Researching an allegory

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.

The conversation went something like this. . .

“Are you thinking about painting again?”

“Thinking.”

“I see the easel is up.”

“Yeah. I was cleaning up some stuff in the garage and wanted to see of the easel was in working order.”

“Is it?”

“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.

“Art is work”

A drawing of my desk with books read, unread, or partially read.

It is a challenge for me. When I am introduced as an artist and/or poet. Still not comfortable with either of those nouns. The next question is inevitable. It usually goes something like this:

My wife turns and introduces me to her friend and adds, “He’s also an artist and poet, too.”

“Wow, can I see your art work on Facebook?”

“No. I am not on Facebook.”

“Oh. Instagram?”

“No. Not on Instagram, either.”

“Well. Um. What do you do? Oil paintings? Do you have a gallery somewhere?”

“He posts some of his work on his blog,” my wife offers.

About that time the bread crumb trail ends and the conversation shifts to something else.

The trouble is that some of the work I create I cannot contractually share. Technically, I do not own the copyrights to the final art. And so, I cannot distribute or display it on this or other online platforms. Frustrating. Yes. Bad. No. It is the cost of commercial arts.

For example, a couple weeks ago I drew a portrait. A line art drawing. The portrait will be featured as an etching in either crystal or acrylic as part of a lifetime award. Sometime in March. You may have seen such awards in business offices. A crystal award on black base sitting on someone’s desk or shelf or trophy case.

I am reminded of one of Milton Glaser’s mottos: “Art is work.”

Milton Glaser, celebrated graphic designer, may not be a household name. Not even in my home. But most Americans will recognize the I [heart] NY logo. It is highly unlikely that school children will study designers as part of their art curriculum. (My children are presently studying the American painter Andrew Wyeth.)

Too often I lament, or rather, complain that I spend too much time creating work in front of a screen. It was so nice to ditch the screen and work in ink on vellum and illustration paper. Took nearly four hours to draw the portrait. And that is with the interruptions of replying to emails and designing elements for a multi-page editorial piece. It would take four weeks if I tried to craft the portrait as an oil painting.

In order to answer a request (Where may I find your art work?), I drew the above page last weekend. Inspired by Jane Mount’s Ideal Bookshelf, I managed to draw the stacks of books on my desk by the bedroom window. At least fifty books. So many books. So little time. I enjoyed the exercise. It felt good to pencil a sketch, flesh out the details, and ink the page.

“Wait. You write poetry, too?”

“Um…” I start.

“Have you been published?”

“Yes,” I say.

And this time the bread crumb trail ends quickly. Because most people do not know where to begin to look for published poetry.

“He posts some of his published poems on his blog,” my wife adds.

Comic book pages found

“What’s that?”
 
I turned to give the kidlinger a better view. 
 
“Did you draw all that?”
 
I nodded. 
 
Three years ago I rediscovered these 11 inch by 17 inch pages. Illustrated comic book pages hidden in a storage container. A gray Rubbermaid® Roughneck® storage tote of the 18 gallon variety. I stored art supplies, books, family keepsakes, manuscripts, and tools in dozens of similar totes. Living in a humid subtropic climate at the time, I did this to avoid water damage and mold ruining art and other supplies. Additionally, heavy duty polypropylene bags also prevent mold and water damage. To offer an added level of protection I used the technique of poly bagging art pages and then placing them within totes. When I moved across the country this also acted as a good way to pack.
 
However, that was not the case with these pages of art I discovered three years ago. Like an archeologist, I excavated those pages from a gray Rubbermaid®  tote. They were loose in the tote. Not poly bagged. Print samples of graphic design projects filled the tote as well. And also old newspapers and magazines. Either these publications featured something I wrote or something I designed.
 
In an effort to preserve the illustrated comic book pages, I found an old presentation book used for interviews. The Itoya Original Art Portfolio presentation books work the best. Good for professional presentation and storage.
 
During the holiday season I found one of the portfolio books with those illustrated comic book pages. Examined them again. This time one of the kidlingers was spying over my shoulder. 
 
“These are really good,” the kidlinger said. “Better than I can draw.”
 
“These are practice pages.” I said. Paused to let the kidlinger read the panels on the page. For a brief moment a wave of vulnerability washed over me. A child-like anxiety of examinations. The kind of fear I had when a school teacher reviewed my arithmetic work during class. Found an error and announced it so that all the class might hear. Why had I felt that way about my child reading this page? There were no objectionable elements to the story. Nor art. Nothing inappropriate for the kidlinger’s age. The moment passed.
 
“What language is this?” Kidlinger pointed at one of the panels on the page. 
 
“German.” I answered. “Deutsche.” 
 
The kidlinger hesitated. I considered translating the passage: Im Schatten sah ich. . .
 
“Lines from a German poem,” I said. “I added it to the story to help me remember the poem.”
 
Or to add texture to the short slice-of-life comic book story I composed. Sequential art as some have called it. A clever way of renaming comic book art.
 
I did not purchase my own comic book until I was in high school. An art teacher suggested that it may be a good way to study human anatomy. And it was. Exaggerated, dynamic anatomy. Superhero comic books were the only type sold at the local gas station on the way to school. The public library carried collections of Peanuts. But nothing like Superman or Batman. They did, however, carry the Classics Illustrated book series. Excalibur was the name of the comic book I bought at the gas station.
 
Though superhero comic books introduced me to sequential art, it was the slice-of-life stories that intrigued me. At the time, I had not heard of nor read American Splendor, Berlin, Cerebus, or Strangers in Paradise. But that was the direction I was headed creatively.
 
I probably added lines of German poetry to seem more sophisticated. To elevate comic book pages to sequential art.
 
“You wrote each of these stories, too?”
 
“Yes,” I answered the kidlinger. “Every one.”
 
I started to say something. To explain that these were practice stories and drawings. I wrote the script and illustrated the pages a decade ago. No. Maybe two. Each page, each panel pencilled and inked with crow quill and brush. It was practice for greater things.
 
My goal in those days was to publish a comic book or a childrens book. I did not know how. But the owner of a comic book store suggested I visit some comic book conventions. I did. And even booked a table on artists alley for a couple comic cons.
 
Artists alleys are a feature in nearly every comic con. The alleys feature artists and writers showing their work in hopes of securing a job with a major publisher. Or any publisher for that matter. Or trying to sell their own artwork. I met several artist and writers at these comic cons. And learned how hard I needed to work. Over time, I connected with writers and got a few independent projects. Some of them published. Most remained unpublished.
 
The kidlinger flipped through the entire portfolio. Read through several 2-page and 5-page stories.
 
“Nice,” said the kidlinger. An expression newly formed in the teenager’s mind to mean awesome or fantastic or good.
 
“What do you think?” I asked. 
 
“I don’t know,” said the kidlinger and ambled out of the room. 
 
I thought about that for awhile. What had the kidlinger found in looking through these pages? These artifacts? In a way, this portfolio is a childrens book for at least one child — my child — mein Kind. But these pages remain unpublished. Hidden in a black portfolio book. Even a fragment of a German poem remained hidden: Im Schatten sah ich/Ein Blümchen stehn. . .
 
I stumble through a translation:
 
In shadow I saw
a flower stand. . .
 
Or maybe:
 
In shade I saw
a flower grow. . . 
 
What is that? Goethe? Was I reading Goethe back then?
 
I will not deny the desire that someday I would like these early drawings and writings published. But why? Maybe my desire is misplaced. Maybe these pages should remain in the shadow. In the shade. They are practice pages after all.
 
And then I have discovered something else. I was reading Goethe when I illustrated those pages. A fragment from Goethe’s poem “Gefunden.” Or, in English, “Found.”

Raised cup to invite the moon

 

Bookshelf art – before and after

It was cold. A political rally mangled traffic downtown. Everything seemed off schedule. I missed the street car to the train station by minutes and had to walk. The winter weather depleted the battery of my smartphone. Commuters waited at the Intermodal. The last train of the night was late.

There was a special one-hour podcast on obscure tunes from the Real Book loaded on my smartphone. I wanted to listen to jazz music. But I didn’t want to run out of battery. In case the train was delayed. And I had to call my wife to pick me up.

The previous weekend I checked out a book of poetry from the public library. A collection of poems, translated into English, of Li Po. Before I knew it I had found a friend. The translator made it inviting to enter the world and work of Li Po.

Soon the train arrived and I boarded. Found a seat. Plugged my phone into the outlet. Opened the book and continued reading. The train passed over the river and had nearly cleared the Third Ward when I caught a glimpsed of the moon over Lake Michigan.

“I raise my cup to invite the bright moon, . . .” wrote Li Po.

Maybe that endured me to Li Po. Or at least inspired me to feature an illustration of Li Po on a bookshelf I built this summer.

There are a couple Li Po illustrations I made during the last year or so. But the one for the new bookshelf is the most ambitious and detailed. Maybe I will share some posts about the bookshelf project with you later. I had considered writing a series of short posts about how it all came together. Sort of a how-to, or how it was done, type of posts. But the story about why I chose to decorate the sides of the bookshelf seems to interest people more than how I built it.

As the nights grow longer and colder, the illustrated bookshelf is now installed in the living room.

Serious things

“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.

Try again another night

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.

Art making in quarantine

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.

Inktober — Day 23 #inktober #inktober2019

Tried to accomplish four Inktober prompts in this illustration — days 20 through 23. Inspiration for the piece comes from reading the poetry of Li Po.

Enjoy — and keep inking!

Inktober — Day 15 #inktober #inktober2019

Inktober’s rules are simple: draw something in ink each day for the month of October, post it online, hashtag it, and repeat. So, if I draw three panels in a single day, does that make up for two missed days?

Ever watch those drawing challenges? Do a drawing or illustration in 10 minute, 1 minute, and 10 seconds. My self-imposed challenge for day 15 was two hours.

The prompt that day was “legend.” The inspiration: two-fold. One, I revived a cartoon character I created long, long ago. Two, an homage to Starchild, created by James A. Owen.

The big challenge for me is that a two-hour block of time is a lavish luxury for me. It means I can not begin until the work day is done, household chores completed, and kidlingers in bed. Mostly.

Before I finished the inking process, one of the kidlingers reminded me that within the two-hour window I stopped twice. Once to spend 15 minutes brewing a pot of tea for the night owls of the household. And once to re-tuck a younger kidlinger into bed.

Hope you enjoy the results of day 15 of Inktober.