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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.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

He's paying rent

Perhaps you're thinking, "How brave Karen is to draw this spider so close-up."
Karen isn't brave; Karen had a window pane between herself and the spider - which, nonetheless, looks like the arachnid that ate Akron. Large. A little furry. It has been perched on its beautiful little web for weeks now, which makes me wonder if he is a she and if she is preparing to lay eggs. What can you tell me about spiders? Do they lay eggs in September?

My feeling about spiders in general is that they're beautiful when a pane of glass separates us. I don't like how they can rappel into one's hair; that's my biggest complaint. And I'd rather share space with a spider than with a centipede, though we seem to have more centipedes around the house these days than spiders. I would like to feed the centipedes to the spiders. I once saw a centipede sting or bite my cat. The cat leaped back in pain, and I haven't forgiven centipedes since then. It is highly unlikely you'll see a drawing of a centipede in this space because I hate them so. Also because they move fast.

But my spider friend is kind of pretty, in a slightly sinister way.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Head trauma

Click on the image to read about Katy's interesting week.
Oh, and of course - have a wonderful day.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


This is almost the last of the Fort Worth drawings. It's one of two enormous stone angels that grace the facade of Bass Performance Hall downtown. Each has a golden horn pressed to her lips. The building is worth sketching in a larger form, but given my time constraints I decided to focus in on this gal. The more I studied her, as i perched on a chair outside the Barnes & Noble across the street, the more curious it seemed to me that whoever designed the angel kind of sexed her up, from the Farrah Fawcett hair to the curvy bod. The implication seems to be that in the afterlife, those of us who have managed to earn our wings will also have the 36-24-36 dimensions we didn't achieve on earth.

The downside, of course is no eyeballs.

Monday, September 18, 2006


We think of dogwood trees in terms of what they do in spring, namely give birth to dogwood blossoms. It never occurred to me to wonder what they did in fall, but here it is: a dogwood in fall. We planted it a few weeks ago. When I returned from Fort Worth this weekend, the foliage had gone from green to this amazing red/peach/yellow combination with little red berries that no doubt will become the aforementioned blossoms. I wanted to catch this color, even thought I find it difficult to render trees at this middle distance; it's so much easier when they're blobs in the background.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Fort Worth

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Features Editors had a convention last week in Fort Worth, Texas. (No, that's not the real name of the group. That's not even an original joke, but I'm stealing it anyway.) I was able to grab a few minutes of escape from the hotel air conditioning to do a couple of bad sketches in the Moleskine, which was the only sketchbook I brought. I went minimalist - even left the watercolors behind.

Downtown Fort Worth is architecturally lovely. The sketch you see here depicts some storefronts and the rooftop garden owned by a restaurant where the group had drinks and snacks the first night. That thing in the middle that almost looks like a bucking bronco done in topiary is actually a bucking bronco done in topiary. Behind it is a geodesic dome encompassing dining tables. I did this all with a brown micron because brown ink on cream colored paper seems so right for the Southwest.

I really like doing architectural sketches, but it takes me forever to locate what I want to draw. I mean, really. It can take me 45 minutes to find the right view. Or I find something I'd like to draw but the angle I want to draw it from would require me to sit in the middle of a street. Anyone else find this to be true?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

And then we ate it

Produce is so unreliable, isn't it?
You just never know whether the peach will be juicy and sweet or mealy and dry, or whether the bananas will ever get to that perfect degree of ripeness or skip that stage altogether and go directly from green to better-make-banana-bread. Will the cantaloupe have flavor? Will the basket of strawberries be all red and juicy on top and moldy on the bottom? It's a wonder that shoppers aren't having anxiety attacks in the produce aisle all the time.

This here is Chautauqua corn, and it was one of those great batches that cooked up plump and sweet and crunchy. I loved how the husks looked pulled back. Also, the silk on this ear was more beautiful than I could render, inspiring each of my kids (separately) to wish out loud that their own hair could look like that.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Young Kate

There definitely was something "Sarah" about my last post. Now meet Katy. She mostly looks like Katy, but there is something essentially "Katy" missing from this one. Part of it has to do with her serious expression. (The real girl tends to be quite animated.) Part of it has to do with the fact that she looks a tad younger than she is. As I told her when she saw the sketch, she looks like herself three years ago. Katy agreed. The art lesson here might be that as I've become aware of my tendency to elongate facial features I've started to overcompensate a little, shortening them too much. It used to be that my portraits all looked a little old. Now they're starting to look a little young.

Someone pointed out to me recently that I could do these things with photo sources, mapping it out with a grid on paper. But what would be the point of that? I think it better to train the eye to really see.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Illustrated Interview: Sarah

My friend Sarah Willis and her siblings inherited a lovely vacation home on 40 wooded acres in Chautauqua, N.Y. In terms of memories and good times, she and her family have roughly a year for every acre invested in the place. For Sarah, it has been a backdrop to childhood wanderings and teenage experimentation and the lessons of early adulthood. It has been a place for parties and mosquito bites and raft floating and fishing. It has been a classroom to teach her children what she loves about nature. It has been a way to be generous to her friends.

Sarah is the author of four novels: “Some Things That Stay,” “The Rehearsal,” “A Good Distance” and, most recently, “The Sound of Us,” in which a white woman is drawn into complications of race, class and her own emotional history when she tries to become a foster mother to a young black child.

I’ve talked to her a lot about writing and her fiction career, but not so much about her relationship to nature, which was the subject of her illustrated interview.

Q: When you’re at your family’s place in Chautauqua, how much of your head is in the past and how much is in the present?
A: Most of it is in the present, but every time somebody new comes up I tell them the stories of the past. And every time I take a walk in the woods that’ll trigger a memory.
Q: Because you spent so much time in the woods when you were a kid?
A: Before I was old enough to bring my own friends up here, I’d go into the woods by myself, or sometimes with my brother. Then when I was about 15 or 16, I started to bring my friends Paula and Meg up here. Paula and I came up one time in the winter and went for an amazing walk. We walked 21 miles. The lake (Chautauqua) was frozen, and we walked all the way across the lake, and asked some guy what time it was, then we turned around and walked back. I drove it later as an adult, to estimate how far we’d gone. Great things happened on that walk. We had a pack of dogs follow us for miles.

There’s something about the woods that when I get in there, I feel like I’m home.

Q: And you’re never afraid of getting lost in the woods, are you?
A: There was a point when I started losing my sense of direction. This is hard to explain, but I think it has something to do with my dyslexia. When I started writing a lot about 15 years ago, I started to lose my sense of direction. I’d notice that all of a sudden I wasn’t sure. I felt that tightness in my chest. And I did get lost on walks with Meg and with Ron. But it’s gotten better. And I only have a sense of direction in the woods. I can’t get around Cleveland Heights.

It’s interesting to watch the land age and to know it’s aging. That tree right there – we planted it as a sapling. My father said we were going to watch it grow. {The tree stands perhaps 25 feet tall now.]

The thing that bothers me right now is not knowing whether I’ll ever take a particular walk again. It’s time, and age. I wonder whether I’ll ever know when it’s my last walk to the beaver pond.

Q: Do you recognize certain trees when you’re walking in the woods, like landmarks?
A: Certainly I know landmarks, and the rise of the land.
Q: What are you thinking when you’re out there?
A: A lot of times I’m thinking about this novel I read about these two sisters who go and live in this big hollow tree the rest of their lives. I don’t believe there’s a hollow tree big enough for them to live in, but I do imagine myself thinking where I’d find shelter and wonder which berries I could eat. And on a walk with someone else, in particular, I think about how that walk will be a part of us from then on. It’s like a bonding experience, I guess.

Q: Have you ever had an experience in nature, or with animals, that felt mystical?
A: Yes. I walked into the woods early in the morning in my slippers. I turned a corner and f awn turned a corner. It was maybe 15 feet away and you could see the curiosity in its eyes. We stared at each other for maybe 20 minutes. I always said I was going to go back in there and find ‘my fawn.’
Never happened.