Things to Draw: Follicles

Hmm…of all the things you could have put on that piece of paper, you wanted to see how I would render follicles? Really, Brian? Okay, fine.

I have to admit that though my first response to unfolding this piece of paper was that my friend is a little too clever for his own good, I really enjoyed this prompt. I like the way that this suggestion forced me to take something slightly weird, or maybe just overlooked, and consider how to, in some way, make it beautiful.

The drawing I made is very simple, more-or-less the first image that popped into my mind. Still, making it has got me musing about all the possibilities of emotion or idea one might be able to capture through an image of something as arbitrary as follicles.

Follicles, pencil on paper

I chose this particular image because when I think of follicles, the first thing that comes up for me is my childhood fascination with those tiny hairs on the bottom segment of each of my fingers. What are they for? How can there be a part of me that is constantly present, which I almost never think about and certainly never utilize intentionally for anything?

I have always been impressed by how intricate a machine the human body is, filled with unseen complexities carrying out mysterious yet essential functions. That the working of my own physical form so escapes me and yet continues mostly without a hitch, I consider one of the fundamental paradoxes of life. It is also a powerful argument in that question about whether or not designs beyond my comprehension can affect and even, perhaps, benefit my life. Commensurately designs of physics and designs of divinity. Who am I to limit the potential of my life to that which I can comprehend? That approach always struck me as terribly self-defeating. Why not at least consider that the universe has workings and systems I don’t understand, which facilitate my life and my purpose? Sounds great– I’ll take it.

I know, that’s a vast train of thought, and purely subjective, as per the nature of this blog. Still,  I can’t help but wonder if, though this image does not tell that story in any tangible way, it has a hint of mysticism about it, which is a beginning, at least.

Things to Draw: 1,000 Steps

1,000 Steps, oilstick, watercolor, and ink on paper

The complete prompt for this piece is “The journey of 1,000 steps begins with, ‘Oh fuck, that’s a long journey.'” Ha. Thank you Reuben.

Morning Pictures and Welcome to…Things to Draw

Look, a picture! Okay, so it’s not exactly a masterpiece, but it’s not supposed to be. If anything, it’s intended specifically to not be a masterpiece, to get me in the habit of just drawing stuff. Ten minutes, something to show for it, and a little bit more honesty in my heart for feeling that I’ve started my day in a meaningful way.

And while I’m sure there will be days where I produce sheer and utter crap, so far I’m kind of giddy about the whimsy and instinctive-ness of these pictures. Perhaps they don’t qualify as finished pieces or fine art, but they look like me, like my thoughts, my hopes, my fears and daydreams. I’ve always suspected that if I can succeed at honestly capturing my own experience of the world, that’s how I’ll have a shot at resonating with and moving others. I can’t help but feel that though we differ in our ways and means, the basic emotions of being a human are relatively fundamental. If I can make a picture of my own sadness or my aspiration, as true and clear as I can possibly feel it, it will speak to the sadness and aspiration of others, whatever theirs may be.

To further develop my creative practice and get other people involved, I’ve started a second project, in addition to my morning drawing. This project, I’m calling Things to Draw, and you will experience it here as TtD, followed by a title and an image. I’m asking people in my life to write down things they would like to see images of. I’m collecting all the things and putting them in a mug. Every day, I’ll pull one out and make a picture of it, and then post that picture here.

Welcome to the kick-off of Things to Draw. TtD: Flying

Flying, watercolor and acrylic on paper

Providence: It’s Unreliable, So Get to Work

Some days, painting just happens. I sit down in front of a canvas, and pull out a brush or a palate knife. I reach for color after color, mixing and blending in a trance until I have a hue that perfectly expresses my mood. I can see the image I am aiming for emblazoned clearly at the top of my mind. I might stop to create a sketch to be sure I can render it accurately on canvas the first go-round (that stuff ain’t cheap!), but mostly I just lay down line after line, shape after shape, smoothing and blending as needed. Eventually I come to in a burst of suddenly conscious thoughts, often worrying and aesthetically analyzing, only to find myself staring at a viable newly created painting, sometimes a beginning and sometimes a complete image, created without hesitation as though compelled.

I freaking love those days. The sense of something moving through me, of giving up anxiety and control to the self-fulfilling process of just making something. Those instances are moments of freedom from the otherwise incessant chatter of my mind, the litany of hopes and wants and worries and doubts and dreams. They’re great.

On the other hand, they suck. They don’t come often and they sure don’t come at will. Knowing that creation can be like that– effortless, fearless, and clear– I work myself up worrying whether or not I’ll be able to reach that state of calm, whether I’ll be able to make anything good, and thus destroy even the possibility of getting close. Often, I make myself so stressed that I don’t paint at all because I know everything I create will be unsuccessful and out-of-balance: a mirror of the state-of-mind that created it.

Unfortunately, harboring fear while waiting anxiously for providential calm and inspiration to hit is not an effective way to be a happy, healthy, expressed artist– or person in general, for that matter. So I’m taking a new tactic: work. Just work, all the damn time, with discipline, with structure, whether I feel like an artistic genius or a worthless hack. I’m not telling myself to “paint” or “make something” because even those phrases fill me with anticipatory  overwhelm-tion that I must create a big, meaningful, powerful, finished thing of incredible awesomeness.

Instead, I’m co-opting a method from my sister, the writer, an early-adopter of the creative life and a life-saver to this frequently-flailing artist. Pick a time of day and a volume of time that you feel you can stick to EVERY DAY. Take that time every day, and just work. In any way, on anything. As a writer, she started with ten minutes of free-writing, allowing herself the space to create even a single sentence or a single word, anything that meant she was writing. Within six months, she had scaled up to a minimum hour of work on her first novel. I’m starting with ten minutes a day of drawing, in the morning, every morning. Some days, there may be providence and clarity. And some days, there may be this:

Angry plant days. Either way, there will be pictures.

A New Language

I made my first print today. I’m showing up at 11:29 p.m. to tell you that. It’s Thursday, which is not technically the end of the week, but it’s the end of my week. Friday is my Monday. Confusing, I know. Point is, I am exhausted and I am almost out of time to make my weekly post, but I promised myself that I would post once a week, and I am not crapping out now.

In the image above, you can see a metal solar plate. To create it, I made a small assemblage on top of the unmarked plate, then held it in the sun for a minute, then washed it in water, and tada! a plate. The ultraviolet light of the sun hardened the exposed part of the treated metal, so that when I washed the plate, the areas I had covered with paper and cloth rinsed away, leaving grooves in which to roll ink.

On paper, the piece looks like this…

Tangled Luck, solar plate print on paper

I’m in awe. Printing has such a handmade, archival quality to it. I don’t know why I never took a printmaking class, possibly because I’ve felt like I have enough on my hands just trying to master drawing, painting, baking and navigating adult life, but I’m fast falling in love.

I have my friend Diana to thank for this. After looking at some of my work, she told me I should try printing, and then proceeded to give me a studio day with the former printmaking professor of her alma mater for Christmas. No big thing. (!)

There is never enough thanks for some one who helps you further uncover your voice, but thanks all the same, my dear friend. I’ve just discovered this new language, and already it feels like poetry. Here’s to new art forms. Here’s to incomparable friends.


What We Do, and An Unexpected Picture

Okay, so here’s a question. Who else has multiple passions?

I’m guessing lots of people, and yet being in good company doesn’t necessarily make the balancing act any easier. In my “About Me” section, I describe myself as a painter and pastry chef, just throw it out there all casual-like. An uninformed reader might think that I have actually figured out harmony around that in my life. When in reality, what I am in the process of figuring out around that– is chaos.

Anyone else's book collection similarly muddled?

It’s hard to focus on making soup and burgers and even cake at the café when my heart is saying, paint, paint, paint. Everything I touch looks like a still life, and all I want to do is grab a piece of ticker tape and start drawing instead of making the meal that’s printed on it. Other days, I sit down with a canvas that’s begging to be finished but all the while that little voice is going, kitchen! kitchen! now! I try to think about juxtaposing shapes and colors but all I come up with is flavor combinations. Potato chip cupcakes, short rib and strawberries.

Some things have to be accomplished for life as I know it to continue. I have to show up and be positive at work; I have to feed my dog and myself; I have to spend time with my family, my love, and my friends. But outside of that, I am attempting not to dictate. The organized part of my brain intended to post a recipe for candied lemon peel that I shot earlier this week. It also intended to sit down and work on, if not finish, one or two canvases in a series I’ve been developing the last few months.

Instead, this happened:

Unknown Kente: ink, watercolor, and acrylic on paper

What is this? I’m not entirely sure. It’s a drawing, partly, but also kind of a painting, on paper. Mostly abstract, but kind of not. I can see my hands in this, but it looks nothing like the series I’ve been working on. I don’t know if it has a future…will I make friends for it; will it find its way into a show someday? Or will it just hang out by itself, commemorating the day-and-a-half when that was precisely what my heart needed to do?

I don’t know what will become of this piece, but I do know that making it allowed me to slow down and be present. While I was working, I felt content and in sync with myself and my surroundings. My hope for this drawing is that it finds its way to some one who can get out of the it some of the happiness that I put in. That’s the hope for everything I do. That hope seems most plausible when I let my heart direct what I do instead of trying to force it, whether, in any given moment, that is baking a cookie, stretching a canvas, or even making an unexpected picture.