learning

Noticing that time has passed

I finally broke down and got out my relief printmaking tools.  I was looking at the work I've done so far for running snail & rainbow and noticing a glaring omission in the lineup: a wood block print.  I only got to take one printmaking class in college, which is a great sadness to me, because if I had found the medium before second semester of senior year I would have most certainly taken another and another.  I want presses and rollers and cranks, buckets of chemicals and plates of metal and glass, and I want to know how to use all of them.  Even my painting professor thought that more printmaking would have been a good use of my time.

What he did not think was a good use of my time were my antics in the theatre department, dabbling in plays and entertaining the fantasy of becoming an actor.  He saw that my work in the art studio suffered horribly when I split my creative focus.  He had a point.  But aside from his point, painting was just never my medium.  I wanted it to be.  Desperately.  He was a brilliant teacher, and a brilliant artist.  His use of color made you want to live behind his eyes forever.  His world was vibrant, unexpected, beautiful.  My problem was not understanding the color theory, or what all the different little tubes of paint and gels did.  My problem was with the palette--it got so messy, and my brushes got so globby; it just wasn't how I think.  The teacher probably unfairly blamed theatre entirely for my ineptitude, when really I just couldn't organize myself the way I needed to do interpret what I was seeing.  Then one night, second semester of senior year, I was in the printmaking studio finishing up a project.  He was grading portfolios in the adjoining studio and popped his head in.  "Oh," he asserted, matter-of-factly, after having seen my woodblock prints, "you're a printmaker."

I don't know why I didn't touch my tools to a piece of wood for seven years.  Figuring that out doesn't warrant any of my energy, so suffice to say that I've started a piece, for children (or not), about the four seasons.  But I didn't want this bit of writing now to really be about that piece, since I don't want to give anything away yet.  What I really wanted to talk about was yesterday afternoon.

I've begun to wonder how people who live in more-or-less season-less climates--you know, like the tropics--keep track of how time has passed.  My entire internal clock is based upon how the light looks, the air feels and smells, and where I've spent the majority of my time.  Yesterday afternoon, on an unseasonably warm spring day, I took my daughter into the backyard, filled up her little wading pool, and brought my wood carving supplies outside.  She sat pouring water from one cup to another, and I carved my block of wood.  I was struck how similar this was to an early evening last summer, an evening when I finally figured out how to capture a moment of quietness in her waking hours.

The two early evenings have so many things in common: the out of doors, the water, the long shadows, the rarity of the occasion.  Yet they are so different.  I didn't sit there like I did last year, stunned at the advent of motherhood, blinking in the light.  I was able to do something for myself: carve out a few little bits of my woodblock.  It wasn't much, but it was everything.

The rules of drawing and when to break them

It's so difficult to discern when you should adhere to or shirk your training.  Perhaps this is where that thing called "balance" comes in to play.  I don't know much about balance these days.

The two most valuable things I have learned from drawing:

1. Draw what you see, not what you know.
2. Drawing is a plastic medium (by which every mark made is useful, but never final, and the eraser is a good friend).
There's a fascinating chapter in a book I read for an independent study once, all about the artistic developmental stages we go through as children, putting our world down on paper, with crayons, or colored pencils, or daddy's special pen.  It's about where we put the horizon line and how we plant our trees in that ground.  It's about how we translate what we experience into what we understand.  We draw what we know, as children, not what we see.  This chapter's been on my mind a lot, and I think I'll reread it soon.  It's called "Growth."

Children draw fearlessly, innocently, intuitively.  And then we go to school, learn about rules and how things work.  We lose our intuition, and our world view becomes a collective homogenous world view.  Then some of us go to art school and learn to draw what we see, to erase, to try again.  We learn different kinds of rules.  And then we go out into the world, and find that the rules we learned only sometimes help us express what we're seeing in our minds.

As with all rules, there are exceptions, and times to break them.  Knowing when is impossible.  There are invitations to be less realistic, more stylized, and more final.  Drawing with a pen or carving into a block of wood has that finality.  You have to move decisively because every mark, every cut, is permanent.

Part of a self portrait from 2005, my first relief printmaking class.

And then there's drawing what you know instead of what you see.  I guess you have to be communicating something pretty specific.  You have to know where you're coming from and what you're trying to say.  If you know all that, I think you've earned breaking the rule.

On the drawing board tonight: a bird that I see with feathers that I know.  This fellow will be part of the favorite{red} postcard set.