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Monday, March 28, 2011

Our Friend, the Grid

Human beings come up with lots of ingenious ways to impose order on their disorderly worlds. Poetry and fiction come to mind. Indoctrinating spiritual beliefs (i.e., organized religion) is another. School uniforms and orthodontia are still other ways that, when the universe shouts, ZINGGGG!, we say, "Oh, poo. Let's not be hasty ... ."

One of my ways to infuse the illusion of order is through the grid. A day comes along; I want to draw. But the day seems to throw lots of other-than-drawing tasks at me, so I make a grid. This is important. The grid comes first, in the morning. Draw a big rectangle, then draw other, irregularly sized and shaped rectangles within it. Some larger. Some smaller. Some vertical. Others horizontal. Though, since I don't know exactly what they will contain, I don't think too overly much about the boxes.

I go about my day. My day takes me and my younger one to Office Max. We stop in Pens and Pencils and I make her pose for a four-minute sketch inside of on my little boxes. People look at us strangely, but no matter. We are used to strange looks. We stop at the fabric store, and I catch a glimpse of a nice clerk, one who has helped us before, aiding another customer. I surreptitiously scribble a 1-minute drawing of her in one of my rectangles. It is a terrible drawing, and unflattering, but no matter. Still I have documented the moment.

We move on to the mall, where my younger one needs to buy a satchel, because she now has things she needs to carry with her. She finds a satchel and we stop for a snack, during which I make her remove the satchel and I make a 4-minute drawing of her new purse.

We're leaving the mall and I make her stand with me in front of a window display, where I make a 4-minute drawing of a mannequin.

Later, we enjoy an evening at Carlo's favorite Japanese restaurant. I rarely eat sushi, but I like to draw it, so I draw someone else's sushi. And the beautiful bow on the back of the kimono. And the mango ice cream. You get the idea.

The day has been a cacophony of errands and pleasures, out of which I would not have snatched an hour to draw a real picture of, say, a cool building (which is what I often dream of drawing but less often actually draw.) Later, I will add color, and when I am done I will add doo-dads to make the page more pleasing to my own eye. I have no idea whether it is pleasing to yours, but (and I know you'll take this the right way), I am not so concerned with your eye, because, after all, it was my day.

And my day has been gridded and drawn, which is better than drawn and quartered. It has been categorized and it will be recalled. And this is why the grid is, sometimes, our friend.

If you don't draw -- THIS IS IMPORTANT, PAY ATTENTION! -- If you don't draw, you can grid in other ways. You can write in your squares. You can cut and paste ephemera you find throughout the day, such as receipts and tags and the cool stamp that came on a postcard from your friend in Venezuela. You can even give one square to the people you meet along the day and ask them to put something in it. Maybe they would like to draw in it. You can secretly take photos, print them out in black and white, cut them to fit one of your grid squares and paint over them, or leave them plain.

The only discipline you really need is to commit to the grid, which means that occasionally throughout your day you will have to stop and think, "How do I capture this moment of this very day, right now, in this one little unassuming rectangle?" Then you stop and actually do that. Maybe it means taking that photo you're going to put in the square later. Maybe it means cutting out the receipt. Maybe it means stopping and standing there, with your book, and writing in really neat letters everything you see in front of you.

Then you will need to do that five or six or seven more times in the day, corresponding with however many rectangles you've created in your grid. And at the end of the day, the beauty of the grid is that you've collected symbols of these little moments, but they all work together, because THE GRID IMPOSES THE ILLUSION OF ORDER. And we like that.

So please, if you have some kind of book that you write or draw things in, make yourself a day grid. Try it. You'll like it, I promise.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Try this!

Click on the picture to make it bigger.

Sometimes I have the most fun with simple projects. This one: to capture a series of expressions on various faces and render them in black and white. The models here who get the highest number of good-sport points are Lylah, center, and Clare, lower left, because they purposely posed for me in the most expressive -- and least flattering -- ways possible. Other photos were ones I had taken for other reasons, and just happened to like when it came to the expressions project. Top left, Carlo; Top right, Katy; Bottom right, Herb -- the Adams County auctioneer and farmer who sold us our sweet puppy, Pearl. Herb's face was quite fun to draw because of his wrinkles.

This is also a fantastic exercise for practicing subtleties of rendering. I will do more of these for sure. Should you have the sudden urge to see your expression-filled face under my gaze, please contact me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Remembering the important stuff

Here's the way creative writing and art are the same. In both, the creator is the Chinese plate-twirler, juggling multiple moving parts simultaneously.

My brain is really wired to pay attention to one thing at a time. So sometimes I remind myself what to pay attention to.

Do you do that? Are you a multiple-focus person?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Drag Queen Rocky?

If you know me, you might know this story.
So back in college, I had this boyfriend. He looked like Sylvester Stallone, and he was a competitive bodybuilder. Shaved his body and oiled it up and everything.

And for about three months, he was the picture of dedication. If I hadn't actually been dating him, he probably would've qualified as a stalker -- that's how out-of-proportion his devotion seemed to me. But since I'd been a wall flower in high school, I was rather eating up all this attention.

Then one day his love just stopped like a cheap watch. The man who was always there was suddenly not. What happened? It was hard to say, because he avoided me in person and on the phone.

Finally he agreed to talk to me and explain what had happened. (By this time I knew it was over, and all I was asking for was an explanation.) So he gave it to me straight up. Ready? He broke up with me because, and I quote, "I can tell you're going to be one of those girls who gets married and then lets herself go." (Meaning, "gains a lot of weight.")

Anyway, I did a little storyboard adaptation about this recently, which sent me looking for photo references of Sylvester Stallone. And then, because I do almost no PhotoShop painting, I decided to practice a bit of that, and I did this portrait of Sly, and then I did some weird filter thing on it and it came out like this. It's almost cheesy enough for black velvet, don't you think? But one of the weird things about it is that Sly here looks ever-so-slightly drag queeny. And though I've never had anything against Stallone, apart from his resemblance to my heartbreaking college boyfriend, I admit to taking a bit of pleasure out of that.

So there you are. I'll try to post something worthier, artwise, soon. But I thought you'd get a kick out of this.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The geography of memory

Sometimes when we haven't been someplace for a long time, part of us can begin to believe the place doesn't really exist. For example, I grew up in Bay Village, which is a far west suburb of Cleveland. I lived there for many years, until after college. At that time I moved to points east of the Cuyahoga River, and almost never visited the old neighborhood. In the intervening time, Bay Village became for me a strange, dreamlike memory -- almost a mythological place -- bound up with all kinds of emotions.

It's good to take a drive every now and then, and bring the dream back into focus. Connect the "then" with the "now." Remind yourself that your past is, geographically speaking, linked to your present.

Is this making any sense? No, I didn't think so.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Isn't He Inquisitive?

And he reads such interesting books, too. (Click the pic if you'd like to see.)

Monday, March 07, 2011


After a long time away, I have come back to my onetime one and only love, the Moleskine Sketchbook. What took me there was, oddly enough, this lovely little device, which, when I saw it, I had to own. It was something I would've invented, had I been thinking more clearly.

Yes, so I bought a Quiver pen holder, which fits the Moleskine, and then I had to buy a Moleskine, since I have been working primarily in the Fabriano sketchbooks. These have great all-media paper in them, quite suitable for watercolor, which the Moleskine sketchbook can't say.

Well, so I still have my Fabriano, but I also know that I need to work on some traditional drawing skills, working in pencil, for rendering and such. The Moley IS good for that.

Here, as you can see, I couldn't resist adding a wash of blue gouache after I finished my portrait of the lovely Kate, who looks in this image a bit (weirdly) like me. She doesn't really look so much like me in real life. But perhaps we look alike when we read.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Another someone-to-watch

I've been working hard mid-semester, and thus have nothing great to post for you from my own brain. But I was staring at an illustration I cut out from the Nordstrom catalogue and decided to hunt down the artists.

Here she is. I weep with envy.