Sunday, May 29, 2011


I spoke previously of the importance of a good model. This young woman is one of the best. She is poised, self confident and as naturally relaxed as anyone you know. She is an inspiration to the artists who surround her as they draw. Because of those qualities and because she is quite versatile, she is one of my favorites. She can hold an "action" pose, drape herself over a piece of furniture or do a languid "pin-up on pillows" pose equally well. 

One of her prime assets is the nice balance between flesh and bone which allows us to easily see and appreciate the total structure of her figure.  While not thin, as a fashion model would be, her bones are prominent enough to emphasize things like shins, knees, elbows and shoulders. I especially like her shoulders here. Too bad I didn't do as well down below. 

When drawing the lower limbs, I didn't do justice to the structure of that left leg.  It isn't finished and just isn't as believable as the right, possibly because the foot is too narrow. One excuse here; - that leg is in complete shadow, so with the technique I use that leg may have looked "flat" anyway. On top of that, I may have inadvertently shortened the left foot to make it fit comfortably in the space available. I would have done better to let that foot fade out as it approached the lower edge of the paper,  letting our minds
complete it.  As they say these days, "My bad!"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Small Loss!

And now for something completely different!  Looking way back in an early sketch book I've found a character I'd almost forgotten,  - probably a self-portrait of sorts.  This sketch was the forerunner of two large (22x30) ink drawings,  one of my most popular images.  They were both fairly straight copies of this "Guy" leaping forward, his foot pushing off from an old fashioned piano stool as he attempts flight.  One went to an active collector of my work, the other to a good friend who was just captivated by this foolish "Chicken Man", as he dubbed it, trying the impossible.  Only the second survives. The collector's house went up in flames a few years ago turning several of my works to ash and smoke.  I do miss knowing those pieces are out there giving people a bit of pleasure but, in the larger scheme of things,  it is a very small loss.

Following this drawing I did a number of works that reused the same basic idea but with other images  which were "darker" and therefor less accessible for many people. This image-idea was no doubt rooted in my responses to then current experiences and situations. At the time I felt compelled, in a sense, to create strong images and spent little time interpreting either my motivations or the results. 

I first started this post with my own interpretation of the image but in the end decided to leave it to viewers.  How would you describe this cartoonish "character"? What's his mission or motivation? What does he think he's doing?  I'd love to read your interpretation!  Please post a comment, here or on facebook!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Double Trouble

These two older drawings, done in the same session, are examples of a learning situation. The first, on grey paper was weak, - the shoulders and back were poorly defined and I'd elongated the body from shoulders to hips. I switched papers and started anew.  In the second I solved those problems and at the same time emphasized the "swing" of the body, taking note of the difference in  the planes of shoulders and hips and really defining the three dimensional aspects of the figure.  This is a better, more interesting drawing.

There may have been another factor at play here. This was likely a three hour pose and generally speaking, models do not hold a pose for long periods of time. They take breaks from time to time then get back into position. A good model has "body / muscle memory" and can regain the exact pose or very close to it.  There's another point too, - as time 'in pose' goes on, the model relaxes, the body slumps a little and the pose changes, so the artist has to compensate and make adjustments as he works.

In the end, I'm also glad I changed the paper color, it may have influenced the way I approached the work, giving the drawing more life.  On the negative side I did over-strengthen the bulge of muscle in her left leg just a bit.  Even so, while far from perfect, it's a more successful drawing. It was worth re-doing!

Just as it is important to look at the work of others, it is good practice to spend time examining and re-assessing your own product.  It's good to be self-critical, good to recognize your strengths & weaknesses, good to be aware of where you've been artistically and where you'd like to be.  Comparing one work to another or even to a range of pieces can be very beneficial.  Keep on Looking!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Real Sketch

I've mentioned before that I keep a sketch-book in the car for those times when I may have to wait for doctor, wife or performance. These three pieces taken from my "waiting"  sketch-books, are for me the very definition of the word "sketch", - a drawing where details are barely noted, darks are massed hatchings and most lines are loose and approximate.  I use this technique when I'm sure that time is short and I want a work in which I can look back and feel that I know how the whole scene, object or building looked, - a good over-all impression.

Over the years I've found that people often use the word "sketch" as an alternative to the word "draw".  In the past when most of my drawings were many hours in the making, I cringed as they spoke, saying,  "No, a 'drawing' is a strong deliberate work, while a 'sketch' is a quick, almost off-hand sort of thing". It made sense to me, - but in the end,  as Gertrude Stein might have said, "A drawing is a drawing is a drawing".   I like it all!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Keeping it Simple

Here is a very simple drawing;  My usual combination, Prismacolor on Canson Pastel paper.  A line of varying weight describes edges and to some small extent the very darkest shadows.  White pencil highlights show not only where the light falls but also defines mid-range shadows, - the flat blue areas of the body.   Between the two we have a spare representation of 3-dimensional form viewed from ... where?   Where would you place the artist's eye-level?

It is fun sometimes to analyze, - trying to put yourself in the artist's place and ask if you understand why the work looks as it does, or ask how you would handle the same situation.  I don't know if the particular questions are important but I do know that looking at the work of others is very important.  Really looking can reveal a lot!

Early in my training a  2-d design teacher sent our class to the MFA with instructions to find an interesting work and make a faithful copy. I wandered the galleries with my little folding stool and finally settled on a one-foot square scrap of old French tapestry. It was displayed low down in a wall case, low enough that I could sit comfortably with the material at eye level.  I concentrated on the "simple" border design, - leaves, tendrils and small fruit.  Piece of cake!

Even with my intention to get through the assignment easily, I did my best to draw carefully and make a good reproduction.  It took hours of drawing and re-drawing!  As I worked I became more and more involved and began   following the artist's hand as he fitted the various elements together. It was amazing! By the time I was finished,  I was intimately aware of the mind behind the anonymous design and was literally in love with that scrap of beautiful cloth.  For many years following I never entered the Boston Museum of Fine Arts without spending time with that gorgeous little remnant.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"Some Day"

Looking through a portfolio of miscellaneous old pieces yesterday, I found this drawing done on a paper bag.  Back a few years I had a thing about pears, using the image in many different ways in major and minor pieces.  I still love the form.  In this fairly simple shape I found many references & inferences, both aesthetic and emotional.  At first glance I thought it an imaginary pear, likely done when driven to doodle, I'd grabbed my lunch bag and the nearest ball-point pen and went at it!   Closer inspection reveals the multiple shadows of an indoor setting and even traces of reflection up from the table on the lustrous underside of the fruit.  It is lunch observed!  I like the immediacy of it.

Now, seeing that mundane paper sack, I'm reminded of a certain little boy, sitting by a beautiful cast-iron  kitchen stove, drawing on a flattened grocery bag.  My grandmother had slit the bag with her bread knife, smoothed the folds and settled me down in front of her warm enameled stove to draw, not pears then but airplanes.  Her home was a stone's-throw from the airport, so planes were a natural subject. I drew all the time, every time I had a chance.  It was my recreation, my leisure time activity, and my way of exploring the world. 

It was years later that I actually thought about becoming an artist.  My mother had pointed to a Reader's Digest cover illustration saying the artist, 'Johnny' Pike, had been a schoolmate. What an amazing idea!  A real person had done that beautiful picture, a watercolor "Winter Woods" scene.  It couldn't have been much later that my blue-haired art teacher became ecstatic when she saw my purple shadows in a crayon drawing. She held it up saying how wonderful that I'd really "seen" those colors and proclaimed me a "Real Artist"!  

I didn't give John Pike credit for the inspiration then and truthfully, I discounted the appellation "artist".  It seemed to me a profession for which one had to have training, one where schooling was the answer.  While not entirely wrong, there was one major mistake in my concept, one I tried to correct  later when I had my own students. "Don't tell yourself you will someday become an artist", I'd say, "Be one now! Work at it! Do it now with whatever skills you have.  Be the artist you can be now and plan on growing!"

Perhaps you have a similar memory, a special someone who believed in you, an incident that set your direction or even an early determination of your own. Life's direction often turns on a "Time"! My friend Melissa Crandall, a wonderful storyteller, puts a photo of her young self on her published book jackets. Here she is sitting at the typewriter she asked for as a five year old!  She believed in herself early! She was then and is now, a writer!  This is the road to success. Set your sights on "being" the person you want to be.  Don't make "someday" a goal!   Just DO it!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

About Accuracy

Every once in a while I'll set up a problem for myself,  - a  quick still life of sorts, - something different from the usual figures and organic forms which I've shown previously.  Here I've scattered a bunch of paint tubes in such a way that we see some in profile, others in end views, most all obliquely.  If total accuracy were my primary concern I might have resorted to linear perspective, a technical method of constructing and depicting 3-dimensional forms on a 2-dimensional surface, but that would take more time and effort than I'm willing to expend on a sketch.  Even tho' I say looking and seeing are very important, knowledge is power!   It does help to understand the rules of 2 & 3 point-perspective, so given a problem of this sort we can interpret what is seen more easily by keeping in mind the rules of perspective.   

Aside from perspective, one of the things I pay particular attention to is "negative space", the spaces between the objects. While looking at shapes of the objects themselves, observing the shapes of the spaces carefully helps over all accuracy. 

In the end, I love drawing without any intervention;  putting the pen directly to paper is a real challenge.   I accept the natural distortions resulting and enjoy the "hand-made" qualities of the final product.  For me there is so much more "life" in a drawing that looks as if a human hand did the work.  Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with accurate drawing.  A fine, beautifully rendered drawing is a joy to behold but if it truly looks like a photograph, why not use a camera?

Monday, May 9, 2011

No Pin Up!

 I'm not particularly interested in producing "pinup" type pieces.   I reflect as faithfully as possible overall individual characteristics, without being slavishly photographic or tied to detail.  There are distortions here because I never erase and rarely make actual measurements.   In the end, my purpose in these drawings is to emphasize form.

For those who have been followers for a while and are familiar with "The Weekly Figure",  I have (or will soon) close that blog and post my weekly nudes here in "Dailies".  I've decided that my original assumption regarding Blogger's restrictions on "adult" content does not apply here. Along with the last piece from "Weekly Figure"  here is a new drawing.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Child's Play

This is my 3 year old grandson's figure drawing; - a typical child's figure where he draws what he  "knows".

Here in a second drawing are a few more advanced children's figures, with shaped appendages and ideas about hair, eyes, clothing and even eye glasses.  Some  adults are often stuck with such simple concepts when they first try to draw people. They "know" about bodies,  - that there are appendages and body details   but haven't either studied anatomy or learned how to look and truly "see". There are some people who without any training or apparent effort at all, draw beautifully.  I was not one of those!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A transition

Thinking about my last post in which the subject of "pattern" came up, I remembered some drawings coming out of the "Talking Heads" series.  After so many "Pontificating Politicians" lined up, squeezed together, or otherwise caught in cartoonish relationships, I succomed to the delight of "abstract design". 
In this case, - Doodles!  

I guess you might have to call this "applied" doodles. One of my on-going artistic concerns is the arrangement of things in space, whether the positioning of items on a shelf or the relationships of elements in a drawing.  I like to see "parts" fit together.    One way I've found is to connect them with background, - here with bands of pattern and texture.  The figures are still dominant but all are tied together and the whole is (for me) much more interesting!

Eventually "design" became more important and I played with repetition and variation in shape, texture and pattern.  It's pure fun! The figures may be there but are not reflecting reality, they are almost as abstract as the surrounding shapes.  It's a situation in which we can work the way a musician does, -  playing a theme then doing intuitive variations as he explores possibilities. I did quite a few!

After completing this particular more moving bit of pen-work,  I became aware of a possible meaning in it.  I'd been thinking about a painting series in which I'd consciously explore the story of my original injury, trying to recall, re-experience and react to the various situations in which I'd found myself 20 years ago, something more formal than the earlier (frantic) "Wheelchair" posts.  I thought that this drawing, so different from past sketches, might be a beginning. It "spoke" to me!  Here were two of the five men in the hospital spinal cord injury recovery unit, cut off from past lives and cut off from much of their lower beings. 

It was strange being there, not knowing how to deal with this new situation, - not even in a sense, knowing "who" we were.  During my weeks of rehabilitation later, a therapist explained it this way. "You've been dropped into a strange country. You don't know the language or the customs.  Somehow you have to find your way,  learn to cope and make a new life for yourself." 

We'd started our journeys almost simultaneously, each arriving as if blind. Flat on our backs and immobile, we could not see each other.  Fearful in the night, we talked and worried what another day would bring. The guy to my right was a personable comic, a great guy!  He'd throw M&M's around, making black comments like, "Why not cut our heads off and mount them on skate boards?"!  He'd curse, scatter crushed ice on his body, trying to feel something, anything!  On my left another young guy cursed too.  He cursed the world, the room, the night and most of all, he cursed the nurse.  He called her every miserable name he could muster, crying that they, she in particular, were trying to kill him. As a high quadriplegic he had a very hard time breathing.  Me?  I just held on tight.  I hugged my pillow listening right, listening left. I could hear a mouse skittering around collecting M&M's from the corners.

I haven't yet been successful with that painting.  I've done a couple like that and thought I'd have another bit of color in the blog at this point.  The transition from black and white to color just hasn't worked well.  In trying to communicate the unease and fear in that recovery room,  I pushed too hard.  It was too garish.  But then, I suppose life can be a bit garish.  The young man on my left did slip away a day later.  My friend with the ice and M&M's managed his own business for five years, I think, and then I heard he'd killed himself.  


Friday, May 6, 2011

Talking Heads

Here are a few of the sketches I mentioned earlier that I do while watching C-span's talk shows, government panels , - all kinds of "Talking Heads".  Sometimes I do one figure at a time, other times work back and forth with the camera,  - enjoying the challenge of fitting them in the space available.

Occasionally I get in the spirit and record the key points of the dialogue, I think it adds to the interest and tags the era, shows political points of view,  while upping visual interest too!  Think pattern!  Hmmm, I'm thinking & looking!  If pattern really were the point I'd have missed!  It's late, I'm tired, I'll fix it tomorrow!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Making History!

This drawing seemed to go wrong from the start!  After multiple corrections and alterations with my Prismacolor pencils, the drawing was a mess.  I gave up and turning to a fresh sheet considered a new beginning.  It was probably what my daughter refers to as "The Inner Donkey" that made me go back to my pencil box to find a lone Staedtler "Pigment Liner", my favorite pen!  Using the previous color marks as scaffold and freed by the knowledge that it would be lost anyway, I redefined the figure with loose line and hatching, saving the day!

One lesson here is the old "Never Give Up",  but perhaps a more important one is, "History Preserved"! Sketched lines, approximations of position or proportion for example, show not only the progress of the drawing but open a window on the artist's visual problem solving process.  The ability to participate in the creation via appreciation of preparatory marks and the archaeology of layered materials  gives the viewer a richer experience.  This is a much more interesting and vibrant drawing than it otherwise would have been!  I like it!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I Lied!

I lied?  Well, not exactly.  I spoke earlier of my keen interest in observation, of not "knowing" the subject but "seeing" well.  - and in regard to much of my work it's true.  I sit back cooly perusing  the subject, carefully putting line on paper, producing a (hopefully) lovely object, a "work of art". 

 I'm here to tell you that isn't all there is to it!  I didn't mention the importance of involvement in art.  Sixteenth century Chinese Toaist  artists said you must become one with the object.  An artist should envision himself in the tree, feel what it is to be the tree, they said, in order to understand its structure and spirit. Only after lengthy meditation of this type could he then put brush to paper successfully. There is a lot of merit in this approach, - and some real difficulty! To be truly involved you must really feel and sometimes you'd rather not!

I've been very sick this weekend.   I'm coming out of it but still very weak.  Curled up in my feverish bed I tend to bore in on my situation in life.  "Situation in life"!  Now there's a cool description which says very little!  For those who don't know, a flying accident years ago left me in an exclusive club, "Wheelchair Using Paraplegics", a club which I would rather have avoided!   The first week in June brings the 20th anniversary of that disabling injury.  It has dominated my life in too many ways and there's no resignation allowed!

In the beginning I did fairly well,  thanking the stars for hands and mind still intact and working hard to regain or enhance impaired  abilities.  People said I was amazing!  I was not.  Looks can be deceiving.  A year later around the accident's first anniversary I finally fell apart.  At that point the enormity of my situation hit home, a not unusual reaction I'm told.  One of the ways I dealt with the problem at that time were attempts to put my feelings about loss and restriction on paper, not writing but drawing.  Here are some of the results.

I never expected to exhibit these in any forum.   The few who have seen them, didn't seem to like them but putting them here seems appropriate.  There is no critical observation, no cool application of pen to paper, no attempt to render the figure with smooth, accurate anatomy.   They are emotional, expressive works.  They are not pretty and, for all I know, may not truly communicate the anguish I was feeling but they are REAL!   I am the subject.