living in truth, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Lake Reflections #2

LakeScene

Illustration: Watercolor sketch on 5.5″ x 8.5″ 140 lb. cold press Montval watercolor sketchbook paper by Black Elephant Blog author

On a day when a U.S. President seemed to threaten nuclear war (%@?*?!X?), further undermining our security relationships and standing around the world, the sanest thing to do seemed  to be to sit on a quiet lakeside beach and watch people on all manner of boats and boards enjoying a beautiful evening out on the water.  I have a whole lot of paintings to complete, mostly still in my head, from the recent trip to Europe.  Following the sudden, unexpected death of a sibling a couple of weeks ago–a sibling who so recently (only a month ago) was enjoying that same trip to Europe…he,clambering up steep cobble-stoned streets, admiring cathedrals, and admiring a replica of a Bronze Age village built on pilings over water on the edge of Lake Constance in Germany– I am finding I must ‘sketch-crawl’ my way back to working in the bright colors I prefer. It may take a while but enjoying the interaction of watercolor with paper seems likely to help me get there.

As I sit lakeside in the twilight of an evening, I do reflect on how uncommonly good people, such as my recently departed brother (who used to read this blog as it appeared in his email), sometimes have uncommonly rare things befall them, and are taken from us uncommonly early in their lives.  It is too soon to find any sense or solace in this.   But it has long been clear:   We must make more space for such people–the ones like him who are driven by a larger sense of global responsibility—to share their abilities with us while they are here in this earthly world.  The world needs uncommonly good people right now, who act in the awareness that we are all part of a larger whole.  Only by having a critical mass of such people exhibiting their genuine caring and leadership to making the world a better place, can we have a chance (in the remaining time left to us as a species) of tipping the planetary scales into a sustainable direction.  Nothing is more urgent these days, but it is restorative to watch people fishing and stand-up paddle-boarding on this evening as if they had no cares in the world. I will probably do more of that today.

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living in truth, Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Remembering Andy

A glorious trip to Europe in the company of two of the small circle of people most important to me, my husband and my younger brother, ended two weeks ago today.  After returning to the US, jet-lagged, on Monday afternoon, and staying over at my brother’s house (because it was closer to the airport),  I did this watercolor the next morning while we sat together in the garden behind his house.  This garden was a favorite spot of his and faced the garage off to the side and the back of his house.

Andy's House

Illustration: Watercolor on a quarter sheet of watercolor paper, “In the Backyard of Andy’s House,” July 18, 2017 by Black Elephant Blog author

We were just enjoying the early morning sunlight, before a drive back to our own home. I was just dabbling, with the only paints I could find in the outer pockets of my suitcase: brown pink (closer to a yellow) and indanthrone blue watercolor.  While the house is actually white, I thought I could get away with the yellow because of the light morning sun crowning the trees in the backyard.

We’d had a wonderful trip to Europe, and soon we were saying our own goodbyes, as we continued on to our own home in another state.  A week went by–with all of the ordinary contacts now so special in hindsight: emails, a phone call just a week ago, then more emails…And then, quite suddenly, that brother, the younger brother, was taken from us, in a seizure that was not his first.  A father, a husband, a son, an uncle, a brother, and a friend to so many…and everything went haywire in an instant.

Andy in Konstanz

Illustration: Andy in Germany, July 2017

The world has thus been turned upside down.  From a joyous trip involving close family and magnificent sights to a gaping hole that can never be filled. My confidant and co-sketching buddy who also had great hopes for our country and our world–despite worrying evidence to the contrary–has now suddenly gone.  Such are the tough times we all must go through, in some way or other, I realize.  This pain is a part of life, and we are all here temporarily.  But, it’s a fact:  Art so far has been (much) easier to do–in generally happy times.  The challenge is to work one’s way through a devastating loss, and to comfort the many people beside myself who also are affected–as my brother would also want.

I have a feeling I will paint again.  My brother would not want me to stop. RIP my soulmate:  I can’t believe it but I must accept it somehow that we won’t again be sitting somewhere in a green field sketching some historic view together.  I am thankful, so thankful, that just a little more than two weeks ago, we were doing so in Germany and France. Rest in peace.  The world is diminished without you in it.

I share this here because I started writing this blog in a spurt of joy and relief in the week after this brother of mine was discharged from a rehabilitation hospital following a highly risky surgery in late 2014. It was called “elective surgery” because you had to choose it, but to not choose was to choose a certainly fatal route. All the family members were very involved.  There were highs and lows.  My younger brother would tell me he liked this or that painting, and he made his own wonderful sketches. His sudden departure left many thoughts still unspoken. He would want me to carry on painting if something like this happened; we never talked about it but I do know that.  I hope he is sketching too.  These are crazy times with intense news cycles that can demand so much of our attention.  But what’s really important is often right next to us. RIP.

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living in truth, Risk, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Mother Nature and the “Art of the Deal”

Planet

Illustration: Watercolor and gouache, “Where Do We Go From Here?”, by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

This week we are supposedly going to learn if the United States will stay in the Paris Climate Agreement alongside nearly 200 other countries which, like the United States, are already parties to the deal.  By the end of this week, we may learn that the United States has decided to join the two countries, Syria and Nicaragua, on the sidelines.

It is unclear why this latter course would make sense. It makes no sense to a whole range of major multinational corporations, however, such as:

Adobe, Allianz, Apple, BP, Chevron, DuPont, eBay, Exxon Mobile, Gap, General Mills, Google, Hilton, Intel, Johnson&Johnson, Kellogg Company, L’Oreal, Microsoft, Monsanto, Nike, Royal Dutch Shell, Salesforce, Staples, Starbucks, Symantec, Tesla, Dow Chemical Company, Tiffany&Co., and Unilever.

It makes good economic sense, it turns out, to embrace reality.  Who knew?  (That reality is something which, to be fair, has been ignored for a long time, in the sense that civilization itself depends on a stable climate and healthy ecosystems.)

Just last month, the planet’s atmosphere breached the 410 ppm (parts per million) threshold for carbon dioxide concentration, a height not reached in millions of years. This means our atmosphere is trapping more heat and accelerating changes in our climate.  Scientists say we’re on track to create a climate unseen in 50 million years by mid-century.*

So it’s hard to see what kind of “deal” would be worth taking that kind of risk.  In fact, Mother Nature doesn’t care a whit about the “art of the deal” and she has the upper hand for sure.

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living in truth, Risk, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Half-Truths and Lies

Events recently reminded me of sketches done while wandering in the halls of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. not so long ago.  This is an inspiring place which often is missed by visitors to the capital because it is not on the Mall. It is is a bit off the beaten path.  But in this Gallery is so much history, so much art, and so much that is astonishing.  It is a relaxing place too with lots of places to sit, including in a covered light- and plant-filled atrium.

tennyson

“A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson Illustraton: Pencil sketch by Black Elephant Blog author of a bronze bust of Alfred Lord Tennyson sculpted by William Ordway Partridge and located in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art

Co-joined with the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art (which is where I came across an intriguing bust of Alfred Lord Tennyson), this entire city block is devoted to the proud history and artistic accomplishments of the people of the United States, and visitors to the United States, right up to the present time.  Like the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, these two museums present powerful evidence of the fact that this nation is built on a pretty solid foundation, if only we would bother to understand and protect it.

With so much to keep up with these days, it’s more likely than not that we will pay inadequate attention to the requirements for this solid foundation–which is a huge risk that has been with us at least since the onset of the digital revolution.

In our social media-saturated world, we are more likely to be guilty of rushing to judgment than pausing long enough to try to understand what’s going on.  That’s why taking some time out to sit in the National Portrait Gallery can be helpful!  Sketching has a way of concentrating the mind at the same time that it opens us up to new perspectives.  At the National Portrait Gallery, you can bring your drawing tools right inside, and the atrium/courtyard is a perfect place to practice drawing people in motion too.

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acrylic painting, living in truth, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Marching for Science

Illustration: “Marching for Science on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.” (2017), acrylic on 12″ x 16″ canvas by Black Elephant Blog author

On a rain-slicked Saturday afternoon this past weekend–on Earth Day and March for Science Day–tens of thousands of people walked patiently and enthusiastically down Constitution Avenue holding up signs affirming the importance of science and facts. It was a scene that would have been impossible to imagine (especially:  to imagine even as necessary) only a year or so ago. The spirit of the people seemed high, despite the constant drizzle and occasionally stronger rain. It was a sea of umbrellas; and the biggest challenge for me was to keep my umbrella out of other people’s way.  All around us, scientists, teachers, doctors, and children made their way towards the U.S. Capitol on an otherwise mild Spring day.

The colors and atmosphere of this historic event seemed to call for an effort in the new acrylic paints I’ve just started trying out.  Using several photos of groups of people passing in front of the National Archives afterwards, I found that trying to capture the reflections on the wet pavement was a fun challenge.  In some ways, the scene seemed easier to capture in acrylic than in the more familiar (for me) watercolor.  I’ll now have another medium to choose from in the future.

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living in truth, Uncategorized, urban sketching

Wandering through older sketches to make sense of the present

Blog post writing has taken a bit of a backseat lately.  Preparation for classes could be one excuse, but it wouldn’t be true. I guess it’s because I’ve been doing more thinking than drawing in this age of discontinuity.  The recent blast of winter in this area complete with snow and ice this year sadly has been too much for the many blossoms and flowers that proliferated here during an unseasonably warm February. Even the geese on a nearby lake are a bit confused by the eccentric weather.

This sort of disorientation (yes, that exhibited by the geese–as in “where are we?”) has been mirrored by the befuddlement of many people around the world at the jarring reports of current political events, especially domestically–more on that below.  Just as the early blossoms thought that the Spring in February was real, we humans are confused as to the political climate we are living through….

Looking back to look forward sometimes is useful, as paging through older sketchbooks can remind one.  While looking ahead to a forthcoming exhibition of my watercolors and sketches, I came across a few of my sketches from the past:

dupont circle

Illustration: Watercolor sketch, “Dupont Circle,” by Black Elephant Blog author (2016)

Lately, with the sun briefly peering out again, there are more inspiring palettes to explore in the near future…

vangogh

Illustration: Watercolor sketch by Black Elephant Blog author (2016)

On the geopolitical level of human affairs, the emerging palette is more complicated–even “complex”– a crucial distinction not yet as appreciated as it could be, though “complexity”–as in complex systems–is something we spend a lot of time on in the university graduate class I teach.  Making sense of complex problems is a necessary starting point to resolving them–and is too often a (very intellectually-demanding and time-consuming) step skipped over, as we have recently seen an example of in the healthcare arena.

Similarly understanding this moment in our collective human history requires us to draw from the experience “palettes” of a wide variety of people in order to understand our true options going forward.  I would include in this “experience palette” respected contemporary professors of history, such as Dr. Timothy Snyder–whom I had the privilege of hearing speak in person at a local bookstore recently.  People doing fresh thinking about economics also have an essential role

Rodin The Thinker

Illustraton: Watercolor, “”The Thinker’ at the Entrance to Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, PA” (2017) by Black Elephant Blog author

to play in the efforts to apply different palettes to our common future.  And a look back to the founders and founding documents of this American nation would also be essential, as I just did a week ago by wandering through the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia again.

It’s true, at least for me, that once you become accustomed to painting–and more vitally, living and making choices– in ‘plein air,’ it’s harder to settle for bleak cold days–whether due to the weather or the political climate.

We can call up sketches of the past to help us make sense of the present.   Are the things which divide us still more important than taking stock in a clear-eyed way of what actually has happened and what pathways forward lie ahead?  These processes are sometimes known as “scenario practice,” “forward reasoning,” and simply “foresight”–also processes we focus on in class. There is no end to the usefulness of learning we can gain from those who have studied the past, I’ve concluded.   As Professor Timothy Snyder tells us in his work linking the history of Eastern Europe to our present, the choice is (still) ours to make.

 

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