Tuesday, June 30, 2015

From the Midden

The things that I drew today all came from various middens.  At top left and just below are two drawings of an odd little buckle-like thing that F found in a dumpster at a construction site in her neighborhood.  Since she and I are always on the lookout for good reusable repurposable material, she brought home several of the little metal things and many of the woven plastic straps that the metal things were used on.  The intriguing thing about these buckle or clamp things is that they're made out of a single twist of heavy wire;  by threading the straps through the clamps as in 5100, you can make an adjustable strap.  Elegant!

The other objects came from our family's portable junk drawer or kitchen midden:  our junk basket.  There is no way the diaper pin at bottom left would have survived the 36 years since it was purchased-- two cross-country moves, and then two cross-town moves.  It is paleolithic in our family history-- the last surviving diaper pin from the 1970s, when cloth diapers reigned and the only way to hold them on the baby was to pin them with one of these.  I always tried to find this particular blue duck variety at the grocery store.  You had to run it through your hair to pick up a little oil in order to slide the pin through the many heavy layers of cloth while the baby was writhing and rolling over in his attempts to escape.

The straight pin and the safety pin came from someone else's midden, a bottom drawer of one of my antique sewing machine cabinets.  And the silver stick pin with its really pretty calla lily was tossed in with about a thousand old buttons in a button collection someone gave F and me to use on our wallets and bags.

The rectangular object at top right is a Cuisinaire rod from the late 70s.  Do they even use Cuisinaire rods in kindergartens these days?  This one survived in the junk basket, it's yellow wooden surface just a little bit dingy.  I remember stepping on Cuisinaire rods in the dark, sort of like stepping on Legos these days.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Questions at the Charnel Ground

Why do we scold Jesse for killing a baby bluebird but give him a nice chin scratching when he deposits on our front porch the body of a fat mole?  Why is it gross to watch flies land on the mole's carcass and begin to lay their disgusting eggs while I'm drawing it but beautiful to contemplate the precise architecture of a seed pod that allows new life to begin?  Why is the iridescent green of the flies' bodies creepy while the iridescent pink of the nigella seed case reminds me of delicately painted porcelain?  Why do I delight in the design of the nigella pod with its thin membranes and perfect seed release mechanism yet shudder at the mole's over-sized baseball-glove-like front paws and tapered snout?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Individual Lupine Pods Really ARE Individual

Drawing these lupine pods reminded me of the potato drawing game.  I used to use an exercise in drawing workshops wherein everyone would pick a potato out of a pile and go off alone to draw the potato in such detail that the potato would be intimately known and able to be recognized by the person who had drawn it.  No one would believe me when I would tell them that they would be able to recognize their potatoes after drawing them.  Meanwhile I would number some blank sheets of paper from 1 to however many people were in the workshop;  and I would make a list and put a person's name next to each number but not show anyone the list.  I would lay the numbered sheets of paper out in the center of the room while people were drawing.

When people finished their drawings, I would take their potatoes from them and place them back in the basket.   When all were finished and the basket was once again a bunch of boring old potatoes, each person would then go dig through the basket and try to find her/his own potato.  After they thought they had found them, I would tell them which numbered sheet of paper to put their potatoes on: " Mary, put yours on number 1";  "Tom, put yours on number 2," etc.  I could check against my list to be sure everyone had put his or her potato on the correct numbered sheet.  No one ever picked a wrong potato, and after everyone had found the potato she/he had drawn, we would match them with the drawings and prove that they were the correct potatoes.

The point of the exercise is that drawing improves vision, presence, focus, and knowledge.  In addition to producing some lovely drawings of potatoes.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

RIP Little Bluebird

Jesse, reverting to his cat nature, killed one of the two baby bluebirds that we've been watching all spring and summer.  Every morning the two parent birds would sit on the power line that goes across our front yard with their two babies and take turns diving down to the front lawn and swooping back up with food for the babies.  We  noticed the babies flying up and down a couple of weeks ago and wondered how much longer it would be until they all took off.  Jesse would sit by the front door licking his chops, but we wouldn't let him out until the birds had finished their morning routine with their babies.  We can't have bird feeders because of bears, so we rarely get to watch the same birds every day.  Last night Jesse stayed out all night, and at 6 this morning he came in with the dead little bird.  So sad.  When I drew it I noticed it still had pin feathers.  I buried it in the front garden and have had a hard time liking Jesse all day, even though I know he's just doing what cats do.

The raspberries are starting to come in.  These are wild ones from the Jones Mtn. trail.  I think it's interesting that what feels like soft fuzzy stickers all over the berry cases and stems are actually millions of tiny anthers that pierce the skin of the case that is like a nut case, and each one goes straight to one tiny ovary (see 5084).  The little bumps all over the berries are the ovaries, each with a seed inside.  I need to study a bloom to see where the stamens are and where the anthers are in the bloom stage.

Friday, June 26, 2015


I was thinking through parallels between painting and carving, and I realized that I'm going to have to see whites first because that's what happens when I carve-- a piece of the block comes out and the resulting space ends up white in the print.  No outlines in the beginning.  So I started with some heads of wheat that is ripening in the field below our house.  It was really easy to cut away the lights and leave traces and tool marks in the shadow areas.  I might have let a few more tool marks in 5069, but it's okay.  I actually like the tiny single wheat berry with its long whisker because the marks are stiff and bouncy like the wheat.

This afternoon Jacob and I went downtown to check out an abandoned building that he has been wanting to photograph.  While he was inside photographing I sat on a rock under a tree in the somewhat cool shade and drew the exterior.  A policeman came and asked me what I was doing, said he thought I was maybe shooting up some heroin.  He looked at my drawing and then walked on, didn't tell me to leave or anything.  When Jacob emerged a few minutes later our meter was up and we headed home to put some images together.

This is the best carving that I did tonight, all done by removing lights.  The white outline on the right I did at the very end.  This way of carving feels very good now.  I know I need a lot more practice, especially on bigger blocks.  I may actually free-carve the giant block I'm getting ready to carve for a steamroller print event at Asheville BookWorks in September.

Here's the composite that Jacob and I made this afternoon, his photograph from inside the old building, and my charlotte carving from last night, put together in Photoshop.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

In Which I Almost Boot This Process Out

Really, what a dumb idea this was!  Tonight I decided to tackle drawing something that's tricky to draw with a pen much less a blade:  one of the Charlottes.  My first attempt, 5062, looks like a mummy in wraps.  The next drawing is of a different Charlotte, and in this one I tried removing the white areas and leaving in the darks.  

For my third attempt, yet another charlotte (if I can just find the right subject the drawing will be good!), I stuck to contour lines.  Other than the strange teardrop-shaped earring-like thing on the face (which was going to be a dark area before I switched to contour lines only), this one feels a little better.  But I'm really interested in doing a value drawing with darks and lights.  Contour is too easy.  So for 5065 I went back to the charlotte in 5063, changed its pose (that's the solution!), and did a very light contour drawing of the perimeter and a few inner contours.  Then I scooped out the areas that were less than 50% gray and turned those into the lights.  I actually began to like this drawing in the version in 5066.
I think I over-cleaned it a little at the end, but I'm pretty happy with 5067.  It's definitely a strange little drawing, but then what else is a drawing of a charlotte?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Scary Drawing with Knife in Hand

I drew the bronze acupuncture clinic yesterday, and that was IT for the day.  Too much packed into one day, had to take a pass.  Today I taught a class in relief carving using rubber plates or blocks.  It was great fun to introduce the students to this process, and after class I was thinking about how after gazillion years of carving wood, rubber, plastic, linoleum, and even corks and foam ear plugs I still follow the same beginner's process:  make a drawing, trace it using graphite pencil, flip the paper and burnish the graphite lines onto the rubber or plastic block, carve, following the lines.

I was thinking about something I read about Shiko Munakata, one of my long-time favorite woodcut printmakers.  He is said to have never traced his designs on his blocks but, rather, simply drew directly on the wood with his tools.  One thing he said was "The mind goes and the tool walks alone."  I've never even attempted to work directly on a block, but then I thought this is the perfect time to try that out.  So today's drawings are all my first attempts at direct carving onto rubber eraser-like blocks and printing successive stages of each little block.

I went out to the pea patch after a few days of avoiding it because I simply could not face another pea pad, and found the overgrown pods with plump peas inside, the pods too tough to eat, but the peas nice and sweet still.  Drawing 5050 is my first attempt.  I think it looks like a skinny leaf, so on the next attempt I popped open a pod and drew it opened.  I started experimenting with lines to create an illusion of shading and transitional tones.  On drawing 5153 I pried the pod all the way open, and this one feels better to me.  I also realized I could do the shadow as a solid area.  The next one, 5155, is of a pod slightly split open with three peas barely showing and a good shadow.

I added some more contouring to the peas, still a bit heavy-handed, but next time I'll go easier and lighter on the initial sketch and avoid heavy outlines.  
I won't be carving ten thousand little blocks (although I am completely convinced that I could learn to carve really well if I did), but I may devote the next week or so to carving 50 of these and see what happens.