Sunday, April 21, 2013

Drawing to Enhance Experience

Yesterday and Friday night I had the fun of spending lots of time watching my son and his two children taking part in a group testing session for Tai Kwon Do levels.  The testing took a long time-- all told about seven hours.  I took a few pictures and videos on my phone, then handed over the phone to my granddaughter, and I settled in with my journal and did this sketch.

I was following advice from Alain de Botton in his excellent book The Art of Travel, in which he writes about and quotes John Ruskin, who suggests that the optimal way to "possess beauty" is to sit quietly and take a long time to draw or "paint word pictures."  Ruskin, writing in the 19th century, said that drawing could teach us to see, and therein lay its value.  DeBotton paraphrases Ruskin when he explains that "In the process of recreating with our own hands what lies before our eyes, we seem naturally to evolve from observing beauty in a loose way to possessing a deep understanding of its constituent parts and hence more secure memories of it." (p.217)

De Botton (and Ruskin) maintain that careful, detailed description-- painting word pictures-- can have the same effect as drawing.  But that whether drawing or writing, one needed to take time and attend to details.  Ruskin deplored the new rushing about that people in his time did.  He was actually a fan of photography, but not in the context of possessing beauty.  He said that photography actually diminished pleasure and memory for the majority of its users.  "Rather than employing it as a supplement to active, conscious seeing, they used the medium as a substitute, paying less attention to the world than they had done previously, taking it on faith that photography automatically assured them possession of it."  (page 219).

DeBotton (and Ruskin) insist that this kind of drawing is not about producing art, but is rather a wonderful way to enhance memory and deepen our experiences.  The sketch that I did is full of flaws on the level of "art," but I felt happily engaged in the event while I was sketching, and I began to notice the interesting contrast between the whirling dervish-like TKD practitioners who were taking their tests and the calm, thoughtful, sitting judges.  It all began to seem like a dance, and the entire group-- testers, judges, audience-- seemed to me to be one pulsing, changing, living organism.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Book Formerly Known as Real Life Journals

If you've seen this ad on Amazon (or anywhere else) please know that this is a paperback version of Real Life Journals and NOT a new book.  Sterling decided to bring RLJ out in paper, keeping everything about the book exactly the same (except for incorporating a couple of corrections-- the ones on this blog, for example);  they've kept the nice little booklet that is separate from the main book, and they've kept the pull-out sheet of bookbinding basics.  They've kept the exact same cover design.  What they've changed, however, is the title.

I want to be perfectly clear that this book is essentially the same thing as RLJ.  If you already have it in hardcover, you don't need this version.  If, however, you've been checking this book out of your public library forever and want to get your own hard cover copy, strike now, because there are very few copies left, and Sterling won't be reprinting the hard cover version.  If you don't have RLJ and would like to buy it in paperback, you can do so beginning around August. 

I personally think the subtitle should be The Book Formerly Known as Real Life Journals, but nobody was asking me for an opinion on this!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Journaling on the Go

 I really HAVE been keeping journals during this long silence, just not posting them because I haven't figured out how to do that seamlessly from my phone yet; and I've spent the greater part of the last month traveling.  So here are some random pages from the journals I  kept while visiting our sons and their families in the northeast.  The journals themselves were a small butter box book and a slightly larger book made out of a potato chip bag.

These first two pages were from a day when my husband and I took our three-year-old grandson who lives in Maplewood, NJ, into Manhattan via New Jersey Transit and then by subway to the Museum of Natural History.  Nate is crazy about trains and subways, and while we rode the train we looked for the most interesting things we could find at each station, and then Nate would tell me what to draw.  You can follow our trip and marvel at the gorgeous and exotic things that caught his eye.  I can't tell you how truly excited he was by each of these stations, and when we got home we overheard him playing train scenarios with his Thomas trains that involved Brick Church, Secaucus Junction, East Orange, and the C train!
  This third page is a kind of followup to the cow gameboard that I posted in February.  As we were all walking in Maplewood one bleak and icy day, we saw a soccer field in the park with robins evenly spaced and all facing the same direction.  I loved how geometric the whole thing was.  I added the little squares for each robin in the same spirit as I put in a game board for the cows.  We decided the robins were staking out territory, although the ground was impossibly hard and frozen at that point.  Optimistic birds!

After a week in New Jersey playing with Nate and also welcoming his new baby sister, Abby, we drove up to Enfield, New Hampshire, to see our son Mike and his family.  This page shows our grandsons Tallis, Luca, and Barnaby posing for me.  These guys love to do art and always want to draw in my journals as well as check out what I'm drawing.  They like me to draw them, which I enjoy doing immensely.

 New Hampshire visits usually include field trips to great museums and nature centers and maple syrup operations, all tucked away in beautiful countryside.  This time we all went to the Vermont Institute for Avian Studies in Woodstock.  In spite of chilly winds, Barnaby, aged 4, and I spent a lot of time sketching bald eagles and snow owls and other raptors.  The birds were in large outdoor enclosures but were perched close enough to the fences that we could get good detailed drawings.
 Also at the Vermont Institute I drew some blackbirds as research for a drawing of blackbirds that I am in the  middle of doing on a ceramic pie plate that I'm making.  What a great place to get bird information first hand!  I then used this sketch to draw from last week at ceramics studio.

We returned to Maplewood to help out some more with newborn Abby, and on Saturday mornings in Maplewood I got to go watch Nate do gymnastics.  The kids were great fun to watch and the watching parents almost more fun.  I jotted down conversations that I overheard.  Nate was wearing his favorite brown pants.  He told me that brown is his favorite color.