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I retrieved this collage from the pieces-in-progress box, where I had filed it just the other day in the course of going through some piles in our home office. (The Onion, as usual, is sardonically accurate; after two weeks of the coronavirus shutdown, our house task list is noticeably whittled down.) I began it, a few years ago, with some playful, purposeless clipping of an old Thomas guide, which I had bought when I moved here in 2003 and which was rendered redundant within a few years, when I got my first smartphone. Redundant for navigation, but a gem in the collage-materials collection.

As soon as I started playing, the similarities between map features like freeways and anatomical drawings of veins and arteries appeared. Also, I kept noticing places that had a strong emotional tug: hospitals where many of our congregation members have been patients, a cemetery where some have been interred, and, snaking their way down page upon page of the book of maps, the railroad tracks where two have died. And just like that, it became a portrait: of a place, of tender moments from a shared history, and of relationships.

It’s complicated. Many of the moments have been sad, even heartbreaking ones. There’s a tremor of trauma running through this landscape. But joy runs through it too, and sometimes in the same places. Finishing this collage helped me integrate them.

Any ideas for a title about the body, loss, place, lives and deaths, finding one’s way . . . ?

As I was tracing, my brilliant daughter asked me why I didn’t just print out the photo.

!?

Because then I could just sandwich carbon paper between the printed version and the linoleum in order to transfer it. No need to trace it and turn it over, as I’d planned.

?!

As long as I didn’t mind the image being reversed, my brilliant wife added.

!!

The printout is fine, and I don’t mind the image being reversed. I am set to show up tomorrow and transfer it to the lino. The tracing was fun and not difficult, but yeesh. It’s a good thing I have people around to point out the obvious.

The linocut class we signed up for as a family months ago is now one day away, and we’re all finishing up our drawings. Remember how my plan was a triptych showing three stages of seedpod decay? Well, I decided against seedpods for a few reasons. I couldn’t find the fresh seedpods; I didn’t document the decay as it happened; and frankly, I don’t find them much more visually interesting now than I did when they were closer to fresh. So I decided to print leaves: one freshly fallen, one more desiccated, and then one worn down to almost a skeleton.

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I collected and drew the leaves earlier this week, but when I did sketches of
the skeletal leaf, I realized that a print of it alone would take me the five hours of the workshop–at least. And it conveys the point without the earlier stages. So I am now working on tracing the version on the left from my computer screen onto tracing paper. (I’m holding the stem with a fishbone tweezer to keep my hand out of the shot.) I’m probably going to render it in black and white, no grayscale, so the print will look more like the version on the right.

Whether I can transfer the tracing to carbon paper and then onto the linoleum, carve it, and print it satisfactorily, all in five hours, is doubtful, but I’ll give it a go. I really want to work on the delicacy of my carving, and this fits the bill.

Drawn with SketchbookX app

I love these cones, which often look like small, brittle roses. Yesterday I finally looked up what kind of tree they come from and learned that they are deodar cedars, native to the Mediterranean but frequently planted here in the San Francisco Bay area. The reason we find them shaped like this is that the cones shed from top to bottom. Someone named Don Latarski even made a time-lapse video of their decay.

The rose shape is what they look like midway through the process from tight cone to full dispersal.

I’ve had this one on a bookshelf in our living room for a few years, and made this drawing of it tonight with my cellphone app.

I followed my plan of drawing the same subject in a markedly different style tonight, difficult though that is, and it helped shake the doldrums I had last night. I’m going to try something even more uncharacteristic tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what happens if I keep mixing it up.

Day 96 of #100days of making art

That’s all. I just hate my own style, or maybe it’s not that that I hate, but the particular ways I get stuck. My too-familiar ruts. Ugh.

I’m spilling this out here because my blog is in part my art journal, and it’s important to share the gamut of moods.

Tomorrow I’ll try to get out of the rut by drawing the same subject (a couple of leaves) in a totally different way. Tonight I’m just closing the sketchbook on this unsatisfying drawing and going to bed.

Day 95 of #100days of making art

Day 92, and the second in a row of having lots of time for art, thanks to a Sunday off. I painted the lower right hand “room,” glued the walls in place, and did most of the vase.

I still don’t know the main element of the third room, nor lots of details of the others. I did stitch a length of videotape into something resembling cursive writing, which will be the main element of one room, I think. Am I the only person who feels a mixture of sadness and curiosity when they see a length of video (or audiotape, when those were around) all pulled out of its cassette and tangled and dirty on the street? It makes me wonder what was on it–what still is on it, but is now inaccessible. Anyway, this one will be part of a sculpture.

#100days of making art

I started on an assemblage with some techniques and themes that are similar to the last one’s. It’s going to have three or four chambers, so a lot of what I did today was cut the inner walls to size and sand them. I also worked out the string pattern for the lower-right chamber (you can see the plan on the paper in the foreground) and drilled most of the holes in the walls for threading it through. I’m still not sure how I’m going to do that, but I’ll play around with it tomorrow.

I also had a great time drilling successively larger holes in the door (lid) to make a peephole. The cigar box wood splinters so easily that I thought for sure I’d have a disaster if I tried a large bit first, so I worked my way up to a 1/2-inch bit.

I’m trying to stay in that indeterminate head space where I’m lightly holding a theme and some images, without knowing how they all relate to the theme or even being entirely sure that they do. I know I am looking at the difficulties of understanding each other across gulfs of culture, experience, language, etc., and the extraordinary fact that we ever reach any understanding at all.

The virtual vase that emerges from the strung thread expresses this in one, hopeful way. The unspooled, unidentified videotape is more expressive of the frustration involved. If I look too analytically at these or other images that are coming to mind, I’m afraid their meanings will shrink away from me like a snail retreating into its shell. So I’m letting them float in my peripheral vision, hoping that while I paint and drill and sand, they’ll take more definite shape of their own accord.

Day 91, #100days of making art

My wife got into the car on Sunday and passed me a handful of seed pods she had picked up on the sidewalk: different than the kind I drew in Sacramento over Thanksgiving, smaller and darker, though again I don’t know the species. “Here,” she said. “I know you like this kind of thing.” It’s so good to be known.

I put them in the well of the driver’s side door, and there they have been getting drier and rattling around. They’ve also given me an idea for the linocut workshop we’ll be taking from Katie Gilmartin at SOMArts in February. I want to have drawings ready when I go in, or I won’t get far on the print. I’m going to make a series (triptych, maybe) of these pods in various states, from fresh to freshly fallen to dried up. It’ll be a further exploration of something that’s interested me for a long time: the ambiguous nature of decay. “Decay” sounds like a judgment, as does “progress,” though one could use either word for what is happening. “Change” is a more neutral descriptor. That’s what fascinates me. Since they are growing more wrinkled and fragile, we would probably say that they are decaying, yet their beauty is not diminished. It is only different, and to some eyes, increased.

I don’t know how much they have really changed over the last five days. They might only rattle more now because they were damp when Joy picked them up, and now they’re dry. I have the impression that they’re more wizened and bent, but I can’t be certain because I didn’t look very closely at them on Sunday. I’ll know better when I go get some more and draw them at intervals.

For tonight, I just drew them as they are now, twice, quickly, in ink pen, as a first stage of getting to know them.

#100days

Eh, I said in my last entry that I’d post a photo of my next piece about ancient and current empires when it was finished, but why wait? Here it is in progress. Source text: The Penguin Atlas of the Ancient World.

#100days

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