I’m guilty of anthropomorphizing when I draw or paint. I always seem to see human shapes or body parts in inanimate objects. I see tongues, hips, elbows and other body parts in flowers, plants, fruit or even lampposts.
So when I set up this still life, the two paired pears with one alone behind them reminded me of junior high, when two girls would whisper to each other about another, who would be left out of the conversation. Sometimes I was one of the gossipy whisperers; just as often I was the one left out.
Girls having a sleep-over would phone a friend and try to get her to say mean things about someone who was there, secretly listening in. Then after she’d said, “Mary’s butt is too big,” Mary would speak up and say, “Hi, This is Mary. Thanks a lot!” The next week it might work the other way around.
I learned the hard way not to say things about people which I wouldn’t want them to hear. The lesson gets reinforced regularly by a weird sort of karma that happens to me. It almost never fails that if I do speak about another, they unexpectedly appear, often from behind me, just like in the painting.
About the painting
I painted this on a day when I just had a couple hours and wanted to paint with oils. I didn’t take time to plan the composition and did very little with the set up, originally using my black light box as the background. This is how it looked originally before I revised the background, made some adjustments between the two front pears, and glazed the painting with Indian Yellow.
I thought the original version seemed cold and uninviting. I like it better now, with the softer, warmer feel and the rounded shape of the “table top” instead of the harsh horizontal line.
I didn’t know what parsnips tasted like until I was served them at Chez Panisse (though I have a feeling those exquisite thin strips of crispy, sweet, salty delight were the heavenly version of parsnip that would be hard to replicate by a mere mortal like me).
The dish was so good I wanted to try cooking parsnips myself but when I got to the store I had no idea what they looked like. I was searching for something like a turnip or rutabaga). The green grocer showed me the parsnips and told me they were in the carrot family. He also warned me that they stink badly when you first start cooking them but that the smell goes away after about 15 minutes.
My parsnips have been sketched, but they’re still waiting for me to figure out how to cook them, alongside a bunch of beets, the last veges left in the fridge. It’s time to get cooking and then get shopping!
Parsnip recipes welcomed!
And of course I had to look up the etymology of parsnip, rutabaga and turnips.
16c., parsnepe, corruption (by influence of M.E. nepe “turnip”) of M.E. passenep (late 14c.), from O.Fr. pasnaie, from L. pastinaca “parsnip, carrot,” from pastinum “two-pronged fork” (related to pastinare “to dig up the ground”) so called from the shape of the root. The parsnip was considered a kind of turnip.
I had a wonderful afternoon with Casey (of art blog “rue Manuel bis”), her charming husband and delightful daughter on Friday when they were in San Francisco for a brief visit. Casey’s husband was interested in visiting Berkeley so we started our tour of Berkeley at Chez Panisse where we were lucky enough to get lunch reservations.
Although we brought our sketchbooks to share with each other, we didn’t sketch, focusing instead on delicious food and great conversation. I took a photo of this scene in the restaurant as we were leaving. Here is the way it appears in my sketchbook, drawn from the photo on my computer screen:
The design at top left is from the lunch menu which I photocopied smaller and glued in the sketchbook. I discovered that my souvenir Chez Panisse postcard is the perfect size to trace around to create a nice margin in this book. To keep it handy I stuck it in the glassine envelope I’d glued in the back of the sketchbook. Things were looking so messy in this sketchbook as I tried to find my way with the new paper and size of sketchbook. Now I’ve found the solution to the messy pages: draw the margins first and stay within them instead of painting to the edge of the page.
911 on Telegraph Ave.
Despite my warning that Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue is pretty funky, everyone wanted to see the University of California, Berkeley campus and visit the used record and book stores on Telegraph. We walked on campus and then down to the shops where I bought an old Busby Berkeley CD (in honor of my cat of the same name).
On Telegraph I noticed two women who looked like prostitutes wearing outlandish makeup and mini-skirts. We also passed a soapbox preacher ranting (positively) about sex, a lone hare Krishna, sad clumps of young junkies with their pit bulls, the requisite tables of political bumper stickers, a super-stinky homeless guy, a bathing products store, a “head shop” selling hookahs, and someone handing out flyers for a tanning booth.
Heading back to my car we heard shouting. Those same whorish women we’d seen were running from Telegraph towards us on Durant, pursued by several coeds and everyone was screaming. The ho’s were screaming “Don’t touch me! Get away from me!” The coeds were screaming “Give me back my purse! Give me back my sweater!”
We stood there as if watching TV, trying to make sense of it all. The two ho’s jumped into a shiny black car parked right in front of us and slammed the door. The girls continued screaming while a slight young man stood at the driver’s window, saying, “Just give her the purse back.” Finally someone yelled, “Call the police!”
That snapped us out of our confusion and while I dialed 911, Casey had the presence of mind to note the license number of the car and was repeating it over and over. I told the 911 operator what was going on and handed the phone to Casey who gave the license number.
The ho’s threw the empty purse out the car window, revved their engine, and although the girls tried to block them from driving off, managed to speed away. I sure hope they got caught via the license number but I’m guessing the car was just as stolen as the purse, and probably ditched quickly. It was weird and scary, but fortunately nobody was hurt.
It was a more comprehensive tour of Berkeley than I’d intended. We went from the pinnacle of fine dining, to the campus at the center of the city, to the ugly underside of my dear Berzerkeley.
Her journals are full of travel sketches, copies of museum paintings, and lists of things like pen preference rankings, and titles for paintings. I loved the list “Paintings that Matter” that included titles like ‘When Hell Freezes Over,’ ‘Routine Inspection,’ ‘Unintended Consequences,’ ‘Road to Ruin’ and ‘Dressing the Turkey.” The show at CCA will be up through March 5 and on February. She will also give a talk at the Berkeley Art Center on Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 4:00 p.m.
Next we headed down College Avenue for more sketching.
It was nearly 8:00 p.m. and I was hungry, having skipped dinner, so I voted to sketch indoors at Cactus Taqueria. After eating (and sketching) some black beans, grilled veges and a tiny salad I made at the salsa bar from their coleslaw salsa (?!), I was ready to tackle the cactus (well, on paper anyway) that sat on a shelf above my table.
Then it was back out to College Avenue where we were both inspired by the display at Annie’s Vintage Rack.
Cathy liked the old suitcases and I liked the old clothes. I probably should have skipped that unfortunately placed sign that seems to be projecting from the skirt. I think it was supposed to look like a megaphone and said “Back to School Sale” on it (though it was just as nearly unreadable as in the sketch).
Did you know that organic carrots with the greens still attached are sweeter than the big chunky ones in the grocery store without tops or the little shaved ones known as baby carrots? They’re also more fun to draw. Except for the feathery greens which confused me when I tried to draw them.
And they’re even more challenging to draw when wrapped in a cellophane bag (above).
And they felt even harder because I was feeling tired, spaced out, catching a cold, and needing to go to bed. So despite really wanting to figure out how to capture the feathery greens in ink and wash, I gave up, glued the label in the book instead, and went to bed.
I’ve been sketching the several days, but have been too tired and/or too busy with or from my day job to post so now I have a bunch of catching up to do, starting with carrots.
Last Tuesday night we met at Zaki’s Kabob House in Albany for some delicious Mediterranean food and sketching. It was a cold rainy night but the restaurant was busy. Sonia had called ahead to confirm it would be OK for us to spend the evening there sketching. We were further encouraged by the bumper sticker on the door that said “Make Art Not War.”
If you wonder why this sketch has a note saying “Paste Menu Here,” it’s because when I said I’d ruined the composition (pre-watercolor) by adding that glass on the right, Cathy said, “Just paste a piece of the menu over that spot.” I solved the problem by just not painting the glass and leaving the note instead.
Sonia and I painted at the table but Cathy didn’t like the dim restaurant lighting for painting so made many more sketches instead. I was happy that my colors turned out well despite not quite being able to see them while working.
Usually when we’re sketching in cafes we are unable to avoid eavesdropping on nearby conversations, always a source of amusement or amazement at what people say in public. But shortly after we sat down, Ellen, a member of our plein air painting group, arrived to join her realtor for dinner at the next table. After some introductions, and passing around of sketchbooks (including an invitation by the realtor to show them in their office “gallery” which we declined), we returned to sketching while they dined and chatted.
It was odd eavesdropping on someone we knew. Cathy appreciated it though, since they were talking about sofabed shopping, and Cathy is in the market for one too.
After struggling with sketching a coconut macaroon at Saul’s last night, I brought it home in a take-out container and then sketched it eight more times, in a duet with the takeout box.
Then I had my way with the sketches I didn’t like that I’d done at the restaurant (below).
Before I’d started the sketch above, I used the edge of the page to make a bunch of little thumbnails to play with composition ideas. This was inspired by a conversation I had with my sketch buddy Cathy. She’s a graphic designer with years of experience. Her sketches are wonderful with exciting line and great composition.
I asked Cathy what she thinks about when she starts a sketch. She said the first thing she considers is how the subject will interact with the edge of the page (or the border she sometimes draws first). She said she never “floats” a subject in the middle of the page; subjects are always cut off on one or more edges. Despite my thumbnails I ended up with way too much table and plate compared to macaroon and was mad at the sketch. So I used the space to write a note to myself about making better use of the page.
Then I went back to the second macaroon sketch from Saul’s and started doodling around with it. My doodles reminded me of the fence around Gramercy Park that was just outside the hotel I stayed in on a trip to New York a long time ago. With the fence, the scale of the macaroon seemed mountainous (or at least boulder-like).
Two other discoveries I noted on the page: 1) I’d divided the page almost perfectly in half (a design no-no), and 2) that I don’t like cropping things because I don’t want to miss out on a single detail or insult the object by lopping off some of it. How silly is that? I’d like to overcome this quirk and learn to put more focus on design, not just detail.