Wednesday
Aug102011

The Black Hole

At the risk of sounding self indulgent, narcissistic, or just plain inappropriately open, I'm going to share my experience of the past 36 hours, in the hope that at least someone who reads this will gain something useful from my telling it. Among my friends and family it's common knowledge that I have an uneven temperament, but yesterday I found myself stuck inside of a black despondency that I've rarely known. Tina, my children, and even the dog are away, so I'm alone here, which is something that I usually am able to savor. Instead, I got the perfect storm: isolation, overwhelming feelings of inadequacy relative to work, parenting, and general self worth, worries about finances, and a terrible case of intestinal cramps. I knew that there were things that I should have been doing to push through the mood. I couldn't even bring myself to call my wife or a friend for moral support. I was as close to paralysis as I could remember ever being. After an unproductive day of trying to accomplish something, I forced myself to go out for a bite to eat, just to be around people, then came home and went to bed early, hoping for a better day to dawn.

This morning, I was up early, and it was cool and beautiful outside. The cramps had mostly subsided. I followed some routines that have helped me in the past, including doing a drawing. A road crew was getting ready to grind up the pavement in front of our house in preparation for a new layer of asphalt. I did a sketch of the big machine that does the heavy work, then made a copy of it and walked out and gave it to the pilot, who was surprised and delighted to receive such a thing. I sent some tobacco to a pipe carver who I knew would enjoy it. I wrote a brief but nice note to my wife. I ironed a shirt and pants then walked instead of getting a ride for the mile or so to Swedish Motors to collect my car from being serviced. I went to a meeting at my son's school to discuss the year's agenda with his teachers and support team. And I'm launching back into my work as soon as I finish writing this post. With vigor.

Depression is still poorly understood, and scoffed at by many who haven't really experienced it, seen as an over-hyped excuse for laziness. For those who have felt its teeth though, it is a vicious black maw that shreds even the memory of how it feels to want to be alive. It's as real as joy. I'm fortunate that I knew how to find my way out of it. Yesterday I didn't think so, and if you've ever been there, you know what I mean. I started today by doing small, caring things for other people, and I think that, along with what I can only call grace, helped. So thanks to the anonymous road worker who inspired me to do this sketch, and thanks to the source of that grace, whatever the source might be.

Pavement grinder, 8 1/4 x 11 9 16, 2B pencil

close up view of the grinder

Monday
Aug082011

Snapshot

Now here's something that I never do, at least not in a sketchbook: start a drawing with the intention of leaving it to complete later. I couldn't sleep, got up before 5, stumbled up to the studio, checked email and went to my usual internet haunts, then walked up the steps to the loft where I had left a pipe smoker's mess on the coffee table next to my reading/tv chair. Twenty minutes into the drawing and feeling good about the perspective and foreshortening looking decent, I decided to take the fifteen minutes I had left before my alarm went off to signal that the day's business was upon me, and just try to finish sketching the outlines of what I might come back late this afternoon on my return, to complete. I usually don't have this luxury, because I'm most often drawing under rapidly shifting light conditions and feel compelled to hurry. But the object in the upper right is a lamp. So now we'll see what happens.

an in progress snapshot of a drawing that might or might not get completed

Wednesday morning August 10, 2011

A light first pass at establishing some base color and values last night. This is becoming a multi-day project.

Saturday
Aug062011

Low pressure

I thought about taking a break this morning and not doing a sketch, but Guilt weighed in and let me know how preoccupied I would feel all day if I started off by being lazy. So I decided to compromise by letting myself relax, use lots of colors, sharpen no pencils, and have fun scribbling. Since I'll be working on more careful drawings to illustrate design concepts this weekend, it turns out that it was a good start just to get me loosened up. And hey, Guilt? Go nag someone else today. I'm busy.

a larger image is in the Pipes gallery under the sketchbooks tab on the nav bar.

Friday
Aug052011

Frankensaab

I first became acquainted with Saabs when my uncle Van (more like a big brother because we are only four years apart) and I crawled out of his first really nice car, a deep green 1972 Saab 99, after a deer evading manuever nosed it into a weedy ditch on a country road one dark night in 1977. First, we rolled over, then flipped backwards end over end. It would have been spectacular to watch. The car was totalled, we were shaken, but we walked away. In 1983, I bought a brand new 900S. We'll skip the stories, but that car eventually took several nasty beatings, the last of which resulted in my replacing it with a 5 door 1980 frog green turbo. When that car died of less violent causes, I got a 1985 turbo, in which I moved to Seattle, where I hope it is still in service. Years later, when my present wife's daughter needed a first car, I insisted on a Saab 900. Good thing, because she tried to take down a very stout tree with it, and a lesser car would have killed her for her effort rather than allowing her to be extracted with just a few bruises.

Fast forward to October 2009. Triggered bizarrely somehow by my niece Parisa tragically dying of brain cancer at the tender age of 18, her dad and I bought a pair of old Saabs seeming to their owner to be ready for the junkyard, and drove them to Syracuse from Connecticut. I'd intended that the 1978 99GLE that I'd bought would be my daughters' first car, as it was equipped with an automatic transmission. But it gave up as we pulled into my sister's driveway, and I quickly discovered that parts for a rebuild were no longer available. With death and resurrection on my mind, the Frankensaab project began.

I found a late 1980s front clip in Cincinnati, with a working 16 valve intercooled turbo and a five speed manual transmission, and a mechanic forty miles from my home in Lancaster county, PA who had a reputation for grafting together weird old Saab combinations, including a 900 stretch limo and a mid-engine number with a 5.0 liter Mustang engine behind the driver's seat. After an agonizing and much too expensive 17 months of badgering him to finish the job then iron out the bugs (most notably that the turbo did not kick in) I have the car sitting in front of my house, as you see it here. FOR SALE. My buddy Nevin and I are going out to Abbottstown this afternoon to pick up the old motor which Tina will kill me if I bring into the house as I have other oily automotive remnants. Nora and Noble still need a car that they can drive, and believe me, this ain't it. It is highly entertaining, rust and dent free, and has the beautifully redone interior that was part of the buying argument in the first place, but it is definitely a wild thing that requires skill and attention to drive safely. I'm enjoying it while I can, but responsible adulthood is bearing down on me inexorably. At least for now.8 1/4 x 11 9/16, watercolor pencil on damp paper

My brother-in-law in his driveway with his 1972 Saab 95 and the future Frankensaab

Wednesday
Aug032011

Howell/Roan 283

Okay, much better. My apologies for ranting and sharing too much (my third ex-wife, who is from Virginia, would call it "showing your ass") in yesterday's post. I hope it was at least amusing, and gave some hint of credit to my present wife and companion of over ten years for her tolerance for those of us who thrash through life with an uneven temperament. But this isn't a diary - I apologize again.

Neill Archer Roan, with whom I've become friends through the pipe collecting (translate: obsession) community and other common interests, has written an outstanding blog for over four years now called "A Passion for Pipes". Suffice to say that it makes my site look like a junior high school newsletter. To celebrate his longevity on the web (really just an excuse, right Neill?) he persuaded pipe carver and musician Jack Howell to take orders for up to 100 specimens of a unique historic Comoy shape for his "Pipe of the Year 2011". They're gorgeous, perfectly balanced, timelessly styled pieces. To try to redeem myself from a lousy effort yesterday morning, I spent about an hour and a half before work hours this morning out on the balcony, doing a careful drawing. And yes, my patience did run out when I kept dropping pencils from my overstuffed left fistful and kept forgetting which color I was holding between my teeth, but I did not scribble, swear, or behave in a hostile fashion towards anyone. I even made coffee for Tina before I started. But anyway, this morning's effort is for Neill and Jack. Hope you guys enjoy it!

"A Passion for Pipes" Pipe of the Year by Jack Howell, 8 x 11, watercolor pencil and 2B graphite

detail of the pipe