Just around the corner.

15 June, 2019.

It’s a rainy Friday morning and my thoughts have drifted to Europe. Coincidentally – actually, is there such a thing as coincidence? – photos from my visit to Obernai, France popped up on my Facebook “memories” yesterday. I recall one morning in particular, similarly overcast. The cobblestones were wet and a little slick. I’d often go out for a stroll early, before anyone else was about to enjoy the beauty of this picturesque town. The streets are curved in many places, and it seemed like the turning of every corner brought another delightful view.

There were window boxes overflowing with flowers everywhere, potted plants introduced the green of foliage in lieu of lawns. There’s a sense of history on every door step.

Taking a step out of my reverie, I fast forward to today. Glancing at one of the photos I take pen in hand and quickly start to scribble. Soon I’ll be heading out, despite the drizzle, to sketch the home of Thomas Hart Benton. But this photo is hard to ignore and so I sketch quickly, guiltily – I don’t often sketch from photo reference and the experience is a little strange. I find myself trying to “look around” the corner to see what else is there… but of course I can’t: the photo is only two dimensional.

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Uni-Ball Vision pen and watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.

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Tonight, I painted quickly.

6 February, 2019. No school tomorrow – again. For three weeks in a row, Mother Nature has elected to hurl ice and snow and sub-zero temperatures our way, only to briefly rebound, then turn around and hit once more. For three weeks in a row, I’ve only taught four days out of five; today, in fact, I only led one single art class – and that for only thirty-five minutes: barely time enough to get out, then put away supplies.

Perhaps I was feeling the urgency to produce fast today, an urgency that was a reflection, no doubt, of my students scurrying around an art room and making a valiant, if somewhat doomed attempt at progress on this, day two of a four day assignment. The urgency I felt, therefore, was artificial. In fact, I had all evening to myself, and all day tomorrow, and the evening that follows. There was little need to rush through anything. Why not savor the opportunity, languish in this moment of unexpected freedom?

But I did not. There was an urgency to place paper on the board, quickly wet it, and just as quickly drag washes of color across the moist surface, haphazardly – but carefully and intentionally, mind you! – placing slightly differing hues of blue in such a way as to allow color to bleed softly into color.

I remember once in college being so affected, so overwhelmed by the beauty of a sudden thunderstorm that I painted in a near frenzy. My roommate thought I’d gone mad – and in a sense I suppose I had. My ability to use paint expressively was nil at the time, and the frustration I felt at an inability to express what I felt in that moment was keen. It is a frustration that to this day I can recall vividly.

Tonight, I painted quickly. The sketch took only minutes to express, and it seemed important that it happen in that way: quickly. To labor over the sky would be tantamount to sapping the life from the sketch.

Tonight I chose to let the sketch live or die by its own energy.

Or lack thereof.

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“Sky before the rain and ice,” watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius II, approximately 6 x 6 inches.

Wet, wet, wet!

21 May, 2018. I should probably write about drawing – this is, after all, my sketching journal. But the fact of the matter is that I really don’t want to, the better part of the story isn’t about drawing.

Yesterday morning dawned cool and gray. Dark clouds loomed overhead and distant thunder grumbled; it sounded like Mother Nature’s tummy was rumbling, which is a weird thing to say. Nevertheless, it’s so. I look forward to this particular morning every year because it’s the date of a cycling event that I enjoy, the Tour de Bier.

My bike was stowed in the back of the car and I grew a little apprehensive as I drove south to the event meet up location: fat rain drops began to fall, and soon I needed the windshield wipers. As I pulled up and parked my car under a low hanging tree, thunder clapped and lightning flashed. The sky opened up and rain began to pour down. The large building to my left, Knuckleheads Garage, was at times barely visible. No way the ride was starting on time, if at all this morning.

I might have been glum, but the rain is somehow refreshing. I love thunderstorms. The air is charged and the world is fresh. A couple of sketchbooks lie on the passenger seat, along with a couple of pens. While the maelstrom crashed around me, I sat behind the wheel of the car and sketched out what I could see of Knuckleheads and the surrounding area. I could just make out a few cyclists braving the weather to run from their parked cars to the relative dryness of event awnings. I remained where I’d parked, making a few sketches until the hosts of the event Tweeted out the all clear.

In truth, the rain didn’t abate for hours. I eventually put my sketchbook down, and wheeled my bike toward the start line, through puddles and a steady downpour. I was drenched before ever getting the bike out of the car. Strange as it may sound, I was ok with the situation. Being out in the elements, hiking through snow or pedaling through a shower, perspiration somehow still welling up on my forehead and mingling with the rivulets of falling water cascading from under my helmet – well, it really makes me feel truly alive.

I think that’s part of what draws me toward sketching on location, especially outdoors. The world is an unpredictable place, very imperfect in fact. It’s wonderful to be experiencing it for real, rather than virtually on television, or via the internet. It’s real.

It’s real, and it makes me feel alive and in touch. Drawing the stories I encounter… well, that’s merely a byproduct.

The sketch above was made with a Uni-Ball Deluxe pen in a Canson 180 sketchbook. Being a captive of my car for forty minutes led me to making several versions of the sketch. Naturally, I liked the original one best of all.

Waterlogged.

30 April, 2017. Only one word can describe my three day weekend: “AAAAAARGH!”

This was intended to be a long weekend of getting outside, touring through several small towns to explore turn-of-the-century/Fin de siècle architecture. Instead, I was rained in for nearly the entire three days, with only the briefest of respites.

Stuck in Arkansas because flash flooding closed – literally! – all of the roads leading back into Missouri, I managed to get out of my hotel in Eureka Springs with a sketchbook and pens between cloud bursts. Sheltering under a couple of awnings, SOME of what I’d planned to sketch got scribbled on paper. However, I had some pages that got ruined when sudden downpours came out of nowhere, and I was myself drenched to the bone.

The rain was incredible, by the way. At times the middle of the day was as dark as night. In Berryville, Arkansas, what had been a low lying area transformed into a raging river, at least 300 feet across. Roads were entirely submerged, and road block warning signs urging motorists not to proceed any further could be seen hundreds of feet away, barely visible and barely above water. Oh…and my credit card got compromised, so Shazam cut it off Saturday morning. No problem, I thought. I have actual money at the lake house back in Missouri…

Sketching – even as a waterlogged exercise – was my catharsis.

(Uni-Ball Deluxe, Pilot Varsity, Pentel Pocket Brush Pen; each page is approximately 5 x 7 inches; Eureka Springs, Arkansas.)

Gnarly Tree

15 February, 2016. Oh my gosh, what a beautiful afternoon, especially for the middle of February! It’s President’s Day so no school today either, which made it a perfect opportunity to head out for a couple of hours of bike sketching.

I really enjoy inking trees and limbs entirely freehand, without the safety net of penciled construction lines. My greatest difficulty was simply choosing which trees to draw. It seemed like every bend I’d ride around would yield an abundance of subject matter! I finally stopped to sit and watch for eagles at the end of a particularly pleasant point on the lake. I’d spotted a single bald eagle right less than five minutes from my car earlier, but there were no more to be seen after that. I satisfied myself by using my break to sketch out this gnarly tree, then hopped on my bike and continued on my merry way. (Just outside Smithville, Missouri; Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in Canson 180 sketchbook.)

Gloomy day along the Missouri River

15 November, 2015. It was a gloomy, blustery afternoon and I wanted to paint along the Missouri River. Rain threatened the entire time I stood on the soggy bank in La Benite Park and my hands were quite cold. Despite blocking in the composition, I somehow managed to paint the horizon line on an angle. Furthermore, I felt like the extra bit of foreground was a mistake so I used the end of my brush handle to mark off a “crop line” in the wet paint and cut the board down to a more extreme horizontal motif later, after the paint dried sufficiently. (Clay County, Missouri. Oil on panel.)