Drawing trash

In the process of my endless rearrangement of my apartment, I managed to reveal a completely bare wall in my living room, one of the few in my home, and realized it called out for a big square painting. I mentioned this emptiness to my pal, Tommy Kane, and yesterday he appeared with one of his masterpieces, a lovely canvas of the Lone Ranger. Tom even hung it, as perfectly as only such a talented art director could do.

It was a beastly hot day, so, once the ladders and hammers were put away, we decided to visit the NY Sanitation Department’s maintenance garage on the banks of the Hudson River. We set up our folding armchairs in the shadow of some especially fragrant trucks and unwrapped ham and cheese croissants. After lunch, we broke out the drawing gear and spent an hour or two drawing the grimy complexity of rows of ailing trucks.

Tom is capable of spending weeks drawing a single scene so I tend to take my time too whenever I draw with him. As a result, these drawings tend to be very thick with lines, dark, layered, probably overworked. But there’s nothing like sitting with an old buddy in a garbage garage parking lot on a sweltering day, pen in one hand, book in the other, croissant crumbs in one’s whiskers, cawing seagulls overhead. Try it sometime.

Cross training

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My drawing muscles are out of shape after a few months of underuse. As I get back to the habit of journaling again, I am taking my tools out one at a time to see how I want to work, how to express myself, how to become fluid and unconscious once again.

My first drawings felt scratchy and inept to me, so I put down the pen and picked up the brush, wanting to work in color and built up layers of perception. I drew my stuffed pheasant with my little winsor newton paint set and a sable brush.

My first attempt felt too stylized in the face and I didn’t capture the iridescence of the neck feathers.

This is more like it. He has a chckeny expression in his eye which is right. My brush also feels good in my hand and I can make all sorts of marks with it in a controlled fashion. Let’s have one more go.

My colors are nice and bright here. My little watercolor set, while filled with high quality paints, can sometime lead me to make murky and muddy paintings as I over mix.

I turn the page and the pheasant and get out some other media.

Roz had been extolling the virtues of gouache lately so I dust of my set of opaque watercolors and give it a whirl. It’s so different to work with colors that aren’t translucent; I’m used to layering and layering until things come into focus. These paints force me to commit much earlier to my tones. I also have to work from dark  to light, I think. Or maybe it’s the other way round. II dunno, I just can’t get the hang of it and cant be bothered to figure it out. Lots of other tricks in my bag to play with.

I have been using my Lamy Safari fountain pen for most of my drawings over the past year. I like the feel of the pen’s flow and the blackness of its line. It’s mildly flexible but I wish it was even springier. Drawing with a pen forces me to pay far more attention than does the brush; I am committed to every mark and I can draw much more specifically. My crosshatching is a little less even than I’d like it to be but I quite like this drawing.
I liked drawing this one more. It’s done with a dip pen and a steel nib (no idea which one — I have a big box of randomly collected one and I know by feel which ones I like best). This pen gives me much more variation in my lines and it’s more interesting to draw with. It’s trickier to control too. My lines are a less regular and perfect and I never know exactly how the nib will behave. The springiness also means it can spring back and attack the wielder, spraying splotches and drips or suddenly scarring the page with a dark irregular line. It’s an adventure.

I pick up my sable brush again and dip it into my India ink. It’s a feeing experience, like drawing with a super liquidy marker and also has a fair degree of unpredictability (Or is that just a function of the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing?) I make a specific kind of graphic image with this brush, almost comic booky, and unlikely to become my everyday way of capturing the world around me. A fun detour nonetheless.

Colored pencils are just too much work. I don’t like swapping pencil after pencil to find the right color and then being limited to the hues I have ( and I have a huge collection of pencils, none of which are exactly right). I cross hatch and layer them to reproduce the colors I see but I don’t like the process or the results, I don’t like seeing white paper showing between the lines either. I am trying to approximate what I do with water colors and I may well be doing it wrong. Pencils do give one a fair amount of control and the colors are fairly bright but they are also smudgy and fiddly.

My love for Lucinda Rogers‘ work inspired me to combine a sper fat (B) Faber Castell PITT pen  with a super fine one (XS).  I’ve done a few drawings like this but I have  a lot to learn about this technique. I dont fully understand when to use the fat one and the XS doesn’t glide on the rough watercolor paper of my Moleskine.Still, it has a nutty quality that I like.Finally, I unpack my huge collection of Doc Martin’s super electric translucent water colors. I just love these colors, so bright and bold, but they need to be handled with care. Like colored pencils, they come in zillions of hues (I have over a hundred little eyedropper bottlesfull) but they can be mixed. They tend to be much more fluid that pan watercolors so it;s easy to overload the brush and make things gloppy. This isn’t the best example, but generally I love the ways paintings come out when I use this stuff.

This was a liberating experience and gave me lots to think about. I also got to know my pheasant roommate better, always a smart idea.

What’s past is prologue

It’s funny how decisions Patti made, sometimes long ago, impact my daily life.  Like the back-ordered blouse that was just delivered by UPS and sits on her desk unopened. Or the brand-new wheelchair she ordered to replace her 12 year-old clunker  — a beautiful titanium work of art with flowers laser-etched on the tubing. It was on the truck to be sent to her on the day she died and, amidst the funeral arrangements, I remembered it and we managed to cancel the shipment.

I like the interruption of these messages from her, her mind working in the past and appearing in the present, like the bulbs she planted last Fall that popped up in late March after she was gone, and announced the first days of Spring, her favorite season.

There remains other unfinished business to attend to. Last week, I managed to throw out ten years of old Martha Stewart magazines but I can’t yet bring myself to go through her closets and share her clothes with strangers. One day I shall, maybe soon. I know I can part with old t-shirts and stockings, tubes of moisturizer and bottles of pills, but I must hold on to the most Patti of her posessions  – I imagine giving Patti’s Chanel necklace to Jack’s wife one day or bequeathing his daughters my grandmother’s hand-painted powder box, the one that Patti kept by her sink. Things don’t really matter but the memories they contain always will.

The crying game

I made this Hokusai-influenced journal entry a couple of weeks ago, but the same sort of wave has hit me a couple of time since. Its clout is overwhelming and the emotion it dredges up is so non-specific, a crippling blow to the solar plexus, a kick to the scrotum. It’s not like the sort of grief that has a word or a thought or an image at its core; it’s just total and blanketing. It hits and suffocates, then recedes, then hits a second time, then mercifully passes all together.

 

I am so not used to crying. It’s something I was good at when I was little, like running or cartwheels or jumping off the top bunk. Now, as a grown-ass man, I am horribly out of shape as a cryer. It’s as bad as vomiting or marathon sneezing in the way it grips me and fills my head with uninvited fluids, bulging my eyes and forcing ridiculous noises out of my mouth.  What a mess.

In some ways, it’s very welcome. Because I worry about how resilient I am, how able I am to function, there is something welcoming about collapsing, knowing that I am not utterly compartmentalized and blinded by denial. These thundering paroxysms of emotion provide perspective, reminding me that I can travel forward but may have occasionally to stop and pay the piper. I can handle it.

It can be a bit scary for Jack, I think, and I try to shield it from him when I can. But he seeks me out, puts a consoling arm around my shoulder, bringes me a glass of water. Then I pull myself back together and we go out for pancakes.

Missing Hoofy


I was blessed with an enormous outpouring of sympathy and support in the first few weeks after Patti’s death. Equally mercifully, that tide pulled back in the ensuing months and now most people have receded from my sphere. It was all too heavy, seeing a look of deep concern on the faces of  every person who I ran into on the street, and I felt like a sponge absorbing everyone’s grief over and again. That sounds sort of shitty and selfish but it’s been tough enough sorting out my own feelings.

The grieving process is a hard one to unravel or predict. Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief aren’t terribly helpful, too orderly and well-defined;  there’s just no rhyme or reason to how I feel most of the time. Denial is an easy refuge, just getting on with life until the dam breaks and I am forced to deal with my emotions. I also worry at times that I am too okay, that I am too level-headed, but then my deeper feelings find a way to worm to the surface and reassert the enormity of what’s happened.Yuk.

An aside: One of Patti’s many nicknames was ‘Hoofy’ for her occasionally clumsy ways. This is a drawing of a necklace I gave her years ago, a collection of silver feet and hoofs. She loved it and wore it a lot. It makes me wonder: will I ever know anyone else whose tastes, weird and particular, are so in tune with mine? Who else could appreciate and encourage my taxidermy collecting, my medical textbooks, my love of sardines on toast? How do you replace a one-of-a-kind treasure?