I used to be vehement (adamant?) about drawing from life in the sketchbook. While it is true I still hold the sentiment that one of the best forms of artistic discovery does lie in drawing from observation, (and ya just CAN’T draw a bicycle or horses correctly from memory) I’ve since modified this belief for several reasons. Principally, since becoming a mom my time has become a series of slots throughout the day, most of which are taken up by caring for my toddler, M. The rest of the slots are generally allotted for chores (no longer having ANY clean underwear, for example) or appointments. This leaves just a very small slot for me in the evenings to draw, so I need to figure out what to sketch, and fast.
Sometimes the opportunity presents itself for drawing from observation, other times I utilize reference photos I take myself, and sometimes–like today– I’ll just dream up something. The mental image usually comes to me at some point throughout the day, making itself clearer as the day progresses, only to be completely sharpened once I put it to paper.
I mentioned I’ve been on an “old masters” kick recently (Maybe not the old old masters…more like the 19th century-masters? The Impressionistic masters?) and because of this I’ve rediscovered the luscious, page-scratchingly tasty wonders of compressed and vine charcoal. In fact, I think I’m falling in love!
Sorry, watercolors, we might need to take a little break. It’s not you, it’s me. Promise.
An outdoorsy toddler trapped indoors is not a fun thing.
It’s a bit like having a small chimpanzee roaming your house for several hours: I turn my back, and before I can say “Davey Crockett’s coon hat,” my son will have spilled his milk, climbed up onto the step stool next to the sink, grabbed a dirty sponge and shoved it in his mouth, and found some kind of semi-dangerous item somewhere and turned it into a toy/weapon/cat-dog torturing device. All of this in a space of a minute or two. Before having my M. I had naively thought that any decent parent worth their salt could easily tame the wild 1-year-old, bending him to their will with a stern look and an engaging book that their child could quietly and obediently read in a corner (HA!) Little did I know of the destruction an even slightly-bored toddler could leave in his wake, and all in the name of exploration and curiosity.
Luckily, it was trash day.
M. loves to watch the trash truck make its rounds. When I hear it come around the corner of our street, I say “It’s the trash truck! Let’s go see the trash truck!” and he will tear down the hallway to the front window and stare, studying that trash truck, open-mouthed, like it’s the most amazing thing in the world. Then, he will wave to it with his chubby little hands as it goes back up the street, begging it to come back (and subsequently throwing a tantrum when it finally disappears around the corner).
Today was hot. Like, high-noon in August at a New Orleans Jambalaya fest hot. So, rather than traipse outside with a paintbox, a sweat towel, and a gallon of iced tea, I stayed in and went with the sketch default: self portraiture! as my late friend and mentor once said, ”If it’s good enough for David Hockney, its good enough for me.”
Speaking of late and great, you know who we don’t talk about enough? Edgar Degas. Yes, his pastel paintings are all over mugs, cards and other kitschy paraphernalia, and I think—very unfortunately—his work has generally become, for most people, a tired old LP on repeat because of its ubiquitousness. But oh my goodness, HIS DRAWINGS. I mean, this guy is a master. He knows line, he knows shape, he knows shadow. He knows what to show and what to hide. And most important, he knows the value in simplicity.
So here you have it. One simple selfie in charcoal, with hopefully, more to come.