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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Master Class

Just a quick note about what I do at 6 in the morning these days.

I study and draw.

I stacked up a keenly selected pile from my vast array of children's books and am studying the illustrations more closely than ever. Then I'm copying them or copying selected techniques. The page above was inspired by Don Daily's version of "Brer Rabbit." Daily has some really great visual language going on.

In the evening, I'm working on my own book.

The challenge of being out of school is that we must volunteer to do ourselves what our teachers used to do for us. Focus. study. Impart discipline.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How to Look at an Artwork (Or, one way...)

This is a little something I did in my sketchbook last night.

There's a great piece in the Plain Dealer today about a new computer app that makes gobs of information available to visitors at the Cleveland Museum of Art as they stroll the galleries. As it happens, the story arrived a day after I visited the museum with a friend, where we strolled the galleries without benefit of technology.

Museums are wonderful but funny environments. It's one thing to come across a striking painting at someone's home. You react to it or fail to react to it. You might or might not be inspired to comment on it. You don't necessarily feel there's a cultural job to be done in the presence of the painting.

At a museum, where we're told that the works included are important, some of the naturalness can go out of the experience. I don't know about you, but I've definitely had the museum meta-experience: I'm looking at the art while I'm watching myself look at the art and waiting to see how I react. I stand there wondering if I'm doing it right.

One of my favorite take-aways from art school is that I learned a standard approach for how to look at a piece of art. The first question isn't "Do I like this?" The first question is "What's going on here?" Professors would put up a slide and simply ask students to describe what they see -- everything from questions of form and color and perspective to what the people in the painting are wearing or doing. This is such a useful tool. It shuts off the part of the brain that thinks it's important to give the art a thumb's up or thumb's down, and instead engages the part of the brain that notices and catalogues and starts to propagate curiosity.

In the noticing, we learn. Sometimes we learn what we tend to notice, and sometimes we learn a little bit about what the artist might be trying to say. The noticing is essential.

After that, it might be useful to read a bit of wall text (or engage that new app!) to discover the stuff about the painting that you could never figure out by yourself -- biographical insights, historical context, things like that.

I have noticed, since learning this better way to approach a piece of art, that every time I visit the museum, I want to go back the next day. I want to slow down and look at maybe just a handful of pieces and think about them. And really look. It honors the artist, and what he or she was trying to do, when we slow down, stop watching ourselves and wondering if we're having the "right" museum experience, and really look.

Friday, January 11, 2013

No Hating on the Christmas Lights

It was almost 10 last night when I took Roscoe for his jaunt around the neighborhood. The time did not seem to faze him. Dogs, who never learned that walking was supposed to be exercise, are always happy to move.

We did one of our circle routes (the smaller one), first passing Vince's house. I noticed that Vince's reliable Italian-flag-colored Christmas lights were on, as they had been each night since sometime around Thanksgiving. We trotted on, Roscoe and I, passing a yard where the inflatable Christmas figures pooled on old snow. Their time has expired for another year, it seemed, but the owners had yet to gather up the plastic and haul it inside.

Then around another block, from the safety of the dark street, we spied two houses almost across from one another where lighted Christmas trees still glowed. White lights on one, big Lifesaver-colored bulbs on another. Our own tree has been bagged and tucked back into storage since New Year's. But as I passed my neighbors' houses -- Henry still has a tasteful fence decked with greenery and white lights -- I found a kind of reassurance in the commitment to the light.

These are not people who feel obliged to join the annual recommitment to gray that happens every January. You'll soon see your Facebook friends grousing about others' reluctance to say goodbye to the tree and the lights. I bet my still-plugged-in neighbors don't care. I suspect they think, "It's hard enough to get through a dark January in Cleveland. Why not make it a little less dark?"

They may be on to something.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

She Was Soft as a Pearl

The nice thing about a blog, public and narcissistic and therefore fraught, is that it lets one look back and smile. Or weep. Both, sometimes, as it was last week.

First there was only weeping, because we said goodbye too suddenly and after too short a time together, to our dear Newfoundland, Pearl on New Year's Eve. No revelry there. I woke up New Year's Day with with what felt like a steel-toed boat in my chest. As people tell you in situations such as this -- indeed, as you learn yourself with enough time on Earth -- it eases a little with passing days and months, though I can say that with less than a week under my belt . . . well, anyway.

No wallowing. I looked back here yesterday to see what I could find about Pearlie, and the task won me a little relief. It also made me want to stipulate some of the best things about The Best Dog.

1. Pearl gave hugs in three ways: by standing up and putting her great forelegs on your shoulders; by simply leaning against your thighs; or by walking boldly between your legs. This last came with the expectation that you would rub her butt.

2. Sirens made her sing. I mean really, really sing.

3. She liked to chase passing Harleys. Bikes with smaller engines did not do it for her.

4. She was an expert counter-surfer. This actually was kind of a pain in the neck, to be honest. She was known to have eaten at least one entire pizza.

5. Pearl caused people to stop their cars when they saw us out walking. "What kind of dog is that?" they'd ask. Some had heard of the breed. Those who hadn't usually tried to repeat the name, and would ultimately mispronounce it, as if they'd never heard of the Canadian province. But no one ever failed to smile. And once they'd start talking to us, Pearl pulled on her leash to insist on saying hello. Tail wag. Paws on open window. Sigh.

6. She was sweet with Roscoe. Mostly. And when she wasn't, he started it.

7. Her most mischievous act was to jump the backyard fence to chase deer.

8. She loved snow. It made her move faster on our walks, but she also loved to just lie in it.

9. Pearl knew that "Nap with the Mama?" had a particular meaning. It meant, "Follow me to the bedroom, and curl up with me." Which she did.

10. She was so soft. So soft. In every way.