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.


On drawing

I believe in drawing from life, so much so that I won’t do it any other way. It is the key reason that I seldom work on a piece beyond one sitting. Drawing is an intimate experience between me and the world that I can see, but it doesn’t stop there. Let’s say I’m doing a drawing of a couple of pipes, to take a completely novel and unlikely scenario as an example. I hold one in my hands, turning it in the light, noticing smoothness or texture through my fingers. The shape comes alive for me. When I set it down on a wood tabletop or a brick wall next to other objects, the qualities of light and shadow, and reflectivity, not just in the little view that makes it onto the paper but in the room or outdoors, all somehow translate into how I feel, and how I respond with a fistful of pencils or a box of crumbly pastels. Regardless of whether or not I’m able to accurately represent the profiles and relationships among the elements that make it onto paper, the experience is direct, intimate, and unique, rich in sensory information that is only available in the moment. And I’m not making a picture. Nor am I sketching. I’m recording an intense dialogue. It can get pretty emotional.

None of this is available if the source is a photograph. Photographs are already flattened, and it is only with skillful and sensitive shooting and processing that even a hint of what the photographer saw or felt can be conveyed though that medium. I love good photography, and consider it an art, but to use it as a shortcut or stand in for my own unfiltered experience seems to diminish both the power of the photo and the impact of my drawing. I only ever use it as a reference when I’m doing an illustration of a room or an object that I’m designing, when the actual material reality doesn’t yet exist.

I could easily ramble on. I’ll spare you the boredom and avoid insulting your intelligence with over emphasis, and I’ll stop here. Besides, I have a drawing to do.

Rad, Trever, Adam, Rad, Queen Charlotte and my ancient Sony Cybershot, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, Prismacolor and 2B graphite pencils 

the same group plus three, with a few more objects, done eight hours later. A more detailed view can be seen under the "drawings" tab in the "pipes" gallery.


Brown breakers

Yesterday afternoon, I left the house with my son Gabe and drove three hours to spend a last few hours with my wife and daughters at the end of their two weeks of being at Tina's family vacation house on the Jersey shore. I was really too tired to make the trip, and it was ridiculously brief - we're all home now - but I got the opportunity to sit in the damp sand early this morning at the edge of a frothing ocean, trying to catch some essence of its movement, the sand laden breakers, and the pink grey light in a drawing. And since I'm still tired and now grumpy, I'm going to just make this statement, then elaborate another time: I love to draw from life and despise the idea of drawing from photographs.

daybreak on the beach at Mantoloking, NJ, 8 1/4 x 11 9 /16, Derwent watercolor pencils



I'll rewrite this post later when I have time to be more thoughtful, but I want to get this morning's sketch up while the experience is fresh. Neill Roan is a guest at my house, and we've had a terrific time getting better acquainted and sharing experiences and views on art, design, marketing, philosophical and political issues, families, wives, and of course, pipes and tobacco. The pipe in the foreground of this sketch, done at the kitchen table this morning while the house was still cloaked in shadows, is a gift from Neill to me, and is the work of one of my favorite artisan, Trever Talbert. In good company are two other variations on the Rhodesian shape by two other favorite pipe carvers, Adam Davidson and Rad Davis. Maybe this will be a calendar girl.

rhodesian trio, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, watercolor and 9B graphite pencils



After a day and night of bleary-eyed driving through curtains of rain and thick humidity, it is a clear, fresh blue sky morning that makes it a crime to be indoors if you don't have to be. As almost always, it occurred to me that I really should start work immediately and skip the drawing, but after a little over two months of training myself to do this every day (almost), I can more easily avoid coffee or even getting dressed than I can shut off the little voice in my head that says "you're a cowardly artist wannabe if you don't sit down with that sketchbook". So, coffee mug in hand, I walked out onto the patio, pulled two favorite pipes out of my briefcase, and set them in front of me where my laptop computer will take up my field of vision for most of the day, and used up another page in my Moleskine sketch journal. A better start than just grimly ignoring the beautiful morning light in favor of a computer screen, but at this point, a compulsion that I just can't escape. But not all compulsions are bad, right?

before work, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, watercolor and 9B graphite pencils