Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Figure Drawing from DVD

Drawing the figure from photos is far from optimal because the camera compresses and eliminates so much information, particularly about depth. But for Christmas I received (from Dearest) a DVD of model poses, photographed in series of 24 shots evenly around the pose, and lit well to reveal form and contours. Faces, in particularly, have been my scary spot, so I decided to start there. And I have almost no experience drawing profiles. Hence this first drawing from the poses. More to come. The likeness and rendering satisfied me, but this is SO not relaxed or confident... I have a long way to go.

Pencil lines on copy paper (these are just exercises) - no smudging allowed - 8.5 x 11 inches. Click for larger image.

On a different side of things, I have only some vague idea how to chase my father in painting... I think I have to just dive in and see what happens.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cedars in Snow

Moleskine sketch after our Christmas evening snowfall (first white Christmas in the Triangle since 1947, I heard). Our tall red juniper outside our library window was weighted down with snow. The red lights kept on shining through the gloom. Click for larger version. Pencil, felt tip, and red Prismacolor in moleskine - 10 x 8 inches.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Happy Drawing for Mr Steve

Pip drew me a happy drawing, because he heard I was sad. I was very glad to get it today in the mail.

Yesterday we had a funeral mass for Dad, and a reception and family gathering afterward. The time with distant loved ones really does help. There is good reason behind all these traditions.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dad Has Left Us

I got the first call Friday, on my way to the airport in St Louis. Dad had slipped into a coma, and his breathing was suddenly different. I was on my way home, with two colleagues. I was glad they were there when I heard the news. As usual, for me, I felt a big blank, but this one had a sound of distant roaring static behind it. When I got to the airport in Raleigh at 9:00 PM, I called Mom and everything was still stable, but unchanged. Dad had had a few words for other family members that evening while I was on planes, but mostly he remained asleep. I have lots of siblings and loving in-laws, and Mom was being kept company around the clock. She advised me to go home and to come in the morning, because his coma was deeper and he was not rousing, as long as I was OK with the possibility of him passing away before I could get there. I was wiped out from a week of travel, and I had said goodbye the weekend before, because Dad already seemed different, and much more frail to me.

I slept like a stone. My sister's call woke me at 8:00 AM; "Dad's gone." My sister has one of the softest, most soothing voices, and somehow it was the best way for me to find out. I felt nothing but a snap, like the sound of a door being blown closed suddenly.

During the drive down to Mom and Dad's I had my first lengthy moments alone to feel and think, and driving opens parts of me. I was driving our old van, which makes even 45 feel and sound fast. I wanted to drive fast, on and on, more and more assertively taking curves... No, I wanted to take a powerful speedboat and roar flat-out straight away from shore, lunging for the open water and the sky ahead... No, I wanted to be flying a fast plane, open cockpit, heading up and out... That wasn't enough, either - I needed to be heading out to space at the speed of light...

And I realized I was chasing Dad. I needed to go fast enough to catch up with him. The static rose up from my chest and roared in my ears and all around my head. I was suddenly terribly lonely. I came to that same meadow with the herd of black angus cows and calfs, where I'd laughed last week at the little ones prancing around in the newly fallen snow, and found them all lying quietly. The sky was overcast with one of those quilted looking cloud banks that only form in the winter and I was suddenly grateful it was not sunny and beautiful. I have felt that the world has done some of my weeping for me, raining softly for the last two days.

I thought long and hard about this painting by Andrew Wyeth, which is owned by our state museum, and has long been one of my favorite pieces there. On the wall beside it the sign says, "Winter 1946 is one of the artist's most autobiographical works, painted immediately after the death of his father, the celebrated illustrator N. C. Wyeth. According to the artist, the hill became a symbolic portrait of his father, and the figure of the boy, Allan Lynch, running aimlessly 'was me, at a loss—that hand drifting in the air was my free soul, groping.'" Wyeth painted in egg tempera, with tiny brushes, and he said of this hill that he spent months working through his grief, painting every blade of grass. In the car I felt just like this, groping, searching, running, wanting to paint every tiny leaf of my father back into existence in some way. Over thirty years ago, when I first saw that painting, I knew it somehow held my future story, as well.

Yesterday was a hard day, especially for Mom, full of change and parting. The end, even when it's long anticipated, is so sudden and so final. The change for my mother is so hard, after more than fifty years of marriage, and three years of nursing Dad, the last three months round the clock. They truly were like two halves of one loving human being. "I don't know how to be one person," she said yesteray evening. "You'll learn," said her sister Rose, very gently.

Today, as I write this (the writing like laying another stepping stone on my journey of grief) it feels more like the painting at the top of this post. Dad has changed, and flown on, and we will only be able to catch up with him when we, too, have shed our current shapes. His body is now like the last garment he took off, the one he wore the longest, and wore out the most completely. But it's also part of him, and his last location with us, and we will preserve the ashes of it in memory.

For now the static is back to a quieter roar, something I will wade through, up to my chest, but not something that interferes with normal thought. I can keep walking. I know I will have days where I will run, hands loose and groping in the wind.

But soon my hand will take up a brush, and I will start to chase my father.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Descent into Grief

My heart must reach the bottom of my grief before it can turn toward the light. It knows this, but it hates the dark, and refuses to go down, clinging to ledges for weeks or months at a time, keeping me running and waiting at the surface. Running in my war paint, my face turned helplessly away from the event that I cannot stop, weaponless against the passing time, wearing this stubborn mask without tears.

Yesterday I visited Dad and found him greatly weakened, sleepy, with his humor and spark dimmed. He asked about work, and the recent changes in the company, and so we talked shop for several minutes, though it tired him. I realized later that it might have been the last time I ever do that with my Dad. My heart was quiet while I was there, but during the solitary drive home, through the falling snow and the deepening gloom of evening, I felt a pressure build against my chest.

Later that evening, after dinner and chores were done, my heart lost its grip of the slope, and the pressure sent it hurtling backwards, falling into the dark. My painted face at the surface caught a glimpse of life without my father, and it froze, still unable to shed tears, struck by the loss, feeling an emptiness.

And meanwhile the normal events of my life continue, and they give me a fierce, exalted, primitive joy. On my road home I had passed a hilly field of black angus, with tiny calves frolicking in their first snowfall, dark gamboling shapes against the spotless white, and I laughed out loud. The stark light and dark of life and death casts things into sharp immediacy, and the shadows are colored, painting my face, dying my heart now blue, now purple.

The tears will come later, or I will paint them into being. I am waiting for the falling to stop, and for my heart to cower and cringe again at some darker, deeper level of the pit, though I sense it will still be far from the bottom.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Dietzes

It was snowing, and that meant shovelling out the Dietzes. I would walk backwards against the wind that howled around the big bend in the road, and then struggle up their steep driveway to the detached garage. I knew where the snow shovel was. Everything was neatly stowed, exactly where it was the previous time, as if time stopped between my visits. I also knew where the Dietzes were; in their 80's, with no family in the state, they couldn't be anywhere but in their house. Smoke from the chimney confirmed it, and I knew they would be in their kitchen.

Mr Dietze liked his long walk shoveled just so. Perfectly crisp on both sides, right to the edges of the meticulously laid blacktop. I started at the garage door, clearing the side and front of the perfect little building, then I'd start the long job of clearing the path to their front and back doors.

Halfway to the house I had opened my jacket, and the cold wind felt good. At some point Mr. Dietze would have appeared at one of the windows, and waved. By the time I finished and went inside, I was tired and damp with teenage perspiration.

"So, Clemens, you've come to try your luck again, gambling your wages, eh?" he would greet me, in his merry way, German accent around the edges even after over fifty years work in NY State as a tinsmith and roofer, now retired. I had tried to correct him about my name, but had given up. They were nearly deaf, and they just didn't remember the correction from one visit to the next. It was easier to be Clemens. I found out, later, after we had moved, that Mr. Dietze had somehow found out my real name and was puzzled and a bit hurt that I hadn't set him straight.

The air indoors seemed opaque with heat and haze. Both Mr. and Mrs. Dietze chain smoked skinny hand rolled cigarettes, filling them from big yellow tins of Top tobacco. Mrs. Dietze would set out a plate of the usual thin dusty cookies, with only the most generic of brown flavor, and Mr. Dietze and I would begin the games. I can't recall what I was offered to drink.

The first time I shovelled for them and Mr Dietze suggested we play, double or nothing for my wages, I was panicked and confused. I'd just worked pretty hard for several hours for the five dollars I hoped would buy some books. My father had handed down his science fiction habit, and I had it bad, but not wanting to hurt the feelings of this puzzling, charming old man, I agreed. We played card games. We played a game where a steel ball rolls uphill as you let it slip between two metal rods, with Pluto or Neptune as your goal, so you can beat your last score of Saturn. Mars will lose you the round, for sure. We played scrabble, full of interminable pauses, and Mr Dietze making up outlandish or plausible fictitious words to see if I would call him on it. Then he would get out his big, dog-eared dictionary, eyes twinkling, and wet his thumb and look for the word, hoping that this time there might actually be such a word. Every so often he would stop to roll and light another of his skinny cigarettes - I don't recall him ever needing a match. After the first winter I knew he would always let me win, and I usually left with exactly double my wages, even though I might be double or quadruple in the hole before it all came out right, and it might be dusk before he finally let me get ahead.

The long afternoon would end with Mr. Dietze showing me his latest animal tricks. With infinite patience, he had trained his large fantail goldfish to sit in the palm of his submerged hand. He also could lure chickadees and titmice to take sunflower seeds from the corner of his mouth, or from his outstretched hand.

My final task would be to go back to the garage for two large bottles of Genesee, from the stack of cases neatly stored beside their dark blue VW fastback. He inevitably slipped me an extra dollar for this last trip.

Then I would head home, worn out, glad to have given them something different to do, but hoping it wouldn't snow again too soon. Because when I got to our house I would strip off my smoky clothes in the cold sunporch and dash upstairs for a shower, and it would take at least two days to get the smell out of my hair. Many times, in those late 70's New York winters, snowflakes would be in the air again before the last visit's smoky trace would fade from my pillow.

(Painting above is "Winter" - one of my first watercolors after I started painting again. It's always a New York winter in this piece, even though that's a North Carolina winter sky, and the trees are loblollies from a recently logged portion of Duke Forest. The stairs are just wishful thinking.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Self Portraits of Whom?

Wednesday evening I drove through heavy Atlanta traffic to reach the Buckhead Diner for a 6:30 reservation. I was meeting a special friend I had not seen in several years. The conversation was only the slightest bit awkward for the first ten minutes, and then we talked like we'd seen each other last week. But there was so much catching up, and so much fascinating comparison of notes, that the valet parking closed before we moved from the table, the manager brought us our keys, and I believe we were the last patrons in the restaurant, nearly five hours after we sat down. We thought two hours had passed.

One of the hundreds of things that came up during the evening was that my inner artist does not look like I do on the outside. For one thing, I know the artistic inner me is clean shaven. I'm sometimes startled to see my beard in mirrors for this reason. He's also got darker hair than I had even before I started going gray - almost blue back (mine was dark brown before it went gray in my early thirties).

This led my friend to ask a brilliant question, "So when you do a self portrait, who are you painting?"

I was dumbfounded for a moment. I started to talk and had to stop, grin, and look off to the side for a minute. Then I laughed and said I had never thought about it. After a few more moments I explained that I was painting my external self, the way I see it. But I was not painting my inner self. I said I'd never tried to paint the inner self.

Since then I've given that further thought. (One of the great things about my relationship with this friend is the number of things he's placed in my closet of "things to ponder.") There are actually several internal versions of "me" and each has a different appearance in my mind's eye. For instance, there is Virgil Tangelo, who is certainly an internal Steve, and has actually been one way I see myself since junior highschool. Virgil has a beard, but it's red. He lives a romantic roving life, like some early 20th century British adventurer and explorer (or at least he does in his head). The Virgil side of me is closest to the surface when I read certain fiction, and when I travel through some new place alone, especially if I get lost and enjoy it. I've drawn or painted Virgil four or five times, now, including the two examples here. (Two more paintings with Virgil here and here.)

And there are aspects of my interior sense of self which emerge in the portaits of my external face. All of the portraits emphasize or play with certain visual elements. And one of the fascinating things about self portraits is the way they reveal how the artist "sees." It can be jarring for others, including a portrait subject, to view the results. History has many instances where a subject, or the subject's family, hates a portrait, and has it destroyed, or refuses to accept it (or pay for it). I just read about one of the last annual portraits of Elizabeth I, which was rejected by the queen because it made her look too old. She did not see herself that way.

We all have a self, I think, which is not the same as what we see in the mirror. Many people I've known admit to having several different inner selves, as I do. For me, the self that paints is possibly the deepest and strongest - the one that I can trace furthest back into my past. And while I do have a sense of how that "me" looks, I have never tried to paint that portrait. The artist has never done his own portrait.

So I will have to see what happens, now that this notion has been laid before me.

Illustrations in this post:
Self Portrait 5, Self Portrait 1, Self Portrait with Colored Beard, Virgil's Escape, Self Portrait 2, October Trip Painting 8 (Virgil Rides a Friend)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Painting the Bench at Wilson

When I sat down on the large central lawn of Duke University's East Campus to capture students painting the big wooden bench in front of their dorm, I knew I would have to work a lot from memory. They kept moving around. I might have 20 seconds, if I were lucky, on any given pose for each figure in the sketch.

So I worked fast, and since each figure is captured in the spot they were then, but the other figures were from moments earlier or later, this exact arrangement of the figures never occurred. That's one of the odd things about this kind of sketch - it's a scene stretched over time. Like a novel written from different character's points of view chapter-by-chapter; it's all the same story, but the figures move through it one at a time, never quite all at once.

This sketch is also featured at our sketch and photo blog about Durham, NC - "Top of the Triangle"

Friday, November 19, 2010


Another subject that keeps coming up in my paintings is the wind. I've had strong feelings about breezes and wind all my life, particularly as it affects trees and grass around me. I immediately relate to human beings who have sensed a presence, a deity, in the air. Few things exhilerate me like a blustery sunny day in autumn.

But I'm never remotely satisfied with the results of my various attempts. Some have been pretty wretched, in fact. This is the latest, and it's not so much done as I'm done with it. It's overworked and scrubbed, in person. I had to fuss too much to find it. Completed (or worn out) in August.

I expect this to come back again. Maybe next time I can do better with it - get closer to what I mean, to what I feel, and handle it more spontaneously, with the paint handled more rapidly and with more confidence. Lay it on and leave it...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sunny Spot on a Pebble Beach on the Linville River

The last of the mountain trip sketches... We always spend some time on the Linville River, skimming stones, wading (no matter how cold the water) and playing Pooh Sticks from one of the pair of high bridges. This time, as Dearest waded, and Youngest rock hopped dry footed into the middle of the river, I sketched some of the wildflowers and leaves. Rosettes of primrose leaves, dried stems of grasses, the light violet blooms of New England Asters, and fallen sycamore leaves gave me plenty to observe closely. A small bumble bee even got into the drawing.

As usual, it felt like five minutes to me, but it was actually closer to forty five. drawn in my horizontal book, "Horizon I" with 2H pencil. About 6 x 16 inches. Click for a closer view.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Life Is about Art

(Chicken-pot-pie, eaten at the dinner described below...)

We were having one of our animated dinner table conversations about life, the universe, and everything, and something caused Oldest (22 and a Sophomore at the NC State College of Art and Design) to toss in the comment, "Life is for art." It took me several twists and turns in the conversation to catch his tone, and to come back, during a pause, to say to him, "You really meant that, didn't you." He just shot me a grin and that laser look in his eyes, the one that's always been his silent equivalent of, "D E F I N I T E L Y." I mentioned Oscar Wilde (who wrote that life imitates art - for example, that London hadn't been foggy until artists painted it that way...), and then the conversation moved in other directions.

But I keep coming back to his remark, and I've told the story to a number of people over the last few months.

During a recent drive to Atlanta, GA and Columbia, SC, I was listening to From Eternity to Here, and therefore thinking about space, time, entropy, determinism, Special and General Relativity, gravity, quantum mechanics, the Big Bang, and more. Several times I had to turn off the rental car's CD player to howl with laughter and delight at some revelation of how things fit together, or to gasp and stare amazed out the windshield while ideas moved around in my head and I tried to predict the twists I thought the author (Sean Carroll) might propose next. Some of it was really hard to follow (especially since I couldn't see the diagrams) - but other parts made sense to me and the epiphanies were like seeing the Grand Canyon appear through parting mists...

And during one of the noisier moments, when I was awestruck by the mathematical concepts that allow all things (even black holes - maybe especially black holes) to be described in terms of "information," it struck me that riding along with the "everything" and the "information" are complex human concepts like emotions, and philosophies, and ART. Many layers of meaning are held by creatures of great complexity and then communicated using intentional arrays of the stuff of the universe. And other people GET THE MESSAGES. The SCALE of what is going on when we describe the ineffable in a work of art... and when someone else GETS IT... From the Big Bang to this? Even when something simple, like making an image with a knife in a pie crust, is noticed by someone else (message received - even if it's not much more complex than "flower"), we are playing a marvelous, clever game in a playground incredibly rich in forces, atoms, and "information."

I could hardly breathe. I thought my smile might endanger other drivers (and leave permanent stretch marks on my face).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blowing Rock

We take our autumn vacation each year in Blowing Rock, NC. It's a pretty town, beautifully set, with lots of colorful maples in the fall.

Mountain towns are different than Piedmont towns, the two having been settled and founded by diverse groups, with almost opposing views on issues like slavery, the purpose of the farm, and styles of local government. 150 years after the start of the War between the States, the architecture is different, the landscaping is different, and even how you are greeted on the street is different in Eastern NC vs. Western NC. I recall my first semester at UNC Chapel Hill, where the two cultures meet, how people from the two halves of the state seemed to stick together in their own groups. As a transplanted Northerner*, I had never noticed it before then.

This sketch is my first attempt to capture a view of Blowing Rock. I have always felt the camera can't capture enough in one shot, and photographs have always disappointed me. This is the Blowing Rock Museum (on the right) - a tiny white building which is only open a few hours each week. The larger building to the left is the Martin House, and has been home to some of our favorite shops over the years. In my mind's eye I can leave the boundaries of the sketch and head left down Main Street to Kojay's Coffee. Or I can move just a little to the right and see the playground where our children have played every autumn for almost twenty years, and where the line of benches is set to observe the street over the beds of Japanese anemones and bleeding hearts, a perfect place to eat our regular dose of Kilwin's ice cream.

* I feel like a person of dual citizenship. I moved to NC as a teenager, and I learned the manners of this slice of the South. I would not willingly move from North Carolina, and in my head I hear a line from an Indigo Girls song, "When God made me born a Yankee He was teasin'." Yet when I visit the Midatlantic States, particularly NY north of Westchester County, or the west half of Connecticut, I feel at home there, too.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Big Pumpkin

Every few years I find a pumpkin stand with the big deep orange pumpkins I love the most (not the dull brown-orange ones you find everywhere) and I splurge on a large one. Then I put it in the house and enjoy looking at it and thumping it gently for weeks after I buy it. As Oldest put it, "It's wonderful that there is a fruit that gets that big." This year I put it on the hearth. I put a little one near it so you can get some idea of the size.

I compared this to Don Kennedy's photo from the NC State Fair of the prize winning pumpkins. Mine isn't that big by a long shot, but it's plainly a close cousin, and it took two adults to carry mine into the house... It's silly, but I love the color (it's close to my favorite color in the universe, which is a particular shade of orange - some goldfish and some nasturtiums are also very close), and I just get a big grin every time I look at it. That's hard to put a price on, but I'm definitely getting my money's worth.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

More Grandfather

On one end of Granfather Mountain is the attraction the Morton family built years ago to support their protection of the rest of the mountain. It's been updated and added to for decades, and it's better every time we go.

The "Mile High Swinging Bridge" is less scary since they replaced the board bottom with steel sheets; but it's still too much for many people, and most cross it carefully, with looks of concentration. Some revel in the height, others try not to look out to the sides.

On the other side you can look down on a smaller peak, and cliffs, and hills around Linville Falls Community beyond that. It's impressive. I stood there at the big stone wall and drew this sketch. People came up to talk to me and I found I could keep right on drawing while carrying on a conversation. I doubt I could do that at the start of a drawing, or with something more complex, like architecture or figures, but it worked well with this scene.

As with all sketches, my memory of the event and place is much more vivid than anything I've photographed.

The other sketch here is also of Grandfather, from the guardrail near the Linn Cove Viaduct. I started it in a howling wind, with wind chill probably in the thirties. I had to stop when I could no longer feel my fingers. I finished it almost a week later, when we came back on a much nicer day.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Been Forever...

It started with a two week vacation in the mountains, away from electronic distractions, with lots of time hiking and outdoors. Then there was so much to do when we got home, and so much business travel, that I have not been back on line even for e-mail more than two or three times. No time to write blog posts.

But I did do a good bit of sketching on the vacation, in a new horizontal format book like my large moleskine (about 6 by 16 inches when it's opened up - I call it "Horizon 1"). And I painted one watercolor that seemed like it painted itself, and says a lot about what I "see" when I drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, which we were on several times a day for two weeks. I'll post the painting later.

Much of our activity during the vacation is on and around Grandfather Mountain. We usually avoid the tourist attraction itself (though we did visit this year, at Youngest's request, and we had a great time on one of the most strenuous trails - that's another post) and instead we prefer to hike the Tanawha Trail (13 miles long, skirting the mountain lower down) in pieces from various starting points. Our favorite portion is Rough Ridge.

Here are two sketches done from the Rough Ridge boardwalk (recently repaired, and with a new bridge to a large rock). Both are done in pencil (click for larger views). The first is looking southwest, and shows the Linn Cove Viaduct - one of the engineering marvels of our time. The other shows part of the boardwalk stairs and a bit of the new little bridge. This (and the Bass Lake at the Cone Manor) is the hike we do the msot often during our vacation each year.

The last image here shows the fall colors this year, which came on VERY fast (just two or three days from green to this) and vanished just as quickly. In seventeen years of autumns in this area, we have never seen one this fast. Usually it takes about two weeks to do what this autumn did in about eight days.

I never tire of seeing Grandfather Mountain, in all his grandeur and craggy beauty. It's definitely one of the most impressive and inspiring peaks in the East. It's never the same twice.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cicada Early Stages

A lot of my paintings are like found objects - pencil and paint handled almost subconsciously until things begin to emerge. Other come to me whole and then I plot and create them from the internal image. The Cicada painting is an example of the latter.

Here is the page from the moleskine, where the idea came to me - back on August 1st. (The octopus, by the way, was a doodle - he may also have a future in some other work.)

And here also, is the line drawing that was done in prep for the painting. I do not usually outline shapes in my paintings, but this one is all about the shapes and their edges - the individual cells of the cicada's wings, etc. So this one is inked (in green) prior to watercolor. Even my signature, in this case...

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Haw

Youngest and I took the canoe and paddled a bit over a mile up the Haw River from the bridge and dam at 15-501, South of Chapel Hill, NC. We began that ride with me capsizing the canoe, and dumping us both into two feet of water. I had been trying to get into the water from the bank, without getting my feet wet. "You did it wrong," as Youngest put it. We were cool for most of the trip as a result, regardless of the 85 degree heat and bright sun.

We worked our way between rocks and small islands up to where the slope finally climbed out of the long pool created by the dam, and the rapids started again. We nosed the canoe into the rapids and let the current turn us back. Then we pulled up on a muddy bank and sat on a long peninsula to eat our packed lunch by the sound of the rushing water. Everything tastes better outside.

Later, on the way back down the river, we stopped at one more large stone island, where Youngest thought the best sketch would include the canoe. Then he looked at me with gleaming eyes and suggested that only the boat (an unnatural Coleman green) should be in color. Here's how it turned out - and Youngest was right.

All of these sketches were done in my small moleskine, 3.5 x 5.5 inches on each page (these are double page sketches, hence the seam in the middle of the drawings). Fortunately I had the foresight to put the sketchpad in a plastic bag, securely sealed and with air in the bag to float it. The floating didn't turn out to be necessary at our accident, but the bag did.

Here, finally, is the last sketch of the day, of Youngest paddling the canoe alone, threading our way back through the rocks (and doing as well as I had earlier) while I drew. I'm not happy with this one - it misses what I wanted, and has a whole host of errors - but I like it anyway, because it reminds me of the day, and the bright beach hat Youngest wore, with flourescent colors, which attracted a butterfly (a semicolon) which sat on the side of his hat for almost five minutes.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bugfest 2010 - Raleigh NC

Dearest, Youngest and I went to Bugfest 2010 in Raleigh today. The NC Museum of Natural Scinece puts it on every September, and it is by far their largest event. While the other two went in and braved the crowds at the exhibits, I stayed in the pedestrian way between the museums and sketched this scene. The museum is a lovely building - modern with classical sensibilities, to match the older wing it adjoins. I'm really pleased with this drawing - I'm getting the hang of using different weights of line, and have given thought lately to what I like in the sketches of others. And I discovered that a start with pencil, and then finishing with pen, provides more judgement and opportunities for leaving things out (I get to give every line a second thought).

As I was finishing this (which took a little over an hour), I was joined by two young boys. The six year old spoke to me first, and asked what I was doing. He showed me the machine gun he had made in a recycled materials booth nearby, and then watched me draw. His four year old brother draped himself with affectionate ease over my back and shoulder so he could look on as well, and chattered quietly in my ear. Several more boys, unrelated to these two, came and joined in. One said he also liked to draw. I asked him what he drew, and he said, "Faces. I could do yours." I got out my moleskine and handed him my pencil. He produced this sketch of me in about 5 minutes, and signed it, "Mike." It's the only thing in my moleskine that isn't by my hand. I like it, and I'll do it again if the opportunity arises.

It was a memorable day. I was there in the crowds for nearly two hours and it felt like twenty minutes.

Later, as we were leaving, two women came up to us and said they had also watched for a while over my shoulder, and that they liked my work. I had been unaware of everyone except the people I was memorizing to add to my "crowd," and the one guy who sat down right in front of me, blocking my entire view (I politely asked him if he could move over a few feet - he got up and left...). I really have gotten over my discomfort with drawing in public. Ever since Chicago...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Stowe Gardens and Belmont

After helping Daughter move into college, we took Youngest and spent the next day in Belmont, NC, at the Stowe Gardens and in the village for lunch and a little wandering in the heat. Here are my moleskine pages from that day. One sketch is of the sheet of water that pours out of a hole at the top of the orchid wall in the conservatory at the gardens. If you have a chance to tour Stowe, the price is reasonable, and it's a world class garden in Southern style. There are many fountains, which made it bearable even in August (before noon!).

Here is a photo I took from a different vantage point - and missing the odd bark-like top of the structure.

The sketch on the right hand page of the moleskine is of Youngest on a play structure in the Stowe park in the village of Belmont. Belmont has an unusual density of beautiful houses, gardens, and buildings for a place of its size. The sketch on the right was done in about 3 minutes, and I cheated a little and asked our son to stay still for 45 seconds or so. The garden sketch was done on a bench in the conservatory, and took about 10 minutes. Youngest sat beside me and did a detailed sketch of a banana palm leaf hanging down in front of his face.

It was a good trip, and helped transition from leaving Daughter at college...

Click image for a closer view.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Drawing from Memory

Youngest saw my "Keys to Drawing" book lying on a side table, and started reading and doing some of the exercises a few weeks ago. That was a surprise. He achieved right-brain shift on some of the first exercises, and was excited by that.

I've been looking at the book as a way to consider habits in my own drawing and sketching, to shake up my routines, and to get more of those valuable little tips that make the technical and mechanical side of drawing easier, so it can be the tool it's meant to be, and more of a pleasure, too.

Youngest got to the Pepper Challenge and needed some produce... I bought two peppers at the farmer's market this Saturday that would work.

The exercise was to look at a pepper and then walk away, wait a while and then draw it from memory. The last step is to draw the pepper again, this time from life. The instructions advise us to draw it at least life sized, and preferably larger than life size. While the book did not say to draw it from the exact same vantage point both times. we decided to set things up to do that, so we could consider the differences from memory vs. from life.

I was pretty sure I would not recall the shapes and relationships, but as we looked at the peppers I concentrated on a few critical points and proportions. That served me fairly well during the memory exercise, though shapes are oversimplified. I sense that I could get considerably better at this. Figures would be the subject worth the time (much more complex than peppers) - people don't stay still for prolonged studies in airports and restaurants...

This last drawing here is the one from life. Between 5 and 10 minutes, I think (we lost track of the time - stopped when Youngest was through). Pencil. More than 200% lifesize. I noticed when drawing from memory that I couldn't make myself draw them this large, though I intended to do so. I suspect I felt exposed for the details I would not recall, so I kept them smaller (just a little bit larger than lifesize).

Comparing all three of these images, I see that certain things strike me and I emphasize them. That's why a drawing is a record of someone's seeing. You see what matters to the viewer, where their eyes spend time, what they like, hate, wish...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pirates or Ninjas

One of the first questions Daughter had to get settled with her assigned college room mate, when they connected on-line prior to moving in this year, was, "Pirates or Ninjas?" They both answer that question Pirates (so do I). Other friends of Daughters say Ninjas over Pirates.

Somehow this all came together in my head with Yin and Yang and I realized that I could produce an image of this question with cats, using the pirate patch for the little bit of Ninja, and the eye hole in the Ninja wrap for the little bit of Pirate...

So I made this and sent it to Daughter.

Pen and little Prismacolor on a white cicle of card stock (from that Swoozies present Summer sent me - thanks, again!)

So what's your answer?

Friday, August 27, 2010


This painting came to me while looking at the amazing wings of Cicadas (that middle "a" is pronounced long here in the Southeast). Actually I've been trying to do this image in some form for years now (without the insect - that seemed to be the unifying element, finally). It comes in part from looking at Paul Klee paintings of houses and roofs and lollipop tree shapes, and it comes from stacks and piles of houses in coastal villages in France and Italy (though these don't look very much like Southern Europe).

Anyway, this was fun to paint. My favorite thing might have been drawing the cars...

Watercolor on 140 lb. Arches hot press - 19 x 19 inches. Some green lightfast ink outlines.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Ugly" Tomato

My chief pleasure every week is the Saturday morning walk in our village of Hillsborough followed by the visit to the Eno River Farmers Market. I'm wearing the market's t-shirt right now. We know more and more of the farmers/vendors by name, like Marsha who sells cut flowers (we always get enough for our wall sconces and a large vase upstairs), and Rachel the fellow homeschooler who sells fresh eggs, jams, lemon curd, and the best meringues I know. We get butter beans, zephyr squash, fresh greens, eggs in mixed colored dozens, French bread or ice box rolls, Carolina Gold potatoes, cucumbers, blueberries and strawberries, when each is in season, origami dragons, caterpillars that turned into Painted Lady butterflies a few weeks later and which hung around our flower beds after release. We discuss how favorite vegetables or fruits are doing, and how many more weeks we might be able to get a particular thing before it's time in the seasonal round is done for another year and we have to wait for it to show up again.

But the best thing is being with my Dearest for the walking and talking, and then sharing all the colors and sounds of the market with her. There is almost always some kind of live music, and that adds to the festive atmosphere. It's a little country fair, with just the right amount of new and old each week. And that could be said of the conversation, as well, as we discuss the week past, and the weeks coming up.

Several weekends ago I bought my first big yellow-orange "ugly" tomato from Marsha, our cut-flower friend. Gladiolas, zinnias, hydrangea, celosia, Queen Anne's lace, rudbeckia, and a big fat irregular tomato. It made two killer sandwiches, but before I ate it I enshrined it in both my moleskine, with pen and ink, and attempted to capture it in watercolor in another sketch pad. Like all sketches, they pin down the memories for me, making them far easier to reach again later - but these recollections have taste and fragrance, too. It was a hot afternoon and looking at these images I can smell the tomato and feel the long slow moments and hear the silence in the house when I worked and reworked the watercolors until I wore the paper out in several places. I can feel the weight of the big beautiful thing in my hand.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sketching continues...

We have this amazing bean out on our deck. This is just the top 6 feet or so. It starts on the ground below the deck, and climbs about 10 feet up to the bottom of this sketch. It has, since this drawing, climbed higher, reached out five feet in all directions looking for something else to climb, succumbed to gravity and put down long tendrils that reach the deck rail and start back up again.

I understand where the Jack and the Beanstalk stories come from. This beast is almost as fast as kudzu.

When I sketched this, which took about 30 minutes, I noticed at completion that the long tendrils had changed shape and moved. I'm not sure I would have noticed that (how fast they grow and change) if I had not been so focused and had a plain and accurate measure of previous location.

Hyacinth bean - large moleskine - fine black marker. If plants were track stars, this would be a sprinter.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

CHICAGO! - Art Trip - Ride Home

I was ready to head home after Saturday (July 10th). It was great to be someplace exciting, and to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but I missed having someone to share it, and I was starting to talk to myself. (Even in Chicago or New York people will look at you on the sidewalk if you start talking to no one and you don't have a Blue Tooth in your ear.)

The trip back was all about airports and plane rides. O'Hare is a busy place (for years it switched back and forth with Hartsfield-Jackson, in Atlanta, for busiest airport in the world - Atlanta is the top). Sketching people there was fun, and even easier than it had been on the way out, largely because I was warmed up and over my inhibitions.

This young man (on the right hand page) had a pink and brown plaid hat, red (crimson) short cropped hair, and was wearing capris and Argyle socks. His t-shirt had a stylized mobius strip on it that said, "Eat, read, sleep, eat, read, sleep, eat, read..." Chicago streets were a riot of tattoos, piercings, creative hair styles, and personal dress styles, on people of all genders. It was fun.

Planes, like people, don't stay still long, especially when they are no longer at the gate. So this one didn't give me enough time to give it side windows (poor passengers). What was fun about this view, and the challenge of this sketch, was to get the shape of the foreshortened plane. I love their shapes. After it left, I focused on the tails of all the United jets at the opposite concourse, and the truck with the hose on the back. I particularly like this one. It's a larger format, too, in a sketch pad.

I graduated from just drawing the seat in front of me to trying to capture the cabin around me. That was fun. Most of my fellow passengers fell asleep. I probably should have done this in the large moleskine, but this is the small one (4x6 inches both pages together).

In Detroit I nearly missed my plane, because I didn't realize we were no longer on Central Time. That surprised me. I was about to take and hour and do a watercolor of the bright red tram that runs back and forth inside the long concourse in Detroit (an almost totally white interior, except for that red red train), when I noticed a local clock and realized it was only 10 minutes till my plane boarded.

On the flight from Detroit to Raleigh we flew over one of the Great Lakes, and I saw had some awe inspiring views of clouds and shorelines. I was surprised and delighted. I tried to capture an impression of the shore, island, and clouds in this sketch. There was a small city on the shore.

And that's all from the Chicago trip. The coolest thing is that I've continued to draw and sketch. But that's for other posts. I'm almost two weeks behind on those...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

CHICAGO! - Art Trip - Part 5

Four of my favorite photos from the trip to Chicago... It's not a coincidence that they're all vertical.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

CHICAGO! - Art Trip - Part 4

I could go on and on about Chicago. My Saturday was a 14 hour day in town - I probably walked more than 6 miles altogether, all over the Loop, into Greektown (lamb for lunch), and ultimately down to the lake shore. I had an Irish dinner at Katie O'Shea's, outside, where I ended up the only remaining outdoor patron when a ten minute rain shower scared off everyone else (I just raised my umbrella and kept eating my sausages and pretzel in Guinness mustard and piccalilli). Earlier in the day I caught some of the Transformers 3 filming (supercars and an 18 wheeler (Optimus Prime) roaring around corners of blocked off LaSalle and Jackson streets). Got some great photos, more of which I'll share in later posts. It was a very full day.

I had started it with a tour of the public art in the Loop, which I had printed from a blog and brought in my pack . It began at the Art Institute, where I sketched this Henry Moore sculpture. Henry Moore believed that art should have titles that made the viewer think - rather than giving too much away. He felt a good title might keep a viewer engaged longer, letting the art sink in and have its desired effect. He has been one of my favorite sculptors since I was a teenager, when I sketched and drew from photos of his work. One of my favorites is at MIT, in Cambridge, MA. His compositions live in the same place in my mind and heart that certain poetry does - Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, and Kenneth Rexroth, in particular.

The art tour wandered through Millenium and Grant parks to the Aon Plaza, where I sketched the interesting waterfall, and some of Chicago behind it. These falls are over stacks of dark stone, cut in uneven octagons and other polyhedrals. It was already getting hot, by then, but I was so focused I didn't notice the shade had moved off me until I finished the drawing and I was dripping wet. This is one of my favorite sketches from the trip. The morning light was beautiful on the older architecture on Michigan Avenue.

After the tour, I ate in Greektown and then walked along the river and passed most of the famous bridges, stopping to do a watercolor of the bridge on Clark Street, from the Chicago Riverwalk. These bridges are amazing, mostly built back in the 1920s, and full of large rivets. The towers on either end are the best on the older bridges, like this one.

The sun was hot, and I had a hard time with this painting, using the kit's tiny brush. I finally got out my bigger brush and then it went better.

Before dinner I bought another moleskine (a wonderful red one) and started it off with a sketch of one of the bronze boys holding spraying fish, on the large sculptural fountain (Fountain of the Great Lakes) in one of the courtyards at the Art Institute. This is in pencil, and the paper was so smooth that it was hard to get any dark shadows. I love the boy's embrace, and the lively reaction of the reluctant fish.

Then the ultimate triumph, for me, was that I stood on the street in front of the Institute, with my moleskine held at eye level, and drew the lions. While hundreds of people passed me, I ignored everyone and drew. The green one isn't as good as I'd like, but the black drawing is a good likeness of my favorite of the two lions - the one on the north side of the entrance.

Then I was finally too exhausted to do any more, and I took the train back out to the hotel.