Tuesday, February 24, 2009


To frame something
to give it a skeleton,
a chassis,
a form,
a border,
a construct,
a way to hold together disparate pieces

Newspaper piece:
A local woman recently published her first book and she’s hit it rich—a first run of 100,000 copies. She says that everything just worked out—her agent, the topic, the present climate. May I add the phases of the moon, astrology, and the reading of tea leaves?

Speaking of leaves. A few still hang tenaciously to the oak tree outside my window. Why do they ignore the inevitable and hold on by their fingertips?

My fingertips turned the color of the blue-black ink in my antique fountain pen when the soft-rubber sac sprung a leak.

“… in 1945 … a crowd of over 5,000 people jammed the entrance of New York’s Gimbels Department Store. The day before, Gimbels had taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times promoting the first sale of ballpoints in the United States.”

I owned many leaky ballpoints. My sixth grade teacher accused me of cheating. The evidence—fingers and palm covered with blue ink from my Bic ballpoint. She recanted after examining my leaking pen, but not before I learned something about the tenuous state of being innocent.

When I tire of ponderous literary tomes I read mysteries and attempt to discern between the innocent and the guilty. The clues, too often known only to the writer and her self-appointed detective, elude me as I read. I wait for an epiphany. Often detectives lack skills honed in a precinct or at a police academy. The sleuth may be a bookseller residing in a small community, or a botanist or a quilter or a medieval maiden wandering across the country.

I grew up in the Bronx and loved going to the country. That’s what we called anyplace with a green area larger than a city park. I returned from a trip to the country where sitting on a patch of grass, walking barefoot, rolling down a hill, and finding treasures in the woods initiated me into a magic kingdom.

I tried to find their equivalents in the city. Sitting on the stoop of my friend Miriam’s house, tiptoeing past the pigeon coop on top of the Lewis Morris building, eluding tags by running down the alley way when playing ringolevio, finding pennies in the street—all corresponding city delights.

To frame something—
To give it a setting, a casement, a stage—

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On the Derivation of a Word
or Why I Can’t Travel So Far
or A Place Midway Between Here and There

or How Does Halfway Sound ?

Why I Can't Travel So Far

The word frightened misses the mark. Scared reminds me of the time I heard creaks in the basement while reading a horror story. How did the doppelganger get into my house?

Petrified, disquieted, unnerved, perhaps cowed.


Try another list of synonyms. Start with a different word.


Hesitant. Reluctant. These words inch closer to my reality. Some people love taking risks--athletic risks, intellectual risks, monetary risks. I did roller skate down an alley way and come to a rapid stop before hitting a brick wall. In North Carolina I used a towel to slide down a slick rock fed by a small waterfall. After landing in a deep-water filled depression, I imagined myself plunging down Niagara Falls in a barrel. When hiking I love edges and don't hug canyon walls. But I'm not strapping on crampons and scaling rocks.

I do the daily puzzle and the puzzle on airplanes in ink. Is that arrogance or toying with risk?

I'm reluctant to travel to places where I can't pronounce the disease listed as endemic to the region. I don't want to take pills to protect me from malaria. I'm hesitant about going someplace where the water is suspect.

I'm hesitant about heading off into places that require me to travel for hours on end. Give me the Southwest and canyon country. Let me breath the orange, red, pink, and yellow landscape.

I'm good for six or seven hour plane trips.


You know all those travel books written by intrepid adventurers. I devour them. I am the penultimate traveler--on paper. I've encountered devastating heat crossing the Gobi Desert, numbing cold in Antarctica, quicksand lapping at my heels, and a mamba snake, head held high, racing across level ground.


Thanks for the invitation— but— I can't make it halfway around the world this spring.


Do you like Utah's canyon country? Fairyland Trail at Bryce?

The land beyond the 100th meridian? “A sign across U.S. Highway 30 in Cozad, Nebraska marks the place where the meridian intersects the routes of the Oregon Trail, Pony Express, transcontinental railroad…”

The Appalachian Trail when it climbs up Mt Katahdan? Walking the Knife's Edge? A jagged arête.

The Great Beach at Pt. Reyes? Searching for polished rocks, watching out for sneaker waves.

Do you enjoy swimming in the icy water off Maine's coast?

Hiking at Capitol Reef "with its twisting canyons, massive domes, monoliths and spires of sandstone"?

Walking through the wildflowers of Mt Rainier? Shooting Star, Alpine Paintbrush, Red Heather, Beargrass…


Let’s find a place midway between there and here.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Thirteen Ways to Find Your Way With Pencils

After reading Wallace Stevens


Sign up for a drawing course and dive headfirst into a collection of the necessary materials. Graphite pencils, charcoal pencils and lead pencils, pieces of a torn tee shirt, kneaded eraser, pearl eraser, long metal ruler, 18"x24" newsprint pad, small pad for notes, box cutter, scissors, masking tape and a box to store, sort, and find the materials.


Check out books from the library on light and shadow, values, dark and light, 100 Ideas for Drawing, Betty Edward's books. Take notes about seeing —really seeing edges, negative space, lights and darks, shapes, and details.


Remove the negative from a Kodachrome slide and use the opening to compose scenes. Walk around framing everything you see. Omit everything that doesn't appear within your rectangle. Hone in like a homing bird on the essentials.


I am looking at a salt and peppershaker in a silver toned holder. The pepper leans into the salt. They touch cap to cap. I note the shadows. So like people. One is stalwart and erect. The other needs support. The salt is homogeneous. The pepper is light and dark, each grain distinct. If I have to reside somewhere I'll stay with the pepper.


Go to art class and draw a still life. Look for those shadows; watch the tones, the values, and the shades of gray. Keep everything in proportion. How did that cylinder manage to be so large that it diminished the size of everything else? It isn't that large on the set-up.


Set-up the pad in your basement or on the kitchen table and draw. It's inadequate. Purchase a slanted table. No, not a table. A white board with angled legs. That works, but the pad slips off the board. Tear out a sheet and attach it with the clips. Now it's time to draw something. Select the small bamboo plant. Lucky Bamboo. Don't forget the shades of gray


Notice how much easier it is in class. The still life’s proportions become distorted on the board. Perhaps it's me. Think about a cheap easel. Search the Internet. Do you want to get one that's easy to take apart and light enough to bring outside for painting? I don’t want to drag a lot with me. Scratch outdoor painting. Get one that is sturdy and not expensive.


Travel down to Cambridge to see easels. Found one that seems perfect even though the edges are a bit rough. The edges can be sandpapered down or they can be covered with tape. It doesn't need to look attractive. People aren't perfect and it takes more than tape to smooth down rough edges. This is an easel ready for serious practice. Set it up and find a place in the basement to store the easel.


Take the brown water resistant carrying envelope that stores the 18"x 24" newsprint pad, long ruler, and 19" x 25" foam board to the basement. The foam board is used to tape up individual sheet of paper. The foam board is then placed on the easel. "It's harder surface," says the instructor, "and you can get a better range of shades of gray."


Classical music accompanies the drawing when in class. Go upstairs and get the small radio. Try and find a station without too many commercials, interruptions, and music you like. Go upstairs two flights and get the IPod and connecting cable. Connect it to the radio and play your own classical selection. You'll need more music. Try chants. Too slow. It puts you beyond a meditative state. You ponder the state of economics and start adding up what you have spent.


Get down to work. Set up an arrangement. Look through the viewfinder. Open the shades. Move the table to get good shadows. Set up the easel, tape your paper to the foam board, take out the viewfinder, find the appropriate composition and make that first mark. Ignore the phone.


Wonder why you selected that particular music? Darken that area. Contemplate color and reject it for now. Think about taking some photos and working from photos. Wonder about the quality of air in the basement. Wonder about the dripping you hear. Go to the window and look up. Do you see icicles, an ice dam? Procrastination. The sphere lacks form. You found out the difference between shape and form. Look at the negative shape. The word negative is redeemed. I like the concept of redeeming words. Dyke used to be a negative word until redemption.


Buy another flat metal pencil case to store charcoal pencils. The graphite pencils are in the first pencil case.

Practice. Practice. Practice before moving on to another medium.