EDM #(17 &)18: Draw the view from a window of your house, apartment, office, etc.

My house is devoid of musical instruments right now so I will wait to draw EDM#17 until I come across one somewhere — stay posted. Instead I skipped ahead to Challenge #18.


Liz Steel is an architect who lives in Sydney but loves to draw, paint and travel. I have long admired her art which she tells me she just started a few years ago, influenced by Everyday Matters and The Creative License. Now she is a voracious and talented drawer of things, mainly buildings and teacups. Accompanied by her bear, Borromini, she has drawn all over the world and she is just on her way back Down Under after attending the Urban Sketchers symposium in the Dominican Republic.

Liz dropped by my house yesterday and after sharing journals and stories, we sat out on southern terrace and drew the setting sun over Greenwich Village.

Liz draws with a Lamy fountain pen and a palette full of Daniel Smith and Winsor  watercolors pans. She works quickly and lightly, stopping to wipe her brush on a sweatband emblazoned with a kangaroo.

She sees clearly and draws the minimum necessary to convey the scene, unencumbered by a need to crosshatch and all sorts of tone into her drawing. The results are as upbeat and fresh as she is.

I was feeling in a regressed sort of mood, I guess, in part because I havent drawn this view in many years, and I pulled out my sack of ten-year old brush markers (later augmented with some Doc Martin’s). The results look like a drawing I might have done in the late 20th century when I first started to draw.

I really enjoyed my visit with Liz — her experience at the Symposium and her worldwide visits with many of the artists I admire but know only through the web inspired me to want to get out and meet more drawing people in person. It’s so great to sit around and talk about pens and folding chairs and share lessons and observations.

I’m also delighted that Liz and her work are going to be in my book, An Illustrated Journey, which I understand will be available in February or thereabouts.

Yipee-ki-yay

I‘ve just returned from a ranch in Patagonia, a few miles from the Mexican border. While I was there, I didn’t do any drawing. But I did some things that reminded me of drawing and how it makes me feel.

I haven’t ridden on a horse since I was three and the ghora-wallah brought a pony to our house in Lahore and led me around the garden on its back. Last week, I clambered onto the back of Joe, a huge chestnut quarter horse with enormous patience for novice riders. The experience was so new, so strange, that I couldn’t stifle girlish giggles. The strangeness increased when a half-dozen of us, most outfitted in boot, ten gallon hats, gingham shirts and jeans, galumphed out of the corral and rode off in a cloud of dust like every posse I’ve ever seen in a John Ford movie. Only this time, rather than watching from the couch, I was in the middle of the herd. This thing that I have always seen and wanted and now here I was doing it. It was new and a little tricky but nothing like as scary as I’d imagined. My fears of immediately being unseated by a balky stallion and dumped unceremoniously on my head or in the Christopher Reeves Memorial Quadriplegic Ward, were replaced by exhilaration and power. One is never too old to learn something new and to marvel at how much more one’s body can do than one gives it credit for being capable of.

By Day Two, I graduated to loping which is sort of like galloping. Att first I couldn’t get the hang of it for the simple reason that I couldn’t see it in my mind’s eye. Then it came to me: that ‘hee-yah’ moment when a cowboy puts his spurs to his steed and gallops off after the injuns or the stage-coach or the escaping dogie. And now, I, bouncing up and down like a lunatic yoyo, was doing the same. Granted I was snickering like a jackass and clutching my saddle horn but I was doing it nonetheless and remained astride my mount.

Each day, we spend four or five hours thundering around the 6,000 acres of the ranch, up mountains, through ravines, and across gulches. My wrangler counseled me in horse psychology, warning me to never let my horse get the upper hoof, that I had to always remind Joe, with a kick to the ribs and a tug on the reins, that I was the one on top. Joe had spent his whole life running around these peaks and valleys and obviously knew what he was doing, but I tried valiantly to steer him and appear in control. I’d urged him up each hillside, and he’d scramble across loose chunks of rock, harumphing and snorting out great lungfuls of dust.

While Joe was doing most of the work, I’d try to do my share. I’d keep my eyes peeled wide as we slowly inched our way down really steep inclines, pulling on the reins and muttering ‘whoa’. Rock would crumble and shift, Joe’s hooves would clatter and I would hang on for dear life.

As the hours elapsed, my brain began to shift into a new state, one that felt really familiar. I was in charge — but also letting go, alive and awake — but also zenned and blissed out. I felt on edge and alert — yet safe and calm. New York and my office and all my cares felt thousands of miles away (2,454.7 miles, to be precise). The rocking motion, the spectacular countryside, the newness of it all, combined to wring out my head like an old washcloth. When I finally staggered out of the saddle, bowlegged with locked hips and dry as a saltine, I felt empty and peaceful — much like I always have after an hour with my pen in my hand and my sketchbook on my lap.

Patagonia is one of the world’s best bird-watching spots. I haven’t really paid that much attention to my fine feathered friends until this winter when I participated in the annual Central park bird count. I was amazed to discover so many species I’d never noticed, to be heeding bird calls and then tracing them to their sources, lurking in a bush or on a windowsill. Now we sat having breakfast in the garden and saw cardinals, woodpeckers, and five different species of hummingbirds. I felt my predator instincts emerging, noticing each little change in the landscape, the slightest shift in the leaves, a shadow in the grass. It was wild to feel so a part of nature rather than just tramping through it with my iPod on. And again, this started to feel like drawing to me, like the sharpened awareness that comes when you really see something clearly, studying every detail, overcoming preconceptions to be in the moment, fully present.

Drawing is a state of mind more than a way of putting ink on paper or filling a picture frame. My days in Arizona brought that home in a whole new way.

Back from Beantown




Jack and I took a brief break from New York with 75 hours or so in Boston. Neither of us had ever spent time there before —though with the torrential Nor’Easter dumping all over New England, I’m not sure we saw it at its best. We trained up there, stayed in Cambridge and managed to see Harvard (infinitely inferior to my alma mater, of course), its art and natural history museums, then visited the Institue of Contemporary Art and the Science Museum. We saw some movies, had some nice meals, played cards,talked, and drew in our journals. I broke out my watercolors for the first time in ages, and Jack bore down on his dip pen.

It was a refreshing break after a very sad week, giving us some distance and perspective, as well as a chance to start our lives as a smaller family. Drawing was a relief to both of us, a feeling that we were making something out of the nothingness, and seeing a new place with fresh eyes. Our journal pages will be a landmark for us, the first fresh pages we are turning over, with many blank ones ahead to fill.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated: Patti was always the first person to read my journal pages after I finished them. Somewhere in Boston, it occurred to me that I write for her to read and that she  wouldn’t read them, ever again. But then I realized I will always write for her, she will always be my favorite reader.