sketchbook

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.

Listening to other people, and listening to yourself :: {Moroccan chicken}

Sometimes it takes forever before you hear what people have been saying to you all along.

Every year at college, we had a visiting artist.  Their classes were always a bit different from the normal studio art classes.  While the other professors really pushed and prodded you, the visiting artists took a bit more of a nurturing, supportive approach.  One of these visiting artist seminars really went back to the basics.  We didn't draw nude figures, we drew cones and spheres and cubes -- hardly poetic subject matters.  At the end of the semester, we met one on one with the artist-teacher and she evaluated our work with us.  I laid out my portfolio of cones, spheres, and cubes on the cement floor and we stood over them.  After a long time, my teacher sat down in a chair and said, "Phoebe, there's a word.  Vocare.  It's Latin, and it means calling.  I think this is your calling.  I haven't said this to anyone for a very long time."  I stared blankly at my shapes, and didn't listen.

I didn't listen lots of other times, too, when my painting professor would beg me not to audition for the theatre productions because he said it split my creative focus and that my work suffered greatly for it.  I didn't listen when my drawing professor told us to do gestural drawings of the whole space, and I zeroed in on the model's face and started drawing her features.  "Phoebe," she said, "we all know you can do the fancy stuff.  Don't flatter yourself."

I didn't listen when my husband told me I should sketch something everyday.  "I don't sketch.  I'm not a sketcher.  That's what makes me not an artist," I said.  I've done lots of not listening.

Then it all caught up with me, and I heard everything at once.  Sketch, do this, don't split your focus...  Because, in fact, people have been trying to buy stuff that I've drawn for a very long time.  So now I'm going to make that possible.  Am I scared that everyone has changed their mind and doesn't want any of this after all?  Of course I am.  But that's not for me to decide.  I'm a matter of days away from opening my Etsy shop, and of putting my work out into the world.  It's going to be a small offering at first, but I'm actually proud of every single piece there.  That's a first for me, and I guess it happened because I finally listened to what everyone said, and that meant listening to myself, too.

One such thing that people have tried to buy.  Soon to be available for purchase at Feast!


As a result of trying not to split my creative focus, I made a deal with myself that I wasn't going to  cook a single new recipe until I opened my Etsy store.  Here's something I've been cooking for a long time.  It's one of my dad's favorites.

Moroccan Tagine of Chicken with Dates, Olives & Preserved Lemon

Tagines are culinary genius.  The specially designed lid allows all the condensation to drip back into the cooking pot, which means you use less liquid and thusly have more concentrated flavors.  They also turn cheap cuts of meat into silky, fragrant morsels.  Don't have a tagine?  Don't worry, you can still make this recipe in a dutch oven (or any heavy, covered skillet or pot), just adjust your liquid -- you may need to add a little more.  The tagine I use is a European one with a cast iron bottom which allows me to cook on the stove.  If you have a proper earthenware one, feel free to adapt this recipe for oven cooking.  I also have a preserved lemon secret to pass on to you, so read on!
Start by making your preserved lemon my way: it takes 3 minutes instead of 3 days.  Okay, it doesn't taste quite the same, but really, it's close enough.  Peel one lemon with your vegetable peeler.  Get every last bit of peel off, in nice long strips if you can.  Put these in a mug.  Now juice your lemon.  Pour the juice over the peel.  Add a heaping soup spoonful of kosher salt and mix it around, trying to submerge the peel in the juice.  Place the mug in the microwave and microwave on high for two minutes.  Set aside until needed.  Give the peel a quick rinse before you use it.  This will keep in the refrigerator for at least several days.
 Toss four chicken legs in the following spice mixture: 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 2 teaspoons sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon turmeric, and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne pepper.  (I pull the skin off first, but you don't have to).  Put the bottom of your tagine over medium heat and coat the bottom with olive oil.  When the oil is hot, add the chicken legs and brown evenly, being careful not to let the spices burn.  Set aside.  Add a tiny bit more oil to your pan and add two small (or one large) onion, chopped.  Chop four cloves of garlic, and add this when the onions are beginning to turn translucent.  Stir around for a minute or two.  Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water or stock and nestle your chicken on top.  As your liquid begins to come to the bubble, add your final ingredients: 10-15 giant green olives, halved; 6-8 giant dates, pitted and halved; and 2 strips of preserved lemon, chopped.  Stir everything in your pot around to distribute your ingredients evenly, turn the heat to very low, put the lid on and walk away for 30 minutes.  At this point, come back and make sure you have enough liquid in your pot.  If it seems a little dry, add a bit more water or stock.  Turn your chicken legs over and cover the pot.  Walk away again.  If your chicken legs have bones in them, I like to cook them for a good hour to hour and a half, or just until the meat starts to pull away from the bottom of the drumstick.  If your chicken is boneless, obviously it requires less cooking time -- 45 minutes is ample.
Taste your tagine a season accordingly with either more chopped preserved lemon peel, lemon juice, salt, or pepper.  Serve atop a bed of couscous and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro or flat leaf parsley.  A salad of very thinly sliced fennel, orange segments, and thinly sliced radishes dressed with equal amounts of olive oil and lemon juice, plus salt and chopped parsley, is a perfect accompaniment.

Page Two

I've always had a problem starting, let alone filling, a beautiful sketchbook, so I bought an ugly one and had a lot more success with it.  I even managed to not tear out a single page.  Since the book was homely and really not that special, I started writing inane things down, things I had to do, to not forget.  Bad ideas, and some good ones, too.  The Homely Book went everywhere with me.  It took me a year to fill it, and now when I page through it, between the garlic sketch and the pretty coffee stain, lovely remembrances of everyday life crop up.  But the book itself was ugly.  I took issue with this.

The next sketchbook I bought was beautiful.  I spent about 45 minutes choosing it, waffling between the utilitarian ones with scratchy paper that I knew I could fill and the exquisite one that I wanted to fill.  I brought the New Book home and felt its quiet pages.  I fiddled with the ribbon that tied it shut and wondered if I had made a mistake.

What I wanted to see when I opened up the New Book was this:

Three Studies of a Dancer by Edgar Degas

so I left that first page blank.  A blank page doesn't aspire to be a Degas sketch, afterall.  Before I knew it, I was pages deep in food label musings, lists of imaginary places, sketches of my dream chair, you name it.

Sometimes a grocery list even sneaks in, because, you know, you should never work on an empty stomach.