Frustration, Inspiration and Friends (bW)

So,
Back to the Derrybawn Project.

I was convinced to spend Tuesdays down in DC a few weeks back. I needed to get out of the house, I was frustrated in the lack of progress on a number of projects, and my house is a depressing wreck as my roommates and I struggle with home renovations.

One day a week, finding new coffee shops, wandering through museums and walking through new neighborhoods, is a good thing.

I start my Tuesdays early, heading out with my roommate when she leaves at 5 in the morning. I found a new coffee place to sit and sketch recently, near the DC Metro stop at Eastern Market. A waiter named Josh has the whole thing down perfectly. Check to see if my coffee (or tea) is low, and otherwise let me sit in the early morning sun and watch the world go by. I think he sneaks looks at my sketches when I’m not paying attention.

Then I pick a museum. Recently it has been the Sackler Gallery, near the Smithsonian. A display on early Chinese bronzes and jade has finally sparked a bit of inspiration in my quest to finish my work on Bloddeuwedd.

For those not familiar with the early Shang Dynasty in China, it is the first dynasty to be documented archaeologically in Chinese history. An earlier dynasty, the Xia, is not documented through archaeological finds, and is often considered a mythical construct. The chronology of these dynasties is provided in the writings of Xiu Lin, and in the Bamboo Annals. The Shang Dynasty is believed to have lasted from about 1600BC to about 1046BC, and was followed by the Zhou Dynasty.

The display of Shang artwork is really amazing. Early bronze vessels and jade pieces are wonderfully complex and dramatic. Animal forms are stylized and shaped in elegant curves. One of the primary motifs in decorating ritual vessels is the Taotie mask. You can search for information on this in Wikipedia. It is a style of mask-like face, created in bold relief, of stylized pieces which are filled in with fine, decorative line designs. Eyes, nose, mouth, wings and claws, all are reduced to bold shapes and contained in clearly defined spaces. The parallels to Northwest Coast Native American art were inescapable.

The Shang masks were primarily of unknown creatures, perhaps demons or spirits. But a few were definitely meant to be natural animals. My favorite is a pear-shaped ritual wine vessel, with a mask of an owl on it.

One of the other things I really find fascinating about the Shang artistic style is the line filler between elements of the Taotie masks, which are tiny spirals. It is extremely difficult to get detailed pictures of the fine designs, due to the emphasis of photos on the larger mask motifs. But I am hooked on the idea of the owl mask and spirals for my Bloddeuwedd piece.

I’m definitely working it out.

It is a good thing someone was kind enough to push me to leave my cave and limp down to DC for the day, forced to walk through museums until weary and worn…

Friends make it all worthwhile.

 


Sketching in Kalamazoo

Yup, my parents live in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I used to, but I have been living in Maryland for quite a while.

This is a sketch from the Barnes and Noble Bookstore on Westnedge. I suppose it can’t really count as another sampling of my mocha, as it is still a Starbuck’s and tastes the same, even though I’m in Michigan.

wifi but no coffee

wifi but no coffee

Broke my sketch pen while sketching at a church picnic, so this one is in pencil. It is one of the four cats who live with my parents. This is Avery, a Maine Coon cat, showing you his ‘happy cat’ face.

Avery showing the 'happy cat' face

Avery showing the 'happy cat' face

This is a quick value study of early morning sunlight on the small cemetery across from the church where my father is a deacon. I should note that three people who saw the sketch were quick to point out that I had not included the dead deer under the tree in the foreground. I replied that I had not seen it. They stated that it had been there quite a while and was probably hard to see from where I was sitting when I sketched.

cemetery across from the church

cemetery across from the church

Back on the train to DC, this is an early morning sketch in the observation car, where one man enjoys his tunes.

early morning on the train

early morning on the train

And here is a man searching diligently for a signal on his blackberry while we travel through the mountains. He had the patience of a saint as he searched. And searched.

hunting for a blackberry signal

hunting for a blackberry signal

kjn

 


Mackinac sketching

I’ve had a few people mention they’ve been enjoying the sketches, so I’ll put a few more in. Maybe I’ll eventually catch up with myself.

My trip to Mackinaw City for the Labor Day Walk across the Mackinac Bridge has reached the day before Labor Day, and we were enjoying ourselves at the touristy shops. This group of pictures is from the crowds at the shops, especially near the food court at the Mackinaw Crossings, and from Mackinac Island.

Note: Mackinac Island, Mackinac Bridge, but Mackinaw City and Mackinaw Crossings. All pronounced the same way.

This sketch shows a smoothie maker waiting for a judgment on his skills from a small smoothie drinker.

smoothie maker and critic

smoothie maker and critic

This picture is mom, chillin’ at the rocky beach at the hotel in Mackinaw City. Note the cranky seagull who swooped in behind her from the hotel roof. Mom did not see the seagull until she saw the sketch.

mom and the cranky seagull

mom and the cranky seagull

We went to Mackinac Island on the ferry. Note that there are no personal cars allowed on Mackinac Island, only police, construction and emergency vehicles. All other transportation involves walking, biking or hiring horses.

After Labor Day, Mackinac Island begins to wind down, and many of the horses are sent back across to the mainland to spend the winter at a farm. Here you see a quick sketch of one man taking four horses down to the ferry.

taking horses down to the ferry

taking horses down to the ferry

An example of the taxi service on Mackinac, though I didn’t leave myself room for the second horse.

Mackinac Island Taxi service

Mackinac Island Taxi service

This gentleman is hosing down the sidewalk, as one would expect, considering the large quantity of poo deposited there every day. You may have seen the ‘Dirty Jobs’ episode when Mike Roe did this job.

road cleaner

road cleaner

kjn

 


Labor Day trip and sketching

I started out on my trip from Maryland to Michigan by accompanying my roommate to DC as she went to work at 6am. My train left at 4pm. I sat at a DC Starbucks on K Street for an hour or so, then wandered a bit.

This man was a professional. Coffee in the right hand, briefcase with two fingers, and working his blackberry with the left hand. Not sure how well he communicated with the blackberry, but probably did well, as he was a professional.

professional

professional

I had a view over a shelf to the station where people added cream and sugar. I faced them as they pondered. A large, black coffee did not make this man happy, and he stood for a while, then moved on without adding anything.

Unhappy

Unhappy

After a good wander, I ended up for lunch at Kelly’s Irish Times, a pub near Union Station, DC. This waiter was quietly waiting for the lunch rush, which came shortly thereafter.

Waiting for the lunch rush

Waiting for the lunch rush

This sign was visible from the window at the front of the Irish Times, where I was enjoying my Bailey’s and coffee. Quite judgmental, I’d say.

Judgmental sign IT

Judgmental sign IT

I travel with my Canon Rebel camera, and I was sorely tempted to drag it out when I saw this man. But he was very nervous, and I figured he would notice the camera, but perhaps not the sketchpad. It was startling to sit down as I waited for my train and see this. A man with a rolling suitcase, and the suitcase sprouting LONG antennae. I looked around, but no one seemed to notice. So I drew him, in case the FBI wanted to know about him later. He had shiny, new headphones, and was listening to something….

Startling man and suitcase

Startling man and suitcase

I sketched as I traveled on the train from Union Station to Elkhart, Indiana. This woman wore a lovely yellow and black caftan, and she was a wonderfully commanding presence with a ringing voice. She used the ringing voice to dispense worldly wisdom to a relative or friend who was making bad life choices. Very bad life choices… I heard alllll about it.

lady in caftan dispenses advice

lady in caftan dispenses advice

My trip to Elkhart was only the first leg of the journey. We left from my parents’ home to drive north to visit family in Ellsworth, MI, and then onward to Mackinaw City. We then boarded a bus on Labor Day to get to the starting point to walk on the Mackinac Bridge. Photographs of all of this will be posted to Webshots soon.

This sketch is one of my mom, who posed for me at a loud, family restaurant called the Dixie Saloon in Mackinaw City, the evening before Labor Day. Lake Michigan Whitefish is one of my addictions and I only get to eat it when I’m in Michigan, so sitting in the Dixie Saloon to get my first plateful was worth the noise.

Mom and ? at the Dixie Saloon

Mom and ? at the Dixie Saloon

kjn

 


Traveling sketches

So, I visited some coffee shops to sip my fave mocha (skim no whip) and test various versions. Oh, and sketch too. Here’s a man waiting at Starbucks for his coffee, and staring at his blackberry. Obviously to avoid having to make eye contact with members of the great unwashed. At Starbucks. I was probably the only one even vaguely unwashed, actually. This particular Starbucks was on the route to DC, so was filled with people ‘in uniform’ on a hot August day. For the men that meant light-colored, button down shirts; khaki pants and brown shoes. And a tie with red in the pattern somewhere. This man had a red striped tie.

Man uses blackberry

Man uses blackberry

This young lady was a dramatic sight amongst the usual career ladies at the early morning Starbucks. Rather than the standard shortish skirt, power blouse with boob tucks and mid-level heels, this young lady was in a purple sundress with a black shrug to protect her from some powerful air conditioning. She was the only person who seemed to notice that I was sketching her.

lady in line

lady in line

So, I’m not much of a dancer these days, and it is very hard to catch dancers in a sketch. The bar wasn’t great. The Guinness ‘machine’ was broken, they didn’t serve cider and charged me crazy amounts for Bailey’s and coffee after giving me a funny look. Definitely not an Irish neighborhood. These people were obviously from a large group of ballroom dancing practitioners sitting around the live band, and they were enjoying ‘Volcano’ by Jimmy Buffet. Obviously better looking than I could manage.

Dancing under electric stars

Dancing under electric stars

Just a lazy, hazy summer apple tree sketch. Wee bit of color from the ink pencils.

apple tree

apple tree

Late night travel on the Green Line in DC, this middle-aged lady with earrings and glasses was comfortably reading a book while leaning on her black bag and letting the world go by. Peace on earth.

lady on the green line

lady on the green line

kjn

 


No, really sketching every day

Seriously, sketching is like working out. Get your hand used to moving a certain way, get your eyes used to analyzing a scene or catching a sleeve crease, and make these things part of your daily life. And now, I walk the walk and talk the talk, showing off my daily sketches in the hopes that you too will work every day on those things which are close to your heart.

A bit of color. I use ‘Ink-tense’ pencils to color my quick sketches. They are Derwent brand pencils with a watercolor-pencil like consistency. But when you add water washes to make them into paint, they actually become permanent, making them less likely to smear or bleed in high humidity in my abused little sketch pads. I sometimes use a brush with an internal compartment for water when I travel, so I don’t have to carry too much. I also freely use water offered to me at restaurants, blotting my little 0 watercolor brush on paper napkins. I don’t use a lot of color as I go, but sometimes I find it helps.

shy holly dragon

shy holly dragon

And a few sketches showing how the sketch-a-day progress is improving my work in Celtic art. The first is a quick layout for a chariot, the second a quick layout for a piece on Bellanos.

two horse chariot

two horse chariot

Bellanos

Bellanos

So, the sketching is definitely paying off, giving me a better feel for putting down ideas in quick formats and keeping them dated and organized. I feel more confident in putting layouts together without as much fussing, and saving the critique for later.

kjn

kjn

 


Sketching every day

It has always been a point of mine to encourage others to practice. Practice art, practice music, practice writing, practice dance, anything that expresses your creativity and makes you feel in tune with yourself.

So, given an challenge to put my own suggestions to the test, I started a sketch-a-day program for 2009. On January 2, I started out. It wasn’t easy. New ideas, new sketches, what constitutes a sketch for the program?

In June, I attended a family event and my aunt from Britain, who is also an artist, looked at my sketches. There was a style of sketch she liked, rough and quick, that I used to block out ideas that would later transform into more finished pieces. She encouraged me to do more like that. Quick and light.

So starting in June, on my trip from Michigan back to DC, I pulled out a little ringbound sketch pad and began drawing other people at Union Station in DC. In the spirit of sharing and encouragement, I offer these new sketches for review. First, because it is hardly fair for me to encourage others in new pursuits without sharing my own rocky start on this type of thing, and second to let you know I am still working even though the Derrybawn project is a bit slow at this point.

The first pictures are from that initial trip from Michigan to DC in June, 2009. Before I started drawing my fellow travelers, I drew dragon squiggle doodles, leftover from my fantasy art days. I would draw a doodle of swoops and swirls and then create a dragon.

Squiggle dragon

Squiggle dragon

Some are better than others. Be kind to a fledgling sketcher.

And another squiggle dragon

And another squiggle dragon

I drew some odds and ends of illustrations for some of my sister’s writing and poetry as well.

poetry illustration

poetry illustration

And a quick sketch of Union Station, Washington DC

DC Union Station

DC Union Station

one of my fellow travelers.

Lady with suitcase and hat

Lady with suitcase and hat

And the last for this post, the view from my favorite seat at Fado, one of my sketching outposts where the drinks are great and the staff is amused by my sketching.

view from my chair, Fado, DC

view from my chair, Fado, DC

 


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