In shadow I sawa flower stand. . .
In shade I sawa flower grow. . .
In shadow I sawa flower stand. . .
In shade I sawa flower grow. . .
Saturday mornings. The work week is done. Sunrise is an hour or more away. The windows open. And have been all week. Unusual for this time of year and this part of the country. Birds create a pre-dawn cacophony in the evergreens outside the windows to the east.
The oldest kidlinger is up early doing laundry. Needs clean clothes for work later today. We move about the apartment quietly.
Saturday mornings are time for jazz. Brubeck. Coltrane. Evans. Tatum. But it is too early for Saturday morning jazz. It is time for stillness. A time to plan, think, and meditate.
Conversations from the week come to mind. What makes a good book?
There are good books. Or at least, interesting books. There are poorly written books. And bad books. Meaning stylistically bad (as in the content is unsuccessfully researched, appallingly argued, or intentionally misleading). There are well-written books with poorly argued thesis statements. There are dull books with good data. And there is a bookshelf that holds them together.
The no-plan, salvaged-wood bookshelf collects a portion of my library. The space between the work-from-home station and the vintage stereo is the new home of the bookshelf. The summer therapy project was completed so late that the intended use for the bookshelf for school materials was no longer relevant.
The relevance is now my education. My continuing education in art, science and religion. Essentially, philosophy. What is truth? And, how do I know it? Variations on a theme. A book about technology. Another about project and time management. The top shelf nearly all books of poetry and essays. Some memoirs and novels. Several books on theology and spirituality. Books by American writers. British writers. And German writers.
The second shelf. A mix of poetry, fiction, essays, art and design. The third shelf. Memoirs, classical education, technology, theology, and philosophy.
Reading an abundance of books does not make an individual well-read. Reading great books does not make one well-read. Understanding the great conversation makes a reader well-read.
“I don’t read books,” he said. I did not know what to say. “I read the newspaper. Mainly the sports page. But that’s it.”
I recalled the conversation from a few years ago. At lunch. On the patio of the Knickerbocker Hotel. The thought appalled me. Not the person. He’s a good guy. But no book reading? How is that possible?
And I know how this happens. Happened. Long days of work. Long commute. Family responsibilities. Community engagement. And other demands. Priorities need to be made in order to set and accomplish goals.
Found myself in the recliner. Everyone asleep. It was late. The lamp near the recliner was on. All other lights were off. The apartment was dark. A copy of the New Yorker on my chest. The record player was on. Three records on the platter. Waiting to be reloaded on the center spindle.
I had fallen asleep. Midway through the tables for two section of the magazine. Could not even keep my eyes open. Did I eat supper? Or dream of eating it? Or dream of reading that I ate it?
Who has time to read legacy publications? Will try again on the weekend.
I folded the magazine cover to the back so that the page I had read was open. And placed it on the top of the bookshelf to read later. Then turned off the lamp.
How did it get to be noon? How did it get to be Saturday?
The sun is bright. Warm November breeze rattles the remaining brown leaves on the tree outside. Art Tatum plays from the record player.
I return a small book to the bookshelf. I place it open on the top shelf of the no-plan, salvaged-wood bookshelf I built this summer. The shelves are deep. At least a foot deep. Could hold two rows of standard-sized paperback books.
I place the book open on the top shelf. A reminder for me to return to the passage that captured my attention. Imagination. A bread crumb trail back to an idea.
The next vinyl record drops down the spindle. Bill Evens. Peace Piece. It is Saturday morning jazz slouching toward afternoon.
“What did you do last night?” she asked as we walked through the neighborhood in the pre-dawn moments of the day.
“I worked ’til six. Clocked out. Made supper. And spent a couple hours drawing.”
She did not say anything for a few dozen steps. She took the kidlingers on an adventure the night before. And she was tired.
I continued. “The challenge is that it takes me nearly an hour to set up. Not just gathering tools like pencil, ink, brush, illustration board, and setting up a space to work. But planning. Composing a page. Thumbnail sketches. Reference materials and such.”
She listened. We walked further. In the hour before sunrise, I looked East. I saw Venus. Or maybe Regulus. Possibly both.
“By the time everyone got home,” I said. “I had finished marking out a page and composing three panels.”
She told me about a conversation with the one of the kidlingers as we walked. We exchanged comments about plans for the day. We continued for a quarter mile or so before returning home.
Thoughts of last night’s drawings were pushed into the shadows of a day filled with choses sérieuses.
How long did I look at this drawing the other night? 15 minutes? 30 minutes?
Calculated the time it would take to complete the drawing. Did I have the time?
Considered if the time spent on this illustration was valuable.
Too late. A kidlinger requested help. Followed by a short list of other household chores.
The illustration was placed back in the portfolio with 60 other drawings in various stages of completion.
Try it again another night.
Inspired by Inktober 2019, I kept working on illustrations throughout November and December. For me, this was intentional art exercise. Keeping up the practice of crafting pencil compositions on illustration board. It was a private affair. No commercial application. Just me, a pencil, and board. But I hit a dry spell entering the new year. Actually, it was not a dry spell, but rather a lack of designated time to practice.
Commuting for two hours a day was part of the daily routine. By train and by street car. Or by automobile. Traveling sapped my energy. But now with state and government safe at home orders, I tried to ease back into evening illustration exercise.
Working from home had its own set of demands. Working from home with a family in an area of less than 1000 square feet presented additional challenges. But these are first world problems.
The first week was difficult. Routines and life patterns merged. A lot of discovery. Kidlingers and spouse realized what I did for work all day. Or at least attempted to do in spite of technological challenges with internet speed and video conferencing.
All evening activities outside the home had been cancelled until further notice. I had more time to catch up on reading and art projects. But resuming the exercise of illustration was difficult.
The first evening all I did was organize and clean the art tools and space. The next night all I did was ink one of the drawings. The plan for the illustrations were simple, clean drawings in the fashion of cartoons and comic books. Another night all I did was tone an illustration with shading and hatching. The direction shifted to a stylized portrait. The results surprised and pleased me.
This encouraged me to continue the practice. And it also encouraged the kidlingers to make art as well.
Relocating to Wisconsin was done with such haste that I am still discovering unopened boxes of items. Some items I have not seen in years. One such discovery was a series of old sketchbooks.
A five-minute sketch of a landscape painting on display at an art museum. The composition captured, but not the details.
A loose sketch of a production of Shakespeare in the Park.
A 30-minute sketch of a roommate reading a magazine. That was back in the days before mobile phones, tablets and laptop computers.
When I flipped through the pages of these sketchbooks there was a mixture of despair and some other unnamed emotion. Is it possible to name every emotion? Is it necessary to catalog everything in the cosmos in hopes of gaining understanding? Or knowledge? Or wisdom? But I digress.
Each sketch had a story. The night at a downtown pub when I learned I was no good at billiards. After the first game, I enjoyed the rest of the evening by doing sketches. I remember the show at the art museum and the artist represented. The friends who invited me to see Shakespeare in the Park. And the rare moment a very charismatic roommate sat on the couch before jetting off to a concert or movie or date or some other activity.
A sketch is an exercise that precedes a painting. But these sketches never received the intended painting. Reportedly, Thomas More’s poems for Epigrammata began as a Latin translation exercise. If I view these sketches as lost paintings, I despair. But if I view these sketches as exercises, I am gratified.
The practice of sketching is an exercise and preliminary draft of an art object. Even today, I still sketch ideas and images. For example, I was asked to create a logo design for a business event.
After some discussion the request included the city skyline of Milwaukee.
Once a plan was in place, I quickly moved to a digital rendering of the logo design and colors. Securing a piece of stock illustration, I customized the vector image and crafted a logotype used to promote and represent the business event.
The pace of work is so fast, months go by without me realizing the value of the brand created. What took hours over the span of a few days, was on display on the front page of the newspaper and behind a representative from the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago.
A few small three-inch square pen sketches became a huge display banner at a business event in Milwaukee. The practice of sketching is twofold: exercise and exhibit. The path to the 2019 Economic Forecast event logo and banner was a thousand unseen sketches. Page after page. Year after year. A lot of practice pieces that remain lost from view. But without them the objects that are visible would not have been created.
After nearly a six-year hiatus, I was excited to see a project that began with notes and sketches transform into a published comic strip. Even if it was a one-off. Even if I had to hand the responsibility of drawing each panel to someone else. It was done.
I had imagined that the creative non-fiction comic story I crafted would earn some interest. Maybe it would open a few doors to an audience. And allow me to write and illustrate. Even earn some money. Maybe I would quit my day job and provide for my household by doing something I loved. Telling stories. And drawing pictures.
That was five years ago.
A few weeks ago I found a box in the garage. It had several copies of a publication that printed my comic strip. I glanced over the pages and then placed them back into the box. I also found several books. Opened one book I remembered enjoying.
“What’s that?” asked one of the children.
“It’s a collection of comic strips.”
I pulled a copy from the box and gave it to the child.
“There’s a story in there I wrote.” I said. “See if you can find it.”
The child took the copy of Comic Stroll and headed off to the couch in the living room.
I flipped through the pages of the book I had found. Read a few highlights.
Yeah, I resemble that, I thought to myself after reading a few lines at the end of the book. The author referenced a friend of his who gave up an art gig for a corporate job in order to provide for his family.
Yeah. I know what that is like.
How many comic pages might I have written and illustrated if I had. . . Well, what-ifs and might-have-beens are dangerous paths to pursue. What you did, great or small, is what matters.
Watching my progeny spend an afternoon reading comic strips I had a hand in creating was a pleasure.
Comic Stroll, a publication of the Southeast chapter of the National Cartoonist Society, featured a collection of previously unpublished comic strips. You can read the whole journey of what started in November 2005 as a couple drawings and became a creative non-fiction comic strip:
 Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction
 Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction Continued
 Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 3
 Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 4
 Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 5
 Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
 Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
 Strange Familiar Place comic series
 Strange Familiar Place returns
 The return of Strange Familiar Place to print
Lake Michigan. Last week. As viewed from the the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Baumgartner Galleria. Glass sculpture.
Discovered these old sketch books in September. Looked at them. Placed them on a shelf. Lost them again.
Rediscovered the sketch books again this weekend. Marveled at how much time was invested. Considered how these books were populated with sketches of classmates, drawings of roommates and other ephemera in a place and time were smart phones, tablets and laptops were not ubiquitous.
What would you be able to create if you were not glued to your smart phone for more than four hours a day?
The final page of a sketchbook is a peculiar geography. . . read more ->