Responding to Rutenberg: Drawing vs. Painting

ID #110


Brian Rutenberg, in his Studio Visit #18 , quotes a German artist, Walter Sickert, who said, “Drawing is about captivity. Painting is about freedom.”  This one little quote has stuck with me and caused all kinds of back & forth in my brain as I consider what’s being said here. I don’t think Rutenberg is in any way pitting the one against the other to somehow say that one is better than another.  He is merely putting forth a fundamental difference in the ACTION of or the RESULT of drawing & that of painting.

He says, “I’m really invested in that notion of capturing something and using that as a springboard into the process of abstraction.”

I love that.  Brian calls himself a Painter.  Every time I hear him say that, I find myself wanting to say…”And I am a Drawer.”  Which doesn’t mean that I do not paint…I do and love to paint! But fundamentally I love to capture the Beauty of the world around me whether it be recognizable things, places, people, or events which are inherently lovely OR whether it is something I’ve had to hunt for in the midst of the mundane in life, or even in the painful places of life.  I feel it is my job to look for and capture any hint of Beauty by drawing it in my sketchbook or on larger pieces of paper or canvases.

I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE Brian Rutenberg’s drawings of trees (you can see a few of them in the documentaries).  They are exquisite.  I have done a fair amount of drawing/painting trees and they are some of my favorite works.  As I look at his “drawings” of trees, they seem very painterly to me.  This distinction between what is considered “drawing” and what is considered “painting” is not a black and white issue to me.  I believe one can paint with a pen, a pencil, and with charcoal…mediums that are typically associated with drawing.  And I believe one can draw with watercolor, acrylics, and oils…definitely paint substances.  Is it merely the presence of line which marks a drawing?  Is it the evidence of brushstrokes which denotes a painting? Or is it a massed-in approach (blocking in the large shapes before the smaller ones) which deems a work a painting?  Or…what?  I’ve settled on it being a fuzzy area and which really doesn’t need to be defined.

But if I go with Sickert’s definition here, I have to say that I am definitely a DRAWER.  My eyes are constantly on the lookout for things/people/events/places that I want to capture in my sketchbook or larger papers or canvases.  Yet even Sickert’s definition may be fluid.  As I capture these moments by drawing them, I experience a sense of freedom.  As if, the simple act of drawing (or painting:) sets me free to say “yes” to the moment, to accept where I am, and to fully inhabit the gamut of life’s beauties.

So…was I drawing or painting the first image?  How ’bout the tree…did I draw it or paint it?  It really doesn’t matter.  I was definitely capturing something, whether it was an idea about the tangle of creative thoughts or an assertion of the wisdom and experience of an old tree.  In capturing these, I was also freeing them to exist somewhere other than in that space and time AND freeing me to embrace all the wonder that life has to offer.  I do enjoy thinking about these things.  It seems that Mr. Rutenberg does also.

Thank you, once again, Brian.

And here’s a quote by Edgar Degas I came across recently…good stuff to think about:

“Drawing is the artist’s most direct and spontaneous expression, a species of writing: it reveals, better than does painting, his true personality.”
(Edgar Degas)

Responding to Rutenberg: Limitations


In Brian Rutenberg’s Studio Visit #16, he begins the talk recounting some casual banter between friends over dinner one evening.  The subject was “limitations”, which he says “Every artist has” and that he is continually inventorying his. I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard him say this, wondering what, if any, limitations to being the artist he wants to be, he might have.

It was incredibly encouraging to hear an artist of his stature speak of limitations.  Though his list of limitations has largely to do with ways in which he would like to expand artistically, I nevertheless found it amazing that he often goes through the ways in which he feels limited and yet finds a sense of “spaciousness and comfort” there.

What I find myself listing as limitations in my art is largely in the categories of station in life (ie. motherhood), resources, and opportunities (living in a small town as opposed to an art mecca such as NY).  Nevertheless, I was encouraged and inspired by Brian to think of these boundaries or limitations as places where I actually can find freedom and “permission”.

He says, “Because perhaps it’s the intensification, the concentration of those limits, that give our work its truth and its humanity and its vigor…and content.  It’s that continual longing to break from those inescapable things, those limits, to get better, that I’ll never be good enough, that it’s the longing to get better, the longing to speak more clearly, more directly, with less, that keeps me going.  It’s very comforting, these notions.”


To say that his words were encouraging would fall short of the affirmation I received on hearing that all artists struggle with, or are at least cognizant of, limitations. And then, to be inspired to think of these limitations as places of “spaciousness, comfort, and permission” is something I’m carrying with me every day as I go about all the motherly and household duties, as I go about teaching art to young children, and the myriad of other things that seem to come between me and being the artist I long to be.  He goes on to say:

“So for me it’s not the question, “Are there limitations?” The question for me is, ‘Do I inhabit my limitations?’ And I think that’s the really important point: one must utterly inhabit their work.”

These final words on this subject were incredibly centering for me.  I now have this wonderful call to INHABIT my limitations each and every day.  To embrace them, and to create works in my sketchbook that continue to grow out of those limitations.  I may not be working on huge canvases and exhibiting them in galleries and shows, but I have the same call to create art and I must inhabit the life I have in order to create works which contain even a grain of “truth, humanity, vigor and content”.

Thank you Brian Rutenberg.

Responding to Rutenberg

ID #103

I’ve recently discovered an artist whose work and words I’m eating up these days.  To say that his paintings are delicious would be correct…the color, movement, and draw-you-in composings on canvas are breathtaking.  His words are equally inspiring.

Brian Rutenberg lives and works in New York City.  His work is about as far on the other end of my own artistic offerings as one might be.  He has an art degree while I have a French degree. He was a Fulbright Scholar and has made his living from his art whereas I have raised kids and worked small odd part-time jobs while my art-making has been stashed in-between every-which-way.  He works in oils on HUGE canvases and currently I work in a sketchbook. He works in abstraction, with his drawings in charcoal being representational; I draw representationally with forays into abstraction.

We do have a few things in common though: born in the same year, southern upbringing, family people (he is married with two children; my husband and I are raising three). But the largest common denominator is a love for articulating all-things-art.  And this is what I want to share with you…my reactions and responses to a few of the ideas and thoughts he presents in his marvelous Documentaries.

There are 18 of these 10-minute videos of Brian speaking to us about his work.  I’ve watched them all, eagerly absorbing and mulling over the concepts he espouses and describes so eloquently.  You really must watch these.  I suggest watching only one or two and then spend a few days thinking about them and letting the ideas seep into your way of creating.

ID #105

I have also been making more of these Improvisational Drawings (as I’m calling them:).  I’ve started numbering them with ID (stands for Improvisational Drawing) and then a number.  I’ve also taken to writing about each of them on the back, or on a sheet of paper placed in an envelope I glue on the back.  I enjoy creating the words that speak to how the drawing evolved, any thoughts as to why, and specifics about approach, or underlying ideas.  The drawings themselves are in no way an attempt to replicate Rutenberg.  The thing I’m going for is to consider the elements surrounding the drawings, the making of them, the impetus behind them…like Rutenberg, as he so wonderfully communicates in his Documentaries.

My next post will be responding to one aspect of one of his talks. In the meantime, see if you can watch a few of his documentaries.  It will be time well spent!

Drawing Your Life: Mini Lesson #10

All the Drawing Your Life Mini Lessons have now been typed up, expanded, revised, updated and published into an ebook for you!

Purchase this in my ETSY shop HERE.

Just $12 to

Discover Your Life Beautiful…One Drawing At A Time!


Jennifer Edwards

Drawing Your Life Mini Lesson #9

All the Drawing Your Life Mini Lessons have now been typed up, expanded, revised, updated and published into an ebook for you!

Purchase this in my ETSY shop HERE.

Just $12 to

Discover Your Life Beautiful…One Drawing At A Time!


Jennifer Edwards