Continuing to Abstract

I just had time today to do a couple of sketches and the beginnings of a watercolor. I am continuing to work on the photograph Dad took of Mike* and Mom, during a camping trip in the late 1950s.

I paid attention to that great Bauhaus Master, Paul Klee’s advice: to take my pencil point for a walk.  I traced contours of Mike and Mom, contours that tried make sense in terms of their relationship to one another and their relationship to us, the viewer.

Here is the first sketch:

Sketch: Mike and Mom Abstract

Mike and Mom Sketch 1
9″x12″ 60# Drawing Paper

I didn’t quite accomplish my goal in this sketch. It doesn’t make that much visual sense.

Here is my next sketch:

Sketch: Mike and Mom Abstract 2

Mike and Mom, Sketch 2
9″x12″ 60# Drawing Paper

The expressions aren’t right.

The first stage of my watercolor uses some of the lines in my drawing,

Watercolor: Abstract - Mike and Mom Portrait from Sketch

From Sketches Mike and Mom

but the important lines are missing. The space between my mother’s and brother’s face is a visual feature that will contrast with these lines lines when I finish the piece.


* Mike is my older brother who is autistic, nonverbal and low functioning.

Mike – Close Up

I’m still investigating the photograph my Dad took of Mike and my Mom. I estimate the date of the photo as circa 1958. Mike is my older brother who is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal. We used to go camping. Mike was a handful,  I don’t know how my parents took us all (Mike, Dave, my younger brother, and me) on those trips.

I have spent many years trying to look into Mike’s eyes. If you were to look at him, you would see each eye looking in different directions. It was only on very rare occasions that Mike looked me in the eye. Actually I assume that he did looked me in the eye now and then. The only evidence I have is a photograph from Mike’s 40th birthday party.

autism autistic sibling photograph asymmetric eyes

This is why eyes, particularly my brother’s eyes, are important to me.

In today’s study, I closed in on Mike’s 10-year-old eye.

Watercolor and Charcoal: Portrait of Mike as a Boy

Mike, Close Up
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

Here is the original photo:

Photograph: Vintage Photo of Mike and Mom

Mike and Mom
Photograph on Bond Paper

Abstract Portrait Mike and Mom

The next step in my process of abstracting the emotions from an early photograph of Mike and Mom (see yesterday’s post), is to paint with a broad brush (literally).  For me, the salient features in the original photograph my brother’s eye and my mother’s smile.  Mike is probably about 12 years old here. Mike is my older brother, who is autistic, low functioning and has never spoken.

This is the first stage of the study:

Watercolor: Abstract - Mike and Mom Portrait

Abstracted Mike and Mom Portrait – Stage 1

I filled in the details in the next stage.

Watercolor: Abstract - Mike and Mom Portrait Final

Abstracted Mike and Mom
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I wanted to emphasize the hug, so I outlined it in charcoal. Mike’s eye seems fearful, which isn’t the exact emotion I wanted to convey. I paid more attention to that than his mouth in this study. As for my mother, she has a genuine smile in the photo. But I know how much of a heartbreak Mike was to her and how she was angry at the situation at times. It seems that my skill in not painting true likenesses came in handy today. The caricature of Mom’s mouth and her downcast eyes tell a story more truthful to me than the photograph.

Photograph: Vintage Photo of Mike and Mom

Mike and Mom
Photograph on Bond Paper

Portrait, Mike and Mom

I was thumbing through my (unpublished) book about my early life with my older brother Mike. He is autistic, low functioning and has never spoken. When he was still at home, we used to go camping. My father must have taken this picture of Mom holding Mike. One can tell there is something amiss. Perhaps, since I know my brother’s story, it is only obvious to me.

Photograph: Vintage Photo of Mike and Mom

Mike and Mom
Photograph on Bond Paper

I had been perseverating on exploring the visual and emotional meaning of photographs from the last visit my younger brother, mother and I had Mike (The Visit). [Note – this post may contain triggers as I was very distraught when I wrote it; no disrespect was intended.] I began with realistic renderings and progressed to more abstract representations (Paintings from Last Visit with Mike, Abstract – Brotherly Love, Under Observation).  My goal was to distill the emotional content into the most simple visual form.

Today’s post is the beginning of that same process with a photograph from early day’s with Mike.

Here are a couple of sketches:

Sketch: Mike and Mom Sketch1

Mike and Mom Sketch 1
9″x12″ 60# Ivory Drawing Paper

 

Sketch: Mike and Mom Sketch2

Mike and Mom, Sketch 2
9″x12″ 60# Ivory Drawing Paper

Here is my watercolor rendering of that photograph:

Watercolor: Mike and Mom Portrait

Mike and Mom
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I have always had a hard time drawing accurate likenesses of my mother and today is no exception. However, I am skilled at drawing expressions on my brother Mike’s face, perhaps because I study them so much.

Thirsty Fig Tree

It’s been pretty dry out here in California. The fig tree in the back yard seems to be wilting. It has been doing so all summer. Usually, the onset of autumn begins one or two yellow leaf among the lush green leaves. Today the fig tree looked like yesterday’s limp salad.

Watercolor, Charcoal, Gouache: Fig Tree

Thirsty Fig Tree
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I began this study by taking off my glasses and working with a charcoal pencil to trace the shadows and the dark leaves. I used a combination of fine-tipped ink pens, colored pencils and gouache to populate the tree with leaves.

Here are some of the other fig tree studies I’ve done over the years: Vintage Fig Tree, Fig Season Opens, Back Yard, Screened Fig Tree.

Abstract 092016

I started today’s abstract with random daubs of blue watercolor. After it dried, I used lemon yellow and cadmium red light, also at random.

I used charcoal to outline some of the borders of the watercolor shapes. I tried to avoid constructing any recognizable forms even though the contours suggested certain features of a head.

Watercolor and Charcoal: Abstract

Abstract 092016
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I wonder if it is possible to ‘unsee’ this study as an abstract human head.

Self Portrait Homunculus

I’ve been reading about art and the brain in The Age of Insight, by Nobel Prize winning neurobiologist Eric Kandel. He relates brain physiology and anatomy, and recent brain mapping studies to the way humans perceive and appreciate art on conscious and unconscious levels.

The central sulcus in the human is the crevice that separates the frontal lobe from the parietal lobe. The ‘roll of meat’, or gyrus in the parietal lobe adjacent to the central sulcus is the somatosensory cortex, the target of all the signals from the sensory neurons. Wilder Penfield discovered that parts of the body are represented in terms of the number of sensory nerves in each anatomic structure. The sensitive thumb and tips of fingers command more of the sensory cortex than the legs, for example. The resulting map of the body on the sensory cortex is a distorted ‘little man’, or homunculus. There is an analogous brain map on the frontal lobe adjacent to the central sulcus representing the targets of the motor neurons in the body.

Sensory Homunculus

Sensory Homunculus

With this concept in mind, I photographed myself, emphasizing the most important sensory/motor portion of my anatomy as relates to creating art.

Photograph: Shadow Portrait

Self Portrait Art Homunculus
Photograph

 

Scare

Had a scare today.  While I was at work when I got a call that our loved one’s (C’s) status had changed. She is in hospice care at home.

When I got there, C’s breathing was very shallow. She wasn’t moving and did not respond beyond some slurred words, when questioned.

Just yesterday was having a wonderful time laughing and joking with family who came to visit. She was up for hours.

Watercolor and Charcoal: Abstract Portrait of Mike

Bedside
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

We gradually came to the conclusion that she was just exhausted from the yesterday’s visit. The hospice nurse, whom we called, confirmed that conclusion. I was surprised that a few hours of normal, cheerful activity could take such a toll.

Life will be a rollercoaster from now on, I fear.

Abstract Portrait of Mike

I continue with my portrait series of my brother Mike, below. (Mike is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal.) See yesterday’s post (Evolution of a Portrait Series) for the process I underwent to arrive at today’s watercolor/charcoal sketch.

Watercolor and Charcoal: Abstract Portrait of My Brother

Mike Portrait Abstract
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

Mike often held his hand to his ear. He held his hand in a position in which his pinky jutted out from the rest of his fingers. His hands were very delicate.

Evolution of a Portrait Series

Mike, my older brother, is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal. The last visit with brother Mike was in 2013 (see  The Visit, Note – this post may contain triggers as I was very distraught when I wrote it; no disrespect was intended.)

Below is one of the last photos I took of Mike:

Portrait of Michael and me

 

This is a watercolor based on another photo from that session (Post Doodling):

Watercolor Sketch - Portrait of Brother Mike

Portrait of Mike
6″x4″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

The watercolor below was the first in which I used the abstracted shape of my brother’s head (Planes of Unreality):

Watercolor: Abstract Figures

Planes of Unreality
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Block

Below is a further abstraction of Mike’s portrait (Under Observation).

Watercolor: Abstract Expressionistic Portrait

Observation
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Block

 

Today’s portrait is the current incarnation of my ‘Brother Mike’ portraits:

Watercolor and Charcoal: Portrait of My Brother

Portrait of My Brother
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I love working with charcoal and watercolor. It adds definition to the composition.

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