Time at Tilden

Tilden Park runs along the ridge of the East Bay hills in Berkeley, California. Charles Lee Tilden, an attorney and philanthropist purchased the 2,000+ acres to become part of the regional parks system in the 1930s in order to preserve this great space for generations to come.

Time at Tilden

My two oldest sons, Kasian and Justin, spent many an afternoon exploring this wonderful park. I like the deep contrasts of this drawing. It is an accurate representation of the dynamics between the two.

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Elaine, 1942

This pencil drawing was done freehand from an old 3” x 2” photo. It’s my eldest sister at the water pump on our old family farm in Ohio. I love her little baby doll dress. It must have influenced her style, because as an adult, she always wore baby doll pajamas. The background foliage always has fascinated me. I remember the very afternoon that I rendered this background.

At the Pump

A friend had stopped for coffee. We both had daughters in morning kindergarten. We usually got together after school so the girls could play together before the older children arrived home. Tanya sat across the table as I laid out the first layer of foliage with a light pencil. Darker pencils pulled out the filtered light peppering through the subsequent layers. There’s a rhythm to moving the pencil at a certain angle to get the lacework of the leaves. It probably took me a couple of hours to fill in all the layers. I worked a little longer on the pump handle. Actually I overworked it. The angle is off. But that’s how works of art evolve. The entire work is never done to perfection. That’s what keeps the room for improvement open 24 hours a day for eternity. That’s why art will forever be an evolving process. Musicians will always be hooking the same notes together in brand new arrangements. Songs will forever be written with words strung in brand new lyrics. Paintings will forever be made with brand new colors blended on the canvas. Dances will forever be performed with brand new rhythms. Audiences will forever be delighted with brand new images.

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Ghostly Trees

I did this drawing in 2005. The original is 13” x 19”. I used several types of pencils, mainly a #5H, F, 6B & 9H. No charcoal. Although I thought about it. I started out to create a forest scene with lots of dancing shadows. The fence added the necessary challenge in perspective. As I got deeper into the process, the leaves became darker and darker at the top. The trees refused to put anything on. They demanded total nudity. Stark naked. At first I wrestled with this. A drawing with blank trees? Then it came to me. Ghostly trees.

Ghostly Trees

It could happen. Ghost forests.

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Dad’s Bicycle

One of the challenges of drawing, Bicycle Messenger 1954, (previously posted) was the bicycle itself. It took a great deal of concentration to bring all the moving parts and shadows into balance, much like learning to ride a bike in the first place. The challenge was really rewarding, however, so I wanted to try another bicycle drawing. I had an old photo, only about 3”x 2”, taken maybe around 1945 of my dad, brother and sister gathered around his bicycle. So I got out my “lapbook” easel, another old school pencil and piece of cheap copy paper and set to it. The challenge was on and just as difficult as when I drew the Bicycle Messenger 1954, with my young children bouncing around, interruptions from friends dropping by and all the other activities associated with running a family.

Dad's Bike

Aside from the challenge of the subject matter, the kitchen table itself posed an additional problem. My x-husband had made it out of an old telephone cable top placed upon a peach-colored ceramic sewer pipe. He never got around to anchoring it so if you leaned too heavily on one side, it would naturally tip over. The tension of making sure that everyone was aware of that at all times was exhausting. Glasses of milk and dinner plates landed on the floor with a regularity that begged for comic relief.

I remember the very evening that I drew the front tire on this bicycle. My x-husband was sitting at the table with a friend of his, the children were gathered around, a few dishes from dinner had been pushed aside and I had found a spot to in the midst of this chaos to lean my homemade easel against the table and continue to work on this drawing. The chatter from the children and the conversation between my x-husband and his friend faded in and out of my mind as I let the front tire emerge like magic onto the paper in front of me. I felt exhilarated to see it take shape. Years later I came across a quote that connected me with that moment of conquering those spokes and shadows. I wrote it in my journal, a statement made by Gabriel Shaffer, a young, eclectic, mixed-media artist from Asheville, N.C.

“I believe that artists are healers. Every time an artist finishes a work they care for, evil loses a small piece of its power. We live in a lost time, so it is every artists’ responsibility to contribute their own piece to the light, that will hopefully someday dawn upon the human race.”

Ah, the power of art.

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Bicycle Messenger 1954

This is a drawing of Main Street, Hudson, Ohio, circa 1950, my hometown from the time I was one year old in 1952 till I graduated from high school in 1969 and moved to Oakland, CA to attend art school. … Continue reading

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Do Your Dance


Do Your Dance

Artists collect old magazines as an unending source of inspiration – full of images and words that feed our imagination. Over the years, I’ve cut out hundreds of pictures, articles, poems, and quotes. I keep them filed away. Sometimes on rainy days, I indulge myself by going through the old folders, bags and envelopes. Some people think that inspiration comes to artists like a lightening bolt from a cloudless sky. No, inspiration has a lot to do with preparation and discipline. You have to set the stage. Go outside. Eavesdrop on people in line at the grocery store. Watch kids playing at the park. Ride the subway. Sit on the fence of a pasture and wait for the cows to saunter over your way. Go to a garden. Watch bugs. Study leaves. Blades of grass. You have to put yourself in a place where sparks of artful energy are swirling. Only then can a lightening bolt strike across the open skies of your mind.

Africa has always held out its arms to me. Someday, I plan to visit the entire continent, country after country. There is something about Africa that speaks to me – the history, the colors, the landscape and most of all, the people. I am enthralled by the way they are, especially the women, the way they work together, sing and dance together, and love their land. I am also fascinated by the animals. Why are all the really interesting ones in Africa? Take Zebras for example. We have horses in America – most in shades of brown, with occasional patches. But Africa has horses with stark black and white stripes! And the giraffes – they could have coats of brown boring patches, but no, they walk with stately patterns of infinite interlocking geometric designs. I am in awe.

When I was in fourth grade, my art teacher taught us about watercolor. I painted a lush African jungle with several women walking across the paper, loads of laundry perched in baskets on their heads, headed to the river. This came straight from my imagination – layers and layers of images piled in the recesses of my mind from hundreds of National Geographic magazines that my father kept laying around the living room. Thank you, Dad. I read all of them dozens of times. My art teacher entered that painting in a state contest. I won.

Thirty years later, Do Your Dance was a re-entry into my African world of watercolor. I would not have been able to get back to that world had it not been for a friend, an older German lady, who had been by to visit a few times and had watched me create some of my pencil drawings. One day she stopped by with her daughter and they proceeded to bring in a load of art supplies – a dozen sheets of high-quality handmade watercolor paper, 32”x 48”; pads of smaller watercolor blocks, pastel paper, and sketchbooks; a set of the top-quality drawing pencils; tubes of watercolors; and a portfolio to hold my work. Ida’s act of kindness overwhelmed me.  It was such a joyful surprise. In the face of daily deprivation predicated by a husband who refused to provide for his family, Ida’s loving generosity lifted me to a place where I could see beyond my everyday troubles to a place where there was hope.

Do Your Dance

I remember watching the watercolor form the mountains in the background of Do Your Dance. The paint flowed off the mountain just like shadows in a sunset. I was amazed. The image was coming to life. When I got to the dancers themselves, I began to feel their energy, their joy. I could feel the movement of the beads on their chests. I remember when I connected with  the tallest dancer’s face. It was one of those magical moments in painting when the world stopped spinning and his face appeared through only a couple of brushstrokes. It came suddenly, swiftly, in seconds. I was surprised. I remember stepping back from the painting and looking at his face like I had just met him, thinking, wow, how much joy can one face contain.

Someday, I will be in Africa wandering the hills, and come upon dancers in a field. We won’t have to introduce ourselves.

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