The Verge of Chaos

I sat there in front of a photograph on the wall.

Straddling a cushioned cube at a local hangout spot, I was drawn to draw him. Ruffly shirt, dark eye peering out of stark value shifts. My own eyes tracing the shapes, the connections between shapes, the value shifts, squinting in order to see better.

What shall I use? Emptying my zippered pen/marker/pencil pouch, I didn’t realize I was talking out loud. One of my fellow drawers offered – “Use charcoal! It begs for charcoal!” Yes, I know…but I don’t wanna use charcoal…I feel rebellious.

Now if you met me, your first thought would NOT be – Wow…here’s one rebellious chic! Middle-aged, ordinary mom, dressed in homegrown clothes…quite predictable I’m sure. But today I did not want to choose the predictable. I adore charcoal. It is effortless and magical and allows you to lay in values and adjust transitions on a dime. What I wanted today was ink and water and pen and watercolor. I wanted to see if I could tame something whose primary property is FLOW (charcoal does not flow on its own), and to attempt to wrangle it into something that looked like a portrait. Yes… fountain pen, water brush, watercolor paint.

There was only a moment’s hesitation before setting my fountain pen to paper. Just enough time to choose where to start my line…on the page as well as the face…right here, I think. Then it was off to the races. Well, the tortoise race of following the contours of invisible lines were values meet. Not drawing a nose, just the shapes, where I see them. No pencil first, just gut and years of experience guiding me.

When all was said and done, or at least when I declared that the sketchbook paper couldn’t take anymore paint, that the flow I had been wrangling and taming was on that lovely verge of flowing right off the page, when I sat back and felt that it could stop in this most interesting place…I knew…

…I knew that it was not correct.

I will not go into all the ways this drawing (painting, sketch, whatever you want to call it) does not “match” the photograph, does not exhibit “correct” values or transitions, does not have perfectly measured shapes. What I will say, is that it delights me. This sketch, based purely on itself and not on any standard or pre-existing image, is exactly what I had set out for –

Unpredictable, full of flow and splash and texture, all within certain quasi-delineated bounds that give the overall impression of a face. Yes. This.

This is why I love to draw. As I peer into another’s face, a landscape, a jumble mess on my desk, I get a glimpse of my own self, of my world, of life. I could care less whether anyone else likes it, or think it’s “good” or not. In fact, I want to care less and less what I myself deem it to be.

What I want is to keep on peering into things, drawing them in unpredictable ways, trying new approaches, and so somehow to live the whole of my life in that chaotic flow, trying to wrangle it within invisible bounds so that beauty can emerge. I want to care less about whether the values are correct, the shapes perfectly measured. I definitely do not want my life to match someone else’s.

I must follow where I am led…riding on pools of watercolor as it flows, blooms, and splatters in unpredictable ways. Following  an invisible line that only my Maker draws out for me. This way of living delights me. Scares me. But fascinates me and keeps me coming back to the pages of my sketchbook.

Charcoal Love

HolidayTrio

I’m working through a batch of commission work, some of which is in charcoal. I love working with charcoal, especially portraiture. It is incredibly fun to watch a face emerge out of the ash on the page and to see personality peer back at you through the values. So much fun!

CloseUpRandyTrio

I realized I never fully shared with you the charcoal piece I created several weeks ago of my husband being a goofy uncle with two of our nieces at Christmas. They love to sit in his lap and laugh with him. The photo I had was the perfect challenge to try bringing to life a fun moment from the holidays.

BrynleyTrio

The easel and charred sticks are calling my name, so I’ll leave you with other close-ups of this three-person portrait.

AddyTrio

And by the way…if you’d like to follow me on my stay-at-home walking/drawing pilgrimage through Lent, I’d welcome your company! Consider joining in! It’s never too late to start a pilgrimage of your own.

UpCloseRandyTrio2

Happy Day to you!  and Buen Camino!

UpCloseAddyTrio

UpCloseBrynleyTrio2

Portrait #22: The Happy Couple

Back in September, my husband officiated the wedding of some sweet friends of ours.  This was perhaps, aside from my own wedding, the loveliest wedding ever! It was held at the beautiful Dewberry Farm here in Kernersville.

This portrait is not intended to be a detailed description of the individual faces of the bride and groom, but rather a portrait of the sheer delight and happiness they each had for each other on that day! And when I see them on Sundays, that delight hasn’t paled at all!

I wish Will & Kelly many, many days of happiness to come!!

My Delight: Portraits #18-19 & #20-21

It is my delight and honor to be asked to paint a portrait of someone’s children.  I can’t really describe why…something to do with the privilege of trying to express the personality of the kids coupled with the love the parent has for them.  It seems a tall order.  One that excites and energizes me! And one that causes fear and trepidation!

I learned something anew with this commission to paint the beautiful Summerell children, Robert and Catherine.  I learned afresh that my calling is simply to show up at the blank page.  To do whatever it takes to be there, facing the pristine 140 lb. Cold Press Saunders Waterford paper…and begin.  I knew I would be given what I needed to accomplish the high calling of portrait painting.  I knew that help, in the form of ideas and ways to solve “problems”, would show up when needed.  I knew it would be ok. I just had to draw. And paint.

Now before you gag on such artsy fartsy lingo…i do acknowledge that I have studied and continue to study how to paint portraits. I do practice. Daily. I do continue to learn and evolve.  I put in my time.  But when it all comes down to it, when the commissioned portrait is about to begin, I have an overwhelming sense of being woefully inexperienced and inadequate to the task at hand! I simply must rely on the truth that my part is to just SHOW UP.  Of course, I will apply all that I have learned and am learning to the task.  Of course, I will wrestle with, undo and redo what I feel is necessary.  But the one thing I am responsible for is to be faithful to show up to the page.  Whatever else happens feels a bit like magic…something out of my hands, outside of my ability or experience level.

And when the parents view the portraits and are pleased…When the mom has tears in her eyes…I know I have done my work and it has been somehow translated beyond my own contribution to the page.  Art has happened.  That inexplicable, wonderful communication between the paint and paper to the viewer.

My delight becomes their delight! And I couldn’t be more delighted.

**To view more commissioned portraits, click here!

Portrait #17: Letting Go


Sometimes

when we let go

we catch a glimpse

of our truest selves.

-jpe

Psssttt…how do you like my new WordPress Theme? I needed to let go of the dark background.  At least for now.:)

Portrait #16: The Gentleman Farmer

To attempt to paint a portrait of Mr. Leo Whicker, born September 3, 1927, is like trying to harness (with paint and paper) the wisdom of years and experience, coupled with an effortless joy that is surely hard-won through life’s ups and downs.  I have had the privilege of getting to know Mr. Whicker through numerous conversations with him over the past 8 years.  I think I could write a book about him.  Here are a few things I have learned:

The land on which he lives and farms (and which is directly next door to my house and neighborhood), was his grandfather’s land.  At some point, his grandfather sold the land to send a son to law school.  And then, at some point after that, Mr. Whicker (pictured above) bought the land back.  This land encompasses acres and acres and is sprawled in many directions throughout the southern part of Kernersville, in an area known as Sedge Garden.

Mr. Whicker and his wife Martha, had a son and daughter.  Up the hill from where I live, is a small house (now a rental home) where he and his family started out.  As the children grew, he built a larger home for them just yards away, perched on a small rise in the land.  You can see the house here in the charcoal, just a bit of the porch, complete with rocking chairs.

Mr. Whicker’s wife Martha died young, of cancer.  When he speaks of her, you can hear a love and affection for her that leaves you aching and thinking he must still ache and miss his dear wife. Both his son and daughter live in Kernersville and have families of their own. Mr. Whicker is blessed with grandchildren and extended family who live in the area.

In fact, as I’ve been able to gather from Mrs. Gail Smith Love, another neighbor whom I’ve had the privilege of getting to know, Mr. Whicker is considered an Uncle to many from the Smith clan.  She recounts that growing up with Smith land and farms right next to Whicker land, the two families’ children all called the other dads “Uncle”.  So he was Uncle Leo to her and many others.

Mr. Whicker has memories of his grandmother telling him that soldiers used to hide out in caves on their land during the Civil War.  I have a feeling if I could sit for a while with him, I’d hear many stories of historical interest that are tucked away in Mr. Whicker’s vibrant mind.

Mr. Whicker has many barns beside his home.  The barn you see here, and in the above charcoal, can be seen from the road, Silver Dapple Lane. It stores his baled hay on one side, and keeps farm equipment on the other.  You can see a glimpse into the back side of this particular barn in the above portrait of him.  Sitting atop the tractors and equipment are various, huge stuffed animals, such as Kermit the Frog (seen above) and Scooby Doo.  These are here, says Mr. Whicker, to chase away the birds.  Apparently, birds have a bad habit of nesting in the tractor’s engines.  And when he goes to start one of these tractors, the poor birds are lost, and they can cause damage to the equipment.  I wish you could’ve seen the twinkle in his eye as he explained why he had these unexpected furry friends in the barn!

That twinkle in his eye is rooted in his faith.  Leo Whicker is a faithful congregant at Sedge Garden Chapel, just a stone’s throw from his home and farm.  He is, and I suspect has been for most of his life, devoted to worshipping his Creator with the folks in this small and humble church.  Hardly a conversation goes by without him asking me to pray for something on his mind, after inquiring how my husband and children are doing.

There is so much more I could write here.  The description in this post is merely the tip of the iceberg.  Talking with Mr. Whicker (as with other persons of mature years), makes me think I’m in the presence of a stately oak tree.  That tree has seen many years, all kinds of weather, lots of history.  It has withstood storms, change, seasons, “progress”.  It has been rooted in something far more enduring than this world, and its roots are deep and far-reaching.  At first you may only see a trunk and its weathered bark.  But as you get to know the tree, the expanse of the branches and canopy, the gnarled sections leading out to youthful buds and leaves, you realize there is something grand going on here which is very difficult to describe, much less to paint.

Mr. Whicker would never think of himself in this grand manner.  He was indeed a bit reticent about having his picture taken so that I could create a portrait (or two) of him. I just feel that his story needs to be remembered, and that his family would enjoy a painted portrait.

He is indeed, a gentleman farmer.

Portrait #15: Mr. Leo Whicker

 

Last Monday, September 3rd, I was walking in my neighborhood, up near The Field, and I was stopped by my friend and neighbor, Mr. Leo Whicker.

“Jennifah”, he said in his lovely southern accent, “you won’t believe what just happened! You know I love donkeys, right?”

“Well, yes sir, I do remember that! How many do you have now?” I replied.

“Well, I had four, and one of them I have over at my son’s place.  He just now called me to tell me that the donkey has given birth! And today is my birthday! I’m 85 years old today!” he said as his eyes danced like a young boy who had just been to the candy store.

We talked for a bit longer about this treat he had received on his birthday and I walked home to grab my camera.

You see, for some time now, I’ve wanted to paint Mr. Whicker’s portrait.  This is actually one of two portraits of him I am working on.  I knew he was in his 80’s, but didn’t know his exact age.  You would never be able to tell by his appearance or how vigorously he works his farms.  Yes, I said FARMS, plural.  He has at least three different parcels of land on which he raises his cows. But I’ll tell you more about that when I post the next portrait of him.

I loved working from my photo of him with his wonderful smile! I have only slightly exaggerated the blue of his eyes, which truly twinkle when he smiles.  To be 85 years old and still finding such delight in life is indeed remarkable.

Portrait #14: Moi

 

I can see!!!!  Really! I got a new pair of glasses last week, and I can see so much I couldn’t before!! This is my first pair of “progressive lenses”.

Hmmm…  Progressive?  Well, if growing older means I’m progressing, then so be it! It took a couple of days before the fishbowl feel went away, but now I can see clear as a bell far away, mid-distances, AND up close!!  That last one is the key, since for over a year now, I’ve been playing the on-again-off-again game with my glasses.  Or peering over or under them to see something up close.  Now I’m trying to break that habit!! Because I can see perfectly well from the bottom portion of my new glasses!

Oh, and I looovee the style too!  They are red, rectangular, and have a lovely scrollwork along the sides which you can’t see here.  Perhaps I’ll paint a profile portrait so you can see the ivy scrollwork.  And the VERY BEST part of it is that the frames cost me ONLY $40!!  Can you believe it?? Here in K’Vegas, we have a place called the Eyeglass Supermart where all designer frames are $40, with the exception of a few that are $80.  Mine were the first pair I tried on and came back to after trying on many others.  They were my favorites!  If you’re a local, be sure to check out the Eyeglass Supermart at Kernersville Eye Associates.  Bill West, the optometrist, and his wife Patty will fix you up right! I got my eyes checked and everything there for a very reasonable price! You don’t have to have your eyes checked there…you can just bring in your prescription and they will take care of it from there!

It really does give you a new look on life! 🙂

Fè: Portrait #13

Persons of mature age seem to embody a single-pointed purpose.  I often wonder if I will be that way in 30 years. My life now seems so fractured into a zillion purposes: parenting my three kids, nurturing a good marriage, teaching and working, caring for my Type 1 daughter, being available to family and friends, and the ever-elusive desire to pursue an art career.

The widowed women I have known, seem to stand, however feebly, with a solidity that perhaps only the years of living so many different lives has afforded them.  Each white-haired woman has been a child, a teenager, a young adult, a newlywed, a mother, a career woman, and then a widow.  They have served the people in their lives with huge generosity of heart, with ache and concern for others’ well-being, and with dignity in the small things.

Fè Arasmo, born March 20, 1924, was just such a woman.  I met her in her final years when, before her first stroke, she crafted beautiful beaded necklaces for every woman in our church.  She just gave them to us.  She lived with her loving daughter, Helen, and found ways to light up the lives of every one she met.  Her infectious smile, her lovely Filipino accent, her laughter…all belied her small stature and left you with a sense of largesse and joie-de-vivre.

How she continued to live her last year with that beautiful smile, I do not know.  She fought to regain strength and mobility after the first stroke, only to have another one, as well as other health issues, land her in the hospital numerous times.  I cannot imagine what it must be like to have your mind as spry and quick as ever, yet not be able to tell your body to get up and walk.

But the day came, on July 20, 2012, when Someone came to her and said, “Talitha koum…dear little one, get up and walk.”  And so she got up and walked out of this life into the next… happy, whole, bright, and probably not just walking.  The twinkle I often saw in her eye suggested to me that she probably skipped and twirled when no one was looking.  And so I imagine her leaving in this way.

I have a feeling that if Fè could whisper something to me from the other side of the Veil, she might tell me: “Jen, it’s not about the art exactly. It’s about the Faces of all you see, all whom you come into contact with, all the loved ones, the friends, the people who live and work and leave this world.”

And so, with this in mind, I’m wanting to return to my 100 Portraits Project, which only made it to #12 I think.  It may only go on for another 12.  So be it.  This seems to be how my “art career” unfolds: with fits and starts, with courses altered, plans redirected.  Mine is not so single-pointed as I imagine these women of mature years to have.

Perhaps this single-pointed purpose…hard-won as husband and loved ones have passed away and left them outside the mothering years, the marriage years, the youth years…perhaps the thing to which they signal for us is that one day, we too will have a Hand stretch out to us, beckoning us to “get up and walk” out of this life.  How do I live this now?  Am I able to have this single-pointed purpose now at age 47? Is it only possible in the years following the stripping away of all we have held dear?

I do not have the answers for this. I don’t really need to.  I just need to live today.  And to peer into the faces of others to see glimpses of the Face I will one day see face-to-face…alongside Fè Arasmo, a dear lady, friend, mother, and teacher, who is skipping and twirling right now.

Co-mMission Accomplished! Portrait #12

Perhaps you’ll remember the charcoal of this young lady, or the preliminary watercolor sketches of her.  I’m pleased as punch with this final 25″ x 22″ watercolor portrait.  Thankfully, her mom was too!