Saturday, December 10, 2011

Return of the Floating Heads

Yeah, yeah.  You may have your glistening, crystalline, fairy tale snow.  You may have your mountains, and your quaint villages, and your farmhouses and fields. You may have your hills, and your wild animals and your enormous trees and your citiscapes.

Yeah, you may have all of these and more.

But I have something that you don't have.

I have the motley Miami bunch, and they are an inexhaustible resource.

These four characters came from one wait at the tire place, and are on a single page of my moleskine.  Proceeding clockwise from the top - the old man who really should have been drawn with a hand to his face because it kept migrating to his chin, keeping it covered half the time; the cheerful and friendly manager who clapped every customer on the back and passed out Cuban coffee - his skin was a shade dark with a greenish tinge (I swear); the gumby-shaped man with the elongated neck who looked something like Jeff Goldblum after he became "The Fly", and the ruddy-faced skipper, marooned no more.

And that's just one sitting.

Shortly after I started this blog, I began drawing what I call my "floating heads", the faces of folks that I have seen out and about.  I was a bit amazed that I could draw people in public with impunity - they were either too involved in their lives to notice, or too embarrassed to say anything about it.  Even now, it is my "default", what I do when I just want to relax.

Only once was I called out.  A lady, loudly so I could hear, said to her daughter, "look, dear, that man is drawing me."  If the sketch had been any good I might have walked right up to her, and shown her what I had done.  As it was I probably blushed and turned the page to conceal the evidence.  It was a particularly spectacular failure of a drawing.  Of course, now it'd be different since every drawing I do is perfect. (Ri-ight.)

This little incident kept me from sketching in public for a few weeks, but then I was back at it.  You can't keep an addict from his fix.

I've heard tale that some artists notify people before sketching them, and ask for permission.  I am not so bold.  Or so polite.  Or something.  I'm from Miami. That should explain it.

I've learned some tricks.  I look for evidence to see how long they've been there, and how long they'll stay.  I look for busy people, or people involved in conversations.  I most like to draw folks that are not directly in front of me, but at an angle - there is less chance they'll notice, and the drawing is more interesting than a side or frontal view anyway.

The young girl above was a bit of an experiment for me.  She is a much larger Floating Head than virtually all I have done in my Moleskines.  I enjoyed the chance for detail in the hair, and the watercolor seemed to swish more than usual in her blouse.  Swiiish!  Or that might be an illusion.   (Of course here I had a man looking on while I painted, giving me a sly knowing glance - looking at my drawing and then looking at her.  I love an audience, a co-conspirator).

This woman was particularly fun to draw. The big shame is that she was talking to a gnarly looking guy and the two together would have been just great. I ate first - that's what wasted my time - they were deep in conversation the whole time. Sometimes my hands resist getting started. Always make the first mark, then you have to go further.  That's a great rule I often ignore.

Do you know I never - and I mean never - have seen anyone else in Miami sketching people in public? I went to Art Basel last week, and saw a man staring towards a group of people and drawing in a small moleskine. I was ecstatic! I casually strolled behind him. He was sketching a potted plant. And I suspect he was from out of town.

Art Basel is an annual experience that I never miss if I can help it. I've seen so many wonderful original pieces of art that I would never see elsewhere, along with horrible outrageous but fun and thought-provoking things (they can only be called "things"). One item I saw there was a wire sculpture of a face, and I thought to myself I can do that!, and so I came home and grabbed some sculpture wire, and voila! He sits now on my piano. You know, the piano that no one plays.

I will sell the sculpture for $100,000, which is a low price, by Art Basel standards.  I will throw in a nice stand.  No extra charge.

Let me know if you are interested.




  1. Love your floating heads, Dan. I have to remember your advice to choose someone not directly in front of me. I nearly always begin on someone in my direct line of sight and then get too nervous to finish as they seem to think I am looking at them too much.

    Can't wait to try with the thought of choosing an off center person.


  2. Gee I'd love that sculpture, but the people at my bank laughed out loud when I suggested a loan. Hmph!
    Love your floating heads, anyway.

  3. Love the fact that you sketch in public, and it is strange, now that I think about it, I never see anyone doing that.I'm the same as you as far as taking photos go, not bold enough yet to walk up to them and say, "can I take your picture". Someday I will. Anyway, love the sketches.

  4. I see quite a few sketchers in Portland ...but come to think of it, I think most of them are sketching buildings and streets. I like how specific you are about features--your "floating heads" are so well drawn! Alexander Calder is the "father" of the wire sculpture portrait. He would laugh at what some of them sell for --he used to make wire things all the time and give them away. ...Armed with your tips, next time I am out with my sketchbook I will try to do a portrait...(I remember when I lived in Florida, thinking the people there were uh...unusual looking, but Portland would come in 2nd, I think).

  5. You are too funny Dan! I think besides being a great artist and sculpter, you should also be a comedy writer!

  6. Planes & trains are my favourite places, perhaps one day I'll visit Miami. Great sketches!

  7. I too have not noticed other sketchers... maybe they are that good at being stealth.

  8. You were fortunate to have caught a wonderful number of different expressions and done a wonderful job too!

  9. Sculpture wire? You have sculpture wire just laying around? I love the wire sculpture you did, is it a self portrait? I still haven't gotten up the nerve to draw people in public. Yours are really neat.

  10. Love the faces! I wonder if any of them see your blog and recognise themselves? (Not the wire man, of course..!)

  11. Love your drawings! The expressions are great.

  12. I love all of your floating heads, and especially the story behind them. I have only gotten as far as drawing floating shoes in a doctor's office .. .nobody notices if I stare at their feet.

    If I had 100,000 dollars I would buy your wonderful wire sculptures --- they are ever so fantastic in the true sense of fantasy and wonder!

  13. Another terrific post. Unfortunately, the 4 heads did not come through for me. However, your writing and the other pictures showed up. Your are a good spokesman for Miami. The Chamber of commerce should be knocking at your door.

  14. Your four faces are awesome, these men have a lot of personality! The two women are neat, too, but I prefer the men because their faces have a lot more history! I read your post with a lot of interest as I still don't draw in public and can't seem to find the trick to make me begin. A new addiction sounds interesting, that could help me ; ) !
    Miami sounds like a cool place... And your wire sculpture is fun. 100 000 sounds a bit much, though, but what do I know about modern art after all...!

  15. I left a comment last night; evidently, it disappeared. I always like your floating heads--maybe they should be floating in water or (you'll like this) balloons on strings floating above buildings--my kind of painting.

    The woman in the chair is wonderful and so is your wire sculpture. Is the free stand the piano?

  16. Nice sketches Dan. If only I have 100k right now :p

  17. Dan, I LOVE your floating heads. That motley crew from the tire shop are outstanding. I feel they show a strong confidence in your abilities that has come with all your practice. Keep on fixating! Your sculpture is quite impressive, also! You're right, you CAN do that!


  18. Too cool Dan, when I win the lottery that sculpture is MINE!! First I have to buy a ticket.. but then I'll win I'm sure of it... so don't sell that. Looks a bit like a continuous line drawing doesn't it?

  19. I love your "motley Miami crew!" So much charisma packed into those sketches! I also am quite smitten by your wire sculpture. I think you should have it appraised . . . $100,00 might be too conservative an estimate!!!

  20. Thank you all so much. I love your comments - they have been really fun for me! Addressing some of you (the others being no less important):

    Vicky - Thanks, I'm glad I could help!

    MaryO - If you had told them what is was for I am sure they would have granted the loan.

    Mark - I actually met a photographer the other day, I accidentally spoiled her shot. I asked her about shooting strangers. She said she takes the shot and then afterwards walks over to them to see if she can get signed permission to use their image. I found that interesting.

    Celeste - And I am sure Portland tries harder, too! We will always win, and you should move back here. lol. I would love to see you sketch folks in public and I am sure you will put me to shame.

    Revelle - Thanks! If only I had something to write about besides art.

    Maria - Could be..I doubt it though.

    joyfulartist - Yep. I was going to try sculpture, and bought the wire for armature, and then never did.
    Can't do everything.

    Beach Cat - I will keep it here for the day you win the lottery.

    kazumiwannabe - What do you mean - it's worth every penny! I'll tell you what. I like you. I will sell it to you for half price.

    marancat - Hope not.

    Hallie - If you buy the sculpture for $100,000, I will throw in the piano.

    Captain - Cool observation - it does look like a continuous line drawing!

    bettyfromtexas - You are right. $300,000 it is.

    Thanks all!

  21. Hi Dan, I enjoyed looking at your drawings. I sometimes do sketches of people in waiting rooms, mostly in spiral notebooks so it looks like I'm taking notes or something. Hmmm, sort of strange. Tire changing places are great! I once had a great time drawing someone munching out on popcorn and reading a newspaper.

    You might be on to something with your wire sculpture...just waiting to be discovered!

  22. What a great post! Your drawings are always a treat. I haven't yet the nerve to sketch people in public but I bet if I went along with you that your courage would rub off! Fabulous sketches and sculpture!

  23. If I had $100,000 I'd be a millionaire...oh...!
    Come to think of it even if I was a 100,000aire it would go on a wire sculpture.
    (doesn't sound right but I know what I
    I love your paintings/portraits. I wish I had the nerve/guts to do what you do. I guess even if I did, I wouldn't have the talent.
    You get better and better Dan.

  24. The four floating heads are truly great!

  25. Here I was telling a recipient of a watercolor award, how I, a watercolor dabbler, paint with watercolors! Do I feel like the fool. I should stop by more often to see what you're up to. Yes, skin does take on a greenish hue when it's under fluorescent lighting, I've seen it. I've used it on the cool side of heads, I've never asked permission to draw. I just sneak looks, make marks and look at the ceiling like I'm pondering some philosophical question. Then I sneak another look. If the likeness comes out a likeness, then I might show it to the model and ask permission to publish it. That courtesy comes from when I posted a portrait I did of my son, my flesh and blood who gave me great pain coming into this world. See himself in my blog, he called me up to tell me I'd be hearing from his lawyer; he wasn't kidding. I had violated his privacy. I immediately deleted the post--and all other portraits of adult family members who didn't have a Facebook page with their picture pasted on it. Drawings of kids are okay. By the time you finish their portrait, they don't look like that anymore.

  26. Linda - don't be silly!! I am a student of watercolor and hope to be so for a long, long time - I always want to learn and hope I will keep learning no matter how good I might become in the future (I can only hope). I have a long way to go, anyway. I love hearing how you paint, and I love your results, or I wouldn't have asked.

    Man - your son is tough!!

  27. Oh and thanks, Peggy, Ann, Stew and Ruca!! Thanks for coming! Glad you enjoyed it.