I’ve been drawing in sketchbooks for many decades now. I sometimes go back and revisit older books just to see what I did or to show others. Recently I did this with a series of sketchbooks from 2000 on. I discovered a number of drawings I wanted to work on more, mostly in coloring and shading. Here are 4 drawings from this endeavor.
If you know my recent work you know I often write short stories to accompany my drawings. In these drawings though the stories or observations were written directly on the page. I specifically went for stream of consciousness oriented narratives with long run-on sentences that imitated the way I actually experienced and thought about the moment.
The classy student studying with the grey eyeshadow and glimmery lips while her boyfriend who looks young and too young for her reads a magazine with three bug bits on his ankle in a row looking like a constellation and she uses a blue and red pen & huge hoop earrings, the biggest i’ve ever seen with her left hand and very small delicate fingers with no polish in Norman, Oklahoma on a summer’s night that threatens to rain while the two girls behind her wear red Sooner shirts and read & talk about the young star who is too thin and I draw instead of read the manual on the class I am here for while I catch a bright pink purse pass by a tall guy sitting with yellow.
The tall thin woman at Panera with great veins reading her bible and taking notes and eating a bagel and ignoring that I am drawing her while she drinks coffee and contemplates divorce on a hot summer morning in Tulsa.
The woman looked like she had been crying; splotchy skin, red eyes & nose but she had not.
‘Ruby Lipgloss’ 2004-2016
The woman with the ruby lip gloss and zig zag parted hair looking at the person in the door and wondering if he noticed her perfume when he passed as she made a call to her boyfriend to ask if he picked up mascara for her.
I draw in church. I used to draw the pianist quite a bit but then the orchestra got so big I am no longer able to see her. Now I draw other members of the orchestra, most often the French Horn player and the Violinists. They sit where I have a good view of them and many of them stay during the sermon so I can draw them longer.
Here are 4 drawings from my violinist collection.
I have been drawing in church since I would say about 1981 or so, hard to say exactly. I go between drawing something or someone I see as accurately as I can, as in this drawing and making something completely up in my head having nothing to do with what is in front of me.
I don’t worry to much about getting the background exact. Sometimes I get most of it, sometimes just part of it and make up the rest. In this case only the steps leading to the alter are accurate, with the donation bags full of school supplies sitting in front.
The style I have in each drawing usually depends on the pen I am using. If I use a brush pen the style is simpler, calmer.
Sometimes I will get only a portion of a person on the paper before he or she leaves or moves. In that case I will completely makeup the rest of the drawing.
I had to go to the art supply store and decided that as long as I was all the way there I might as well get some coffee and create some art.
I got my giant cappuccino and settled in to draw the woman at the window. She was deep into writing and I had a feeling she would be there a while. Who knows, I might get lucky and be able to draw the entire scene before she left. Of course all I really needed was for her to stay long enough to draw her. The rest of the scene I was pretty sure would remain where it was.
I was able to finish the entire line drawing, including the background. When I went over to show her the drawing I told her I wasn’t sure what I would put in the thought bubbles but that I would probably write a short story and the words in the bubbles would be part of that story. She told me she was actually writing a film script if that helped at all. I told her it did.
Britni Harris at Fair Fellow Coffee House, Tulsa, Oklahoma
When Claire the Clarinetist was finished playing she could have chosen to leave the altar as do many of the other orchestra members. But the orchestra was arranged today so that she was facing directly towards the congregation (usually she is facing sideways) and she thought it would be fun to just sit there and see what the pastor sees every week.
Chapter Two – NO
The first thing she noticed was the raven-haired woman in the front row trying to control her kids. Her husband was also there but he was having no interaction with any of them. She had seen this happen again and again with this family. The mother had to do the hard work of interacting with the kids constantly and the father did nothing. She wondered if they would ever be friends. She thought, “No.”
Chapter Three – YES
As Claire looked at them longer she realized something else. The mother was getting the hugs and the smiles from the kids. The father was not. He may have been missing the hassle, but he was also missing the love. Now when she wondered if they would ever be friends, she thought, “Yes.”
Chapter Four – I DON’T KNOW
She then cast her eyes on an elderly man. He looked alert, with sparkling eyes. He had on a very nice sweater. She wondered about him, who he was, who he had been. She imagined him as a young man. She wondered if they would have been friends back when he was her age now. She thought, “I don’t know.”
Chapter Five – I KNOW
Her attention was pulled back to the sermon. The Pastor was telling a joke. It went on way too long and when the punch line finally came it was terrible. The whole congregation laughed though. All except the elderly man. He rolled his eyes. That is when she realized she would have to go meet him because they would be good friends. She thought, “I know.”
Chapter Six – MAYBE
She looked up into the balcony and noticed a striking blonde woman. One of the spotlights aimed at the altar was directly behind the woman and it lit up her big blonde hairdo like a halo. She could tell, even from a distance, that she had on impeccable clothing. She looked like she had a lot of money. She wondered if they would ever be friends. She thought, “Maybe.”
Chapter Seven – MAYBE NOT
As she continued to watch the woman in the balcony she noticed her looking back at her. Then she leaned over to the woman next to her and whispered in her ear. When she did that, she gestured toward the altar and pointed her finger. They both smiled and suppressed a giggle. The Clarinetist knew she had been pointing at her. She thought, “Maybe not.”
Claire eventually met the woman in the front row. They became good friends. She would babysit their kids once in a while when the couple would go out on date nights. It turned out they were very old fashioned but very much in love. He was kind and thoughtful to his kids, though not particularly warm. She adored her husband and greatly appreciated his ability to discipline the kids with love.
Clair did go and meet the elderly man. They became good friends. He started attending the noon concerts she did once a month with her little quintet she had. He was a widower, having been married 57 years before his wife passed away. Claire played his favorite song at his funeral 5 years later.
Claire ran into the blonde woman in the church bathroom a few weeks later. The blonde woman said, “I just want you to know how much I admire your playing every Sunday. My friend and I sit in the balcony and just adore the entire orchestra. We both like to sit up there because the acoustics are best. We can hear your clarinet very distinctly. We always make sure to point you out to each other when we think you have an exceptionally cool outfit on.”
Many believe these things happened. I assume most believe the crucifixion actually happened. And some certainly believe the resurrection is to be understood as having also actually happened. Others believe it is to be taken symbolically, not literally.
But as heretical as it might be, that isn’t of great concern to me. The reason is because, whether literal or symbolic, the resurrection is still a story about an idea. It’s the idea that you cannot kill good. You cannot kill love. You cannot kill forgiveness, mercy, compassion. Those things will always be more powerful than hate, than selfishness, than greed, than judgment. They will always triumph because they are always needed more than hate.
Hate is an indulgence. I think when we see someone filled with hate we should say, “Wow, there’s someone with too much time on their hands.” Because it’s true. They are indulging in a selfish, greedy exercise for their own entertainment, their own self-righteousness, Their own feeling of superiority.
But Love? Love isn’t an indulgence. It’s a life necessity. Humanity can’t live without it. It is what engenders hope. It is what builds relationships. It is what sustains us in the midst of tragedy. Hate can’t do any of those things, only love can.
The Passion Lesson
So, whether you believe Jesus physically or symbolically rose from the dead, there still has to be a reason for it to have happened. If you believe it is so you are saved? Saved from what? Eternal damnation is, of course, one answer, and that may be true. But what about another answer? Maybe you were saved from hate and judgment. Maybe you were saved from thinking hate and judgment were the best road forward, the best way to react to life. Much of the world around us certainly promotes them as something to feel and act on.
Maybe you were saved when you learned from seeing Jesus being willing to practice what he preached so thoroughly that he allowed himself to be crucified. Not just to fulfill an ancient prophesy, and not just to make a cosmic level save for humanity, but to show humanity something about living on this earth.
Your Neighbor, Here and Now
Jesus so often talked about the Kingdom of God being at hand. I think he meant in the here and now on earth. And how do we access it? By following his teachings. And what were his teachings? Yes, there are teachings about the theology and government of the afterlife. But beyond saying you believe it there isn’t anything else you can do but believe it.
But his teachings on allowing nothing to get in the way of loving your neighbor? That we can act on right now. And he even made it easy for us all. When asked, “but who is my neighbor?” He made it very clear, everyone is your neighbor.
Three times in the last week I have gone to a coffee shop and drawn. The first and second time led to pretty good drawings I thought. But the third time I struggled to get a good drawing.
I thought I would show you the drawings and explain some of the reasons why it went the way it did. Of course, there isn’t a reason for everything in art and creativity so I am not trying to explain it as if it’s a science experiment (where there is a reason for everything). But I think it can be helpful to show failures as well as successes.
The Stranger at Starbucks
I had to take my car in to have something looked at so took some of the waiting time and went to get coffee and breakfast. I was hoping to find someone interesting to draw and Periscope live as I did so. I went to Starbucks and as I walked in I noticed a woman sitting in the corner with her back to the window. She was at a small 2 person table and was talking to someone facing her. She had a nice brochure in front of her and seemed to be explaining something about a company or a sales opportunity.
The woman had a beautiful long face, eyes that were slightly turned up and a wide, expressive mouth. But in trying to capture those elements I exaggerated them. I then reduced her neck and shoulders in size as I tried to complete the drawing. The result was more of a caricature than a portrait. It’s not terrible, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to capture what I saw as a beautiful set of expressive lines and I don’t think I did that.
This time I thought I would do the drawing in my sketchbook. I started the same way I started the first drawing, with a simple line. I was focused first on seeing and drawing the line that went from her forehead all the way down to her chin. Getting that to flow right was key to the rest of her face. I then went back up to her eye and worked on it’s shape and the line of her nose. By that time I already knew my initial line was off. My solution was to force myself out of that obsession with accuracy by changing my technique to a more gestural one. In other words I decided to draw fast and furious, going over a line multiple times as I went. It allowed me to correct the lines I didn’t like and move more spontaneously in the rest of the drawing.
However, even with a gesture drawing, if you start out with a fundamentally flawed construction, it can be hard to bring it back. And that is what I had done. By the time my initial work on her face was done I knew I had her eyes too high on her face and that their shape made them look vacant and amateurish. But I continued on thinking perhaps working with shading would fix the problem. It didn’t. I was able to do pretty well with her body this time around but it wasn’t going to matter if how I drew her face made her look like an alien, which it did. I worked it a bit longer before I decided there was only one more thing to try, and that was to lower and reshape the eyes. Unfortunately, I had already so overworked her eyes trying to save them that lowering them made them look even worse. I gave up at that point.
I decided to try one more time on a napkin. I was determined to be spare and simple with my line and learn from what I just done. This time I started with her forehead line, then her eye, wanting to redeem myself after having drawn them so bad the first two times. I felt good about the first one, the one farthest from me and continued with her nose and jawline. At that point I felt I had a better start than the first two.
While her mouth is proportionally larger than average, in the first drawing I had made it too big. This time I waited until I saw her talk enough times to see how her lips looked and drew the four lines as fast as I could. Then I focused on getting the other eye right. After that I felt I had the bones of the drawing right and could move on to her body and hair with a loose and simple confidence.
This one is the best of the three, I have no doubt. The academic issues of proportion and shape are dealt with effectively and the expression allows for interpretation and imagination.
Success From Failure
So, I think I finished with a success. A minor success so far, but a success nonetheless. But I wouldn’t have achieved that success without the ability to walk away from a failure. Stopping something and saying it’s a failure is not failing in the ultimate sense. It’s simply admitting something is beyond repair, learning from it, and moving on to better things.
Barbara woke up and took a walk towards the volcano. She got lightheaded on the walk and saw a vision of all her past boyfriends tumbling down the steep mountain.
She saw Josh, the young man she had the affair with at the beach resort. She didn’t know if he really should be included since he wasn’t technically a boyfriend, more like a one night stand, even though it did last 4 days.
She saw Bob, the guy she met at the photography store. He wanted to photograph her but she turned the tables and eventually got him to pose for her instead. He broke up with her when he realized she had posted the full frontal nudes of him on her Flickr account.
She saw Jared, the older man she had a fling with at her job. He was divorced and a bit pathetic, but he smelled nice and bought her things. She broke up with him when she realized he thought 9/11 was a government conspiracy.
She saw Benjamin, the Jewish guy from her AA group. They bonded when the both realized they didn’t believe in God. He broke up with her when he found the love of his life on Eharmony.
She saw Robin, the dapper fellow she met at the hair salon. He was great in bed and she would have kept him but she caught him with her makeup and panties on one day and couldn’t handle that he was prettier than she was.
She saw Trevor, the British Cad who she knew was cheating from the very beginning but she stayed with him because he had a nice penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. Ironically he broke up with her when he caught her cheating with Benjamin.
She saw Kevin, the police officer who stopped her for speeding. The went out for almost a year, but then he was wounded in the line of duty and had to go live with his parents in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. They broke up when he reconnected with his elementary school sweetheart back home.
And finally she saw Tim, the bodybuilder she met backstage at some competition. She liked his big muscles but he had erectile dysfunction and it was something she just couldn’t get over.
When she returned from her walk she called her husband, who was away on a business trip, to say she loved him. There was no answer and that made her wonder what he was doing.
’tis a rare day when I go to hang out at a coffee shop. Friday I had to leave my house for 2 hours because we fogged the attic for spiders. My wife has had spider bites a number of times this year and so we have started having the house sprayed. We have had quite a few spiders this spring and summer, in particular the dreaded brown recluse (probably not what bit her, but we aren’t sure), one of the nastiest spiders there is. If it bites you it can have your flesh start to die. I’ve seen it in action on an ex-girlfriend’s daughter’s leg and it’s BAD.
Because of that I went to the new Starbucks in our quaint little hamlet here in Oklahoma to draw, periscope and drink some coffee. A young woman, styled impeccably, walked in right before me and I knew, if she was staying, I would want to draw her. Luckily she did. Below is the drawing I did on a Starbucks napkin.
Most of the time I don’t ask permission to draw someone. But in this case the tables were arranged so I would have to sit very close to her and I was going to be periscoping my drawing, which meant I would be talking to my iPad and picking up my drawing and turning it around to show my viewers. It was going to be obvious what I was doing and so I wanted to ask her in advance, which I did. She graciously allowed me to proceed. You can see a photo of her with the drawing below.
I periscoped the entire time I was drawing. The app quit about 20 minutes in and I had to restart. I was able to get part 1 of the video processed so both the comments and ‘hearts’ are showing. Part 2 had expired by the time I tried to process it (Periscope only keeps videos available for 24 hours). However, I was able to save it without the comments and hearts. You can find me on Periscope at @thenapkindad (same handle as I have on twitter and instagram).
Put the video on full screen to be able to read the comments.
Part 2 – this one does not have any comments or hearts, sorry about that. I am still learning how to integrate Periscope into everything else!
Here is Jennie with the drawing after I finished. She was very kind and sweet as well as stylish. I really appreciated her allowing me to draw and periscope her. I gave her my card and hope she sees this. Thank you Jennie!
This week we have been on vacation in Europe. We just finished 5 days in London and are now on the EuroStar train to Paris for another 5 days.
During the international portion of our flight to London I sat next to this woman. She was frenetic pack rat who made her nest in the seat next to mine. It was pretty humorous. I felt like I was watching a Discovery Channel documentary on the odd nesting habits of humans.
We stayed at an Airbnb apartment in the Lavender Hill area of London. Each morning before my wife and daughter were awake I went to a little coffee shop, Il Molino, had a Caffe Mocha, a pastry and drew the people around me.
The Barista Libusa
The first drawing I did was of a customer ordering something from the barista. A bit later I showed the barista the drawing that I had done of her. She was very happy seeing the drawing. The barista’s name was Libusa. This was at the same time I ordered tea and croissants to bring back to the apartment for Linda and Caitlin. I tried to pay, but couldn’t due to having forgot my wallet back at the apartment. I offered to leave my iPad with Libusa to guarantee I would come back but she was fine with me going to get it without doing that.
Here is an edited Periscope video that shows me doing the drawing.
The Dreamer Giada
When I returned with my wallet I drew a young woman eating her oatmeal at a table nearby. She finished up and left and I continued to draw the rest of the scene.
While I drew I Periscoped live. Periscoping is live video broadcasting with texting interaction. In other words while I am on the air people can watch me draw, I can talk to them, and they can text comments, questions, etc. to me (and each other). The texts scroll up the screen and slowly disappear.
I was showing them this drawing and asking what I should write about her in my little space I reserved for the story. One my followers, @VictoriajamesUK said she should be in love and be waiting for her lover to return. Later Victoria told us that her husband was away inn Scotland and she was waiting for him to return and that was why she said that. In honor of her I put the initials VJ on the model’s shirt.
A bit later I showed Libusa the drawing that I had done of the woman eating the oatmeal, and told her I didn’t get to show it to the woman because she left quickly. The second Barista standing behind the counter said,”Oh, that is ME! I didn”t leave, I just went behind the counter.” She was even more excited about having been drawn than Libusa was. Her name was Giada. I later took a photo of her with her drawings.
Here is an edited Periscope video of me doing the drawing.
The Customer with Crutches
The next morning I returned to Il Molino and drew again. This time their was a woman with a pair of crutches that caught my eye and I drew and periscoped until Linda and Caitlin came to pick me up before we headed out for a day of sightseeing. She left quickly and I wasn’t able to get her name. I wasn’t too pleased with the drawing and realized that even though I love to periscope as I draw I still need to keep my creative process intact and not get too distracted talking to others. It’s learning process no doubt!
The Periscoping Self-Portrait
On our final day in London I didn’t have anyone in the coffee shop to draw so I drew myself periscoping. I scope using my iPad. I prop it up far enough away so the drawing can be seen as I create it. I highly recommend you get and use the app for your phone or ipad. It’s fun and insightful. You can find me at @thenapkindad.
The Inanimate Wish
And finally I did a drawing that was only partially based on what I was seeing. I had the coffee and pastry in front of me but the bus was made up obviously. Just a fun goofy drawing, more like my napkins to end my time in London.