Monday, May 28, 2018

Spirit Animal

What does it mean when your spirit animal is a creature that went extinct hundreds of millions of years ago?  Trilobites have been an obsession of mine since second grade, when I first learned of them.  I hunted their fossils many afternoons of my childhood, even though I only found one or two poor specimens.  I was never discouraged by that - the hunt was its own reward.  I loved to draw them and daydream about them.

Recently they began showing up in my dreams and thoughts again, and I realized that they've been carrying a message for me all this time.  They embody a certain kind of glee and simple curiosity, scuttling their way across the world's sea beds for hundreds of millions of years.  They were the dominant animal form on Earth for millions of years and evolved into hundreds of species which are still being discovered and cataloged.  They were one of the first creatures to evolve eyes, with lenses made of mineral crystals (the first glasses? goggles?), and sight gave them advantages that made them one of the most successful beings to evolve on our planet.  Their message nudges me playfully when I most need it.

This piece seemed to rush all at once onto the paper as a pencil drawing about a year ago, but then I was stuck for months.  I didn't know how I wanted to paint it.  Then one afternoon I just took a brush that seemed much too large for the job (Frondine - she's a big "bright") loaded her with French ultramarine and painted all of the darkest passages of this in about 30 minutes.  Not overthinking it - just turning the brush this way and that, squeezing and twisting her way through the tight places and filling in the larger ones without fuss.  As if we were feeling all the edges of the plates with bristles and fingers, or doing a maze together, with our hand against the wall the whole way round.  The rest came gradually over several more months, on and off.  When I close the door of my studio, there it is, at eye level, like a big grin from the Cambrian period, five hundred million years ago.

It even has the Emery nose bulb...  definitely a relative.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Owls - Pastel 254

Last fall I was taking the long way home (old NC 10 between Durham and Hillsborough) when a large owl glided across the road, landed on the embankment, and turned it's head to look right into my eyes.  The face was as disturbing and odd as the Great Grey Owl, but they don't live anywhere near North Carolina.  It had concentric dark rings around it's eyes and a flat round face with the eyes and beak in the center.  Here in NC that probably means a barred owl. 

That look has stuck with me.

This pastel seemed a natural result.  There is a very busy, rather terrible pen scribblesketch under this pastel, showing multiple re-positioned owls, some faces with four or more eyes to choose from, and several last minute additions to close the ranks.  One owl turned 180 degrees horizontally and the head 90 degrees vertically as well as changing species.  The owls in the upper left and the lower left went on the page nearly effortlessly, with almost no revisions, but they were nearly last and I was getting the hang of them by then.

All owls here are inspired by actual species with varying degrees of exaggeration as they passed through my mind and hand.  I looked at a crazy number of owl photos one evening prior to drawing this and these don't come close to the weirdness of some real examples online.  And their lives and relationships with humans and pets are fascinating, too.

Owl and Cat Friendship

Grey Owl Family Rescued

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Tap Dancing Bowl of Ice Cream

When I began tap dancing lessons, about three months ago, I felt as well equipped for it as a bowl of ice cream.  Well maybe a little better equipped - I did own a brand new pair of tap shoes, bought the week before class.

I could not hear rhythm correctly (up beat?  down beat?), couldn't keep count, couldn't move my feet in time with the beat I couldn't hear right, couldn't follow what the teacher's feet were doing,couldn't remember three steps in a row (when I learned the third one the first one popped out the back of my head, when I learned the fourth step the second popped out the back of my head... I felt like one of those Play-doh machines with tap steps going in my eyes and being extruded out the back of my head, only two steps actually in the machine at any one time), couldn't balance on one leg, and couldn't relax and let things just happen.  Actually that last one is where the bowl of ice cream had me beat, regardless of the tap shoes.

In school I was usually a teacher's pet, always on top of the homework, usually the best grades on the tests...  it came fairly easy to me.  Except "Gym Class" (called PE, these days).  There I was one of the two or three worst boys in class.  Tap felt disturbingly like gym class, where my intelligence depth was somewhere between shallow and drought.  Could I approach tap with a few deep breaths and good humor and try to just enjoy it?

Fortunately I've had a few recent things prepare me for this public display of ineptitude which gave me hope of eventually improving or at least of enjoying it and devil take the opinions of others (and of my incessant inner critic).  One was buying a somewhat finicky stick-shift growly beast of a car (an Infiniti G37S coupe - my Anginetti, named for an Italian cookie (though she is no lemon)).  I love her and love driving her, but I'm not great at it and that doesn't matter a bit.  The other was taking up Tai Chi (my way) and finding that with practice things start to make sense that made NO sense to me when I started.

So I found that with some remedial work, with encouragement from my wife and son (who had gone through the session before me, and were repeating along with me this time), and mostly with a great teacher who is quite aware of how hard it can be for adults to feel lost in something new, I've been gradually getting it.

It's like discovering a new country - or maybe more like finding yourself on the outskirts of Venice when all you've done previously is hear about it.  I love it.  It makes me feel deliciously younger, playful, gleeful, even.  I went to the local lumber yard and bought a sanded plywood sheet to keep under my studio workbench and slide out for an instant tap floor.  It's all scuffed up already with all the "dig" steps I've practiced.

I have so so so far to go before I sound anything like a tap dancer - but I see how to get there and I'm not in a hurry.  I want to see every window box, smell every rose, and listen carefully to the song of every gondolier I pass on the way into the deeper regions of this Venice.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Fountain of Youth?

I think it's time to blow the dust off the door to Color Sweet Tooth, and open back up.  

I feel a strong urge to go back to the era of blog posts, and longer, thoughtful contributions to the online world.  Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook are like a continuous diet of popcorn.  I'm wanting something more substantial.  And I feel that the major Internet engines, particularly Facebook and Google, are constricting our view of the world and of the Internet, showing less that is simple and solid and good and whittling everything down so all that remains is what's most lucrative for them or what they claim is the most popular.

So I'm thinking of connecting the old way to a network of blogs, with chains and webs of links from posts and websites - a network without the major search engines and the precooked, commercially curated social media platforms, and reading what I find the old way: word of mouth and connections curated by other real people, not algorithms.  The algorithms lately seem more and more demented and shallow.  I'll link these posts on Facebook, to help others make the trip over here, and I'll keep posting images on Facebook, but I'm going to spend more time over here.

And I'll start by describing my surprise pleasure in starting new things that are really difficult for me.  In the last year I've started learning Spanish (not so hard - I took it in high school, so it wasn't really from scratch), Tai Chi (self learning from the Internet and books - fun to go from, "This makes no sense and is surprisingly difficult" to "I feel the chi, and my body is starting to naturally get on one leg") and Tap Dancing (classes with Dear Wife and Oldest, who are one session ahead of me - I found I didn't even know how to hear the beat correctly, much less move my body to it and make music with my shoes).  More about all of these in future posts - but the point here is the deep childlike glee I have found in struggling with something new for which I barely have a frame of reference, and for which I haven't even got a good place to start.  It's like wrestling with a mountain, getting down on my face in the earth and hugging it tight, laughing, and then, ever so slowly, finding ways to move it.  Nothing feels quite like that.

I"m also enjoying the process of going deeper with the things that are past the beginner phase - and maintaining a beginner's mind as much as possible.  More on that, later, as well.

I may have found the fountain of youth.