Went downtown to a cafe last night to something called a “sandbox” where some local musicians advertised live percussion and sketching. Rob Birdwell was kind enough to let me stare at his trumpet for awhile to get my sketching muscles warmed up – it’s amazing to think that just air twirling around inside a metal tube can come out so beautifully. Rob is an absolute master musician, skilled with many instruments apparently, and an enthusiastic teacher and conductor. Good music, good sketching opportunity but it’s going to take a bit of practice to be able to work in the dim light and catch the moods and movements of the drummers. I’ve never seen so many different kinds of drums! I seemed to be the only sketcher in the group, but maybe we can get some more folks to give it a try when they meet again next week.
Hannah loves Legos. She loves to draw. She loves her dog. She has gorgeous red hair and a winning smile. At some point during the family festivities, we both got bored, and out came the art supplies. When I asked if she wanted just a portrait of her face, or of all of her, she immediately said, “All of me!” That surprised me, because many youngsters on the threshold of being a teen are self conscious and awkward. She is uncomplicated. Life is good. It’s that simple. For now.
I took a photo and just now finished the sketch from that. I wonder if she will recognize herself – her face is maybe what she will see in the mirror in another year, and feet are not my strong suit… I left out the elaborate Lego graphic design on her tee because this wasn’t about Lego, it was about her. My Resident Art Critic wondered if I shouldn’t add more paint, but I’m not adding any more anything – simple subject, simple treatment. And if I keep going, I’m afraid I’ll mess it up!
She lives in New York State, a second cousin once removed of my husband’s if I followed the family tree properly – those “removed” relations have always puzzled me. In my family, either you were a cousin, or you lived a long ways away and no one kept track. I wish she lived closer because it would be fun to watch her grow as an artist. Maybe we can keep in touch digitallly – we’ll see!
My last week in New York I ventured into the realm of Subway Sketching. It’s intimidating, trying to be inconspicuous as you stare intently at people, but I finally decided What the Hey, the worst that can happen is they’ll say something nasty and get up and move away. Shoes are pretty safe – people don’t move their feet as much as they fidget and toss their heads around, so this was a good starting point.
When I got tired of shoes and was feeling bolder, I moved on to a group of four ladies of a certain age who sat near me. Just like Aunt Frimi’s knitting group, these Brooklyn Bargain-hunters all talked at once, loudly, and sometimes even about the same topics. They were apparently en route to Macy’s.
And finally I got brave enough to attempt a portrait of just one person, a woman who was reading the Bible and smiling to herself as her humongous earrings swung with every twist in the subway tunnel.
So now, just when I got it all figured out, here I am back in Corvallis, where there isn’t a subway to be had… Onward and upward. There may not be any subway characters here, but there are plenty of farmer’s markets and rodeos and country fairs for sketching opportunities. It’s going to be a fun summer!
… so little time left in New York for this visit!
You know how it’s difficult to find the motivation to get out of bed on most Saturday mornings? Funny, but that hasn’t happened to me here in New York, knowing that I am just a subway ride away from a “sketch crawl” with a group of very creative people. This week the Urban Sketchers NY met on the watery end of Wall Street, where the Tall Ships that I sketched earlier from the Promenade were up close and personal. It’s a lively area, although not nearly as lively as it must have been before Hurricane Sandy showed up. It looks to me like there must have been some major damage to the infrastructure (sewers maybe?) because a LOT of places are still boarded up. Even so, Piers 16 and 17 were hopping. Literally. With tour groups from all over the world – and yes, tour group leaders really do brandish those silly flags, or sometimes umbrellas, as they lead their little herds like baby ducks, on to the next stop to be hollered at. It’s like watching ants boil up out of the sidewalk cracks at home – not much rhyme or reason, but lots of motion.
I learned from one of the artists not to be so intimidated by all of that motion. “There’s only about three positions of the legs of a walking body,” she said, walking her fingers across the table to illustrate. “Just choose one and go!” So I tried the “three positions” approach and it almost works, but you’ll notice I’m not posting that particular page. When you toss in the bikes, the strollers, and the dogs, it begins to get complicated… and actually there are four positions, the ever-popular Camera Squat-Thrust, which is quite awkward to portray although the photographers do hold still for relatively longer periods. At any rate, it was easier to sketch the ship and the thumbnail moon and the tall buildings!
After a “food court” lunch (an illustration of why New Yorkers need to spend more time in Disneyland or London learning how to conduct a proper queue), a few of us discovered the newly-reopened Beekman’s Beach Bar on the bridge side of the Pier. No kidding, they had trucked in sand onto what must have been the old pier, furnished it with white “couches” made from old plastic milk jugs, and were open for business. On a gorgeous day like Saturday, there was plenty of that!
As my husband and I prepared to head to a pub supper then a busride back to Brooklyn, a bridge drama unfolded above us. My first clue was a little boy shouting, “He’s on the edge! He’s on the edge!” He was with a Little League team, whose coach hustled them inside to the shopping area. Turning to where he had been pointing, I saw what could have been the filming of a BatMan episode, only this was real. A helicopter began to circle as a man all dressed in black paced at the very top of the bridge. Rescuers began to appear on the rigging, slowly making their way up to him. Police boats bobbed up and down in the river. New Yorkers walked past us, speculating as to whether he would jump or not, “Eight million people live in this city; this happens a lot,” one man told us. What no one ever said was what we were all thinking, “What if he’s wired to explode?” The consensus was no, BatMan had already been up there too long, and from where we stood, he didn’t seem wide enough to be wearing many explosives. And turns out they were right, but we didn’t know that until the next morning… because ultimately, we didn’t want to see someone end their life, or anyone else’s. And there was nothing we could do. Such a helpless, confusing feeling.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since Saturday, coming so close after the events in Boston on Patriot’s Day. Cities are so vibrant, and I love that, but there is a price to pay for the art, the industry, the theatre, the sheer energy of it all. And that price is that in the critical mass and orchestration required for a bustling metropolis, the individual can get lost. We try so hard to fit in, we humans, and when we don’t … well, I don’t quite know how to finish this ramble. Other than to say that I am very grateful to have had this opportunity, I have so enjoyed meeting all the New Yorkers I met, I’m posting more sketches below, and I hope to come back to draw more bridges and ships and human anthills. But next time, I want to stay in one of those fabulous apartments overlooking the Promenade!