Thursday, October 31, 2013
Tunnel Road as it moves east toward the city limits is an unlovely strip of many gas stations, car dealerships, car parts stores, insurance offices, and mini malls. I drive this bleak strip most days, so I'm always on the lookout for some little grace notes to break up the boring drive. There are two locations that I count on for some fun: the used furniture store changing lawn exhibition and the motorcycle shop mannequin party.
At the top left, a featured item from today's furniture lawn show was a rocking horse with tail and mane made of what looked like mop material rocking away on the hilly shoulder of the road in the grass next to two director's chairs that seemed to be in conversation with each other. Across the bottom is a very small part of the motorcycle shop daily mannequin party. The mannequins wear outfits that look like they might have come from the lost and found box at the Y, sort of workout clothes tops, but alas, no bottoms. They stand among dozens of motorcycles. Every evening the whole collection gets pulled into the shop somehow, and every morning the party starts up again.
I had to pull into the parking lot next to the shop to do this drawing and slink down low in my car as the shop owner was sitting on a metal lawn bench near the door. When shoppers arrived he got up and started showing them around like guests at a party. I was trying to be unobtrusive, but so many cars were pulling in to the lot that I had to move my car to get a better look. One drawback to my car is that it's not good at blending in to the rest of the cars in a parking lot.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
My friend Linda brought me a little treasure from Italy, a small cake of vermilion watercolor made by Zecchi of Firenze. Zecchi is a lovely art supply store near the duomo in Florence. They make their own paints, many of them from pigments from nearby Monte Amiata. So I decided to make this a day of vermilion, and when I went out walking I collected vermilion things, easy to do after the frost we had earlier this week. At the top left is the opened cake of watercolor. To its right are some rose hips from our front yard. In the middle of the page are some berries from a bush in our yard that people call a burning bush, although I don't know its real name. Underneath is a leaf from the burning bush. On the right is one of many vermilion maple leaves from the woods, and at the bottom is the watercolor with its wrapper replaced.
Vermilion was one of the three most valued pigments of the Middle Ages, along with ultramarine (lapis lazuli) and gold. Philip Ball in Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color says that vermilion was the medieval prince of reds. During the eleventh century it was as costly to cover a page with vermilion as it was to cover it with gold. There is evidence that vermilion was possibly synthesized as early as 300 C.E. in China. The synthesizing of vermilion from mercury and sulfur is first described in an 8th century alchemical manuscript, Compositiones ad Tingenda (Recipes for Coloring). The natural form of vermilion is the mineral cinnabar, which served as a pigment from antiquity. The problem with vermilion from cinnabar is that over time its ions can reshuffle from their usual positions and form the compound metacinnabar. Metacinnabar absorbs red light along with blue and green and so it appears black, not good when this happens on a canvas.
If this kind of discussion interests you as much as it does me, I strongly recommend Bright Earth:Art and the Invention of Color (2001, University of Chicago Press) to you.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Monday, October 28, 2013
A few days ago someone commented on some drawings of Jesse and said that she wasn't a great cat person, but that she liked one of Jesse's expressions. So I've been watching Jesse's face for changes in expression. To me he looks either asleep or awake, and that's about it. But in the interest of accuracy, today I drew him in different cat moods, ranging from stretching to grooming to just waking up. His face looks very similar in all the drawings, but his body changes everything. To me he looks bored (top left), wary (bottom left), annoyed (top right), preoccupied by thorough grooming (bottom right).
The top drawing on this page looks really different to me, and I think that's because his eyes are usually wide open when he's looking at me. In this case he was getting ready to spring off the bed, and his eyes were slits. In the middle he looks like he fell asleep in the middle of something, with that one paw resting outside the cozy circle of his body. At the bottom he's in a perfect Down Dog after sitting on my lap watching movies for a couple of hours. (I need to follow his example with a good Down Dog of my own at this point.)
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Maya has been spending nights with us since she was 2 1/2 years old. It's interesting to watch how her routines have changed. In the beginning she was glued to us every second of the visit. I can remember waking up with her at midnight on her first sleepover with us and telling her a story, complete with pictures that we drew together, about where all the other people in her life were at this very minute (in their beds, asleep). These days she's so independent we almost forget she's here sometimes. In the drawing on the left she's playing her animal game on my computer while I work on a woodcut (with time out to make this quick drawing). It's great to do things together yet still be able to be on our own sometimes.
On the right is an interior drawing of Marco's Pizza, where the Christmas lights seem to be twinkling away already. They're overlaid with some Halloween spider webs as well as a few pumpkins and skeletons, but I believe these tiny white lights are going to form the basis of various holiday decor for the next two months.
I really don't enjoy wearing socks, but I drew my Smartwools tonight in thanks to them for keeping my feet blister-free even though I walked nearly 3 1/2 miles in my Convers this afternoon after not wearing them much all summer. Below the feet, what I thought might be a slippery elm leaf, picked up out at Lake Louise where we did our walk. (When I got home and looked up the leaf I realized that there still don't seem to be slippery elm trees around here.) And on the right, one of the sassafras leaves that is drying in the kitchen, showing a decidedly dessicated state after just three days on the road to becoming file for gumbo.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Maya and I decided to make our own ginger deads today. We had a little trouble with the cake decorating frosting tubes as the two tubes we had were too large to fit the little pointy nibs onto. So we experimented with using paint brushes, fingers, and finally with waxed paper, then plastic, then cloth bags wrapped around the nibs. The cloth bags worked the best. We used a recipe from Joy of Cooking, but made a second half batch in which we substituted honey for the sugar. Both came out great.
Above are drawings of one of our ginger deads on the left, and Maya's ginger dead fox on the right.
And above here, on the left, a ginger dead Jesse and a regular ginger dead on the right.
Friday, October 25, 2013
We live close to a lovely cafe called Filo , owned and operated by a Greek woman named Maria, and which is the perfect place to flee to when it's your night to cook and it's just not happening. On top left, Maria's wonderful stuffed baguette, a baguette filled with roasted vegetables, cheese, and sometimes meats. Not sure what's in this one; it was the only one left at 4:00, and I bought it, knowing it would be fine whatever it was. Below the stuffed baguette a Filo-made croissant, and below that, not from Filo, a Jerusalem artichoke seed head from the woods along with one of its seeds. On the right is the famous Ginger Dead from Filo-- a gingerbread zombie with a red red heart stitched to its chest with black frosting stitches and red red eyes crossed by black frosting X's. Below the ginger dead, a seed container full of the Jerusalem artichoke seeds, and a container of Maria's pasta fagiole soup to round out tonight's dinner.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Jesse settles down for a nap in these three drawings. The first is so tight and head-driven. I wasn't warmed up and Jesse was actually holding still. As he started moving into sleep I had to speed up and let my mind go a little bit and my hand move more on its own.
I often think of Shiko Munakata, the great 20th century Japanese woodcut printmaker, who said, regarding his process, "The mind goes and the tool walks alone." Munakata was very old and nearly blind when he said that. He would sit on the floor with a large board on his lap and bend over until his nose almost touched the board while he carved with fierce speed. He didn't pre-draw his designs, just drew with his knives and gouges.
These next few drawings I did while sitting in an almost-dark room watching a movie. I could hardly see my lines so I didn't bother to be careful, just followed what I could see of Jesse's contours and gestures.
It always feels like a risk to me, starting a drawing, even one that doesn't matter a bit. By the time I did these last two, though, I was just letting my hand move on its own.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
This has been the year for Mexican sunflowers around here, and I've been trying to collect some seeds for next year. The birds love these seeds, too, and that's great, but I was hoping to be able to harvest a few myself. Every time I went out to the garden hoping to find a seed head that still had some seeds in it, all the heads were either too green to harvest or completely stripped of seeds.
Today we've had enormous wind, and all the plants are knocked over. I decided to really search, so I cut a dozen or so dry heads and brought them inside. When I started picking them apart (very gingerly; they are really sharp and prickly) I noticed that what I had thought were empty spaces actually concealed fully ripe seeds, and there were a few of these in every head. Drawing 748 shows a small can of seeds, one of three that I managed to fill today. Drawing 748 shows a seed drawn actual size, about 1/4" long. Drawing 750 is of the ripe seed head showing some not-really-empty empty spaces where the dots are in the middle of circular forms. The three drawings on the right show various stages of excavating the seeds from the prickly seed head.
Later, while walking in the blustery woods, I noticed that the sassafras trees up on the mountain trail were turning yellow. I had meant to gather some leaves this summer to dry and turn into file for making gumbo. (There should be an accent on the final "e" of file, making it pronounced "fee-lay.") So when we got home I raced out to the backyard fence row and sure enough, our sassafras trees were still bright green. So I gathered a few small branches and hung them up to dry. In a few weeks, when they're crunchy I'll strip them from their center veins and put them in a blender to pulverize them. The resulting green powder will be wonderful in gumbo. File is the final touch, sprinkled on top of the bowl just as you carry it to the table. It's a thickener as well as a flavoring. Most of the file sold in stores has thyme added to it. When you make your own you get really strong, pure file.
It's really easy to identify sassafras trees. They have three different kinds of leaves on the same branch: a mitten shape, a single ovate shape, and a three- lobed shape. The tree smells spicy when you pick the leaves. You can make good tea from the bark of the roots, too. People in the mountains claim the tea thins your blood to help with living at higher altitudes. Sassafras is the flavoring in sarsparilla soda.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
I got home just before dark today. I hadn't had time to take a walk all day, and things didn't look promising for the evening, either, with our increasingly early twilight. So I started walking down our road and thought I'd just stick to the road, feeling my way with my feet since we have no street lights on our street and we're surrounded by woods on two sides and pastures on the other two. When I got to the trail head, though, the darkness looked really soft and inviting. So in I went. There were toads singing, and I could smell smoke from the chimney of one of our neighbors, very sweet. I drew small and fast, just little thumbnails. At this time of year it seems to me that bears are hunkering down and not much is moving around besides squirrels and a few birds. It felt fine to be in the almost-dark woods alone.
Back homw I added a few sketches from parts of a vase of late garden flowers: some magenta cosmos, the last of the fire-y Mexican sunflowers, and one little yellow pot marigold down at the bottom right.
Monday, October 21, 2013
More meeting notes, this time from the journal group: on the left, the bottle of smooth and delicious tawny port that Lauren brought back from her camino to Santiago and post-camino trip to Portugal and that we split and enjoyed at the meeting; Allison's coffee cup; Lauren's camino passport with its many lovely little stamps from the places she stayed along the way. And on the right, Allison's journal and scarf; Maria's journal, and my journal from August through the end of September. As always, we could have kept going for another hour or two. We've been meeting once a month for three years now.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Maya slept over last night, and early this morning I came upon her with hair still wet from the shower, playing her animal game on my computer and making some screen captures of her fox to use to make an iron-on transfer for a pillow that we plan to make. She is perched on the kneeling chair.
Oddly enough, mushrooms, which had died out in our woods as of a couple of weeks ago, are making a small come-back. Today I spotted all of these during a brief 40 minute walk. Most were at an elevation of about 500 feet above our street, somewhere near 3000ft. I used my old mushroom field guide to try to identify them, but all my guesses are followed by question marks. The most unusual and therefore interesting to me was the puffball. It was stumpy and just beginning to emerge from the ground. It had tiny spines all over its cap, and they glistened in the late afternoon sun, so tiny and with even smaller drops of moisture on some of the spine tips. The others were mushrooms that are fairly common in these woods. The Russula [?] grows near where the Indian pipes live, and they are supposed to be in a saprophytic relationship with the Indian pipes and the roots of the pine trees, so I
feel pretty secure in that one identification. The dark brown button-type one had fallen over and the stem had been partially eaten.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
When our son Mike and his family were here a few weeks ago they gave us some spring bulbs. Today Jacob needed to earn some money, so we hired him to amend the soil, redo the edge bricks, and plant the bulbs in a new bed in the backyard. While he was getting the bed ready, I sat on the ground nearby and sketched one of each of the bulbs.
And here is Jacob working away while I have a good time sketching. It was starting to rain for a while, hence the spots on the bulb page. Then the sun came out again, perfect weather for digging a new bed and planting.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Driving in trafic today I pulled up to a red light and glanced at the driver next to me. It was a guy busily reading a magazine while waiting for the light to change. When the light changed he let the magazine slide down, handy for him to grab it and continue reading at the next light I guess. Kind of a low-tech texting.
This evening I went to my granddaughter's school talent show. Each of the performers had two minutes exactly to stand up on stage and perform. First I drew the M.C. in his clown hat, going fast to warm up. Then I drew the first two performers while they were singing. The third performer did a dance, so I drew the back of a little girl's head instead of a performer. She had very fancy ponytails wrapped into little curly buns, very much fun to draw!
The ages of the performers ranged from kindergarten to 4th grade. All were so funny and cute and very, very brave. Maya sang a song with her friend Zoe.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
The woods around here are slowing down and going underground for the short- light period ahead. You have to look very carefully to see the real action these days-- all the seeds that are maturing.
Today I collected a few samples. I was so surprised to find that the squaw root plant, which is one of those strange non-chlorophyll plants that is in a parasitic or saprophytic relationship with some other plant, produces substantial large brown seed capsules that look like small chestnuts. That is one plant that I see in winter in a kind of blackened, melty state, looking like a mushy thing that produces spores instead of seeds. I had never seen its seeding state before. It looked like a slightly thin pine cone. Inside each glossy brown nut were hundreds of tiny seeds.
Another non-chlorophyll plant that I saw were the same Indian pipes I've been fascinated by all summer. In their seeding state they bear erect capsules on their thin, dry stems, and the capsules are full of tiny seeds.
I was surprised to see how few and how large the seeds inside a rose hip are-- the ones I picked had four large pale seeds that looked like blond apple seeds.
Plantain seeds and what I think are Jerusalem artichoke seeds are both winged and arranged in large groups along a stem (plantain) and in a tight little cluster (Jerusalem artichoke or whatever it is).
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
At the bottom I drew my car key in celebration of the fact that my little yellow Smart arrived home this morning with its new gear shift mechanism, and it runs so well! The temple priesthood at the dealership had two guys drive it the 130 miles from Knoxville to me and thereby test it thoroughly. After two weeks of driving around in various loaners and rental cars with my shoulders wrapped around my ears, terrified lest I scratch a door panel or park too far up and destroy the front bumper (as I am wont to do on low slung cars ), I felt so relaxed driving my tiny car again, parking it in impossible spaces, driving donuts to change directions, not living in fear of a shopping cart crashing into me in the grocery parking lot and racking up a big bill with Hertz!
Monday, October 14, 2013
After the time was up I would tell them to put their potatoes back in the basket. I would collect their drawings and then dump the potatoes into the middle of the room. The next step was to go and find your potato. And the enormous surprise was that everyone was able to do this every time. Occasionally someone would confuse his or her potato with someone else's, but in that case they would both refer to their drawings, and that process always allowed them to prove which was which.
So tonight as I got some potatoes out to cut up and cook, I did the old Draw a Potato exercise. It's amazing how much there is to see in a potato when you really start looking. I had only four potatoes and didn't want to stop with drawing #699, so I drew a little pearl onion to bring the grand total up to 700.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
No sooner do I settle into drawing than Jesse senses it and begins to wake up and stretch. He looks more like a fetal cat in drawing 691.
All I could manage were a few gesture drawings, but I like the way 694 came out.
Just then our friends Loy and Bruce arrived bearing the largest most gorgeous pie I have ever seen. The pie itself was about 14 inches in diameter, baked in a very large ceramic pie dish that I made for them to fit the large pies they like to bake. The plate was resting in a lovely basket that another friend had made for them to fit the giant pie in its giant pie plate. It was an apple pie made from Cortland apples that they had picked in Michigan last week and brought home with them by car.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
I came so close to blowing off drawing and posting today. Then just now as I was trying to send some large files by email, I did a couple of studies of the changing light conditions in our hallway as I could see it from where I was sitting. There was a time years ago when my children were little and I was in grad school and had to do many drawings each week, and often one of the kids would be at home sick, thereby blowing my fragile childcare arrangements, and I would do drawings of the interior of our house. I really got into doing these, and tonight I remembered why I enjoyed them so much.
Friday, October 11, 2013
At top left is a lovely loaf of pretzel bread, the bread of the month at City Bakery. I was lucky enough to be able to buy one today even though I hadn't reserved a loaf. The other three drawings on this page are from the bakery case at Greenlife/Whole Foods. Number 684 is a from-memory drawing of a thing called a dog bone, which seems to be a Rice Krispy treat with chocolate coating in the middle. The tiny berry tarts were gorgeous, with glistening blackberries and blueberries.
I made pesto out of our basil crop this evening, and when I went to the garden to get the basil I grabbed the last of the carrots. I drew them while waiting for the spaghetti water to boil. I can't seem to grow carrots that look like carrots. These taste fine, but they look more like ginseng roots or parsnips. I even built a little raised bed so they could have deep straight roots.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Today my husband and I drove the 130 miles or so to Knoxville to pick up my car, which had been at the Mercedes Benz dealership getting fixed. It was a gorgeous day, and I made a sketch of some geese vee-ing overhead.
Since there's no Smart car dealer in Asheville, for the supposedly rare occasions when it needs computer upgrades or repairs, the car has to go to Knoxville. So we were resigned to having to have it towed there at great expense and having it fixed there; and according to the service manager, it was now fixed and ready for us to pick up.
As soon as I started it up, though, I senses something was still wrong. There was a slight hesitation before the starter clicked in; once on the road it didn't seem to be shifting itself through all of its gears. But I ignored my intuition and told myself I was just used to driving Phil's car with its superior gear thingy, etc., and anyway I have always driven standard transmissions and am not used to how an automatic feels. Well, 30 miles down the road the little wrench of death with its terrible lightning bolt flashed and the D for Drive started blinking off and on. I pulled over even though the traffic was heavy and the verge narrow. Phil pulled in behind me. I went over to his car and told him the car was acting up again. He suggested I move it to the next exit, but when I tried to start it up, nothing. Just like before it was "fixed."
The picture on the right shows my sweet little car being hauled up onto the tow truck for the third time in a week and a half, this time to deliver it back to the dealer at their expense.
On the way back home, I was once again a passenger and drew two on-the-move sketches of the roadside scenery. Stay tuned!
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
As soon as we got home, I found a sketchbook with some empty pages, and I drew from memory the chair shown above. Memory drawing is not my forte, never has been. I always draw what I see. I have a rule engraved in my head from my first drawing class in college that says "Drawing is Seeing. To draw well you have to look." And yet, one of the best and most interesting figure drawing artists that I know is my friend Loy who always draws without referring to a model. If she can't figure out how to draw a hand, for example, she closes her eyes and puts her own hand in the position she wants to draw, and the way she feels tells her how to draw. My husband can draw machines and cars and planes completely from memory. My friend Pat barely glances at something or someone and draws wonderful interpretive drawings in seconds on her iPad
And then I couldn't stand not knowing how the chairs really looked. So I drove back to the place of the chairs. They were gone from the curb, but the little second-hand furniture store in the strip mall was still open, and I could see the chairs just inside the door. I went in and drew the second chair from the left above. I was surprised at how different the chairs really looked from my memory of them. But the feeling and life of the chairs that I had drawn from memory actually seemed more expressive to me than the carefully drawn one. A woman came up to me as I was sketching and started telling me the price and showed me the rose velvet upholstery underneath the soiled cream-colored covers. I slid my sketchbook into my bag and talked to her and got interested in some of the other chairs she had on display. She was just closing, so I left. When I got home I had only one sketch of one of the real chairs, so I dared to drew in the other five chairs from memory and with reference to the one I had drawn in the store.
Most interesting to me was my observation that I felt like I was somehow cheating when I drew from memory. Time to start playing around with different kinds of reality.
Monday, October 7, 2013
Afterwards I met a friend for lunch and we agreed we were so so happy to be able to do whatever we jolly well pleased these days. So after lunch we took a nice long walk around downtown and caught up with one another as she has been out of town the past couple of weeks. When I got home I made an apple pie. Bottom right shows the apples lined up on the counter.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Saturday, October 5, 2013
I'm starting work on a new art piece that deals with the subject of sleep, so I'm warming up by sketching sleeping people and sleeping Jesse.