Little Sketches

My internet friend Benedicte of Carnet de Dessins has shared an art exercise with me and some other friends that begins with drawing any kinds of lines that you want inside a little box.  It recreates art in perhaps its most basic form, and in contemplating the exercises I was reminded how much I want to and, indeed, need to make some little landscape sketches of a very free sort.

I have had it on my “to do” list for a very long time to “let myself go” in this carefree way.  I’m not sure I can quite explain what I mean because readers might not understand what obstacle could possibly ever prevent someone’s making small landscape sketches if she wanted to make them.  Yet I have encountered some kind of strange prohibition inside my head that makes me procrastinate about a happy little thing like this.  It’s like something that’s just too wonderful.  Some deep engrained even misguided work ethic in my brain portrays this kind of little sketch as too wonderful — too much like chocolate — too much of an indulgence.  I have to do other art “work” first.

Silly me.  But my friend’s art exercise has enjoined me to be light-hearted, and so I am.

I make a landscape inside a square as big as a postage stamp.  My drawing is so small that a single linear gesture of my ballpoint pen becomes a sweeping stroke.  It’s haiku art.

And there’s something bonzai-like about these miniature trees of a minature forest.  Maybe I could draw actual bonzai trees like this and be doing “life drawing.”  Whatever it is, it is free, and I like it.  I have a little notebook.  Maybe in time I will fill it up with a universe of small things.


Eyes Open

To open your eyes each morning and find light pouring into your head, tapping the optic nerve and stimulating sight, isn’t it amazing?  As soon as I get up, I routinely go to the window, peer through the blinds,  and look outside.  There’s always something interesting on the other side.

Something about the impulse to draw is as basic as this.  You open your eyes and find a world outside.  And all that remains is to grab something that writes and begin making lines.  Maybe the first artists did something like this.  How magical it must have seemed to them.  How magical it truly is.

May we always have that sense of the magic of reality, how miraculous it is to gaze upon a world.


Sleepy this morning, mobile even before the alarm sounded, I got up, wandered into the living room and looked at the clock on the wall without my glasses, and as I leaned in to see the numbers on the dial I saw a bright flash!  Behind me a bolt of lightening had just shot through the air outdoors, reflecting in the clock face from the window behind me.  Then the clouds let fly and the storm was roaring.  Now there’s a dramatic way to wake up!

What a beautiful storm ensued.  And after it was done and the sun had risen, what a spectacular light poured over everything, the trees, the lawns, the road, and the pavement outside.

What I paint and what happens in my life are often very different things.  How I would love to be the sort of painter who could drop everything and respond to a magnificent storm.  Was Turner like that, I wonder?  Or Monet?  Or our American Winslow Homer?

Hold everything!  Commute to school??  I don’t think so!  I’ve got paintings to paint!

In my dreams ….

Overcoming fears: Spiders!!

I used to be afraid of spiders.  Or, more precisely, I used to be more afraid of them than I am now.  I’m still afraid — in certain circumstances — sometimes more afraid and sometimes less afraid.  But my overall fear trajectory has moved in the direction of rational co-existence.

At some point in my life long ago, I decided for the most whimsical reasons that I should try to like spiders.  They are, after all, very conspiculously present in my environment.  And whenever you’re on a ladder trying to clean out the gutters — a place that I periodically would find myself — they can “make you hurt yourself,” as my uncle used to say.

Not that they want to.  I’m not sure whether they are even conscious of their effect.  But I have wondered at times whether or not they scare each other.  It must be hard having a good solid relationship when you’re a spider.

But we try to find the good in life.  After observing that spiders were building their orbs right across my doorway at night where I’d be sure to get caught in the nocturnal trap myself, I decided that maybe I should come to terms somehow with my fear.  Without knowing anything about phobias, I decided just to watch them.  At least the web is beautiful even if the spider isn’t.  I learned that the porch spider would typically begin building around 8pm, so I’d get my chores out of the way early and make myself available to watch the show.

Several warm summer nights I stood on the porch and watched.  A big fat hairy and most creepy spider would patiently build her web and when it was finished she positioned herself in the web’s center where she would wait for supper to arrive.  Wow, she’s hungry.  It was funny how I could begin to anthropomorphize aspects of the spider’s behaviors in ways that made me sympathize.  After a while I began to worry about her a little.  Would make sure the porch light was on — it attracts bugs.  I would be careful to find the evening’s web before I ventured onto the porch myself — not as much out of fear this time, but so that I wouldn’t destroy all that patient work — for the web building took an hour of labor and she seemed to spend an entire day’s energy on it:  I never saw a spider rebuild a web the same night that one had been damaged.

More time passed.  Sometimes I would get closer.  A couple times I even reached out my finger just to tap — or almost tap — her.  You can see where this is going, I guess.  Soon these spiders will be afraid of me.  They will be asking other spiders for advice:  “how can I get the human to stop tapping me?”

The humans!  They are so big and scary!  (Well, that’s a problem for the other species to solve.)

everything they told me was wrong

Everything they told me was wrong, and it’s taken me thirty years to fully appreciate this fact.  Thank goodness I never believed them.  However I did listen because you tend to hear the things that people around you are saying even when you don’t agree.  Happily I was very stubborn and so I resisted the bad advice that I got from people all these years.

Now then, I wish I could say that their advice had been completely ineffective.  If I could say that I guess I’d be superwoman — or superartist.  I heard people giving me bad advice and some of that advice did creep into my brain, and it caused me to have doubts.  So for thirty years I’m doing paintings that are not really “art” and I’m doubting myself along the way.  But I have this big stubborn streak too so I’m doing what I want to do anyway because it’s my life.  And thank goodness, I was surrounded by other stubborn people in my family.  The worst of them were far more stubborn than me — which certainly could make living with them challenging at times — but there they were teaching me daily lessons in a kind of persistence that has served me well for those times when I want to do what I want.

I did sense that that the bad advice was bad advice.  But what if I hadn’t?  What if I had believed the forecasters of doom since they said they knew what they were talking about?

The beauty is that I had something in my own heart that tugged me where I wanted to go, so that even when the false narrative was most attractive I had this other happy impulse to follow.  It teased me along the way you tease a cat with a piece of string.  Even when the sound and the motion was quiet or slight, it was compelling in that beautiful way of desire.  And that siren voice kept telling me to be the artist I wanted to be.  And I listened because it was fun to listen.

And I’m still doing that.  And it’s still fun.

come back, come back

Come back, come back sweet ephemeral thoughts.  Acclimated to this weather, warm beside this open window.  The flowers erect in the glass vase, and a breeze stirs the well patterned cloth.

The gravitas of the line that is flat at the bottom of the page, a line of blue that holds everything up.  A kind and generous line upon which to set the philosophy.  Set it there upon the table.  And bring the tea.

The aroma of that oohlong tea.  It is a fine blend.  In a good Chinese cup it sits there and enlightens this whole room.  And the people over there talking.  Don’t they say the most marvelous things?

I wonder what they are talking about … and yet it fascinates me.  This room.  These diaphanous curtains.  That bird over there, singing.  The flowers that are still blooming even in the vase.  And the crystal in which they sit that fastens the light upon the table and makes the wood shine very hard and solid.

Now then, this is all so wonderful.  I am laughing and crying.  And which is more suitable?  And cry with laughter and laugh through these tears.  And they water the flowers before the sun comes through the curtains again.

Like that.  We talk nonsense here, yet see how it makes the baby laugh.

three nonsensical things

I have a perch in the sky.  I awake and see before me a sky of a most intense blue.  I look out upon the day with birdlike authority.

In the next, I am looking at the blue compotier.  A moment ago it held apples.  And now it holds planets.  They are teeming with life.

In the third one, the lemon sits on a blue table cloth and shines like a sun in a brilliant sky.  The warm light makes flowers open.  And it’s also an ocean, and the flowers are little boats that float and bob upon the surface, and I pay easy lazy pleasant attention as to distant topical and almost tropical music.

the lines are kind of crazy

Sometimes you think you are drawing the subject, but really you are drawing thoughts making a passage through your mind.  The flowers were just flowers, and I wasn’t even aware of portraying them so much as I was just watching lines come out of the end of a gel pen.

A line’s appearance holds a fascination for me.  And I watch it form as a baby does who sees a mark being made for the first time.

I remember when my daughter was a baby, and I scribbled on paper for her to see as she sat in her high chair.  And she studied the lines intensely as though they were fantastic occurences.  And I thought to myself “yes! that’s exactly right!  this wasn’t here before and now it is!  and the line comes into being like magic.”

What frantic flowers I drew here.  Light and shade wave their arms like soccer fans in the stadium.  And the blue is relevant, too, I think.  Like a sky all in fragments.  Evocative of sky.  Oh, the airy sky that you know a flower loves.  Air and sunlight.

Have you seen those time-lapsed pictures of flowers, how they move?  Whoever thought this was still life wasn’t paying attention.  It holds the intensity of a bull fight.  It is high drama.  The dream that I am dreaming.

The lines are kind of crazy, and yet they are living vital bits of gel pen sky blue.  The fields.  The air.  The light.  The life you are living.  And the planet rolling in space.  Oh, the adventure of it.  Even on a shelf in the corner of a room.

thinking about

I have been thinking about thinking, reading about thinking too.  Can’t say exactly what I learned though because I was watching thoughts move, and they mostly seem to flow like water.  They go by so quickly that it’s hard to catch one before it’s gone.

But then there’s another one.  Have you ever had a bunch of good ideas, and you watched them and thought “wow” those are neat.  And yet afterwards you couldn’t have told anyone what they were.

Sometimes ideas scatter like a flock of birds.  Truly I don’t quite think they were my ideas, but were migrating electrons that appeared in my head, danced in wave after wave like fire flies and then as mysteriously disappeared.

And the afterwards is like the memory of a lovely summer night in which flower bloom aromas drifted upon the air.  How I would like to put them into a vase of blue with light shining through and keep them.

Slow motion

I’m learning a valuable lesson: that it’s motion nonetheless even when it’s slow motion.  My appointments with the easel have been less routine lately because I’ve had a bunch of rather mundane chores to do, but I nibble away at various paintings and marvel that even nibbles produce ideas.  The pictures happen more slowly, but they still happen.

Sometimes a lot of change gets compressed into a small space.  I don’t know what the effects of working slowly really are, how the painting done in captured moments will differ from pictures that I could do with sustained interest, but I am painting.  I am thinking about colors and lines.  I gaze at forests in imagination and at the atmosphere.

And who can say what influence my chores have, also, upon the pictorial thoughts?  Perhaps adding a beneficent influence from wider Life?

The point is that you just keep patiently working.  And stuff — good stuff — will happen.