Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our Tilted World

I've been away from this blog for eighteen whole days since my last post, and it's felt like forever. As Ellen so elequently described my family's last few months in her kind note: "Sometimes it seems like the world has just tipped over and none of those close to us can get their footing." And it has been just like that.

Thankfully, though, those I love are coping with their losses, as hard as they are, and overcoming their illnesses and dealing with their medical conditions. They are resilient and strong and admirable. At their age, octogenarians, they should be relaxing and enjoying, but that is not the way it is, apparently, and some of their greatest challenges occur in those years.

I should have realized this, of course. That this is not the way it is. The world is, after all, tilted. To be precise, our Earth has a tilt of 22.4 degrees. Not a single globe on this earth is upright. A reminder for the new year, I think. Each year we want the next year to be perfect. But it never is, of course.

Why not? Because our world is tilted.

And I can live with that. I have to. In fact, I want to.

All in all, 2009 has been a good year. I started my blog in March 2009 and returned to art after a quarter of a century. I have made new friends online - wonderful friends - you have been so encouraging, and I am more grateful than I can say. I have learned much, and have so opened the floodgates of creativity that it is sometimes hard to think about anything else. The blog has fed the art, and the art has fed the blog. I began painting in watercolors, and learn more about the medium each day. And I so appreciate the warm wishes all of you sent my way when things grew a bit harder.

Today I am excited about 2010. So many possibilities. There are so many, I don't know which way to go! The world wobbles as it turns, don't you think? The drawing above is a fun development for me. I've been drawing with waterproof ink. Above, I tried using water soluble ink intentionally, first drawing with the pen and then using a brush to spread the ink. How can I use this?! I can't wait to explore.

I have a new, artist quality set of watercolors that I am just beginning to use. I will continue to sketch in public. I sketched the gentleman on the left through a window, although I colored it later with the new paints. After I sketched this man - I call him Boris - I handed the drawing to my 9-year-old nephew Jake. Jake walked straight to the window directly in front of Boris, looked down at the drawing, up at Boris, down at the drawing, and up at Boris again. Tell me, do you think the man noticed? What a hoot! Somehow there is always a surprise when I sketch in public.

I have been totally taken lately with the Helga paintings of Andrew Wyeth. His watercolors have depth, atmosphere, feeling. He uses a dry brush technique, which I would like to explore. I have spent hours staring at his sketches, studies and finished paintings in the book, Andrew Wyeth: The Helga Pictures, by John Wilmerding. You can almost see how he does it. Almost, but not quite. He uses pencil, and then paints, so I decided to do the drawing on the right at the same restaurant as Boris in pencil, rather than in pen, as a first attempt. I expect to do more of this.

I am glad that the world is tilted. So many facets, so many angles, so many possibilities! There is nothing dull about it! So much to think about, and so much to do!

Happy New Year! May you perch yourself on your tilted world and laugh at the joy of it in 2010!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Staying Within the Lines, and Without

I'm posting this on the road. For that and many other reasons, Dan's is practically a blank Canvas this month. Not what I had hoped. Yet a blank canvas is made to be filled.

A blank canvas is possibility.

I've been driving along the Southeast United States on I-95 from Virginia, through North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to South Florida. No scanner in sight. As I've driven south, temperatures have risen from the 30's to the 70's. Soon I will be in Miami, comfortably at home in my 80 degree habitat.
And soon my car will be parked, like this car for Shadow Shot Sunday and for Hey Harriet!, bathed in the shadows from the hot sun.

My simple version of photography gives me the chance to focus on one aspect of art - composition - without all the rest of it. Now I find that I am always on the lookout not only for everyday matters to draw, but for shadows to shoot. It's all part of the same thing, as far as I am concerned - seeing and presenting.

The lawn will be high when I get home, and all of this I-95 driving - straight forever, within the lines - strains my creativity bug. As I said, my temperature is rising. Here is an example of what this creative fever has done to me (swine flu, step aside):

One day, when I was mowing the lawn, my 13-year old autistic son, Matthew, wanted to try. I gave him the mower and stood beside him as he began mowing masterfully, except in one way. Matt would snake and curl around and across his area of the lawn, without regard to order. I would have him swerve back and loop-de-loop so that he could catch the tufts of grass he missed. And this was doing the job, though rather unconventionally.

But I'm a father - and as such, I am compelled to teach. I told Matthew that he could accomplish a lot more if he walked in straight lines, and went back and forth to accomplish the task. This way, I wisely explained, he would not have to go back to catch spots he missed. And I tried to guide him.

That's when he lost interest and walked away.

A few weeks later, when I was mowing the lawn again, I thought about Matthew and his unorthodox mowing. And I thought to myself, Why do I mow in straight lines? Each time I turn the corner it costs me time! Maybe Matthew has it right! Why do I have to do it like everyone else?

You creative folks were first and foremost in my mind at that point. And since I feel part of the clan, my old skin that stays within the lines is starting to shed.

So I parked the mower in the center of the large square that is my front lawn and began to mow in circles, in ever wider spirals. If there are no corners you do not have to stop! Soon I was crossing the sidewalk and extending to the front swale, and occasionally, of course, I would have to go out into the road.

It was at this point, when I was in the road, that my wife marched out the front door and asked, "What on earth are you doing?!"

Thelonius Monk, the creative jazz musician, once walked around the house tilting all of his pictures with his wife frantically following behind, straightening them. He was showing her how to look at things differently.

I like to think I am like him.

I read a saying the other day: Adults do not grow up. They merely learn how to act in public.

I like that.

This is now my preferred method of mowing. Though I must confess, I have to do it when my wife is not around.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Look See

At around age thirty, I learned to see, and it had nothing to do with art. It was when my wife's cousin Joe invited me to go birding for the first time.

"Sure - I'll try anything once," I said.

This was easy to say because there is no danger in looking at birds. And though it was not even true - what I said - because dozens of activities would have had me running the other way, it felt like the right thing to say.

We drove into the heart of Miami-Dade County. You could see the condominiums beyond, I remember, so this was hardly a primeval forest.

But I was a step away. Just one step. And it was enough. I was looking in places that I never thought to look before. And when I looked, I saw. For the first time.

And I remember on that first walk I stopped dead in my tracks because of a bird unlike any I had ever seen before. It was large. With its wings spread, it seemed about the size of a small dog. To me it looked prehistoric. Its bat-like wings, black with white dripping at its edges, were spread at its sides like sails, its neck was curved and twisted like a snake, and its beak was long and pointed, daggerlike. In the heart of the city. One step away. This creature that I had never known existed, until the age of thirty.

It was an Anhinga. Photos of anhingas are here and here.

Since then, whenever I step outside, I look around. I listen. The long dreary drive on the Florida Turnpike is now interesting. There are owls at my home now and then, and hawks in my neighborhood. They had been here all the time, of course. I just hadn't noticed.

The other day when I woke up I encountered (yes, that's the right word) the silver vase on the floor in my living room, the same vase I'd walked passed a hundred times before. The reflection of colors and light was stunning. I rushed to grab my paints, and the result is the picture above. By the time I finished painting, the light had changed, and the vase was just a vase again.

Everywhere everyday matters are special.

When my nephew Jake and I decided to paint together, we had to look around the kitchen for perhaps thirty seconds before I found a fascinating subject to paint. His sketch is in the last post, and mine is here.

So just as my wife's cousin Joe invited me, I extend the same invitation to you: Take one step. Open your eyes, and look, and see..

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Creativity by Jake

My heart has many chambers - many more than a doctor could find. And three of those chambers are reserved: for my nieces, Emma and Ashley, and for my nephew, Jake - Jacob Kent.

Today is Jacob's post.

Jacob, though he is only nine-years-old has tried his hand at watercolors. He drew an ornamental plate of his grandmother's that you can see to the right. He did, I believe, a wonderful job. But I am only the uncle - what do I know?

I sat next to him sketching and painting the same thing. It was my version of the plate - not a perfect representation of what I saw, because, as we know, art is not photography. And thank goodness for that.

So Jake drew, and his was not perfect either. He found that his leaves and vegetables crowded a bit towards the top. Sound familiar? This left him with a choice.

He could:
(a) Give up;
(b) Add more leaves and vegetables (which is what I would have done); or
(c) he could be more creative than that.

And as I looked on in amazement, Jake did what is so natural for kids his age - so nonchalantly natural - he chose "c", and was creative.

"I think I'll add a cat," he said, and he did. Not only did he add the cat, but he allowed the tail to fly beyond the outline of the plate, which in itself was enough for me to raise my mental grade for Jake to an A plus (not that I was grading him), and to lower mine to a C.

Then Jake thought for a moment.

"What color should I paint the cat?" he asked me.

Well, being the artist that I am - acutely observant, and fully aware of the sights of nature - I naturally thought of browns and blacks. But instead I asked him, "What color do you want to make it?"

Jake thought for a moment. "Blue," he said. "I'll paint it blue."

I have a lot to learn from Jake about creativity.

Before I came to his town this weekend, Jake did some works in watercolor pencil, a medium I know many of you use. He did a Thanksgiving Turkey:

And especially in preparation for this blog post, he sketched the world:

So this is Jake's Post. Please feel free to leave your comments for Jacob. I am sure he will appreciate it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Things and Stuff and Shadows

The Miami Book Fair International: I don't know if you have anything like this near you, but if you do, and you don't go, you are cheating yourself. If you are a reader, of course, you will be close to heaven - guaranteed.

But you don't have to be a reader to enjoy the fair.

Authors speak about their books, and they write about things that interest them. So if you are interested in things, the book fair is for you.

Then there are many, many booths where you can buy books for cheap! Cheap, of course, is good. And books can be about all kinds of stuff. So if you are interested in stuff, then the book fair is for you too.

And then there are the people - everywhere the people - fun to watch, fun to draw, and the fair food and the bands. What more can I say?

It seems like I've been sketching in public forever but in fact this is the first year that I even thought to sketch at the fair. I drew the panel of authors above in my Moleskine in the morning. It was my first drawing of the day. [Since the blog does not show two-page spreads well, double-click on the image to see it clearly.]

I drew the authors as each of them spoke in turn. They spoke in this order (from left to right, 1, 2, 4, 3). My hand was kind of tight on number 1, but by the time I got to 3 and 4 I was cookin'! It may just be me, but I think the drawing reflects this.

For those Everyday Matters folks that sketch in church (at their blog here) and claim to hear the sermon: I listened to each of the panelists. I laughed at their jokes in the right places, and I heard what they said. But now I can't remember a darned thing. I suspect it was because I was so busy drawing that my brain can't quite split in two like that to retain the information. It might just be my brain - all the filing cabinets may be full. Or the difference may be this: you never expect to have to (or sometimes even want to) remember a sermon afterwards, right? Or at least I don't.

There is more about the book fair - another sketch and a tale of loneliness, that will be the subject of a third fair post. That tale is the story that I spoke about in my last post. So for Martine, who said, "What about telling us more... soon?", and all of the others waiting for a story, patience .. patience. (Man, I hope it's good!)

In the meantime, though, here is my entry for Shadow Shot Sunday. It's a little early I know, but the blog is from Down Under. For Australia, this Sunday probably happened last Tuesday anyway. Besides, I will be visiting with family over the next two days and won't have time to post this weekend.

Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Many Books, No Story

I went the Miami Book Fair this weekend, as I do every year. The two men in the above sketch are both authors. The ladies are fairgoers. (These two page Moleskine spreads don't display well on the blog, so feel free to double-click to see the image clearly.)

I have some other drawings that more accurately portray the event, that are more complex than random figures and will take some time to color. And this week, I don't have time.

Tonight I added words to the two Moleskine pages. I think my grade school writing teacher is rolling over in her grave. Or making a lipless frown. Or raising a bony arm and shaking a bony finger and rasping, "I told you so."

I could have taken more time on lettering, but as I said, I don't have any. It's been a crazy week.

And that's why, though I have at least one Book Fair story to tell (I think), I'm afraid the story will have to wait. But stories are worth waiting for, right?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Betwixt and Between, But Who Cares? I Won!

I am betwixt and between - I have half-finished drawings and unfinished paintings. I have a new set of paints that I haven't touched yet because, you see, transitions are hard. I'm thinking about trying all kinds of things - new techniques, new colored ink, using pencil with my watercolor sketches, and I'm trying to sort it all out. I am squirming, vaguely dissatisfied, and anxious to try more.

The result is that I have nothing to post.


And then comes Alex and presents me with the Over the Top Award! Thank you, Alex!

It's funny, you know. We develop friendships online. How does that happen? Sometimes I think you get to get past the body and dig straight to the soul and - pop! - there you are.

Cyberspace, ticket to the soul? Hmmmm.

Alex is a wonderful artist - so talented. The latest post on his blog, rainbowbox, is amazing, and his best yet! You have got to see it here!

But I have to work for this award, you see. The rules are: I need to pass this award on to five people, post on their blog to let them know I left this award, and then I need to answer a list of questions in ONE word.

Truth be told, I think Alex is trying to limit me to one word.

Only today, Alex, only today.

So here goes:

1. Where is your cell phone?… Roaming
2. Your hair?… Combing
3. Your mother?… Sunrise
4. Your father?… Twilight
5. Your favorite food?… Burrito
6. Your dream last night?… Hazy
7. Your favorite drink?… Nectar
8. Your dream/goal?… CREATE!
9. What room are you in?… Office
10. Your hobby?… create..
11. Your fear?… Loss
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years?… Painting
13. Where were you last night?… Abuelo's
14. Something that you aren’t?… Green
15. Muffins?… Puffins.
16. Wish list item?… Lottery
17. Where did you grow up?… Sunshine
18. Last thing you did?… Digest.
19. What are you wearing?… Down.
20. Your TV?… Barren
21. Your Pets?… Mosquitos
22. Friends?… Mosquitos
23. Your life?… Interesting
24. Your mood?… Interested
25. Missing Someone?… Firstborn
26. Vehicle?… Writing
27. Something you're not wearing?… Shoes
28. Your favorite store?… Pearls
29. Your favorite colour?… Blue
30. When was the last time you laughed?… Tonight
31. Last time you cried?… Today
32. Your best friend?… Wife
33. One place that I go to over and over?… Einstein's
34. Facebook?… Occasionally
35. Favorite place to eat?… Q'Doba

It was very difficult to narrow this list to five.
And [drumroll please] I present the five awards to:

1. Casey Toussaint of rue Manuel bis - I just love the loose and splashy style of her watercolor and ink sketches.

2. Katherine Cartwright of Katherine A. Cartwright Studio - She is my guru for art philosophy. Ohmmmm.

3. Myrna Wacknov of Creativity Journey - She is the boldest, most experimental artist I have encountered. She will try anything, and succeed!

4. Wil of Carving Paper - He sketches all over his wonderful city (Toronto) and produces wonderful watercolor and ink/pencil sketches.

5. Paul Heaston at three letter word for art - He is a phenomenal talent. I am in awe of his consistently wonderful drawings.

Honorable Mentions - (that means you get nothing..), but only because you were chosen first by someone else!

Oh shoot - I was going to choose Ellen of She's An Artist, She Don't Look Back but Raena beat me to it! Ellen is very talented, creates beautiful art and is a lover of language. Her creative blog bonds art with the music of Bob Dylan. (And I have a feeling that she doesn't realize just how good she is!)

And, of course, I would have chosen Raena too of Raena's Sketch Journal because, well, who wouldn't? But Alex chose her first!

And, dear reader, I would have chosen you too if I could! I am so enormously impressed by all of you EDMer's! Keep drawing!

Thanks again Alex. It was fun!

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Have Nothing to Hide

Humming to myself and strolling among the blogs, I found the post of a frustrated art teacher, Suzanne Cabrera, of an open [sketch]book.

Why was she frustrated? She tried to show her students how to draw the interior of a restaurant and they couldn't do it. What she wanted was to have them look at the interior as a whole and simply draw the main parts of all they see without regard to person or object. What her students were doing instead was concentrating on drawing a single individual, and all of his or her details. They would get so involved in that, that they would not draw the scene. You can see her post here.

Wow, I thought, maybe I'm doing that!

So within a day or two, I found myself at Einstein Bagels. And I told myself as I drew, you are drawing the interior - you are drawing the interior - and found that I swept far more into my drawing than usual, and the above scene is the result.

It's amazing that how you think about a thing so influences the result. When a weightlifter feels strong that day he can lift the pounds; if he thinks he is weak, he can't. It's that simple.

The Jim Roan quote: "You can't change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight." It was that thought that created this blog and artistic voyage. A profound idea, and it still guides me today.

So that is all.
That is the end of this post.

You're still here.

You noticed the paper bag. You are wondering why that guy has a paper bag on his head.


Well, okay. I have nothing to hide.

Sitting in that very spot was a young woman. The body was drawn quite well, and the face was not bad, really, but was, well, a little off. Passable, but off.

She was an integral part of the scene when it was painted, and it all looked pretty good. And I should have scanned the picture then. But I did not.

I wanted to fix her. I wanted her to be perfect. So I began making changes. Soon she looked like a battered spouse. She wouldn't go in public like that - she'd put on some foundation or something! So I played some more and then she had a five o'clock shadow.

Poor woman.

What could I do?

I stared at her for a little while, and then decided to give her a sex change operation. I drew a beard, and managed to draw the body you see here.

Then I showed it to a few people and their reaction was visceral - they hated him. Despised him.

They loathed him.

It wasn't that he looked bad; he looked okay. Only a bit out of place. The phrase "So Easy a Caveman Can Do It" comes to mind.

Hence the paper bag over the head. I cut a paper bag and pasted it over his head (cutting the eye holes, of course, so he can see). My first collage. And I must admit that he looks much better like that.

See? I have nothing to hide. I've told you everything. And if someday this guy removes the bag, then he will have nothing to hide either!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Shoots and Ladders

I just love the way the shadow cascades beneath this ladder, and I thought it would be wonderful to paint someday, so I snapped this shot with my cell phone.

But it just so happens that Tracy has a blog called "Hey Harriet" that invites folks to submit their shadow shots. And although I am no photographer, I am not a poet either and that didn't stop me in my last post. So I shoots that ladder for Shadow Shot Sunday, and submits it for all to see!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sometimes You Just Want to Draw

Think watercolor, or
Ink and Watercolor.
Plans. Colors. Techniques.
Thinking. Creating. Calculating.
Glazes. Hazes. Transparency.
Loose hues. Tight mixes.
Rope that muse!
Hold tight - (s)he might get away!

Or sometimes you just want to draw.
Sometimes you want to attack the paper.
Sometimes you want to smuuuuuudge.
Sometimes you want to scrub, scrub, scrub.
Sometimes you just want to rub that paper.
Sometimes you want to dirty that hand.

Sometimes you want to grab the rough.
Grab the dusty conte' pencil.
Sometimes you want to do what you will.
Sometimes you just want to black, grey and white.
Sometimes you want to turn off the light.
To be color-blind and that's all right.

And I felt like that the other day.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Out of the Woods

Today I was with a sick family member at the doctor (nothing too serious, thank goodness). We ended up together in a tiny nondescript examining room. Then the nurse closed the curtain and, lo and behold, the curtain was covered floor-to-ceiling by a photograph of flowers and woods! What could I do but pull out my Moleskine?

Certain phrases come to mind:

"Close the curtain so I can see the view!" is one.

"You aren't out of the woods yet," is another.

"The curtain was drawn," is a third, and probably the most appropriate.

I had about twenty minutes to sketch, and then I colored the scene this evening. With such a heavy emphasis on the pen, this drawing has a very different feel from the airy woods of my last post, don't you think? It's so interesting how much variety can be achieved using this medium. I never know what the next day will bring.

"Tomorrow to fresh woods, and pastures new," John Milton once said.

I expect his phrase is the best.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Into the Woods

Walking in the woods is one of my favorite things to do. Take two steps into the wild wood, and you are miles away from civilization.

Three steps and you are a world away.

You can close your eyes and take a breath and you can slowly exhale because there is time for that in the woods.

In the woods there is always time.

Listen, and you hear birdsong, or the whisper of trees, or the crackle of branches. Walk and your footfall is the invader. But stop and stand and listen and feel and you are a respectful guest and you understand.

That is how I feel about the woods.

I love to visit the Everglades, the wildest and most diverse area that Florida has to offer, but I have precious little time for that. And hardly time to visit woods at all. But civilization has a solution to that problem: sometimes you can just go to a park. So this last week I took my son Matthew to AD Barnes Park. It's on "Bird Road" (and I like that).

Much of the park is field or playground or picnic area. But on the far corner is the nature trail - most visitors don't know about it - and that is where the magic is. This is where the birds know - they know - to come, because the trees are native and welcoming.

When we arrived at the park, Matthew had fallen asleep in the back seat of the car. I didn't want to disturb him until he'd rested a little. So I parked the car just outside the nature area and combined an old passion with a new; I pulled out my Moleskine and sketched the spot with watercolors. In parts I let the colors flow a little, looser than I'm used to. I'm trying different things, a part of my learning. I feel I'm just beginning to sense some of the secrets of the medium. Just beginning. On the right I tried an impression of branches that are concealed and revealed in sections. I'm not too happy with the way they turned out but not too worried either. I'm just learning after all.

I also cropped this sketch to improve the composition. Rather than do this digitally, or manually cut off a portion of the page, I decided to fold the end of the Moleskine page over. So when I turn the page of the Moleskine, I see the part of the woods I removed, with its lush green and its rounded edges, folded over the blank page. I will keep it like that, and add some compatible drawing on the blank page. Any ideas?

Such fun, - a change so small, like folding the edge of a page in my Moleskine - and it yields such wonder and possibility. It's as though I've walked three steps into the woods. I am a world away.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sunset Place

This is a sketch of Sunset Place in South Miami, drawn and painted in my Moleskine. I painted from across the street as I ate my lunch, on various days when the light was right. We Miamians like to think that the scene looks like Europe with palm trees.

Sunset Place is nice, with shops, a bookstore, and a movie theatre. The high school and even middle school kids love to wander around Sunset Place after nightfall on weekend nights. For them it's the place to be.

I remember following my son at a respectful distance all around Sunset Place on the earliest of his middle school-age excursions. He was there on his first "date" with two other young "couples". At some point in the evening the three girls wandered into Claires, a shop that sells accessories for young teen girls. The boys followed them in but quickly left and stood just outside the store, at a loss as to what to do.

I love the bookstore and have been to the movie theatre many times, but that memory of Sunset Place will always be my favorite.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Coffee, Miami-Style

Cuban coffee, as you may guess, is a staple of Miami. My wife, for one, can't live without it. And one day she requested that I draw a cafetera, otherwise referred to online as the "Bialetti 3-cup Moka Express Original Stovetop Expresso Maker."

Now, we could all say "Bialetti 3-cup Moka Express Original Stovetop Expresso Maker", or we could call it by its acronym "B3MEOSEM", but I prefer cafetera, don't you?

To draw this cafetera was a wonderful suggestion, actually, because it has all sorts of interesting angles and shapes, a reflective surface, and a cute cartoon of a guy on the outside. Who could want more than that? Ours had broken long ago, though, so I had to look online.

I found loads of photos, but mostly from retailers at a boring straight-on side view. So I must have spent an hour looking for a photo reference at an interesting angle, and finally found a blogger who loved her new cafetera! Bless her. (Although I think she called it a "Bialetti 3-cup Moka Express Original Stovetop Expresso Maker", poor thing.) And she used it for expresso, of all things!

But she had only photographed the front half of it. So I had to search for another picture at a similar angle to get the handle-part of it. Then I grabbed other photos for detail references, so in the end I had four photos of cafeteras lined up in a row on my monitor to examine.

I decided against sketching in ink. The perspective was too funky. So I drew carefully first in pencil.

But the cafetera wasn't enough. The picture needed more. So I grabbed my wife's tacita, the tiny cup and saucer that she drinks her Cuban coffee in. I placed it where I could view it at the proper angle, and set the lighting in the proper spot. Now I had a combo virtual / real still life. A 21st century solution! And I drew that.

But there was still a gap in the composition so I grabbed my wife's miniature spoon with the long handle that she uses to stir the coffee, set it just so, and drew that.


So much for pencil. Then I inked it in, adding crosshatching here and there. And finally colored it trying to use much of what I have learned about watercolor and painting, in general: no black or gray (using complementary colors instead), optical mixes, masking fluid, sgraffito.

All-in-all, this simple drawing of cafetera, tacita, and spoon (oh, all right - cuchara) took about 5-1/2 hours to do. Very uncharacteristic for Mr. Grab-a-moment-here-and-there-to-draw-and-ink-whenever-you can-dan. But I was off from work on Monday and had the time.


And in Paradise, where all you dream comes true, this project would satisfy an Everyday Matters challenge, right? And it does! Number 139 - "Draw something with a handle." No mention of coffee in the entire list - who'd have thought that?!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We Live. We Learn.

There are uncolored sketches in my moleskine. There, I've said it.

There are uncolored sketches in my moleskine. It kind of rolls of the tongue once you get the hang of it.

This is one of those sketches that I made months ago and that I just got around to coloring this morning. I parked my car across the street, just as I'd sketched it, and painted. Then I touched it up this evening.

It's funny when you go back to an old drawing. First, you see all of the defects very clearly. You'd like to believe, for example, that you'd draw it better today. And it's probably true.

One thing I do know that I wouldn't do again (and which I did in some spots in this drawing) is outline where some shadows go. Shadows do not have hard edges - that we all know. Also, I realized that none of the drawn shadows were in the right place anyway. I figured out that I had drawn this at midday, and was now coloring it in the morning.

So we live and we learn.

This is what I am hoping anyway.


"What's that guy doing parked across from my apartment building? He keeps looking this way!"

"Yup, saw the guy do the same thing a few months ago."

"Should we call the cops? I think maybe he's one of those Everyday Matter folks that think they can draw anything and everything! Maybe he's dangerous."

"Nah, he's harmless because he don't draw any important matters."

"Oh - thank goodness."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Good Evening Ladies and Germs..

This began as a well-structured exercise in a book called "Exploring Textures in Watercolor" by Joye Moone. All wet-on-wet painting, I was supposed to create an orderly design of shapes. Wetting the interior of each shape one at a time, I was to paint around the edges and let the water in the shape do its magic. Some shapes were to be with one color and others were to be with multiple colors so that the "wet" would blend multiple colors within a shape together. So far so good.

The thing is, I was supposed to wait for a shape to dry before painting its neighbors. But I kind of, well, lost patience. I mean, I understood the concept anyway, right?

So colors from one shape began running into others and then I had streams going, and then rivers, and then veritable tzunamis; I was sailing happily in the ZONE, as Raena would say, placing color here and there, wherever I pleased, creating abstract art until it looked good to me. This was my mess - mine! - not some academic drivel.

Disease (n) (definition) - a disordered or incorrectly functioning structure.

So you might call this little painting diseased, since it took order and turned it to chaos. In fact, it kind of looks like an illustration of colorful germs smugly floating about their microscopic world, doesn't it?

Well, it just so happens that this week's Illustration Friday topic is "Germs". Coincidence? I think not! So I happily failed the assignment and I am quite satisfied that I have an Illustration Friday entry for "Germs".

This next sketch is colored lighter than usual, and I used brown ink which is new for me. I think these changes give the sketch a different feel from past drawings.

Disease (n.) (another definition) - a condition wherein one or more of a body's parts does not display normal functioning.

I never entered the ZONE for this one and the arm and face of the woman (the copy, not the original) suffered a bit as a result, though I've patched her up as best I could. And I've posted her with my germs, which seems appropriate to me, even after treatment.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Illustration Friday: Pattern

This is my submission for Illustration Friday. The theme this week was "pattern". Technically speaking, I've just spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to place my thumbnail on their website. I finally succeeded, though I have no idea how! So now it's extraordinarily late! And tomorrow I'm going to be extraordinarily tired! So for once I'll just let the picture (which is worth a thousand words anyway) speak for itself.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's a Jungle Out There

A musician first learns the notes, then the scales, and then more complex principles of music. For watercolor, I think, I am beginning to learn the scales. I want to learn techniques that I can employ at will, and then by instinct.

So yesterday and today I have tried a few new things, including painting and scraping in watercolor with a palette knife and consciously lifting color. I practiced at home and then decided to set myself outside at a picnic table and paint en plein air while humming these new scales. I took the palette knife and even some brushes beyond my Koi waterbrush. I have gotten a bit too used to using the Koi rather than regular brushes. I also decided to use a strip of my Fabriani rough watercolor paper rather than the Moleskine. I had about an hour and a fifteen minutes to paint, and I felt rushed. In the end, the result was about what you'd expect. But that's okay. That is how we learn, right?

So I got home and stared at it for a while. I had only one choice, really, and that was to ink it. So I did something else that is new for me, and that is apply the ink after the watercolor, which is of course a perfectly legitimate thing to do. And it looked better after that.

So I've embarked for parts unknown - it's my paint safari through the jungle (city). I have my shotgun (paint brush), my machete (palette knife), my mosquito net (paper), my camouflage (paints), my binoculars (eyes), and my tour guide (new books on watercolor technique and on color).

What wild, hairy animals might we see? Who knows?

If you come along, be careful. It's a jungle out there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And That's How it Goes

Here's how it goes when you are sketching live. The man playing with his blackberry who seems like he will be there forever gets up when a group arrives. Luckily he hangs around talking to them, since your drawing is as yet headless. So you have time to sketch his head.

Then you begin sketching the woman next to him and just as you are about to sketch her forearm and hand, another lady sits down where the man had been. She places a big manila file on her lap and blocks your view. So you sketch the manila file.

But since the man didn't have anything on his lap and you've drawn his lap already, by the way, the manila file is now floating in thin air. So you have to put a box under it.

The other woman is a doll and stays put.

That's how it goes when you are sketching live.

So every now and then, even when you are in Einstein Bagel's surrounded by interesting people to sketch, you just don't feel like exerting the effort. So you sketch the rack holding the cream and to-go boxes for coffee instead. And it is a pleasure to do (except when people get cream or sugar for their coffee. The nerve of them).

And I intend to color this one. But I kind of like the line drawing just as it is, so I thought I'd share it this way too.

Today I faced one more challenge. I was at an outdoor cafe when a very small neon green lizard hopped on my hand while I was painting. He seemed quite content to stay, but I eased him onto the ground anyway.

So it's true what they say: you never know what might happen when you get out of the house.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Beyond the Blue Blotch

5" x 7" watercolor on Fabriano 140 lb. rough

My father-in-law grew up in Havana, Cuba, although he has been in Miami since 1955. In other words, he came to Miami before Castro came to power. Sometimes he is nostalgic for the Cuba that no longer exists. So a few years ago someone gave him a book that contains photographs of hundreds of postcards of Cuba from the years 1902 to 1962.

He lent me the book because he thought in might contain some good subjects for paintings, and it does. There are beautiful photos throughout the book. I believe it also has this added advantage: while the book is copyright protected, I don't believe that old Cuban postcards would be.

This watercolor painting is derived from a photo in an old postcard of Balneario Rancho, San Vicente, Pinar del Rio, Cuba. The postcard is undated.

To develop skill in watercolors, I feel the need to sometimes abandon ink and to practice traditional techniques. That is my goal here. So suggestions are more than welcome. I can't just paint blue blotches forever, right?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sketching to Go

In that other Moleskine, the Moleskine that doesn't take watercolor - the poor stepchild of my Moleskines - I am free. I can scribble, I can experiment. I do calisthenics with the pen, "zen and ink". Sometimes I just push the pen around without the mind getting in the way, like meditation or sleep, and create zentangles without angles, I guess.

So in this Moleskine I produce mostly, to put it mildly, garbage. And that's okay. Someday I may slather opaque paint on the pages over most of it in a delightfully creative way. But not any time soon.

Every now and then, though, something happens to bring it all together despite my best efforts to the contrary. One day, when I was aching to draw and had no time, while stopped at a traffic light, I drew the head and hand of a motorcyclist. Then the light changed. Now what? I decided to just do quick sketches of things I see (yes, at other stops and then anywhere else I happened to be). Unrelated things. Then on a whim I decided to box each of them, and suddenly the whole page came together as though it were a narrative for a story. Counter intuitive for sure - you would have thought that boxing the drawings would separate them!

Captain Elaine once accused me of Driving While Sketching (DWS), a ticketable offense no doubt. No Captain, not true - I was stopped at the light, honest. (And, well, look at Barbara Week's recent post!)

I like Wil's motto, "If you're sitting, you're drawing", and when I'm in the car I ain't standing, right?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reflections and Confessions

Legal Warning: This post contains personal reflection which is in part self-congratulatory. It is understood and acknowledged that this is ordinarily not permitted in our society and is often misunderstood. The writer takes full responsibility for any distress that this may cause. Moreover this post reveals errors in the process of creating the above picture and therefore will serve to destroy any illusion, however ill-founded, that art is infallible and that every stroke of the pen of this blogger is intentional.

Confession no. 1: I believe that this picture, with its great many flaws, shows that I am progressing. Since I started this blog with the aim of improving, this makes me happy.

When I started this blog six months ago and for several months thereafter, those of you who followed saw a lot of "floating heads" scattered around my pages (pictures drawn in public of people's faces and nothing else). There were three reasons that I drew floating heads: (1) It has always been the face I was most interested in and because of this, it was what I knew best how to draw. (2) People move. (3) I just couldn't figure out how to draw a body in public - the face would always end up disproportionately bigger than the body, like a cartoon. (I drew many cartoons as a kid).

You can see that I still made this mistake on one of the figures in this drawing. The face on the man facing the viewer is too big. This is because when I drew him I forgot what I have learned: Whenever I intend to draw a figure, I must never draw the face first. I must have the torso completed before I draw the face. Then I can mentally measure how big the face must be, as compared to the rest of the body. I always have a tendency to draw the face first because it is virtually always the character of the face that attracts me to the individual.

Actually, in this drawing I made this same mistake twice. I will get to that in a minute. First, back to the floating heads. When I first began drawing in public, I would never have been able to cohere all of the miscellaneous heads into a whole scene. I am pleased that in this instance I was able to take various figures in proper perspective, and add elements to the drawing to convey a sense of place. This is new to me.

I am also pleased that I didn't let reality get in the way of this. The guy holding the paper is sitting at half a floating table, and the guy in the front is at another half of a floating table. Bet you didn't notice this 'till I told you (let me know if you did). This is because it does not matter (at least in a sketch) and I am just beginning to understand this.

Confession no. 2: The reason the two sitting figures are sitting at half floating tables is because I drew the face of the closest figure before I drew his body, and it ended up too big, so he had to be closer. I was too infatuated with the character of the face. I am actually happy that this happened since I believe it is a more interesting picture because of the placement: there is more perspective, and a fuller sketch of the surroundings was made possible. And, again, nothing appears to be missing. There are no accidents if I can create a final drawing - only serendipity.

Confession no. 3: I am rather pleased with the coloring though I know I have much to learn. What I find interesting is that I will start rather timidly with rather traditional shading, but as time goes on I seem to go into a zone and operate on instinct and throw blotches of color here or there where I think it will look good. Watercolor allows for layering, and that's pretty neat. I'm starting to intentionally optically mix by laying down subsequent dry washes (although I have to admit I am still more comfortable premixing).

But here's the foolish thing I am pleased about that no one but me would even care about, I think. If you look at the pant leg on the middle character and that blotch of blue. That is what I am happy about. I can't tell you how much I have wanted to create that kind of wet-on-wet effect and it has been elusive.

So I confess to being happy with my progress and being happy about the long road ahead because I know - in large part from viewing the blogs I've listed on this site, and others - that I have a long, long way to go. And I'm excited about making the trip.

This is Serious!

Well, well, well. To catch you all up, Raena of Raena's Sketch Journal did a post about playing with her kneadable eraser one night while watching tv, and creating a cartoony but dignified gentleman's head. (A kneadable eraser, for those of you who don't know, is soft and can be kneaded into any shape, like clay.) You can see the gentleman here.

I then made the mistake of commenting on her post and telling her that my wife and I have been trading small "sculptures" made from my kneadable eraser for weeks now - leaving them for the other to find. I said that the one we have now is so bizarre that I would try to take a photo of it and post it as a response.

But before I could even pick up the camera, Raena turned around in her next post and actually created the most amazing little character. You actually could call it a sculpture! You can see it here. And then she had the nerve to say, "Dan, I'm still waiting to see yours!!"

Well, Raena, here it is. .. Yes, we dressed up our turtle.

But just you wait. Serious sculpting is on its way!

Later on in the day: Okay, Raena here's as serious I can be (and he looks mighty serious):

So, fellow art bloggers, here is the challenge - grab your kneaded erasers, sculpt a masterpiece, and post the result on your blog! And don't blame me. Blame Raena!

[Raena, can I draw now?]

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Quirky But Handy

I was back at SuperTarget in Davie, Florida the other day, sitting in the small cafe and looking for someone who'd be interesting to draw, when I glanced out the window.

I saw the parking lot. .. And it was beautiful!

Perhaps my euphoria was from the bite of the chocolate chip cookie that I had purchased solely as an alibi, or maybe I was in a kind of image-induced haze, knowing as I do now that art can be found everywhere in everyday matters. But beautiful it was. The architectural features at the storefront are very attractive, almost too attractive for a retail store, including a wood panel overhang, and columns with scattered and uneven brickwork. And of course there are the trees.

The final picture, if you look carefully, is kind of quirky. There are large cement spheres in front of the building as a kind of decoration and grown people tend to sit on them. I caught half of one such playful adult in my drawing. And then there was the man examining his engine. And in the lower right - that large box - yes, that's a dumpster, I think. And that's a pigeon in the rafters.

But I just painted what I saw.

I have a profound respect for folks that draw architectural structures well. I had some trouble with the perspective (the columns were supposed to be the same height) but I don't think the inaccuracy affects the drawing. After all, it is my world once I put it on paper and the real scene then becomes irrelevant.

All in all, I'm fairly satisfied. But no applause please. Permit me to give you a hand instead:

Monday, September 7, 2009

Wrong Holiday - Right Backyard

Well, I have to say that after many years of failed attempts, this Labor Day Weekend we finally got it right. We had a picnic yesterday, and we barbecued today. The weather was wonderful every time it had to be.

Our picnic was at a beautiful little park in Coral Gables named "Merrie Christmas Park". I don't know why it's called that.

As anyone who has been here knows, South Florida is flat. No hills whatsoever. None at all. (Nada in Miami-speak). Everywhere you look -- flat.

Merrie Christmas Park, though, is a valley in a flat land. How is this? I did a quick Google search, and didn't find much - but it seems the park may once have been a rock pit (perhaps for limestone, like the locally famous Venetian pool.)

For whatever reason, then, you have to descend a small mound to get to this park. And at the side of the park, there is an even higher hill for this valley, and at the top of the hill is a two-story house.

So in between eating and throwing Frisbee and kicking a ball around with Matthew (my son) and Lauren (my niece's daughter) and having an all around grand time with them and with my wife Liz, I had bouts of unsociability as I drew and painted that house, surrounded by singing birds and banyan trees, in the house's vast backyard, Merrie Christmas Park.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Best Things in Life are $236.00.

Once again getting my car repaired, I was waiting this morning at the dealer. Nowadays it's one of my favorite things to do, because there are tables on one side of the large room, and couches and chairs all the way on the other - prime drawing territory. I was able to both draw and paint at the scene without being noticed by the people in the waiting area, and it only cost me $236! What a deal! On the other hand, my car was repaired for free. [Incidentally, for this drawing I used a different pen than usual, one that I had all along and hadn't realized was waterproof, the Faber Castell Pitt artist pen (size S). I like it!]

We are in a recession, I know, and I must be more frugal. So for the cost of a bagel and a coke, less than $5, I was able to sketch (with my Lamy Safari) three guys having a lively conversation outside the Einstein Bagels and Starbucks. Later, when I colored the drawing, my challenge was to create the illusion of plate glass in front of them without weakening the attention to them (heavy concerns for such a light Moleskine). To do this, I tried to use purer colors for the inside than for the outside. Then I placed streaks across the outside scene and rubbed the outside scene with my finger (which may have been a mistake - I don't know.)

So there you have it. $236.00 vs. $5.00. Dollar for dollar a good value either way - don't you think? Who says the best things in life are free?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Falafel, Shawarma, and Other Three-Syllabled Mediterranean Words

On Saturdays I often go to Davie, Florida, a bastion of Southern Pride, complete with cowboys, good ole' boys, horses, and rodeos. But when I go there, I eat at Fala Falafel, a Mediterranean fast food place. Why is it there? Who knows? There are no camels in Davie as far as I know.

The walls there are bright orange on one side and lime green on the other, and somehow it is all good - fashionable and comfortable. This is probably due in large part to how delicious and fresh the food is and how enormously friendly the staff and the owner. When I go, I eat the shawarmas. Why have anything else? But they serve other Mediterranean stuff too. And for the Rhinestone Cowboys, they serve Smoothies.

Because many are not familiar with all those Mediterranean words, a sign is posted on the wall entitled "How to Order". I love this. Ordering is a bit of a challenge for some but the staff is very helpful and friendly about the whole thing, and I can attest that it is well worth the effort. This worked for me once too on an entirely different level because one day I was able to sketch a girl brooding over the menu; it took her quite a while to decide. I could have told her had she asked..the shawarma, the shawarma.

So hello to Brandon and Brandon's girlfriend (darned if I haven't forgotten your name), both of whom work there! Brandon has shown quite a bit of interest in my sketches and has even visited this blog - one of the select few. So Brandon, this post is for you.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On the Road

Well, Raena, I too hit the road! We took two days to drive from Miami, Florida to Richmond, Virginia. As we drove through Central Florida, I was able to sit back and sketch what I saw and then apply the watercolors. I tried out some new paper, Fabriano 140 lb. rough, which had a really nice texture and feel.

I was attracted to the shape of the electric posts and I thought, that's great, I will keep having new examples to draw. But after I drew the first one, the posts changed to an entirely different shape. Now, why on earth would that be? So I can complain all I want about people moving when I want to draw them, but this time it was me that was moving! Serves me right, I guess.

We stayed overnight the first evening in the beautiful city of Savannah, Georgia and had dinner at the Cotton Exchange Tavern & Restaurant. I had grouper stuffed with crabmeat; a baked potato; some vegetable or other; and a beer called Fat Tire Amber Ale, smooth and flavorful. So wonderful..

Satiated, I pulled out my Lamy and my Moleskine, and sketched an unsuspecting target in a booth at the end of the room. The waitress loved the fact that I was sketching this poor gent and she approved the likeness. As a result, she got a big tip.

A few days later, we visited Monticello in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson's stately home. I had planned on sketching a few of the flowers that he had grown in his garden but it started to pour, and that was that. I only had time for a quick sketch of one. My wife took photos of some of the other flowers though, so I may complete this yet, though not in the way I had intended.

And this is the as yet uncolored view from my hotel room in Savannah. Because of time constraints, this was also a pretty quick sketch. I think it kind of looks like the sort of drawing you would find in a coloring book - with good reason. Eventually I will apply the watercolors, and share the result with you. I took a photo so I could see the colors. Though not as good as painting from life, it will do as a handy substitute.

So now I'm home. Work has begun. School has begun. But it's not the end of the road, even if I do live at the beginning of I-95. Not by a mile.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Strangers and Yet Connected

The first drawing I made in my watercolor Moleskine (which is almost full now) was of people lined up at Chipotle Grill. I only just got around to coloring it. I did this at Chipotle looking at another group of people. That way I could observe the light source which made the final project better, I think, than if I had colored it at home using my imagination.

Strangers all, but somehow I can relate to each and every one of them.

My son Ian showed me a video on YouTube of a famous father and son in Afro-Cuban Jazz, a wonderful genre of music that we know very well in South Florida. If you haven't heard this form of music, and are curious, one of our public radio stations, WDNA, plays a lot of it. You can listen to the station here.

Anyway, the father is Bebo Valdes (I am a fan), and the son is Chucho Valdes. Both are pianists. The video is here The pair was estranged for 18 years according to the video, and they still see very little of each other. Even so, the father-son connection when they play together is very strong, and in this video the way they interact with one another through their music is quite moving.

The video was filmed employing very strong lighting, with the two pianists (and pianos) facing one another. So I had to draw them, right?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Subject to Talk About

Remarks about this picture:

By the Subject: [Groan.]

By the Subject's mom: "Well, there's a likeness sure, but he's much better looking than that. [Pause.] Don't tell anyone who it is."

By the Subject's aunt: "Don't you ever draw me, y'hear?"

I thought their comments were hilarious.

In truth, I think that the three of them would be much happier with the picture if it looked something like this:

And maybe they're right.

It's something to talk about anyway.

The pictures in this post were both drawn from life in a Moleskine with a Lamy Safari fountain pen using Noodlers ink, and colored with watercolors.