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Oaxaca (7/10/19, pencil and white charcoal pencil)

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Oaxaca Zocalo (7/11/19, pencil)

After drawing the above two–and keeping up a streak of drawing daily–I fell ill with a bug whose main effect was to drain me of energy so that it was hard even to stay sitting up for long. So I didn’t draw for two days, and then tonight, it felt so good to have enough life in me to look at the passionfruit in our fruit bowl and try to convey its wrinkles.

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Passionfruit (7/14/19, pencil & white charcoal pencil))

Something I want to practice more is drawing clothed people. They always look so stiff. I tried to draw a dancer in Teotitlan the other day, and while his shadow looked lively, he looked like he was made of wood. I couldn’t capture the gesture, his sense of movement and aliveness, the way I can (sometimes) when drawing nudes. It’s all practice.

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Recent sketches have brought me face to face with a big challenge in my drawing: how to portray very complex, detailed objects without showing every detail and while still conveying their general appearance. Drawing always entails decisions about what to put in and what to omit, but with some subjects it’s particularly difficult.

Last week I tackled the overhead branches of a leafy tree (known locally as a huizache; I think it’s a kind of acacia). I was rescued from this one early because Joy and Indigo wanted to go into the nearby museum, so I don’t know whether the approach I was using would have worked.

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Then there’s this, from yesterday. As with the overhead branches, the complexity of these vines climbing the wall (of the San Pablo cultural center, in Oaxaca’s Centro) is exactly what drew my eye, and what I want to get onto the paper. Yet I don’t want to draw every single line and shadow. I drew fast and tried not to get too many niggly details down, but I didn’t know how to do what I would do with a more unitary subject, such as a human nude: draw in big simple shapes and then add detail. A subject like this seems to be nothing but detail, so I’m flummoxed.

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Sorry for the glare on the paper. These are quick and dirty cellphone shots of my sketchbook.

For context, here’s another visitor’s photo of the same wall. Yummy detail, right? But how do I capture that?

I’ll keep working on it. I’m looking at nature drawings by masters like van Gogh and Monet to try to figure out how they conveyed complexity.

During vacation, I’m managing to do what I did earlier this spring for a few months, and drawing for at least a few minutes every day. Can I make a daily habit of it once I’m back into the swing of work? Let’s see.

A friend suggested that posting drawings now and then might help me, which I think is true, so here are a few.

I’ve been carrying my sketchbook with me (it’s small, about 5″ x 7″) and trying to work fast when I have a few minutes. Working fast helps me focus my attention more on the big picture and less on the niggly details, and in these four it worked fairly well. More on that challenge tomorrow.

The first two are graphite; the last two are fine-tip pen.

bicycles, Amsterdam
angel in Nieuw Kerk, Amsterdampigeons, Amsterdam

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Ghost Ship, marker on paper, approx. 4″x6″ (c) AZM December 2016

A year ago tomorrow, 36 people died in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. At the time I did these three drawings in my sketchbook. I was haunted by the stories of people being trapped, trying to flee the fire by going down a staircase that ended only in more fire.

The larger story, that haunted me at least as much, was (and is) the extreme scarcity of safe, affordable housing in our area. These people lived there because actual apartments, which have stricter codes, were out of reach to their budgets (as they are to an increasing number of Bay Area residents). Their landlord got away with housing them in a warehouse because everyone concerned wanted it to work, even though it wasn’t safe. The housing crisis is another rapidly narrowing space that leads to suffering and possible disaster.  I knew when I drew these that I wanted to do more, a piece with specific allusions to the cost and scarcity of decent places to live, the way people are trapped by a poverty we have created. I haven’t yet. But I am still haunted.

 

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Ghost Ship 2, marker on paper, approx. 4″x6″ (c) AZM December 2016

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Ghost Ship 3, marker on paper, approx. 4″x6″ (c) AZM December 2016

I’m at the annual meeting and conference of Unitarian Universalists, General Assembly: this year, in New Orleans. Instead of bringing knitting to occupy my hands through the many meetings and workshops, as I have done before, this time I brought my sketchbook. The last three might be called Variations on a Theme by Brice Marden, since seeing some of his work at SFMOMA last week clearly influenced what’s in my head.

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Sometimes, being a minister means working with some prickly people. They’re among the congregational leaders or visitors or–particularly tenderly–among the people I visit when they’re sick or sad. Not long ago, I was on my way to meeting with a member of the congregation when I passed under a stand of sweet gum trees (I think that’s what they are), whose seeds I love whenever I see them, and have never dared to draw. I went on to the meeting, and in our conversation, the person was both prickly and, to me, very beautiful: honest, caring, vulnerable. When I left, I picked up one of the fallen seeds, and I drew it that evening. In my private thoughts, it has this person’s name.

I’m loving exploring this idea from different angles. When does a grid stop being a grid? What is it then? The tension between the formal rules of the grid and the movement that arises through and in spite of that form evoke all sorts of other tensions in my mind. To what extent are our lives ordered or chaotic, regimented or free, communal or individual?

Both of these are about 4″x6″, drawn with ink in a pocket sketchbook. The light and camera available distort the colors, but you can get the idea.


I keep drawing these grids in my little 4×6 sketchbook.

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I’m experimenting with how to change the shape and flow of the squares; in my view this next one went off the rails, but the two people who have seen it both like it a lot, so what does the artist know:

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These next two are my favorites–I love the way they ripple and move:grid-5-from-sketchbookgrid-6-from-sketchbook

I thought this one wasn’t finished (I don’t have my markers with me and there are still orange intersections to put in at the bottom), but since I was scanning the rest I scanned it too. Now I think maybe it is finished.

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In related news, I’ll be putting up 17 drawings, prints, and alebrijes from my sabbatical in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto lobby today, with comments on each one. They’ll be there through the end of March.

I’m taking a class on woodblock and linoblock printing. The first piece I made was this one. As I was working on it I was dissatisfied, and made this drawing also. The drawing is a more successful rendition of what I was going for, but hey, it’s my first woodcut. I don’t have control of the medium enough to make lines as fine as I was imagining, and there are places I went too light–once you’ve done that, there’s no undoing it. Really, I think the only print medium that could have captured what I had in mind with this image would be a lithograph. But here it is, anyway, the first proof.
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The second piece was a linocut and much more successful. These are the seedpods of a kind of acacia, called huizache in Spanish, that grows here abundantly. I love them, and have enjoyed spending so much time with this one.

In previous wood- and linocuts it was very challenging to have drawn lines on the surface that signified the places I did not want to cut, i.e., that I wanted to print black. I kept feeling like I was supposed to carve where I’d drawn. So with this print, I made the drawing in negative, blacking in the places where I intended to carve, i.e., where I wanted to print white. It worked well.

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