Friday, January 28, 2011


Lake Waban, Wellesley College is on the opposite shore
I walked around Lake Waban several days ago. Another snowstorm was predicted and I knew this would make the path impassable. The heavy Boston snows this winter have constricted my sketch outings so, with my art supplies in hand and a few dollars in my pocket I headed to the lake which is a short walk from my house.

There's a large wetland area which had the only open water. It was congested with ducks, Canada Geese and a few swans. There are cottonwood and alder trees here. Their willowy young branches painting the gray skies with a cheerful promise of leaves and nesting opportunities for the migratory birds.

I took these crude photos with my cell phone. They remind me of the French Impressionist painters Alfred Sisley and Camille Pisarro
The trees in the wetland were covered with hoarfrost. It was so beautiful (and I was getting very cold) that I couldn't attempt a drawing. I guess I didn't have the nerve. I'll try again before the winter is over.

the white trees in the middle distance are coated with hoarfrost

branches are festooned with fine dendritic ice crystals

Hoarfrost is caused by moist air moving over cold surfaces like tree branches and stalks of sere aquatic plants. You find it in many other places but there needs to be this gentle flow of moist air. The ice crystals form on these surfaces. The crystals are lacy and very delicate. Imagine the branches covered in snowflakes. It's as if the snowflakes come from the trees!

I did do one drawing of the young trees. I need to return to this spot.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why make pictures?

"Ready, Set…"
Jan 19, 2011
Why make pictures? Look at these two drawings done one after the other, yesterday and today. Very different and both by me. And both grappling, in a small way with the same event. Both use reality to ponder something in the abstract.
Someone I don't know very well became very angry with me for something I said. Their reaction was so extreme and vituperative that it was almost comical. Their countenance became so exaggerated that I couldn't help but wonder if they were unbalanced in some medical way. I was shaken by this incident and I'm still pondering it.

While making art, you have time to think about all sorts of things. It's never conclusive for me but it's a state of mind I value. I venture through something, not to solve it necessarily but just to sort it all out. I can lay all the shards on the table and make a little mosaic picture perhaps. So these pictures become trivets made up of desire, flights of fancy, and clear-eyed wrangling with art materials and picture-making requirements.

The image to the left here of a cart with a billowing geometric construction coming out of it is just an abstract improvisation. It's "real" in the sense that I drew it as a real thing: "a cart on a cliff filled with something". While completely imaginary, it is not wholly abstract and it clearly symbolizes "something".
Will the owner of the cart spill the contents into the sea below? Or is the cart filled with something so billowing and sticky that it'll be a real chore to get rid of it? Maybe the geometric cloud will get caught by the wind and the whole thing will end up on the rocks below like some Tar Baby. Some emotions have to be appreciated in this manner: perhaps they cause harm and must be cast away or maybe they are obstinate enough and will not be easily shaken off; perhaps with good reason.

The rendering below is of some trees growing from a stone wall just above the Charles River dam in South Natick where I live. The aforementioned argument/incident was still preoccupying me and I sought out a motif that would somehow address it: Tangles, angular obstructions obscuring my field of vision.
For me, making pictures of very different types often begin and end at the same place. The roads they travel in between may be very, very different.
Jan 20, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

12º F

The temperature was about 12º F (-11º C) this morning. With the frigid weather, the ice is creeping along to the very lip of the dam. Ducks have been congregating on top of the structure and have left tracks in the snow.
Drawn with a black litho crayon in my sketchbook.

After drawing the first picture, I warm up over a cup of coffee and returned to draw this observation of the snow-covered water with a pair of dog or coyote tracks. It's bitter cold; the sky is totally blue and the shadows of the trees are a deep blue. I drew this with a blue china marker.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cold Blue Waters

The dam in snow. Drawing done after the big snow.
Here's the snow-covered island below the dam. A few mallards were sheltering in the lee. You can just see the fish ladder and the cascade of water in the background.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Big Snow

cell phone snapshots at dusk of a small forest near my house
We have had a blizzard today. 15+ inches of snow has fallen and the kids will be home from school tomorrow too.
My wife and I took a walk down to the nearby South Natick dam, a place I've done a lot of drawing, after the worst of the storm had passed. I wish I'd had my sketchbook with me; during the summer, there were ducks, geese and herons to draw. Now that autumn and winter are here, the place has been devoid of waterfowl. But with all the snow today, the place was almost teeming with geese and mallards.
Of course, this is not very interesting to most people but to me it helps round the whole developing story out a bit.
I'll try to get out in the morning and sketch this scene
mallards on the ice above the dam

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ice Fishing

What's he fishing for?

Looking for love perhaps?

that smudgy thing in the middle of the drawing is a stick someone
had thrown to test the thickness of the ice
I too was out on the ice this morning.

I start my day rather early by working in my studio before the house wakes up. By 7:00 or 8:00, I'm ready for a change of scenery and I usually take a walk. Like many times before, I came down to the dam on the Charles River in South Natick. I've drawn this place many times.

It was freezing and I looked for a new vantage point to take my mind off the cold. I wandered out on the ice a bit upstream and sketched the dam as perhaps a goose might see it. It's not a very interesting drawing but I was happy that I got the trees and various architectural things in the right places and proportions in the background. Anyway, here's the drawing (and you can stop holding your breath; the ice was strong!)

Have a good week!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cold Weather musings

5 January, 2011
A view of the dam this morning. 
It was about 20º F at 7:00 am.
Why stand still in the freezing temperature for 20 minutes drawing the ice covered river as it plunges over the dam?

There is a thread of macho that goes through American Art: the lone artist standing tall against the forces of conformity which runs counter to the notion of the artist as a sensitive pansy.

In illustration and fine art, for men at least, there's a stereotype of the hard-drinking tough cowboy. He always knows what's what and behind the façade of professionalism, there is a tough person who will not be pushed around or fooled. The artist is a gunslinger or an athlete.

I guess there's some truth in all of these stereotypes and that they are helpful as one sorts out all the competing demands of the creative life.
As an aside, I  wonder however, if women feel the same desire to "stand tall" and do extreme (or moderately extreme) things in their art. I recall seeing an exhibition of "The Dinner Party" by Judy Chicago and being wowed by the amount of painstaking detailed work involved.

Regardless of gender, artists in our now-dominant Western commercial tradition, have adopted a self-imposed requirement to express their individuality through the medium of their Art. We only have one life and artists feel compelled to give it their all and plumb the deepest recesses of their particular field of inquiry. And the results are great. Every artist is on this path of self-discovery.

Still… I miss Summer…

22 August, 2010
…and it's modest claim to simply attend to the gifts of Life.
For me, now, Art consists of these two motivations: firstly, appreciating and celebrating with my attention what is before me, and secondly, pushing and poking my unconscious, my intellect and the social fabric around me in an attempt to add something new to the chorus and the great human story.

Happy New Year to all. May you make great Art in 2011!
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