Face Witness

 “This, the face in the mirror” he waved his hands in a soft circle as if starting a magic trick or trying to grasp an intangible abstraction.

“Your pencil getting all this boy?” I eyed the  chessboard, but my hand was busy. The pencil glides. I always did.

W.Wolfson

 

9×12 Quick Sketch

 

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New Companion

I can borrow a pen from a waitress to mark up a paper place mat or the nubbin of a pencil and some scrap paper and be satisfied doing my thing. The results need not be frame worthy or even worth saving (after seven years,  having moved my long term studio, I am now of the mind that i need not save every single foot, hand etc woodshedding sketch that I do). The pay off has become the process.

Although I no longer feel the need to save every bit of visual minutia that I birth, ego does demand it still look good, even knowing that  some of it is mere exercise destined for the barrel.

I like to challenge myself by trading off what equipment i use, even for mere woodshedding, every few days. The (proven to me at least) theory behind this is that, regardless of what equipment I have on hand, I will be able to make something worth while as I am not rigidly dependent upon specific things to create.

Even with my flexibility, I feel out of sorts and naked were I to leave home without at least my trusty pocket pad on hand. I travel with various amounts of equipment and sized paper, the specifics being dictated by location and length of stay.

The constant is always my pocket pad. Called “The Passport” on account of its size, it is from Midori. Before seeing one in person, there had been a huge push on some of the sites i interact with, especially Flicker. There were beautiful photos of these notebooks sitting on a well turned out desk next to some great fountain pens and other accoutrements. Or on a bedside table at the Ritz by a pocket watch, brass Art Deco key chain and cigar cutter.

In each case, the photos made me want not  just the notebook but most of the things in the photo.

I have no idea if they were the first to come up with it but Midori notebooks used The Midori system. They were refillable, and highly customizable. You could get all kinds of extra sleeves, charms, pockets and all kinds of other things not all of which are necessarily practical if, like me you are going to constantly be using it off and on throughout the day.

They come in two sizes, the traveler (6x 4.4x 0.09) and the passport  (3.86x 5.28). I got the passport. Upon initially looking at it, I was far from enamored. The paper it came with was too thin for sketching and was not easy to get at the time nor cheap for someone who could easily go through at least a pad a week sketching.

However, the system itself was clever. It was a leather square folded in half with a slit at the halfway mark. Going down this slit was a thin elastic permanently held in place by a lead disc which has become a recognizable part of the midori aesthetic.  There is also a smaller elastic loop pushed through one side of the cover held in place by a knot. This loops around the book to hold it closed. Midori offers these elastics in all kinds of colors now.

The center elastic slips over the center page of the book where the staples are. You can add as many books as you want by pressing covers back to back and putting standard elastic through the center page.

As much as I thought that the actual notebooks looked far nicer in the photos and the paper was not a good match for me, I did like the system. I made my own booklets to slip into the cover, usually grouping them together in threes.

Midori offered among other things, plastic zipper pouches. They are attached the same way as you would a booklet. I go three booklets with one zipper pouch containing a bunch of pencil blenders and tiny Blackingwing eraser along with one extra elastic in case one ever breaks.

No matter where I have been in the world, at the end of the day my Midori has been in my pocket or resting at night by my bedside table. It gives me an odd comfort but also inspiration.

I have large collection now of pocket pads and while the midori is not the nicest nor any longer the easiest (I have many now where pad slides into covers and also lays far flatter than the midori which forever wants to close even as I use it) I would feel strange not having it on me even were I to have another pad too.

The Place Maubert market in Paris. There are great kiosks selling all kinds of foods. The scents of spices and meats takes one away to places even further afield than being there. Also to be found are small tables selling everything from typical flea market junk , to shirts and pullovers in  Breton Sailor style. Wedged between tables of cheeses being kept fresh by straw and pastries made from honey and rosewater are artisan tables.

This year I met a man who handmade leather journals. He did it all using old school hand tools. The styles wildly varied, some of it clearly aimed at the tourists. Regardless of size, they all snapped shut and the blank pads slipped into the cover/holder. The paper it came with is surprisingly nice, blank booklets.

We chatted a little. I showed him my little Midori. He pinched the leather cover between thumb and index finger and while he maintained  politeness he also seemed to feel sorry for me. I fought the defensive urge to tell him of my large collection.

One part of his table was full of comparably sized notepad. Being handmade, they were surprisingly inexpensive. He threw an extra blank pad in my bag.

Although it is a different manner of holding the paper than my midori, I was able to use a similar trick, slipping elastic in middle, to have this new pad hold one of midori zipper pouches. Seemingly this gives me the best of both worlds but I do not see myself retiring the midori ever completely as he has been too good a friend, having seen everything without shock nor complaint.

 

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Pre-Trip Errata

Getting on plane tomorrow so here are some quick sketches and thoughts in between closing up stateside studio:

I just finished the biography on Alexander Calder by Jed Perl. I had not been into Calder beforehand but developed a new appreciation for him after finishing. I have shelves of books on biographies/histories of Paris during different eras which include all the artists that where then on the scene.

For modern art eras, Calder was often featured. He was portrayed in a sort of often parroted shorthand, as an impish figure who artists in all the various movements liked (surrealists, futurists, cubists et al) even though he was never formally a member of anything.

Marcel Duchamp too was embraced by key figures in many movements which he purposely never joined. Duchamp had the glamour of enigma and an obvious influence to varying degrees on many artists who came after him for generations.

After reading this wonderful book the two had more in common than would be apparent from other books. Duchamp’s mien was always sphinx like which lent a sort of gravitas to whatever he was doing.  Calder was serious about his work but had a joyous disposition. If he did not get along with somebody, then he just did not bother with them. He had artistic theories & philosophy but he was reticent and never pontificated about  them. This lent a sort of playful veneer to all that he did to casual gallery & museum goers. There was a joy to what he did, but a serious joy.

This is the second book I have read by Perl on an artist to whom I was initially indifferent. It underscores that no matter how much one knows about art or how well formed their aesthetic sense, there is always room for more exploration and to pull new things into oneself.  And as I have often said, with certain non-fiction authors, it is well worth reading anything that they put out. Jed Perl definitely falls into this category.

 

9×12 quick sketch Calder

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It was just Duke Ellington’s birthday.  To people not well versed in jazz Duke Ellington is “Take the  A Train” or that sort of sludge of sound behind really old cartoons which utilized swing music before Carl Stalling came on the scene with his innovative sonic madness.

There was always forward thinking elements to what Duke & his orchestra were doing. He was constantly evolving and adding to his vision and sonic palette.

He composed in so many forms that it’s bittersweet to think of the years where he was lumped in with other, mere entertainers. Publicly, he never seemed to complain about this. In his final decade or so when he was starting to truly get his due,  in performance he still would often include medleys of the hits as to please the crowd. Remnants of when  this  American Mozart, despite his skill land ambition had to set toes to tapping.

For beginners to his oeuvre the best place to start are his later recordings. These works are more easily acceptable to someone  used to post bop jazz (used to be called “Modern” ). In his final years, Duke seemed to be allowed to record whatever he wanted. It runs the gambit in diversity. From Tone poems to suites, to soundtracks to trios and sacred concerts to teaming up with musicians young and old that he admired but had not worked with in small ensembles (John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong)

I first got into his work by delving into the later stuff. I enjoyed that so much i started looking backwards. Years ago I would not have been open to it, but now i treasure all Duke.

There is probably at least one of his albums to fit no matter where you are in the world and what you are doing. All around the globe, my pencil in hand and the rich coloration as envisioned by Duke wafting up out of the speakers.

Sir Duke Quick Sketch 9×12

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Pocket Pad

Have been busy with a bunch of larger projects (including getting next short story collection ready!) but that would never keep me from compulsively reaching for ever present pocket pad when out and about (nor hour or two of woodshedding every night)

Give me a scrap of paper and pencil nubbin and it is one of my greatest pleasures in life, serving the process.

3×5 per side

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Keith’s Hand

I had read how, for the most part artists do not retire. They do their thing, regardless of medium, as long as they can. I think this is because what gets one into the game initially is that it is a calling. After years of doing it, the process itself becomes a part of the artist.

Keith Richard’s hands show a life of service for the muse. They have become almost sculptural.
They are reminiscent now of the library of congress documentary photos of the first blues men and their hands.

In some ways it is full circle as in this respect, after over half a century, aspects of Keith now resemble those first blues men who were his childhood heroes and initial inspirations.

 

Keith’s Hand 9×12 graphite & Paper

 

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