Saturday, August 13, 2011



Okay kids. Wow. I think I got it.

You remember my recent breakthrough with the easel and the drawing board. Since then I have with a few exceptions begun my mornings with a quick crayon session. Even a couple unrelated scribbles helped me get out of that weighty am I really good enough nonsense you sometimes encounter as you approach your desk, and instead you are transported into that magical observant place where you can just notice the shape of things. And all you want out of life is to copy them down.

This inevitably led to my bringing crayons and the drawing board with me to the Oregon Country Fair, and resulted in those big crayon studies of what I saw. The result was not necessarily better than my attempts to capture journeys in the past -- things were not nearly as detailed as they needed to be to really be accurate -- but it was a LOT more satisfying. What I was seeing and feeling was BIG STUFF. So it was nice to record things in a big way.

I have gone to some really amazing places in the last couple years. Ireland with my Mother in 2008, a two-week camping holiday in Canada a year later, San Diego a year after that. Travel has always been a deep love of mine, and all the while I have secretly hoped someone might pay me money to go places and experience them and then report my findings to whoever would be interested in the sort of things I notice. So whenever I've gone somewhere I always feel that anxiety -- perhaps even more than you do -- to capture the experience.

I say perhaps more than you do only because I illustrate things. In a way that's really my job all the time. I capture experiences, feelings, emotions. All those things cameras do not capture.

Furthermore during the trip to Ireland I learned something -- cameras are not fast enough. My mother and I both had cameras with many memory cards, but we often lamented that the thing we'd wanted to take pictures of was usually just after we got it in our head to press the button. We had internet available at every place we stayed and adequate downtime every evening set aside for emailing loved ones back home to give them a day-by-day account of events. This morning we caught the bus outside the pub in Cork, changed buses in Tralee. Ate dinner at this place outside Bunratty Castle. All true but it somehow doesn't capture what the three-to-five hours on the bus was like. Rushing past rolling hills and stone walls straight out of a storybook. The alarming skinniness of the roads. The thrill of seeing bilingual road signs, placed in places that made no sense to our American brains. The tiny towns passed through, with tiny shop fronts and Easter egg colored houses. Buildings crowded around the road. A man in a check cap and patched trousers walking with an ancient terrier. And these things were addressed in the occasional prosey email, but there was still so much missing. The color of the stone walls and how it matched the man's jacket. The sound of people muttering to each other. How can you capture it all?

The next adventure was Canada, and I tried doggedly to document everything. Snapshots of anything that seemed promising, sketches, painting on the fly. I even had a gluestick and collage paper with me, and I faithfully kept every single piece of paper we were given or came across. It was a mess -- way too ambitious for the timeline we were on. And of course in the end the car window was smashed in and I wound up mostly only talking about that, and it's a shame because that was one of the most beautiful trips I have ever been on.

After that trip it was clear that I needed to simplify my capture approach. In San Diego I only brought my pen and notebook. And with the exception of the Museum of Man, which I badly wanted to sit in front of and paint for a few days, I actually did really well. But I ran into a new problem.


My simple pen studies had a satisfying feel to them all on their own. But whenever I tried to iron them out, or add color, or turn them into a more polished painting, I was somehow never able to capture the charm of the original drawing. I've had this problem a long time actually, in several other facets of my drawing-life. Different stages along the way. It was something I wanted to confront, but something I never got around to. Other things kept demanding attention.

Since then when I go on journeys I take nothing more than a pen and that at least solves the anxious burden of Capturing Everything. It helps you let go when your supplies are limited. It also helped me hone in on Which Details Are Important and get a grip on how I saw things, so that eventually I was able to do things like paint that picture of the Tillamook Cheese Factory without taking any pictures or any written notes at all.


So at this point I have these stories I want to tell, these pictures I want to make, about these bigger travels. They are all backlogged in my brain and keep getting pushed behind other things. Added to this we are constantly going on little weekend excursions. Constantly. Remember, Anthony lived in Eugene for two years before he moved in this summer, so there were many, many weekends spent on the road. The baby cooler is in constant use, the roadmap is marked up with highlighters and tattered from the number of times it gets stuffed down between the passenger seat and the gear shifter. Now that Anthony lives up here we are able to explore east and west more often. We go on more walks into the hills and take little mini-vacations to the rural countryside. Make our own minor discoveries. This is a beautiful state and I am pretty strict about not working on weekends, preferring instead to go out and explore.

I guess what gets me is: I am really good at going on adventures. My last trip to Colorado was a 72 hour affair in two different cities with three different groups of people and it was as slick a little operation you could ever hope for. I just wish that my digestion of my adventures was as solid.

So. With all this bubbling around my head, in the far and distant background. This next thing happened.

I have a new cleaning-client who has a house situated near a wooded hill. When you look out one of the upstairs windows, you essentially see what I drew as a crayon study the other morning:


I drew it because it's a beautiful view and I can't stop thinking about it. In fact I actually cheated a little and worked on this crayon-doodle for two mornings. The second morning -- yesterday morning -- I mostly just darkened some things, and colored in that orangey square in the foreground.

In that inexplicable way these things happen, that orangey color got my attention. I thought about it all morning. It pulsed urgently in my soul. I thought about that canvas that I'd played around with a few months ago when I'd thought again about big-scale painting. I thought about those vague scaffolding studies I'd done after visiting the fairgrounds. I thought, I know what I'm doing what I get home..


Thus it was.

And as I was wrapping up I began thinking...what else can I do?

view from the road

What about that great image of the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport?


Yeah, I thought. Let's try that.


So that's what I did today. It kind of feels unreal.

This of course does not capture the detail that the little gouache paintings do. So there's more work to do. (Happily, there's always more work to do.)

The jury is still out about all those complicated things I was worried about yet failed to articulate about abstract art, fine art, etc. There's so much baggage there. But what gives me hope is that for the first time in a long time I'm not too worried about all that rubbish. What's important to me is that I have finally figured out how to make big things on canvas again. To make with the big colors. And I've connected those little expressive drawings to a way to make them as big and colorful as I want them to be. The static drawings can be lifted out of the notebook and rocketed up to a realm way, way beyond where they started.

It's so satisfying to arrive here. To make that connection. Now I feel like I COULD paint the Museum of Man building. Tomorrow. With nothing but my memory of the place and my feeble attempts to sketch it.