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


Revisiting the crow

a very quick sketch of the studio crow, 8 x 10, 2B graphite pencil

100 degrees in the shade


How did they do it?

Before there was air conditioning, how did architects and artists work when the paper got so soggy with humidity that it would tear under a pencil point? Not to mention sweat dripping onto their work. I'm not a hot weather guy. It was all I could do to sit out on the front steps to sketch a quick image of my old Saab 99 before 7:00 this morning, and it wasn't skin poachingly hot yet. My watercolor pencils were actually dissolving onto the paper, which was like a damp blotter. I'll revise this post later when I have something more to say than spluttering about the sticky weather.

my no air conditioning 1978 Saab 99GL on a subtropical morning. 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, watercolor pencil


The Purist

When I began to draw in earnest in my early adolescence, a lot of what I drew was copied from the pages of "Learn To Draw" books and scenic calendars. I have tattered old sketchbooks with carbon pencil drawings of lions and polar bears, along with images of houses, barns, and sometimes people that I drew from life. And of course battling robots with laser beams shooting out of their mechanical fingers. But before long, I found myself drawing only from my imagination or from the three dimensional world around me. That position was reinforced by art school exercises - blind contour drawing and gesture drawing, particularly working in figure drawing class from a live model. During those formative years, I developed an almost moralistic attitude that anything translated from another two dimensional image lacked integrity and was not art. It was just skillful copying. Never mind that many great artists have done famous works after the work of earlier masters.

This attitude has persisted in me for over forty years. While I do use AutoCAD wireframe plots and magazine photographs when I do architectural interior renderings, I otherwise draw just what's in front of me, and I almost never do anything that requires more than one sitting. There's something for me about the direct experience of the moment, and the spontaneity of my response on paper, that I have always found compelling. And honestly, there's a macho element in there - sort of a "real men only draw from life and never use erasers" kind of thing. But it does have its drawbacks when taken to the extreme. Maybe I need to get more serious about extending the energy of a single sitting into more involved pieces, instead of allowing myself to be limited by this rigid idea I have that studio work will lose that vitality. It's a big and scary challenge that I think I have to come to grips with.This morning, as usual, from life. 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, 2B graphite and watercolor pencil