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Friday, June 29, 2007

Do You Talk to Strangers?

I did these sketches last night while I was at an awards ceremony. The person on the right, however, was not at the awards ceremony. I'd seen him earlier this week in a quick transaction at a local novelty shop. His name is Brian, I know, and he looked like a Gothic Boy George: fleshy, made-up, mulitiply pierced. I've been thinking about him ever since I saw him. This is drawn from memory, and it pretty well captures my recollection of him, but I find myself wishing I had the guts to go back and ask him to let me draw him for real. (He was not exactly warm and fuzzy. Well - he was fuzzy. But not warm. :-)

This all led me to wonder about whether any of you have asked strangers if they would sit for the sketch, and if so how it went.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Hotel Westlake

It used to be the Hotel Westlake, or the Westlake Hotel. Although there is a Westlake, Ohio, the Hotel Westlake was located in beautiful downtown Rocky River, Ohio. In the 1960s, a fire did extensive damage to the hotel, but it was refurbished and painted yellow. Eventually it became a condominimum complex and they refaced it in a terra cotta stucco. It's quite lovely, actually, though only a part of it is shown here.

I drew it from a bench across the street, just outside a hair salon that I patronized some years ago. The guy who cut my hair had a jar at his station labeled Ashes of Problem Clients. I thought it was funny at first. Then, when I noticed that all he ever did was bitch about people - including his clients - I started to think it was less funny. Finally, I figured I would make space in his chair for other future former clients. Now I get my hair cut from a guy who never says a bad word about anyone, and the only thing at his station are pictures of his kids. It's a much nice experience.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Three tries

It took me three tries to get the angles more or less correct on this one. And yes, I tore the first two out of my sketchbook, which I normally don't do. In this case I was breaking in a brand new Raffine all-media sketchbook (like it!) and I had higher hopes for the first page.

The composition is a little hard to read, so I will tell you that it's a decorative flag (flowers, hummingbird) sticking out of a porch post. The railing still has Christmas lights, though we don't turn them on. We've got the weeping cherry tree from above and tall stalks of bee balm from below. And we've got that unidentifiable, wonderful sweet summer-air smell, which might or might not come through here.

Monday, June 25, 2007

An artist's stool

Many months ago I bought a collapsible aluminum stool, imagining a time when I would have the intestinal fortitude to unfold it, in some space where there was no good seating, and draw. Today I used it for the first time. On my lunch hour I went to the Flats, the industrial area that flanks the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland. Ironically, there were benches where I wanted to sit, but because I'd thought to bring my artist's stool, I eschewed them and instead used the stool.

This gave me a ridiculous sense of satisfaction and liberation. The Flats are not well-populated these days, but a few folks walked by and saw me sitting there with my sketchbook, on my little stool, and it did not matter what they thought. I could suddenly imagine unfolding my little artist's stool in a slightly more populated spot.
It was liberating because I realized I no longer have to be bound by where I can easily set myself down. I can find more vantage points. I have my own chair.

Meanwhile, is the blanket around the bridge here not strange? I tried to capture the billowing feel of it, which was notable on site. I love the Flats. I could draw there every day for the rest of the summer and not get tired of the scenes and the potential compositions.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Lylah's Room

It's funny to hear stories about people whose parents nagged them for reading too much. It happens less now, I'm sure, than it did forty years ago, when reading was more widely considered just another form of sloth.

It does my heart good when I see my kids reading for pleasure. Sometimes they need a little nudge to get off the computer or turn off the TV. But they do this without too much complaint, and they will, on their own, pick up a book, as Lylah did today. She just got this one on Thursday, and she finished reading it while I was sketching her. We let them read virtually whatever they want. Sometimes this requires a deep intake of breath, because the market for junk kid-fiction seems ever-expanding. Plus there are innumerable series that seem to be about gossipy, boy-crazy teenage girls. In the end, though, I want them to connect reading with pleasure, and that begins with following their own tastes.

I must add that the still life at the bottom includes Flatso Bear, which has been Lylah's main squeeze from the time she was a mere six months old. The entire family loves Flatso. Perhaps you can see why.

Friday, June 22, 2007


There's something systematically wrong with the eyeglass industry. It's called pricing. Glasses are too expensive.
Ahh, but you say, these are your EYES you're investing in.
Right, but when it costs me $300 to fix my near-sightedness-but-need-magnification-for-reading issues, it means that my eye problem then becomes a style problem. Not that I'm such a great fashion follower, understand. But it's hard to commit. I mean, think about it. If you went jewelry shopping with the idea that you were going to have to wear whatever earrings you bought that day every day of your life for the next two years because they cost so much, would it not become stressful? Hey, eyeglass people: Price 'em at 60 bucks a pair and I'll take five, OK?

A couple of weeks ago I splurged and bought a second pair of glasses. Yesterday I took my friend Ellen to the eyeglass store where I'd bought mine. She, too, wanted something different (but not too different) and fun (but not inappropriately or frighteningly fun) and flattering (crucial) and exactly right for every occasion. The jury is still out. In the meantime, I had fun drawing her as she tried on all these glasses, and then I had fun at home turning her black and white sweater into a purple and white sweater and her black pants into blue pants because, after all, I must take my liberties. But I'll admit that what I like most about this drawing is that it is so recognizably Ellen. And yes, she really does have an amazingly dramatic sweep of silvery hair.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Katy, standing in the order line at Dairy Queen: "I'm reeeaaaally tempted to order a medium Blizzard."
Me: "But what, you don't want the extra calories?"
Katy: "Right. But I reeeeaally want one."
I shrug. I will be ordering a small cup of chocolate ice cream. I do not order Blizzards - small, medium or otherwise.

Katy orders a medium Reese's Cup Blizzard.
Lylah follows suit.

We eat. They suffer, once again, to be drawn by me. They are used to it.

Katy: "I have discovered that it's not worth it to order the medium Blizzard."
Me: "Why, because it's gone in just about the same amount of time?"
Katy: "No, because none of the good stuff gets to the bottom. It's all just plain ice cream.

These are some tough lessons of youth, aren't they?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Big Paradox

At the raptor center, life is easier if you learn to manage the Big Paradox.
That means that you put all this effort toward improving and prolonging the lives of wild creatures, knowing that eventually they'll die anyway. Maybe they'll live 10 years after they're released. Maybe they'll live 10 minutes. Factor in, too, that the survival of one animal means the death of others and it all gets very confusing very quickly.
So it's better just to embrace the Big Paradox: Yes, we help life. Yes, it ends. Next?

Laura found this dead swallowtail on her farm and couldn't bring herself to dispose of it because it was so beautiful. She gave it to me so I could draw it. I put it on a glass saucer. The butterfly came out OK. The saucer - well, they're just danged hard to draw. Oddly, it wasn't until I was about halfway done with my hissy-fit in red around the edges - which was intended to be a comment on the drawing of the saucer -- that I realized I was really writing about the swallowtail.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Trees and such

Early summer flowers bloomed at the arboretum yesterday, but there was an almost comical lack of correlation between what was blooming and what was labeled. For instance, the cool red/yellow flower (depicted here at the bottom of the page) was growing quite a bit in one area, but the nearest labeled thing described a white flower. Consequently I saw lots of plants that I couldn't identify and got the identities on lots of plants that weren't in bloom. Which may be why I decided to spend most of my time doing this stand of trees.

Trees are a good thing for me to practice. Like cats, I never get them quite the way I'd hoped to.

After I got about 10 minutes away from the arboretum I realized I'd left my sketchbook back at the visitors building. I figured someone would find it (and someone did), but the idea of losing it was scary. Kind of interesting. It has no value to anyone but me, and it probably has TOO MUCH value to me. I was imagining someone finding it and taking it home, and wondered whether I would be heartbroken or pleased.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Quest for the perfect sketchbook

I was going to write something about "A Walk on the Moon," the movie we were watching last night when I drew this, but then I scanned it and got that old reliable scan shadow again and thought instead I would write an open letter - a plea, if you will - to the arts-supplies companies for the perfect sketchbook. Here's my wish list. (What's yours?)

1. Should be a perfect-bound book, like Moleskine, that can lie nice and flat. In othe words: not a ring binding.
2. Should contain a white (not cream) paper that nicely accepts both pen and watercolor. The watercolor sketchbook paper in Canson Montval books are nice. That's what I've used here. But the books themselves have a ring binder, which causes the lid on the scanner to be higher than it should be, which causes the shadow, which no amount of pressing hard during the scanning process can eliminate.
3. Back to that lies-flat thing: That's in part to make it easy to hold the book open, but also so you can create a spread that goes across both open pages. Moleskine's watercolor sketchbook has a vertical bind. Theoretically you could create a scene across two pages, if you turned it sideways, but it would be very, very horizontal and it would have friggin' perforations in the middle. (I'll stop short of another rant against the perforations, but just let me say that if we wanted to tear out the pages, we wouldn't buy paper in the form of a BOOK, ok? Am I right, sketchers?)

I might be approaching the point where I do what other creative people do and make my own sketchbook. But it sounds time-consuming and tedious to me, and I think that during the entire time I was making it I would be thinking about how I could be drawing instead. If you know of any sketchbooks that meet my persnickety requirements for paper weight, binding and layout, please shout!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Just enough

Last Friday Carlo and I went to hear Natural Facts, the guitar-duo of Mike and Tim. Carlo had heard them before and even wrote liner notes for their new CD, but I'd never been. We sat outside at a place in Cleveland called Cafe Limbo, and listened to their sweet bluesy guitar music and I did my best with my pen. I kind of like these sorts of sketches and how they're just enough to bring other memories of the time right back, like a freshly opened box of crayons brings third grade rushing back.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A poem about transportation, sort of

And no, the groom does not refer to my husband.
Oh, and a Sting-Ray was a cool kid's bike back in the 60s.
And no, you aren't supposed to explain such things, but I can't help it. Carlo didn't get it, so now I'm simply throwing my failure out for all to see. With explanations.
Oh, and if you don't want to click on the actual picture to read the words, you can check it out at the other blog I'm involved with, right here. It's a slightly edited and I think better version, according to me and only me.

Happy Sunday.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The trouble with strangers

It's hard to draw strangers in public. You know this if you do public sketching. It's hard because of the surreptitious nature of the activity and it's hard because people tend to move, especially if they don't know they're supposed to stay still so you get the the darned gesture already. In short, your subjects are uncooperative.

It's also important to draw strangers in public. It makes a sketch journal more interesting. Even if you're mostly interested in architectural scenes or landscapes, they don't truly come alive until you put people in them. So: Strangers are good.

Today I forced myself to do the difficult thing and draw a few strangers. I really resist this, because, well, truth be told, I also want a nice page when I'm done. I want something I'm not ashamed to post here, and something that's fun to look back on. But a nice page can be at odds with sketching-strangers practice. I solved this problem, I think, by making a grid of the page. Make a grid and even the dumbest sketches can sort of assemble themselves into something you're not too embarrassed to share.

So while I was sitting there, fumbling around with strangers and listening to a nice blues band play their stuff, it occurred to me that what I should be practicing is making the right lines faster and more decisively - working from the outside (general shapes) to the inside (detail), and getting shapes, and doing it quickly. That has to be what I get better at, because in my years of sketching I have noticed that my skills in exerting mind control to make strangers a) remain ignorant of the fact that I am sketching them and b) remain still for as long as it takes me to draw them well have not noticeably improved.

By the way, recently I've been thinking a lot about what New York artist Tommy Kane does with his pages. He doesn't sketch a lot of strangers-not-paying-attention, but he sketches both streetscapes and people really well. If you haven't visited his site and you're interested in pen-and-ink drawing, get a load of what he does.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sorry. (Not.)

Last night when I couldn't sleep, I started to wonder what it would be like to be another sort of woman altogether.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

But seriously

It takes effort for me to imagine that there are people in the world who would not be completely charmed by five baby screech owls sharing a perch. I KNOW these people exist, because they tell me about their fear of birds, which I sort of understand. It's the flapping, I know. The unpredictability of an animal that can suddenly go airborne.

But still. I mean, really. LOOK at them.

These guys are, of course, at the raptor center. If I remember correctly, they were motherless, though not fatherless, when people found them before cutting down their nest tree. I might be misrememebering. Anyway, it was deemed a good idea to bring them in for a bit of TLC. They seem in good shape. I took some photos last week, and I drew this using photos. You'll notice that the second from the left has significant reddish tones around the face and wings. Owls come in color "phases" or "morphs," which are not phases at all but just different colors. He's the redhead of the bunch. Then, too, there's one little guy whose eyes seem a little less wide and bright. I worry about him, though for all I know everything is fine.

Artistically speaking, it took me a while to sit down to draw these because I was having that what's-the-point argument with myself. What's the point, when we have a picture? What's the point of replicating a picture?

And yet I did it anyway, and ended up with a drawing that I like in some ways better than the photos. The fuzzy charm of the owls comes through nicely in pen and ink (like the kestrel a few posts back). It made me happy to study the owls, and to make my little marks on the page.