Cranky start

Whoa boy do I ever NOT have much patience for drawing this morning. Of course, feeling cranky as hell, I chose to draw the most difficult thing I could think of (the old church we live in and the neighbor's from across the street) and sat on the concrete curb trying to lean against a fire hydrant, couldn't get comfortable, didn't like the view, and had a bad attitude to begin with. I'd much rather have just sat on the balcony with a cup of coffee and a pipe. And now I'm crabbier because I couldn't get my head into the scene in front of me enough to deal with all the layers of tree foliage, the difficult forms of the buildings, the cars parked out front, well enough to understand the perspective angles. Then my across the street neighbor Rick, in front of whose house I was fuming at my sketchbook, pulled up to the curb, got out of his car, and stood over my shoulder asking me how much I'd charge to do a drawing of his house. I tried to be civil but instead made a lame excuse and grumbled something evasive in a "go away" tone, and he slunk away after complimenting my HORRIBLE SKETCH. I'll have to apologize when I see him again if he doesn't run the other way. I know - I'll further humiliate myself by posting a photo of what it really looks like so everyone who comes here can see how badly I screwed it up along with enduring my rant! I'm going to have to do some work, let my mood reset, and try again later. God, I'm like a grumpy six year old!

hasty scrawl of our house (right) and the neighbor's (left)

the actual scene


Old Saab in Syracuse

I almost didn't put these up. The rear quarter panel in the color sketch is too short and the rear wheel too small, and the foreshortening is a little whacked. But hell, cars are hard to draw accurately. Besides, I can't just show the good stuff if this blog has anything to do with process. The car is pretty cool, though. It's late and I just got in from six hours on the road, so I won't talk about my little Saab obsession right now. Maybe tomorrow.

1972 Saab 95 in Syracuse, NY

a much quicker and more accurate sketch of the same car


Scribbly mood

Honestly, I get more pleasure out of this when I don't think at all about trying to make a nice picture, and I just cut loose with a 2B pencil. It goes quickly and follows my mood and my pinballing attention. I can concentrate on a profile that I want to capture accurately, then I can scribble, responding to how a shadow or texture makes me feel. It's great fun. Sometimes I enjoy drawing much more carefully, but not today. Just like sometimes I like a neatly arranged desk, but this morning, scattered pipes that need cleaning and no place to put anything down suits me just fine. But I did empty the ashtray . . .

messy desk with pipes and paraphernelia, coffee press, phone, and kleenex box

Rad Davis, Jack Howell, and Trever Talbert


What you see or what you feel

Lately I've been looking at lots of work by other artists. Full time painters I mean. Fine artists whose focus is creating work that patrons might buy, who teach or do whatever else they can to make the mortgage payment and buy groceries and art materials. Some of the work leaves me marveling at the skill and sensitivity that these people have developed, many in media that have intimidated me forever. Oil landscapes painted on location that leap off the canvas or paper, that make me think "oh, I can feel the heat and the beating sun or the cold and fine, blowing snow across that field." I will probably never do work that approaches what these hard working artists have accomplished.

What it is for me has more to do with what I'm feeling. Sometimes - often - raw, impatient, angry, exuberant, energetic, overwhelmed with emotion. Pencil leads break, pastels shatter to dust, the paper gets smeared. Sometimes quietly reflective. What's valid? I don't know. All of it. But there has to be something in it for the viewer or it risks being narcissism, or at best, art therapy. Trying to find and maintain the right balance between technical practice and the experience of seeing and the feelings that are churned is like trying to ride a wild horse. I'm a perfectionist but I hope I never break that horse's spirit.



Philadelphia heat

I feel like I ought to have some snappy commentary to accompany this, but the heat wave has my brain working sluggishly, and my first cup of strong coffee hasn't kicked in yet. Yesterday, my daughter Noble graduated from the Moore College of Art & Design's Summer Art & Design Institute, earning the first three of what I hope will be a BFA worth of college credits. She and her twin sister, just back from two years in Mexico, a Mexican schoolmate, and my son spent a couple of hours after the reception poking about on Chestnut and Walnut Streets in center city Philadelphia, giving me time to sweat over my sketchbook for two short segments between ducking into air conditioned coffee shops for iced tea and relief from the heat.

It occurred to me last night, as I questioned the value of these sketchbook posts, what it is that I'm trying to share. Ever since early adolescence, I have loved looking at artists' study drawings. I like the feeling of having an intimate peek at work and thinking in progress. The redrawn lines, the multiple images trying to capture a form or gesture or mood, the energy. I like that better than finished works, which often feel staged and static to me. So I hope that these posts help satisfy a similar craving in you. If I were cynical I'd call it voyeurism. But I'm not. I think we just naturally like to be connected in some way to any act of creation. I think that desire is at the core of what we are.

philadelphia fragments on a very hot day, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, watercolor pencil and 2B graphite closeup of maiden and swan representing Wissahickon Creek, from the Logan Square fountain