The morning was cool for July. The dew point moderate. Not too humid. The sun had risen an hour before my wife and I drove through the countryside to meet a friend for breakfast and coffee. Wildflowers of purple and white filled the ditches along the roadside. The windows of the motor vehicle rolled down just a bit to catch the rush of air and scent of summer.
At the cafe, we enjoyed our morning meal and coffee. I brought an old sketchbook and some Pitt Artist Pens to practice dormant skills during the after-meal conversation. My confidence in these abilities has deteriorated as more and more my job demands extensive screen time. The computer screen, keyboard, and trackpad create a distance between the art and the art maker — between the graphic and the graphic designer. My concern is that of atrophy. Will my mind and body remember how to sketch the lip of a glass? Was this a false concern? Maybe. Maybe not.
Steven Heller wrote of the Polish designer Trepkowski that his posters were “designed for cultural events” and did not depend on weekly sales goals or production reports. The brush of the Pitt Artist Pen handled the curve of the coffee mug and quick short strokes of a plate’s shadow. This ink drawing captured a small cultural event. A meal among friends on a summer morning.
Why wake up at 4:30 a.m.? For a moment like this. A sliver of the moon is barely visible in the pre-dawn hour. Within 45 minutes she will no longer be seen. The sky will be too bright–even at 5:30 a.m. It is not quiet–like some people may think. Birds chirp in choruses deep in the shadows of shrubs and trees. And because it has been so hot recently, the loud buzz and hum of air conditioning units in the apartment complex going on and off at intervals punctuates the hour. Despite the audible sounds, there is a silence that allows the mind, body, and spirit some time to focus before the clatter and clutter of the day disrupt attention.
Fourth of July parades in small town America reflect a cross section of a nation. Antique tractors, classic automobiles, fire engines, floats and flatbeds, and horses and riders all pass by crowds of Catholics, Protestants, and Sikhs. United we stand along a two-lane country highway under a blazing hot sun to cheer and wave at family, friends, and neighbors in our community.
Ten years ago I published this photo of a nightstand stack of books. I looked at the photo and wondered what changes occurred in my reading habits or tastes during the last ten years. Then I asked, what is on my desk today? After some thought, I wrote a blog post. Or rather an essay regarding my observation. But it was long.
I did not publish the post. Instead, I merged the photos together for comparison. Pictures are worth a thousand words. In this case, two thousand words. And this post will only take a minute to read, rather than 15 to 20 minutes.
Ten years ago today I had no idea that this image — captured during a morning jog — marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. When I look at this image I remember when I took the photo, what I was thinking, where I was, who I needed to talk to, and why. Everything seemed to change that week.
I searched through the archives this morning as I waited for the work laptop to install software updates.
Five years ago this month I posted two blogposts. The entire month. Looking back, that may be an average. June is a light month for postings when compared year over year. Except in 2011 — that month 79 blog posts were offered.
Ten years ago to the date I posted the above photo in this blog post. Not mentioned at the time was that a female groundhog had eaten all the young broccoli and greens that had been planted earlier that spring. An expert was called in and he humanely captured the mother and her two pups. He informed me that groundhogs mate in early spring. Female groundhogs have really short pregnancies. So, by June the groundhog in our area was a very busy mother. It was difficult to get angry at the groundhog for eating most of my spring plantings. She was just doing what groundhogs do. Mother and pups were safely relocated to one of the nearest state parks.
Fifteen years ago this month I published a weekly column. I had been invited to contribute a weekly column by another writer. At some point I considered collecting those columns in to a book. But that manuscript, or manuscripts, is probably buried in a junk drawer somewhere in the garage.
Twenty years ago. No blog. No laptop. Just a black cloth hardback sketchbook. I sketched a model sheet for a comic book proposal.
Previously mentioned, the above image is an old sketch of the Luther Terry painting.
On weekends, I visited an art museum when I was younger. With pen and black cloth sketchbook, I recorded the painting in to my sketchbook. Practiced drawing. Researched an allegory.
But capitalism is a poor cultivator of the arts. For the price of an item of beauty and value, some would pay the same price for a 728 pixel wide by 60 pixel high web banner. A digital item that pastes at the top of a web page or email for a week or two and then disappears.
The lesson I quickly learned is that beauty is not useful. Art and design that is practical and commercial are valued in America. Sacrifice the permanent on the alter of immediate. This utilitarian principle fuels professional success. Or at least provides employment.
This drawing in my sketchbook reminds me that I once believed that beauty is lasting. And, I still do.
“Yeah. I was cleaning up some stuff in the garage and wanted to see of the easel was in working order.”
“Sort of. . . the base wobbles. . . but that can be repaired with a wooden shim.”
“And you have a canvas on the easel.”
“Yes. . . well. . . wanted so see if the canvas was secure on the front lower horizontal bar. The top bar works. But I may need to replace the wing nut on the lower bar.
“Looks like you started painting.”
“No. Not really. Gessoed over an old painting. . . Several years ago.”
“What was wrong with the old painting?”
“It was a sketch. . .”
“Well, looks like supper is almost ready.”
“Yeah. . . you hungry?”
Later. After supper.
In the garage, old sketch books revealed ideas for paintings. Sharpie marker drawings. Charcoal sketches. Conte crayon drawings. Graphite sketches.
The sketch of a female profile. To be used in a composition inspired by a Luther Terry painting. An allegory. But who should model for the composition’s three figures? Many sketches. Poses. Lighting. All collected in thick hardcover black sketch books. One sketch earns a few minutes of consideration. Maybe. . .
A sigh. A glance outside the garage. Shadows lengthened to darkness. Sun has set.