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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.