Sketchbook week

I've been waffling for several weeks over whether or not to buy new watercolor brushes. All but two that I'd had for years and never used, beautiful red natural sable brushes, are nowhere to be found now that I finally want to try painting in earnest. Good brushes are expensive, but as much as I didn't want to shell out for new ones, I was using the lack of them as one of my many feeble excuses not to get at it and learn the medium.

This morning, I drove down to the closest really good art supply in center city Philadelphia. I carefully picked out a small assortment made by a venerable French brushmaker, along with a few other basic items. I knew it wouldn't be cheap, but the total cost reminded me of a hefty new car payment. So I'm committed now, like it or not.

Here's the week in sketches, in reverse order. The river scene and compositional thumbnail happened this afternoon, taking my new brushes for a spin.

I take a zigzagging route through fields still largely worked by horse and mule teams when I drive out to see my client, Rutt Handcrafted Cabinetry in New Holland. Since boyhood, I've found clusters of farm buildings fascinating, and the countryside is teeming with them in eastern Lancaster county. I've lately become fixated on this one, and decided to try to figure out why. Three quick impressions on separate days, on the way to the shop.


Art, fear and obsession

A few evenings ago, I started re-reading Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life, Richard Meryman's excellent biography of one of my favorite artists since I was in my early teens. It got me thinking about the complicated reasons I keep doing art. Because it isn't exactly fun most of the time. A lot of it is a confrontation with my deepest fears. I am a perfectionist, and I'm afraid of not being good enough. It makes me extremely reluctant to start, and even more reluctant to persist through frustration, self doubt, and results that fall short of that impossibly high mark. It makes me want to give up. And it makes me angry at my cowardice and fragile ego.

That anger drove me out the door this dreary morning with my sketchbook and colored pencils to do yet another drawing of the VW Karmann Ghia rusting on a trailer in the alley, with which I've lately become oddly obsessed. I was going to do a violent scribble to bleed out the rage. Sometimes that helps, jolts me out of my funk, breaks me out of my inertia, and occasionally the energy comes across in a visually compelling way.

When I unfolded my stool and sat down to draw though, the fear and anger were washed away by sadness. It was a physical sensation that's hard to describe. I had to gently set it aside so I could focus.

Then I tried, once again, to resolve what was in front of me with what colored my outlook.



Collectible junk

A few weeks back when I was walking along the alley on my way down to the river, I noticed that someone had parked a rickety car trailer in front of a decrepit cinderblock shack. On the trailerbed sat an old VW Karmann Ghia coupe, one of Volkswagen's pretty cool early collaborations with an Italian design studio to style a sports car. This one, something between a barn find and a junkyard relic, looks like an ambitious project for an amateur restorer. Or maybe, more likely, it will continue to rust away in the alley until the owner comes to his senses.

Not all of us do.



A few hardy blossoms that managed to survive winter's sneak attack. Daffodils, counter to what their delicate appearance suggests, do not so easily succumb to a late season cold snap and heavy snowfall. They're remarkably resilient. They bounce back, their beauty undiminished. And they do it year after year. That inspires me to hope.



The restless month

March buffets me with impatience. Projects need attention. Sustained focus is elusive. I'm suffused with restless energy that resists discipline. I run out of patience, find myself distracted. When that happens, a change of activity often helps. Like a brief interlude with a sketchbook and soft graphite pencil out in a windswept field.