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.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Back into the Creative Stream

I begin to think it is inevitable that I finally follow my heart -- to live a life full of creativity and art. I am not the only one in my family to choose to follow the artistic path as I found out a couple of days ago. My brother has gone back to school to become an architect, a fact which Hoity-Toity finds a bit baffling as he began his academic pursuits during the time he was fixing the home he had shared with his ex-wife and the state of which Hoity-Toity blames on their two daughters, both adults (or barely adults in the youngest's case). The house was trashed and much was left behind because it smelled bad (likely like cat urine given the evidence). I'm not willing to cut the Mushroom's ex slack because she is the parent and was living in the same foul-smelling sty and did nothing about it except decamp when it became obvious the Mushroom would no longer pay the mortgage since his obligations ended when the youngest was of age and child support ceased. Oh, well, that's a nightmare tale for another time.

At any rate, my brother, the Mushroom, has indeed gone back to school to study architecture and has completed, or is completing, his second semester, quarter, whatever, a fact which escapes Hoity. She has not decided to pursue further studies having gotten out of high school everything she needed and moved on into adulthood sufficiently equipped for life. My brother evidently feels differently since he also is pursuing another line of academic studies on his way to becoming an architect, something that would probably be just as adequately served if he had chosen engineering instead of architecture. His reason for going back to school isn't a love of art -- as it is with me -- but the need to be able to draw projects, likely building projects, in blueprint form. I know of engineers who do the same thing, but his choice and his path.

I recently discovered art classes at when I was searching for some other classes on cooking and baking and a whole new world opened up for me. I began drawing in the 4th grade when I was panicked about the last day of school when our teacher told us we would be drawing the last day of school. I had never drawn anything in my life and, being the studious type, didn't know what to do? How could I fail the last day of school to produce anything? I didn't know how to draw.

Mom suggested I try drawing. I picked up the first thing with pictures -- my piano book -- and tried copying what I saw. My fears diminished as I produced nearly exactly copies of the simple drawings. I could draw.

Possibilities, endless possibilities, lay strewn before me like a king's ransom of jewels. But was my drawing ability limited to the drawings in my piano book? Could I draw other things? I ventured onward as any good scientist through more experimentation. The comic pages in the daily newspaper gave way to colored comic pages in the Sunday paper which gave way to sketching things around the house, from toys to knick-knacks and finally out into the wide world where I sketched the people around me. I've always gravitated towards people and there is where I found myself happiest -- drawing, sketching, painting people.

In later years after a gift of oil paints and an easel, which I took to the spare room behind the garage when I was 16, I labored for days over an oil painting of Mark Lindsay, the cutest guy in the band, Paul Reverd and the Raiders. The painting was done on paper for oil painting and turned out quite nicely considering I had no instruction and no idea what all the solvents, oils, etc. were used for and how to paint with oils. As with everything in my life, I followed my instincts.

I took art classes and learned to do quick 1- and 5-minute sketches with charcoal and pencil and did very well. My teachers praised my work, but did little to explain how to effectively employ oils, brushes, palette knives, etc. while bestowing praise, As, and scholarships for advanced classes in pastels at the Columbus Academy of Art and Design's Saturday classes for talented beginners. I took to pastels and soon excelled in the class, but still had no idea of what the various techniques (gesso, impasto, under painting, etc.) meant and happily floundered my way through classes, even to taking a few life classes at OSU while still in junior and high school. I worked in clay and carved tiles for block printing, earning a lovely scar I still carry when a blade scooped out a hunk of skin along with the carvable section of the tile I worked on. Blood-spattered and continuing on blindly I explored the still nebulous and mysterious world of art, taking my As and praise in stride as I strove to go as far as possible in the art world. I painted Beanie, my youngest sister, several times, and even took her to school with me during summer school (honors class) while I painted her in acrylics directly onto a 24 x 36 inch canvas, which Beanie now owns since Mom gave it to her when she died. I couldn't be trusted because I would have destroyed the canvas; it wasn't good enough, the product of an untutored artist with little or no direction from my teachers. I've done better -- and worse -- over the years, but Mom used that as one of her prize possessions where every visitor (no matter how close and familiar with the piece) must be taken to see and praise her for my meager accomplishments because she was the one who saw talent in me and supported me without question.

I continued to dabble in paints, eventually doing an oil rendering of the first (and only) school pictures my ex-husband sent me when the boys went to live with him. I gave that painting to AJ who claims he doesn't know what happened to it. I wish now I had kept it, carting it with me as I've carried my medical transcription reference books and my Andre Norton books wherever I've gone. I've sketched interesting face (interesting to me) from time to time and my skills have not exactly diminished with time, achieving a level of facility and ability conferred by time and mature years, though it wasn't until very recently that I picked up what I had put down more than 20 years ago -- the path of artist. My skills have somewhat diminished from lack of use, but my eye remains fairly good. The artistic eye, of course.

My supportive mother told me years ago I couldn't make a living as an artist -- or a writer for that matter -- and should focus on something that would ensure a stable income -- data processing, computers, IT. Anything but art or writing and in spite of my many awards and certificates of achievement, along with my meager skills. I have since turned that creative temperament and ability to hobbies, like cross stitch, but not for sale. Simply because the arts feed a need that is as much a part of my DNA as my grey eyes. And I have returned to the creative arts, specifically drawing, in the form of colored pencils. I have a set of pastels around here somewhere in the box where they were packed, but I'm exploring colored pencils for now with the same single-mindedness I have always shown when it comes to art, limping along and finding classes to help me learn the use and extent of possibilities inherent in the medium.

My work desk has become my drawing and sketching desk and I'm exploring more classes and different kinds of colored pencils to find the one that suits me and my rusty style.

I am not alone. Many people who have reached -- and passed -- their middle years have gone back to pick up where they left off or unpacked a long held dream and followed it in their twilight years as I have done with art -- and specifically portraiture. My parents are dead and I make a decent living with medical transcription, but nothing fills me with the joy or feels my soul the way art does, and I'm finally discovering the bedrock of art that I should have learned many years ago when teachers patted me on the head and sent me to honors classes on scholarships without really giving me the grounding I needed in the mechanics and uses of the media they passed quickly over. I'm really learning now and I have the tools to delve as deeply as I wish -- and all the classes I can afford to take.

I won't waste time thinking about what I've lost over the intervening decades or bemoan the unrealized abilities that could have been part of the dust of my decomposing corpse had I not reached this age (60 for those of you who prefer details to dreams) with the ability to reach back and take what was once mine. I'm not going to worry about what I can and cannot do, but simply reach for more and take to my soul all that I can as I venture back into the creative stream to capture the world as I see it without the struggle (sometimes fruitless) for the right words and constructions that will take me from the first fire of discovery in a novel or story through the doldrums of the middle and the elation of the end of the tale. At least with art, I need not worry about critics and complaining readers, but do what I will with the tools at hand and render the life around me as my hands and talent allow. I have no one to tell me no and no one to browbeat, bruise, and cudgel into a more lucrative and acceptable form of work. This I do for myself and the devil take the hindmost.

That is all. Disperse.