Wednesday, July 13, 2011

When the process is better than any results

Last night I went to an opening of a friend of a friend's art at the Cornelia Street Cafe. Robert Woodward makes beautiful semi transparent scultptures with resin, found objects and swirls of color, unexpected holes, and lyrical lines of metal. I had a glass of wine, talked to the owner of the cafe about my upcoming show, met some cool artists and writers, and chatted with both my daughters—Natalie working downstairs in the performance room and Caitlin dropping by to see the art and then go meet friends...

So I had a glass of wine, no food, happy art eyes, and was taking the subway home and felt the urge to sketch despite tippiness. I was surrounded by a group of sandy footed black kids in flip flops, holding beach gear, and clearly had their usual high energy well dampered by a day at the shore.

I selected an older Vanessa Redgrave-ish lady dozing diagonally across from me. I had to lean around a wide person to see both sides of her face. At some point the young man next to her became convinced I was drawing his portrait! He began to pose, with a deeply pleased and self conscious grin on his face, and I really didn't notice him for half the trip. The boys were of interest, some claiming they could really draw anything and others saying there was no way they could draw even a rabbit. One child said dourly that the beach had been bad for her as she'd cut her mouth on something...and it turned out she loved to read (Junie B. Jones books).

The posing young man said "Can I see?"
I realized what had happened and laughed.
"Oh no, I wasn't drawing you, I was drawing her!"
At this point the young woman minding the boys began to laugh and repeat what I'd said. The older woman chuckled.
I sketched the young man in one stop, showed him, he nodded with appreciation and ran off the train.
"Wait, you forgot your umbrella!" shouted the lady.
"It's yours...." called the young guy.
She didn't want it. The boys considered wanting it but one of them decided I had better have it as they would fight over it.
I took the umbrella and declared to the car, "it is nice to get paid for what I do!"

Then the boys wanted me to do their portraits but it was my stop. I told them to draw each other and thanked them for making my ride much more interesting.

Just this morning I'd been complaining all our umbrellas had disappeared, funny how the universe resets the balance.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Donald (Justice) portrait, first try

As you may know (if you read sidebar) I have an art opening coming up in December in the intimate upstairs studio/dining space at the Cornelia Street Cafe. I had suggested to Robin Hirsch, one of the owners, that I feature the small impromptu sketches I do of poets and writers as they give readings. I'd call it something like "Poets Corner at Cornelia" and feature as many poets as I can that have graced the small vibrant downstairs performance space with their words (plus a few that would have undoubtedly read there if they weren't otherwise deceased). Robin liked my small works but after a moment of staring at the 3 x 5 inch pencils and watercolors, asked if I could perhaps also work a little bigger. I blithely assured him I would do various sizes. And I have worked MUCH larger--too big for these walls and not with this subject matter...

Scale is a bitch. Did I just say that out loud? What works in postcard size doesn't automatically improve with enlargement. So now I am politely asking my muse how to revise my process. So far, she isn't returning my face book pleadings and "likes" on her enigmatic comments.

I tried a surrealistic photo shop collage for Sylvia Plath but suspect I need to stick with paper, pencil, and paints.

This weekend my daughter Caitlin helped me temporarily turn our living room into an art studio. Out came easel, thick arches watercolor paper, brushes, and pliers to undo gummed up tubes of paint.

I love the words of Donald Justice and wish I could have met him. But he is, alas, in that category of poet that can only pose past tense.

But how do I work? In my quick sketches, I scribble in the dark, shade/smudge with my pinkie, and add color at my peril since I can't really see what I'm doing. How do I do this at home with too much time to get precise or timid?

My friend Jeanne Marie Beaumont was once at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference when Justice was there. She assures me he was, as he appears in the photos, nice, rather shy, and more focused on the work of making poetry than working the business of being a poet.

He has a great poem about a dress maker's dummy in the attic, a naked ghost that appealed to his teenage imagination.

So here is my first sketch, with dummy, pre-paint... and I will try other approaches...want to work in some couplets from the poem... (penciled in, photocopied and stuck to the paper, pin pricked calligraphy?) Now if I only knew what were the color of his eyes...?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Daily Sketch 6/30/11-7/1/11

A week of sketching has made me aware of how much I've forgotten. I took out my trusty best guide to the anatomy of the bones and muscles of the human noggin, Gary Faigin's The Artist's Complete Guide to Facial Expression. Years ago I was a monitor in his late afternoon sketch class at the Art Students League, he was a great teacher and I watched me and everyone else—from stick figure beginners to pros—gain the ability to see what they were looking at. We look at faces with our animal brain, so tend to draw larger what is most likely to help or hurt us. All beginners draw anacephalic heads with grievously small craniums and overly large eyes and mouths. As Little Red Riding Hood says "What big teeth you have Granny!" The natural way we draw heads is a map of how our brains process expression. But if you want to do portraits it is good to be able to see the actual topography of the subject and then feel free to distort it any way your artistic soul wants.