I write a lot about our work, and ways to get started on your art things. Those are primary components of our lives as artists. But just as vital is our relation to others. We don’t create for the universe. We create to connect, to describe the human condition, to explore deep mysteries within ourselves, to craft meaning.
We aren’t just islands apart from each other. We share responsibility for what being human means. There is no objective goal or blueprint to follow. We create it every moment, days to weeks to years. Therefore, our generosity of spirit and kindness elevate our own humanity.
The least among us, the children, the marginalized, and the vulnerable are important to who we are. For one thing, all of us have been all of those things at some point in our lives. Some of us quickly move past those states, and some remain.
I hope it will always seem worth it to remember my way isn’t the right way, just mine. I hope I keep wanting to help my fellow humans, to stay open to possibility, to keep reaching out to those who remain open to teaching back. People can disappoint individually. I still believe in us together.
I’ve been looking for a good pencil for journals and notebooks recently. I read a few praises and criticisms of the Blackwing reinterpretations, so when I was at a local art supply store that happened to have them, I picked several up to try.
I wish the reality matched the exciting headline. Imagine literally blasting graphite from a thin cedar wand and watching lesser instruments explode in aromatic burst of shavings.
But I still had fun, and here’s what I decided.
All graphite leads were 2B. The control was one of the beat up Pentel P205s with Pentel lead I’ve used since settling on it as my pencil of choice in art school. I liked that I could quickly rotate to a sharp edge any time, without ever taking time to sharpen or feel the weight change. I’d have preferred a bit more of it, but that’s just the compromise I had to make.
I don’t intend to make this a long post, the results are pretty straightforward.
My faithful plastic pal has a decent thin to thick transition, but it isn’t the best at grading smoothly.
The Blackwing Pearl was an immediate delight. Very smooth with a lovely zero-to-black gradient.
Prismacolor has gone a bit waxy recently, but it’s still a good drawing pencil. Writing, not so much, it’s way too mushy.
The General Pencil Co. Kimberly is sold as a drawing pencil, but it was great to write with, too. It doesn’t mush out or snap off easily, even with as gorilla-like a touch as I have. Celebrated comics artist Michael Kaluta calls it the “chop it out of the page” approach. The Kimberly was the best compromise between writing and drawing facility.
The Staedtler Mars Lumograph black is tightly precise, which is something I’d prize for linework, but isn’t my favorite for shading. Also, it didn’t flow as well as I wanted when writing.
So, I settled on the Blackwing Pearl and the General Kimberly. I did a short “long point” test (below) to check ease of writing and duration of the point.
After that, a short text sample.
Interestingly, I found when I tried to press more lightly the Blackwing worked a lot better. But it still wasn’t as consistent as the General. The only thing is, that eraser is really handy, and I have to use it a bunch. I’m not sure the eraserless Kimberly is a good fit for what I want.
And, hey, that’s pretty much it. I’ll get back to you about which one keeps me picking it up after a few weeks.
There’s a component of kids making art that isn’t always connected to adults doing it. We often see art making as work. Children just see it as play. Or, probably more accurately, they don’t think about it as anything, they just feel like creating stuff and do it.
It’s so easy to get in our own way, worrying about our skills or motivation. We fear the reception of the finished thing won’t be good. All that gets in the way. This is another case where focusing on process or praxis can help. You start something because you need to, and damn the finished thing that happens somewhere over there, beyond us, outside where we can see.
Once again, we may have a map: an outline, a sketch, a chord chart. But the path can always deviate, and you may or may not end up where you planned. It doesn’t matter. The hardest part is starting—the premise of Wonder Boys aside—and getting into kid mode might help you do it.
As you focus on process over end result, it’s good to remember to have an end in mind. You need a point on the map to head to, even if you change it midway through.
Lots of projects never gets done because there’s no specific point to shine the red dot of our attention on. Focus is good, and it helps get lots of things done. What’s less discussed is that you can always shift that focus.
Life is crazy sometimes. You never know what random chance will bring. It’s good to be able to seize opportunities when they present themselves. Sometimes that means starting over. But if the thing you’ve been working hard at isn’t coming together, move the dot, refocus, finish the thing now. Naturally, you can’t just do this for every whim. But sometimes you were wrong about what the work meant or what was important about it.
I’ve been looking at drawings by children. I’ve tried to remember how it felt to be 5 or 7 years old and make things on paper with abandon. Kids have less of the fear of starting and end product than adults do, and we could do better about remembering how they make stuff.
We could also do better at trying to capture their pretty natural facility with flow, the zen-like state of mind where everything melts away but the work. It’s a kind of reality oblivion, where you become—in a sense— godlike, in that you’re creating a self-contained universe.
That means nothing to kids, of course. They just feel the urge to make something and head off to do it. That’s dangerous in construction or engineering, but for art? It’s a boon.
In the same way that animal societies are rudimentary, even though often complex, while human ones are orders of magnitude more specific and consciously deliberate, creative purpose and execution are likewise.
We sort of have a duty to keep making the (positive) things and putting them out into the world. It reinforces who we should be, who we want to be more than violence and self-aggrandizement.
NOTE: This post was originally crafted for Jun 13, but I found out later that some electronic mishap or other wiped out most of the text and links leaving only the partial draft unpublished, so I’ve tried as best I can to remake it.
If you haven’t seen The Carters’ (Beyoncé & Jay-Z, after the latter’s surname) new video, “Apeshit,” it’s a wonderful and powerful repurposing of The Louvre for the video. I’ve seen some shade thrown and trash talked about their lack of formal education, but Jay and Bey’ are avid art collectors and clearly know what they’re doing.
There are plenty of breakdowns online about the art and symbolism, but I wanted to point out a couple things I saw that I haven’t seen noted. The video takes place almost entirely within The Louvre, as staid and haughty an institution as exists in the art world. Its unmoving structure, for the most part consisting of neutral and white surfaces, is subverted by movement and color, mostly women of color, at that. Dancing in front of the Coronation of Napoleon by David is defiant, for sure, but also resonates with Beyoncé’s oft-labeled nickname, Queen Bey. She and Jay-Z lay claim to all the cultural heritage of the West, while simultaneously calling out the white-centric focus of canon past. Movement and music are not parts of the art world often celebrated by museums, and here we see a beautiful correction.
The final scene, too, is stirring, as the two artists join hands in front of the Mona Lisa, in effect declaring themselves “in,” members of the art world as much as any other. It’s a measure of their success and confidence in their considerable abilities that The Carters could rent out The Louvre to make this video. It’s a greater measure that they take pride in showcasing, critically examining, and paralleling the art inside, too.
The secret to happiness is lowered expectations. Or so say popular explanations of happiness studies on historically happier people like the Danes. But with such a wide range of opinion on what happiness even is, I’m not sure where to peg that meter on the low end.
I don’t like disappointment. But I like even less the idea that I care less. I’ll accept some of it if it means finding some sapphires now and then in the glass and dirt.
There are always going to be highs and lows, emotionally and experientially. Maybe what matters is that I lower my expectations on the utility of adjusting my standards.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.