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


Party time in Rockefeller Center

I'm not much of a party animal. The prospect of standing in the middle of a crowd of people at an event designed for socializing and networking is more than way outside of my comfort zone; it hits my "get me outta here!" button, hard. But Grothouse Lumber, with whom I collaborated in the development of a series of work and dining tables for luxury kitchens last year, got me a ticket to House Beautiful magazine's "Kitchen of the Year" V.I.P. party last night, and since one of our pieces is featured in the design, I decided at the last minute to knot a bow tie around my neck and drive up to New York for the event.

It was 98 degrees fahrenheit with jungle humidity in midtown Manhattan, and I ducked into the MOMA Design Store, a couple of office building lobbies, and air conditioned bars to fend off sweat as I made my way  down sidewalks full of more sensibly clad (short and tank tops) people to Rockefeller Center. The kitchen pavilion is set up all this week right on the spot famously occupied by the giant Christmas tree during the holiday season, just behind the ice rink presided over by the wonderful gilt statue of Prometheus. With a little time on my hands before the gala began, I did my daily sketch from the promenade, just above eye level with Prometheus floating above the fountains. Behind him, inscribed along the top of the polished granite wall, are these words: "Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends." That relaxed me enough to get me calmly through meeting editors and publishers and the celebrity chef at the crowded reception. Well, that and a couple of the excellent iced blueberry mojitos at the party's open bar.

Prometheus above the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, New York City

the House Beautiful Kitchen of the Year party at Rockefeller Center


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