The good earth

I spent the first week of fall this year in a rustic camp at the edge of a quiet peninsula on Penobscot Bay. Immersed among the rich early autumn scenery, a once fancy 1958 Buick Estate Wagon that I'd first spotted hidden in a roadside tangle of tall summer lupine 20 years before, emerged out of the dusk as we drove by on our way to dinner in Blue Hill. The undergrowth had been mown down and what was left of the saplings were now mature birch, their leaves just turning. Mosquitoes, black flies, and the limitations of vacationing with young children had excused me from interpreting my fascination in drawing form in times past, but over the years I thought that someday I should take a crack at it. Stopping for another look, I thought that again.

1958 Buick Estate Wagon

The week went by. Every day was gloriously full of the outdoors, and sitting next to a rural highway staring at a rotting hulk of General Motors folly was low on the list of what to do. And I did plenty of other sketches and watercolors. 

The next to final day of our visit, the morning greeted us with a chilly rain. Ina needed access to internet and copy services for an upcoming work engagement, and I realized that regardless the weather, her route to town would take her past that old car. There wouldn't be a better time.

So after breakfast I found myself hunched in a folding camp chair by the road, watercolor pad and palette balanced on my lap, holding an umbrella over my head, concentrating grimly on my self assigned task. Trying to depict the now bullet shattered windshield, faded and mottled paint, the advancing rust, the smashed out grille. A challenging subject under less than ideal conditions. I fumbled with brushes and paints. Cursed explosively when a big dump truck whooshed by and blew the umbrella out of my hand. Still, I managed to get a legible impression before Ina pulled up in the Volvo to take me back to our cabin.

watercolor, 12" x 9"

We live in a time of ugly and turbulent politics. It's easy to get caught up in anger or disillusionment. But when I think about that old Buick being broken back down into the good earth from which every part of it was fabricated, I am reassured by the knowledge that larger and inevitable forces will prevail.



Eight days in Maine : gallery

Long past due for some time and space away, we spent the first days of fall along the coast of Maine, mostly off the beaten path. I'm back now and catching up at the office, so writing about it will have to wait if it happens at all, but most of the drawings and watercolors I did I've placed in a gallery called "Eight Days in Maine". Find it by clicking above on "drawings" in the navigation bar.

sunrise, Cape Rosier, Maine


Sunday sketches

It's been awhile. With an overflowing work schedule and other pressures, I've found it easy to excuse myself from taking the time to draw. But my daughter Nora is visiting from Guadalajara, and her early morning kayaking excursion with Ina meant that I needed to occupy myself outdoors for awhile, so a couple of sketches. Then a late lunch visit with Neill and Nora absorbed in conversation about the technical aspects of photography gave me an opportunity to sit out on the balcony and do another little study, having been primed by my morning interlude.

As important as it is to keep my tools sharp, it's hard to maintain the discipline.

Patuxent Reservoir, Montgomery County, Maryland; Derwent Inktense pencils

Patuxent Reservoir, Montgomery County, Maryland; watercolor

potted cactus on Neill Roan's balcony; graphite and colored pencil



Most mornings, I walk Ellie shortly after 5AM, make myself coffee, a couple of poached eggs and toast, then pull myself together to get out the door and to work before the suburban DC traffic is in full rush hour flow. I enjoy being alone in the office when no phones are ringing and I can work without distraction. I was looking forward to that today. But at 5:45AM I discovered that we were out of bread, so I figured I'd stop for breakfast on Brookville Road. Then I realized that a weekend change in who would be driving which vehicle failed to translate into my removing my office keys from one fob and clipping them to another as I should have done last night, so I was obliged to wait for them to return with Ina from her morning gym routine. Not a good start for me.

I hate waiting and even more, I hate wasting time. I went out and retrieved the Washington Post from the front walk and sat on a step flipping through it. Most of the news disgusts me these days, though, so that didn't last more than a few minutes. Then as I started to feel agitated about having to wait, I thought of how rarely I pull out my sketchbook lately. So I took my briefcase out of the car, took out my neglected journal, opened to a fresh page and started drawing what was in front of me.

Drawing is therapeutic. It forces me to slow down, leave anxious thoughts to evaporate, and focus on the moment. It's better than getting a massage. And when I'm done, there's a tangible result. 

Ina arrived a few minutes after I closed the sketchbook and slipped it back into my bag, I got my keys, and headed off to work still ahead of heavy traffic, satisfied that I'd managed my frustration constructively.

But I still want my poached eggs and toast.




Cross the Susquehanna River from the west where Route 30 stretches across a mile wide span, take the exit on the east bank, and if you turn right at the light (what I usually do when returning home from a week of working in Washington, DC), you'll climb and descend a steep hill that passes my little town of Marietta, Pennsylvania. If you turn left, you are immediately in the commercial center of Columbia, once a prosperous hub for the processing and shipping of the region's natural resources, now slowly rising from decades of economic stagnation, crime, and poverty.

I'm glad to see once decrepit buildings hosting antique shops, storefronts being restored, even an edgy microbrewery serving decent food and better than decent beer to a growing local and tourist clientele. But what I like best about Columbia is the unpretentious starkness of the places that have not been restored. So a couple of sketches of a big old brick tobacco warehouse next to a long abandoned railroad siding. A reminder of a time when even the plainest and most utilitarian of structures were handsomely built to last.