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That was about the most exciting thing about drawing this week. I’ve been focusing on faces more often. Pleasingly, I liked the second better than the first, and the third better than the second.

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I got so fed up with my own style  that I decided I needed to do something very different and started using pencils only, no charcoal sticks, no broad edges (with the middle drawing, above). All shading done in scribbles and lines laid close together. That helped. I was getting down in the dumps.

It’s a tough issue, this matter of style. For a long time, I felt the same way about my voice as a writer. I just didn’t like it, didn’t feel at home with it, was even embarrassed by it. Over time and many, many weekly deadlines, I grew, or grew into, into a voice that feels authentic and that I usually like. How much of that is development of my writing ability and how much might be better called growth of the soul? Isn’t it essentially about being comfortable with who I am?

If so, am I not comfortable with who I am as an artist? I don’t think that’s it. I think that I have a vision in my mind that I’m not able to realize on paper yet. But how to get from inner vision to charcoal-and-paper reality isn’t just a matter of technical prowess, either. Ira Glass, in advice beautifully illustrated by Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils, says it’s mostly about already having good taste–knowing what “good” looks like–and making a huge volume of work, i.e., gradually honing your craft. In the meantime, you keep making things that disappoint you. I think that’s true, and also that there’s something more about the process that isn’t expressed in what he says, but I can’t put my finger on it. Anyway, here are some more disappointments along the way to what I hope will be work that matches my vision.

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What do you call the anniversary date of a marriage that ended long ago? It’s a marker of some kind, but whether a gravestone or a bunch of balloons, it’s hard to say.

I’ve been divorced from the man I married on August 11, 1991 for almost as long as we were married. I have had not a twinge of regret or doubt since the moment we called it quits. Sadness, certainly, but there was no question in my mind, then or since, that divorce was the best decision. So when this date comes around, my primary feeling about its now being an un-anniversary is profound relief. So many of the twelve anniversaries we shared were racked with worry, often crises, that it’s hard to imagine that if we’d stayed married, this would be an unreservedly happy day.

And, of course, I have a wonderful spouse who wouldn’t be in my life if my first marriage had muddled on, and a daughter, the light of our lives, who wouldn’t exist. So, no regrets.

Just the same, a form of sorrow shadows this date each year, an existential wistfulness: that dreams do die, that something as hope-filled as a wedding can lead into a dead end of disappointment, that time and other inexorable forces can render people we once knew (including ourselves) almost unrecognizable, that love is sometimes not all you need.

This summer’s soundtrack seems to be Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken”: “Seems like every time you stop and turn around, something else has just hit the ground.” I’d like to take a page from my soon-to-be-colleague Lauren Way and ask, “What’s good in your life? What’s bringing you joy? What are your victories, small or large?” As she says, we could sure use some good news right now. The comments form is at your disposal.

Renee Ruchotzke wrote about them well:  services that cruelly promise inspiration but deliver a lecture and inexpert music instead. People come seeking spiritual sustenance and, after hearing an address on beekeeping, “cross this church off [their] list.” Unitarian Universalist congregations have a bad habit of giving people time in the pulpit as an act of kindness–kindness to the speaker, but not to the listeners–and letting their concerns for quality go by the wayside, especially in summer.

This summer, I was a spiritual seeker far from home and eager to go to church while on vacation, and from that experience I gained a nugget to add to Renee’s wisdom. It isn’t enough to offer a service full of inspiration; you have to make it clear, from your publicity, that that’s what it’s going to be.

I was in a city where I know nothing about the congregation, and what I saw on the website was an address by the director of a local community organization, talking about . . . the work of his organization. The title didn’t pose a question or suggest that the sermon was going to try to answer any. Now, it’s possible that his address was deeply spiritual. The blurb describing the service said something about the way we all need the arts, and that could be the heart of a heart-centered sermon, but  it sounded an awful lot like a standard spiel by a passionate advocate of a good cause. We all know them. Once in a while they are terrific, which is to say, they think about the audience and address their needs. More often, they are barely disguised appeals for funds, or just general support for their cause. No matter how excellent the cause, this is not the kind of thing I want to hear at the best of times (just send me your brochure, please; I can read it in two minutes, rather than listen to the 20-minute equivalent), and certainly not in lieu of spiritual reflection and guidance for my life. There is a time and place at church for community organizations to talk about their work: Wednesday evening, in the Emerson Room. Not Sunday at 10 a.m. in the sanctuary.

If I’d been a few minutes away, I might have risked it. But to get there, I was going to have to negotiate the bus system of an unfamiliar system and travel 50 minutes each way, and I just wasn’t willing to put that kind of effort into attending a lecture. So if it wasn’t a lecture, I’m sorry. I hope whoever writes the newsletter the next time will remember that what they are about to write is all their visitors know about that Sunday’s service. Ask yourselves: is this really a worship service? If it isn’t, please reschedule it for a different time. If it is, make sure it sounds like it from the publicity. Because if it isn’t enticing, many of us are just going to stay home.

 

Between traveling and being sick, I missed three drawing sessions. I was still pretty worn-out from illness yesterday but just had to go draw. It pretty much wiped me out for the day, physically, but my spirit got a burst of energy. The music was marvelous: Gillian Welch, something violin-y mixing classical and Arabic sounds that I couldn’t identify but that was lovely, Amy Winehouse, Talking Heads Remain in Light (an album I used to listen to a lot in my high school / college years, now languishing with the rest of the vinyl). I love when the models pick Talking Heads, not only because I like them but because the strong up-tempo beats keep my hand moving fast. And Gillian Welch isn’t exactly beat-driven or up-tempo, but couldn’t you draw all day to “Look at Miss Ohio”? I could. Here are the day’s drawings in the order they were done.

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The above works well in terms of the overall gesture, and just enough of the face to give a sense of her mood. Also, I had fun drawing the cloth.

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The above is most interesting for its feet. Who knew? I thought I was focusing on the light and shadow.  The left foot is a perfect example of something I thought was disastrous as I drew it (“does it really look like that?”), but that worked pretty well. Yes, it really looks like that. Don’t think. Just draw.

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On the above, I used a harder charcoal and went lighter, following instinct. Messy and mis-proportioned, but the light works fairly well, so I’m glad I did.

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I wanted the above pose to be really long, instead of ten minutes. So much interesting light and shadow, her upper body contrasting with the deep shadows cast by her legs.

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I just had to jump in bravely and try her face on the above; she was standing quite close to me, really looming, and her attitude, hands on hips, looking up over my head, was irresistible. I tried to bring the same roughness and focus on dark shadows to her features as to her torso. It’s so hard not to get fiddly with eyes and noses.

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Sweated over the right hand in the above. Couldn’t get it to work right. Still, it came out better than I thought it was doing as I worked. The pinky, though! Very happy with the pinky. Fingernails tend to do me in. I go into too much detail and kill them because really, the edges of fingernails and the delineation between the pink and the white of the nail are quite subtle. This time I managed to stay subtle.

It’s comical to take such happiness from a well-rendered pinky fingernail, but such is drawing.

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This was a 30-minute pose–I messed up the proportions so badly in the first 15 minutes that I tossed it and started over with this. The proportions aren’t quite right here either (in reality, her right breast is not noticeably larger than her left) and the left arm is a disaster–I just wasn’t looking, or something–but the sweat and tears over the left hand paid off pretty well. Foreshortening creates more of those “does it really look like that?” moments. It’s so hard to turn off analysis and just draw what I see. But I tried, especially on the shading, and it’s the best part of the drawing.

On this grim anniversary, I’m moved to share one of the greatest war poems I know, which was inspired by Genesis 22 and the war that began one hundred years ago today, by most reckonings. The poet, Wilfred Owen, died in that war. He was 25.

“The Parable of the Old Man and the Young”

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

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