images and thoughts from Sean Kramer
"Humans do not live very long,
and having seen just a part they boast of having seen the whole."

"We make assertions and denials of what is next to it,
but never of it."
Dionysius the Areopagite

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Warm-up drawing symbolism, continued: 'Zen circles'

                                               ('Zazen bell with enso', photo by Spoktu)

Zen brush painters have a practice of painting freehand circles, sometimes as a warm-up for other painting, and sometimes as a painting in itself.  We can do the same with whatever drawing or painting tool we are using.
Let us consider the difference between drawing circles with a compass and drawing (or painting) circles freehand.

When drawing a circle with a compass we begin by marking the center.
We place the point of the compass on the center dot, and turn the compass to draw the circle.
The starting point of the process is the visible mark of the center--the dot we marked, or at least the spot where the point of the compass is touching the paper.
The drawing of the circle begins with a visibly indicated center.

When we draw or paint circles freehand there is no visible center--the center, which is the 'principle' or origin of the circle, remains invisible, unseen.
The center must be intuited.
So, in the drawing of the circle freehand, one is guided by one's intuition of something not seen and not drawn. The center also remains unseen to the viewer of the drawing--yet the person viewing the drawing can, through looking at the drawing, come to the intuition of the center that the artist had and was guided by when making the drawing.

Drawing the circle freehand, then, is a good image for the saying of Dionysius : "We make assertions and denials of what is next to it, but never of it."
Our words and concepts and images are like the drawn, perceivable, circle.  They are not the center--the center remains unperceived and unnamable--yet our perceptions and images can, like the drawn circle, awaken our intuition of the unseen center.
By beginning our art with the practice of drawing freehand circles we remind ourselves to awaken the intuition of the unseen and unseeable, and to let this intuition guide our art-making.  And maybe our images can be occasions for awakening this intuition in those who see our work.  Then our art will really be not about the drawing or painting at all, but 'about' (that is, 'around') what can never be painted or imaged or said.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Warm-up drawing and its symbolism: Intro

                                       ('Doodles # 2576' by the artist himself)

Here are some drawing warm-ups I like to do:
-spirals wrapping around spheres

These have practical value, and they can be good ways to make your doodling moments constructive--I find they help my hand and my imagination.

But they can also be seen and practiced as symbolic meditations--so I will do a number of posts on the symbolism of these shapes, and especially on the practice of drawing or painting them as itself symbolic.

Monday, May 13, 2013


For this painting I covered a panel with copper leaf, patinated the copper with weak acids,  and then painted over it with oil paints.
It is inspired by an old black and white photo of my friend Amy's mother, on the day of her first communion. It is 16x20 inches (and available to purchase).
I will begin with a poem:

When I am asleep
I can see through the walls
Outside are birds
Some fly through the air
Some stand in the grass
Looking at me