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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Yes, This is Still a Sketchblog

Apologies to those who come to see drawings, but I felt compelled to post two photos. The first proves that our girl Ramona - she of the multiple surgeries, including what the vets so delicately call "enucleation" - is on the mend. She's in her new bed, the one she got for Christmas, and she's showing her stitches there.

The second photo proves that our cat Elliot has a lot to say.
I promise I will not post more animal photos anytime soon.
I promise there will be a sketch here sometime on Monday.
(But still - they're cute, aren't they?)

Friday, December 29, 2006


When I was a young adult, I had a lot of free time and an unformed, undirected drive to do . . . something. But what? This was a time after which my parents had stopped governing my days and before which young children started consuming them. For a short time, I tried getting up really early in the morning to do some drawings, which produced a few little interesting, greeting-cardlike illustrations. But I didn't know where to take it. I can still taste the frustration of feeling that I wanted to be creative in some way that seemed meaningful, but not being sure how. There were days, back then, that I actually knew what it was to be bored.

One of the blessings of middle age - and there are many - is that if we're even a little bit smart, we never have to be bored (unless we are trapped in a room with a dull speaker, and even then, if it is possible to sketch surreptiously, or write down ideas for an essay or a story, we need not be bored).
With any luck, we find our way to a passion. With LOTS of luck, we find more than one.
If I could go back in time, I would tell my young-adult self to calm down already, and just keep moving in a direction that seems like it could be right. I would reassure myself that my idea that adult life should be more than work and watching television was a good one, at least for me. It'll all come, I would say. Just watch the road and keep moving. (Back then I didn't keep moving; I stalled a lot, and gazed around in the glazed manner of a woodland animal who has just spotted the hunter's scope.)

But even without wisdom, I must say that at some point I magically stumbled into a kind of Ozlike place where there's always something I want to do that feels purposeful. I don't always have the time or energy to do it, but there's a comfortable list of projects and experiences waiting for when I do.

I wish this for everyone who wants it.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Cautionary note

At the end of a long day yesterday, when I'd done some work on a project, I forced myself out in the world to do out-in-the-world type sketching, because I've really neglected that in the time approaching Christmas. I was quite dismayed about how this sketch turned out, but I posted it to put Santa behind me. It also serves as a great reminder about the importance of regular practice. What's really showing up in this sketch, I think, is the tentativeness that moves in to fill the void left by confidence, and you know where confidence comes from. I also used my Sakura waterbrush for the first time - VERY tentatively. I'm not sure I filled the barrel in the right way, incidentally, so if you have any experience with Sakuras, please tell me: How do you fill the barrel with water? When I twisted off the brush part, there was a little black cap with a hole in it still attached to the barrel. That made it impossible to simply put the barrel under the faucet. I had to submerge the barrel in a bowl of water.
Don West, do you know?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas to me (and to you, of course)

Although I'm used to spilling words in the newspaper on a fairly regular basis (I work for the daily in Cleveland), it remains a rare thrill, I will admit, to seeing a sketch there.
A few weeks ago I suggested to a couple of the editors the idea of running an "illustrated interview" with Santa. I was heartened when a) neither of them fell back in their chairs laughing at the absurdity of the suggestion and b) actually seemed interested.

Anyway, here's a clip from the PDQ section of today's Plain Dealer. So: A thanks to the nonlaughing, supportive editors for making a girl happy. A thanks to everyone who still makes time to read newspapers -- it's important. Television can't do what newspapers do.

And of course, a big, big thanks to Mr. Claus for agreeing to participate in this interview, which I'm retyping here so you don't have to strain your eyes. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Q: Wow. An interview with Santa Claus. How to begin?
A: Quickly, I hope. Things are a little hectic this time of year.
Q: True, but you've been working this job for a few centuries now. You could do it in your sleep, right?
A: I tried that once. Automatic pilot went on the blink. Poor Rudolph clipped a Casino Windsor billboard with his hoof. No, it's best if I stay awak. every show needs a director, don't you know.
Q: Is everything under control for this Christmas?
A: Locating 7 million PlayStation 3s is being me a bit of a headache, if you want to know the truth.
Q: How long does it take you and your team to circumnavigate the globe in a sleigh, arranging gifts around the tree and filling stockings at every house on your route?
A: I started in April.
Q: That's astounding! Everyone believes you do it in a single night.
A: Of course I do it in a single night.
Q: But you just said you been traveling for months.
A: That's BEFORE the magic sparkles.
Q: What magic sparkles?
A: If I told you, everyone would want them.
Q: What happens if Donner tears a rotator cuff?
A: Every good team has a bench - a nice deep one, if possible, like the 1927 Yankees. I maintain a herd of about 75 year-round. Makes the reindeer games more interesting, too.
Q: Then why do we keep hearing about the same nine reindeer?
A: Better publicists.
Q: That's a lot of elfpower. Are they unionized?
A: No, and we all like it that way. (Stern look.) Old Tumblechins and I got into a row about it the Christmas of the Cabbage Patch craze. I simply asked if he and his crew thaought they'd done their very best that year. Well! He was really quite exercised. He leaped up on the hearth and hollered at me at the top of his lungs that quality of life meant something, too.
Q: What did you say?
A: I looked him straight in the eye and said, 'Tumblechins, don't you get short with me!" (Pauses.) Get it? Don't you get SHORT with me! Ho, ho, ho, ha, hahm, hem. Ahem.
Q: How do you do that chimney trick?
A: If I told you, I'd have to put coal in your stocking.
Q: I'd rather have magic sparkles.
A: You don't need magic sparkles, dear. Just get yourself some Oil of Olay and be more jolly.
Q: What's your position on re-gifting?
A: I don't have strong feelings, though I have begun to keep a journal. Did you know there's a fondue pot that's been circling the Midwest since 1978?
Q: So what's the with the owl?
A: Everyone should have an owl. They're good for the soul.
Q: Oh. I thought perhaps they had some Christmas-type function.
A: Who do you think teaches reindeer to fly?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Public Square

Lylah and I decided to look at the lights in downtown Cleveland tonight. I took my travel watercolors and a paper coffee cup with water (forgetting that I'd just bought a waterbrush made for exactly such an occasion as this). But when we got there, it was colder than we anticipated. We sought shelter in the beautiful lobby of the Renaissance Hotel, where we ordered beverages and perched by a window. I did this quick sketch of part of the lighting display, and when Lylah's Shirley Temple arrived - well, it was impossible to ignore the sunrise effect of all that cherry juice.
The square was magnificent, if you are a sucker for such displays, though of course I reckon some folks think of these things as akin to fireworks, and we all know those who think fireworks are boring, don't we? ;-)

Lylah was fascinated by the horse-drawn carriage doing NYC-like tours of the downtown, but alas - Cleveland is not NYC, and as far as we could tell, the carriage rides pretty much circled Public Square and that was it.

As I'm looking at the scene sketch here, I should probably explain that there's a street lamp and a bus stop on the left. The thing that's sort of gold in the background right is a building. And the dots of course are colored lights on trees. Great art it ain't, but you get the idea.

Friday, December 22, 2006

And have yourself

Those lines kill me: "Through the years / we all will be together / if the fates allow."
They make "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" one of my favorite holiday tunes. I especially like James Taylor's version. You can also hear a splendid acoustic guitar version on the website of QUEEQUEG, if you hunt around a little. (Better yet, just click on "view all 21 media" once you're there and you'll get a choice of songs to hear that he has recorded in his home studio.)
This is one of Queequeg's guitars, incidentally. He's letting us keep it at our house.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Post op

Perhaps you were wondering what a one-eyed basset hound looks like.
(Perhaps you weren't.)
Given that Ramona's operation has been the big event around our house this week, I felt compelled to sketch the dear one several hours after she came home from her multiple surgical assaults.
The vet was happy with how everything went, and the dog herself seems as fine as one can be after such an experience. Moving pretty slowly. It sort of hurts to look at her right now, what with the frankenstein stitches where her right eye used to be, and a few more on top of her head. That pink area back by her tail is a big patch that was shaved. She also has a bandage around her neck, covering up a morphine patch she'll wear for the next five days.
Our nice cat did a very gentle examination of the patient with his nose.
Our needy, neurotic cat wanted to be sure I wasn't paying too much attention to the dog.

Incidentally, I draw her sleeping because a) she sleeps a lot, b) she's easier to draw when she's sleeping and c) she's REALLY sleepy with that morphine patch. Though when she's awake, she's very happy looking and wags her tail at the tiniest encouragement. She rousted herself long enough to polish off a peanut-butter-covered Milkbone when she came home.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Good dog

This is our 9-year-old basset hound, Ramona - or, as we commonly call her, Momo.
I sketched this because on Wednesday she has to have surgery on three different parts of her. One is toward the tail (I'll spare you the details), one is on top of her head, and the last (snif) is her right eye, which lost a battle to glaucoma.
When we pick her up, probably Thursday, she will be Ramona The One-eyed Wonder. Carlo has suggested a patch, but I figured that might lead to a parrot and a pirate's voice.
The doc says she'll be like a puppy once the hurting eye is gone.
Presumably she will also be cancer-free, which does not describe her at this moment.

Incidentally, the yellow showing up in this picture can be blamed on my elder daughter, who was using my paint rag for her own project. And yes, Ramona really was lying on her right paw like that. Gotta believe she had some pins and needles going there.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


A teacher or a girl scout leader - I can't quite remember - introduced me to pomegranates when I was a kid. She cut it in half, just like this, and dribbled seeds and juice over vanilla ice cream. It seemed exotic. The seeds looked like little jewels. It tasted delicious. To this day, that's how I think pomegranates should be eaten. Aren't they beautiful?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

And you're wondering . . .

And you're wondering, Who has she drawn?
And when you find out, you're thinking, Why did she attempt to draw Karen Carpenter?
And the answer is that this is the time of year when one of the local radio stations here in Cleveland Ohio (as probably is true in every other North American metropolitan area) plays Christmas music nonstop until Dec. 25, which means that if you spend any time at all listening to that station in a given day, you will hear the Carpenters do "Merry Christmas Darling," a song that has an oddly haunting effect on me and inspired me to attempt a drawing of the late and vocally gifted Karen Carpenter.

On the small chance that you have not yet heard "Merry Christmas Darling" yet this season, I'm here to nudge your brain into remembering that it's a song about the Christmas Eve yearnings of a woman to be with her loved one, whoever he is, wherever he is. She has just one wish on this Christmas Eve (and I love that she uses proper grammar when she sings ...): "I wish I were with you."
If Britney were singing it, you just know it would come out, "I wish I was with you."

In any case. I was a not-so-gifted teen wallflower when this song hit the airwaves in the 1970s, and it really plucked a chord. While I had no Someone in Some Other Place, that did not stop me from wishing he were with me on this Christmas Eve. Further, it seemed astonishing that someone like Karen Carpenter would manage not to be with her boyfriend on Christmas Eve. She had the hair. She had the voice. She had television specials. What else did a girl need? But I appreciated the eloquence she lent to the loneliness of it all, even if I, as a wallflower with no voice and no notable hair, was much lonelier than she could ever be.

Now when I hear the song, of course, it is overlaid with what happened after the fact, which is that the singer died from the effects of anorexia. It was so weird when the details spilled out - the insecurities, the neuroses, the profound belief she evidently held that she was unlovable. How strange it was that someone as pretty as she was would have suffered so. It was hard to put it together with the woman who crooned out "Merry Christmas, darling." I mean, it took a certain confidence, even in back in the 70s, to call anyone "darling," right? Even in fiction. Even in a song. You had to be pretty sure of yourself to use a word like that.

So now when I hear it, even for the 30th time in two weeks, I still feel a pang of wistfulness about times gone by, and a little sad for the teenager who had no darling to miss on Christmas Eve, and a lot sad for a young woman whose demons did her in. It turns out there are worse things to be, when you're young and female, than a wallflower.

Merry Christmas, darlings.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Runner up

I was messing around with Christmas card ideas this weekend. This was the also-ran. I don't think it scanned well here - it's much crisper and less shadowy than it shows. Then again I'm grumpy from trying to get my printer to take card stock, which it finally quit doing. I ended up printing my cards at We'll see how they turn out.

Friday, December 08, 2006

How do you reproduce your cards???

With apologies to those who have seen this illo - which means everyone who was on my Christmas card list in 2002 - I'm hauling out a retread because it's been too long since I've posted. I've been working on holiday material this week that is not quite cooked.

This card came to be before anyone was actually using the phrase "Christmukkah," I believe. Our household has traditions in Catholic and Jewish faiths, and so I figured I'd blend the two. Made me smile, anyway.

Speaking of holiday cards, if any of you sketchers out there have great techniques for transferring your artwork to classy-looking cards (for multiple reproductions), I'm all ears. Every year I go through this agony with buying card-stock cards that are supposed to work in your printer, then remember that you have to sort of hand-feed them, and - well, oy. Do you take them to professional printers? Where do you FIND professional printers? I don't mind paying a bit of money if the cards come out nice.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Birthday blog

Today is a significant, ends-in-a-zero kind of a birthday for my friend T. It is a little-known fact that John Wayne owned themed and special-occasion hatbands which he switched out, much the way some people hang festive outdoor flags featuring snowmen at Christmas and shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day, or dress up concrete geese on the front porch. He agreed to pose with his misspelled "birthay" hatband when I explained that T has been my friend since I was a mere child of 25, and that he has helped me sort out life and laugh about it, and that the world would be a far darker place if he weren't around to brighten it up.

That all made sense to the Duke.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Return to the VC* (with celebrity cameo)

Another page from my graphic diary, of sorts. No one could have been more surprised than I was by who showed up at the bottom of the page, quoting from his own lyrics.
Who can blame him for taking an interest, I ask you . . .

*visual confessional

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Return of the books

Perhaps you remember seeing the empty bookshelves a few weeks back. The carpet came up, the floors were refinished and, yesterrday, the books were returned to their rightful place on the shelves. Though I gave a few to the local library.

Sometimes I think home repair and renovation projects are the universe's way of forcing us to face all the stuff we accumulate over time. Speaking of which, the bowl on that coffee table is filled with C's collection of art glass marbles. As collections go, I'll take one that can be contained in a 12-inch bowl.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Here in the visual confessional . . .

Here in the visual confessional, I'm telling a short and shallow tale on myself. It's largely an experiment in visual storytelling. You must double-click on the image to read what I'm fretting about. This is just one, um, slice in a slightly larger narrative. I had such a good time with my ode to turkey vultures a while back that I had to try another.

It is weird incorporating invented objects, such as the conveyor belt full of junk food. Anyone who has tried such tricks before should feel free to offer helpful hints.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

My brother M recently gave me a vintage Thanksgiving postcard created in 1903 and mailed from some guy to his mother in 1910. The card had a painting of a turkey on it, which made me want to do my own turkey. They're such lavishly plumed birds, and all that plumage is both challenging and fun.

I did a rather painstaking pen and ink drawing, which I liked a lot (I found turkey photos on the web). I wasn't so fond of it once I threw on the watercolor. The varying colors, while sort of true to life, don't completely cohere on the page. Still, I had a good time, and it's a nice way to wish you happy tidings of the day.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Egg challenge

The Every Day Matters sketch group challenge from last week - draw a carton of eggs - brought out the pink-lover in me.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I think of myself as not having much of a style or a personal aesthetic, if you will forgive the pretension (and you might not). But I seem to be operating under some guiding principles, anyway, one of which is variety. I like at least one drawing out of every four or five to be architectural or landscape, if possible. It's not enough for me to catalogue all the household objects that might be more comfortably drawn, especially as the weather gets cold. So it was nice to have a reasonable weather day to sit outside while the girls were getting their hair trimmed, and sketch a little of the local college. The thing in the foreground, by the way, is a garbage can. Whenever I'm trying to make a composition outside, I look for a really clean perspective from which to draw, rather than a crowded, chaotic one. Today I accepted the chaotic one and figured I could just draw the layers of objects, from the garbage can on back, and see how that went.

I think it went OK.
This is a Micron pen in the Moleskine sketchbook that doesn't take watercolor well, overlaid with watercolor, which of course resisted the paper all the way.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I took a week's vacation recently and spent one morning of it at the very unexpected funeral of a colleague. I did not know him well, and still he was a part of my daily life, and he left the planet much too soon. As is perhaps too typical, I learned more about him at his funeral than I ever knew about him by way of workplace interaction. I was sad that his life was so short, but I was happy to learn how well he'd spent it.

After the service, I stopped by a lakeside park near the house I grew up in, and spent a few melancholy moments remembering the people who have come in and out of my life in the decades - yes, decades - that I've been going there.

The leaves still held to the branches, and the sun turned the brightest of them into stained glass. It was a beautiful day in autumn -- the season that I once loved best. So many I've known, and some that I've loved, seem to take their leave in fall. Now it is my thoughtful season, the one that ushers me farthest inside myself to examine old bones. I come out the other end more grateful for life, and inching toward reconciling the impermanence of it all. Inching, mind you. Only inching.

Apologies, now, if you've found this morose. I go there sometimes, but I promise not to stay.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Guilty Pleasure

Lisa Williams, the new Lifetime Television Network clairvoyant (she talks to dead people) is completely irresistible with her British accent, giant eyes, wild, skunk-patch dye job and -- it has to be said -- large butt.

If she gets really popular, she'll consult a stylist who will immediately change her hair and make her lose 30 pounds. This will be tragic.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Among the many riddles I have yet to solve in life is this: Does demonizing certain food give it too much power, or are there foods that one should just never allow in the house?

I've long leaned toward avoiding certain "bad" foods altogether. It's been a short list, but doughnuts were always on it. The sight of a doughnut can make me abandon all reason. Or it used to, anyway.

After I started driving a long way every Sunday to do a little volunteer thing (see previous post re: turkey vultures), I got into the almost-habit of stopping for a coffee and doughnut on the way home. One large coffee, ONE doughnut. Once a week, or almost once a week.

Today I bought this box for the kids, and it did not call my name when I put it away. True, I haven't lost any weight. But I haven't gained any, either. I think doughnuts are losing their power over me.

I think maybe there is application for this principle in the greater world. Perhaps if certain self-righteous leaders stopped demonizing other people for their personal lives or the people they love, they'd stop finding themselves so fascinated by the forbidden, and consequently in the unhappy position of having to apologize later to their constituents and congregations for their own transgressions.

I'm not suggesting they eat the doughnut once a week. I wonder if it wouldn't be enough to simply allow the box to sit quietly in the cupboard while they think about more important things.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Buzzard to Vulture

As I was driving on I-71 yesterday, a soaring turkey vulture caught my eye, and all of a sudden I knew I wanted to do a paneled approach on the subject of buzzards.

Click on the image to enlarge and read the text.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Saturday Quickies

I've been sketch-challenged this week, so I thought I'd drop in a couple of quick ones I did on Saturday. The top one is a gesture sketch I did of the girls raking leaves. They weren't raking all that diligently, but they were moving around enough to make it a challenge to capture a pose. The one right thing I did (eventually) was focus tightly on the position of Lylah's hands (left) holding the rake. I drew the rest of her around that.

The building is half barbershop, half bar. I studied it for a few minutes in my car in the drugstore parking lot.
Again, neither one is a big splash, but the practice is good.

Monday, November 06, 2006


The carpet is coming up today (thanks to the dog), so I spent much of yesterday emptying two rooms. The people who are doing the work said they'd move the big stuff. We'll see what they think of the piano. :-) The dog is lying there that way because she finds such a disruption very unsettling, and usually assumes we're going away when things change like this. I hugged her and told her everything would be all right, but she remains unconvinced.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Football holds as much interest for me as stamp collecting, which is to say none (although there ARE some very nice stamps out there), but I found myself drawing the face of Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells yesterday. The New York Times had a special sports magazine out and he was on the cover. After I'd drawn him a few times I found myself wondering about him. If I'd been able to turn the magazine over and shake out all the extra football details, it would have been a perfect profile of Parcells, who (I'm sure you know this) has made a career of fixing troubled teams.

No stronger case can be made for the power of art than to say that drawing Bill Parcells' face made me want to know him a bit.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bon Voyage

All eyes have been on today as C has been preparing for a big international trip - the very sort that excites him and produces anxiety in me. We shall hold down the fort, as they say.

Incidentally, this spread was done in a new sketchbook called Hand Book, made by Global Art Supplies out of Kansas City, Mo. I bought it because it's the size of the Moleskine I like but the paper was billed as accepting of "light washes," which the regular Moleskine sketchbook can't brag about. (Meanwhile, when Moleskine made a watercolor sketchbook, they changed the dimensions and added that stupid perforation to the page.)

I like the Hand Book so far. The cover is hardbound cloth, not that nice substance MS uses, but there's an elastic tie and a plastic envelope in back for collecting ephemera. I'd love to hear from other artists who've used the Hand Book. One of our local art supply stores had a big new display of them, and it sort of seemed like they were choosing this over the Moleskines. If Moleskine would come out with a 5-by-8-inch book with watercolor paper and no perforations, they'd have me for life.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


A couple of years ago I spent too much money on a digital camera that I figured would give me single-lens reflex-type pictures. It didn't. It DID acquaint me, however, with the vagaries of digital photography, so that when I finally went out a couple of weeks ago and bought the camera I really need, I wasn't completely intimidated. So that first camera was a bit of a waste of money but not a waste of experience.

Yesterday I stopped at Huntington Beach and practiced on fall foliage. I'll use some of those images for sketch references in the coming days. They turned out really well, and the action on the new camera (pictured here) is wonderful.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sighting (and EDM Challenge #90)

In summer and early fall I regularly saw two red-tail hawks perching on power lines along the road I take to get to the raptor center every Sunday. More recently, they haven't been there, which made me think they'd moved on. (Hawks don't technically migrate but they do move depending on food availability.)

Yesterday I drove out there to do a little food-prep work. For the sake of readers with delicate sensibilities, I will leave the description at that.

On the drive home, I saw one of "my" hawks in its usual spot on the wire. He (or she) was watching prey below, and just as I was about to pass him (or her), some unfortunate creature happened to wander into sight. In a flash, the hawk dropped down, legs extended, and that was that.

All the creatures we see at the raptor center are injured. Some never make it back out into the wild, though of course that's the goal. It was great to see a hawk being a hawk.

Micron .05 in watercolor sketchbook with colored pencil.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Drawing skills

There are some obvious skills one needs to keep a successful sketchbook. It helps to have a handle on perspective, for instance, and knowledge of how to create foreshortening. We learn to deepen shadows to add dimensionality.

Once we get a grip on those, though, we find that other, less predictable skills are required. For instance: What do you do to get your family to slow down long enough on an outing to let you make a meaningful sketch? How do you persuade them to let you sketch THEM - to hold the pose, for instance - just a few more minutes. ("I'm almost done" works for the first few times, but they get on to you pretty quick.)

Yesterday when No. 1 child was with me in Chagrin Falls for what was ostensibly a lunch date (she didn't have school), I persuaded her to hang out in town long enough to let me draw a quick sketch of this really wonderful older building that sort of hangs over the river. She's pretty patient and easygoing, but to extend my drawing time I employed (drum roll) the little-known STARBUCKS SOLUTION. I promised that if she let me sketch for a few minutes I'd buy her a coffee. Then, having just settled to where I wanted to sketch, I said, "You know, Starbucks is right over there. If you want to go get yourself something .... ."
She was off with a ten-dollar bill and the idea of pumpkin latte swimming in her brain. It bought me at least 10 extra minutes.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Apples (and EDM Challenge #91)

I'm going to get back to doing pen sketches for a while and try to be a little less oriented toward making a pretty picture. This was pretty reflective of yesterday, for instance, and I actually like it better than my watercolor edible flowers because it reminds me of a moment in time. Which is how this blog all started.

Thanks for dropping in.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Genus Edibleis

There I was at the grocery store today, surveying the squash and peering at the pumpkins, when I saw these little plastic containers with pretty, springlike red-purple flowers in them. At first I thought: corsage?

But no, the label read, "edible flowers." I thought, Hmmn, maybe so, but I'll be happy enough if they're simply paintable flowers.

The checkout kids thought it was hilarious that anyone would eat flowers, by the way.

So I came home determined to finally get the loose, liquidy feel I always seek but seldom attain on the page, and voila - here it isn't. Part of the problem was that I was attempting to get a color unavailable with the red and blues I have in my travel kit, which is almost the only thing I ever use. A too-limited palette can encourage over-working of the piece as you try to create a hue or a vibrancy that isn't going to be gotten.

As for the eating ... the texture is a little more al dente than I expected (nicely so) and the flavor is almost nil. Well, you've probably eaten flowers before anyway, right? I thought it was sort of funny that they didn't actually name the flower, however. It struck me as orchidlike, but of course that should not be read as encouraging anyone to nibble on their orchids. What do I know?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Illustrated interview: Retiring young

Aftler almost 28 years at the newspaper, Margie is leaving, along with many others, on the wave of a buyout offer that has created a little crop of young retirees. Her husband Jim will retire from full-time work at the end of the year. The two only married seven years ago, so I'm betting that their newfound freedom will be well spent. But I know the newspaper will be poorer in Margie's absence. It wasn't just her journalistic talent (for a long time she was a copy editor and then a news editor; more recently she's done newsroom recruiting). To see her go is to see the departure of a genuinely good person. She's walked the fine line between dedication and neuroses pretty well, from what I can tell.

On Monday, she officially begins a new life.

When we began our talk, I asked Margie to try to define the weight her career had in her life. She recollected a man she knew when she was around 30 who had worked in the business department and one day got moved to an undesirable position and a graveyard shift. He was miserable and stressed, and before long he suffered a heart attack and died.

It proved an epiphany for Marge.

"I thought, I am never going to let my job become me," Margie says. "Also, you'd see people who wanted a promotion and didn't get it and they'd be destroyed. It just wasn't worth it. So when I'm at work, I'm at work, and I work hard. But when I'm at home I'm the full me."

Q: But isn't it just a different version of 'you' at work?
A: I realize when I come into the office, I put on a professional face. And it's not fake, it's just different. It's sort of the way an athlete will get geared up for game day, I guess. It's still you, but it's you pushing yourself.

When I decided to take the buyout, (a colleague) said, "I can't believe you're giving up all that power." My response was, 'I never thought of it as power, I thought of it as responsibility.' I tried so hard to make all the right choices, and if I didn't, I'd feel bad, and I'd think, I'll do better next time. I think where people get into trouble is when they're doing (their jobs) because it makes them feel important. That's when you're in danger.

Q: So how are you feeling about leaving?
A: After the initial champagne bubbles went away, then there's this sadness. But if you didn't feel sadness about leaving a job after 30 years, there'd probably be something wrong.

Q: What happens Monday morning?
A: I get to read the paper like a civilian. Depending on the weather and my mood, I'll do whatever I feel like doing. I might organize the closets. Read a book.

Q: Have you thought about whether you'll miss the meaning that work gives your life?
A: I worry about turning into a marshmallow. I've set rules for myself. No daytime TV. What a pit that would be to fall into. And after the first of the year, I'll get back into the swing of things, and do some volunteering.

Q: So did work give your life meaning?
A: It gives your life one kind of meaning, and it's a pretty important kind. I guess it's feeling like you're a contributing member of society - that you're adding more than you're taking away.

Q: Do you still want to contribute, or do you feel like it's your time to take now?
A: I'll never feel it's my time to take. I feel that there's this space - this window - between the time when you can help other people and when people have to start helping you. You hope that time doesn't come, but it most likely will. I don't know how long or short that space will be for me, so I want to use it well. And my parents are getting older.

Q: What advice would you give your 30-year-old self?
A: Believe in yourself more. I think I waited for people to make judgments about me, and then I'd decide how I felt about myself.

Q: What was your single best day at work?
A: This is a point of fact hardly anyone knows. There was a presidential debate here in Cleveland back when Reagan was running. I wrote the Page One headline. It went into the Smithsonian. That always made me feel I left a little bit of history behind. Headline writing was what I loved most.

Q: What was the headline?
A: I don't remember.

Q: What do you hope people say when they're remembering The Margie Era?
A: A lot of people say, "I'm sorry you're leaving, because you're one of the nicest people here." But you wonder if that's a good thing. Do people say you're nice because you're a door mat? But you can be nice in a strong way, too.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

Roses without irony

I was remembering tonight that a while back, C was looking at one of my sketchbooks and noted wryly that my art was "without irony." Perhaps this meant "too sweet," or "too earnest." He isn't wrong, of course, but then I've begun to think that irony - while necessary on many occasions - is also over-relied-upon. Also, too often "sour" is committed in the name of "irony."

Anyway, tonight as I was painting the orange roses I found for Lylah's Halloween party the other day, it occurred to me that there's nothing less ironic than a rose, unless maybe it's a black rose. Orange roses are unusual but not ironic, and even if they were ironic, I painted them today because they're sincerely beautiful. That seemed enough.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


C bought me a book of outtakes from photos that became the cover shots for a certain famous rock star’s most famous record back in the 70s. Seminal record, seminal poet for my young soul. It was one of those times when the music I was listening to seemed more vivid than what passed for my real life. That can happen when you’re untethered, I guess. At least it happened to me.

Anyway, the book is interesting because of course until recently I’d seen only a few famous images from this photo shoot. Back when those images were imprinting on my brain, the rock star seemed scruffily wise, and therefore terribly alluring. Like he’d been around. Done stuff. Seen things. Many of them perhaps in Brooklyn.

But now when I look at the pictures – the reproduced strips of film that reveal the artificial nature of a photo shoot – he seems young and impossibly slender and self-conscious and taken with his own image. You can see him trying on versions of himself. Wearing a hat that all of a sudden you think maybe wasn't his hat at all. Maybe someone handed it to him in the studio right before the shoot. Maybe the hat was more "street" than he was.

It isn’t that the pictures aren’t lovely. Once they conveyed a whole other, rich world that a person like that might come from and write about. Now they seem beautiful for the dumbest reason of all: because everyone was so much younger then.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


After a trip to buy some new jeans and a jacket, we came home today and the girls tried on clothes. This one of Katy sits next to another, of Lylah, on the page, but I didn't like the way the second one came out - particularly the way I managed to make my 11-year-old look 55.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Speaking of Frankenstein ...
Today was our friends Spike and Christi's Halloween costume and decoration making party. It very much resembled a Halloween party, except that people were encouraged to make masks and suchlike.

Rather than make a costume, I decided to document the event, which one guest accurately described as "kinda obsessive for a party), but given the crafty nature of some of the other activities, I felt right at home. Clockwise from upper left: a fabulous purple-frosted cupcake with Dracula; Elmer's glue and markers; Christi's flowers; scissors; Spikenstein himself; front porch pumpkins; art supplies; water bottles on a table below a lamp where mummy skulls bobble; and a Tarot card reading between two of Spike's pals.

Spike and Christi do a good job in the fun department.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Remembering Frank

We were sitting in his parents' car. I swear, it was big as a hearse. Clouds swept across the face of the harvest moon.
He seemed a little nervous, so I decided to be direct. "Come on, Frank. Tell me. What's going on in that head of yours?"
He shifted in his seat.
"I've been thinking."
"I know," I told him. "There's smoke coming out yours ears."
There was, too. It started in little wisps, but it was billowing now. I coughed and cracked the window.
"Maybe we should see other people."
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I mean, c'mon. Like the women were lining up at his dungeon? But on the other hand, no one wants to be rejected. How could he dump me? WHY would he dump ME?
"It's the haircut, isn't it? I could tell you didn't like it as soon as I came back from the salon." I had a new 'do, a little like Alannis after she cut off the dreads. I thought it was cute, but I was getting mixed feedback.
He shook his head. Well, that's not exactly true. He was always careful not to shake or nod too vigorously. The last time he'd done that a spring shot out of his throat and landed in the neighbor's pool. He had to order a replacement part from Japan.
"No, no. Your hair's nice." He said it like he meant it.
"It's my parents, then. I told you not to take it personally -- they do criminal background checks on all my friends."
He reached over and took my hand in his. He had a manly grasp, actually. I'd always found it to be a turn-on as long as I didn't look at his nails. He was a biter.
"It's not your hair, and it's not your parents," he said. "Your folks have been really welcoming, actually. They seem like good people."
I gave his hand a little squeeze. "Honey," I whispered. "What is it? Whatever it is, we can work on it."
He let his sloe-eyed gaze rest on my eyes for a moment. Finally he said, "All right. I'll tell you."
"Please," I said.
"I need a girl who's willing to neck."
My heart stopped. A chill ran through me.
"Oh," I said. "So it's that."
"Yes," he answered. "It's THAT."
I could tell he'd been harboring resentment on the subject. One time we'd tried, one time. But that was all. I had bruises for weeks. My mother never did buy the old "curling iron burn" story, and even if she had, those suckers HURT.
We sat for a moment in silence, both of us knowing we'd reached the end.
"Well then," I said. I reached for the handle of the door, then hesitated. I gave Frank one more look, then leaned across the seat and kissed him hard where he lips would have been, if he'd had, you know, conventional features. I lingered there. I didn't want to leave him, if the truth be known. But I couldn't stay, because I knew where it would lead. As it was, he considered me a bit of a tease.
"Go on," he finally said. "Get out of here. I gotta bolt."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The great illusion

Pretty soon Cleveland will become the land of gray-pillow skies. That will last for approximately 178 days, and then it will be June again. But for the duration, we get so-called "lake effect" cloud cover that can make a person forget the name of that big yellow thing that other people in other cities notice when they look up.

It is almost impossible not to have an emotional, even physical, reaction to this after a while. And still I try to remember that behind the cloud cover, the sun really is still there. I try to remember that the sky is just an elaborate illusionist, and we let it get away with murder. We're too easily persuaded that a gray day is a down day, just as we've been fooled by sun. Two of the worst events in my memory happened on cloudless September days of otherworldly blue skies.

All of which is to say that fall puts on quite a show, skywise. I drive the kids to school in the morning, and these days it really does look like this. And I know it's just a dramatic illusion that's making us feel a little thrilled by the deep shadows and blinding, filtered light. I know we're not really on the verge of something big, necessarily.

Then again, maybe we are.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Lanterns again

Decided to try once more with the Chinese lanterns, this time in an arrangement where I could get, as my daughter said, a sense of movement. There's something very satisfying about playing with simple arrangements and color. To see someone who does this sort of painting really well, check out the work of artist Gary Bukovnik at his web site.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Mather

The afternoon was partly sunny, partly cloudy and all windy. I spent my lunch hour the other day at Cleveland's North Coast Harbor, where lies the rock hall, the science center and where floats the William G. Mather. The iron ore tanker was built in 1925, retired in 1980 and now functions as a museum.
If you've never been to North Coast Harbor, you might be confused by why there seems to be water in the foreground here, while the ship itself looks docked in cement. In fact, the ship sits in water as well, on the other side of the dock.
As I said, the day was very windy, so I reached into my enormous handbag and brought out a roll of masking tape. I taped the upper right corner of the page so it would stop blowing up and irritating me.
I just finally took off the tape today, and as you'll see I tore the coating off the Moleskine paper. Ah well. These things happen.
The Mather was named, by the way, for the scion of the business magnate whose company -- Cleveland-Cliffs -- commissioned the ship. It's interesting, isn't it? Ships always get the female pronoun, but so often they're named after men.
William G. Mather - she was a good ol' gal.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chinese lanterns

I spend way too much time at the grocery store.
I'm probably there three or four times a week. Tonight I had to stop to buy supplies to make 24 turkey sandwiches for elder daughter's soccer game tomorrow night. What I wanted to do was come home and paint, and I did (obviously), but not until I'd made 24 turkey and swiss sandwiches and dropped them off at a teammate's house.
Then I came home and painted these Chinese lanterns. I was proud of myself that I remembered, eventually, that they were called Chinese lanterns. When I saw them sort of flopping out of a flower bucket in the produce section, I just remembered them as those cool things that reminded me of tomatilloes. By the time I got home, I was pretty sure they were called Chinese lanterns, and by the time I got done painting them I knew (thanks to the internet) that their latin name is physalis.
They're great to paint because of their unapologetic orange-redness and veiny texture. It's a little difficult to capture the sense you get of the things being lit from within, especially since they are not only not lit from within but contain a seed pod that looks almost exactly like a cherry tomato. Rumor has it that parts of this are poisonous, however, so there will be no eating of the Chinese lanterns.
The whole thing has put me in mind of the "money tree" plant that grows in in my neighbor's garden, almost exactly at the point where her property line meets mine.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


I'm posting this as a remembrance of a serene hour spent outside at the Holden Arboretum on a sunny autumn day so beautiful it could make you cry. Remembering my mother's admonition to not say anything if I can't say something nice, I'll refrain from offering observations about the sketch.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The earth moved

This is the kind of drawing I associate with 10-year-old boys.
Such creatures are (so the stereotype goes) transfixed by complicated machines. By anything with wheels. They want to drive them. They want to know how they work - to take apart and captain all kinds of mechanical ships.
Being a girl, I mostly ignored these things for most of my life until I began to notice how they lend themselves to line drawings.
Now I care. Trucks and cars are fun to draw. Ploughs and tractors, too.

And still I'm a girl. I see the rear-view mirror hanging there, and when I imagine myself in the black-vinyl seat, looking into that mirror, I am wearing a hardhat and applying lipstick.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Monday grid

This was too much fun.
Over at Nina Johansson's blog, I saw a lovely grid (look at her Sept. 23rd post) and her notes about how she was inspired by Patty's blog to do a drawing grid. Teri at Painted Daisies also took up the challenge, and it seemed silly to resist the call.

My original thought - to do a thumbnail every hour for 8 or 9 hours straight - was too ambitious and unworkable given the way time gets away from me at work, and I can't really be spending 10 or 15 minutes on drawing in the middle of a meeting. What I ended up with was a grid that contains images from my Monday. My first drawing was at 6 a.m., as soon as I got up, and I did part of the coffee pot. I don't blame you if you couldn't tell what it was - that's the first image, on the left above the honey bear bottle. Gimme a break, it was 6 a.m.

You'll also find the steering wheel I was looking at while Katy and I waited for the doctor's office to open; a little swatch of skyline near work; tables at the company cafeteria; my relatively new cell phone, a pink Razor, which my kids pressured me into buying because it's "so cool"; the cup from my after-dinner tea; the dog, begging for food she did not get; and Lylah doing massive amounts of homework, which is what we did instead of going to my friend George's poetry reading tonight. At the top are the spotlights mounted on beams in our family room.

What went right with this exercise was that I created the rectangles last night, before I could give too much thought to what I would draw in them. I went for a variety of sizes and shapes to make the page interesting. Had I tried to create the "frames" depending on what I wanted to draw, it wouldn't have worked.

I'd still like to try an 8-hour grid, with one image representing every hour, but that would have to be on a weekend.
What was good about this is that even thought the sketches in themselves are no great shakes, it put me back in touch with the possibility that anything can make an interesting picture if you compose it well.

The other lesson, of course, is that a dog improves any composition. And that the presence of a girl - even a girl doing homework - makes the act of drawing more fun.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I want to go out to lunch

There's a scene in "Private Benjamin" where Goldie Hawn is doing some kind of punitive military march for hours in the rain, her spirit broken, and she begins a tearful litany of activities from her life of privilege, which she considers more worthy of her time. "I want to go out to lunch," she says, with dejected emphasis on the word "lunch." It's a hilarious moment, in part because going out to lunch is supposed to sound frivolous.
News flash: I don't think going out to lunch is frivolous. I think it's necessary. Not every day, of course, but it's one of the great small pleasures. Going out to lunch with one's mother, or one's daughters, is more necessary than anything.

Today the girls and I went to one of our fave spots where a line of stir-fry chefs will toss your favorite ingredients in a wok over a noisy flame that shoots three or four feet into the air on occasion. You can also just order something that arrives straight from the kitchen, which is what we did. Our seat afforded us a view of part of the stir-fry line, however. I ate Mongolian beef, drank cherry blossom tea and contemplated the importance of middling Hollywood movies, Goldie Hawn, and going out to lunch with one's favorite people -- all of which are luxurious necessities.