Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hello darling, just a quick post for this evening, I'm exhausted and can't seem to get myself re-energized. I was "on the go" all day, no nap - and so I'm feeling it now.

I spent the afternoon at Olana, in a variation of an 'en plein air' writerly encounter. Olana was sponsoring a relaxed little art session, providing basic materials -- clipboard with blank paper, plastic case stocked with drawing pencils, erasers, and a sharpener... The suggestion was to go out into the landscape and, as Frederic Church himself did, select a scene or detail for study, sketch it in pencil, and to write notes as to details to be filled in back at the studio, for example, specific colors.

I had a nice time. It was a beautiful afternoon, sunny and though windy, milder than I thought. I picked up my clipboard at the education center (at this point I'm very friendly with their charming coordinator, I've attended many programs there over the years - so it's a cozy place for me to stop by). It was an opportunity for me, so stocked, to explore a hiking trail, an original carriage road to the estate, that climbs, in leisurely graded uphill switchbacks, up the steep hillside to Church's magnificent citadel at the top.

I have no natural ability or training in drawing or painting, but felt that it might be interesting to give it a try, exercise a different (though not unrelated) creative muscle. I marveled as I walked along the beautiful brown-leaf littered wooded trail, this intimate carriage drive with glimpses through the bare trees of vast distant panoramas, sky and mountains beyond, that Church (and all artists before his time) didn't have benefit of a camera to record images of for reference, but rather, had to rely upon sketches and careful notes.

I eschewed attempting to draw anything from nature in the landscape, given my lack of adeptness in drawing. I thought the geometric forms of the house might be easier.

The house loomed before me, shrouded in mystery and romantic, bleached of color through the winter trees as DuMaurier's Manderley...

But once I reached the house itself - close enough to touch it, which I could have (why didn't I?!) - the colors blazed in their full multicolored precise yet phantasmagorical splendor.

I perched on a low stone wall that afforded a view of the entire house, and thought -- okay, I'll sketch the whole thing. Shouldn't be hard! I turned my clipboard with its blank sheets of paper this way and that, tried to sharpen a pencil (the sharpener was dull), then removed a sheet of paper and creased it in half to make a straight-edge so as to trace even lines...

I quickly realized that there was no way I could sit there and on the fly endeavor to sketch even the broad outlines of the house. But I relished the opportunity to simply sit and observe its marvelous pleasing geometries, and all the myriad details of its construction and decoration.

The best I could do, I determined, was to try to focus on a single small detail, try at least to draw that as best I could. And so I stood on the small lawn at the back of the house and regarded a row of carved porch pillars, colorfully painted in Persian-inspired exciting, contrasting glazed tones.

I focused on the decorative finials (if that's the word) at the top of a single column. I penciled freehand its forms, and described the hues -- "blue dot at center surrounded by pumpkin orange," "gold background, dark green figure with light green center," "maize", etc. -- a do-it-myself paint-by-numbers chart.

Mostly I was by myself, as I stood sketching, but occasionally little cloudbursts of tourists or other visitors would come by... and I'd move out of the way both so that they could have their photo ops with the porch pillars as their backdrop. Also I didn't wish anyone - not even a random stranger - to imagine that I was a practiced artist expertly sketching a flawless rendering...

It felt more "plannerly" to me, perhaps, than artistic (at least that's how I could feel more comfortable out "in the field" in a small crowd - no I'm not an artist, just noting observations) -- trying to do a rough schematic...

I returned by the same carriage trail down the lovely hill, enjoying the feel of muscles in my legs - different ones encountered going downhill than up. I felt pleasantly aware of my physique, and quite fit, though it wasn't much of a vigorous workout, and I really must get back to my pilates routine tomorrow...

I got back to the education center, a modestly scaled, classroom-size building set at the edge of a field. Tables had been set together as in a dining room - place settings for a dozen potential participants -- places set with drawing paper, colored pencils, thin long brushes, pastels, and tiny pots of water, for dunking watercolor brushes.

I had the pencil sketch I'd made -- and though its broad outlines registered, and I could read my writing, somehow the complexity of the patterns of color -- I couldn't recall them now, in trying to render them - and my notes seemed wholly inadequate. How could I have forgotten to note the color of the field of that segment?, I puzzled. The answer is, the design is complex, and - was there a "field" -- or was it that I hadn't quite captured the complexity?  Perhaps due to my vantage point -- the finials had been at a distance of several feet, plus considerably overhead...

I thought - okay, I'll redraw my original, and color it in...

And soon realized that that was the wrong tack. I was drawing lines, as in a coloring book, and was about to fill them in. But that's not what Church's Persian colors look like at all! They aren't each delineated with black lines.

So that was an interesting drawerly (well 'writerly' is a word, isn't it?) insight to make... so I abandoned that iteration. But also recalled - as I sat there in the 'Wagon House' of the education center, in the charming company of the young woman who's the education coordinator, and another young woman, and we were listening, as each of us worked and chatted, to a CD of what I think of as "Ken Burns Civil War Music" -- [fill in blanks later... what disc? hornpipe? what instruments?...? all that was missing was the David McCullough voiceover]...

Where was I? Oh right -- my mother. I have a memory - and I recalled it now, as I sat there with my abandoned black-outlined preliminaries (and my mother absolutely disdained cheap mass-market coloring books)... that once in a pre-K "art" session, out in the back garden somewhere on Park Lane in Darien - I had painted (perhaps with 'finger paints,' another medium my mother abhorred) some childish landscape, involving a sun, and perhaps a house or tree.

I remember my mother showing up in that back garden, a neighbor's house I suppose, I don't know the exact circumstances. I was happy to see her, and to show her my painting. Of which she was dismissive. "Since when have you seen a black line around the sun?," she demanded. "Or look at leaves, or a tree -- do you see black lines around them?" Auugh. My memory... though goodness knows, of course, all these years later, I may be - however inadvertently - misremembering, elaborating, or ascribing some frustration on my mother's part (which seemed huge to me at the time) that perhaps she wasn't quite evincing at that moment.

Anyway, after that I abandoned
coloring books
drawing black outlines around objects I was trying to sketch
finger paints

Awww Mom... God knows I have my issues with my mother -- but I can't say that this is one of them.

Still I remembered it this afternoon, with my black-outlined sketch.  I crumpled the draft, embarked on another, and tried - as best I could - to render it more carefully, vivid colors abutting one another.

End of story, sweetheart. My dearest darling Minotaur, good night, sweet dreams - what would I do without you?

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