Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Birds, Leisurely and Not

11/25/20 flicker on our feeder

Our feeders have been getting a lot of action the past month or so as it’s gotten colder. Mobs of bushtits and finches arrive on their respective tour buses, unload for a quick lunch, then disappear just as quickly. Flickers, on the other hand, arrive solo or in pairs (a couple have a nest nearby), and sometimes they even watch out for each other: One dines while the other stands guard on a fence. For this sketch, I started in the morning with the female of the pair to get the basic gesture until she flew off. Then in the afternoon of the same day, her colorful mate showed up, so I filled in the details. Digging for goodies from the suet block, they both took their leisurely time fattening up, enabling me to get this much of a sketch.

A couple days later on my neighborhood walk, I spotted a hummer perched on the very end of a slender branch. I wouldn’t have noticed it except I heard its buzzy sound overhead. Unlike the leisurely flickers, the hummer took off about 15 seconds later, but it was enough to capture this much.

11/27/20 hummingbird

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Anything Under the Sun


“Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision – it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so. The world is waiting for people with vision – it is not interested in mere pictures . . . . We must teach ourselves to see the beauty of the ugly, to see the beauty of the commonplace. It is so much greater to make much out of little than to make little out of much.”

   - Charles Webster Hawthorne, American painter (1872 – 1930)




Monday, November 30, 2020

Night Sketching Sketch Kit

11/26/20 across the street, Maple Leaf neighborhood

If you’ve ever painted your house, either interior or exterior, you know that there’s no such thing as “white” – only hundreds of tints that are very close to white. My (admittedly large) stash of Prismacolors includes a staggering number of near-white hues that could rival any paint chip book. Until I started using sketchbooks with black and brightly colored pages (mainly for my pandemic hand series), I didn’t have much use for all those near-white pencils. Now I have a new use: night sketching.

Actually, I’m a morning person, so I prefer pre-dawn sketching, which is when I did the one above, again through our livingroom window. At first all I could see were the porchlight and the silhouette of rooftops against the sky’s warm light – warmer near the horizon than above. Then our neighbors turned on some interior lights, which were also warm compared to the porchlight. The distinctions are subtle, but it was fun looking through my range of near-whites to find the ones I wanted. I also used black to draw the wires and windows over the whites.

Here’s the whole kit: a pile of near-white Prismacolors, one black Prismacolor, one full-white Derwent Drawing Pencil (the most opaque white I’ve used) and my clip-on Mighty Bright XtraFlex2 book light. I use the small flashlight to illuminate the pile of pencils. (The three pencils on top were the ones used in this sketch.) The sketchbook is a Stillman & Birn Nova Trio in the 7 ½-by-7 ½-inch softcover format.

Night sketching kit

So far, I’ve been using a simple zipped canvas pencil bag (a freebie from a merchant) since I’m only hauling the kit from room to room. But who knows – maybe I’ll be inspired to do some nighttime car sketching when the holiday lights are in full swing. If so, I’ll toss in a few Posca paint markers for color.

Sunday, November 29, 2020



After she had been on a ventilator for nearly two weeks and was stable for a few days, Toni’s family thought she had turned a corner toward recovery. But COVID-19 is a cruel, unpredictable illness; I’ve heard many stories about the various paths it can take to ravage the body. Just as her family was starting to be relieved, she took a turn for the worse, and now her doctors have suggested that she be taken off life support tomorrow.

Here is how her sister Fran describes what Toni is going through right now:

Today Toni is struggling more than ever. She is in a lot of pain as she is being weaned off the sedatives. In addition to her ventilator tube and feeding tube, Toni has a chest tube inserted into her side ribs and lung and feels pain every time she takes a breath (sometimes she breathes over the intubation). She is growing weaker and has air pockets under her skin from the lung collapse, which also causes great pain. The air pockets won’t go away until she is off the ventilator …and in order to get off the ventilator, she has to come off the sedation because under sedation, she can’t breathe on her own. But when she starts coming off sedation, the pain is great. Her lungs are inflamed with COVID-19 pneumonia. When the doctors lower the sedation, she struggles with her breath. It becomes rapid breathing and she goes into respiratory distress. It’s a series of Catch-22s. Her COVID-19 pneumonia is severe. According to Toni’s lung specialist, for two weeks there has been no improvement from the point of view of pneumonia.

Not many people would knowingly and deliberately inflict this kind of suffering on others. Imagine, though, inflicting this kind of suffering on others unknowingly.

It is happening every day.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Drawing Classical Couples


11/24/20 Rebecca and Aleks, 15-min. pose (I forgot to snap the image of the work that this pose emulates)

One of the outcomes of the pandemic is that opportunities for life drawing abound. Of course, they are all on Zoom, which isn’t necessarily a benefit, but in a desperate pinch for something to sketch, it’s possible to find a life drawing opportunity almost every day of the week. I had been receiving regular notifications through MeetUp from Life Drawing Plus, and last Tuesday’s theme sounded especially intriguing: Drawing Classical Couples. I decided to give it a try.

The model couple, Rebecca and Aleks, were based in Barcelona, while the co-hosts and organizers were in Manchester, UK. Nearly 70 participants logged on from all over Europe and North America – now that’s something that could never occur in an actual life drawing studio! (It was fun to look around the “room” and spot a few European sketchers I know.)

Before each pose, the hosts showed an image of a classical sculpture or painting and gave a brief description of the artist or art history period. For two- to 20-minute durations, Rebecca and Aleks emulated the works with their impressive (and likely difficult to hold) interpretations. It was one of the most fascinating life drawing sessions I’ve participated in! Below, I show the image (please excuse the poor quality; my laptop’s screenshot function sometimes doesn’t want to work, so I snapped these with my phone) with each sketch of the corresponding pose.

5-min. pose (I wish this had been a longer pose;
I would have enjoyed the double portrait.)
"The Kiss" - Auguste Rodin, 1889

15-min. pose

Renaissance era fountain depicting Greek mythology

20-min. pose
Renaissance era fountain, Vienna

15-min. pose (Imagine holding this pose for 15 minutes!)

The Fisherman engulfed by a Siren - Knut Ekwall 1843-1912

Friday, November 27, 2020

Vintage Colored Pencils: Canada- and USA-made Prismacolors

Canada-made Prismacolors

(Warning: Extreme colored pencil geekiness ahead!)

During my casual browsing of eBay listings for vintage Prismacolors, I occasionally see Eagle- and Berol-branded sets that were made in Canada. I was curious whether Canada-made Prismacolors were different in any way from Eagles and Berols made in the US during the same era.

According to Erick Lee, whose blog, Pencils, Eh, is a wealth of information about vintage Canadian pencils, Prismacolors were produced in Canada until mid-1992. In response to an inquiry, Erick kindly translated part of a La Tribune (Sherbrooke, Quebec) newspaper article from July 28, 1992: “While manufacturing production at the BĂ©rol factory in Drummondville was to cease no later than June 1992, it was extended until mid-August, production director Yvon Fournier said yesterday. The company announced, on October 2, 1991, the end of its production at its factory on Janelle Street, leaving only the storage and packaging of the company’s products, made in the United States, which reduced its staff from 88 to 30, meaning 58 direct job losses.”

That was a sad day for Canadian Prismacolor users, I’m sure (not to mention the factory workers).

The reason for my inquiry was that I had snapped up a mint-condition set of Berol Prismacolors on eBay one day. The box was clearly labeled made in Canada. When I opened the sealed box, however, I was disappointed to find that all but one pencil were made in the USA. Erick surmised, “I'm guessing the pencils are from mid-1992. That is when Berol ceased production but they kept packaging American pencils. Canadian packaging has to be bilingual so they just trucked in the pencils from the US and put them in Canadian packages to sell in Canada. They must have had leftover packages that said made in Canada during the transition.”

I couldn’t blame the seller since the box had been sealed, but I realized that if I wanted to try some Canada-made Prismacolors, I would have to look for open lots showing images of pencils stamped “made in Canada.”

Over time, I did acquire exactly that – small lots of random, used Prismacolors that I purchased, and others were given to me by a friend. One recent rainy day, I pulled out a selection of colors among my Canadian Eagles and Berols and tried to match as many as I could to specimens from the same era in my USA-made Prismacolor stash. I didn’t have Eagles and Berols for all the colors I chose, so I filled in with vintage Sanfords in some cases.

Comparison swatches and a few notes are shown below (swatches made in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook). For the most part, I detected little difference between Canada- and USA-made pencils from corresponding eras. A few notable exceptions were Canadian Eagle-branded 912, 910 and 932 (two greens and a violet) that seemed a bit gritty rather than the expected smooth and creamy of their US-made counterparts. The Canadian Dark Green 908, both Eagle and Berol, felt slightly dry. Insignificant differences overall, I’d say.

A more surprising (and potentially alarming) shift was in some hues – mostly among the US-made colors I compared. The most significant was Apple Green 912: the US-made Eagle and Sanford look like two different colors to me. Dark Green 908 showed a smaller shift from Berol to Sanford on the US side, and a similar shift from Eagle to Berol on the Canadian side. Both 908s on the US side look different from the 908s on the Canadian side. There’s a similar difference between the Canadian and US Yellow Orange 917. These shifts are not a huge deal – unless you happen to be working on a piece with large areas of one color and were trying to seamlessly blend different pencils of supposedly the same hue. (Thankfully, that’s not me and is unlikely to ever be, but I’m certainly sympathetic to any artist in this situation.)

I noticed another interesting difference among the Canadian pencils: While all the Canadian and US Eagle specimens I have are labeled with color names in English only, the Canadian Berols have no color names. Since bilingual French and English labeling was mandated in 1969, perhaps Berol decided it was easier to leave the colors unnamed during the transition. (All pencils include Prismacolors’ universal color numbers, of course.) Every USA-made Prismacolor I’ve ever seen, vintage or otherwise, has been consistently labeled with both color number and name. USA-made Prismacolors from Berol through contemporary include color names in both English and French, so obviously the same pencils could be sold in both the US and Canada.

Canada-made Berol: no color names

US-made Berol: bilingual color names

The Eagle era, both in Canada and the US, included color names in English only.

The image shown below is strictly eye candy (or maybe eye chewing gum, depending on your point of view). I know that most collectors want their specimens to be as clean and pristine as possible, but I adore evidence of previous owners (well, except maybe bite marks). Alex and Sylvie have made their ownership known. I feel a small kinship with these Canadians, and I’m delighted to be using their pencils after all these years.

Alex and Sylvie: Previous owners.

11/21/20 vintage Canada-made Prismacolors in My Colors notebook

Could there possibly be a better way to spend a rainy afternoon?

Thursday, November 26, 2020


11/22/20 Toni (from photo)

 Last Friday, I participated in a healing circle for Toni, who is struggling mightily against COVID-19. A cancer survivor years ago, Toni is a fighter, but her foe is formidable. Fran, my long-time yoga instructor and Toni’s sister, asked her students to join family and friends in the circle to send healing energy to Toni.

The circle leader had encouraged us to participate with prayer, meditation or “whatever was our personal tradition.” I had never been to a healing circle before, let alone on Zoom (what a bizarre platform for making a spiritual connection! Zoom feels about as spiritual as the TV remote or an air conditioning unit!). The leader had put on some music that I thought was weird (but maybe that music is important to Toni? I guess I should listen). It lasted 20 minutes, and although I tried hard, I felt uncomfortable and distracted the whole time.

Prayer? Meditation? What is my “tradition”? I don’t have one. Of course, I meditate during yoga, but that’s because Fran leads it! That’s why I take classes! I don’t know how to meditate on my own. The participants that I could see all had their eyes closed, deep in prayer or thought, but I didn’t even have the courage to turn on my video because I didn’t want them to see how distracted I was.

At the end when we were invited to share comments, I couldn’t turn on my audio. I didn’t have anything I could say. Although Fran has told many stories about Toni so I have a general sense of her as a person, I have never met her, so I didn’t even have an anecdote about her to share. Although I was hoping Toni would receive the healing energy that I was trying to send, I felt I had failed her and her family. I didn’t know how to make a spiritual connection with someone I hadn’t met, and I spent the whole time thinking about how wrong I was doing it.

I thought about Toni the rest of the day. I finally realized that whenever I draw something, I make a connection with it – even if it’s a trash can, a head of garlic, or a stranger on the bus. I realized then that I needed to draw Toni to connect with her.

In her blog posts and email updates about Toni’s health, Fran has included many photos of Toni at various ages. I don’t like to draw from photos, especially of people, and certainly people I don’t know. It feels like an academic exercise to copy the paintings of masters or simply duplicate an image. But it was all I had.

Studying Toni’s face, I tried to channel Gary Faigin and the portrait workshop I took from him last year. Faigin says that capturing a likeness is not about getting every eyelash and other facial details exactly right. It’s far more important to accurately gauge proportions and describe the planes of the face with shadow and light. I tried my best to do that, but I also knew it was important to capture her “essence.” It’s not enough to describe the shape of her radiant smile – her essence is in the light behind the smile (Fran says Toni always lights up the room with her presence).

In the reference photo, she is wearing a pendant, barely visible, on a gold chain. It’s the kind of detail that I might omit in a sketch. I noticed, though, that she is wearing the same pendant in every adult photo I saw, whether she was dressed up for a special occasion or in a tank top. In one photo, I could see that the pendant holds someone’s portrait. If Toni always wears it – a face close to her heart – it’s obviously special to her. It belonged in the drawing.

I had to stop many times as I drew because I could not see through my tears. I don’t know if I captured either likeness or essence, but I do know that I made the connection I needed. All my healing energy went to Toni as I drew.

Most would say that the act of drawing is neither prayer nor meditation, but it is obviously my personal tradition. Today I am thankful to Toni for teaching me this.

Updated 11/28/20: Toni is not doing well. Here is her sister Fran's update.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...