February 14, 2013

New Drawings

#9, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in. 

When I find compositions within the Islamic design pattern of six circles around one, (you can read in this blog post how I came to be working in this way), I sometimes paint an image that seems to come from another culture, another century. The orange and green shapes, on a dark ground of burnt siena, are for me reminiscent of India. I like how the dark ground becomes positive shapes at the center, creating petal forms around the two shapes formed by overlapping circles, known as vesica piscis

#10, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in.

This composition is much simpler, with just four elements, but it wasn't simple to arrive at colors that worked. When I set up my work table to tone paper, I like to play with different hues and values, and it's great fun to see what my color mixing will come up with. Then I have to decide which colors I will paint the shapes; I have watercolor studies, but they are on white paper, so my approach has to be different once I have the colored grounds. When I began this piece, the yellow was closer to an ochre and the blue more of a blue-gray. After looking at it unhappily for a few days, I realized that those colors were too dull for the intensity of the background orange; once I changed the colors, I was much more satisfied with the piece.

#10 detail

One thing I'd like to point out is that I am a far worse craftsperson than Islamic masters. Those curves are supposed to meet in the same place, so that the petal forms are clearly defined. I can never seem to be that exact, and the centers of my circles wobble about. But I don't worry about it; it's fine with me.

#11, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in.

Color decisions don't only involve hue, but also value and translucency. Here I decided to have dark violet diamonds surrounded by lighter shapes, but the yellow at center is the most intense. It is also the only translucent shape, so that we can faintly see the pencil lines beneath it. 

#11, detail

Some pigments are naturally more translucent than others; I can also add Titanium white to a color to make it more opaque. When I saw that the yellow was tending toward translucence, I used that quality and contrasted it by mixing more opaque colors for the blue and violet.

#12, egg tempera and graphite on hand toned paper, 15 x 15 in.

Two red half-circles balance, tilted, on a stable orange one. All three shapes are translucent, so the underlying drawing ties it all together, and adds a bit of whimsy to the strong shapes. I am still fascinated by the range of expression that emerges in these drawings, all based on the same pattern of overlapping circles.


  1. Sensitive, tasteful and classy, as always.

  2. Beautiful paintings... I especially like #11...

  3. Thanks so much for the kind comments, HTA and Ptolemy.

  4. I love seeing these. While teaching a really fun college seminar on geometry, art, and nature, I've been messing around in the same territory for years, loving the process but not so much my products. Your geometric paintings are startlingly lively and original, and I love them. Thank you, Altoon.

    1. Thanks, Susan, that's really nice to know.

  5. Me too. These are beautiful. I like seeing the outlines through the paint. The last one is indeed whimsical. When I saw the first image my impression was Amish. That's what my brain related to. As far as not being as perfect with the geometry as the Islamist artists were, no worries. Modern art allows all the drips and dropped cigarettes (Pollock), and the imperfections to show. For me this attitude enables the humanity to accompany the intent.

    1. Thank you, Cecilia; I appreciate your response.