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Wednesday, August 31, 2011


This gentleman functioned as a life-drawing model during Spring semester of 2009. I saw him once at a restaurant, where he was wearing clothes. It confused my eye.

I used to have vivid, difficult dreams about going back to college.
The details changed, but the plot always had to do with feeling excited about the classes I could take while also feeling troubled because I couldn't figure out what to do with my children if I went and lived in the dorms.

Into my waking life as a working journalist, what remained of the dreams was wistfulness. I knew I had not taken full advantage of college as a young person, and that I had so much to learn. I'd wonder whether the dreams were a metaphor for wanting to do something new and adventurous, or for wishing I were more intellectual.

Now I can see that the dreams were telling me simply that I wanted to go back to college. And I did.

Through a series of fortunate circumstances, I left the workaday world and became a "transfer student" at the Cleveland Institute of Art. I have to put that in quotes, because it strikes me funny that you can be considered a "transfer" student when the last time you walked the university green was in the era of big hair and shoulder pads.

My first day of classes was Monday, January 12, 2009. My first class: Drawing II. The school had generously given me credit for Drawing I based on my portfolio, which made me feel pretty good till I walked into the room with perhaps 15 teenagers and a teacher who looked like one. We set up our work areas and practiced drawing from a still life, concentrating on line, proportions, perspective and composition. We had to draw standing up unless we had a medical excuse. I silently wondered whether being ancient counted.

Where were the other nontraditional students? This was one of the many thoughts that bounced
around my head as I drew and drew and drew. I flinched as the teacher gazed at my work, occasionally offering straightforward suggestions. She was gentle, actually, though in weeks to come, when she caught me being rather vague in some spots as we drew from a nude male model, she instructed me sharply, "You're going to have to be a little more specific than that." I burst out laughing; she wasn't kidding.

But what I remember about that first day, and the weeks to come, was being reacquainted with the awkward middle-school kid who never felt like she belonged. Although I'd been to college before, my first degree was in journalism; I didn't know how to be an art student. Suddenly I had to draw and think while people watched. This was very distressing.

And then there was the obvious difference between me and the other "kids," specifically: I was literally old enough to be their mother. In a design class the first week, one of the 18-year-olds asked, point-blank, "So, are you, like ... here for the whole four years?"

"That's the idea," I told her. I was sure she was wondering, "Do you think you'll live that long?"

Truly, it was very, very difficult for me to stop obsessing about my age, and wondering how I was viewed by other students. I felt obliged to be smarter and better than they were, by sheer weight of years, yet it became clear from that first day in Drawing II that this wouldn't be the case.

I wondered all sorts of things about how to be with my new peers. Should I talk about my decades as a journalist or not mention it? Should I do the "mom" thing or attempt to sound like an extraordinarily hip fortysomething? Maybe I should just be mute.

What I hoped was that at some point, somehow, I would find my way as a student among students. I longed for a time when there would be an easiness, at least with some of them, who would understand that I knew that I couldn't be their peer, exactly, but that I didn't want to be their mother.

This week, as the first days of my second senior year in college got under way, I attended a class called Professional Practices. It's a study in preparedness for making a living as an artist. The class is required for graduation.

When I walked into Professional Practices the other night, I looked around and saw what seemed to me was practically the entire class of 2012. This is not technically true; there are lots of seniors, but far from all of them, and there were a number of juniors.

Still, there were students who I'd had Foundation-level classes with and then hadn't seen much of after we all split off into our areas of concentration as sophomores. They had all changed physically. Some had lost teenage baby fat. Some had filled out. Almost everyone had gained something of an adult face in the intervening years.

For the second time in a week, I was surprised to feel pangs of nostalgia and a sense of moment. As much work as we all have to do between now and May -- and it's tremendous -- it'll all be over in about 15 minutes. That seems to be how time functions these days.

Then I had another thought. As I found a place to sit (near Clare and Judy), and waved as others filed in, I knew I'd learned a little something. At some point when I wasn't looking, I figured out how to be an art student with other art students. I stopped worrying -- mostly -- about how I was different from the other kids. I have a little posse of friends, mostly illustrators, who come to dinner at my house once or twice a year. We've figured out how to talk to each other, and joke. If they find it tiresome where I say things like, "When I was your age ...," they graciously keep it to themselves.

Oh, and they are tremendously, ridiculously talented -- though in some ways I think we're still all trying to figure out how to be artists.

As this year of Senioritis moves forward, I will introduce you to some of them. I'll chime in with other related topics, too. I'll let you know whether, as actual college is ending, the old college dreams begin again. I bet they won't. I suspect that those dreams were trying hard to get me to where I ended up -- and that the dreams, once answered, will be content simply to be fondly remembered.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

And So It Begins ...

Of all the strangeness that has surrounded me since I left my newspaper job to go to art school at the end of 2008, this time seems the strangest.

Tomorrow begins my (don't laugh) senior year. That means it's also the beginning of the end of this weird, sweet interlude that I've been very lucky to enjoy. And it's the start of the earnest reworking of a project done in half-baked form a few years ago, which I am reviving for my bachelor of fine arts project. All seniors have one; mine is a book.

So anyway, I've gotten to a bit of boot-shivering, because there'll be lots of work, some of which, if watching previous students is any guide, will likely drive me to distraction. This would be a good year to be more confident. I'll see what I can do about that.

Stay with me, will you? I don't know how much blog-posting there'll be, but I promise to check in from time to time if you do.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Calm Thyself

In some circles, they believe that one outgrows the coloring book at around age 8.
As you can see here, my college sophomore doesn't run in those circles.
It's one of the reasons I love her.

There's definitely something calming about all those waiting outlines and a box of crayons, isn't there?

That's what she bought as a souvenir in Cape Cod ...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shave and a haircut - two bits

Here's a little taste of a Sketchbook Cleveland edition to be published soon on Ohio Authority. A while back I dropped in at the Allstate Barber College in Ohio City. Such a cool building, and the business itself was born the same year I was.

By the way, if you haven't seen my other Sketchbook Cleveland installments, go visit Ohio Authority now! You can type Sketchbook Cleveland into the search window and a whole buncha stuff will come up.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Unyielding Desire

Doing our Tour of Endless Vacation Gift Emporiums last week in Cape Cod, Carlo said to me, "Did you see Stuart Little in the case?"
I had not.

He led me to a curio filled with knicknacks, including a series of winsome mouse figurines, all about the size of a nickel. Cute, but nothing special, I thought -- till I zoomed in on what looked like Stuart Little in his roadster. Having just done a blog post about Stuart, which reacquainted me with one of my favorite childhood stories, I squealed with delight. The case door happened to be unlocked, so I pulled him out, turned him over to see the price, and squealed again, "I must have him!" After all, he was only $11.

Carlo and I admired his snazzy red car, and we agreed again that I should commemorate our vacation with this small token. "I can't believe he's so cheap," I declared. And then Carlo, sensing retail danger, took Stuart from my grasp, turned him over to doublecheck, and said, "Karen -- he's not $11. He's $110."

End of squealing.

There would, of course, be no spending $110 on a figurine the size of a nickel, however cute. We shared our dismay and disbelief. If $11 seemed a tad low for something of this nature, well-crafted and winsome as it was, $110 was clearly absurd. Twenty-nine-ninety-five seemed like about the right price.

Days went by, and we made several return trips to our souvenir emporium, which happened also to be a splendid ice cream shack and candy store. But each trip for me was more bittersweet than sweet. I'd visit Stuart, see if the price had changed, notice that it hadn't, then look doubtfully at the teenager manning the cash register in the gift section. She simply did not look like someone with whom any dealing could be done.

We did other lovely vacationy things together, though I was unable to forget Stuart in the red car. In downtime from whale watching and ice-cream-eating, I hopped on the internet to find Stuart in his car on eBay. I'd show that overpriced souvenir shop! Everything is available on eBay, right?

It seems not. Not only did I fail to find him there, he went unrepresented even on the website of the figurine manufacturer, which offered, literally, hundreds of other miniature mice doing winsome things in fetching garb with tiny little accessories. There were even two other mice in cars, but both were, sadly, girls wearing dumb flowered hats. They did not remotely put one in mind of Stuart.

Stuart was nowhere, not even in the category of "retired" figurines, some of which were selling for upwards of $300.

Well, I told myself, this is what being a grownup is all about. Sometimes, however much we want something, and feel not merely entitled to have it but that we were MEANT to have it, we must acknowledge that we cannot have it.

And then, one afternoon when Thing Three and I had a hankering to nap, Carlo seemed still full of energy and in need of an errand. "Why don't you to go the candy store and talk them into giving you a deal on Stuart?" I said blithely.

This was probably a cheap shot, and certainly not in the spirit of the lecture I'd given myself on self-sacrifice. Unlike me, Carlo relishes the act of bargaining -- even when such endeavors seem fraught or unlikely to succeed. He loves to shop, he lives to ask for a discount, and he's usually at least nominally successful. It should be a lesson to us all, really, but somehow I don't have the same verve when it comes to purchases. I assume when a shopkeeper writes "$11" on the ticket -- or $110 -- that's what she means.

Anyway, Carlo charged off with Thing Four, and they returned about 90 minutes later with rock candy on wooden sticks and a plastic bag. The teenage girl at the cash register was, as I expected, unable to make a deal. She was, however, willing to phone someone with authority, who eventually called her back and agreed to a modest discount on Stuart.

The discount did not put the mouse in $29.95 range, but it did represent a kind of success from which Carlo was unable to retreat. Stuart came home wrapped lovingly in tissue paper inside a box inside a plastic bag, and now he sits on a little shelf in my dining room, doing nothing but making me happy when I gaze upon him.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Just a few more pages from my sketch journal and its trip to Cape Cod. Click on each picture to get a more readable view.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Want To See My Vacation Pictures?

Last month I visited the Ann Arbor Art Fair, where I bumped into Iona of Iona Handcrafted Books. You might've seen me swooning on Facebook over my purchase of a red leather sketchbook, based largely on viewing what one of Iona's friends had done with his -- she had it on display.

I finally dove into mine for our vacation to Cape Cod this year. I have several pages filled, but haven't had a scanner. Used the macro setting on my Canon Powershot to offer you this spread. I didn't crop it because I wanted you to get a sense of the tasty hand-ripped edges of the paper.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Stuarts and Cascading Style Sheets

I've been neglectful here these days, mainly because I was laboring in a summer class that included learning, among other things, Adobe Dreamweaver. You can see the result here, and let me know what you think. I was pretty vexed by the HTML/CSS thing there for a while, but then I started catching on.

Now my thoughts have turned to other projects, including my attempt to cook up an idea for the fall exhibit by the Northern Ohio Illustrators Society. The theme is Rock, Paper, Scissors -- which sounded so good many months ago, when it was named. Anyway, I have merely a half-baked idea that needed more somethin'. So my head turned to "Stuart Little," and you can read a bit about him and me here.

There are other great Stuarts, too, by the way. There's Stuart MacLean, host of Canada's "Vinyl Cafe," a far-superior-to-Garrison-Keillor radio show with "Prairie Home Companion"-like qualities except that I like to listen to Stuart MacLean and I don't like to listen to Keillor.

Then there's Stuart from MAD TV. If you've never seen him, you can catch an episode here, but let me warn you he's an acquired taste.