Ron Wodaski's musings

Beginning of a sketch

This is the very start of a sketch from a photo – only got started on it at the local coffee shop (Ristretto’s in Covington, WA). It’s a nice, well-lit, friendly place to draw or even do a little painting in my sketchbook now and then.

I generally sketch directly to paper with a pen. I rarely do a pencil sketch; pen-to-paper feels riskier and is kind of energizing. Lines do wander at times, but it all comes together in the end. I’d really like to do a watercolor wash on this, but this ink is very water-soluble and would flow everywhere if I were to try that. I might be better off to play with markers…will have to decide when the inking’s done.

There’s going to be a lot of lines in this one, going to be very much a fun project. Much more to come. Click to see a larger version.

Early stage of a drawing of a cottage in a sweet setting.

Early stage of a drawing of a cottage in a sweet setting.

Last Year Is Dead

Photo: 4028mdk09, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: 4028mdk09, via Wikimedia Commons

[Text of Philip Larkin's poem, "The Trees," here]

“Last year is dead,”
Larkin said,
of daffodils and trees,
mocking their rebirth
as if spring were falsely clothed.

And this:

“…greenness is a kind of grief.”

That connection is a trick of the mind,
like not seeing the seam
between hurt and anger.

Was Larkin born to fall away,
a child of embers?

This year and last
are one;
my life, and yours;
Larkin’s grief,
and hope.


Table drawing: line & wash

More fun with line and wash, this time on butcher paper at the Rangoli Indian restaurant near San Jose.

Not only is the food outstanding, but they cover the tables in butcher paper and I always like to have a go at something – pen and ink, graphite wash, technical pens, and today watercolor.

This was done really fast – pen line drawing, then a #5 travel brush and a simple palette of four colors. Butcher paper is not particularly friendly to watercolor–it soaks up water like crazy at first, but when it’s full it puddle easily. :-)

Two of the wait staff came over afterwards, and mentioned that quite a few of their customers make a habit of drawing on the butcher paper. Wish I could have seen some others, but I was the only one drawing during lunch today.

Quick table drawing with pen and watercolor.

Quick table drawing with pen and watercolor.

Line and wash of cottage sketch

I added color washes to the line drawing of the cartage I did on Monday.

To those who asked about the fish: it was just there when I started. The tree just grew, which is what trees do, until it swamped the fish.

Or maybe its a fish balloon.

Line and wash of a cottage

Line and wash of a cottage

Sketch done on flight to San Jose

I brought two pens with me to test on my 2-hour flight from Seattle to San Jose: a Staedtler and an Ohto, both ostensibly 0.05mm in width. The Staedtler was much finer, but both pens were really excellent to draw with.

I did the bulk of this cottage drawing with the Ohto because it’s better suited to the scale of the drawing – nice blacks in the shadows.

Originally, I was just going to do the little fence drawings at left, but I wound up doing another, and then that led to some foliage, and before I knew it, a cottage had crept in.

My idea in doing this was to see how well these pens worked for drawings that would have washes added. This one has a lot of ink, probably not suitable for a wash, but I got carried away. With some restraint on the inking, I think either of these pens would work well for a line-and-wash with watercolors for the wash.

Cottage, fence, and foliage. Click for full size.

Cottage, fence, and foliage. Click for full size.

Childhood Refracted through a Life

Here’s a link to a memoir about a father who went missing – not walking away from his family, but falling away forever in a mountaineering accident, at least in the mind of his daughter.

That article got me thinking about something that’s very important in my own life: the idea that the child is father to the man. I need to think it’s not that simple. I need this to be true: that the child is just a sketch, a way to stand upright on your own fortitude, a work-in-progress that gets reshaped, honed, refined, re-made if necessary under the eye of the self.

The sapling is father to the tree.

The sapling is father to the tree.

I can say without argument (I hope!) that we do evolve as persons. There is a caution in it, however: that kind of change slows, or even stops, for many. I’m not the sort of stop changing; I can’t really get inside the head of anyone who does, mostly because it has never occurred to me to try. :-) I’ve always been quite satisfied to be merely puzzled at static lives. Thinking about it now, I can see that I really need to start asking questions about that – do people really settle in the way I imagine they do, rock-like? Or are they just simmering, in a happy, or contrived, or horrible place, whatever it might actually be?

So I speak only for myself in reaction to that memoir.

A single sentence is the heart of my reaction. The first part:

“The recovery of my father gave me permission to let go of the mistruths that had guided me since his disappearance, …”

“…gave me permission…” jumps out at me. It’s a scary thought, that we maintain mistruths–even the very ones most central, most responsible for who we are–because we just don’t have permission to move on. Even as I recoil at the idea, I know it’s true. I have strong memories, like prevailing winds too oppressive to fight, that fall right into this category. Not all of them can be named, or even roughly described. I have felt some fall away in the harsh light of undeniable truth (and one does try so hard to maintain the denial). I have felt some released by events, such as the death of my parents in an auto accident. (Until that moment, which was some weeks afterwards, I had kept a small part of the feeling of being unloveable tucked away against any evidence or reproof from the very people who loved me. As I said; we can be stubborn about these things. When it fell away, I not only enjoyed my new sense of self; I understood the reason for my denial. I was set free by the understanding that I was not only lovable, but also a loving human being myself. And freedom brings a more vast responsibility to be that free person–to love is not just being lovable; it is being strong and supportive and able to shoulder heavy burdens lightly.)

And then, the second part of the sentence, the reimposition of limits: “…but it also revealed how much of him was still missing.” Letting go is a two step process. The first part is just to admit that one is wrong about the trouble you are holding so close. The second part is to give up the urge to magnify the importance of the past, to simply learn what is the essential lesson and then move on.

It was like a hammer on my soul, that second clause. It implies that not only is her father’s story missing; her father himself is still missing for her. Yes, she gives up on the fragments she’d held on to, understanding they are not going to work. But she thinks: they won’t work, but surely something will! It’s like setting off for New York from Los Angeles, discovering in Ixtapa, Mexico that you are going in the wrong direction, and then spending all your time figuring out how you got to Ixtapa instead of heading to New York. It would seem that letting go ought to mean “letting go” but we usually choose to hold on surprising ways.

We need our illusions, because they have lived so many years as facts.

It’s hard to walk away, it’s hard not to think that they need just some modest revision and we’ll be as good as new. Nope. We need freedom, not explanations, in order to change. Because by stepping away, by letting go, we can with with perspective, with indifference, with kindness, without the pain of the wound blinding us.

Not that it isn’t healthy to look into one’s illusions. It’s getting trapped in some other way to live them that chains us. Calling a wolf a dog doesn’t change anything. Confronting the wolf, making peace with him, loving the wounds that bought our freedom, learning to live as the wold lives — all that can be very good for you.

So I became curious, even apprehensive, as she set off to learn everything she could about her father. She wants to know him having only met him as a very young child. The facts pile up. Explanations follow; without direct experience, I wondered: how true are those explanations? How illusory, or real?

You see, I’m about the age of her father; I know how impossible it is for my own children who have known me to grasp who I was back then. One might even think: it’s not to be, not under any circumstances, that you ever walk very far in your parent’s shoes. They are and will remain mysteries; you have your own life to live, after all, and that matters is setting yourself free to do that.

Which brings me to this conclusion: that love does anything but set us free. Love is a good feeling about hard work, a lot of the time. Maybe I’ve gut myself too loose; maybe I’m running with the wrong wolf, maybe I confuse living and dreaming. Even if I’ve let go of something that she still desires, I maintain my own staff of illusions, and will never be free of them. We all win a few, and lose most of the time. Freedom, it would seem, is a means to an end, and the end says, hold on to the truth in everything you do, even if you have to spend a lifetime to know it. It’s OK to be bound, but choose carefully, with eyes open: truth is the only adulthood worth finding, but it’s hard to know what it looks like under cover of memory.

Face with graphite wash

This is something new I picked up from Cindy Valdez in Cheryl Long’s watercolor class a few weeks ago. It’s a little pot of graphite by Artgraf that is water soluble. It’s similar to watercolor in how you use it: wet the brush, pick up some of the graphite with a brush, and ‘paint’. To control black level, you use more or less water. (It is also available as pencils, sticks, and giant graphite blobs.)

I’ve been toying around with it, and finally decided to try to render a face with it. This is based on a random photograph I found; I wanted something with distinct light and shadow to see how well I could use the graphite to portray a face without any pencil or ink lines — just the graphite wash. I had a few slips of the brush (this was on Stillman & Birn Zeta paper, which is a 180lb hot-press surface), but it’s a workable medium that is not really as much like watercolor as I had expected. :-)  It dries very quickly, so you have to really focus to get the right amount of water – you can see areas where I was too dark, or too light. That will come with time. I think it will also be useful for single-color value studies (preparatory sketches, often monochrome, with bright and dark areas to help sort out the structure of a painting).

I’ve had the idea of portraits floating around in my idea-bin of a mind for some time now, it was good to finally give it a try. I don’t think I’m ready for family portraits yet, but this is a good start for doing watercolor portraits, something I aspire to and would love to try out soon.

Graphite wash with No. 5 and No. 2 travel watercolor brushes

Graphite wash with No. 5 and No. 2 travel watercolor brushes

Smiling Cheetah

This is based on a photo of a Cheetah; I’ve altered my interpretation a bit to make it more of a smile than a challenging snarl. Done with a new pen that Donna got for me, a ballpoint (of all things). It’s a Visconti pen, and their ‘ballpoint’ cartridges actually use a water-based gel ink, not greasy inks like most ballpoints. It struck me as possibly a good pen for drawing. This was pretty difficult paper for pen drawing, however (Stillman & Birn Beta, a cold-press watercolor style notebook paper). Even so, the pen worked well. I will try it on surface more like hot press soon, maybe later this evening.

As I sometimes do, I saw sitting rather lazily at a table, which meant that I was looking at the sketch from a low angle (which I have duplicated with the camera for this photo of the drawing). If you look at the image straight on, it’s quite skewed and odd looking, but it lines up nicely if you view it from the same angle as I drew it from. :-)

cheetahDwg (1)

Table Drawing

I love it when a restaurant puts butcher paper down on the tables. A fun place to draw, and food stains and spills always provide some inspiration.

This was done with my Danitrio fountain pen at an Indian restaurant near Los Gatos, CA where I am currently staying. Reminds me of the stuff I used to so in grade school when things got boring…

Title? How about “A James Bond Holiday.”


Nostalgic Sketch

While having dinner this evening at Anthony’s Home Port in Des Moines, WA, I remembered another wonderful seafood restaurant in Port Townsend, WA. I used to go past it on the water, both in our sailboat and in my kayak. (They would serve boats if you tied up at a little jetty nearby, but I hardly thought my kayak was a suitable table…)

I don’t even remember the name of the place, but I remember the big glass windows, the big supports under the building and the wharf it sat on. Good memories, and the napkin even held up to drawing with the sharp nib of a fountain pen.

I thought I might be getting back to my sketch-a-day program as I got better, but going back to work takes up a lot of my daily energy, so that is all on hold. I will post the occasional sketches in the meantime.