Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Driving Past Dayton, Late Last Year

I pulled off Interstate 70 and drove south some miles to the United States Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I'd been there 25 years ago, and again more recently with our boys on a trip through Ohio. A gigantic number of airplanes, from the beginning of flight through the present. I only had an hour, so I walked very briskly to the World War Two section. I also did a quick trip back to the early jets, but some huge reception was being prepared in the Korea and Vietnam galleries, among the Sabres and copters and Phantoms. A strange place to eat a chicken dinner, I imagine. I beat a path back to the 1940s.

I walked around in the space and settled on this particular array of planes, parked and suspended, dense enough to make an intriguing picture.

I worked up the pencil in 40 minutes or so, and made a diagram with the plane information for future reference (which I used to double-check the proportions on the Cessna and the color on the P-47 Thunderbolt). Shown at the bottom of this post.

Recently I posted some painted drawings from a trip to Michigan, which prompted a question from the tireless Dan Zettwoch about what the pencils look like before I start to paint. I promised to post a comparable pencil when the opportunity presented itself. The drawing below was my second Dayton drawing, dominated by a huge seaplane. This drawing is a little more hurried and less resolved than the one now covered in paint, above. But the level of information is comparable. I use the drawing to break the space and provide baseline visual data about the objects and the environment.

In answer to Dan's question, I replied

Typically I don't scan the pencils if I think I'll go back to paint, but maybe I should…I have been thinking a lot about reference and how it works, at least for me. Have come to think of photography really differently in that regard, too.

I thought that deserved some elaboration. Hence, this post.

I have been making reference photographs for years. I have gobs of them. But recent experience with onsite drawing has begun to suggest that my perceptions in that place at that time have extremely little to do with my reference photographs.

Five conclusions:

One. My grasp of emphasis and pictorial structure depend upon an active sense of spatial relations; that is, images I make onsite are fundamentally, powerfully experiential. I simplify form in accordance with my experience of visual hierarchies. Standard photography flattens hierarchies, especially spatial ones.

Two. Onsite reference photographs begin to die and decay immediately after they are made. They serve as ever-dimming reminders of an experience. The spatial perception and opportunity for visual emphasis that cause them to be made in the first place do not settle into them. On the contrary, the photographs are simply tokens. And they only work if the experience they point toward is fresh. Within two weeks, they have become worthless as sources. A necropolis of expired photographic images dominates the landscape of my computer and its drives. (Note: I am making no negative claims about the aesthetic merits of photography. I am referring to the photograph as a tool in my practice.)

Three. Reference photography that focuses on simple objects and purely two-dimensional information works perfectly well to stock a visual lexicon. But these uses are quite limited. Like looking up the proper pronunciation of a word in the dictionary.

Four. If I don't truly apprehend or understand something when I draw it onsite, no useful image can be built from it. If I fake it, either because I'm lazy or cold or tired, or because I lose focus without recognizing that fact, I'll get back home and experience befuddlement in the face of my own sketch. No reliable hierarchy can be pulled from such passages. I can either quit or develop the passage to the edge of my knowledge, and no further.

Five. I am becoming fonder and fonder of facts. Not because I want to represent them slavishly. Nor because I wish to line them up in pretty rows, or dress them up like granular little floozies. Today I am fond of facts because they possess a certain integrity which must be respected. I expect them to keep me honest. In this age of digital patter and casual opinionated blabber, I am willing—eager—to sit with facts. I drive around with a field chair in my trunk waiting--looking--for such opportunities.

This, my newfound Zen.

Below, my diagram of the drawing shown at the top of this post, on the following page. with notations about what planes are shown. Historically speaking, the most significant of them is attached to the swastika-emblazoned tailfin at the lower right: the Messerschmidt 262E, the first combat jet aircraft. It came online too late in World War Two to affect the outcome.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Michigan Picture 2

In recent years I have grown increasingly interested in the visual arrays created by comic pages. I created an animated film ("animated" used loosely, really to mean moving illustration) titled Scenes from Starkdale, Ohio to explore those issues. Now, as I return to the comparative simplicity of book pages, I'm still interested, but not so much in the reading experience of comics. I just want to look at things. Above, a sketchbook spread with panels, sans text. Gouache. Drawn in Michigan at Thanksgiving. Painted in December. Below, a Starkdale frame. 2006.

Michigan Picture 1

The gears have been grinding a little as I adjust to the resumption of teaching. Pleased to be back, and excited about the course content. But I am determined to remain at work in my pages and books, too.

Last November we went to St. Joseph, Michigan for Thanksgiving. On Saturday we drove up to Holland. I spent a fun few hours tramping around at the Eastern end of Lake Macatawa, the small lake that flows through a channel out to Lake Michigan, past a famous red lighthouse. Later I drew the lighthouse and the channel passage out to the great lake. But for the first little while I hung around the margins of an industrial scrap metal yard. Above, what turned into a sort of observational caprice. I put the paint on the book spread about two weeks ago.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Dives In, and So Do We

Along with a great many others, I am celebrating Inauguration Day. Since the primary season, I've offered a few thoughts on the visual culture of race and politics, including my own little hobby-world of United States Masters Swimming, which experienced a minor snit over an Obama-themed tee shirt provided to swimmers at the Big Shoulders Open Water event in Chicago last year. Some objected. I am wearing said shirt above, a modification of the now ubiquitous Shephard Fairey design.

Today, Godspeed to Barack Hussein Obama. Let us hope that our national yearning for reconciliation--of long-standing as well as more recent strains and breaks--will not be thwarted by circumstance or the lingering bitterness that has dogged us for far too long.

Publish Post

Friday, January 9, 2009

Welcome Meathaus Readers

Pleased as punch to have received a link from Meathaus, a great site for the visually hungry. Thanks, folks, and welcome to my notebooks and kitchen table.

The image above is from an election day series I produced in collaboration with the St. Louis Beacon, one of the next-generation good journalism outlets. Drawn from the steps of the St. Louis World War One Memorial, an art deco tomblike affair. A visual counterweight to the quote transcribed at the top of the image. I did not plan the juxtaposition, but there is something quite satisfying about the visual grouping of Rush Limbaugh and a horse's ass.

The Meathaus image was taken from this post, a reflection upon my recent work.

Come on back from time to time--I'm working hard to keep things fresh, both in terms of the pictures and the visual culture criticism.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More Goofing Around with the Banner

Above. Getting settled in, I guess. Possibly avoiding other pressing tasks. (Yes.) Circulation Woman rotates into a prone position.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy New Year

Back in St. Louis, gearing up to return to the classroom. I'm excited about my re-entry. Teaching two very interesting courses, which I'll sketch in this space within the next day or two.

I needed to update the copyright notice on the banner, so thought I'd restock the image. Sketchbook fragments from May 2008: an interstate construction site and an older fellow waiting patiently at the mall for his mate to finish her work.