The junction of urbanization…and not.

17 April, 2019. This is the edge of town, the place where “rural” begins and the city ends. Beyond this point are farms and two lane blacktop roads, cows, corn, lakes and ponds, rolling hills of trees, and lots and lots of gravel lanes. But here, this is where they meet fast food and gas stations, shopping carts and car washes. Here is where there was a field not long ago, unbulldozed. There was a hill, in fact. And there was not an intersection, so complex and so filled with traffic signals that an instruction manual wouldn’t be out of line. This tree is the only reminder – and a faint one at that! – of what once was. It’s gnarly, and not especially beautiful – even had it a full coat of leaves – and one is left to ponder why, even, did those bulldozers leave this forlorn remnant alone?

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Pencil and watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.

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Even Creepier.

16 April, 2019. I shared the black, gray, and white version of this a couple of days ago. That iteration had a distinctly “comic book” sort of vibe to it, but I missed the vintage colors and beat up paint… those were part of what drew me in to this object in the first place. And to be honest, I’d planned to add spots of color all along. The highlights where what interested me most of all, and that’s where I’d left the drawing originally. However, now that the color has been incorporated it all feels much more complete.

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Fude tip fountain pen, Uni-Ball Signo white gel pen, and gouache in Stillman and Birn gray sketchbook.

So impatient.

4 April, 2019. Everyone was impatient and wanted to eat the stuff. I understood: I hadn’t made it to be the subject of a sketch. Nevertheless, the fresh colors of green and salmon and rose and violet were captivating, and as always, I had a pen and sketchbook close at hand.

Yet still, everyone was impatient to eat. And thus, I only had a very limited time to sketch. I suppose enough extra should be prepared and then set aside to allow for both nibbling and sketching…

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Uni-Ball Vision pen and splashes of watercolor in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Just killing time before a meeting.

31 March, 2019. I was at the state capital for a couple of days earlier this week to meet with other fine arts directors and curriculum coordinators. Meetings involve sitting – usually lots and lots of sitting. And sitting is something I’m ill suited for, quite frankly. I tend to be in motion most of the time.

So to offset the hours of inactivity I arrived in Jefferson City early enough to wander the streets and take in some of the buildings. One thing I’d never noticed before was the number of pointed roof tops. Although East High Street is clearly a typical Midwestern street, if you look around some of the architectural features take on a decidedly central-European flair.

This surprising discovery in the midst of that which is otherwise quite familiar made me ridiculously happy for some reason. Maybe it’s because I may not have noticed these little details had I not been killing a little time, enjoying the quiet of an early morning street.

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Uni-Ball Vision pen and Caran D’Ache crayon wash in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Galveston people.

29 March, 2019. Gumbo for dinner! I understood that Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar made great stuff, and wasn’t disappointed. The roux was chocolate in color – way beyond “peanut butter” roux. The aromatic and richly colored concoction was hypnotic in a way: what would be revealed under the inky pool? Well, chunks of chicken and andouille sausage, of course, along with okra. But no corn bread side, sadly. Sigh.

Our server was hip and cool and patient and just a little bit wacky. And everyone at the counter was called “babe.” I felt right at home.

The “Pleasure Pier” – what, I wondered, could this place be with a name like that? Having passed dozens of adult stores along the Interstate on the long drive south, it occurred to me that there would be a red light at the entrance. Happily, it turned out to be an amusement park.

Closer to my hotel, people staked out a warm spot on the beach, sheltering from the wind in huddled groups.

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Uni-ball Vision pen and watercolor wash in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Beach houses.

26 March, 2019. I’ve made up my mind that this visit will not be punctuated by tours or anything at all resembling a need to meet anything at all resembling a schedule. Indeed, I will simply wander, my only purpose: explore at a slow pace, and stop where I may.

I enjoy looking at the beach houses. They look like the kind of place one can cozy up next to a fire or laze about on a porch overlooking the water. I enjoy the variety of silhouettes each outline creates, and the oddness of a complete house resting upon stilts. I enjoy the many windows and imagine the light bathing each interior.

Diagonals contrast with horizontals: the horizontal nature of an island, of the ocean; the diagonals of roof lines and the wonky shadows created by the early morning sun.

Grays permeate the landscape, but are themselves polluted with a bath of pink, a wash of cerulean blue, violets, periwinkles, Terre verte.

In the afternoon, as the day warms, I head out on two wheels to enjoy a few hours of bike sketching: rolling along until something strikes my fancy, then stopping to sketch for a bit before once again rolling down the road.

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Uni-Ball Vision pen and watercolor wash on Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Pure dumb luck.

25 March, 2019. Pure dumb luck.

Seriously.

I visited Galveston Island over Spring Break, cringing at the thought of sharing Paradise with drunken college students, only to discover that Texas had scheduled their break for a week earlier. Yes, the Spring Break madness ended a week ago, and on my visit the beaches are empty. Only a handful of hungover frat rat stragglers crawl from their rooms in the afternoon to clog the hot tubs.

The timing of my visit is pure dumb luck.

But I’ll take it.

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Uni-Ball Vision in a Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Neutral colors.

3 March, 2019. My mom was having car problems and since I was overdue for a visit anyway, I drove south this weekend to see her and fix her old Ford Taurus. The problem was an easy one: the battery needed to be replaced, so after pulling it and purchasing a replacement I wandered around her neighborhood while I waited for the new one to get fully charged. She lives in a suburb of Kansas City, a small town that has exploded on the outskirts but which remains a small town at the core. The downtown is charming, as are the surrounding neighborhoods of homes built in the 20’s and 30’s.

I hadn’t planned to have the opportunity to sketch, assuming I’d be elbow deep under the hood of her car. But having come from our monthly sketch crawl my backpack was filled with sketching tools and a couple of sketchbooks. To keep things simple I chose a pencil and began to make quick thumbnails of the buildings that caught my eye. The happy thing about small pencil studies is that things don’t get overworked if I focus on the contrast of lights and darks. My tastes sometimes run toward the nostalgic, and those roomy houses with large front porches struck me as the sort of comfy place I’d love to find myself on a summer evening. 

With no plan in mind I simply sketched. It’s easier for me to maintain believable proportions if I focus on the overall shapes and how they relate to the negative spaces. In fact, I love those unoccupied spaces! By studying the empty areas my sketches aren’t bogged down with unnecessary detail: simplicity is much more pleasing to my eye.  

The day is overcast and I make note of the lack of vibrant color. I want to remember the sense of drabness later when I dab some of these studies with a variety of grays and neutral hues.

There’s a stillness here.

20 February, 2019. Cool colors puddle, then spread, traveling through a clear sheen of water, landing with the softness of cotton. Paper, rough to the touch, is white – but not a pure white, there’s an honesty to the “off-ness,” a nod to the organic nature of fibers from which it comes. Still, hues glow a bit, transparency allowing the surface below to redouble a sense of saturation. There’s a stillness here, and I like it.

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Watercolor on Arches 180# Coldpress.

Eccentricities of character

18 February, 2019. Missouri is defined by its small towns as much as anything else, and our small towns are characterized by a distinctive period architecture. The state itself has not yet celebrated its two hundredth birthday, and while it is possible to identify sites older than two centuries it’s much more likely to encounter towns dating back to the late nineteenth century.

The structures that give our small towns their personality therefore tend to be Victorian era “Painted Ladies,” bungalows of the 1920’s, occasional flourishes of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, and a variety of revivalist stylings.

Part of the charm for me is how distinctively “Midwestern” our neighborhoods tend to be. There’s a pleasant variety from one home to the next. After all – the thinking must have gone – why on earth would anyone want to build a house just like one’s neighbor?

Wander the streets and you’ll find a clear boundary evident between older neighborhoods and the new: Even in the most expensive tracts, houses have a cookie-cutter philosophy and homes associations encourage – in fact demand – a uniformity and homogeneity that I view with disquiet.

I love when a mixture of styles seems to have evolved in an organic fashion, each new structure fulfilling a particular need, and representing someone’s individuality. For some reason, I find the eccentricities of character comforting in a way that planned communities fail to ignite in me.