Tag Archives: drawing

Timeout for Art: Not Much

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Another week gone by with no time in the studio.

Another week with not much to show for it, in the way of art practice.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Though my participation in most rituals of the Catholic Church have fallen by the wayside, I like Lent. Just like the start of a new year, or the milestone of a birthday, the beginning of Lent offers another chance for improvement, renewal or a fresh start. It comes right about the time I have disappointed myself with most  of my New Year’s resolutions, so it gives me an opportunity to redeem myself in some small way.

I thought of giving up all sweets (oh, NO!), or just chocolate (but I just opened the second package of wonderful chocolate truffles that I received at Christmas), or bread (but I just bought that nice loaf of sourdough). I thought of giving up swearing or drinking, but I don’t really do enough of either to make it a true sacrifice. I thought of adding something that would do me good, like exercise or meditation. I thought of committing to doing something for others, like writing a thoughtful letter each day to people who would appreciate it, or some other form of good deed. Nothing really struck me as a winning commitment.

This morning, at my messy desk with a cup of coffee and a glass of water, as I rushed to sketch the scene in front of me so that I’d have something to publish here, I decided. I am going to make a sketch every day. I won’t say “drawing” because that implies a finished work, and a level of time and energy that I may not have. A sketch every day – for Lent – is a reasonable thing.

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Timeout for Art: Learning to See

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When drawing is a daily activity, the eye and the hand work together. There is no thought process to interfere with the operation. No brain arguing about relative size or depth or the effects of foreshortening. As the eye takes in the subject, the hand moves to put it down on paper. Later, when this activity between seeing and drawing becomes second nature, there is room for cognitive advice: an organic line there would give volume to that shape; let the line fade to nothing there, or make it a dark, strong line where the subject has weight.

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When drawing is not a regular habit, first lines are tentative, soft and slow. It takes time to learn – or to relearn – how to see and interpret. It takes time to  trust what is there.

As drawing practice becomes normal, all aspects come easier. The hand gets better at following the vision. Compositions fall into place more readily. Shadows help to establish objects in space without overwhelming.

It all comes in time.

When drawing practice is new, there is a softness and timidity in the finished works. Lines are a little bit tenuous, borders are sometimes over-drawn. Baby steps. They aren’t what could be called “strong” drawings, but they have their own good character. I like them for that.

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Creative Fire Journal, Day #5

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“What an overwhelming lesson to all artists! Be not afraid of absurdity; do not shrink from the fantastic. Within a dilemma, choose the most unheard-of, the most dangerous, solution. Be brave, be brave!” ― Isak Dinesen

A dilemma I’m facing is:

Make a list of 10 unheard-of, dangerous solutions:

A dilemma I’m facing is getting my work space organized so that I can easily work in it.

It’s a small room, 12′ x 12′(the space under the eaves adds about 3′ x 12′ to either side, though it’s not high enough to stand in). When it comes to art, art books, art materials, beautiful papers and tools for working, I’m a bit of a hoarder.

If it were used only for art making, the room would already be crowded.

There is the very large yet very necessary drafting table, taking up a big block of space. It is used for drawing, adding watercolor to collagraph prints, painting, putting collages together, reading and – every now and then – as a dinner table. There is the big padded bar stool that goes with it, to get me up to the correct level to work. Next to the drafting table, a set of shallow shelves holds materials I use most often. There is a smaller desk chair. It is needed, too, for when Madeline (or one of the grandsons) is visiting, and we want to be in the studio together. I sometimes use it as an easel, too, and it’s always there when I need a place to drape a sheet of newsprint or fabric that I’ve used to rub a painting, until the paint dries. The printing press, if not in use so that the press bed can be centered under the roller mechanism, takes up a space 32 inches by 40 inches. More, when the press bed is off to either side. A short bookcase stands under each of the two windows. Their shelves house my art books; the top surface holds clay pieces, waiting for the kiln.

This is also the room where I keep my materials, and finished works in between galleries.

The space under the eaves is used for storage.

I have, on one side: two file drawers; a map cabinet for storing flat works; 12 storage totes labelled with the materials they contain and hung on rails between dividers, so that any one can be pulled out without moving all of them; 8 bus tubs for paper-making supplies, tucked in the same way. Behind the totes is a large vinyl lidded trash can filled with moist clay, several big bowls from an old commercial bread making machine, and a few rolls of bubble wrap. A shallow shelf above the totes holds moistened printing papers inside of large plastic bags when I’m actively printing. At other times, it tends to be a catch-all.There is an old TV with a built in VHS player hanging from the ceiling. Sometimes I put a movie in, for entertainment while I work.

The other side has a folding work table for inking printing plates. It holds pots of inks, boxes of latex gloves, and squares of dense cardboard for spreading the ink. There is a work light hanging above the table, and many lengths of starched cheesecloth hanging off to the side. Beside the table is a box holding collagraph plates and another holding lengths of metal frames, not yet assembled. Then there is a box of mattboard, and several packages of pre-cut matts. The remaining space has framed artwork, wrapped individually for protection from scratches and air-born paint spatters, stored standing up, in very tight quarters.

At this time, I have a half dozen finished or almost finished works leaning against the wall of storage totes, making them inaccessible without a major shuffle. I have gallons of gesso, polymer gel, polymer medium and glue under the drafting table. I have a large painting-in-progress on top of the printing press. I have small painted canvasses in various stages of completion on every available surface.

This is definitely a dilemma!

Possible solutions:

  • Pretend I’ve had a house fire, and clear out the studio entirely. Mercilessly. This is a fresh start.

[My heart is pounding dangerously at the thought!]

  • Get rid of everything that I don’t love right now. If it needs work or isn’t “quite there yet,” ditch it.

[No, I still can’t stand it!]

  • Toss everything I am not actively working with, or working on. Burn the drawings that I did twenty years ago in art class; dump the contents of totes that I haven’t looked at in months.

[I’m not up for these kinds of absurd solutions!]

  • Work larger; use stuff up.
  • Plan works using the materials I have on hand.
  • Spend more time in the studio, finishing things, using materials.
  • Use what I have; don’t bring any more materials in.
  • Quit saving every single thing.
  • Find ways to incorporate scraps into new works.
  • Perhaps make woven sculptures from old prints and papers.

That’s just about as dangerous as I can bring myself to be. It will have to do.

Taking Time

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When there is no time for art, but my spirit needs art, there are ways.

When there is no time for art, I can pull out my sketchbook where I have divided each page into small squares. With my fine point marker, I can fill in one little square…or two, if the opportunity presents itself. The squares are so tiny, no need to think of perspective or balance or composition…just draw.

When there is no time for art, I can cut papers for collage. I am collecting pieces for a collage painting. Quilt-like, it will be made up of squares – cut from old paintings, drawings and collages, each with a triangle of another paper glued on in. I have templates for each shape in sturdy board. I cut each square and triangle by hand. The base I have planned for this work is 2′ x 4′. I estimate that I need about a thousand small pieces. It is mindless activity, yet there is comfort in it. Some small pieces are amazingly beautiful…far better than the large work they were taken from. The thought process will come later, in assembly. For now…just cut out shapes.

When there is no time for art, I can pull out black and white images – collagraphs, run once through the press – and add color. I don’t do editions, so my color choices are fresh and intuitive each time. The lines are already there, I’m just coloring in. Later – when there is more time – when the plate is re-inked and run through the press over the painted image, colors will be highlighted, shapes will be accentuated and small flaws in the paint surface will disappear. Now, when time is short…just paint.

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Drawing

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Drawing is a good word.

When you sit down to render an image, you are pulling it out of the air, really.

I also feel the act of drawing is pulling me.

It nudges me to look closely, to pay attention and to remember. It forces me to make decisions along the way.

I started my drawings this week the same way  I  worked last week, in a very small format, with permanent ink.  I went a little bit larger for sketches of a couple houseplants.

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Finally,  my largest offering is still only 5 x 7 inches.

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I’m struggling with this more than I like to admit. I’ve let myself go rusty at a skill I was good at and took a lot of pride in. It is difficult to note how hard it is to make that first mark, decide on the view, plot the composition, work in the shadow…

It’s all good exercise, though.

I started this blog after a period of great loss and sadness in my family. I wanted to slow down, to savor the days and to pay attention.

Writing has helped me to do that.

Drawing helps, too.

Humble Beginnings

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Last week I opened a big can of worms.

Last week I admired a friend’s drawing. I mentioned that I should get back into drawing, as it is a skill that suffers with neglect.

She suggested we set a day, and each post our efforts.

I jumped at the opportunity. Who wouldn’t?

This is a chance to share in an activity that I love with another artist who’s skills I admire.

An assignment and a deadline. With art, with writing and with life in general, I function much better with a specific task and a set finish time. Though I cursed every single deadline when I was in college, I get kind of nostalgic about them now.

Thursday. That’s the day we will each publish our drawings.

It started out fine. I had a week.

I set out pencils (Mars Lumograph, 6B) and paper (a sturdy bond in a size that would fit in my small scanner). I planned a little photo of these simple materials and a paragraph to explain my choices. I would scan my drawing and publish it right on time. I anticipated your awe (yes, all of you!) that from such humble materials could come such lovely work.

That was several days ago.

That was before I actually put pencil to paper.

Before all the talking to myself.

I said all the things I say to my students:

“Do not look at the subject. Look at the shapes that make up the subject, and the relation of the shapes one to another. Look at the shapes of shadow and light. Draw those things, and the subject will magically appear, more real than you could imagine.”

“Use a light hand until you are confident.”

“Don’t be afraid to let the bones of your drawing show. If you have to draw a line three times to get it right, leave your efforts to add character and humanity to your drawing. Do not erase.”

I said the things my students have said to me:

“I can’t draw edge to edge  if the paper is so big!”

“I can’t tell the difference between all the colors of gray!”

“What do you mean, ‘Do not erase’?!?”

I started and stopped. I found fault with the light, the materials and the subject matter. Even more so with my quality of line, my interpretation of depth and space and shadow.

I erased. I discarded and started again. And again.

Last night, with deadline looming, I started over.

Out with the 6B Mars Lumograph pencils that aren’t as rich and smooth as I remembered them to be. Out with the sturdy bond in the 9″ by 12″ size.

I pulled out my little sketchbook and my Indian ink pen. There will be no erasures. I framed in tiny (2″ x 3″) rectangles. Drawings will go edge to edge. I used the alphabet to choose my subject matter (my friend will understand why). I kept going until I had something to offer.

It’s not much…but it is tremendous in what I learned.

I dealt with issues like lack of confidence, fear of failure and paranoia.

I faced the fact that my skills have suffered from lack of use. I am unfamiliar with the feel of a pencil in my hand, have difficulty following a line, straight or otherwise, and struggle with coordinating eye and hand. These are all issues that beginning students deal with. I assure them, always, that these are learned skills that, with practice, they will master.

Now, I’m reassuring myself the same way.

Thank you, Lisa, for this impetus to get back to drawing!

Whew!

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I like the four seasons we experience here in Michigan.

Living on Beaver Island, with its wintertime isolation contrasting with summer’s influx of visitors, the season’s are even more distinct.

Labor Day marks the end of our busy summer season. In this economy, business drops off suddenly.

I’m right on top of it! When things slow down, I move instantly into my off-season pace.

Springtime, when things pick up, I’m a bit slower to catch the wave.

Through the winter, with time spreading out before me like a warm blanket, it’s easy to start new projects. Winter menus and New Year resolutions inspire new commitments to exercise. Time in the studio sparks several new creative pursuits. Maybe try encaustic painting…do a little clay work…get back into drawing…teach a class or two. A warm April encourages a whole new aspect in my garden. Why not? Time for writing…sure, commit to a blog. Add pages showcasing my art. And writing. And sure, why not even add book reviews.

Memorial Day marks the beginning of our summer season. Talk of the weather is replaced by speculation on summer business. Gas prices are up; the economy is not. It’s an election year; unemployment is still high. We depend so heavily here on summer’s bounty to carry us through the entire year, it’s always a concern. Will people come to Beaver Island?

They’re coming!

The days are once again punctuated by the blast of the ferry boat’s horn. The restaurants are adding their summer help. Businesses have changed to summer hours. Gift shops are open for the season. The streets are busy with cars and people. The islanders breathe a sigh of relief.

The second sigh is one of exhaustion.

I just finished working a stint of eleven days in a row. Actually, there was one day off squeezed in there, which I used to take my aunt to the mainland for medical tests. Not even considering the 8AM flight or the mainland traffic, a day spent in hospital waiting rooms and medical offices is not a relaxing day. I’m counting it as a work day. So, eleven days, many nine or more hours. Busy! My pedometer, which barely clocks ten thousand steps per day all winter no matter how many walks I add, was marking over double that, just during work hours!

I came home exhausted every night. Dragged myself out to walk the dogs. Put the most pathetic collection of meals together. Read a few meager paragraphs before falling asleep. No exercise program, no studio time, no gardening. No blog.

For my blog entry, I re-posted one of Renee Fisher’s “Life in the Boomer Lane” selections. She is an excellent writer, always thoughtful and often laugh-out-loud funny. It was a wonderful, encouraging post. It covered many issues that have been rolling around in my mind for quite some time. She spoke of those issues much more eloquently than I would have. Still, it felt like a cheat to my commitment. I’ve already quit writing the book reviews, having remembered that – though I love reading, and even enjoy reading reviews – I have always hated writing book reviews. Now I’ve sunk to re-blogging, as well.

Sorry.

When the tempo picks up this time of year, it takes me a while to catch up with it!