eventually I tried out some changes in the grid; and then I made a face with them.

It’s impermanent. The only thing that will last is the photo recording my half hour of playing with the fresh blooms. The next day there was a whole new crop of fresh and exquisite blooms delivered to the asphalt driveway. Each day, I’ve been picking them up and adding them to my grid of flowers. I figure, I might as well enjoy them as long as I can. There’s no use in packaging up this soft pink fragile beauty in a clear plastic garbage bag for disposal. They haven’t had their time yet.

And so I’ve laid them out on the lawn for a second go at enjoyment of the. I’ve also taken a hint from Fiji where I vacationed lately. There’s no need for a vase. The weather is cool enough and very wet. They’ll last without further coddling. And when they are done, well, they are done. Then I will rake them up and put them in the compost. Do you think my worms would like the festival of flowers?
Here are some of the things I’ve done with them:


This is day 3 and they are still and I place the fallen ones each day. Wouldn’t it be something to cover the entire lawn with this expanded grid?

More on Edward Abbey – on seeing the beauty around us

May 9, 2008

As I pedal my way to slendericity on the recumbent bike in the gym, I’m slowly reading through Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, a beautifully written autobiography, you might say, about his stay in the desert Arches wilderness of Utah.

It’s slow going on this book because I only read it when at the gym rotating the pedals, normally three times a week; but this past two weeks for a couple of reasons, I didn’t go. So it was with great pleasure that I took back up this book to read his very sensual description of a trip by raft down the Colorado River.

Throughout his text, he discusses the need for pristine wilderness for the nurturing of our souls. He likens it to a Cathedral, a better one than the stone and glass varieties that Man has built through the ages. Traveling with a companion, he has braved a number of falls along the way; and explored some of the tributary canyons. They have some difficulty in paddling against the current to go up the Escalante River. Here he finds a dripping spring two hundred feet above, cascading down not only water but a rare panoply of ferns, moss, columbine and monkey flower. His wonder at the beauty of it all leads him to say:

“Is this at last the locus Dei? There are enough cathedrals and altars here for a Hindu pantheon of divinities. Each time I look up one of the secretive little side canyons I half expect to see not only the cottonwood tree rising over its tiny spring – the leafy god, the desert’s liquid eye – but also a r ainbow-colored corona of blazing light, pure spirit, pure being, pure diesmbodied intelligence, about so speak my name.

If a man’s imagination were not so weak, so easily tired, if his capacity for wonder not so limited, he would abandon forever such fantasies of the supernal. He would learn to perceive in water, leaves and silence more than sufficient of the absolute and marvelous, more than enough to console him for the loss of the ancient dreams.”

The place of God.

I remember in my Twenties visiting my father’s church minister. It was mid-Nineteen Seventies and I had been disaffected from the Church. I didn’t feel the Spirit was there and I found the repetitive nature of the services did not reach me nor nourish me. I had no trouble with the rules of conduct, but I rather felt the Spirit was more manifest in Nature around us. I drew my wonder and belief in God from contemplating the incredible biodiversity and the forces of Nature here on Earth and in the firmament.

The Reverend was surprisingly understanding and left me with a blessing, encouraging me to ensure that if that were so, I should immerse myself in my meditations of these things one day a week, so that I maintained and enriched my spiritual health.

I’ve not regularly maintained my communing with Nature on a weekly basis, but I have maintained a deep love for it. If driving through a beautiful landscape, my eyes are full of it, absorbing it. Ditto, when I take the time to wonder at the incredible specificity and variation of form in my garden. Beauty may be in the strangest of places. When the ability to see beauty seems to be “out of luck” because of the paucity of one’s surroundings (such as in urban back lanes or in concrete jungles), you have to go looking for beauty. It’s there.

When I am drawing a form, a flower, a leaf, an animal, a landscape, it is my meditation. It is my way of penetrating into the size and shape and of the object, its texture and pattern, its subtlety of color, the light and dark of it, the warm and cool of it. The wondrous object is the temple and the drawing is the song of praise.
Of course, mankind knows how to mess up his surroundings and make them ugly; so how do I account for that? I’m just not going to go there right now. I haven’t thought it through.

It’s just that, when I read Edward Abbey’s very visual descriptions, it was as if I were standing in the same place that he had trod. I could imagine the beauty he was seeing and be thankful for it and be thankful that he paints in words. I thought to share it with you and encourage you, if you also got pleasure from contemplating his idea, to find his book and read it.

Edward Abbey died in 1989 but his writing lives on and has as much impact for me as if he had written it yesterday, not in 1968.

Ars longa; Vita brevis

Art is eternal; life is short.

Drawing, Bristol Life drawing site and Coldstream

May 2, 2008

I checked into this post today and found a lot of good writing on art. I recommend it to you and specifically about Sir William Coldstream. I made this comment on the essay concerning him:

The obsessions of artists are fascinating. I can’t fault Coldstream (who measures everything and spends a huge amount of time on the mathematical aspects of his work) for his desire to get the proportions correctly, but it seems he has gone further than that.

  • It must have been crippling for (his) students learning to draw, feeling that everything had to be measured and “correct”. Yet, I found that when I was learning and frustrated in my own drawings with “getting it right” I took a ruler and measured until it was “right”.
  • Later when I was teaching, I preferred to use a wide variety of examples for teaching students to draw figures. I emphasized the drawings of masters where “mistakes” could be seen underneath the final result so that students could see that even the masters didn’t just automatically “get it right”.
  • There is value in the struggle to observe, to coordinate hand and eye in placing marks upon the support for the drawing by use of the eye alone (without thumb or ruler). Working directly gives the students a more forgiving start in their explorations and helps them build their confidence. If masters could make mistakes, then their own could not be so dire.
    In looking on Coldstream’s works that you have provided (in the blog), there is a curious mix of rigidity and stillness that bespeaks his meditation on measured form. On the other hand, his manner of applying paint is much more freely applied than one might think for a painter whose basic precept is careful and studious measurement. I would rather have thought he might be looking for that licked quality of Dominique Ingres, the French Pompiers or the Classicists.

An artist needs countless hours of figure drawing from a model and countless hours of drawing from observation of landscape and still life. Drawing, in my opinion, is the most important aspect of art – the basis from which we branch out into other aspects of art like painting, pastel, watercolour and other image making. Or one might look at it as if painting is simply drawing with pigments; pastel, drawing with chalks. Cartooning is heavily based in drawing; Ceramics with imagery glazed on its surface requires good drawing.

It is the art of observation that shines through, that provides the grounding for the work of art and makes a work either sing with beauty or fall on its head.

It makes me think of Don Hutchinson, one of British Columbia’s finest potters and educators in ceramics. He has often used the blue heron or the frog as his imagery on his beautifully formed pots.

He told me once that he had drawn the frog hundreds of times before he could draw it without thinking and it was only then that he dared apply the image to his pottery.

Each and every ceramic piece of his carrying either of these symbols looks as if he painted them without hesitation. They are fresh and lively and beautiful – and all because he did so much groundwork in drawing to be able to effortlessly reproduce the image with a few sure flicks of his glaze laden brush.

Even thinking of it makes me want to get out my materials and get to work!