Soft rains

The clouds gathered quietly this morning while I sat in the faint, cool breeze on the balcony, with watercolor pencils vulnerable to tiny droplets that began as the sky dissolved into a soft rain. With all the political turmoil in the world, with all the frustration and rage and violence that seems to grow with every dismal report from almost every news broadcast whether the morning paper, tv news, or internet channels, Sara Teasdale's achingly beautiful and gentle poem of lament and hope from 1920 comes to mind:

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pool singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

just ahead of the rain, Tuesday morning over the Susquehanna, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, watercolor and Prismacolor and 7B graphite pencils

detail of crumbling sandstone corner and distant trees


Quick exercises

It's become a point of pride with me that, most days, I manage to spend at least a little time in my sketchbook. Yesterday and today I had a packed schedule with getting my daughters to Tina's family's shared vacation home in Mantoloking three hours east on the Jersey shore, then getting myself back here to Marietta to do work at my livelihood. It was dusk in the aftermath of torrential downpours by the time I could settle myself in a damp wicker chair to dash off a quick impression of the screened veranda, and too dark to see shortly thereafter. This morning on my way home, I missed a turn and wound up in Princeton, and took a pipe smoking break at the local tobacconist, A Little Taste of Cuba. Figured it was as good a time as any to log my daily sketch, and the leather sofas made it easy enough to sit for half an hour fumbing pencils between fumbling wooden matchsticks while cigar guys shooting the breeze about golf, real estate, and the stock market tried not to stare at the weirdo with the sketchbook and pipe. And now it's 3:00pm and I'm just beginning my work day! But, almost as obligatory as brushing my teeth, getting that sketch done was a good start.

The pipe wall at A Little Taste of Cuba in Princeton, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, 7B graphite and watercolor pencils

Wicker chairs on the veranda at Manotoloking, 8 1/4 x 11 9/16, 9B graphite and watercolor pencils



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.