Drawing as prayer, play and thought

“Drawing is prayer,” Delacroix famously said. He could have added that it’s play as well. And thinking.
The Giaour on Horseback, by Eugène Delacroix, c. 1824–26, by Eugène Delacroix, pen and iron gall ink with wash over graphite, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Shelving books this week, I came across a small volume of drawings by Eugène Delacroix. I flipped it open and the better part of an hour was lost.
Delacroix was a Romantic painter. He is considered the last of the Old Masters and the link between Romanticism and the Impressionists. He rejected the more-structured romanticism of Géricaultand the classical coolness of Ingresin favor of frenzied brushwork and explosions of color. But there is nothing modern in his painting; it is far too topical for us to dive right in. Delacroix was a man of his times—perhaps the illegitimate son of the great diplomat Tallyrand—and it’s hard for us to skim past the allusions to Shakespeare and Greek myth and find the passion within. But it’s there, a kind of fervor we usually associate with Spanish visionaries.
Louis of OrlĂ©ans Unveiling his Mistress, by Eugène Delacroix, c. 1825–26, courtesy Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection
Still, he’s a cool observer of the human condition. Consider his portrait of the 14th century Duke of Orléans, above. The historic figure was a young, debauched, power-hungry prince. Delacroix portrays him considering a young woman as if she were a side of beef. It’s both a well-realized portrait of female powerlessness and a devastating attack on the French nobility. Delacroix was both politically incisive and technically proficient, a combination that is largely lost today.
Evolution of an idea: the following illustrations take us through Delacroix’ thinking process. Study for The Sultan of Morocco and His Entourage, by Eugène Delacroix, c. 1832–33, brush and brown ink, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
But it was his drawings I was interested in. Immediately before his death in 1863, he wrote a will ordering the contents of his studio to be sold. At the sale the following year, an amazing 9140 works were attributed to him: 853 paintings, 1525 pastels and watercolors, 6629 drawings, 109 lithographs, and over 60 sketch books. “Color always occupies me, but drawing preoccupies me,” he frequently said.
Study for The Sultan of Morocco and His Entourage, by Eugène Delacroix, 1845, graphite, squared in white chalk, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Delacroix’s drawings and sketchbooks outline a classical artistic training and developing career. They include academic nude figure drawings, écorchés and compositional studies for his paintings and murals. They included drawings from life and nature, and the many, many drawings he created from his imagination.
The Sultan of Morocco and his Entourage, by Eugène Delacroix, 1845, courtesy
Musée des Augustins de Toulouse. By this time, the French and Moroccans had been at war.
They weren’t, by any means, all graphite pencil drawings. Many are in ink or wash and demonstrate a calligraphic assurance. Others are in watercolor. “Drawing is prayer,” Delacroix famously said. He could have added that it’s play as well. And thinking.
He couldn’t leave the idea alone. Study for The Sultan of Morocco and His Entourage, by Eugène Delacroix, c. 1855–56, graphite, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.
If you’re serious about painting, you ought to take him as an example and draw every day. Yes, it’s important to learn to lay down paint, but drawing is the foundation from which painting rises.

Monday Morning Art School: why not be an artist-in-residence?

Artists’ residencies allow us the chance to live and work outside our usual environments.
Victoria Street, oil on canvas, was finished during my 2019 residency at Parrsboro, NS.
When I was younger, I avoided artists’ residencies. We had four small kids, and as with most households with children, money was tight. I was already away from home too much. In fact, I was always juggling lack of time and lack of money. What I thought I needed was more uninterrupted time in my own studio, not to go gallivanting off to another part of the country.
Looking back, I wish I’d chosen differently. Money woes have receded into memory, and the kids are (for the most part) successfully hatched. But I still don’t have time to paint as much as I want to. Other commitments have neatly encroached. When I moved to Maine, one of the things I decided to do was allow myself the option to paint elsewhere for at least a few weeks every year. That meant, in part, artist-in-residency programs.
The Black House, oil on canvas, was finished during my 2019 residency at Parrsboro, NS.
Art residencies allow us the chance to live and work outside our usual environments, with all their stimuli and demands. They give us the time to think quietly. I’ve used them to produce different work or explore specific themes in my work. They’re often aimed at young or emerging artists, because they can have a profound long-term impact on future work. That doesn’t mean that older artists should avoid applying. A glance at the list of past recipients will answer any questions about the organization’s ageism.
Each residency’s funding, conditions, and jurying is unique. Likewise, different hosts ask for different things in return for the residency—a teaching program, a painting, an exhibition, or a public presentation being most common. Some ask for money, but in my opinion, that’s not a true artists-in-residency; it’s a workshop or paid vacation.
Rachel’s Garden, watercolor on Yupo, was finished during my 2018 residency at Rolling Acres Farm’s Joseph Fiore Art Center.
In general, you’re provided a place to live and work for free. In many cases, you’ll receive a small stipend. You pay your own travel expenses. You’re not limited to the US in choosing an artist residency. You can go as far as you can afford to travel.
Typically, you must submit a project proposal, resume, and some kind of statement of intent that’s tailored to the residency you’re interested in. Don’t be discouraged if you’re rejected. My acceptance rate is about one in three.
Ottawa House, oil on canvas, was finished during my 2019 residency at Parrsboro, NS.
In some instances, the artist can use the residency for his or her own purposes, without any obligation to produce actual work. But why would you want that, when your goal is to become a better artist?
Residencies can provide artists with networks and audiences that they otherwise wouldn’t develop. I love the Canadian Maritime provinces. Painting in Nova Scotia made me many good contacts in that art community.
Where should you apply? This searchable database of international residencies is a good place to start. Many American and Canadian national parks offer residencies, as do some state and provincial ones. If you’re a resident of the state of Maine, you might be interested in an artist residency at Rolling Acres Farm in Jefferson. They have artist residencies for Maine residents, as well as a resident gardener’s position to fill. Past residents are listed here.

My first painting of January

My recent works have been in shades of white, and that’s sadly not about winter.
A problem hidden behind a wall can upset the most carefully-crafted schedule.

One of the problems with following other artists on social media is that you can really feel out of step. Earlier this week, many artists were posting their “last painting of the decade.” Immediately on the heels of that, many started the Strada January 31-day challenge.

Daily painting exercises are great, especially for plein air painters. When the world is a swirl of grey, it’s sometimes hard to remember why we paint. Here on the 44th parallel, we’re up to about eight hours of daylight right now. The temptation to wrap oneself up in front of the fire and read can be overwhelming.
My last work of 2019. I call this Fifty Shades of White, because it’s difficult to match whites. On the other hand, the new woodstove is a great improvement.
Think of daily painting exercises as playing scales. No matter how excellent your teachers are, you won’t get better if you don’t practice. You stop being anxious about the results and concentrate more on the process.
Routine is not our enemy; in fact, whatever makes you work regularly and most productively should be embraced. That’s the message of the book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
As much as I admire the January Strada challenge, I never play. I invariably find myself mired in a big home-repair project at the New Year. I’m done with Christmas, and I’ve had a few weeks without students. I can tear things apart and make a colossal mess, something I can’t do in the summer when the push to produce and sell work is on.
My first painting of January started by pushing things around in my studio. I’m doing it in thirds, and it took all day for me to empty the first third.
In December, we had a new woodstove installed. As often happens, there was a problem hidden in the wall.  That meant plasterwork and an unscheduled repainting of the room.
I’d also planned to paint the floor of my studio. The prior owner and her grandkids had painted flowers on it years ago. It was sweet, but the radiant-heat floor had developed a crack. Its surface was battered with years of hard use—fine for a studio, but not for selling paintings.
Primed and painted and then I toddled off to bed. More of an oyster than a true white, I think.
Most fine-art painters I know are also good wall painters. We know how to use brushes, and are used to prepping substrates. It makes sense to DIY, and we’re lucky to have this useful skill set. But, like everyone else, we have other things we’d rather be doing. For me, that’s more painting, but with a smaller brush.
There’s no dawdling for me this weekend. I’m teaching in here on Tuesday morning. (If you’re interested in joining this local class, there’s information here.) There’s nothing like a deadline to speed things up!