Just a few of the over 200 journals I have filled in the last 30+ years.
Just a few of the over 200 journals I have filled in the last 30+ years.
We are traveling in Peru. Machu Picchu was our main destination and now we are in Cusco. Today we toured the San Pedro Market. We were told that some of the more traditional women did not like to be photographed so I started to sketch in my journal. But the woman I was sketching hissed at me and threatened to throw some herbs at me. I was surprised. I had thought drawing might be okay. Apparently not. And that has me thinking about the power in a likeness.
We talk about “capturing” a picture, a scene, a portrait. I draw to document my experience of a place. I have stronger memories through drawing than I do through my much more casual snapshots. So maybe she was right that my drawing might “capture” something. Although I don’t think that my drawing diminishes what I draw.
I’ve got a great computer guru who keeps me up and running. I don’t fall for that scam coming over the phone where they offer to fix the problem with my computer. Learning to use my technology is challenging for me. I much prefer real paper, my Pelican fountain pen and a bottle of India ink.
Last night was the opening of my show of watercolors and mixed media at the Patricia Ladd Carega Gallery. The weather was soggy, and luckily the brunt of the rain had passed and the threatened hail and high winds did not materialize. I spoke for a few minutes about the different challenges of sketching on the go versus painting “Big Brush Watercolors” in my studio from my sketches.
This show is a combination of my small travel sketches, done on sight, from observations, often in my journals, where they’ll remain, and what I call Big Brush Watercolors, based on my sketches (not photographs) and worked over time, building up layers and layers of paint, sometimes with a charcoal underdrawing.
One of my challenges is scale–in the sketches I use relatively large brushes (my favorite is a 1″ flat brush), and I can drop in a lot of paint in one stroke. The white spaces are left intuitively. I’ve been sketching like this for years and years, learning as I go.
When I go large, in the Big Brush Watercolors, it’s hard to keep the spontaneity. I use quite large brushes, but can’t get the depth of color I want in one stroke. The green in my travel box that looks great in a small sketch looks really dead and flat in a large shape. So I have to mix more, layer ore, work it more. I come back over and over, layering color until the brush strokes start to show up inadvertently. Then it’s a matter of figuring out when to stop, before the transparency is lost. Or of lifting paint with water to get back to more transparency, letting it dry, and then layering again.
Another challenge I’m taking on is working from travel sketches, not from the New Hampshire scenes I love so well and know so well.
I love to sketch when I travel. I very rarely get to stay in one spot for long; usually we are on a tour or a ship, so I can only absorb the scene for a few minutes. I do take photos, but I prefer my sketches overall. So I’m learning to work from sketches of places I don’t really know–very different from working from New Hampshire scenes I’ve studied and contemplated and drawn for almost 60 years.
Here is a photograph and a sketch of the same scene. One reason I don’t paint from photographs is they actually distort the perspective. The mountains drop into the background and practically disappear. The foreground gets enlarged and emphasized and dominates the scene. Everything in the camera’s lens in forced into one-point perspective. When i sketch, my eye shifts its focus from one place to another. I ignore the rules of perspective. I control the emphasis, the focal point, and I edit out unnecessary detail.
I think charcoal may be a good way to work into the travel sketches. When I draw in charcoal I feel as if I can sculpt the shapes, the volume of things. I can wipe out and redraw. I can create detail in some areas and not in others. And I like the way it mutes the watercolor when I come in with paint. Charcoal gives me both value and line, reminiscent of my fountain pen that I use for sketching. It builds up a stronger surface than straight watercolor and is more forgiving in terms of correction. So that is what I am looking to explore now.
This is an excerpt from one of my journals:
Thinking about the Moon Project, my watchful eye, my travels. Covering things up. Layers of the onion.
I was thinking about a lot of different ideas and bringing them together:
And all these ideas–commitment, abstraction, esp. based on information, and observing and recording in a non-literate way–plus a feeling that I wanted, I needed, something that would make me go outside–all these factors and more were buried in my head the morning that I spied a crescent moon rising in the East.
I thought it was beautiful, caught in the tree branches. There was a star–probably the planet Venus–close by. It was about 6:30 am and I wondered what the moon was doing, rising at the same time I was. I made an intention to mark it in my journals and to see what I could teach myself, just by looking.
That is how the Moon Project began. November 30, 1994.
I have a collection of poems I really like by other writers. While I was pulling some of them together I noticed a funny coincidence, that I am not sure really is a coincidence. As someone who watches the moon, charts the moon in my journals, and has a major art installation titled The Moon Project, I am naturally drawn to the many haiku written about the moon:
Listening to the moon
gazing at the croaking of frogs
in a field of ripe rice.
Calligraphy of geese
against the sky—
the moon seals it.
The moon tonight—
I even miss
Moon, plum blossoms,
and the day goes.
This haiku has a different subject:
When the winter chrysanthemums go,
there’s nothing to write about
And here’s a poem that makes me both laugh and cry. Do you think Karla Kuskin had read some of these haiku before she wrote this?
Write About a Radish. . .
by Karla Kuskin
Write about a radish
Too many people write about the moon.
The night is black
The stars are small and high
The clock unwinds its ever-ticking tune
Hills gleam dimly
Distant nighthawks cry.
A radish rises in the waiting sky.
PS–I am frustrated with the auto-formatting that I am unable to overcome. When I learn more about how to format these posts, I’ll clean them up to make it easier to read the poetry. And if anyone has suggestions about how to do it, I am all ears. Thanks!
PPS-Thanks to my nephew Jake Lloyd I have been able to format this post in a more sensible way. Still need to learn more about how to control the spacing.
Or what makes a thought a poem?
I’ve begun writing near daily haiku which I think of as “Weather Report.” When I begin my journal entry each day I always make a note about the weather. (Thomas Jefferson did this and I’m basing my practice on his.) Often the words I use to describe the weather strike me as having a poetic quality, and often they have a syllable pattern that fits haiku. Here’s a recent example:
Red House, wrapped in cloud
We are waking in a fog,
Waiting for coffee.
June 30, 2017
Almost a rainbow
Around a not quite full moon–
Rain in the forecast.
July 6, 2017
These haiku adhere to the format of three lines divided into a syllable pattern of 5-7-5. If I did not stick to this pattern, could any short thought be a haiku? What separates poetry from prose?