Circumstance Beyond Our Control

  • The phone, the TV, and the news of the world, as Chrissie Hynde said. The outside will always press in on our sacred spaces, taking beloved things away and pushing unwanted things in. What to do about it?
  • I think one of the best skills to cultivate is simplification. If you know how to draw, you’ll always be able to work on something if you have a pencil and some paper. If you’re a musician, you can sing, or drum with your hands. Dancers already have basically their own bodies to work with.
  • This isn’t the only way most people will want to make art—though for some, it’s their stock in trade—but I notice it’s easy to become discouraged when I’ve been working with more involved tools, oil paints or digital surfaces, when those aren’t available.
  • When circumstances take those tools away (you’re on a plane, there’s a power outage), do the simplest version of your practice at your regular or habitual work time. I bet you’ll get some new ideas out of it as well as keeping up the momentum and rhythm of your thing.
  • We’re Surrounded by Design, but Art Can Be Hard to Come By

    Wherever humans live, there is design: industrial, graphic, fashion. There’s also plenty of craft, the care people take with their work and making. But art is scarce by comparison. We sort of have to work a little to find it.

    We’ve become experts at taking music with us wherever we go. We’ve got music players on us and lots of them fill hours of the day with personal soundtracks. Photography, and the cameras on our phones to create it, is an example of a type of visual art that most people in urban—and plenty of rural—centers have with them at all times, too. But both of those mostly exist where they originate: in our pockets.

    It’s unusual to see someone carrying painting tools everywhere. Some artists carry pencils and pens and sketchbooks. A few of them work on them in public. But still, it’s rare to see art around, just wherever. Design, by its nature, is in and on buildings, signs, equipment, and vehicles.

    Just for fun, imagine how it’d look to have half as much art on view and displayed as there are logos and advertisements. Art is special, but we probably should make more effort to spread it around, and open up new venues to see it. We’d have less rarity, but plenty more expression. Who knows? Maybe our outlook would change to live among it all.

    You Know That Blank Feeling You Get Just After You’ve Finished a Particularly Brutal Shift at Work and You Can’t Even Think?

    I can’t add much to this title, except that I was thinking about all the mess of social media most of us wade through from time-to-time—or even most of the day, for some—and how to deal with it as it washes over us. Dan Hon laid out some decent philosophical razors in this Medium piece. I like him.

    Two Things Owned My Vision Today, and Neither of Them Was the Scorching Sun

    But they were nonetheless beautiful and bright. This one of the Faber-Castell Jubilee Box Set is basically art supply porn:

     

    The other was the Pacific Ocean, which I’ve lived next to—relatively speaking—for the past 17 years or so, and will soon move much further inland (not to mention shifting latitude) from. It’s strange how sticking your feet in its vastness feels like a primeval connection to the earth itself. (NOTE: the sound is terrible in this one, maybe a mute is in order)

    Pencil Shootout!

    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.

    Tool Shift

    I’ve been missing having so much time with traditional art tools since I graduated and started practicing up my digital ones. But there’ve been recent rumblings about the real stuff and I’ve begun questing for some quality pencils to go with the paper I’ve set aside to make my next sketchbook (Strathmore 400 recycled, if you’re in the market).

    Writing and drawing—not to mention cartooning—with physical tools is as much hearing the graphite sizzle across the page as it is constructing sentences. We’re forced to slow down, be deliberate, get our fingers dirty.

    Changing up tools is resetting your habits and breaking the ubiquity of screens and electronic devices we’re surrounded with. That can reconnect us not only with the past, but with slightly disused brain pathways.

    Rather Be at the Pictures, I Suppose

    I’ve seen Real Genius more times than I can count. It’s one of the pieces of comfort media I have around, in case of ongoing distress or doom. Like most anything you keep going back to, it’s got dozens of bits of Truth™ scattered through it, in addition to the main story and message. One of them is the idea that neither the hard physical world studied nor the structure of thought, ideas, and interpretations is enough on its own.

    CHRIS: Yes, Mitch, he cracked, severely.

    MITCH: Why??

    CHRIS: H—He loved his work.

    MITCH: Well what’s wrong with that?

    CHRIS: There’s nothing wrong with it, but that’s all he did. He loved solving problems, he loved coming up with the answers. But—he thought that the answers were the answer for everything. [mouths: WRONG] All science, no philosophy…

    And so there are these disparate elements of making your stuff. There are the tools and materials, which you can evaluate and improve upon as you get better at using them. There are also the ideas and meaning of what you make. The balance between them is something we’re all figuring out as we go.