March 2005 Archives

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I was outside enjoying the warmth, concentrating on the tricky perspective work of the old trike in our backyard, when the wind made me look up. What clouds! The setting sun was just beginning to change the color of the sky, and the wind was moving everything from west to east. No leaves on the trees yet, but light late enough to finish the sketch before supper.

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This little cupboard was made for one of my sisters-in-law when she was a child. It is very solidly built of knotty pine - and heavier than it looks to move. My daughter uses it now for doll clothes and tea sets. Just the right size. I would not be surprised if it lasted for a few more generations.

Watercolor made the page curl, but it will flatten out when the sketchbook has been closed overnight. But I wanted to take the picture and post it tonight.

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This is the ficus tree I have owned for more than twenty years. If I treated it better, it would outgrow the house. Luckily I neglect it in the winter, and let it recover every summer outside. (Other members of my family are kind to it, and it flourishes.)

I never can tell midway through making a picture whether I am going to like it when I'm done. Here, I was getting obsessive with the leaves, and was annoyed with myself for not thinking through the perspective better, and then I began adding color and had so much fun. I kept working into it, looking some more, and working into it again.

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A study of my hand in imaginary colors. Having just painted the dining room orange, and being about to paint the piano purple, I am thinking about color these days. (The piano is elderly without being antique, and someone painted it a dingy off-white before we got it, so it will be much better off in purple. Or so I think.)

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A study of the dilapidated house across the street - trying to get the roof and dormers in perspective, as seen from my living room window. I was inspired by Richard Bell's great advice to his drawing class on a similar exercise. He was teaching a city drawing class in Wakefield, England, earlier this month, and I've been following along at a wistful distance here in Pittsburgh. He has more advice on drawing buildings in perspective here, where he recommends locating a vertical element and then imagining the face of a clock when trying to determine the angles of other lines. It's wonderfully helpful, because I find I have a very accurate mental measure of angles that way. (I wonder if it is as easy for those who grew up with digital clocks.)

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Berries in a white bowl. Clearly I was more interested in the strawberries than their dish. (And they tasted very good, later...)

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Fragment of song:

Hal-an-Tow / Jolly rumble O! / We were up / long before the day -O / To welcome in the summer / to welcome in the May -O / For summer is a comin' in, and winter's gone away -O!

Words and old tune in my head - not that it's May, but I was up early and it was not icy out.

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Premium Tomatoes since 1942 -- Redpack -- Diced Tomatoes in Juice -- Recipe Ready -- says the label, which is also red.

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And the dining room furniture has been moved into place. Different to look at familiar things against the new wall color.

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This just begins to suggest the jumble of treasures beneath the jade tree in the back hall today as we are painting the dining room. An unexpected still life, and an excuse to take a break from the brushes and roller.

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We are painting the dining room a deep orange color - moved all the bookcases and the tall cupboard away from the wall, cleaned, prepped, and painted until the gallon was nearly gone. (We'll get more tomorrow and finish another coat.)

Meanwhile, just as an exercise, I decided to see if I could match the paint color by blending layers of watercolor crayon. I was in another room and not looking at the newly-painted walls. Don't know how any of it (sketch or room) will look in daylight, but was pleased when I took the drawing back into the dining room.

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The first day of spring... no daffodils yet blooming in our yard. It's been so cold that ours are not much further along than when I sketched them as little spikes sticking up through the snow in February. So I'll settle for the color of store-bought for now.

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And today I began sketchbook number three. I've been drawing something every day since two days after Christmas, and after the first month, I decided to post my drawings daily. Some days I'm happier with my work than others, but even when I hate what I've done, I post it anyway, to keep the rhythm going. "Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly."

I've discovered that if I set myself goals measured in quantity and frequency I tend to produce better work than when I try for quality. (I also produce worse work, and plenty of that, but the highs are higher.) I take more chances, becuase I can always make it differently tomorrow. I also find that a piece that seems like a disaster one day, may not seem as awful two weeks later, so I don't let myself criticise.

Bought this pot of lilies to take to a friend's dinner party. I sketched them with my black pen, and then used my waterbrush to pick up color from the ends of my watercolor crayons and added layers of wash to the page.

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Spool from my grandmother's sewing box - thread from my dissertation.

Began with a realistic drawing of a spool of thread, and then went in another direction when I tried to weave some text into this painting:

Text and textile have their origin in the Latin word texere, to weave, and English is full of sayings and metaphors connecting textile work with storytelling and deception: follow the thread of an argument, a fabrication, a tissue of lies, what a tangled web we weave...

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Seven yellow onions in a handmade bowl. Drawn in ink and then I added watercolor and a little white gouache for some highlights. Listened to John Rutter's "Requiem" and then some Zap Mama as I worked.

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I am so, so ready for spring. And it just isn't here yet. A few flowers would be a good start.

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This fish charm hangs from the knob of a standing lamp. The little brass bell rings if you jostle it or you turn on the light.

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Our white vinegar and olive oil live on the counter in these reused bottles. The original gallon plastic jug of vinegar and the much more picturesque large tin for the olive oil stay out of sight and out of the way in the pantry closet.

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For some reason my camera doesn't record this shade of blue accurately, and if I try to correct for it, the cream colored pages look far too pink. So please imagine that this is a deep blue mug and not a green one, with a moon and a jumping cat and cats in three of the windows. On the other side are two more buildings, one leaning toward the other. I bought this thirteen years ago, to celebrate a small milestone (dissertation defense) and have had it ever since.

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One of three - very sweet.

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And I liked the texture of the table beneath my sketchbook when I took this photo, so I left more of it in the frame. Yesterday by the end of the day I could scarcely concentrate, much less look at anything for very long. Today my head is clear and I have energy again.

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My grandfather made this clock for us as a wedding present. (And I discover that my nifty gel pens will run if I don't let them dry enough before scrubbing over them with a waterbrush. Ah well.)

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A quick contour line sketch of my hand. I like the flow and smoothness of my pen these days. Will probably reorder another one when it runs out of ink.

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On the corner of the coffee table. Even with my cold I can smell the waxy smell of the crayon tin. One of those strong scents that takes you right back to childhood. Our tin was rectangular, though, and this one is round. From generation to generation some things may change, but the scent of crayons endures...

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Drawn at about double size. My mood is fragmented. I am fighting off a cold. Rain in the forecast turning to snow showers. March. (I tell myself to drink more weak tea and quit grousing - a cold is the best excuse to go to bed early with a soothing book.)

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The body of this lamp is filled with glass from many beaches. Each piece found by the water's edge, worn smooth with tumbling in the sand and waves. I tried to suggest the desk and the surroundings without getting too caught up in detail. (Meaning, I edited out a lot of clutter: random pencils, post-its, papers, etc.)

I started a new journal for the sketchcrawl today, but I am going to keep going in the little moleskine in the same rhythm of one two-page spread every day. I think I'll use the other, bigger journal for sketching in any time I feel like it. I may post selections from that (as with today's sketchcrawl drawings) but I won't be posting everything. In the photos I really notice the difference between the bright white of the new journal pages and the warmer cream of the moleskine.

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Cape buffalo skull in the discovery room at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

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Phipps Conservatory - Buddhist pine (Podocarpa macrophylla). My notes beside this picture: Fountain splash mixed with Harold Arlen piano. Small child coughs a little cough. Smell of moss. Many languages.

The sketchcrawl was a great experience. Our group ended up just being immediate family, ranging in age from 4 to 45. Something for everyone, with two coffee shops and two museum-type places. We were only out from noon until five, and some of the time we were just walking and looking rather than sitting still and drawing, but I used five pages in my new journal and am happy with what I learned.

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I'm fighting off a cold, so it seems like a good evening to drink tea.

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My sister made this for me. It is fuzzy and strong, not large but holding enough for a day out of the house. The wool is light charcoal grey, flecked with black and white fibers, felted thick and tight. I think that the button came from Korea.

What's inside?
My moleskine sketchbook - usually
Pens - Pilot Hi-Tec-C rubber-banded together
Caran D'Ache Watercolor Crayons - box of 10
Zippered case of more pens, scissors, glue stick, eraser, bone folder (hey, never know when you'll need it), pencils
USB flash drive - 512 MB
3-inch square post-its - yellow
Torn paper with two phone numbers
Digital camera - Sony Cybershot
Camera USB cable
Tootsie Roll wrapper
Niji waterbrush
More pens
Laptop charger
Eraser - a new one
iPod and headphones
and my passport - just in case.

Wallet and keys? Handkerchief? Gloves? Another pen? All in my coat pockets.

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I forgot these were in the fridge. They would have been good with the leftover black bean chili tonight. Better plan on using them tomorrow - the ends are beginning to look tired. I like how they curve away from the cutting board, though.

Well, the weather is not supposed to be great, but a small contingent of us plan to participate in the second worldwide sketchcrawl on Sunday, March 6th.

We will start at noon at the Kiva Han coffee shop in Oakland (corner of Craig and Forbes) and see who turns up. Our plan is to go across the street to the Carnegie Museums, where one entry fee will let you into both the art and natural history museum. I don't know if I want to try to draw the ancient taxidermy of lions attacking an Arab courier on horseback--but there are always the dinosaur bones and lots of less gory exhibits. On the art side, The Carnegie International is still up, so there is great contemporary art to sketch, and good people watching too.

Later in the afternoon we may walk over to Phipps Conservatory (again, an entrance fee) and draw lots of green plants and pretend we are someplace warmer or drier than western Pennsylvania in early March.

Join us!

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One left shoe. Incandescent light. Playing with color.

(Pen and ink and watercolor crayons.)

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and very wilted red flowers.

Bought in an antique shop in Iowa a dozen years ago. It had a crumpled bit of paper inside with blue writing on it: "Beryl says Mother brought this from Germany." I have long ago lost the note, but remember the certainty of it. The pitcher says "Italy" on the bottom.

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