Thursday
Apr132017

Acquaintance

I met the farmer yesterday.

A warm and bright afternoon, too nice not to stop and do a quick sketch on the trip back from a mid day visit to the shop. Passing an Amish farmer and six brawny mules seeding a field, I pulled off the road, got out and stood leaning against a wooden utility pole to sketch this view. Taking a break to satisfy his curiosity, the farmer parked his team and walked across the lumpy field to greet me. He'd noticed me the previous times I'd stopped.

We chatted about the farm life. He shared that he tills about 55 acres, has a barn full of milking Holsteins, and was planting alfalfa. I talked a bit about my years of living amidst the plain sect just a few miles east, and my own youth spent in New York state doing farm chores. A small but meaningful connection across otherwise quite different cultural backgrounds. I tried to explain what fascinated me about his farm building cluster. The great main barn looking like a ship cutting across a rolling ocean of rich soil. The house and minor buildings nestled into a shallow hollow, extending in segments parallel to the ridge beyond. How the structures seemed like they belonged there. He got it.

Concluding a few pleasant minutes of relaxed conversation, I commented my appreciation for the amount of manual toil involved in dairy and crop farming as the Amish do it on family farms in Lancaster county. He smiled and said, "It makes for a day's work!" before we each turned our attention back to the business at hand.

Tuesday
Apr112017

April

Something about this farm, I'm trying to understand just what, keeps me going back to look again. At the end of a long graveled lane, an imposing barn with its vast roof and towering concrete silos planted at its flank and gable end. The large rambling house with its telescoping extensions in a shallow dip, pointing off into the horse tilled fields and 80 acre farms to the east. Buildings and livestock silhouetted against the horizon under an expanse of ever changing sky. A rich cropland, tamed but still somehow wild, giving its bounty and withholding its secrets across the generations of Pennsylvania Dutch who have patiently worked it.

Thursday
Apr062017

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.

Saturday
Apr012017

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.

 

Wednesday
Mar292017

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.