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.)