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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Portrait of a jock

Sports injuries were not something I worried about when I was 15, and that is just one of the ways my older kid is different from me. Most of the ways she's different from me are improvements, incidentally.

Now you may ask yourself whether her legs are really as long as they look here. My answer is: almost. There's a bit of shortening going on with the body and head, and everything's a bit exaggerated. She's also tall. All in all this was pretty close.
Oh, and she's feeling better. This was done a few days ago.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pigs and transit

This is a nearby rapid-train station that I drew while I was waiting for Lylah to be done from a meeting. The pink blotches around the margins are quick sketches of pigs, which were on the page from a day earlier, when I was visiting the farm park. I didn't want to forfeit the entire page of my sketchbook for those quick piggie sketches, so I decided to add some color and pretend it all made sense. But truthfully I saw no pigs get off the rapid. However, I now think it would be fun to draw a train car full of pigs suited up for business.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Sound of a Throat Clearing

OK, I'm over it.

This drawing is the fireplace mantle in my house. The red horse is a painting by an artist named Seth Chwast. Seth is 24 and autistic, and when he paints his giant canvases in brilliant color, often depicting horses but also many other things, Seth is a vision of joy. He hums. He laughs. He stops occasionally to do yoga stretches with glee. The joy shows up in his work.

So I had drawn something else today (I'll probably post it later in the week), and I was talking to Lylah and telling her that I'm kind of unhappy with my art and its lack of progress. And she says, with the wisdom of her 12-year-old self, "I think you have gotten better. But you have a style. When people see your drawings they say, 'That's Mom.' Well, not everybody says THAT. But they know it's you. So maybe when you say you want to get better, you mean you want to do a different style."

Then I explained to her that she was partly right, but that I also just wanted to be better at seeing how objects were located in space, relative to one another, and get that on the page. It is a source of frustration.

She said she understood this, and allowed as how she gets frustrated with her own artwork sometimes. Then she turned the page and looked at the drawing of the mantle, with Seth's painting above it, and she said, "We just need to be more like Seth."

That sounds like the kind of story a mother tells to boast about her kid, and I suppose I am guilty.
But it is also true. And it helped.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Taking a break

Pen in Hand is discouraged and on sabbatical.
Keep sketching, sketchers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Elevated skyscape

Whew! Had to get away from that scorpion picture, didn't we!
This one's a quick little drawing from the parking lot of a new shopping center in what was the industrial heart of Cleveland. I liked the spot because you can see the elevated highway and city buildings in the background.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sin Dolor

T. C. Boyle, one of the great short-story writers writing today (yes, I know, he writes novels, too), has a story called "Sin Dolor" - Spanish for "without pain" - in the Oct. 16 edition of the New Yorker. The story is told from the viewpoint of a physician who treats and comes to look after, in a way, a boy who doesn't suffer physical pain. There are scenes involving scorpions and further scenes involving self-inflicted wounds, and I won't go into it all, but it's Boyle at his sharpest. Not upbeat, but it leaves you wide-eyed with wonder.

I did this illustration for my Wednesday night illo class. The assignment was simply to choose a magazine piece to illustrate. When I read "Sin Dolor," I could see it was rich with possibilities. I should mention that there is no scene in the actual story that depicts the image I've drawn here. The idea, at least for me, was to work a little more metaphorically. My husband looked at the picture four times before he noticed the skewer going through the lip. My older daughter looked at the picture and made this comic fear-noise she reserves for things that gross her out. I took the former as a useful though unintended criticism, and the latter as a compliment.

Note that there's a little more air around the image than you see here. (This is what fit on my scanner.)
Should you have any reason to look more closely, you may click on this disturbing little drawing and examine my Prismacolor marks. I won't be hanging it in the living room, but it sort of does the job.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Did it again

Connoisseurs of my portraits (uh, yes - I'm employing irony here) will notice that I keep making faces a bit too short. Perhaps this is overcompensation for what used to be my problem, which was making them too long.
Anyway, Joan Crawford looks practically pixie-ish here, doesn't she? Had I stopped after sketching in the shape of her head with a pencil, backed up and looked at it or held it up in a mirror, I'd have seen that I was on my way to making the mistake I've been making now for a couple of weeks.

Click on the pic if yoiu want to see my thoughts on the latest entry in my mean people series. And don't worry, it won't be a long series.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Always a kind word to say

Perhaps I'll dabble in portraits of mean people. Yesterday's scary clown counts, doesn't it?
Now add to that the (self)esteemed litr'ry critic Harold Bloom, who makes the Roster of Bad Karma with this quote about newly named Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing:

"This is pure political correctness. Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable ... fourth-rate science fiction."

As you'll see, on my sketch page here I got it wrong. I thought he'd credited her with being a writer of THIRD-rate sci fi.
Well, I stand corrected. I probably made that error because I am, after all, a woman. Really, only men are to be counted on to say anything worthwhile.

But hey. Instead of vilifying Bloom for being pompous and sexist and for appear in frighteningly numerous photos looking as if he hadn't bathed in a week - no! we dont' approve of such things here at Pen in Hand - I call on myself and you to send thoughts of lovingkindness his way, because after all, that's what mean people need. We must break the chain of bad karma set off by that quote (and why do I suspect that Bloom thinks there's no such thing as first-rate science fiction ...? oops! there I go, thinking again!), we must put positive things out into the world. So close your eyes now and send a good thought Harold's way. I'm sure he had a poor childhood. Then do something nice for your neighbor, family member, coworker or the lady at the checkout counter today. Just do something small and nice.

I will if you will. And I will even if you won't.
Oh, and by the way. Congratulations to Doris Lessing for winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Monday, October 15, 2007

One Face, Part II

With apologies to the clown-a-phobes (I emphathize, truly), here's my Blanchett-as-Elizabeth-as-Clown portrait.
This looks nothing like Blanchett, which is fine, since the assignment was "clown," and she was merely a reference.
My only pride is that this represents the very first time I laid hands on pastels. The closest I've come before that is scribbling with sidewalk chalk, making hopscotch squares.

This is a pretty big piece and I couldn't fit the whole thing on my scanner, which is why it seems at an odd angle. I have only myself to blame for the fact that my scary clown has an usually large and slightly oddly shaped forehead.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

One face

The New York Times recently published a great close-up of Cate Blanchett in her role as Elizabeth. Well, it was great for me, anyway, because I had an assignment for my illustration class and needed just such a face. You'll see what I did with that tomorrow. Here is an ink-and-watercolor rendering that I did after I finished the assignment.

I burned up five pages in my little Moleskine watercolor sketchbook trying to get the shape of her face true. This one was fairly on. I know there are devices one can use that allow one to outline whatever one wants to outline in order to get the proportions right, but I really. Really. Really. Really. REALLY want to get better at doing portraits by way of my actual eyes. I don't care what anyone says, drawing portraits really IS harder than drawing anything else. (If anyone who's good at this has hints, I'm all ears.)

This drawing reminds of me of a certain style of rock and roll album cover from the 70s. Had fun with the washes.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007


I'm not very granola, but these Birkenstocks killed me. Even as I wondered how I would deal with the extra length that pants manufacturers suddenly started adding to virtually every pair of women's pants, forcing even us not-too-short gals to wear heels all the time or drag six inches of fabric behind us, I could not help myself in the face of these shoes. Even as I wondered whether I would look like a child in felt clogs with felt flowers on them, I could not stop myself.

And now it is finally cool enough to wear wool felt shoes.
Sometimes everything just works out perfectly.
By the way, if you read the text on this page, you'll see I make reference to exquisite felt dolls made in Germany. I looked them up and it's actually Lenci dolls, which are Italian, not German. I used to pay attention to these things, but not in a long time.

...and here's the failure

I say "failure" with a certain amount of gentleness toward myself.
I liked the concept (you all remembered, I'm sure, that the wolf in Red Riding Hood swallowed the grandmother whole).
The technique is another matter. I ended up deciding that colored pencils alone might not be the best medium for this kind of an illustration. Another possibility is that I need more practice. :-)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Illustration class

I'm taking an illustration class at the art institute on Wednesday nights. This week's assignment was to draw something Little Red Riding Hood, and to use colored pencils. As you can see, I cheated and used ink first, but I think I did OK with the pencils. This is a rather sincere, children's book version of the assignment. Perhaps tomorrow I will post my less-sincere version, where I resisted the strong urge to use pen again and found out how hopeless I am with colored pencils by themselves.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Cleveland Sketchcrawl

Yesterday was the first Cleveland Sketchcrawl, which takes place in the city on the first Saturday of the month. It was a small but enthusiastic group who turned up to explore the incredibly summerlike day outdoors on the East 4th Street and in the reading garden of the Cleveland Public Library. One of the highlights for me was that I got to meet sketch blogger Karen Blados, whose gorgeous journal pages got people oohing and aahhing.

My own meager efforts (color added at home, by the way) really demonstrate what happens when you get away from the habit of daily on-site drawing. Didn't matter, though, I had such a good time.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

In the bathroom mirror

I keep pleading "projects" but it keeps being true, plus I've added an illustration class to my schedule one night a week and it comes with assignments. So much for excuses.
Anyway, I felt the need to make a few marks in the sketchbook after so much time on other kinds of art so I grabbed the nearest model. As I say on the page here (but it's hardly worth reading), Lylah gave this a 7 out of 10 for likeness, and I think that's about right. The actual mug is a tad longer and a smidge narrower. In my own defense, I was trying to hold my head in a forward-looking position and use only my eyes to look down at the sketchbook, so it's possible I wasn't studying things quite as well as I might have with another mode.

OK, but meanwhile, have I begged you lately to come to the Cleveland Sketchcrawl on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon? Check out details at Discover Cleveland in all its sketchworth glory. We'll be at the old arcade on Superior Ave. to start with. It's gorgeous. Please come if you can.