Toast master.

toast closeup
I can smell the toast so deeply I can taste it. Not like “I want that so badly, I can taste it” but literally, like the atoms of carbonated bread have drifted through the air, into my nostrils, and pachinkoed down to the floor of my tongue where my taste buds are “Holy cow”ing about the yeasty taste of freshly toasted Italian bread. I have not been eating bread for a while, because I am middle aged and paunchy and this seems likes a smallish sacrifice to make in order to hold on to my boyish charm. I’m not completely convinced this is working, and perhaps I need a chemical peel, some Spanx and a toupee to really push back the years where they belong. Perhaps, but for now, I am just skipping toast.

I didn’t make this toast to eat, but to draw. It’s cooling and hardening and I can quite effectively tell myself that it will taste like cardboard and I should put the smell out of my mind.

I uncap my rollerball, bend back the covers of my sketchbook, look at the toast hard for a minute and then pick a spot to start. It’s in the upper left, my usual point of embarkation. I pick a corresponding point on the page and make my first mark. I move slowly and confidently at first, my eyes mainly snapped to edge of the toast, like a zipper. I slide along, heading right, enjoying a ziggedy path full of toasty landmarks. This is the easy bit; there’re lots of anchor points to reassure me that my line is correct. Then I hit a smooth part, an unbroken stretch, and my confidence wavers. I can deal with this  — I pause to measure the length of this flat bit, then backtrack, calibrating the distance traveled, and finding where that distance led me on the path so far. I locate a landmark on the edge of the toast, find its mirror on the drawing, then measure the corresponding distance. Now the flat path isn’t a mystery any more. I can say with certainty how long it is. I fire up my pen again and head down the road. Eventually I have circumnavigated the whole slice and am back in the upper left. On my page is a lopsided rectangle that seems to perfectly map the outer edge of the toast, all its harbors and lengths of coast navigated and known.

Now to bivouac then head inland. I look at the tiny holes that nestle against the crust. A freckle mass of pinholes where hot air escaped from the dough and pushed its way to the surface. I count six in a lopsided star configuration and copy them onto my page. Then I slide a wee bit to the left till I get to the next topographic event, a twig-shaped indentation, that goes down a fraction of the inch. I imagine myself roped up like a miniature spelunker and lowering down that crevasse. I note the footholes on the way down and copy them down in ink. I walk along the bottom of the cave, then spring back to the surface. I move on down to the next gathering of crumbs.
I continue across the toast like this for awhile, recording every indentation and protrusion, my drawing filling up with speckle and dashes.

Then I pause to survey the whole, rising up into the clouds above the island to see what I have wrought. I look around, take my bearings and suddenly feel queasy. The edge that I have been charting does not correspond with what’s on my page. I have been moving too quickly perhaps. Or maybe too slowly. I immediately feel regret, another drawing poorly observed, despite my pledge to be consistent and slow, to check every inch. The little horn that protrudes above the crescent cleft in my drawing is actually a half inch further along on the actual edge of the toast. I have jammed too much information and now my drawing is inaccurate. One mistake and everything that follows it dominoes further off the cliff. One slip-up and everything connected to it is off by more and more. Disgusted with myself, I hop across the toast and resolve to come at it from the opposite direction, hoping to deliberately distort the journey back in such a way that I will meet up in the right places, two wrongs making a right.

I head south and realize that the toast is far narrower than my drawing. My disgust deepens. Perhaps this is a lost cause. Perhaps it will work as an incomplete drawing and I should just quit now. Perhaps I should just eat the toast.

But then, the clouds break. I realize that I have forgotten how much room the thickness of the bread takes up. What I thought was the inner edge of the top was actually included the crust as well. I thought I was in South Texas but I am barely in Oklahoma. I am okay. I carry on.

I come across a large hole, the biggest one, a veritable dry lake that almost goes clear through to the other side. How do I deal with its shadows? I don’t want to cross hatch or simulate the lighting in any way. If I do, I will no longer be mapping and the tiny details will get lost in a wilderness of lines, lines that don’t describe actual observations but instead pretend to be light and dark. I only want to mark lines where there are lines. It’s a rule I set for myself early on in the trip.

So just look for more and more detail in the shadows. I indicate darkness not with the artificiality of hatching but by drawing more complex details in some areas and less where the light is stronger. Details create a sense of volume without pretending to be darkness.

I pull back up to a 50,000 foot view again. I see an area that looks more sparsely populated and head back down to see what I have missed. Another area also lie bald and patchy but i decide to leave it incomplete for the sake of contrast. If you add every detail, you end up with an undifferentiated mass. Pauses here and there to add the contrast that makes for drama and interest. The viewer’s brain fills in the missing details, staying engaged. Less work for me.

I darkening the lowest edge. It’s a conceit and rules violation because I vowed not to indicate shadows, but the drawing needs it, simulating a third dimension and lifting the toast off the page. Rules are meant to be broken, just so long as you acknowledge you know they are there.

The toast is utterly cold and dead now, the smell long dissipated. And so is my need to draw. I recap my pen, flip the book closed and wander back to the kitchen to see if there’s any celery in the fridge.

26 thoughts on “Toast master.

  1. La madeleine de Proust. Le toast de Gregory.”Details create a sense of volume without pretending to be darkness.” J’aime.

  2. This toast making and drawing reads like a chapter out of an adventure novel. After all of that I would’ve had to have two pieces of toast with homemade strawberry jam. (Strawberries are in season in Ohio right now.) MMm-mmm-mmm!

  3. My misery has good company….I’m used to this whenever I (rarely) draw from life. It feels better to know that it still happens to the best. Glenn Vilppu has some recommendations, he says to start from the center, but I usually have to push myself a little to do it that way.

    • I don’t know who that is but I am interested that he makes such specific recommendations. I suggest you start an 1/8 of inch above the lower left corner’s outer axis.

  4. Danny, reading that first paragraph at 6:45 in the morning had me ready to jump up and head to the kitchen for toast! But since I fall in the same age cohort as you, I continued not to read your delightful post! SO Looking forward to SBS 2!

  5. Man, you had me for the whole ride at “pachinkoed down to the floor of my tongue”. This is epic, as are you! Thanks for this and SBS, which (BTW has been life changing.)

  6. Sketching something so mundane like toast can be a real challenge. But that is how we grow in this mundane activity in a mundane world. It is not the toast (as a food?) that is the challenge but instead it is the variety of shapes that we try to interpret as we sketch. When all is said and done, with the toast as a shape, with vugs, pores, indentations, burnt edges, etc are interpreted within the sketch, you have accomplished what you set out to do. You have rendered a piece of toast on flat paper and it is recognizable as a piece of toast. That is what sketching is all about.

    • I’m afraid I’m going to take issue with your last point, Rene. For me sketching is about communing with the world around us, slowing down time, focussing our minds, seeing the beauty in everything and more. It’s not about recognizability or the end result of the process. It’s about the act itself.
      And while I’m being disagreeable, I’ll take issue with your first statement too. I don’t think there’s any such things as a mundane subject. Why is a piece of toast any less interesting than a face, a building, a flower, a view? Besides toast smells great.

      • I respect your viewpoint. I will not be disagreeable. Everyone has a right to see their world differently and interpret their world differently. I’ve been around toast for a little over 7 decades and I still think it is mundane. Not only that, I no longer eat toast or any wheat products. However, I must admit toast really does smell good. By-the-way, I don’t have a wheat belly.

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