Why Beauty Matters, Now More Than Ever

“Art once made a cult of beauty; now we have a cult of ugliness instead.” Sir Roger Scruton, Why Beauty Matters, BBC 2, 2009

I just spent a delightful afternoon watching a film made by an unexpected ally: the conservative British philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton.

(Disclaimer: After watching this film and writing this article, I decided to do a little research into this man Roger Scruton. I discovered, much to my dismay, that he held many beliefs I find abhorrent. As a result, I thought long and hard about whether to ditch this post. In the end, as you see, I’ve decided to go ahead and publish it. Perhaps in the future I’ll write more on this topic: about how people continue in relationships with folks who have beliefs and values far different than their own. It’s a topic I find fascinating. For now, on with this blog post!)

This one-hour film, Why Beauty Matters, validates my deepest heartfelt secret: that yes, beauty does matter, in much the same way that kindness matters. Over thirty years ago, when I was going through a difficult time, I designed a postcard to help me remember this essential life message. It looked something like this:

“Maybe people have lost their faith in beauty because they have lost their belief in ideals. All there is (they are tempted to think) is the world of appetite. There are no values other than utilitarian ones. Something has a value if it has a use. And what’s the use of beauty?” – Scruton

This hour-long program was spellbinding. I paused it often and replayed sections so I could enjoy them a second time. I even cheered. Of course, my mind had its own collection of “yeah-buts,” disputing bits here and there. And yet, at its core, I agree.

Beauty is an essential human need; ignore it at your own peril.

This film includes brilliant observations from the likes of poet / playwright Oscar Wilde, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, Immanuel Kant, and other luminaries.

Alexander Stoddart, a sculptor whose work is included in exhibitions around the world as well as in Buckingham Palace, eloquently speaks to my heart. At 48 minutes, I’m almost in tears, wishing I’d heard messages like these before I dropped out of art college.

“Through the pursuit of beauty, we shape the world as a home, and in doing so, we both amplify our joys and find consolation for our sorrows. Art and music shine a light of meaning on ordinary life…the Sacred and the Beautiful stand side by side, two doors that open onto a single space, and in that space, we find our home.” – Scruton

This is why I sketch. This very message is what I tried to distill and tuck into my book Look at That! without the reader noticing. Let them think it’s just a little art instruction book.

Give yourself the gift of a cup of tea while watching this bold film. Perhaps you too will find yourself nodding in agreement.

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming book, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Beauty, Book #2: Double Take, Look at That! book, Musings on Life, Tip Jar | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

From Indignation to Grateful Resolve

You’ve been there too, right?

You know, those times when you’ve asked someone for a second opinion, they politely tell you the truth, and your response is to flinch, even bristle.

“Harumph” is not the exact word I used.

On June 30th I sent my draft of the manuscript to the editor, then settled back to wait for his reply.

Twelve days later (a reasonable turnaround time), I received the reply. He’d sprinkled a few red marks here and there on the manuscript, fewer than I expected. I was puzzled; I knew the draft was far from perfect and needed an outsider’s educated response.

Then I read his cover letter, which included this:

Those who bought your first book will love it as well as people who didn’t buy it but love art. But those who look for excitement and drama in memoirs will probably not finish it.”

What my brain heard was this:

“The readers of “Look at That” will love it.

Art lovers will enjoy it.

Anyone else probably won’t finish it.”

He continued:

… the pace is kind of repetitive and slow…. I think you can reduce the slow pace by deleting some of the words that aren’t really necessary to carry the story or give a message. You would be the best to judge where to cut.”

What?? Okay, I see what you mean, to a degree. But where exactly is it slow and repetitive? You were supposed to highlight that part, right?

Then it hit me: He couldn’t possibly highlight the slow parts because the repetitiveness and lagging tempos were embedded throughout the entire 37,979-word manuscript.

Ouch, I needed that.

Deep breath, another pot of tea, then I said to myself,

“You call that editing. I’LL SHOW YOU EDITING.”

I donned my green editor’s visor, pulled out my metaphorical red pencil, and chopped away over the next seven days. Full Bob Cratchit posture.

It took no time to integrate his suggestions for punctuation changes. That was the simple part.

Then I started the meticulous three-step process of rereading, and at times rewriting, the entire manuscript, one chapter at a time. I knew where each of the 158 illustrations would eventually be inserted, but decided, “This has to work as a text-only book, with no images at all. Then we’ll strategically add the illustrations at the last minute, before publication, and the book will really shine.”

I’d been away from the manuscript for a full two weeks (after having worked on it day and night for six months), so happily I had fresh eyes. I paced myself, no rushing allowed.

Step One: Upload just one chapter to ProWritingAid, a paid grammar-and-style-checking app that’s well worth the price for anyone who wants to clean up their writing. After PWA finishes reviewing, you go through each of their suggestions and decide to either accept or reject them. Then you export the results back to a new and improved document.

Step Two: In your new MS Word document, under the Review tab, go to the “Read Aloud” option, and listen to your chapter as if it were an audio book. Stunning experience! Typos missed now jump out. Awkward rhythms become obvious. Redundancy shows itself to be thinly-disguised cleverness. Delete. Distill. Repeat.

Step Three: Do a second “Read Aloud” with no changes, no touching that mouse even once. Delete the original defective chapter from the master manuscript, and copy-and-paste this new chapter in its place. That’s the final blessing of that one chapter.

Check off that step on the massive to-do list.

Then repeat with each of the other chapters.

After seven days (while also developing my first mild case of carpal tunnel numbness), I proudly discover I’ve axed 3,884 words as well as the links to four illustrations. 11% of the original manuscript gladly gone.

The final “Hit Save” then “Save As” steps of the newly polished, final manuscript were intoxicating.

I haven’t opened that file since.

It’s now in the hands of the graphic designer, along with the 154 illustration scans (here’s your preview!)

8 folders, all 205MB, of carefully chosen sketches! No peeking yet. 🙂

The same designer is creating the cover as well as the book’s interior, and despite her lovely examples of possible cover designs, I find I’m hopelessly married to my original concept that you’ve seen here before (it’s on the Tip Jar page too.)

I doodled the Double Take book cover idea back in January, during a brainstorming session with myself. At the time I used colored pencils which were fine but alas, now I crave the look of real watercolor. It needs to be done over. Luckily, I have those skills!

Here we go again, this time with real watercolor!

That’s my next step in this ongoing self-publishing saga. The publication target date of the end of September is still on track. Thanks again to my patrons for their generous donations to the Tip Jar. It will help defray some of the many up-front expenses of self-publishing. I have the best patrons ever!

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments?

Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming book, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Book #2: Double Take, Musings on Life, My Story, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I did a terrible job explaining viewfinders…

… but this guy does a great job.

Our approaches are somewhat different, but the point is the same. He shows how to make a clear plastic viewfinder, as well as the “hole in the index card” style that I described on page 30 of Look at That! I especially like his explanation of why the gift of peripheral vision (visual field) adds a challenge to sketching. Check it out from about minute #3-4 in the video. Crystal clear.

A great surprise is when you use a viewfinder (thus eliminating peripheral distractions), you suddenly feel like you have a zoom lens available as well. Your focus can magically deepen when it no longer has to go wide.

The good news, as I said on page 41 of Look at That!, is that you don’t even need to sketch. You can just practice looking. And as you practice, you will be able to see more, discern more, enjoy seeing more.

You never know what freedom awaits around the corner. Give it a go!

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments?

Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming book, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Book #2: Double Take, Look at That! book, Pen & Ink, Pencil sketching, Seeing and looking, Sketching tools, Tip Jar, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time to do a DOUBLE TAKE!

My two kids, before the second one gets her new outfit.

As of 6pm, June 30th, 2022, the draft of my second book, Double Take, is now in my editor’s hands!

His edited version of all 38,000 words should arrive in my inbox tomorrow.

That will be the first time I see my artist’s memoir through someone else’s eyes.

Big gulp.

Thank goodness, I already know Wayne’s work, and I trust him to give me valuable technical feedback (copyediting), and more importantly, subjective responses (developmental editing). There is so much more to professional editing than just being a good reader, or even a good writer. It entails professional training and even certification. That part of the next three months feels rock solid.

Hiring a graphic designer is another matter though. I’ve combed the appropriate websites (they are like Angie’s List, but for publishers), and found a lot of skilled talent there. I sent my pitch to ten designers: five declined because their immediate schedule is already filled so they can’t meet my deadline. I’ve received three quotes and am awaiting two more.

These are people I have never met, will never meet, but they specialize in designing layouts for books, a complex niche market within the broad category of graphic design. When Look at That! was in production, I learned how precise all the requirements are for the final files which are delivered to the printers/ producers, like Ingram and Amazon and Kindle. One measurement off a hair, one KB too many or too few, and your file is sent back to you with minimal explanation, and a flat rejection. Self-publishing is not for the faint-hearted.

Nevertheless (I do so love that word!), I have faith that whomever I choose will be able to create a final product that will dazzle me first, and you second.

Now for the most important bit: I need your help.

I’m asking for your help in defraying some of the costs. The book is roughly 240 pages long (three times the length of Look at That!) and contains 158 illustrations. That makes the layout substantially more challenging, and expensive. I will need to hand over between $2,000 and $3,000 in production costs in the next two months to get this ready to launch on September 24th, a very special day for me.

I am asking for your patronage now, via the Tip Jar above, to make sure this book sees the light of day.

Here’s a bit more about Double Take:

Full Disclosure: This book will not be everyone’s cup of tea…

…but if you’ve ever wanted to peer over the shoulder of someone drawing in their sketchbook, listen to them struggle with artwork, watch them cheer at an unexpected victory, and deal with progressive blindness, well, here’s your chance.

Double Take is the back story behind my first book, Look at That! where my goal was to inspire people to look, and see, and sketch, and fall in love with eyesight. Because most of you can see far better than I can.

My illustrations in this book show what a breezy, “no big deal” sketching habit looks like. The text is gathered from notes scribbled in over forty sketchbooks and from journals I kept along the way.

The success of my first book, Look at That! has exceeded my wildest dreams. The hardest part of writing it was keeping it concise. That was my mission: no “deluge of details!” (Ref: page 14 of Look at That!)

Now I get to tell you all the things I left out of that first book.

Welcome to my living room. Tea will be ready shortly.”

As of tonight, two generous patrons have stepped forward with their vote of confidence. I will be mailing out complimentary signed copies to all patrons who donate at the level of $50 or more. When you go to the Tip Jar, you will see that the amount you give is entirely up to you; every bit helps.

As always, thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have purchased and enjoyed reading Look at That! This second book, Double Take, was written with you in mind throughout the writing, scanning, editing, and re-editing process. You will “get it” as no other readers will. You have been my inspiration.

As always, comments are welcome! Post your public comments below; use the Contact link above for comments you would like to keep private, just between the two of us.

Finally, thanks for spending some time aloft with me.

PS a day later: Thank you to those who have already responded! If you donate at the $50+ level, and there’s a chance I don’t have your email address, please send it to me via the secure private contact link above. I’ll need it to send you your book in September! Thanks again, everyone.

Posted in Book #2: Double Take, Look at That! book, Musings on Life, My Story, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My watercolors are lonely!

I’m sure you’ve been here too.

It’s super hot out, or really humid, or maybe buggy, and you’d love to fit in some time sketching outdoors, but oh my, naw, maybe later…

Then you think, “Maybe if I pull out my palette and just look at it, I’ll get inspired…”

A moment later you sigh, noticing that your watercolor paints look like an artifact from King Tut’s tomb. Really dry. Really uninspiring.

Priceless cobalt blue…a bit parched.

That’s where I’ve been lately, urban sketching once a week with my buddy P. on Sunday afternoons, but not nearly as often as I was before I started work on my second book. (More on that later.)

This week I was researching something on YouTube, when who pops up in that provocative right-hand column of upcoming attractions but one of my favorite people, Emma LeFebvre, a delightful Canadian watercolorist who makes all things seem possible and fun.

You’ll love her. Here’s your assignment, or invitation if you prefer.

This week take all that pressure off yourself, and set aside about an hour one day soon, right in the comfort of your home, to simply play with your watercolor toys. The video attached below is only 27 minutes long but give yourself a full hour. I want you to feel free to pause the video, practice, laugh, cringe, smile, and enjoy playing with the colored water. She calls this practice “drills”; I call it brush-dancing. Fred and Ginger, move over! Here’s the link:

Now that you have the key to unlock some fun for the day, or the week, I want to show you how my book is coming along.

I’ve set myself a deadline of July 4th to get my final draft to the editor, and now that I’ve told you, I really need to give it my best shot. I think I’m about halfway done, at 115 pages and 74 images. Intense work!

After the final draft is safely in the hands of my editor, I’ll start work building my Launch Team!

“What is a Launch Team?” you ask?

Launch Team members will be getting an advance copy of the ebook for free as soon as the final formatting is complete, hopefully in September. In exchange for this free gift, Team members promise to read it promptly, and about a week later, when the book is made available on Amazon, you agree to write and submit an honest review on the book’s page on Amazon. That’s all.

More details will be forthcoming once I have my list of Launch Team members. If you’re interested, send me a confidential private message through the contact tab above (not through the “comments” tab below), including your name, a bit about yourself, if you’ve read “Look at That!” (my first book), and if it was helpful to you.

My second book will not be everyone’s cup of tea, naturally; it’s an illustrated artist’s memoir. But if you’ve ever wanted to look over a sketcher’s shoulder while they’re working, and listen to some of their thought process, this book may feel like one of your new friends. It’s an entertaining, relaxing read with lots of illustrations as well as occasional unexpected drama. It’s not just about art, it’s about life as well. Mostly it’s about how sketching these last thirty years has changed my life.

I’m not “writing to market” as so many writing courses encourage you to do. I already have my market: you lovely folks, and the roughly 3,000 people who bought my first book and liked it. We are a niche market unto ourselves, and that’s fine with me.

Here’s another peek at the cover, and a glimpse of how thick the printout is as of today. It’s 7pm, time for a final pot of tea, and back to the keyboard grindstone!

*******

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful. All donations help defray blog expenses. They are greatly appreciated.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Book #2, Look at That! book, Sketching tools, Watercolor, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Don’t Let Your Momentum Block an Insight

Have you ever purchased an art instruction book, brought it home, flipped through it admiring all the pretty pictures, then set it down to “read thoroughly… later”? 

I’ve done that more times than I care to admit. Here’s my reading pattern:

If a book is 90% words with very few illustrations (say, a novel with a tiny drawing at the beginning of each chapter), I barely look at the drawings.

If a book is 90% illustrations with detailed text, I barely look at the words.

So here’s my current challenge: if I’m writing a book that offers both words and pictures, how do I make both elements equally interesting, inspiring, worthy of the reader’s time?

My next book is an illustrated memoir. I decided to consult professional graphic designers to explore this text/image balance issue. I visited a great website called Reedsy, a multiple-service resource for authors and publishers. I requested five quotes on the layout I’m considering, and as a result, started rethinking everything.

The potential design expense is impressive, so I dove down the rabbit hole of self-publishing software, to learn to do all the layout work myself (in my “spare time”!). I can’t learn software and write simultaneously, so what should I do first?

SCREECH (the sound of brakes squealing in my head…)

Wait a minute, did you say, “Should”? Big red flag!

“You’re writing this book for joy,” I said to my captive audience, me. “You enjoy writing. You’re sharing pictures from your sketchbooks because they’ll let the reader travel through time with you, to sit next to you as you observe, and sketch, and chat while checking out the people and squirrels and traffic in front of you. This is meant to be exciting, not an obligation!”

As William Zinsser says, “Given a choice between two projects—one that you feel you ought to write and one that sounds like fun—go for the one you’ll enjoy working on. It will show in your writing. The reader should always think that the writer is feeling good.” (Writing About Your Life, William Zinsser pg. 48)

So I set aside all the software ideas and wrote quick thank-you notes to those lovely graphic designers. Then I created a simple working document, the same design I used for planning “Look at That!” in the summer of 2020. I’m using my old buddy, Microsoft Word. 

Draft of cover for Double Take

If you would like to write a little book, just for yourself, here’s one way to approach it:

1- Open a new document in MS Word.

2- Go to the Layout tab.

3- Click on Landscape orientation, then click 2 column.

4- Whenever you want to insert an illustration, go to Insert text box —->  draw text box

5- After the box is created, go back to Insert—> Pictures—> from this device, and drop in the picture you like.

6- Then play with the size and shape of the box, and move it around until you like it. If you want to get really fancy, you can have the text flow around the text box.

I print each page after I’ve finished a good “first edit,” fold it in half so the text is on the outside, punch three holes in the “binding” edge, then clip them into an A5 looseleaf notebook.

Possible “look” of the book interior

Viola! This way, I can watch my book grow using actual paper, not just virtual screens. Just think, you too can create a booklet called “My Sketchbook Greatest Hits” for your own pleasure, or to share with close friends and family.

Of course, there are more sophisticated ways of creating a finished product at Staples or at an online printer, and I will surely do that once I’m closer to the finish line. If for now you just want to write and would love to watch it grow, this is my quaint way to enjoy the process.

When I’m done, I’ll have a single copy of a book that I will probably publish. In the meantime, all I can think of is, “This is going to be fun!”

*******

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Book #2, Musings on Life, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Vulnerable and scared . . . and okay.

My life as I knew it ended Thursday, March 24th, about 1pm.

At that moment, by mistake (and how it happened is irrelevant now), I gave total access to my computer to a hacker from another country. I have spent the best part of three days doing all the triage I could think of, with professionals, to protect/ re-protect my life savings, my identity, my secrets, my private life.

For now, at this moment, no money seems to have been taken, but the hacker had access to enough things that my changing all my passwords now feels a lot like installing twenty padlocks after the horse has left the barn.

This is not the uplifting blog post I wanted to be adding after a three week break. I’ve been hard at work, many hours each day, on what I lovingly call “Book No. 2”, and that’s why I’ve been gone from this blog for a while. I was going to share with you the current draft of the new book’s preface this week. That was my plan, and I will do so soon I hope. But for now, I’m trying to string together a few minutes here and there of NOT obsessing between “What else do I need to be doing/changing/protecting?” and “You stupid idiot, this is your own damned fault!”

The latter is not useful at all. The former is barely useful.

To you helpful folks out there, yes, I cancelled my credits cards, closed my bank account, and alerted my bank and savings companies immediately, by phone. Luckily both are based locally, so I walked over there Friday morning and they were all wonderful. I called a reliable computer tech support company immediately and got my computer cleaned and malware investigated (there was none).

The result? There’s a chance my meager life savings is safe. My personal privacy is destroyed, and although I miss it, I have a whole new level of empathy for the thousands of people who have been in my shoes through no fault of their own. I learned that being smart, and being careful, very careful, will not necessarily protect you from these sorts of things. But I also learned something even bigger.

I learned that the customer service people at my bank, my credit card company, and my investment company are brilliant in their people skills as well as their technical skills.

Every person who helped me could have successfully worked for a suicide hotline. Calming, but never patronizing. Kind, so kind. They were knowledgeable, patient, calm, skilled, and… inspiring. Yes, inspiring.

And I caught myself revisiting, effortlessly, that brilliant, tried-and-true Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Truth be told, I haven’t had much anxiety in a very long time. I’ve had challenges and concerns, but not the kind that are flooded with adrenaline as well. Not until three days ago, that is. I saw that the Serenity Prayer really does help you to sort out those two things:

“Is there something I can change/do right now, or

… for now, do I have to simply breathe and trust that the professionals who helped me knew what they were doing?”

I’m feeling okay during daylight hours, less well at night, when I roll over, wake up a little, peaceful and comfortable until I Remember What Happened, then I’m again flooded with Thought: panic, depression, fear. And back to the Serenity Prayer.

So the moral of the story (which is what the final paragraph is always for) is:

1- When you find yourself in the middle of a boat-load of lemons, remember there are professional lemonade chefs everywhere. We are never all in deep doodoo on the same day. We take turns.

2- Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. Some mistakes come with a huge price tag, some with a little price tag. Not every big price tag means it was a big mistake. A little mistake can be pretty devastating. It happens.

3- As with art, with life: Yelling Never Helps. (Can you tell I’m writing this blog post for me?)

4- In due time, I will find out the long-term consequences. For now, if I have done everything I can, I have to let it go, not assuming that no chips will fall, but that the chips will fall where they may, and I will deal with that when the time comes. If I’ve learned anything, it is that rehearsing disasters does not prevent them, it just wears down your immune system and makes you no fun to be around. I have witnessed this from both sides of the whining, and it’s not pretty.

So again, again, forgiveness is the lesson. I forgive myself for having made a mistake. I forgive the hacker for thinking what he was doing was a good idea. I am asking God to show me the entrance ramp to that broad highway I was cruising down the last few weeks, writing this book that, so far, has made me laugh out loud as well as reach for a tissue or two.

Each day gets a little better.

No matter what, don’t let life steal your joy, for life is exactly where you’ll pick up your next batch.

Posted in Book #2, Musings on Life, My Story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

The latest finished sketchbook

I just finished a sketchbook that I began back on June 15th, 2019. An educational ending to a long process!

The paper in this sketchbook is one of my favorites, the same as what was in the big square sketchbook I finished not long ago: Speedball Travelogue Artist Watercolor Journal, 95lb / 200 GSM. For me it has just the right amount of sizing and texture, and although it’s just 95#, I only need a small clip or two to keep the paper from buckling much, even with lots of juicy washes. The sketchbook I finished a couple days ago is the panorama format (landscape 3.5″ x 8.25″, and twice as long when opened up). From now on I’ll be using larger ones: either the portrait A5 or Square version. ( For sale here on Amazon. This is not an affiliate link, I don’t get a commission, it’s just FYI! 🙂 )

After many rabbit-holes and dead ends, I was able to upload this 9 minute video, a tour of this last sketchbook. Excuse the amateur videography, I am a rookie still, and want you to know that recent donations to my Tip Jar have helped to pay for some of this ‘continuing ed. for the elderly’!

Let me know what you think, and enjoy!

Pardon the wobble! That will improve with time, I promise. 🙂

*******

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Cartoons, Musings on Life, Pen & Ink, Seeing and looking, Sketchbooks, Tip Jar, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Time for another episode of . . . The Restless Artist!

Today, the 23rd of February 2022, has been an unreasonably balmy day here in northern New England. Lately we have felt fortunate when the temps made it up to freezing, but today, thanks to insanely strong winds from the south and west, we made it up to 63°F (17°C)! Luckily, I had a mid-day window of freedom, so I loaded up my very small art-kit and headed out for a walk to a park about a mile from my home. It’s a bit hilly between here and there so I had to pause to catch my breath a few times, but even that was a pleasure.

Today was a perfect example of why going for a walk with a sketchbook will change your life.

My first unplanned stop was at a café that serves amazing Greek food, including my all-time favorite, spanakopita. I bought a to-go serving of that, as well as a small coffee, and instead of heading off again, I paused at their high-top café table on their front deck and did this quick sketch.

Stillman & Birn Alpha 5.5″x8.5″ softcover book.

It’s funny, I used to think any time an artist used the term “quick sketch”, it was really false humility, like they were saying, “Look at what I effortlessly whipped up in no time at all.” Maybe that’s true occasionally, but for me, “quick sketch” now is code for, “Luckily I didn’t give myself enough time to overwork the heck out of it.” The color was added with a water-brush because I wanted to keep it quick, but I knew I wouldn’t settle for that later!

More often than not, I still experience that classic sinking feeling of, “Gee, I look around, and I have no idea what to draw…” The solution is something I think I included in my book, and that is the notion of, ”Draw what drew you.” If nothing comes to mind immediately, I just start to slowly scan my surroundings, and whenever I do a double-take, and glance back, I know something has caught my eye. More often than not, it is a sudden change in value, where a very dark object or area is butted up against a light, bright object.  In this case, it was that row of tall evergreens near me, receding into space. Bingo! Worth a try.

Next, I walked along to the park a few more blocks to the west, and after tiptoeing through puddles of muddy melted ice and snow, I found a large wooden box that was housing some sort of controls for either water or lighting and settled in on top of it. There I did the sketch in the upper left of the playground, and the upper right of the stone bridge, leaving the middle of the page open for either words or the next view.

I moved along to my next roosting spot, a granite bench dedicated to a young man who apparently died when he was only 26 years old. I took a moment to thank his family for their thoughtful memorial to their son, and decided to set up my full kit including water container, real paintbrush, palette, and board.

Here’s the kit, which folds down to a mere 7” x 9”, and works perfectly for me, for now. (I think most of us urban sketchers are also closet inventors: we have an unreasonable fascination with creating The Ultimate, Adequate Tiny Kit.)

Coroplast Kit folded, a compact 7″ x 9″
Kit open, taped hinge, hole cut to fit old pill-bottle.
Fully loaded, upper clip holds towel as well as stabilizing the hinge. Expeditionary Art pocket palette.
Et voila! Black clip at top stabilizes book at binding, as well as holding the white coroplast “portable table”!

That below-table-level pill bottle of “well water” has a great advantage over fixing your water container to the top of your board. Any sloshing due to stiff winds or getting jostled still keeps your water fully contained! Yes, this is no time for unintentional sketchbook baptism!

Here’s what I ended up writing at the bottom of this two-page spread, my final moments on the stone bench for today:

Final sketch, see transcript below.

“You don’t get a beautiful day like this without gale-force winds as well in the middle of February. I sketched the playground first upper left, then the stone bridge, then finally made it to the Upper Glen— where now I’m having to hold tight to the book as well as my own seat! A gentle man walked by a moment ago with his bike, paused, walked back. Said what a beautiful day it was, then said, “I have a word for you—Hope.”  and walked on. There are angels everywhere.”

That sort of interaction just doesn’t happen when you look like you’re concentrating reading a book, or heaven forbid, you’re on your smartphone.

 I don’t think I looked lonely at that moment, but after his comment I realized yes, I could always use an extra dash of Hope. Today’s weather was full of Hope. My decision to walk all the way to the park and back was thanks to my hope that I could make it that far (I’m not as spry as I used to be).

When you have hope enough days in a row, it can turn to faith in yourself, your fellow humans, and the world in general. I’m not likely to get that sensation sitting alone at home or hunkered down with my laptop or phone. But give me a piece of paper, a pen, and a place to sit outside, and look out.

Or more accurately, “Look at That!”

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As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in 2- Bolts: Sketching Tools, Pen & Ink, Sketching tools, Tip Jar, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Being Bored is a Luxury Not Afforded Everyone

Each morning when I first awaken, I ask myself the same question:

What shall I make of this day?

I’ve entered the minefield of Elderhood, and it’s as jarring as puberty was.

After the shock and insult of puberty, we enter The Growing Years; about fifty of them.

First, we must navigate our way through several years of Formal Schooling, cramming our little brains full of information that may or may not be useful later.

Then in our 20s, 30s, and 40s, many of us invest a great deal of time and money in our own and our friends’ engagements, marriages, baby showers, birth celebrations, and raising of children.

Our minds continue to grow as our careers expand and take unexpected turns, occasionally including cul-de-sacs and dead ends. We become time-management slalom skiers, racing through the obstacle course of each day’s agenda, collapsing into bed at night, grateful that we survived another day.

As fledgling children finally leave the nest, and retirement parties become the new way to celebrate, we discover there’s no map to help us find our way because the next phase comes on slowly and feels different for each person. We stay busy, and if we have grandkids, they may be young enough to want to visit us. Our bodies may still be relatively reliable, so we’re free to indulge in all those retirement activities the sports-minded among us have dreamed about.

People like me, without children or grandchildren, still experience this transition of being over-booked for five or six decades, then suddenly having this new thing called “free time.” We can take a nap just because we feel like it, even when we’re not sick in bed with a fever. If we stay up late, or are awake in the middle of the night, we don’t fret because we have the luxury of sleeping late if our body needs to do that. It sounds wonderful, and it is, for a while.

Then comes the part we thought would never apply to us: The Minefield of Aging. As I write this, I’m thinking, “Do I dare make a blog post out of this? Is this just one big bummer?” Maybe so. I know that as I turn 70 years old in a few short months, it’s no longer a surprise when I hear of an acquaintance’s sudden heart attack or cancer diagnosis or broken hip. Suddenly our calendars become strewn with doctor’s appointments instead of hair cuts and business meetings. We become cautious as we open emails with the subject line “Latest News” because it could well be the sender’s latest diagnosis or a mutual friend’s death.

It’s easy for us elders to keep these stories to ourselves. It takes courage to face the fact that daily life will, at some point, unavoidably shift.

If you’re still reading this, congratulations, it gets better.

The good news is that this grit, gravel, and sandy soil of Aging is precisely where we get to plant our final seeds, the hardy ones that thrive best in adverse conditions. They are the relentlessly resilient dandelions of Elderhood. There is no time to waste, and yet plenty of time to savor. Everything, especially Time, becomes precious.

So, as I ask myself, “What shall I make of this day?” I also ponder:

Am I feeling bored? That’s proof I’m neither putting out fires, nor in triage in the emergency room.

Am I feeling judgmental? Consider the possibility that I was self-critical first.

Am I feeling unloved? If so, I have certainly forgotten my well-deserved place in this world.

The following video, 52 minutes long, may well NOT be your cup of tea. It includes profanity. For some, or for many, it may sound irreverent as well. It may seem to have nothing to do with the other posts on this website, and yet for me it feels like the underpinning of everything that has ever helped me release the shackles I macraméd for myself over decades of listening to others instead of to my soul.

There’s a stillness I feel while sketching outdoors that I find no other way. Some discover it through traditional meditation. I get there by looking, and breathing, and looking some more. It’s a peaceful sense of timeless wonder, awe, liberation; the “now, Now, NOW” that Kyle speaks of here. Toward the end of the video, he laughingly describes how useless his memory has become, because Here and Now are so attractive, so compelling, that he never wants to leave. To others, it looks like memory loss, but it’s not. It’s Now-Bliss. It’s addictive, with no side effects, except perhaps social ones. If you’re in love with Now, people may accuse you of being in denial, or being self-absorbed, or even heartless.

In truth, you are only as heartless as every other infatuated person has ever been. Welcome home.

Kyle Cease video. May 23, 2021  

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As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful.

Finally, thanks for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Musings on Life, My Story, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity) | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment