Most mornings, after breakfast but before we head out for the day, Jack and I flip on our amps, grab our axes and fire it up. One of us plays rhythm, a standard 12-bar blues (E,A,B7) and the other solos, usually with the drive turned up for maximum distortion effect. Fortunately, we have thick floors and forgiving neighbors and for some reason Patti generally ignores or applauds our efforts. After ten minutes or so, we return our Fenders to their stands and go out the door, our fingertips and ear drums still vibrating, adrenaline still coursing through our arms and legs.
After I drop Jack off at the bus to camp, I walk the twenty or so blocks to the office, listening to my iPod. These days my absolute favorite is a new band called The Kings of Leon, three brothers and a cousin from Tennessee who kick serious ass. They are a sleazy, boozy, brawling blend of 70s country rock, satanic heavy metal, surf, and punk, and they channel the spirits of early Stones and Lou Reed and the Strokes , (all of whom I have always loved), and Tom Petty, Eagles, Skynrd, and Zeppelin, (none of whom I’ve paid much attention to) .
Though I think I would have always dug this band, these days I find I can really hear them,. I am aware of each note; I can feel the separation of the instruments; sense what Caleb and Matthew Followill are doing on their guitars; take it all apart and put it back together; and it’s all due to the few months Jack and I have spend whacking our own geetars.
Over the past couple of years, drawing has done the same for my appreciation for art, focusing my likes but quelling my dislikes, broadening my mind and letting me see what I would have formerly walked past or dismissed. I feel increasingly less intimidated by the heavy intellectualism of a lot of contemporary art and get a lot more pleasure whenever I’m in a museum.
You don’t have to be a musician to love music or an artist to love art or a writer to enjoy a novel, but when you try to make it yourself, even in the most rudimentary way, it enhances what you get out of really great Art. In the end, we are all Artists. Some of us have long hair, greasy fu-manchus, and peg leg jeans while others just back up nine-year-olds.
The only downside to my vacation (and this will give you an indication of what a hopeless nerd I am) were a few pen problems. First of all, though we packed virtually everything in the house into our car for the trip, I left my trusty Rotring Rapidoliner in my bedside table drawer. The only reason for such an oversight is that I had just begin to use a device called the Rotring Art Pen — a sort of fountain pen that Richard Bell uses all the time and seems to swear by. I have been interested in drawing with a fountain pen of late because I like the more variable line it gives (I love my Rapidoliner because it flows so smoothly but the line can seem a little mechanical and rigid at time) and so I have been two-timing the Rapidoliner with this long, black stranger.
The Art Pen has one obvious design flaw, the back end tapers to a near point which mean that when you take off the cap, you can’t snap it onto the back and have to lay it down somewhere and then be mildly distracted about whether or not you’ve left it behind which may effect your drawing in a sort of stone-in-your-shoe sort of way.
Then, poolside, I discovered a more significant problem. The Art Pen comes with a half dozen little prefilled plastic ink cartridges. The ink, I discovered after laboriously drawing this geezery couple and then beginning to slather on the old water color, is not waterproof. The ink began to branch out into spidery tendrils and my lines became fuzzy.
Fortunately I had bought a special bladder, the “Piston Fill Ink Converter”, that allows me to fill the pen manually and later I tossed out the feeble cartridge and pumped in some India Ink. Another minor problem arose which is that the bladder, which is a sort of syringe that you advance and withdraw by rotating a little stick at the end, doesn’t seem to draw entirely of its own accord and one must ocasionally recrank it up and refill the nib. If you don’t do this very carefully, big drops of ink fall onto your drawing.
All that having been said, I continue to use the Art Pen but plan to send Richard a nasty note.
I’ll admit, I am a fickle pen owner. I search for years, find perfection, but my eyes keep roaming. Another pen I keep on the side is called the Grumbacher Artist Pen (there’s not alot of creativity in the pen naming community, it would seem) which has the teeniest needle point and the same pointed-end, cap-losing design as the Art Pen.
It is not refillable but the line is so fine it seems to last forever anyway. I did a drawing or two with it on my trip and still quite like it but for optimal performance, use very smooth paper.
Finally, the Art-Pal Creative pen — a very groovy-looking, gold pen with a brush nib that you fill with the ink of your choice. Looks, however, are horribly deceiving. It is a piece of junk. I filled it, used it briefly twice, and the nib sort of crumbled and the tip broke off. It might be possible to replace the nib but the pen came from Jerrys Artarama with no instructions and no way to buy new nibs. I’ve written to them for explanation but so far they have been mute.
And finally, I am determined to pick up some gouache today. I tried working with watercolor and no line drawing but the results felt wishy-washy. I need to be able to add a layer that is more defined and sharp and bright on top of watercolor and I have resorted to white ink put on with a dip pen and then tinted the ink with watercolor which works okay but is fiddly and hard to control.
I’m sure if I paid better attention to my lessons from Roz I wouldn’t have this dilemma but it seems easier to just buy more art supplies.
This guy is scarily good. Tony Forster’s watercolors depict his treks around the world, to the rain forests of Costa Rica, the volcanic island of Montserrat, Bolivia’s mile-high lakes, the slopes of the Sierra Nevada and the scorching desert of Death Valley. I first saw them in a froo-froo gallery, stopped dead in my tracks on Madison Avenue, thinking “Wait, wasn’t I supposed to have made these, y’know, in some parallel universe?” On the edges of his gorgeous landscapes paintings (he paints on sheets of watercolor paper, usually 22″x31″), he attaches little sample swatches, topographic maps, and then stencils, types, and hand writes notes. This softcover book of his work was published by the Frye Art Museum in 2000.
For anyone who has ever felt that they had no time to draw, were too stressed out to draw, had nothing interesting to draw, I offer a few pages from “G.I. Sketch Book”, published by Penguin Books on July 1944:
From the FOREWORD
WHEN YOU get upward of ten million men together from every walk of life, you find a large number of them who think pictorially and who burn with a desire to record their thoughts. What cries out more for the permanent record of the artist than enormous masses of men in combat, in preparation for combat, at rest, or at play! The skill of an artist is not always the same; there are influences that heighten or lessen the ability to transmute mood and scene. If he is greatly moved by what he sees, it is very probable that he will transcend his ordinary technical limitations and produce something that will come close to satisfying even him.
The pictures in this book have all been made by American G.I.’s and, as you thumb your way through the pages of sketches and finished pictures, bear in mind under what conditions some of these chef d’oeuvres were produced. What foxhole did a marine use as his studio? What bombed and burning deck inspired the sailor-painter to portray magnificent light and atmospheric effects? Many scenes were sketched on wrapping paper, some painted on ship’s canvas with ship’s paint. One lad in the Air Forces sends his wife a daily letter from China, from India or from Burma, constantly illustrating a point with a pen and ink sketch. This is what he writes about his G.I. life and art: “It’s a nice feeling that though I am so far away, I am still contributing to the cultural life of our community. Also to know that I am still doing art work in the combat zone, and under real primitive and warring conditions, proves conclusively that the desire for the fine and aesthetic is not a shallow, meek appendage to the lives of humans, but a forceful necessity to life.”
This is one of my prized possessions. In fact, I prize it so much I repeatedly give it away and then go hunt for a new copy.
Muriel Foster(1884-1963) started keeping this diary in 1913 whenever she went fishing and, for the next thirty-five years, filled it with sketches, watercolors, observations and poetry. While she was a professional artist, this little diary was just for her and never intended to be shown. Her grand niece released it for publication as a facsimile decades after her death and it is the work for which she’ll always be known (if I have anything to do with it). You can find a copy or two of the book on abebooks.com but act quickly — I may snap it up first.
My boy, Jack, 9, has always loved to draw. He draws in the symbolic away kids do, inventing characters in his mind, drawings scenes and battles and maps and worlds. Recently though we have been talking about drawing realistically and from nature.
Last week, we began doing exercises from a great book by Mona Brookes, called “Drawing with Children.” The book’s method is extremely clear and simple and we’ve had a lot of fun working on it together. In the very first lesson, he drew in ways he never has before and, at the end, asked me when we could do it again.
When children draw, they are working things out, play acting, exploring and learning. They are probably being more left brained about it than adult artists are, working primarily with symbols that are not based on observation. Our society assumes that this sort of play should not be interfered with as it may somehow stunt their imaginations. Instead, there’s a risen a myth that children can’t or oughtn’t be taught to draw. When kids reach ten or eleven, they taper off with this sort of play and, for too many people, this marks the end of their drawing life.
Some kids persevere on their own, but against the odds, because they usually have insufficient instruction. It’s absurd, like giving a class full of children access to books but not teaching them to read. We expect kids magically to go from drawing symbols to seeing clearly enough and having the perseverance to train themselves to draw accurately. Some will figure it on their own, the rest will just lose interest. We don’t do that with driver’s ed, or swimming, or mathematics, or even music.
The teaching and the learning aren’t hard. At nine, Jack’s brain is a sponge and Brookes breaks seeing and rendering down to such intuitive fun exercises that he picks it right up. The system is designed to help adults too and Patti has been talking about starting soon too. I can’t wait.
If you’ve been procrastinating about learning to draw, try working through this book with a child (even two year olds can do it). The fun is contagious and it’ll light your fuse.