Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pain Story

When we see a wheelchair using person it's natural to respond to the obvious; here's someone who cannot walk, - and if you think a bit more about it, bless yourself for having avoided a similar fate. It can happen to anyone, out of nowhere, in an instant.

A spinal-cord injury affects each in many ways well beyond the simple fact of paralysis and in unique fashion from person to person depending on a variety of factors like age, extent of damage, level of injury in the spine,  etc. Mine was a crushed T-12 vertebra, just at the bottom of the rib cage.  Almost a year ago, I did a post here entitled, "I lied!', about my emotional state after injury and wrote of my early "denial" and eventual acceptance of the situation. Drawings done then illustrated my mental state.  I was a real mess, but with time, rehab exercises and good counseling I made substantial gains.  With these small tempera paintings, derived from quick, almost automatic sketches, I  want to describe that personal journey and a few of its unique problems. As Sgt. Joe Friday always said,   "... just the facts, M'am".

Paraplegia impinges on major functions like those of bladder, bowel and mobility. (Sex is another story) While those are major issues, - obvious badges of "the club" so to speak, - it is the unseen, unexpected aspects of paraplegia that mark daily life minute to minute. My subject is "pain" and the wide variety of sensations present on a daily basis.

It was absolute numbness at first, a soft "nothing" from the waist down, - a total loss of function and control. This also implies loss of sensation but that's not necessarily so.  True, you can stick pins (or Nails!) into me without a twinge, but that's not the whole story.  Some seem to be natural pain, like "gas" or back pain from sitting in just one position but others are quite strange. My first time sitting up felt as if I were balanced on a soft, under-inflated beach ball, - an unsteady "non-contact".  Sitting here now, I'm "aware" of that contact, the weight on the cushion but it's "learned" rather than felt.  There's quite a catalog.

Now, my feet are burning!   The soles often burn and tingle!  When I have a full bladder, "Someone" twists my toes and pushes wooden wedges between them. Bubbles percolate up and down through leg muscles.  Everyone knows what a "wedgie" is, - how about a virtual "sandy-pants wedgie"? The crunch of new dry snow under foot is pleasant but vibrating through my ankles sans snow is not happy.  If I scratch a certain spot on my chest I feel it on my left shin just below the knee.  It's all just a bit disconcerting!

One very real curse is a hyper-sensitive four inch band around my waist. When first home from the hospital in an awfully hot August,  I could hardly move and needed help in many ways.  I remember my wife trying to wash me and asking for an electric fan to counter the terrible heat. It was impossible! The breeze passing over that part of my body produced excruciating pain.  I couldn't stand it!  You can rub a hand over that area or press down on the skin with no problem but dragging a light feather over it produces wild pain!  Mmm, Fun!

Within weeks of first injury a tiny pin-point of bare pain appeared deep in my lower abdomen.  Over time it has grown to dominate my days. Drugs have no affect. Even narcotics injected directly into the spinal column didn't touch this deep pain. It's not "horrible" pain (Been There!) but a constant burning pressure, hardly varying from day to day or hour to hour.  Only twice in twenty years has that fiery knot disappeared.  It was as if a plug had been pulled and the pain just drained away!  It was wonderful for a space of perhaps twenty seconds,  then slowly "re-filled" to its former intensity.

This part of the story is not all negative. A wonderful therapist helped me learn to handle that particular pain with a simple visualization technique.  With intense concentration on the pain and assigning specific characteristics of color, shape and texture, you can "see" it as an actual object. (In my case, a "Fuzzy Orange Ball")  The pain, then, is not pain but seems "something else"!    I love it!

Andre Breton said, "The man who cannot visualize a horse galloping on a tomato is an idiot."

Hey, maybe it's a good thing I'm an artist!

"We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey"  Kenji Miyazawa 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Time... and Time Again.

Just looking at older work, perhaps self portraits in particular, is often  somewhat strange. We have a mind's eye concept that persists for ages  until a time when life creeps up, wipes a slow hand over that image and makes you wonder where you've been.

The pencil portrait on the left pretty much meshed with my self concept for so long the mirror seemed immutable. Still a bit boyish in that drawing done at age sixty, I had an easy confidence in time's slow pace. While aware of ultimate mortality, it seemed so long too distant to matter but I've had a few too many reminders lately, - the deaths of old friends and colleagues who were much too young for that last occassion. Some are even now fitting foot to that proverbial banana skin.

Time matters!   For the most part,  I've tried to make it count.

This pencil portrait technique, tho' not exactly the same thing, came out of hours invested learning to draw with etching needles,  lithographer's crayons and then (again) with pen while pursuing my masters degree.  That pen, an earned favorite, was special.

Here on the right below is an early try at self portrait in ink, done well before my hirsute '"Hippie"days. There I am in 1966 suitably serious with my newly acquired Kohinor Rapidograph Pen. a beautiful black instrument looking much like the Classic Mont Blanc fountain pen but internally morphed directly from a technical draftsman's tool.  It could be quirky and temperamental, clogging almost every time used.  The later, newer ones seemed even worse!  They had to be dismantled, cleaned, refilled and re-started after each use.   I still loved them,  damned quirks and all!

I've included this early stab at self-portrature to demonstrate  progress over time. It takes practice to achieve a high skill level with any serious tool but once well used to the Rabidograph I produced a series of fine-hatched large (22x30) semi-surreal images that are included in good collections across the country and abroad.

Check the difference between the techniques in the ink portrait and the image below. They are worlds apart in quality! Sorry my color scan from a slide image is not the best, (Perhaps I can replace it later) but along with the close-up images below, you should have a fair idea of what the series was like.

Below left is a partial image, approximately one quarter of the 22x30 original.  On the right is an original size detail to give you an enlarged look at the hatching technique used. The image is on Arches Cover Weight, a print-makers rag paper,  a wonderful surface which works beautifully with the Rapidograph.  Even though these are 30 to 50 hour drawings, I loved the long hours building tone, texture and form. I enjoyed the repetitive strokes making marks add up to strong subject matter,  - Images consistent with my oft stated goal of objects interesting across the room and more interesting up close.

I want people to appreciate the actual work involved, the detail and texture, - the time spent as well as the "picture" itself.  Look at these side-by-side images.  On the left the original drawing,  - or  as much as would fit on the scanner,  - on the right an actual size "detail" where you can see the technique up close. I  haven't worked that way in a while but think I should give it a whirl again.  Y' think?

Hey, what do I have to lose? ... Life slips by, - well used or not!

"We work not only to produce but to give value to time."  Eugene Delacroix 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pointed Remarks!

Some of the most difficult things to draw accurately are objects which are essentially symetrical,  things like cars, - especially when, as I do here, you draw without preparatory measures or pencil  under-drawing.  In these drawings I used a favorite pen, the Staedtler Pigment Liner, a lightfast, waterproof, smooth fine-line pen. You can see I had more time to draw the autos in the top piece, - less in the second and much less in the bottom drawing.  In all, tho', there's some illusion of "depth".

Here in these drawings, I found it best to start with those objects and parts closest, then work back into the picture toward the background.  Over lapping and relative size help produce an illusion of depth, so a small understanding of "Linear Perspective" is helpful. While drawing an object in perspective it is easy to misinterpret line direction and introduce unwanted distortion unless you have a clear idea about the location of your eye level (horizon line) vs. your subject matter.  That is key!

Think in terms of water for a moment. Imagine you are seated on your dandy little folding stool, nice new pen in hand, drawing the stationwagon on the left. A water main breaks and  you are sitting there with water right up to your eyes! Being a patient person, you wait to see what happens next. Eventually the water drains away and you can see a "high water mark" on everything in sight.  That would be your eye level!

Lines of the objects running away from you, above your eye level  (like roof-lines of the cars) run down toward your eye level.  Lines running away from you, below eye level (Perhaps the automobile rocker panels) run up toward your eye level.  Check the right side of that station-wagon, - roof lines, window lines, trim lines, rocker panels, etc. - lines parallel to the ground and parallel to each other.  If these lines were extended out toward the background, they'd meet at essentially the same point, a "Vanishing Point", at your eye level.  Keeping all that in mind while drawing will help you to "construct" believable objects and show depth in your drawing.

Just for fun, find magazine photos of cars, or perhaps better in this case, architecture.  With a ruler, draw lines along window, roof and trim lines.  Extend them out 'til they meet. Now draw a horizontal line through that point. That's the actual camera lens level and "horizon" line.  If you are the camera, - that's your eye level.

Get the Point?   OK, - Now, get out of those wet clothes and draw!

Perspecti is to painting what the bridle is to the horse, the rudder to a ship." Leonardo DaVinci

Friday, February 10, 2012

The OLD days!

While most of my posts are B&W drawings, I like to have a good color piece here every 2nd or 3rd post, -  and every once-in-a-while I opt for "Something Completely Different"!  I've done Revues, How-To's, Personal History pieces, and more. This one is different again and definitely not drawing.

Once upon a time, back in the dark days before personal computers I was preparing to mount some holiday snap-shots in a photo album. They were "straight from the drug store" prints in ugly yellow envelopes with six inch negative strips included, - remember those?  I was trimming the prints to improve composition and was about to toss the small scraps into the trash when I saw that they were interesting in themselves. I fooled around for a few minutes, arranging, RE-arranging,  then with a minimum of false starts I butted them together, glued them down and trimmed the edges. I did several variations, stood them up on a small shelf to "live" with them for a while. I decided I liked most then tucked them into a folder.  They've been sitting there in the dark of that folder waiting for today's blog entry ever since!

So here, from the far reaches of (for some people) an almost unimaginable pre-tech past, a time devoid of anything digital, are a couple of those experimental photo collages.

The spare piece on left is proof of the old adage, "Waste not, want not."              There were a few tiny trim ends left over,  which when arranged well give us a plan for a sculptural piece, perhaps equal to any by George Ricky or David Smith.

                                       (Whoa! Talk about Ego!)

OK, I may have to take back that last bit about Ricky and Smith but you have to admit it's an interesting "short-cut" way to generate and explore visual ideas. I can envision a few variations that would produce some wonderful stuff.

Sometimes it's important to step out of your usual "rut" and just play around!



"Abstract art is part of the constant change and vital searching that energizes every true art"   Leonard Brooks

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Winter Poetry

There's poetry in trees, I think, and know it's been said before.
Especially those often seen in urban areas,  - bare, unlovely, 
Stuck between curb and sidewalk, growing from cracked concrete,
They soften the hard-edged parking lot, - spring up to break sterile cement.

I like to point out small vistas
where man's work lives in concert with nature's forms. here, concrete framed by soft foliage in summer, accented by stiff sticks and twigs when winter claims the world.

A cool quiet morning, today, -
 sun is warming the wall.

"a poem as lovely as a tree"

 ... or the other way 'round,

.... unlovely tree.

  I like that!

           "The simplest things are often the truest." Richard Bach