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..