Sweat and mosquitoes

In December of 2001 when I found our current home, a retired church in the little Lancaster county borough of Marietta, Pennsylvania, one of the compelling characteristics of the place for me was its location on a big bend in the Susquehanna River. All that water running from upstate New York and western Pennsylvania down to the Chesapeake Bay. Donegal Creek, which meanders through the farmland and woods of this part of the county feeds into it, and between highway 441 and the railroad tracks that parallel the river, the creek flows through the ruins of the 19th century ironworks, of which there are only the faintest traces in an old dam and overgrown broken foundations of some of the furnace works. It's a quiet and largely forgotten place in the woods, and almost nobody goes there except the occasional local fishermen. This is a sluiceway branching off the main creek to circumvent the dam. The patience I had earlier this morning while drawing my coffee and pipe scene became a casualty of sweat and mosquitoes, but not before I managed to fill a page with my impressions.

Donegal Creek, a ruined culvert and a fallen tree, 11 9/16 x 8 1/4, watercolor pencil



I told my wife last night that I would be out of the house before sunrise, sketching a landscape with a crumbling rural building somewhere off in the countryside to clear my head of these little still lifes I've been doing. But when I got out of bed, I decided to warm up with what was going to be a quick sketch out on the balcony before heading out. Then I got absorbed in drawing and let my plans shift. I started by drawing a careful outline of the coffee press with a sharp 2B pencil. That felt pretty good, it was quiet and still outside, so I just kept going. Had to fight with my usual impatience and anxiety and desire to scribble hard enough to break pencil leads and furrow the paper, but kept under control and worked hard to be relaxed and attentive to detail at the same time. I left it "unfinished", but I've always liked the implied movement, the candid glimpse of work in progress. Not such a bad start to a Sunday morning.

Rad Davis 1/8 bent zulu and other necessities on a perfect summer Sunday morning, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, 2B graphite and watercolor pencil enlarged detail; lots of different colors to create depth and dimension



Okay, time to really get a good dose of humility here. Yesterday, I filled the last page in the little sketchbook that I started drawing in daily about a month ago. This morning, I opened a new one, but a little over twice the size. I figured that it would take some adjusting to. No disappointment there. I was anxious and tense almost the whole time while I was doing the first sketch. I think that the biggest challenge is going to be recalibrating my patience when I'm trying to do much more than a very quick scribble. It takes more than twice as long, and a lot more thoughtfulness, to work at the same level of detail at double the size when the tools (pencils in this case) stay the same. Of course, it didn't help matters that the dog wanted to sit on my lap, the light was changing rapidly, and I was feeling in a hyper self critical mood. Maybe I'll go meditate before I do this again.

By the way, you pipe collectors visiting the site, you might want to click on the "sketchbooks" tab at the top of the page, where you'll find a series of drawings of pipes from the past month.

 bad breakfast on the patio, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, graphite and watercolor pencil



I find that I like doing things in series. Not so unusual - most artists and designers, and everyone in any endeavor likes working this way. Routine, the anathema of the creative mind, is absolutely necessary in order for us to have a baseline from which we measure our progress. An experiment conducted only once is an event without context. Doing it twice, we can make comparisons. Many times, and patterns begin to emerge. How we use each experience creates the direction in which we evolve. All of this may seem self evident, but I find it useful to see these obvious things as though for the first time.a quick sketch of the familiar coffee mug and another Rad Davis pipe - part of his work in series.

a little later, a little more coffee



That's what a lot of these are. Trying to put myself somehow in the objects or tableaux in front of me so that instead of my eye and hand simply being co-ordinated, with my hand moving in sync with my eye, the drawing sort of grows out of the experience of seeing. It takes a lot of concentration, and at the same time constant little adjustments to things like breathing and posture, or moving my head just a tiny bit so that I refresh my understanding of the volumetric aspect. It's very easy to get something like tv screen stare, when my perception of depth goes away and I'm just dumbly looking at a flat world. So part of what I'm doing here is engaging with what I choose as subjects to understand what I'm looking at in a richer way. The pictures that emerge are the evidence.

Rad Davis squashed apple with coffee mug, 5 1/8" x 8 1/4", graphite and watercolor pencil

with a little rework on the coffee mug