Token sketch for Labor Day

Sometimes I think of what I do as drawings, sometimes as studies, and sometimes as sketches. This one is a sketch. Quickly done as an exercise, the way that a pianist practices scales to loosen her arms, hands, and fingers. A way of staying limber and staying in shape for more serious work. It doesn't take long for the edge to dull if the blade isn't honed frequently. Sometimes, a sketch becomes something more, but not because it's planned that way. It just happens unpredictably, through the process of doing without intending to make art. Today is Labor Day, though, and while I have other work that must be attended to, the results of any drawing are going to remain in the sketch category. Have a restful Labor Day. Oh - and for those of you who know my daughters Nora and Noble, today is their eighteenth birthday. Happy Birthday, you two!

three pipes by Rad Davis, 8 1/4 x 5, 9B graphite and watercolor pencils


Portrait drawing

I love to draw. I have seldom loved to draw portraits, and the instances of my doing it have been rare. As a friend aptly put it, I have a very harsh frame of reference by which I judge myself, and I've stayed away from drawing people to avoid my most damning self pronouncements of artistic ineptitude. I even convinced myself, for complex reasons that we'll just stay away from here, that I didn't draw people because I wasn't interested in people. Yet I have, from time to time over the years, drawn people nonetheless. And because an artist's most readily available model is himself, I've done more portraits of myself than of any other single person among the small number that I've drawn.

Portraiture is really intimidating. I can get away with lots of little inaccuracies with other subjects, but drawing people and their faces requires far more skill and focus in observation and draughtsmanship. Tiny nuances inaccurately perceived are instantly recognized as flaws in a portrait. And of course, for me, there is the additional challenge that I refuse to draw from photographs. But, the same friend suggested to me just yesterday that I consider taking commissions for portraits of pipe collectors, individually and in groups, enjoying their pipes and one another's company. Wow, now that's intimidating. And in spite of my horror that I might be grouped with sidewalk artists doing $10 portrait sketches on the fringes of Central Park, it's intriguing. As my restless thoughts return more and more often to speculation about becoming a full time professional fine artist, the notion of entering the merciless crucible of portrait art whispers "I dare you."

Do I dare?

self portrait, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, 9B graphite pencil



Conversations in German

My grandfather, Richard Eugene Stultz, who passed away in 1980, was a cigarette smoker as long as I remembered, but he occasionally smoked a pipe. He once told me that we could trace our lineage to William Tell, and showed me a pipe he had acquired on a trip with the American team to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, carved in the likeness of the fabled champion of political freedom and of course, archery. When he died, my grandmother gave me the pipe. I had it professionally cleaned, resisted the pipe shop owner's offer to trade me any pipe in the store for it, and have over the years occasionally filled it with tobacco and smoked it. Otherwise, it has rested in a box or gathered dust on display.

Today, however, as I realized that I couldn't let myself avoid my daily drawing exercise, it came out on the balcony with me where I perched it on the stone parapet facing a contemporary Cornelius Manz bent apple. Although I didn't realize it until just now, it was an apple that William Tell shot from his son's trembling head with a single arrow - a great moment in the folklore of civil disobedience. So, we'll call this one "conversation in German".

8 1/4 x 11 9/16, watercolor pencils and 9B Caran d'Ache Swiss Made Grafwood graphite pencil


Calendar bound

Just a brief post this evening. Tad Herr, my friend and long time collaborator in projects requiring graphic design - I mean real graphic design, is working with me to produce a calendar for pipe collectors and enthusiasts for 2012. We're using either twelve or sixteen of my drawings, depending on whether it ends up being a twelve or sixteen month calendar, combined with Tad's exquisitely ascetic layout and typography. For those readers who follow and attend the pipe shows, we anticipate having it ready for the upcoming CORPS Exposition in Richmond this October. We selected a group of drawings today, and decided that I should do a couple more.

This little study will likely make the cut. And SHIT!! I mean WHOOPSIES! I just realized that I wrote "Barlings" on the drawing and that little billiard sticking out of the bag is an old BBB. I always get them confused. Too late for the original, because if I erase, the erasure marks will show. I was about to say maybe I'll have Tad photoshop it out, but maybe it can just be a little secret that only the readers of this blog will know about. But back to the calendar, Tad and I are excited to be putting this together. We've enjoyed a creatively rewarding fourteen years of working together on projects for the luxury kitchen design world, and it's great fun to be doing something in a new venue. I've wanted to do a calendar for years. We don't know what the selling price will be yet, but we want to make it as accessible as a finely produced piece can be. I think you'll like it.

Manz smooth mild blowfish and sandblasted bent fat brandy and old BBB, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, 2B and 7B graphite and watercolor pencils




Plunging into pastels

Ten years ago, I did a series of pastel paintings of potted African violets, sitting on the cold hardwood floor of Tina's composing studio in the house that she'd owned for twenty years near the University of Pennsylvania. They were big, messy, wild bursts of energy, wrenchingly difficult for me to do. Two of them hang in enormous frames in our living room, and have reminded me every day for all these years that I need to muster the resolve to work in pastels again. I've done it a few times since then, and the painting that appears with the very first article on this blog is one of them, now in a collection near Philadelphia. But those instances have been isolated, separated by months and years of my pastels waiting to be used again.

So today, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, I've begun a new piece. It will not be a single sitting work as have been all the studies I've posted here in the last couple of months. I'm being a bit savage with my frankly sensitive ego and putting it out here in an early stage as it sits on my studio work table. We'll see together where it goes from here, and whether or not I do it again soon.

Beginning a pastel interpretation of the current pipe clutter on my worktable, 11 1/2 x 15 on BFK Rives


 Okay, I really can't see this objectively at all. Time to stop for the night and look at it with fresh eyes in the morning. Right now . . . well, we'll look again in the morning.


It was bugging me last night that the pipe tamper was a blurry ghost, but I didn't trust myself to go back into it successfully then. Good that I waited until this morning. I think we're finished here, Irene.