What sources help create your imagery?

The imagery that I work with comes almost entirely from observations of patterns in nature, some of which are very specific and others of which were more generalized for artistic reasons of expression, composition, and form. The imagery also comes from the ways in which I organize those observations as movements, improvised within the possibilities of drawing and painting…

  • Recently the patterns are from many forms of geology, such as planar surfaces, waves, branching, cracking, and various rolling and oscillating formats related to the collisions and interactions of many kinds of rocks and minerals.
  • Hiking and exploring, I collect photos and other samples of visual patterns, that I then rely on to study and create the layering of each artwork.
  • The drawing methodology is action-oriented, based in ‘gesture drawing’ approaches involved with movement.
  • Those patterns and their movements become like phrases in a musical composition, that I combine and recombine freely through visual improvisation and planning.

At the same time, a great deal of study goes into understanding the patterns that I observe — reading, and other people’s naming conventions, understandings, and research all play a part in developing the imagery.

Here, for example, is an image from doing field studies:

Silurian Era coral fossils along Lake Michigan, in Northern Wisconsin, where I grew up.
Double-pointed quartz crystal in dolostone, from nearby New York state
Stem fossil, also from Lake Michigan / Northern Wisconsin area.

The chain-like coral fossil, when studied, reveals patterns of growth related to loops piling on top of each other in long upwards-going towers… the surface of ‘chain’ patterns on the top of the rock is only the upper-most layer. The crystalline quartz results from immense pressure and heat and millions of years of time that intensifies and solidifies the atoms and molecular patterns of minerals within tiny pockets within the stone, edging from center to outer points of each crystal. The circular growth ring of the third fossil results from flat sheets of cells rolled together into tubes to carry water and other fluids necessary for its survival… flooded over time with other minerals.

What these images look like explains only a part of my process. I am not copying or representing these forms so much as relying on their visual aspects for inspiration, for ways of creating layering and intersecting patterns, and for larger-scale patterning such as how igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks undergo pressure, fracturing, conglomeration and much more. Those bigger patterns are often types of slow-wave oscillations that result in these forms, along with (as in the case of fossils), all of the biology and evolutionary processes of randomness and natural selection. I’m more interested in the organizing and disorganizing forces found in nature as sources of types of visual patterns than the exact details of the look of a specific individual form.

That means I’m not drawing ‘what this crystal looks like’ or ‘how this fossil is somewhat circular and radial.’ Instead, I’m drawing variations on movements: the oscillating pattern of a crystal’s or fossil’s or stone’s development, such as how the crystal’s edges and axes are limited by its chemistry: waves ending in two opposing points. Or, like sedimentary layering pulled into various stripes, or like wee molecules spreading apart, dotting across space similar to stars across the night sky. There’s a play between organization forces, like gravity pulling forms together and compressing, versus disorganizing forces, such as gasses pushing apart and dispersing.

To me these sequences of events are incredibly beautiful and intricate and well-worth our attention and awareness.

But they are a lot more like an improvisational dance, borne out of movements that the mark-making documents, than it is like an illusion of what things looked like or felt like. Thus I don’t say that my artworks are ‘abstract’ (in fact, the act of making them is highly specific), although, the resulting imagery feels abstract due to our cultural unfamiliarity with patterns of movement, growth, and decay. In many ways the process of art-making like this is more of a kind of documentary non-fiction than otherwise. From a technical viewpoint, as different than linear perspective, or constructive drawing, or contour drawing, I’m focused and using gesture drawing, which excels at movement-marking and movement-thinking. The main source of that conceptualization of drawing is from Nicolaiides famous book, The Natural Way to Draw, which I was lucky to read when I was a child.

And like a music or dance performance, or a story that has a distinct beginning and ending, I set a time-limit for the making and performing of the artwork’s many patterns: for smaller works, this is often a week or two of timing, whereas for larger works, perhaps several months. The choice of timing is one of the main structural choices within which all of the improvisation occurs, setting our expectations and possibilities. Another structural choice is the geometric format of the composition, and the specific properties of the art media (I’ll write about square compositions, and using media such as silverpoint), in other posts.

You could say that I’m a star-gazing rockhound who reworks beautiful patterns for artworks, but saying so might miss the paradoxical relationships, the idiocy, and the randomness that dance into every artwork too. The improvisation can be so open-ended that there’s a level at which I really cannot verbally explain why I do what I do, except that it seems beautiful and interesting to me, and includes a deep opportunity to learn and participate in this small portion of the world.

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