Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lessons of a Basset Hound

Watercolor on 14" x 17" 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico Extra White Hot Press paper

When I first examined the photograph of Borrish, I was struck by the dignity of a hound who had obviously been comfortable in his own fur. Had he been a man, I am quite sure that Borrish would often have been found in a smoke-filled gentleman's club of the kind that used to exist in England. Dressed in his smoking jacket with pipe in hand, scotch and water at his side, he would have been greatly respected when discussing the day's news especially because of his extensive involvement in world affairs. He also would have been a family man, well-loved.

But Borrish wasn't that man. He was the first pet of my friend Barbara, who is a lover of animals, and close companion of Barbara's father, who has also since passed. Borrish was successful because he had loved and was loved in turn, and what more could anyone, man or beast, hope for, after all?

So when Barbara lent me her only photograph of Borrish to paint, I felt honored to have been entrusted with the photo, and wanted to do something more than the sketch she probably envisioned. I also saw it as an opportunity to attempt to stretch my skills. I determined that I would do a Portrait of a Basset Hound as though he were that honored and respected gentleman. I decided that I would do a watercolor on 14" x 17" paper, which was a larger size than I have ever used. (This may sound funny to watercolorists who have done many paintings on half-sheets and whole-sheets, but I have generally painted very small. I wasn't even sure that I could do a wash on such a large size!)

So I made this painting important, and Barbara was thankfully very patient as an inordinate amount of time passed while Borrish taught me my lessons.

As it turns out I learned less about technique than about attitude, which is far more valuable.

Lesson One. Do not become paralyzed by fear of the unknown. The first task was to draw Borrish, and this took some time. I found that although his personality was powerful, and practically human, his features were altogether alien. The proportions had to be just right. So I meticulously drew and succeeded. Then I put Borrish in the drawer because it was time to paint. And I didn't know if I could paint on that size with my little half-pans. I didn't even know if I could cover such a span of white with my masking fluid. There was a lot I didn't know. So all progress stopped. But then one day I decided to proceed. And once I managed to paint and mask the body successfully..

Lesson Two. Do not become paralyzed by fear of a job well-done. ..I had done it fairly well, and did not want to ruin my progress. All that work. The thought that I might destroy the picture and have to start over stopped all progress again. But little by little I managed to pick up the picture. And little by little I progressed. And I did not destroy it any time I painted. I only moved forward. The bottom line is this..

Lesson Three. You can do it. But let's say you cannot. You have to do it anyway so you may as well find out now than delay the inevitable. I could either do it now or later. If I do it later the procrastination will not be useful. So in any project I must face any fear of failure and do it now.

Now to be fair to myself, there were a few other things going on: Watercolors are hard to correct. I was concerned about the potential for interruptions. I do not believe that I would have had these kinds of concerns with an opaque medium like acrylics or oil. But I may be wrong, as this was an internal matter, not the fault of the medium. Also, I have no proper workspace for a project of this size. I used the dining room table. So I would have to wait until I felt that conditions were right.

I've been talking about creating a proper workspace for at least a year, and I am at the point where this must be done soon if I am going to progress. And it will be done soon. (Lesson Three).

For all of my effort and lessons hard-learned, I am proud of this piece, and so share with you the progression in a slideshow. (You can click on the slideshow to see it larger. Click to make it full-screen, then push play. Colors vary because some pictures were by camera, others with my cell phone.)

At the end, I did the foreground and background of this piece with no hesitation and no fear in only a few hours. When I found the background and foreground to be dull, I applied a glaze, a thin transparent gold wash, with confidence, and the result was immediate.

Borrish has taught me lessons posthumously as is only proper for such a fine dog. I am going to remember Borrish in every piece that I do, so that I might progress and be productive. Remembrance of Borrish was the purpose of this piece, after all.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Home, Home on the Page - and Alex

The sun is high (pronounced "hah") in the sky (pronounced "skah"). I tilt my John B (that's a cowboy hat). I lean over, pluck a golden-yellow (pronounced "yellah") weed, and I chew. I stride with confidence. I spit on the grass. I dig my heels in the fertile earth just because I can. I strike my spurs together and the sparks, they fly (pronounced "flah").

And it is all because of one thing (pronounced "thang"): I own an SKB SB-1000 0.5 millimeter. Got it straight from Texas, and I puff my chest with pride (pronounced "prahd").

It was sent to me by Raena.

What is this thang? I'll tell you what it isn't (pronounced "ain't"). It ain't a gun - I don't shoot it. It ain't a motorbike - I don't ride it. And it ain't no B--M--W (pronounced "dubya").

Here's a hint: These days I have just enough muscle to push it. That's right. It's a pen.

When I first got it, I didn't know what to think. It looks like any old ballpoint. And with apologies to Andrea Joseph, I have never sketched seriously with a ballpoint. But it's not just any old pen. It's a beauty. I've found it to be so smooth to write with, and the point is so thin. It makes a beautiful razor-thin line if you'll let it be (though I tend to drag it back and forth when I use it.) And it is obviously waterproof because it works wonderfully with watercolors. The detail possible with this pen is unbelievable.

It's funny how when you pick up something different to draw with it's still you, but all together different things seem possible. This is why it is great to have many types of drawing tools to suit your many moods.

So I've started using this pen in my moleskine, and you can see my first such sketch from life above. I also played with the watercolors a bit in this one. What d'ya'll think? Like it?

Turns out that the SKB SB-1000 0.5 mm is as valuable to me as my horse (pronounced "hahs"). My apologies to those of you who actually speak like this. ..

No I don't own a horse.

Raena is a fine online friend I've met. Alex is another. He recently drew Raena and I at his blog here. Great fun.

So one day I felt like furiously scrubbing with my Pierre Noire Conte A Paris pencil. It's name sounds snooty, doesn't it? But it's not. More like sooty. It's like a charcoal pencil only less smudgy. I drew a quick sketch of of a short-haired woman from a magazine (at the right), and that really got me in the mood to use it.

But who to draw? (With me it is always a who).

Well there was only one person I wanted to draw. Sweet revenge. And that was Alex. But where was I going to find a picture? Not that screwy one at his blog. And his wife's blog was no help either - no pictures of the hubby. So I began searching the internet, and voila! there he was. The magic of the web.

And here he is. That symbol at the bottom left is his signature symbol.

Okay, Alex my boy, tell me like it is. I can take it. Yeehaw!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

King of the Jungle


Ever aware, I lean forward on my steering wheel and I search. Barely breathing, I drive slowly - drifting through the early morning like a lion through the mist. I am a hunter. And there they are.

People, dining at breakfast.

I almost don't stop - it's too much like what I always sketch when I am in restaurants. But the scene appeals to a hunger in me - the cafe' - the umbrellas, some open and some closed, with their interesting colors and shapes; the palm trees; and the early morning diners. So I park facing the restaurant. I pull out my Lamy Safari and I sketch. Then I grab my paints and paint almost everything on site. I am there for some time, motor sometimes running, sometimes not. I listen to the radio. I daydream..

Why is he there, parked in that car? Why is this man viewing the patrons in my restaurant? He looks like he is up to no good. Maybe I should walk over to him and tell him he is not welcome here, that he is alarming the customers. Then again, maybe I should call the police. The officer comes. I pull out my sketchbook, and show him my partially painted sketch. He narrows his eyes and looks at my license. He shakes his head. Step out of the car, he says. I hear him as he radios Homeland Security..

The restaurant gradually fills with customers. But nobody notices me. It is as though I am invisible. I finish painting and quietly slip away. I am satiated. I lick my whiskers and roar with delight.

And this is something else altogether. It's in what I've decided is my unlucky sketchbook - something almost always goes wrong here, if not the drawing, the painting. It is not a moleskine. It is a beautiful nicely-bound Strathmore sketchbook. I have decided I do not like the paper, and may not use it anymore.

I work hard on my coloring, trying to add gradations of value, especially in skin. Have you ever heard that a touch of green in the face will give a man a fine five-o'clock shadow? Poor woman. Unlucky. Another victim of my stealth. So quiet even I didn't even see it happen, until it was too late. But I am pleased with the sketch, so I include it for your pleasure.
Now pardon me while I lay down, stretch ever so slowly, and yawn a big toothy yawn.

But before I sleep I'll swiftly swipe with my claw and capture an image for Shadow Shot Sunday - because snatching images - that's what artists do.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Let's Celebrate!

It's just after dawn in South Miami. Armed with my brand new pocket-sized moleskine sketchbook, I search for a person - any person - to draw. And I stumble upon a celebration! Quickly I pull to the curb, and grab my Lamy Safari pen, hoping that I can capture the spirit of the occasion.

How fortunate to be present for this moment - this technological advance. City workers have just installed a new parking meter. Well it isn't a meter exactly, as it stands at the end of the block, and not at each spot. The friendly thin meters at each parking space that we would pour coins into are now missing. I do not know precisely what it is called.

In honor of Watson, the robot from Jeopardy, I will call it a "Parking Overlord".

The Overlord is equipped with a solar panel. Cool. Which makes it very odd looking, and quite intimidating. Which is as it should be.

As I turn the corner, and witness the celebration, I quickly pull over. The city worker is meticulously polishing the Overlord. Which is again, as it should be. And behind him - I tell no lie - another city worker is taking a photograph of the man that is polishing the Overlord. And behind the photographer, I sketch the man that is polishing the Overlord. What a tribute!

And why shouldn't we celebrate this technological advance?! Whereas before in South Miami, a citizen could pull to a parking space and know that there is time left on the meter and use the time, now that mere citizen must pay homage to the Overlord in utter ignorance, and pay for time that may already have been paid for two or three times before that!

Ah, technology, isn't it beautiful? See how we all benefit?

It is a glimpse into the future, folks.

It makes me yearn for nature. Over millennia we have adapted to our environment, and nature has adapted to us. It is truly beautiful.

This is another panel from the cARToon tic-tac-toe game that I am playing with Pamo. You can read more about our project at my January 29th post, here.

So all is right with the world, and we must celebrate, dear citizens! Nature and man, and technology and man, are in perfect synchronicity and forever evolving. It is like the sky, with clouds and sun, always perfect no matter the weather.

And if the above tribute has left you scratching your head, no matter. Be happy anyway. This is because I have in mind the words of William Kentridge, and I am uplifted. They are: "I am only an artist. My job is to make drawings. Not to make sense." So let's celebrate!