While sorting through piles of sketches I found this one on illustration board.

Rehearsal at Wings Conservatory

I doubt I will every add paint to this sketch.  It has become smudgy and is destined for the waste basket, yet I hesitate.  When I look at it, I am transported back to the evening of the rehearsal, dancers stretched their limbs behind the grand piano while singers warmed up their vocal chords and the accompanist loosened his fingers.  It is a captured moment in time.  Not all scribbles work well as time machines. For me, this one does.  I don’t think it’s strong as a drawing, only as a visual transporter.  For that reason alone I’ve kept it until the next round of sorting through the pile.

Watercolor portrait of Bambi and Buddy:

Watercolor Portrait of Bambi & Buddy

Thanks to the hours spent yesterday on the pencil sketches of the two greyhounds, I was able to execute the watercolor without tightening up too much.  I had become acquainted with the dogs by drawing more than just the position I planned for the painting.  By drawing them lying down, standing and sitting, my brain registered their unique body postures and allowed me to suggest them more loosely with the flow of paint.

Sketch on watercolor paper

A gift for a dear friend of the family.

Adopted Greyhounds, Bambi and Buddy

At one time I accepted commissions for dog portraits.  For a number of reasons I stopped about twenty years ago.  Now, I only draw or paint dogs that meet two criteria: I have spent time with the dog and I care a great deal about the dog’s owner.  When a pet meets both, I am able to approach the portrait with attention and heart.  The sketches shown here are preliminary studies for a watercolor painting meant to be a birthday gift for Jane, my father’s companion.

Pencil sketch, 'Bambi'

I have committed to the six months of an hour a day required to complete the drawing exercises in John Ruskin’s book “The Elements of Drawing” first published in 1857.

Here are a few samples of my first attempts to complete my assignments.  How much easier it would be to tell myself that I don’t really need to do this.  As strong as the temptation is to quit, the feeling of satisfaction upon completing a task is quite remarkable.

I will have to repeat the exercise shown above several more times until I can make a more delicate transition to light value.

After several days of inking, tiny stroke by tiny stroke I decided to try a pencil drawing with a squiggly line technique rather than the parallel strokes I usually use to render.

I had grown rather weary by the time I tackled the shed in the back.

Mother Webb's

The image of a haggard old woman with a wart on her nose does not put me in the right frame of mind to enjoy a slice of deep dish apple pie.  It did, however, inspire me to save the matchbook from the pile destined for the dumpster.  It ranked third in line to be sketched.  Perhaps the marketing team knew what they were doing when they designed the logo for Mother Webb’s Famous Steak House.

“Always Great Steaks till Midnight” is printed along the narrow edge of the matchbook.  Inside the cover it says”  MOTHER WEBB’S famous Steak House is open till midnight everyday except Xmas eve & Xmas day.  We’re located on the Trans Canada Highway  ½ way between Halifax & Sydney, Nova Scotia, 4 miles east of Antigonish town.  Mother’s fantastic success is based on food & service worth waiting for —- How about that?”

Yes, how about that?  Does that mean that service is unusually slow and that success is based on waiting until customers are so hungry that anything at all will taste fantastic?

I’m happy to say that Mother Webb’s has been in business for 43 years and is still doing quite well, though no longer open until midnight.  They close at 11pm these days. http://www.motherwebbs.com

1950's Matchbook advertising "Tie Press"

Throwing things away becomes easier each day as I tunnel through the rooms in my house.  I’ve become so proficient at tossing stuff into the garbage that I finally dragged home the bag of cigar boxes that sat in the outdoor fireplace in Martinsville.  The bag had been waiting for this moment for well over a year.  I had even forgotten that it held anything more than old cigar boxes that I might or might not find useful.

Four days later I dragged the bag out of my trunk and into the house, giving it a rest on the landing to the basement.  Two days later, finding myself with an extra day at home due to car problems, I opened the bag and discovered the nine cigar boxes and one 1950’s Russell Stover Candies box were filled with matchbooks.  Nettie squirreled away souvenirs of trips and dinners, local, national and international.  It would be an easy toss to say the least, or so I thought.

After dumping the matchbooks from two of the cigar boxes, the image of woman in a blue dress ironing a yellow polka-dot tie caught my eye.  For only $1.50 I could by the “TIE PRESS” to save time, save money and save ties.  This remarkable offer expired on January 31, 1951, nine months before I was born.  I don’t think Nettie was spending her evenings ironing my dad’s ties.  Next there was THE RELAXOR.  “King Edward is THE RELAXOR”  I could write for a free illustrated Owners Manual giving instructions on how to gain maximum enjoyment and relaxation from THE RELAXOR.  Taggarts Driving School boasts “college trained teachers”.  Carousel Lounge In New Orleans claims “the first revolving bar in the south”.  Hotel Webster Hall in Pittsburgh, PA is “within walking distance of Everything Worthwhile”.  Admiral Perry Motel in Cincinnati advertises hot water heat and tile baths.  South Dakota’s Miner’s Ore House Restaurant in Keystone is the “Finest Little Ore House In The West”.  For only $9.25 plus 6% sales tax, for California residents, one can order the deluxe edition of a “Space Cadet” high quality, adjustable cap with embroidered patch and scrambled eggs on the brim.  What could be better than that?

Hawaiin Regent Matchbook tips cut off

An hour later I had the matchbook collection sorted into several piles.  Matchbooks from the Playboy Club in Miami, Lake Geneva, Boston, London, San Francisco, Manchester, Cincinnati, Denver, Atlanta and Montreal made up one pile.  Matchbooks from The Pancake Man, Admiral Perry Motel, Dingle Motel, Kalaloch Lodge and Spread Eagle Inne topped off another pile.  More than a dozen matchbooks made up the third pile, a pile without a theme, but with one common characteristic.  All of the match tips had been carefully cut off as a safety precaution.  I try to imagine my mother carefully cutting the tips off of all those matches and storing them carefully in the cigar boxes.  I wonder where my mother obtained the cigar boxes.  No one in our family smoked cigarettes or cigars.  It would have made more sense to find the collection stored in ten candy boxes.

The matchbooks temporarily turned back the calendar to a time when “children under 18” slept without charge in a hotel and the Holiday Inn offered to “Let us teletype ahead FREE …. for your next reservation”.

Holidays were quiet in our house this year, allowing for prolonged periods of reflection, contemplation, and playful drawing.  The outrageous Christmas Tree was top priority when it came to subject matter.  January 1st, the tree comes down in our house, allowing the year to begin anew.  Rather than the handful of pencils I ordinarily grab for playful sketching, I chose to use a selection of fountain pens instead.  Parker pens are a delight to draw with.  The Parker 45 and the Parker Desk Model are currently my favorite pens.  All they needed was a good cleaning to work smoothly and flawlessly.

With properly working tools, the transition from realism to abstraction is seamless.  Working with a mechanical pencil is similar because there is no interruption for sharpening.  When a fountain pen works well, there is no snapping back to the left side of my brain in order to get the ink to flow properly again and to deal with a broken line of ink on the drawing. Dip pens work well for me when I am standing up. The dip into the ink and the stroke upon the paper are part of the same flow of movement.  Sitting down and using a dip pen is not the same for me.

After having played with the image of the Christmas Tree I am excited about playing with a variety of other objects around my home.  Not just any objects, but the ones that come close to exciting me the way that the evergreen branch did when it was transformed into the Christmas Tree.


No running water.  No heat. No air conditioning.  Conditions that make it difficult to hire people to work at the prop shop.  We have fans.  We have heaters and we have a port-a-john that is cleaned every two days.  We have a water cooler/heater and foaming hand cleaner.  There are pros and cons to every job.  What the prop shop offers that makes the “cons” worth putting up with is that we are in touch with the weather at all times.  We watch and experience the changing of the seasons; the glorious lighting as the sun sets over the barns, the double rainbows after a storm, the sun streaks and shadows creating abstractions on the white barns and slate roofs.  At least a dozen times each week my breath is taken away by an unexpected moment of artistic inspiration.

Such a moment occurred last summer as Lowell was repairing the leg of a wooden chair, destroyed during a rental.  The sun was low and bright, shining through the barn doors and highlighting Lowell as he worked.  Though I usually have my camera in my backpack at all times, I had left it on my desk that morning.  Luke rescued the moment, passing me his cell phone.  How I love technology!

Yesterday was Lowell’s birthday.  I intend to paint the image eventually, both in watercolor and oil.  Wanting to give Lowell a surprise for his special day, I opted to do a quick pencil drawing for him.  He prefers realism to abstraction.  It is a bit odd to present someone with a portrait of themselves, but I feel this is more a moment than a portrait.  I hope he likes it.


Detail of 3' x 7.5' three panel oil painting

There is a good chance that I will complete Sue’s painting today.  It has been a long, wonderful journey for both of us.  Last weekend, as I worked into both the sneaker she holds in her hand and the two pair of hiking boots, I laughed at how much fun I have drawing and painting shoes.

I have a great deal of respect for a well designed, well made shoe.  Had it not been for my EB’s and my green Chouinard climbing shoes I would not have seen the world from the vantage point of standing on little crystals on the side of a cliff.  Had it not been for my dance shoes I would not have spent so many hours of delight dancing to the music of my fiddling friends.  Had it not been for my Dansko clogs I could not spend the entire day on my feet painting without being in pain.  My Naot sandals were as wonderful as my cargo paints for traveling in France, even walking on the uneven cobblestone streets.  Without great shoes, my life would be sedentary.  Pondering a sedentary life was heavy on my mind during the last two months when a pain in my right hip prevented me from walking faster than a snail.  Thanks to Dr. Jeff Marrongelle, as of a week ago, I am out of pain.  Perhaps part of that relief and joy has been infused into Sue and Dale’s hiking boots.

Plane Trees in Chalon-sur-Saone, France, pruned into cubes

Plane Trees in Chalon-sur-Saone, France, pruned into cubes

Upon the completion of Sue’s painting I will turn to both plein air painting and developing paintings from the reference photos and sketches of France.  The multi-layered images of the window reflections will be my winter project on days that I am too wimpy to paint outdoors.  When I am out and about, my mindset will be that of a tourist in Hunterdon County, in an attempt to uncover the shapes and patterns and subject matter that is so familiar to me that I no longer see it.

Cargo Pants for the traveling artist

Cargo Pants for the traveling artist

Having only four days to prepare and pack for a trip to France forced me to make quick decisions about what to pack and what not to pack.  At the last minute, I put the two pair of everyday pants I had chosen back into the closet and grabbed a pair of black cargo pants that I knew would dry quickly if I needed to wash them.  I had never worn them before and I hadn’t a clue as to where they had come from.  Most likely, they were handed down to me from either Nicole or Alexis, something from the Far Hills Rummage Sale that they never wore, or were tired of.  It was a bit risky to bring a pair of pants I’d never worn, but I had my yoga pants as a back up.  It ended up being one of the best packing decisions I made.  I wore them every day and, thanks to the wonderful baggy pockets on the side, I was able to sketch, write notes and take photographs in a moment’s notice, even while walking on cobblestone streets.The pocket on the right was the home of my digital camera and the pocket on my left was the home of my pencil and two moleskin notebooks, one lined and one unlined.  The waist pouch is something I picked up when traveling with Nicole in Portugal.  It is a soft,  sturdy cotton fabric, very flat, with a zippered compartment inside and out.  I kept my passport, money and a few flat essentials in the waist pouch. When I wasn’t sketching or taking notes, both hands were free and no weight (such as a back pack) on my shoulders.  There was even room in the pants’ pockets for my small watercolor kit, which I carried touring on the first day.  After realizing that I rarely had enough time to paint in one location while touring, and that walking while carrying a wet painting kept me from making further notes and sketches, I left the watercolor kit on the boat.