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Thursday, August 31, 2006


This week has been non-stop busy, but I carved out a few minutes between dropping the kids off at school and going to a doc's appointment to catch the corner of St. Ann's Church in the old sketchbook. I did this from the comfort of my car, which isn't really all that comfortable if you compare it to picking any spot to sit down on for the best perspective.

The building itself is what you might call handsome: architecturally classic, with a beautiful stone facade. The light fixture at the bottom of the page represents one that's fixed to the door on a part of the building just out of view. It has a lovely blue-green patina.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Every Day Matters Challenge: Lamp Post

Yesterday I decided to actually do one of the weekly challenges posted at the Every Day Matters sketch forum, but the problem was that this week's challenge was "Draw a lamp post." I'd recently done a decent lamp post HERE and I wasn't sure what the heck to do for a lamp post encore. I mean, how interesting can a lamp post BE?

Then again, why not try. I knew I'd have to find a different lamp, anyway, and the sun was down.

I grabbed my older daughter and we went scouting for an interesting light fixture. It was a beautiful balmy summer night. All the lamp posts we saw were just like the one I'd drawn weeks before, and then I realized I'd have to go into a development of some sort where decorative lamp posts were in order.

We ended up (as we too often do) at the nearby shopping center, which was hopping with lazy late night diners and shoppers. After scouting for 10 minutes or so, we found a lamp post (voila) with a lovely little decorative flag on it and plopped ourselves near a potted plant. I sketched while Katy considered buying treats from the gelato place, but then decided not to because it would be unkind to the two members of our family we left behind. Before long, we greeted Spike, our Apple computer guru, out with his wife Christi and their friend John.

After I got most of the detail of the lamp and the flag, we headed back toward the car, stopping of course at the book store, where I found a nice drawing-tips book for my younger daughter, who wants instruction on how to draw people. When we got home, I did the color on the sketch with pencils then spent about forty minutes adding the dark sky with a nod to Georges Seurat. Do you like the dots?

So I learned this: 1) There's more than one way to draw a lamp post. 2) Even if you think looking for a second way to draw a lamp post is folly, it probably isn't. 3) If you try, you might get bonding time with your kid (though no gelato - certainly not - that would have been unfair, we would never do that). 4) If you try to find a good lamp post to draw at night, you might run into friends, find a book for your kid and pass a serene hour stippling in your Moleskine.

Life is good.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Graceful aging

At dinner the other night, I looked down at the begging beast beside me and noticed that her right eye - the one that's blind from glaucoma - looked a lot worse than it had the day before. It seemed overly large, and the dark middle of her eye, where the lens has slipped out of place, was enormous. I called the veterinary eye specialist the next morning (yes, really) and sent Carlo in with the dog that afternoon. Turns out her glaucoma is a little worse, but it's her ears that really need treatment.

A few weeks ago, she was at her regular vet's visit and was prescribed glucosamine for her arthritic hind legs. She takes a 1500 milligram horse pill, and sometimes I take one right along with her, though I resist the urge to coat mine in peanut butter, like I do hers.

I think aging must be at least as hard if you're a basset hound as it is if you're a human. By the way, I did this one in the Moleskine sketchbook with graphite and a brand-spanking-new set of Prismacolor pencils.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wires and roses

I found this house in an urban neighborhood near work and love it for its messiness with all the utility wires coming and going. The rose bush on the side of the house killed me, though. Something about these undeniable spots of beauty alongside chaos is really visually interesting. That chaos can be found in the city. It can be found in the country. It's generally absent in true suburbia. True, I'd rather live in a space that's visually calm. But I'd rather draw and explore the other.

Monday, August 21, 2006


At the raptor rehab center, one is bound to see every kind of bird of prey: hawks, falcons, even an eagle. They all come to the place in need of help, obviously, and the idea is to give that help and then send them on their merry way to fly and hunt as they will. Some arrive in such sad shape that the best they can hope for is the vet's needle. A rare few have damage that won't mend enough to allow them to hunt successfully, but they're healthy enough to live at the center and earn their mice with the occasional scout-troop educational program. When a bird becomes a permanent resident (all sorts of things go into deciding whether that happens, and then there's paper work), you get to see differences in how raptors are built.

All of which is to say: I love owls.

I love the rest of 'em, too, but there's still something magical to me about the owls. This one is a barred owl with a very nice disposition. I've had the pleasure of having her perch on my fist a couple of times. She manages to be regal and cuddly at the same time, though of course one would never want to actually cuddle a wild animal.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Behold the honey rock melon, sliced open to expose a seedy, soupy interior. I succumbed to a vendor at the West Side Market yesterday after he practically pushed a chunk of the melon in my mouth as I walked by. Honey rocks are some kind of cantaloupe hybrid. Their exteriors are bumpier, but the flavor is comparable. You might guess from the name that the honeydew is part of the genetic makeup of this melon, and that might be true but there's no sign of that in the flavoring.

I also bought a papaya (to paint) and a couple of grapefruits (ditto).

The weather was a bit dreary, and the market seemed less crowded than usual for a Saturday, but when we asked a pork vendor about business he indicated that the slump was more than weather-related. "We're really becoming a Friday/Saturday market," he said.

Shifting demographics and all that. The little old ladies that used to come to buy their almond paste are too old to bake these days or have moved on to the great kitchen. I hope the pork vendor was just having a bad day. I'd hate to think of the city without the market.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

And this drawing is ... what, exactly?

Why, it's a dead cicada on top of a little paper bag from a jewelry store. Anyone could see that.
Actually, I knew this would not be a post-worthy post, but I posted it anyway on the theory that part of what makes these sketch blogs interesting is that they're not intended to be simply an online gallery of work we'd consider finished. (Though if you check out the sites of Karen Winters or of Nina Johansson you'll find a lot of lovely work that seems pretty darned finished. )

Anyway, the dead cicada here belongs to a boy named Daniel, age 6, who visited our house last week and left behind his bug in its little paper jewelry-store bag. It was found days later by Lylah, who, having inherited the jewelry gene from her mother, eagerly opened the bag and then yelped.
It's so much more than disappointing to open a jewelry-store bag and find a dead bug rather than, say, a darling little pair of beaded earrings.
I, on the other hand, have many pairs of earrings but too few dead bugs to draw, so when I yelped it was with glee. Having said that, I found it rather disappointing, this cicada, because once I was done with the wings, there was very little detail visible to the naked eye that could be rendered on the page. It was not nearly so fun to draw as my dead mouse, for instance.

I should also mention that while I was out at the raptor center last week, walking about with a well-behaved barred owl on my fist, I was briefly dive-bombed by a cicada. I have a feeling that I was not precisely the target of the aggression, but Aurora, the owl, behaved as if nothing was happening. I moved quickly away, and we all lived to tell the tale.

That's the end of my cicada stories. If you've had interesting luck drawing dead things -- or if, Maureen McHugh, you have a live snake for me to draw -- do drop in.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Julie and Hairy Coo

My friend Julie is one of the truly fearless people I know. She has lived a million places, it seems, from Jamaica to California to London, where she now resides. She travels often, with and without companionship, and recently sent me some photos from her European adventures.

This sketch was done from a photo Julie had taken while wandering in Scotland. The scary-looking bull-like creature behind her is called a Hair Coo, and Julie claims it is "fairly harmless," though she adds that she "wouldn't want to feed it a deep-fried Mars bar." (I think that last comment was a jokey allusion to America; I cannot imagine that fried candy bars have made their way to Scotland yet.)

Anyway, there's Julie standing with a big bull with horns, and I don't care how disinclined to charge it seemed, I still say she's brave.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

His Home Was Not Her Castle

Last year about this time, we were wandering around Ireland, ready to be fascinated by endless castles and castle parts. Right here in Northeast Ohio, though, something called Squire's Castle stands at the edge of some woods in what is now the North Chagrin Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks. I've heard about it for 20 years, but had never bothered to look for it (North Chagrin being a large and meandering area). Then a few months ago, the roadway that winds around my favorite part of the park was closed off, a detour set up and lo and behold I was forced to find Squire's Castle.

It is true that Squire's Castle lacks a medieval pedigree, but it still has a little mystery to go with it. Built by one of the Standard Oil founders (but not Rockefeller) around the turn of the last century, it was supposed to be a gatehouse to a larger estate that Feargus Squire would create for himself in the country. Apparently Feargus's wife was not nearly as fond of summers in the country, though, and complained about being isolated out in the woods with the old man's hunting trophies. There are warring stories about what really happened to her, but they seem to suggest that one night, in a fit of insomnia (she was probably going through menopause, eh?) she started wandering around the castle, where Feargus's animal heads were mounted on the walls, got frightened by something, fell and died. One account I read said she tripped and broke her neck. Another suggested that she fell into something that strangled her.

In any case, that was the end of Squire's big plans for a country estate. The building now stands as a hollow stone shell with its very own ghost story involving Mrs. Squire haunting the place with a red lantern. But on the day I was there to sketch, it was 75 degrees and sunny, and a wedding had just taken place behind the castle. The receiving line was forming out front (you'll notice I edited them out). Yet another wedding party arrived intending to shoot some post-ceremony photos at the castle, and was surprised to find that they had competition for the scenery. I actually heard some of the men in the second party arguing that they could just claim a spot and let the first wedding party deal with it - behavior that seemed incongruant with the grownup and elegant way they were dressed. In the end, though, somebody - perhaps the best man - investigated enough to realize that the first wedding party had actually reserved the castle, and persuaded everyone else that they should find another place for their photographs.

One detail: You'll notice, if you look hard enough, that there's a slight red cast to the two windows at the top of the main building. This could be a clever allusion to Mrs. Squire and her lantern, or it could be the fact that when bright sunlight shines into the open top of a castle shell, it illuminates the red brick of the interior. You be the judge.

Monday, August 14, 2006

An action-packed weekend left me little time for producing anything post-worthy, though I did get out for a little architectural practice (thumbnail sketches) on Saturday and took some photos I'll use tonight. Meanwhile, from the, ahem, greatest hits collection, I give you Ramona.
This was on a page that had a whole lot of other stuff going on, but I really like the scribbly quality to this sketch. It almost looks like blind contour. It was done with ink and enhanced with colored pencil. I particularly enjoy doing Ramona's platypus paws. The deal with her collar, by the way, is that I bought it a size too large and cut it down, which caused it to develop a little curl at the end.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

My model

As promised, here are a couple of pictures to give you an idea of what my model of the last three days really looks like. The picture with the hair

down was my photo reference for the first image; the picture with her hair up was something I snapped after I did the third sketch from life,

just so I could post it. I didn't do that with the interim sketch, but I figure two photos give you the idea.

My buddy Jean pointed out that none of the three look especially childlike, and I have to agree. (Though Lylah herself keeps getting older looking to me by the day, and she IS 11 now.) I'm interested in hearing what people have learned about rendering children as themselves. I'm sure some of it has to do with the proportion of their features, and some to do with the comparative gentleness of their facial structure. You don't see a lot in the way of vivid cheekbones, and you do get a real feel for soft cheeks. Angles and edges are easier to draw than roundness and fullness.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Variations on a Lylah: 3

I had sketched in light shapes and just begun to add watercolor when I realized that I was using the wrong paper in my sketchbook.
The book itself is a nifty combo of sketch paper and watercolor paper. But it's new, and I'd forgotten to pay attention to what I was actually drawing on. I didn't feel like starting over, and one of my blogmates recently mentioned that it's easy enough to flatten out a wrinkled painting by spraying the back and then flattening it between books.
So I kept working, and you'll just have to trust me when I say that of the three Lylahs, this one is, in ways the scan here doesn't reveal, the best. Of course the wrinkly paper is making her look like she has the neck of a 70-year-old matron, but it's just an illusion! Really!
Lylah is becoming a competent art model. Her sister is wondering when it's going to be her turn, and I promised it would be soon, though right about now I'm hankering for a still life or, even better, a landscape. Yes, that's it: give me a summer vista.

I would also like to point out that, once again: No pen lines! It's sort of like going no-handed on a bicycle, except that of course I actually like pen and ink and watercolor, and you know I'll be returning to that.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Variations on a Lylah: 2

The last Lylah was too tightly constructed and ended up looking like a character out of some poorly illustrated children's book from 1957. I took way too long drawing it, probably 45 minutes, and even then screwed up the proportions. (This is not ordinary self-flagellation; think of it as a critical self-review, OK?) She ended up resembling herself in a kind of wax-museum way.

To combat some of those sins, I decided to be as loose and sketchy as I could stand to be tonight. There she was, Game Boy in hand - again - while I sketched from life. We agreed that this was not the most flattering position for her to be in, as it encouraged a second chin to declare itself, and of course there's the whole hair-hanging-in-the-face thing.

And yet.
And yet.
The concentration is real.
The features are about right.
She does not look like a coloring book character egging some child to color outside the lines.

I almost literally threw some Prismacolor on there to brighten things up a bit. I could only find three colors to work with: blue, gold and "mulberry."
This sketch took about 15 minutes in all. I'm still not exactly fast, but I think the devil-may-care attitude produced something a little more close to real.

In a day or two, by the way, I'll post a couple of pictures of the actual girl so you can get an idea of what she looks like.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Variations on a Lylah

First, it's pronounced like "Lila." Thought I'd get that out of the way for those of you who have never met the humans behind these walls. Her father gets credit/blame for the spelling.

I had this great idea for doing one of my interview portraits of Lylah and then quickly started to be turned off by how it came out, for a variety of reasons I won't bore you with here. But I thought that rather than dwelling on all that, I'd take the week and do a few more portraits of her, either from the same photo that I used for this, or from life. Maybe I can learn something from Lylah.

Wouldn't be the first time.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

This would have been a good story

This would have been a good story if I were in more of a mood to tell it, but I've sort of lost my groove this weekend.
The short version goes: I looked up from my office chair the other night and saw a field mouse staring down from the top of the door. At first I thought it was an unusually large and misplaced door hinge that I'd never noticed, but then it blinked. He clearly had no clue what to do. The cat offered to help remove it. I tossed a half-filled water bottle at the cat, he ran away, and I plucked the mouse up by the tail and let him go two houses down, with a better than 50 percent chance of going undiscovered by the hunters from my house.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

End of an Era

What you're looking at is a broken garden ornament.
I saw fit to document this sad moment because the ornament was a stone dog that lived for some years just outside the entrance to my parents' home near Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was one of those skinny racing breeds, like a grayhound or something, and though my parents never owned a live dog of such description, the stone one seemed fitting. At Christmas, my mother would tie a red ribbon around its neck.

The stone dog eventually needed a new home, and came to live on my front porch, where it never looked as fitting because our house is always considerably more messy and chaotic than my mother's was (which was: not at all). Every now and then I'd move the dog, thinking that if it were in a different place, it might look more at home. Moving it around so much was perhaps not a good idea, since it was really heavy - made of concrete or whatever fancy garden ornaments are made of.

Earlier this week, I was moving a piece of furniture and needed to prop open the screen door. I went to lift the dog, which was a very useful propping tool, and the body of the dog lifted right off the base. In no time, Carlo declared, "Time to get rid of that!" I think he was never as fond of the dog as I was, but that's understandable.

We hauled it to the treelawn, but not before I took the time to sketch it. It was just a dumb garden ornament, of course, but I was never able to look at it without thinking of how it looked outside my parents' house in its red ribbon.