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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Interesting men

The Cleveland Museum of Art is currently distracting visitors from the problem of its mult-year renovation project with a lovely special exhibition called Monet in Normandy. It's a geography-based exhibit of the great impressionist's works, but it has most of what a Monet fan would want to see, including the wheat stacks and the amazing rock formations in the sea. My friend T, who claims to know little about art, says he was most struck by the unconventional use of color. For the first time, he said, he realized that it was not just a matter of painting grass green, skies blue, etc. Then he apologized for that observation.

But in fact that really IS a lot of the fun of seeing some of these paintings up close -- it's something you don't notice so much in prints and reproductions of various kinds, and you do with the real work. That was true again for me, when I saw the exhibit. Grain stacks aren't simply wheat colored. Monet used an almost pointillistic melange of colors from the rainbow. They glisten.

One of the other things I liked a lot about the exhibition was a black and white photograph of the artist, which made me wish I could have met him. Unlike van Gogh (whose work excites me a little more than Monet's does), Monet would, I think, have made a great companion. So it is with T, Monet and also Don West at that I bring you this post today.

A week ago or so, Don started posting a series of art postcards.
He'll send one to you if you want, and I wanted one. Tulip tree arrived - well, I don't know exactly when, because my husband C (this is an all-male blog session today, I guess) found it the other day, tucked into some other mail we hadn't completely scoured. Let me just say that a) It's really fun to get a postcard from Don West, and b) this Monet postcard is going to Don West himself as soon as he sends me his address.

I used an old daguerrotype (bet I spelled that wrong) of Claude M. to make this sketch. In the original photograph, his eyes were tilting upward. I had a feeling that this was somehow a side effect of the amount of time it took to capture an image in those days. I felt he would want to be looking us straight in the eye.

Friday, March 30, 2007


Trying to get around a technical problem. This image belongs to the previous post, and for some reason wasn't always showing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Once upon a time, a slender young woman who was not me was dating a young man who was not kind.
In particular, he could not seem to keep from offering helpful critiques of her weight.
One day, they had a meal together. It went rather badly, until she turned it around.

As I said, this precise event did not happen to me. But it could have. I only wish that I would have had the fire inside to handle such things the way she did. Click on the image to get a better read.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Emu Deux

Choices, choices, choices.
To fry the enormous beautiful emu egg or to drain it and save it, maybe even paint something on the outside of the shell?
Well, all right, I admit - not much of a choice there. As recently as last year, I poked holes in the ends of chicken eggs so that we could design our little hearts out in the Easter Egg department, and I lost an estimated 15,000 brain cells blowing out the yokes and whites.

No, there was only one thing to do, and I did it.

You actually have to smack an emu egg with a bit of gusto if you want it to crack nicely, which mine did. (The picture here depicts the shell post-crack, though I must admit I've added a bit from the imagination where the bird is concerned.)

Into my 12-inch Teflon-coated frying pan I poured the contents, which indeed looked simply like the world's biggest fried egg. At first.

But unlike a chicken egg, there's something weirdly scary and especially gelatinous about the white of an emu egg. It doesn't really turn white-white as it cooks, it just gets kind of grayish, and stays translucent. I was debating whether to scramble it up there to hide what was becoming grotesque looking when the yoke broke of its own accord. Then I started mixing it around in the pan with my spatula.

I was counting on my husband, the Sushi Eater (sounds like a cult, doesn't it?) to embrace the strangeness of tasting a fried emu egg, but in fact he made a face at the very idea. Still, once it was as cooked as it was going to get, I took a taste, then put a little on his plate.

I thought it mostly tasted like an egg, and the more I tried to forget what it had looked like in the pan, the better able I was to convince myself that it was really just an egg. But the Sushi Eater was having none of it. He took two grudging bites, wearing the face of revulsion the whole time, and told me he felt about emu egg the way I feel about sushi. That can be summarized as: I'll taste it if I have to, but it has nothing to do with pleasure.

Alas, most of my emu omelet went to the great god known as Garbagedisposal, and that seemed like a prudent choice. Emu eggs are more fun to paint than to eat, and almost as fun to paint as baby emus.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Green egg and a lotta bacon

At the new grocery store (see yesterday's post), you can buy eggs singly, by what kind of creature laid them. Prefer the eggs of Bantam hens? No problem. Want to see what goose eggs can mean - besides zero? They're all yours. You pick them up and place them, one by one, in small metal baskets lined with something like raffia. (Perhaps it even IS raffia.) Then when you check out, they give you little plastic holders for safe passage.

When I first saw the big green thing I thought, Why are they selling avocados in the dairy department? Then I saw the sign: Emu eggs. Now you don't see emu eggs at my regular grocery store. I knew I had to have one. Even after I saw the, gulp, price tag. I knew I had to mess around with that incredible color, and I knew it had to be in conjunction with a couple of the other eggs.

At the check-out area, I tried to distract C as the cashier got around to scanning the tag on the emu egg. "What kind of wine did you find?" I asked. His sixth sense kicked in. He looked at the display just after the emu egg made its journey across the scanning screen. "WOW," he said. "That egg was twenty bucks!"

"Yes," I said, as if made perfect sense to spend $20 on an egg. "The guy in produce says they're like six regular eggs. I plan to paint it. Really. It's going to be a still life. Then I won't buy another one. I promise."

Later, perhaps, will draw or paint what an emu egg looks like, cracked open in a fry pan. After all, I want to get my money's worth. :-D

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The new grocery store

A new grocery store opened nearby yesterday, so C and I had to go check it today - a rare day off from work in the middle of the week. It was an astonishingly beautiful American scene, I have to say - a living cornucopia, a temple to abundance. The produce section looked absolutely impeccable - there must've been many produce elves keeping those red peppers just so in their peppery pyramid.

What I wanted to do, and have always imagined myself doing, is standing in different parts of the store and doing quick, loose sketches. The place was so busy, though, that I was reluctant to take up aisle space. In the end, I repaired to a little area where those who buy prepared meals can go and eat them. The gender of the light-haired person on the right is still a mystery to me. First I thought "young boy," then I thought "twentysomething woman," and now I just don't know.

Tomorrow I will show you one of the remarkable things I bought.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Character issue

It was cold outside today but sunny, and just fine for sketching the street outside from a cafe table inside. Lylah played with her GameBoy while I drew this cool building across the street. We need more architecture with decent character. One way to really see how uninspired contemporary architecture is -- and I'm talking about everyday architecture, not the big showcase buildings with billionaire benefactors -- is to cast your eye around for interesting buildings to draw. Strip malls make lousy subjects, and the nation is full of them. When you find something worth sketching, like this one, it's a safe bet that it was built before 1950.

Friday, March 16, 2007

American Kestrel

The buzzards "returned" to Buzzard Roost in Hinckley, Ohio yesterday. Returned is in quotes because some of us notice that many buzzards were hanging around before - all winter, in some cases. Nevertheless, you can get a good look at many turkey vultures these days at Hinckley Reservation, and you can do it while eating pancakes this Sunday, otherwise known as Buzzard Sunday.

Other birds of prey will be visiting as well, and very likely there will be one of these - a "pocket falcon," as they're sometimes called. (I learned that phrase from my brother Mark before I knew much at all about kestrels.) I like the idea of keeping a falcon in my pocket. You never know when you're going to need one.

Kestrels really are fabulously marked and stunningly loud when they call. I know a little kestrel personally, and when she calls (this is her here, btw), I can feel my eardrum buzz. My impression is that she would enjoy it if she knew she had actually broken my ear drum. But she has a lot to say. I think of her as the Norma Rae of the kestrel world, speaking out to all who will listen (though few understand) against the ignorati, who would attempt to keep birds of prey as pets and to nourish them with hot dogs and such. She speaks from sad, almost tragic experience. While she will never know life in the wild, thanks to the abuses of her early days and its deleterious effect on her plumage, she lives a better life now in the care of a woman who knows what to do with a pocket falcon and other such wonders.

And she's happy to tell you about it. Loudly.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hawk studies

I'm doing wildlife reading these days in anticipation of a couple of bird programs for the raptor center. Last night's study was red-shouldered hawks, a smaller cousin (cousin in looks, at any rate) to the better-known red-tail. One of the confounding and wonderful things about these birds is the unpredictability of how they might look at any given time. I gave this one a cockeyed fluff of a breast feather because you'll see that happen sometimes. Like us, they don't always have every hair in place. Unlike us, birds have a preen gland back by their butts, which creates the bird equivalent of Aqua Net. (This description has not been scientifically vetted, but you get the idea.) But seriously. The preen-gland stuff provides managability and, as it turns out, a bit of water-proofing. Well designed, they are.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


In December I had this quaint notion about winter. It went something like this: The solstice represents a turn toward the light. At the moment when daylight is at its minimum, there is only one way to go, and that is up.

I have this thought every year around the beginning of December, looking down the pike at Dec. 21 and 22. It is how I reconcile myself to the idea of another Ohio winter, by telling myself it really isn't that bad. And let me be clear - for us, it really ISN'T that bad. I thought, last night, as I dragged the garbage cans to the curb, that the coat I'd left hanging on a hook inside was a coat that some other person, someplace in the city, didn't have. And that in the end, I got to go back inside my warm house. Which wasn't an option for everyone.

Now it is March. The days have become undeniably longer of light. The wind was still bitter today, and the lake, where I spent my lunch hour, looks like some primordial margarita. Beyond the place where the water is broken up with thick chunks of ice, there is more blue, however, and then there's a haze where muted blue lake meets muted blue sky. Yes, it is still cold. But the sunlight spreads itself across the hours and the lake expresses a determination to thaw. There is only one way to go, and that is up.

This scene, incidentally, is near a lakeside park (or by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if that's how you're oriented). The cars are on the street in the foreground; the reddish area in the middle ground is a pedestrian walkway; that line jutting out toward the background is a jetty.