The Pencil is a Doorway

I would say that drawing was my first passion in life. It’s where ideas met paper even before I could write. I remember being 3 or 4 years old drawing a picture of a horse. It had many legs and I knew it wasn’t correct but I was so proud of the fact that I managed to get what I saw in my head and put down on paper. So thus started a revolution for me. What great power you have to a small child who first wields a crayon or pencil to an empty white page! And as an older child I would “borrow ” my dad’s colored pencils and computer paper and draw the hills that surrounded me. As a teenager I would escape into my world where I would write stories and draw them out with detail because I was master of the pages in front of me. 


Drawing is remarkably transformative no matter what age you are. That’s a powerful statement when you think about it. Drawing is remarkably transformative as if it’s the pencil itself making you change. No, the pencil is the tool, it’s the act of drawing, observing, imaginging and wondering that is the transformative part. 

The pencil is the gateway, the door, to opening up yourself and reflection on your world and what you perceive. It dares you to think about yourself and to think about what you see and even your definition of what reality really is. For what’s light blue to one person may seem dark to another. It pulls you out of your shell and asks you what your dreams are, what your hopes are, and what your fears are. These pages in a sketchbook are sudctive with its clean white sheets begging for a graceful curvy lines to dance around its space. All the while you ask yourself does any of this scribbling matter? Is this really “art”?


Drawing and sketching, scribbling and mark making, thinking and observing is all at the very heart of what art is. It is messy and disorganized. There are many stops and starts with ripped up paper from erasers and ghosts lines from false starts. There are frustrated scribble marks and sometimes a beautiful drawing emerges half way through your sketchbook worthy to be called “art”. 

But really what makes art is the artist with her pencil and nothing else. If the rest of the world cannot recognize it as art than that is a loss to the world not to the artist. 


Soon I will be teaching my first workshop in drawing and we will explore the basics of drawing so they can return to their solitude and boldly explore their inner worlds and feel the transformative power of the practice of drawing.

Creative Burnout, a Mask of Sorrow 

So it all started with me dropping all of my brushes onto the floor. It progressively got worse when I worked for four hours on a painting and at the end of it I wiped it clean. To be completely honest, I get impatient with myself and the expectations that I have when I work and when I don’t meet them I throw a mini artistic temper tantrum. I knew what was next. A slump of creative burn out followed by a bout of self loathing and guilt for not being productive. As I reluctantly saunter to the age of 40 I am beginning to understand my patterns very well by now. So it is with no great surprise that I haven’t touched anything paint related for awhile.

It happens to everyone I know and I’ve read every article about other artists that go through the same thing but this one felt different. Every bit of advice they gave felt superficial and unrelated to what I was going through. It seems like the older I get the less time and energy I have to devote to art. In fact,  I’m having trouble even wanting to do it. Part of me doesn’t understand the point of making art because some silly insecure part of me believes no appreciates it. Other times I just don’t care anymore. I’m wrecked with guilt because I feel I like I’m betraying who I am. It is just another way to deny my soul. Oddly it feels like I’m determined to kill it for some reason. It keeps popping up with new ideas and new hope when all I want is for it to go away and leave me in peace so that way I can be the mechanical robot I must be in order to keep the house tidy and be a mom because after all that’s far more important than anything I can do creatively, indeed being a mom is what defines me the most.

It seems as though the mask of me is taking up more energy now. Mom, friend, daughter, wife, Sunday school teacher, paint instructor….there is no time for me. There is no time to just be and I realize the older I get the more alone time I need. So, today it starts with a path. From there I go deep into the woods which feels as though I am journeying into my internal self. The deeper I go the more I feel the authentic self emerges. 

And in the same breath after reaching the internal space of me, I feel an overwhelming sense of my dad’s energy and I remember that it has been almost exactly a year since I saw his face or heard his voice. A whole year has gone by and it has left me breathless since I have seen him nearly every day of my 37 years of life. But there into the deep woods of my internal world I find his energy being recycled through nature. He has become the energy behind the waterfall and the new leaves that sprout from their winters slumber.

When someone moves on from this world those who are left behind become drawn to those things or places they love as if it were a warm blanket on a cold night. He loved science and he loved living in the country so I immerse myself in both. In a way, when I stargaze or sit by a waterfall I am visiting him for a time. He is here, he is now, he is everywhere but I still miss his physical presence. I miss his ridiculous laugh, I miss him shaking his head in annoyance, and the rolling of his eyes. I miss his interactions with his grandson, sharing the couch together while watching cartoons. I miss the slow but deliberate way in which he explained things. And there it is…the source of my creative burnout is simply sorrow. As if it were ever simple.

Alas, though, I had to return to my world and he had to go to his. For there are dentist appointments to be made, Easter eggs to be hunted, swim lessons and all the business of life. But as I emerge from the deep wooded world of my internal being, knowing he is there waiting makes the sun a bit brighter and warmer and I am once again entranced by the miracle of life. I will always want to stay by the waterfall with the woodpeackers and song birds in the back ground but knowing it is there bidding me to rest in the symphony of natural life brings peace. In a small way I have left my sorrow for the waterfall to wash away and I emerge with a deeper meaning of Easter and its promise.

A field sketch from my sketch book is nothing grand to look at, that is for sure. But even the humblest things have meaning to them because this represents not giving up.  Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, beginnings are the most important step to something more.

What is that color?

Currently I’m watching the water move up and down in tiny rippled waves at my daughter’s swim lesson. The greens and blues with light yellows all twirl around in a dance. The greens look slightly murky while the light that reflects the sky coming through the tinted windows are a bright under saturated orange. Add to this the white lights from above and you have the brightest highlight. It seems simple enough to describe in words but if I sit down and try to mix the colors to create a piece of artwork I would stop at the murky greens. What is that color?

This is the question that I hear in my head the most when I paint, whether I paint a person, a tree, or a still life. Most likely it involves some sort of gray that isn’t the stereotypical black + white gray that we normally think of. Nothing throws me off more than when I stare blankly at my subject and mishmash of color stares back at me daring me to mess up my beautifully composed canvas with a grayish mush that is the wrong color, temperature, and or value. How is it that color that is so highly unnoticeable be so incredibly important? Make no mistake, grays and muddy colors play a vital role in the color composition of a piece of artwork. True colors appear brightest when they are next to these supportive grays. The illusion of light appears flat without the dull grays in the shadow area. 

So what is that color? How is it that we determine the precise color of gray we want? To start off I am not a firm believer of precision or perfection so my process does not involve high tech analysis that will compute the right amount of color of each to create that gray. Once I remove the expectation of perfection I move on to ask myself a series of questions. First I ask what is the general color of that gray? Next I ask myself what is the temperature of that gray? If is it warm than we know warmer colors are involved. If the color is cool I know blues and purples are involved. Lastly I ask how dark is it? How light is it? 

I don’t generally have recipes for grays. With each subject that is presented to me a different combination of colors are called for. I do have favorite colors I use when I begin to paint. I try to match it with what is in front of me. Into that mixture I make grays that are related to the general color that I’m using. For instance, when I mix skin tones I divide the mixtures into two. One for the light side and another for the shadow. From there I mix my grays using those two piles of paint. After asking the series of questions I can usually find the grays by adding little amounts of paint. Once I’m convinced of the accuracy, I can make a separate pile of paint for that gray. It is not unusual for me to have several piles of paint with different grays next to each other.

Often times, there is such subtlies in between the grays and when that happens I rely solely on the temperature of that gray color. This is especially true in skin tone where the combination of the temperature of the light and the pigmentation of the skin collide into a mash of sorts. An eye can get lost easily in the differences. Asking questions and experimenting may be frustrating at first but eventually a painter becomes familiar with the color combinations and can use them to play with the contrast of grays against color. 

Ugh


Ugh…so disappointed that I can’t attend my favorite part of the week. Due to a stupid virus and/or allergies and /or plain old exhaustion I will be missing figure drawing which will be a historical piece done in 1800s costume. So instead I’ve decided to share one of my favorite pieces of artwork done by Frederick Franck who writes,” This nude I am drawing is not just a body, not an abstract symbol of youth or old age. She is the concrete person before my eyes: this person. It is enough. To draw her is to let the perception on my retina be affirmed by the hand that notes down in obedience. It is not in any way “self-expression “. It is letting the person I draw express what she is through me. Drawing the Ten Thousand Things is being in touch , now and here, with what is particular and universal, what is in time and yet timeless, with the arising and the disappearing, with birth and death”

This is what I love about his work. Though, it maybe void of his self expression is it definitely not void of expression. Especially in the drawing (below) of a dancer he had done in ink. Here, the blurred and bold lines describe a body in motion. One can almost feel the wind caused from the constant spinning. Though, the body may be unrecognizable in a sense it begs the question,”what is it than the artist is trying to capture?” I believe he answers it in the second half of his quote when he says it, “is being in touch with here and now, with what is in time and yet timeless, with the arising and the disappearing, with birth and death.” He so wonderfully captures the timeless and beautifully reflects the present moment in seemingly effortless swoops and swirls of his pen. Though, it is not perfectly rendered it doesn’t have to be because that’s not the point. The point is being in the moment!

And this is my prayer for those who attend my art classes, for those who will attend the figure drawing session today and for many other artists who might struggle with confidence: may they understand that perfection is a dream and that presences in a painting/drawing is what breathes life into artwork! 

My First Class

2017 is the year for my first’s of many things. My first solo show in March, my first in establishing en plain aire group, my first in drawing from life (maybe not my first but certainly has been years since I’ve drawn from a model), but nothing gave me more growth than teaching my first class in art.

It is certainly a challenge to describe how to do something that is completely visual and put it into words. In fact, I have stated many times that art is an entirely different language, one that we are born with but must relearn as adults. So as time went on and I started at the very beginning I began to realize what it was I was teaching. For although as adults we forget that we are artist, my job was simply to remind them.

Teaching art techniques involved a boat load of elements but the one thing anyone of us needs to become artist is something that we are all born with. First, I showed them color theory, values scales, texture, and form. Then I preached about how drawing and practicing everyday can sharpen their painting skills. To this, I know I can also tell them to the study the old masters and visit art galleries and art studios and read all the books they 

 

can. I can speak for hours about my process from start to finish. I can show countless pictures of my progress with my artwork. I can tell them to visit museums and take classes to further develop and understand the techniques behind painting, but…..without the love of the subtle nuances of light or the awareness of the frailty of the moment or the intensity of an emotion art looses its meaning.

 Technical skill is an important language to learn but learn it so that you can describe the magic of 3 am or the gaze of an infant only hours old or the haunting stare of a dementia patient. Use it to describe the joy of living or the depths of your pain or the desires of your heart. Use it to muse the hardships of the drug addicted or homelessness or the saints that works with both. Use it to contemplate the eternity and immorality of your life among the stars. Use it to describe the poetry of your life. Appreciation for life both in good and bad, is the beginning and the spark for creating art. In this last point, we are all born with the ability to love life.

To teach them was also to remind myself of this very point. So much of the time I get wrapped up in making things perfect I forget that perfection is an illusion that can never be achieved and I loose my focus as to what my personal purpose is for making art. This leaves me quite drained and lost. Every week when I see the enthusiasm of the students when they hold their brushes in hand and the joy they have while in the process of making art pulls me back into the realm of art making I need to be. It is simply the reflection of the present moment and the appreciation of the miracle of life as it is.  And for this I thank them because without this growth in spirit I become a machine that paints pictures with no depth. This is not my art and this is not me.