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Monday, August 31, 2009

Art stinks

I said, "I want a whole fish."
The Bulgarian fishmonger said, "We got carp, we got white fish, we got halibut, we got bass, we got ...".
"What's that one?" I asked, pointing to a tall, slender fellow looking uncomfortable on his bed of ice.
The fishmonger seemed unsure.
He seemed perplexed, actually, as if most of his customers arrive at his counter already knowing what kind of fish they want.
Then I saw the big fat guy on the right.
"I think I want that one," I told him.
He hoisted it out of the case and slabbed it on the scale. It would cost $19.19.
That seemed a small price to pay for a beautiful, horrible, stinking model such as this.
As you might have read a couple of posts earlier, he offered to gut it. When I told him I wanted to draw it, he didn't understand at first. I made a drawing motion with my hand, and then he perked up. Now THIS was interesting, he seemed to think.
Then he told me about someone he knew back home who did a giant sculpture out of steel. I think he was pleased that his fish wasn't headed for the usual panko-and-fry-pan routine.
He smiled as he handed me my wrapped fish.
For a moment, I thought about asking him how I'd go about gutting it myself - you know, like whether there were any tricks of the trade - in case I decided to eat it after I drew it. But who would I be fooling.

By the way, this drawing was a homework exercise. The textures in the picture are largely borrowed from various objects by way of putting paper over the object then moving my Prismacolor black pencil over the paper. For example, the fish scales came from various parts of a flat kitchen grater; the stripey fin and tale were stolen from uncooked spaghetti; the face of the fish was borrowed from a vinyl jewelry case; some of the texture on the tray was lifted off my husband's hairbrush; and my favorite, the bread, came from the living room wall, which is painted with Ralph Lauren "suede" paint. A nod to irony: the lemon rind was textured by using an orange rind. Take that, citrus fruits!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

God in the details

Perhaps you've been wandering in your yard or your neighborhood lately, and have looked down to see what instantly strikes you as the biggest beetle EVER.
Congratulations: You've just found the source of that amazing, swelling, chirping noise that overtakes us in late July and August.

This is cicada season, which some folks regard as "locust" season, but that's something else altogether, and never mind right now. Cicadas abound. They live and mate high in the trees, thrive for a month and then die after they've left a new generation.

It's common to find dessicated husks about this time of year. Less common is to find a nice intact example like the one that died on my porch. I found it just after the rain, when the water on its transparent wings glistened like ice. I did not capture said glistening here, but I did get a decent grasp of the intricacies of wing and exoskeleton.

As I drew it, I was thinking about Albrecht Durer's fantastic Rhinoceros woodcut. Not emulating it, understand, but thinking about his luxury of detail.

This is what happens. One day you start doodling in a sketchbook, and the next day you're picking dead things up off the porch.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Change of pace

When the school switch gets flipped, my time shrinks for pure sketchbook work. I find this a little sad. I had such fun this summer.

So I'll post some of my school work here and there, and of course I'll still HAVE sketchbook pages along the way. But when there's a big lull, I might pull a bait and switch on you and post something like this -- a photo I took as part of class from earlier in summer.

It's not a great pic, but it actually IS a pretty good representation of our garage. And our lives: chaotic.

BTW, today I worked on a still life involving a fish. This took me down to the West Side Market to buy a whole fish. "Do you want me to gut it?" asked the fishmonger. "No," I said. "I'm not going to eat it. I'm going to draw it."

Man, does it stink.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Nurse Julie on national health care

We interrupt our regular programming of superficial fare and bird blather with actual information.

Given this summer's fervor over the issue of whether the United States should develop some kind of government-subsidized health insurance, I was curious to hear from my friend Julie T.
Julie and I met at Bowling Green State University in the 1980s, where we were both journalism students. After a few years in the biz, Julie switched gears and went to nursing school. She worked in Cleveland, in California, and as a traveling nurse.
For the last seven years, she has been checking blood pressures and administering meds in hospitals in London.

For the record, Julie (like me) leans liberal but isn't especially political, from my point of view. She can be a contrarian and a skeptic. Also for the record, I didn't ask her to write a pro-nationalized health care position paper. My wide-open question to her was, "Write me something about your perceptions about the national health care system in England - pros, cons, the way it is better or worse than here in the U.S."

Here's what Julie had to say:

I work for a European leg of an American hospital system which owns six hospitals in Central London. I work in the largest - 250 beds. I pay an approximate 9% of my monthly salary for National Insurance, which includes the National Health Service and a pension plan. I also have private coverage through my employer. It allows me to be treated by any consultant (doctor) who has admitting rights to any of the six hospitals, and admitted to any of the six hospitals. I also have a pension plan through my employer.

My general practitioner is around the corner and I've never had a problem getting an appointment for that day or for when I have day off. I haven't paid a single medical bill in seven years, save the money required to get a referral letter to a consultant under my private health care plan. I like the fact I could lose my job and still have health care. I like the fact I can switch jobs without having to face a waiting period or risk rejection related to a pre-existing medical condition. I like the fact that I am going to Australia and will have rights to reciprocal health care in the event of an immediate or emergency need. Ditto when I travel anywhere in Europe. You don't hear that people are selling their homes to pay for hospital bills. I like the fact that kids, people over 60 and people with chronic illness and handicaps don't pay for their medications. I pay £6 ish for a prescription.

It bugs me I cannot get a mammogram covered until I am 50 but it is only £160 at a local breast centre and, well, money well spent. It worries me some that people who have a myocardial infarction don't always get to the Cath Lab immediately in the NHS. Certain NHS Trusts refer to the private sector to ensure their waiting times are met. We get those patients and the NHS foots the bill. There are a lot of big wards in the NHS where all the patients are located in the same room. (Think 1950s black and white English movies.) I hear moans and groans about that from patients. But in many ways, those wards are better for the elderly as they look out for each other, help each other, talk to each other, comfort each other, push the call bell, etc.

I know more good stories than horror stories about the NHS. Yes, some of the buildings and equipment are ancient but those issues are being addressed where needed. But then you have state-of-the art facilities, too. I have a friend whose husband was treated for lymphoma off and on for 10 years and never saw a bill. She estimates his care was well over £100,000. I have another friend who was diagnosed with a pituitary gland problem, was immediately referred to the specialists, had her surgery and got on with her life and never paid a bill. Sure, the hospital she stayed in was dark and cramped. Another friend landed in A&E (ER) after being found by the police passed out on a sidewalk (her drink was spiked) and the doctor did a thorough history and physical, called her boss, referred her to a dentist and in two weeks, she had a replaced front tooth. That cost her £200.

The government has targets to get people seen in a certain time for certain conditions. A friend of mine worked at two hospitals scheduling those appointments and says the doctors do their best to squeeze in the emergent ones. That happens in the states, too.

I've been trying to read and watch U.S. news via the Internet to keep up-to-date on what's happening there. Seems like a lot of fear, an opportunity for the rumormongers to spread lies and a chance for people to perhaps respond to the frustration that their chosen candidate isn't the President. One of my siblings pays $1000 a month for the family's health care. Is anyone in the U.S. noticing that Americans spend twice as much for health care costs compared to other countries and yet we DON'T live any longer?

So I hope that answers some of your questions.

Fun With Owls

Can you believe this owl let me get this close to take a picture? You see him (actually, it's a "her," but she's named Captain Jack, so I have trouble) shifting the head sideways, right? Like, "Uhhh ... SPACE, lady. Do you not understand personal space?" She was probably afraid I might try to kiss her.

For those of you keeping track, this is a barn owl. Not to be confused with the very different and much bigger barred owl, a round-headed creature with lots of grayish-brown striping or barring on its feathers.
Barn owls actually do like to hang out with barns. Since the Amish have a lot of barns, they're doing better now in Amish country than elsewhere.

Barn owls have one of the most amazing, spookiest screeches in the bird world, as far as I'm concerned. If you want to hear it, click here, which will take you to the terrific Cornell University ornithology page. Click on the thing that looks like it will play sound. Warn small children, pets and coworkers you like before you do it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Maureen over at Lost in Wonder had the splendid idea to sit out on the patio at Cay 55 (an elegant condo building on Cleveland's lakefront) to draw boats and stuff.
One of the best things art has brought to my life is new friendships. We had a nice chat on a warm summer day while we watched the gulls and made lines on paper.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A very short story and a picture

They were bittersweet hours for Pigdog and Delores. Much as they had grown fond of their revelrous, song-filled evenings with Martin, they knew it was past time to adjust to their shifting fortunes. But they dreaded breaking the news.

He sang "Bicycle Built for Two," and they tried simply to enjoy each note. He cast a new rendition of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" and they refused to look at each other. And when he played, "Tomorrow," each did his or her best not to think about Marion and the ducklings.

In the end, Martin found the kindness that the Pigdogs had hoped would come to them. He simply spared them the difficult conversation.

"I'd better call it a night, folks," he said. "And hey, I've got a line on a new gig, so I probably won't be available for a while. But I'll see ya's around."

"Indeed we will," Pigdog told him.
"Oh yes, and do stop by to say hello when you get a chance," Delores added, turning so he wouldn't see her wipe away a tear.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Butterfly orgy

At the arboretum yesterday, it was positively an orgy of butterflies. Didn't catch any in sketch form, but I took some pics on my iPhone.

And now, daringly, I post some of my sketches here next to the photos.
Watercolor wrinkles the pages of this sketchbook. It looks crummy onscreen, but there's something nicely textural about a sketchbook with wrinkly, worked-on pages.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

As summer wanes

As summer wanes, I wonder: Have you spent your days well, my dears?
Have you sucked every last drop of sunshine as it has fallen from the sky? Reveled in an afternoon thundershower? Gone where you wanted to go? Read what you wanted to read? Loafed the loaf that reminds you of your own humanity?

I have.
As the summer wanes this year, I do not ache. Not coincidentally, this is the first summer that I haven't been working since, well ... as someone said, "about 8th grade, right?"
He was right.
I wish everyone could have the summer off now and then. We'd all grieve less.

Incidentally, this bookstore here is one of my favorites (though I have many). The folks I spied on were simply having lunch, but one of the joys of visiting (besides buying too many books) is watching the groups of ladies who gather to play mah jongg.

The creature on the second page was created by Gus Fink, who has a website by that name. I'm neglecting his link here because I couldn't get any of the images to load, and found it frustrating. But his toys and art kill me. If they kill you, too, you could buy one at Joseph-Beth.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Is this easy or difficult?

It's an interesting experiment to do with yourself.
Try to spend a whole day thinking only positive thoughts, from your aggravating -- I mean, "challenging, character-improving" -- drive to work, to your gazes in the cruel -- that is, "kind" -- mirror that always reflects a body totally unsuited to look good in anything -- er, "fetching, curvaceous and healthy bod" -- and ... well, you get the idea.
On this experimental day, just pretend there's something great to be had by focusing only on how you could see yourself, other people and situations in their best light.

Will unhappy thoughts intrude? I promise you, they will try. At least if you're built at all like me they will.
So you notice them, then shove them on their way, and turn it around.

Don't worry too much if you don't believe the repositioned thoughts. It's just an experiment.

And if you try this, and you have any interesting results, I'd love to hear back from you.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's not the beak ...

This is a great-horned owl. It's not one I know personally, but it's a formidable specimen nonetheless.
I'm posting its picture so you might be more impressed when I tell you that a great-horned owl that I know personally (though not intimately) raked its talons across my stomach today. Most people take a look at an owl or a hawk and assume the beak is the scary part.
Nope. Watch the feet, mates.
By the way, I am fine, not to worry. I just thought it was sort of a macho thing to report.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Deep Project Mode

Since school starts in about a week and half, it seems only right that I "train" by spending this time simulating a homework assignment. I've been working on a proposal for an art commission. (Wish me luck.)

This would explain the absence of Pen in Hand sketches, for which I apologize, though it probably bothers me more than you.
In the meantime, however, I offer you this picture of my dog. I don't know that many people who shun a good dog picture.
And yes, she really is that beautiful.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Reading garden

Down at the Cleveland Public Library's Eastman Reading Garden, a person -- or a pigeon -- can happily pass a summer afternoon reading a book, reading a newspaper or reading the landscape. I loved the guy in the upper left rectangle, by the way. He was reading a magazine AND had a The Plain Dealer open on his lap.

Friday, August 07, 2009

In case you've missed Anna ...

Anna and I had a little reunion in the middle of the night recently when I had insomnia. She had insomnia, too. (Click on the pic to get a better look.)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The law of attraction

I have become a believer in The Secret -- "the secret" being the law of attraction, or that what you focus on expands.
Exhibit A: I never found injured birds or birds in crisis before I started hanging out at the raptor center. Now I do, occasionally.

Meanwhile, there is evidently still a one-legged message that I haven't figured out, right?

Be Kind

So I'm in the kitchen, making dinner. My husband asks me a question. I grunt a reply. He asks me another question. I offer a couple of low-energy syllables.
"What's wrong?" he asks.
And I stop and say to myself, "Yes - what IS wrong?"

It takes but a few seconds to realize that before I started making dinner, I had been reading a "comments" section on a website. The writer, a journalist, had done an essay about Twitter, and how she thought that as a 21st century journalistic tool, it left something to be desired. She said it better than that, of course.

What she earned in "comments" was a fairly steady rain of criticism. Not just critical response to her ideas, but sarcasm and insults. The more I had read, the more I had boiled.

Then I came downstairs and started making dinner for my family. It's a wonder we weren't all poisoned.

I don't know why digital media inspires to so many people to be such jerks. I should stop wondering about it. I will stop wondering about it. I will also stop getting sucked into "comments" sections that become petrie dishes for anger and hatred. Just look how little time it took for the virus to spread from the online world to my very own kitchen.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Mojo-free Zone

We had a lovely, sunny summer day for a sketch crawl at Market Square yesterday, and still I struggled with the mysterious muse. The good news is that I've been doing this long enough to know that it's part of the good and perfect cycle of creative life. And I really did like the guy in the Hawaiian shirt there.

...And the artist generously posts her failures ...