Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cyclopean Rock Walls and Art

At first I thought the neighbors were stacking wood for the coming winter, a winter that may come sooner than expected if the rains over the past 15 months -- or the past long, cold, and snowy winter -- are any indication.  The sound was wrong, which was my senses telling me that my ears were correct. The neighbors were stacking up rocks in various areas of their lot. The rocks have been moved over subsequent days to the pile just outside my bedroom window from the other piles scattered about and rock wall is the only thing I can come up with since the site is too farm from the house for a patio or BBQ pit and far too close to the racing track for the 4-wheelers when the kids come up for the weekend -- or most of the summer. I could just ask, but that would be nosy and rude and I'm not that curious, except that the sound of rocks being kicked, pushed, and dropped out of the bed of the big red Ford truck tends to keep me awake when I want to sleep and closing the window fails to lessen the noise. I am more effective at shutting out the noise -- or at least ignoring it -- when I'm drawing or writing and far more the former than the latter.

The rocks are far too small for a cyclopean structure like the walls of Macchu Picchu or the great monolithic stone structures that predate modern civilization in the Middle East, and far too heavy to just drop out of the red Ford truck bed, and the pile would be much bigger. It would be fascinating to see how such massive multi-ton rocks are moved and fixed together, but I suppose I'll have to wait for a more enterprising type of neighbor to find that out since my back isn't equipped for such a task -- and I lack the equipment to live 200-ton polygonal shaped rocks into a massive monolithic structure to last for all time. I'd rather draw.

And drawing is what I have been doing -- quite a lot lately.

I've been sketching my granddaughters, Tori and Addison, and trying to get their features just right. They do make such odd faces in their selfies, but that's the way things are done nowadays. The point isn't actually to get an accurate sketch for a portrait, but to become better at rendering the subjects with a semblance of likeness that is recognizable so I can finally do the portraits. That takes a lot of drawing, erasing, sketching, and more erasing. It also takes numerous studies of their features: mouth, nose, eyes, hair accessories, and, oh yes, mouths. I have always had some trouble with mouths. I'm better at eyes and hands and hair than mouths, but I'm getting there. It's not like writing fiction, which has always been difficult for me, but more like writing nonfiction, which is a relative breeze. Remember, my sketching and drawing skills have not been taken out of the box for more than 20 years. In other words, one score and a few years beyond. Not enough for the 4 score and 10 I'm supposed to live (twice over and another half score which I wold rather choose), but definitely a whole score and a handful of years of leaving my artistic skills in the box. At least I didn't keep the box in the cellar where damp, mold, and rust could erode them further. Just in a dry box on the back shelf of the closet where spiders spin webs and dust collects even with the closet door shut.

I could probably jump in and be closer to brilliant with something easier, like a butterfly or spider or even a deer and her 6-month old faun. But I've always preferred drawing people and that's where I once upon a time excelled. I plan to excel once again.

I also take out time to practice with my new tools - colored pencils -- and learning how to apply the color effectively and which brand of pencil I prefer. I'm currently stuck on finding the right kind of sharpener so I don't waste the pencil as the hand-held sharpener chews up wood and spits on the color in unusual lengths. I've tried several and will doubtless try several more since I can't just carve it with an X-Acto knife and hone the edge with a bit of sandpaper as I once did with graphite pencils and charcoal. Colored pencil is a very different beast.

I've tried Prismacolor, but the quality is iffy sometimes, though the feel of the pencil gliding smoothly over the roughest paper is as creamy as spreading softened butter over a craggy English muffin that has been toasted, although a bit less tasty.

Colored pencils that come in art kits are far too dry and a bit stiff as they tend to be more filler than color and don't give the brilliance and color needed for a portrait. Might as well go back to pastels if that is my only choice -- and it isn't.

I bought a box of Faber-Castell and they have been lovely with a creamy feel and great coverage. Best of all, the pencils stay sharp longer than the Prismacolor, though a couple of the colors are a bit drier than the Prismacolor, specifically white and cream. I can see a blending of pencils in the future.

I've also ordered a set of 40 Caran d'ache Pablo colored pencils which are the Cadillac -- or Mercedes Benz if you're European -- of colored pencils. They cost like the devil, but I'll reserve my judgment until they arrive and I've had a chance to try them out.

There are numerous brands of colored pencil on the market, and I'm not about to try them all, but Prismacolor, Caran d'Ache, and Faber-Castell's Polychrome are the best of the pack. Faber Castell is the only brand that is made with a mineral oil base while Prismacolor and Caran d'Ache are wax based and both have a problem with blooming. That's the white stuff that collects on the surface of the drawing in the same what that the wax in chocolate blooms on a bar of chocolate when left alone in the drawer or cabinet for too long. The trick to getting rid of bloom (something that occurs mostly with the darker colors, probably because the lighter colors blend with the bloom) is to use the natural oils in the hands to tone it down by running the fingers over the bloom.

The other problem with colored pencils is color fastness. Prismacolor's colors have a varied range of light fastness, from I and II to VI. The higher the number, the sooner the brilliant colors of the art will fade in the sunlight, and Prismacolor has a serious flaw in that area, as it does with the quality control in making their pencils (breakage, ill fitting color and wood, color falling out of the wooden casing, crumbling, breaking inside the wood when the wood splits, etc.). Caran d'Ache and Faber Castell have a much better track record where color fastness is concern, as they do with quality control. Sometimes when something costs a lot it's not greed but quality materials and quality control that end with the higher price. Add to those factors that the Faber Castell colors last longer and keep a sharp point longer as well as providing superior color coverage and saturation for less work and fewer layers, and at least the Faber Castell, at a more modest price than the Caran d'Ache, is head of the pack -- so far.

It's rather like my days in the past when I worked with pastels. Different colors had different levels of hardness and coverage and I preferred the right pastel for the right part of the face I was drawing/rendering. I'm sure the same will be true of colored pencils. I know that the Prismacolor white and cream pencils are far superior when it comes to coverage and feel on the paper since Faber Castell tend to be drier and require more layers to achieve the same level of coverage and color. No doubt there will be more differences for me to discover as I rediscover my drawing abilities after taking them out of the dusty, spider-web covered box and use them until I gain the facility I once had.

Every day is another chance to keep the specters of Alzheimer's and senile dementia at bay while I exercise my brain -- and my talents. At least this is something I don't have to wrestle into submission as I have had to do with writing fiction. As far as I'm concerned, it's all gravy -- or colored pencil drawings -- from here on out.

That is all. Disperse.

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