There is a hydrangea that grows out of a lush corner where our brick patio wall meets the much older brick at the front edge of our house. It is densely foliated with big, meaty, furling leaves, and laced with other minor shrubs and flowering weeds and little vines competing for light and water. Its vigor and robust aliveness is almost violently beautiful. The scene is complex, with many layers of leafy shapes and stem fragments overlapping and colliding and projecting into little eccentric pockets of space, reflecting or absorbing color in their veins and folds. Hard enough to make sense out of just looking at it, but our eyes and brains are incredibly fast at deciphering visual information, so the effort quickly brings pleasure to anyone who takes a moment to look and see. Drawing, or trying to draw it, though, is another thing entirely. A constant stream of decisions about what to render carefully and what to edit out to allow a coherent image to grow on a sheet of paper, what combination of pressure on the pencil, synchronized eye and hand movement, angle of a lead that might be sharp or dull and rounded - you couldn't do it if you tried to keep track of all of these processes. You would, as I often do, resort to scribbling, breaking leads, and sometimes saying BAD WORDS out loud. And of course, an objectively critical eye is needed to guide the progress of a drawing, but it doesn't usually stay objective. It gets judgmental, and wants to suck away motivation to keep going, because you know you're really never going to be as good as all the real artists out there, much less the great ones whose work leaves you in awe. But that's a little deep for a pleasant Saturday morning, and my girls are patiently waiting for me to make oatmeal pancakes for breakfast, so I'll let this tortured train of thought go for now and just post this morning's sketch.

hydrangea, dogwood, and tangle at the patio corner, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, 9B graphite and watercolor pencils



Glorious morning

I remember mornings like this from when I was a kid on the farm. The air cool and fresh, the sky an ethereal clean blue, crisp shadows, and not a trace of worry. A morning of perfect, simple clarity. Along with an aromatic cup of coffee and a brisk, quick sketch between my first round of work and breakfast, I can scarcely imagine a better start to a summer Friday in August.

the front of our house on a spotless summer morning, 8 1/ x 11 9/16, watercolor pencil and 9B graphite


Saab 99 yard ornament

Only temporarily, Tina, I promise. This is the motor and automatic transmission that came out of the gray 1978 Saab 99GLE, parked in the side yard until I can figure out where to put it and how to get it there. Nevin and I, along with a couple of strong teenagers to whom I paid $5 apiece, muscled it off the trailer and onto my children's old wagon last Friday, then I pulled it around onto the grass by the patio and covered it with a sheet of 6 mil poly, tied down with clothesline and weighted with old wheels from a 900. Instant junkyard! But it's a good, working vintage powerplant waiting for a new set of wheels to drive, and I couldn't just throw it away. Besides, it made a really challenging subject for this morning's wake up sketch.

7B Caran d'Ache graphite with a smattering of watercolor pencil, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16

detail of the engine; note the air conditioning compresser bracket, and the Hemmings sticker on the wagon in the full view.


let's MAKE A MESS!

Enough of this careful, delicate drawing crap. It makes me nuts trying to hold back the energy. I grabbed a 9B Caran d'Ache and just let it burn yesyesYES!!! I love these pencils - they're the softest, richest, blackest graphite pencils available. It isn't possible to do timid, fastidious . . .  I don't know how to say it without using BADWORDS and I'm trying not to do that on this blog, so I'd better just stop and post the drawing.

later thoughts: Sometimes I enjoy working patiently and lingering over detail, but more often, I feel itchy and confined when I try to do that. The way that I completed this drawing is more authentic to how I saw and felt what I was drawing. The deep shadows, the translucency of the old glass ashtray, the reflections in the lamp base, the rough texture of the pipe bowl. Drawing can be very intimate in its directness.

messy drawing of a messy table, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, watercolor pencils and 9B graphite

detail of the Rad Davis Rhodesian


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