October Sunday afternoon, Concord NH
The flowers at the police memorial sculpture in Concord were beautiful in the noonday sun, but by the time I got back over there at 2 o’clock the light had changed and most of it was in yet-lovely shade. The mums are deep burgundy, bright purple, and lemon yellow, glorious with the cobalt blue sky and fiery leaves strewn about. So I felt like the equivalent of a guest at the Four Seasons Restaurant on the first day of a self-imposed fast. Why, you ask?
My own fault of course. I recently finished up a sketchbook, and had decided to give my new square-format book a theme: “B-Plus”. That means every shade of Black, plus only one accent color. And that’s the book I had in my bag.
The point of this kind of self-limiting exercise is to do it consistently, to get one’s values right. (In this time of political extremism and mud-slinging, it is a relief to concentrate on visual values rather than moral ones!) The ink I am using in my fountain pen is called ‘Lexington Grey’, and it offers me the silkiness of high quality ink, with a ‘color’ that is reminiscent of soft pencil marks. All in all a very sensual, gentle experience really. I have learned from studying Danny Gregory’s work (https://dannygregorysblog.com/books/everyday-matters/) that there is a strange tyranny in erasers; it is The Siren Song of Self-Doubt. With ink you can certainly make corrective second and third lines, but all prior lines are revealed too, making the final sketch more like a movie than a pristine snapshot. This style of sketch conveys more energy, more action, more ‘process’. I have grown very accustomed to this ink-first approach, and use a water-brush filled with watered-down ink for the grey shading.
[Strange Aside: Have you ever seen the Tracy/Hepburn movie “Desk Set”? It is a classic. There is a scene in it where Hepburn has gotten very drunk at a Christmas party, and she is trying to say, “Lexington Avenue bus.” It comes out slurred, sounding more like ‘Mexican Avenue bus’, which sends her into spasms of laughter including unexpected nose snorts. When I use this Lexington Grey ink I think of that scene and I grin. Another film review by Herron instead of Ebert.]
I finished my sketching time with stiff, cold fingers and a craving for hot tea. As I walked from the Legislative Office Building Plaza to Main Street, I stopped at the little ATM room at the front of my bank and laughed, noticing the floor needed raking, not sweeping. All along the sidewalks on the way to the cafe there were dancing mini-cyclones of colorful crunchy leaves crashing and levitating with the enthusiasm of a Gene Kelly tap-dance. I paused and closed my eyes to listen as well, and heard an inland version of sea waves breaking on a pebbly shoreline. Tomorrow I will try to record the sound of these scampering leaves so I can play it back in my snug loft apartment during a February blizzard. I love autumn in all its glory, and it will soon give way to unknown, equally beautiful surprises. Stay tuned.