Almost like clockwork, every January I’m reminded of my love for black and white. Maybe it’s the monotones of winter. Maybe it’s the bright white snow against a black sky. Maybe it’s because each year a new Ansel Adams calendar hangs on my studio door.
Whatever it may be, I’ve long been drawn to the beauty of black & white art, going back to the first time I picked up that favorite tool of mine (the #2 pencil) and sensed that magic was held within its lead.
From pencil or pen to the magnificent drama of a fine black & white photograph, I’m captivated by the power and emotional breadth that can be achieved without a spot of color. No distractions. Just character and grace, depth and strength and guts and mood. And like a good story, well done black & white allows your mind to add its own color by filling in what’s left unsaid.
Please note, I’ve tried to find image sources for all of these images, and sometimes failed. I would love to give proper credit where due, so if you know the original source of any of these labeled “source unknown”, please let me know!
Okay, just for the record, I think this is a dumb rule. Yes, even I, Miss Positive Pants, Miss Live Your Dreams, Miss Make Lemonade From Lemons, Miss Outrageous Happiness, Miss I Can Do This ~ even I sometimes feel the need to whine, and I’ve decided that it’s okay. It might even be healthy. It might be good for you! We all have “those days”, and sometimes ya just need to get it out, let it rip, blow a smallish gasket. Vent. Complain, if you will. Maybe there oughta be a 1-800-WHINE number to call.
Sometimes the act of whining even gives you a fresh perspective. Once it’s over, it somehow clears the air to feeling more appreciative of what you do have, of what’s right in your world, instead of what’s not.
But you only get 5 minutes. And you only get to whine occasionally. Then you have to put your head back on straight, cheer up and move on. Otherwise you become your whining. And that’s just not cool. Because, you know, we are what we think, and any prolonged attention usually produces a state of mind for the better or for the worse. I choose for the better.
But first, I may have to have a good 5 minute whine. Don’t mind if I do. And I certainly won’t mind if you do. As long as it doesn’t become a habit, we’re good. Then we can get back to this more inspiring, less-strict-but-still-firm version of the no whining rule. Who’s in?
They just keep coming, don’t they. Forks in the ever-twisting road of life. Crossroads. Milestones. Decisions.
Sometimes you see them coming from a distance, sometimes they fall from the sky. Sometimes, if you’re busy plowing ahead, you may not even be aware that you’re choosing this way or that way ~ but there’s always a choice, whether it’s a physical or mental turn. There’s always more than one way to go, to see, to believe, to act. You’re always hoping you choose well.
And so it is that I’m facing a crossroad; choices have been made and I’m hoping for all the best as my girl goes off to college in a couple weeks. Another marker on the journey; one that has me thinking things that a million other parents have probably thought… Did I teach her well? Did I cover this or that important thing? Did she hear me? Will she remember? Will she miss me, even a little? It’s a tricky balance of parenting and distancing, sharing and letting go. You want them to be happy, strong and safe. To blossom. You hope you’ve laid a solid foundation. You’ve given them wings; now it’s time to fly.
And then there are one’s own wings, so used to holding and protecting and staying close to the nest in case they’re needed… now they need some dusting off, as you stretch ’em out, shake a fresh batch of glitter on and, ready or not, head for yet another fork in the road – this one for you.
You hope you choose well!
Some things are more worthy of indulgence than others. Long, hot baths come to mind. Good books. Time with friends, time alone, laughter, comfortable shoes.
And because I was just speaking of pens (previous post), my mind turns to the tools we use and how much the right ones matter. Even a simple, everyday pen can be a tool of ease or frustration, depending first on how well it’s made, then how well it’s taken care of, and finally, knowing when its time is up.
Not all pens are created equal; nor pencils, nor hammers, nor computers, nor cameras, nor carrot peelers. The list goes on.
Several years back I worked on a mural with a group of other artists. A handful of brushes were available, paints were provided and we’d all been part of the design, so it was just a matter of painting. Fun, right? Sort of, but not really. Why not?
The thing is, we worked in acrylics, which was, at the time, a medium I was less familiar with than some of the others artists were, and I’d been feeling irritated by the way the paint went on. Then one day, towards the end of the project, someone handed me a different paintbrush. In that moment, within seconds of the first brush stroke, night became day. Winter became spring. Skies turned blue. Birds sang, trees blossomed! I was stunned. The paint suddenly flowed. All that time … struggling, thinking it was me, when really … what a difference a brush can make!
And back to pens for a minute ~ in the early days, when not using my trusty #2 pencils, I’d draw with an old-fashioned calligraphy pen – the kind with metal nibs; the kind that people of centuries-gone-by used for letter writing, under the light of a candle or a kerosene lamp, dipping the pen in and out and in and out and in and out of a bottle of India Ink. Precision was difficult, mistakes and ink blobs were relatively easy to perform, but if you took good care of your tools and practiced your craft, beautiful results could happen. I got pretty good at it.
Then, (thank the Pen Gods), someone invented a pen called a rapidograph. At first I was pessimistic. It wasn’t “the real thing”. But two minutes in, I was hooked. It was real, and wow ~ manna from heaven! ~ it made the whole drawing experience so much better. Changing and cleaning nibs – easier. Mess – hardly. Potential for precision – worlds apart.
Of course there will always be poor imitations, in which case any newness is hardly worth it. Just because it’s “new” doesn’t mean its “good”. Since the dawn of time tools have been made to make life 1.) easier and 2.) more efficient. If those two criteria aren’t met, (in my best New Jersey accent) “fuggedaboudit.”
Holds true of everything. Take ice cream scoopers, which also happen to be a favorite tool of mine. They have to be sturdy, with the scooper-outer part just the right depth, the handle firmly attached and nicely grippable. Definitely not made of cheap plastic stuff. The last thing you want is a sprained wrist when indulging in a much-deserved treat. Ice cream is intended as a happy experience.
I’m sure most of you have a “bad tool” story, and probably know as well as I that when it comes to tools, quality counts. So indulge, I say! – not because they’re a treat, but because the difference can be like night and day. The right tools can replace cursing with whistling. And time spent, that most precious commodity, becomes more productive and pleasant if not downright fun.
So here’s to the value of tools; no matter what you do, wherever you go, may the right tools be yours. : )
I escaped today. Courtesy of three little pigs, a pencil and, I suppose, either my inner child or a light-hearted muse. It’s part of a project I’m working on, but, as sometimes happens, it took a turn of its own accord, and I was amused. It’s good to be able to entertain oneself, after all. : ) To escape life’s more serious avenues and put your own smile on it.
So the turn made me smile, and also reminded me how the making of art is both an immersion and escape. It’s like plunging into the world, while fleeing from it at the same time. Engaged with the world, but not part of it. Maybe it’s the same for the art viewer ~ depending on the piece, a feeling of being somehow here but not here. The connection happens with the senses. Of course thought is involved at different points along the way, but if you start to think about it too much, some of the magic thins.
That said, there wasn’t too much thought involved in this one. The idea had lodged in my mind well before I picked up a pencil, and my job was to simply enjoy the drawing-it-up part, and within that process be transported, for a little while, to that familiar place that is here but not here.
Last weekend I spent an entire day reading a book. (I’m a pretty avid reader, but even by my standards, this was a lot.) Not because I didn’t have anything else to do. Life’s administrative duties were still there, lurking, prodding, waiting in various degrees of perpetual disarray, clamoring to be sorted, cleaned, tended ~ things I’m normally all too willing to oblige with great habit of responsibility and an ever-present urge to be productive. This doesn’t even count the paintings wanting to be painted, the stories to write, music to make, dreams to chase. Toss some work in there, too.
For a good 12 hours, I abandoned all of it, hermitting myself inside the pages of a book. “Just because.” Phone off, computer off. Very unsociable, actually.
And life went on. It was lovely.
I’m not suggesting that reading resembles a waste of one’s time (au contraire!), but it does involve letting go of more “pressing things”. That said, I’m always a bit envious of people who seem capable of being unproductive with great and natural ease. But it’s never too late, and I’m still learning. Balancing the have-tos and want-tos and need-tos and can-waits. Knowing when to be and when to do, and trusting that it all has a place in this beautiful, chaotic, imperfect dance of life.
Beauty and chaos
Light and shadow
Sun and moon,
The dance of life.
on shifting sands
on best intentions
Drinking from the well
of change ~
~ P. Saxton
First comes the rough sketch. An idea of facial structure, wing positioning, where the horns may go, what kind of tail… all this is given thought, but not fully formulated. Then a tighter sketch and the beginnings of detail, then more, and more, with some touch-ups here and there as the beast emerges and takes on a personality. We become quite fond of one another during the process. He’ll get some color and maybe a few more crags, bumps and scales before all is said and done ~ but I thought some of you’d enjoy seeing the progression to this point. (The rest will have to wait for the finished book!)
It’s a black and white world tonight ~ snow is falling against the dark night sky, which seems to take an edge off the bitter of winter’s cold ~ and I’m reminded how every year at this same time I feel this same compulsion to post some great black & white pieces. (It’s starting to feel a little spooky, how this happens, on cue, every January.) Whatever the reason for the timing, I adore black and white; always have. From my life-long love affair with the #2 pencil, to the magnificent drama of a fine black & white photograph, I’ve been captivated by the beauty and emotional breadth that can be so singularly captured without a spot of color. There’s character and grace and strength and guts and mood that seeps into your skin. I’ve written at length about these moods in the past, so will spare you the repetition and get on with the show!