Entre chien et loup

Summer Rain (A5 sketchbook page, ink and watercolour, 2020)

Entre chien et loup – between dog and wolf – is simply a term for twilight or the golden hour in photography, but what an evocative phrase.

I feel it could apply to any transitional stage when things are lacking in clarity, don’t you agree? That point on the path from agnosticism to faith, perhaps, when you want to believe but still entertain doubts. Or playing a musical instrument when you can’t quite get through a piece from beginning to end without pausing to re-arrange your fingers on the keys. Or, as this is an art blog, a point between one stage of your development and another when you can’t quite throw off the old or fully embrace the new.

For some years now I’ve tried to loosen up my drawing and painting style. I’ve enrolled on courses at places like Seawhite Studios, where I’ve been taken firmly by the hand and pulled outside my comfort zone; attended life drawing classes, where the teacher would tell me – 20 minutes before the end of class – to rub out my dreary charcoal drawing and start again, producing something rushed, yes, but also free-spirited and dynamic.

In the end though, the decision to take the next step has to be one’s own. Like a baby bird on the edge of its nest, you have to make that leap and expect to fly. With me it works intermittently: a year ago I sat in the autumn sunshine in the gardens of Versailles and drew crows pecking around for crumbs. As crows don’t stay in one place for long I had to draw quickly and the resulting sketch was lively and bold by my standards. A few hours later I did a drawing of a rotting pear (which moves less often than a feeding crow) and fell back into my old ways.

Versailles crows (A5 sketchbook page, pencil, 2019)

But once you’ve made that leap the results are wonderful to behold. A few weeks ago I watched painter and printmaker, Rosemary Vanns, drawing artichokes. Barely looking at the paper, her hand moved with confidence producing firm lines that suggested rather than reproduced the vegetable in front of her. Of course this is practice, but it’s also confidence, knowing you can do it before you start. It’s recognising – intuitively perhaps – the path you want to take and boldly moving one foot in front of the other.

Rosemary Vanns’ charcoal drawings of artichokes on her studio wall,
September 2020

That is the secret you need to know to take that important next step on whatever journey you’re engaged upon. That belief that you can do it, that you can keep your gaze fixed on the artichoke and allow your fingers to move and they’ll produce something that suggests what you see before you. Believe, just believe.

So from where you’re standing, is it a dog or a wolf?

36 thoughts on “Entre chien et loup

  1. Thank you!! I am returning to art and drawing after it was literally reawakened in a hedgerow when visiting Scotland. In some ways, I am trying to discover my voice. This was a great discussion on not getting caught up in habit or limitations.

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  2. I do love those crows. I think we’re always in-between. If I’m wanting something to be right I tend to be tighter. If I’m just playing around, I will be more free. Perhaps the secret is freeing ourselves from any expectations. But that’s easier said than done. (K)

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  3. How lovely to hear from you again and providing excellent food for thought. I am currently staring at an overworked portrait that looked better yesterday when it still held some potential and trying to convince myself that I’m learning more with every mistake. Thank goodness tomorrow can be a new day.

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  4. Such a well-written, thoughtful article – and charming at the same time. I shake things up photographically by using different lenses or in-camera filters or doing new things in processing. But I have done quite a bit of drawing in my time and it’s not the same as what you’re talking about, not at all. Putting that mark on the paper is an entirely different experience. I hope you keep moving into wolf territory – the crows are terrific. Maybe I’ll go see Rosemary Vanns’ website. Take care and stay well!

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  5. Thank you, Michael. Your reflection at the end makes me think of this scene between Sam And Frodo in Lord of the Rings, of course I think Tolkien is thinking about evil/free will/salvation..
    Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
    Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness, and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
    Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
    Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.”


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  6. You describe so eloquently exactly what I’ve been struggling with for some time. I’ve never felt able to show my attempts at letting go, but you’ve reminded me to not give up and believe that I will get there if I just keep trying – but it is very difficult. Your crows are a delight!

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  7. Your post spoke to me in so many ways, Michael. For one thing, I am using my ‘pandemic down time’ to learn French and was thrilled that I could translate the title of your post! But as you mention, with new endeavors, you have to pause and think about things. I was talking to my fluent French speaking daughter this morning about the verb “rentrer”. French r’s give me much grief so I have to speak it very slowly, like repositioning fingers on the frets when changing chords!

    Also, just talking about doing the drawings to suggest the image instead of trying to reproduce it encourages me. I did a painting of a pineapple a while back that was quite horrid! I got another pineapple for the holidays and want to try again. I think this time I will follow your suggestion to just suggest the fruit instead of trying to make it realistic.

    Once again, your art inspires me. The back stories you offer delight me. Always so glad to read your posts.

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    • Thank you as always for your kind and thoughtful comment, LuAnne. I’m glad the post spoke to you in this way (and congratulations for learning French – that IS impressive!).

      I really don’t see the point of trying to reproduce exactly what you see before you. I know there are many artists who do – and the best of luck to them. But who really needs a realistic painting of a quince or a pineapple when they can look at the real thing? Interpreting something, offering your vision of a thing, filtering the object through your sensibility seems far more interesting to me. Look at Cezanne’s apples. No-one would mistake them for real apples and no-one will ever convince me that anyone can ever paint an apple that is more appley than Cezanne!

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    • Hi LuAnne, how kind of you to get in touch. I’m well thanks and have just posted something after many months. I’ve just retired from my full-time job so I’m hoping to do more art and perhaps even have something worthwhile to say about it! I hope you’re well too. I must catch up with everyone on WordPress. Love and best wishes, Mx

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      • Just read your post. It was very inspiring. Enjoy your retirement. I’ve been retired for about four years now. I was telling my husband just the other day that I wonder now how I ever had time to work.


  8. My three responses to your terrific post:
    Come to the Edge
    We might fall.
    Come to the edge.
    It’s too high!
    And they came
    And he pushed
    And they flew.

    Christopher Logue “Come to the Edge” frequently misattributed to Guillaume Apollinaire

    Sail in a new direction
    Simply by sailing in a new direction
    You could enlarge the world
    Allen Curnow ‘Landfall in Unknown Seas’.

    Come on in. Jump!
    You can do it. It belongs to you too.
    Paddle, splash about, swim, dive, surf the swan’s way.
    Reach and grasp and grab and seize
    Or stand about, trousers rolled, toes curled in the sand, water lapping your knees.
    The choice is yours.
    Start – stick your toe in.

    Permission to Play

    Language is what we humans do.
    At your own pace. In your own way.
    Mute dialogues shunning shower or let the thunder mutter

    In petal-fall just Spring or Unleaving
    – Wait! – That’s not a word…is it?

    It is now.

    Liked by 1 person

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