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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.