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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sketching or drawing - Can you tell?

Every now and then I find it's worthwhile to return to books on art techniques and reread them from the perspective of whatever experiences I've had since I first read them. I did this last night with "Fast Sketching" by nature artist David Rankin. He happens to live nearby and I had the privilege of taking a class from him once, and it was helpful but I resisted some of the lessons at the time. For one thing, he's a big advocate of using a soft pencil and I am SO addicted to pens. For another thing, his definition of "sketching" doesn't produced finished-looking drawings, which was what I wanted to make.

Rankin makes a sharp distinction between drawing and sketching. Drawing implies time spent on careful rendering techniques. Sketching implies translating the shape and essence of something very quickly. To learn to truly sketch, he says, gives an artist tremendous freedom in the field, and I've really begun to understand how this is true.

I went back to the book because I've been feeling a little restless about what I produce "in the field," as it were. This is in quotes because I'm not the artist Rankin is, nor do I work with the same goals about finished paintings in mind. I don't think I've ever truly produced a finished painting. But in any case, I do have the experience of wishing I could more quickly grasp dynamic scenes, especially those with people or animals in them. That's what Rankin's techniques can really help with, I think.

So: Is this umbrella table here a sketch or a drawing? Based on what I learned in my re-reading, I think it's really a drawing, and I think Rankin would concur. It took me maybe 20 minutes to do this. (I'm a pretty slow reader and a pretty slow sketcher.) I worked on putting in lots of fussy hatching lines that Rankin wouldn't advocate for a sketch. It's really done like an illustration, which is fine: the subject, in this case, was very cooperative and did not move around a lot.

I think a lot of what I've been doing has been trying to make illustrations from scenes that are more conducive to sketches. So I'm thinking of experimenting with actual sketching, a la David Rankin, and backing that up with camera work in an effort to then do some more finished illustrations - which is what I like to produce.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

T-shirts, ears and the Flying Karamozovs

Thank you to all who wrote to save my ear. It occurred to me that I wear glasses, and therefore need both ears, so I climbed up out of my trench of despair, took a breath of fresh air and smiled.
OK, but pay attention here, folks: SEND ME AN EMAIL, PLEASE, if you are Sue or anyone else who from previous posts who wanted an Art Rules Tshirt. It wouldn't hurt to say what size you wear, though right now the smallest I have is a man's large, which is pretty big. But I'm ordering some smaller sizes, so if you're slender, like Nin, I might recommend waiting for the Mediums to come in.

Lin, my whining was about the fact I seemed unable to attract much interest even for a FREE Art T-shirt, and, snif, I loved Art. I still love Art. And I still love art, although we all have days, don't we ...?

Nin, Erin and Hondo, I know where to find you, and I will deliver you shirts. I am grateful for your support. I am also grateful for a chance to have seen Erin's YouTube treatise on being rudely rejected by MacAdam Cage.

As for today's sketches of people, they were done Sunday night when we went to see the comedic juggling team called the Flying Karamazov Brothers. The guy in the kilt on the right is the only one of the entertainers I attempted to draw.
The woman next to him was a pretty satisfying little sketch. She was an usher. (This is at Cain Park, a lovely, small amphitheater where everything is tres casual.)
Old guy was an old guy. Kid in a baseball cap had this nice hunk of hair sticking out of the hole in the hat.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

T-shirts and teenagers

This is my daughter's friend, Miranda, who looks fairly lovely here but is actually prettier in real life. A sweetie, too. I loved drawing her.

As for my pathetic attempt to follow Suzanne and with a T-shirt giveaway, I think I'll put myself out of my misery here and be done with it. I'll send Tshirts to Karen Blados, Sue and Hondo - and anyone else from the first post who wanted one. It was unclear.

You guys have to tell me where to send them. Email me.

Cheers. I will attempt to keep creating, though the Rejection Cloud has descended. I am fighting an urge to cut off my ear.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


My hat is off to Suzanne over at An Open {Sketch}book, who did a way fun giveaway last week. In her honor - and, well, because I like the way these turned out - I'm doing the same thing.

I've begun a little T-shirt enterprise. I designed this one as a fund-raiser for my friend Joan, who runs a nonprofit organization that helps put Cleveland-area artists in touch with those in the market to buy art.

I'll do it the same way Suzanne did hers. If you'd like a chance to win the "Art Rules" T-shirt (men's sizes L, XL, and XXL), just tell me your name and on Wednesday I'll pull one of those names out of a hat and announce the winner. The shirts came out nice - perhaps nicer than they look in the photo. Click on one of the images to get a better look at the cartoon. And of course, Art DOES rule.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back in a week

Dear readers, faithful and otherwise:
Pen in Hand has a too-full week ahead and will take a break from posting, though not from sketching. Please come visit again in seven or eight days, will you? I hope so.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

In plain sight

We keep bottles of wine out on the counter. I say "we" like I have something to do with it, when in fact Carlo is the wine accumulator and, for the most part, the wine drinker. I like wine. I would drink a glass of wine every night, but I don't because I regard that as calories that could be better spent elsewhere. Which is another way of saying I'd probably have two glasses of wine, and still eat everything I'd normally eat, and then .... well, it would just get ugly.

It occurred to me as I was drawing the bottles that in another household, having so much wine out there just staring at you all the time would be a challenge. I imagine it would be like me setting a plate of, oh, I don't know, hot cinnamon rolls out every single day. I would find it impossible to concentrate with a plate of hot cinnamon rolls sitting on the counter every day - even if they were right by a bowl of cat food. The cat food would barely make a dent in the fact that every cell in my body would be screaming to eat the cinnamon rolls.

The wine, however, never calls to me, except to suggest a nice drawing composition.
Click on the picture to make it larger.

Friday, July 13, 2007


All of these are mine. The big thing in the middle, in my hand, is new. It looks like a razor but it's actually an electric tweezing device. It works like a charm if you can stand the pain. I cannot decide if I can stand the pain.

The pink object is really just a tiny, baby razor. You could probably actually shave a baby with it, though of course most babies don't have beards or stray upper-lip-hair issues. I accuse the pink razor of being for delicate areas, but I don't want you to get any ideas (and god knows you don't want to have them). In our house this is mostly used for stray eyebrow areas and perhaps the occasional upper-lip problem, not that any of us preter-feminine women have such issues. But if we did ....

The red tweezers are my favorite. They're especially nice for the rogue-chin-hair problem. Or they would be, if I had such a problem, which of course I don't.

Pardon the debris on this image, by the way. I think it might be time for me to clean the glass on the scanner.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Drug store

As far as I can figure, downtown Cleveland has one - count it, ONE - drug store.
In New York (not that we want to be New York), there's a Duane Reed on every block. The other weird thing is that the big showcase windows of this store are occupied by red poster advertisements for cell phones or something. It seems like an afterthought of a drugstore, a drugstore that doesn't even have conviction to show off its sunblock and Advil and razors in its own windows.

About five years ago, new drugstores were going up like crazy in the suburbs, while this one single lonely store was expected to serve the needs of the entire population of downtown Cleveland. Maybe drugstores are the canaries in the coal mine of city life. When there's only one left, it may be time to worry.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Friendly clutter

I dream of bringing a team of cultural experts - an anthropologist, a curator, perhaps an archaeologist - into my older daughter's room to examine the performance art that looks, to my untrained eyes, like merely a mess. This sketch is limited in dimension, and so you cannot grasp the size of the, er, installation.
(Did this one very quick, and she's quite distorted, but I liked it anyway.)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Who is Al Fresco, anyway?

One way to stretch summer is find someone who can put a spell on the world and extend the long, sultry days into November.
Another way is to go outside in the evening and draw.
Yep. That works.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Breaking the rules

Ah, well, no, I didn't visit mountain gorillas in Uganda over the weekend. And yes, this breaks most of my rules for sketching. For instance, I generally don't like to sketch from photos, and especially not other people's photos. And really one of the points of all this is to capture the quotidian, not to turn myself into some cheap-o nature artist.
But hey, I saw the picture and started enjoying drawing the fur and the rest is history.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


I just came across this poem by my award-winning poet friend George Bilgere from his book "Haywire," and knew I had to include it (without bothering to get permission) for all the art lovers of the world. If it doesn't make you smile - well, it just should, that's all. I will try to get around the fact that I didn't ask permission by telling you to buy his book of witty and startling poems, published by Utah State University and available in the Cleveland market (at least last I checked) at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. The poem has nothing to do with this particular sketch, which has its own narrative, to say nothing of a backstory.


Somehow it pleases me to observe
In the perfect silence of the desert sunset,
That he wasn't very good.
There's really no sense of perspective,
and the men and the deer
he carved on this chunk of sandstone
look pretty much as I would have drawn them
back in the third grade.

I suspect that as he labored here
at his stone canvas long ago,
he felt the same disappointment
I used to experience as I sat
facing the blank paper
with my new set of watercolors
so bright and optimistic in their box.

Everything seemed possible,
every doorway to the future
was open until
I made that first botched attempt,
that first failed stroke.

He probably went back
to his little stone encampment
and did something paleolithic
like repairing a spear point,
or helping his wife make dinner.

He told her about his day,
standing there in the hot sun
with his sharp stone trying to make
an image of last summer's deer hunt.

How the creatures looked ridiculous
with their antlers like turkey wings,
and the brave hunters with their spears
ended up looking more like groundhogs
beating the air with twigs.

And that got the kids giggling,
and pretty soon even his wife
found herself unable to be angry with him
for not bringing anything home to eat.
Telling stories was something
he'd always been good at.

And that night as they lay together
before the invention of the roof,
and still a little bit before
the invention of art,
he told her about the deer
and the bison
and the great starry hunter
wheeling namelessly overhead.

Then she rolled over
and showed him a thing or two.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Don't be so hard on yourself

On the chance that you don't want to click and read the text on this page, I'll tell you the story here. I'd done my trick of driving around to find a place to park and draw, and while I was drawing the van and the newspaper boxes I heard something weird. I turned to see a guy walking past my car carrying a portable CD player with headphones. He was talking loudly to himself. It seemed like a conversation, in some way. Then suddenly (this all happened within a few seconds) he reaches up with his free hand and smacks himself hard on the side of the head. Why, I don't know.

At that moment I stopped drawing the van and did a quick sketch of the guy. Cleveland is full of characters like this these days. By "characters like this" I mean people who seem lost in their own strangenesses and illnesses and disabilities. I don't know what's to become of them. Nor do I know what's to become of any of us, trying not to see them.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4 2007

Nothing says "independence" like an orchid, that's what I always say.
Well, I'd planned to go wandering today and see what summery vistas I might conquer with my pen, but the weather turned uncooperative. I bought this orchid to draw it, which is the best way for me to approach plant ownership, since keeping them alive is never really my strength. The design of these flowers is just astounding. What pure pleasure to study it.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The ongoing saga

Click on the image if you want to make it big enough to read all the stuff here. By way of explanation, this is a part of a larger project, some of which occasionally appears here and most of which doesn't. I would say that the woman here bears a marginal resemblance to someone I know well. She looks a tad young, actually, but you'll get no apologies from me on that one.