Thursday, November 26, 2020

A literary tour of Manhattan

 A while ago I took you on an architectural tour of Manhattan--this will be a literary tour through some of the classics of children's literature. One of the best things about parenthood is reading to children--holding a small person on your lap with a book in your hands is pretty close to Heaven. My favorite place in the world, Manhattan, is the site of many great books--so, put on your walking shoes, pack your metro card and let's go.

We'll start at the very bottom--the southernmost tip of Manhattan--the Staten Island Ferry.

We were very tired

we were very merry.

We rode back and forth

All night on the Ferry.

                            Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Yes, I know, Edna St. Vincent Millay is not a poet for children, but I believe in getting as much as possible as early as possible into those little brains, so this is a good start.

Then over to Battery Park City where words from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass grace the railing of a marina. Look out over the Hudson River, turn around and look up at the tall buildings and then read aloud...

“City of the Sea!…City of wharves and stores-city of tall facades of marble and iron! Proud and passionate city!”

Kids need to know this an amazing place.

I know, so far, there's no kids lit but it's coming.

You may want to hop on a bus for the next stop on our journey--Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.

Remember James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl? James meets a strange old man in his garden who gives him a bag of strange green things that he drops under the peach tree.  Overnight the peach grows enormously. James climbs inside it and meets a ladybug, a spider, a grasshopper, a centipede and an earthworm--all giant-sized and dressed like people.  the peach becomes too heavy for the tree, it rolls down the hill and into the sea. They sail along peacefully for a while but then sharks attack the peach.  The spider spins a bunch of ropes and they lasso a flock of seagulls and the peach is lifted into the sky.  Now airborne they continue sailing westward until they spot the spires of New York City and wonder how they'll land the peach. Then an airplane flies by and severs all the spider's ropes and the peach plummets to the earth,  only to be impaled on the spire of the Empire State building. All of New York turns out to greet James and his friends with a ticker-tape parade and James eventually moves the peach pit to Central Park where he lives happily ever after.  If you haven't read this book you really must.

Keep walking up Fifth Avenue--stopping briefly to wave to the Library Lions.

You must be getting hungry by now so proceed to the Plaza Hotel for tea with Eloise. 

Then on to the boat pond where Stuart Little sailed his schooner, the Wasp. Thank you, E. B. White.

While you're here you can visit Hans Christian Anderson and his ugly Duckling friend, by Georg John Loeb.

and climb on a mushroom to have a chat with Alice. The sculptor, Jose de Creeft, designed this specifically for children to climb on it.

We can't linger here, we have to get to the Met!  The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

In The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Claudia runs away from home but has to take her little brother because he always saves his allowance and she needs his money. At the Met, they hide from the security guards at closing time and sleep in the historic rooms, behind the velvet ropes.

They take a bath every night in the fountain and then they solve a mystery about a sculpture by Michelangelo--it's very exciting.

While we're at the Met, and if you have an older child you might want to  to look for the bad word that Holden Caulfield found in the Egyptian tomb but that's up to you. 

Have I left out your favorite?  It would also be fun to do a movie tour of Manhattan, don't you think?

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Things I Use

 After I left my teaching job and spent a year at the Art Students League getting back into a routine of making art every day, I simplified my life by giving up printmaking for drawing in pen and ink. I've worked with the same materials for thirty years now--I'm still at it and I'm still happy. Here's what I use to do what I do.

First, the Paper

 Moulin a Papier d'Arches

Moulin a Papier d'Arches was founded in 1492!   I use the watercolor block, pure cotton, long fiber,cold-pressed, 140 pounds. It has a slightly pebbly feel that gives my line a nice livliness.   

The paper is gelatin sized to give it a sturdy surface that won't tear or lint--that is, break into little fuzzy pieces--remember how your school paper would tear when you erased too hard?  I think the gelatin must give it a delicious flavor--when I drop a piece Lucy grabs it and won't let go.

The blurs on this rhino are her work--I put it on the floor to take a picture and she licked it. The ink ran but the paper didn't buckle.

My Pens

When my college friend, Carol Way, showed me her Koh-i-Noor Rapidograph I saw great possibilities. 

"Rapidograph® pens are a superior grade technical pen that offers precise, uninterrupted line work for a number of applications."

 I bought one and for a few years it was my most precious possession. But like many first loves, it didn't last.  That fine point, even when filled with the best ink, frequently clogged and the drawing stopped while I took the whole thing apart and soaked all the parts in solvent.  That got pretty old.

So I turned to what a teacher had urged me to but I had resisted--the dip pen. 

That takes some practice--you have to hold it in a certain way and it's easy to catch the point on the paper and then it sprays the page.  some artists exploit that to great effect, like Ralph Steadman.  But that's not for me.

I have a collection of pens with varying nibs. My first ones were made of plastic and not very interesting. I didn't want to make a big investment when I wasn't sure how long it would last.  Then I read that Nabokov had one pen that he had written with for years and I wanted to be like him. And where better to find something special and personal than Paris?  Bon Marche, that great department store on the Left Bank has a wonderful stationery department.  I picked up this beauty

 and asked the young man behind the counter what to call it. He said, "Porte Plume!"  That is, carry the pen.  Don't you love it? It was smooth and clean then--now it shows what a full rich life it's led.

On another trip to Paris Arthur and I visited this wonderful store on Quai Voltaire, right across the Seine from the Louvre and a few blocks from L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Click here to learn all about it;

Magazin Sennelier

Founded in 1887 it's a "Paris repository of art and commerce."

For many of the people I know this is a true image of Heaven. It's overwhelming to walk in and inhale the unmistakable aroma of art. I had to buy something so I chose these portes-plume.

They used to have beautiful marble patterns. Now they're showing their age and much use but they work just fine. I feel a little Jane Austen-y; dip the pen in the ink bottle, write (or draw) for a bit, run out of ink, stop to dip again, maybe look out the window and think, and get back to the page.

The Inks


Winsor& Newton, Daler Rowney, Calli and, rarely, Encre Sennelier. Only Winsor & Newton Black and White come with red caps but I switch them so all reds and browns have red caps; blacks, blues and greens have black or blue caps.  I also keep separate water jars--one for reds, one for greens.  If you mix without care you get a dreary greenish-brown.  Daler Rowney inks come with an eyedropper top 

which I hate because you can't put it down without getting ink all over the table, so I save the W&N tops for them, too.   When a bottle is empty I clean it out and use it to custom mix the colors.  I also save some to make elegant little bud vases for dinner parties.

My favorite, or rather my most go-to color is probably W&N Yellow Ocher, 

which, before I read the label, I thought was sepia.  Unless I'm working in black and white I start with this.  It dries very quickly, so I can start right away to erase my pencil lines.  Also, there's a great deal of variety depending on how thickly I apply it.  A heavy pen-full is dark brown but a water wash is a soft yellow.

Calli dark green is so heavy that it has to dry overnight. 

 I've made too many smudges thinking, "Oh, I'm sure it's ready," and it's not.

Scarlet, Crimson, Magenta, Sanguine, Carmine, Burgundy, Red Earth, Indian Yellow, Turquoise, Emerald, Dark Blue, Light Blue, Leaf Green, Process Cyan--they're all my friends and this is what we do together. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

A Work in Progress

 Maybe you'd like to watch one of my drawings as it evolves.

I've always loved two neo-classical bank buildings in my neighborhood--at Fourteenth Street and Eighth Avenue. Last month I decided to draw them.

I started with this one, The New York County National Bank Building, once Manufacturers' Hanover Trust Company, built 1906 to 1907. It's not a bank anymore; for a while it was a spa for men, now it's the Museum of Illusion.

Here's my first draft. I originally wanted it to look pretty much like the original--with beige stones.

Then I pulled this elephant out of my files where's he's been for years--I never knew what to do with him, but I like the way he looks here.

In the third stage, I started to add color.   I love the combination of turquoise and coral, but this turns out to be more red and blue and it looks more circus-y than I intended.

I forgot to photograph a few stagesso there's a big difference now. Disaster struckwhen I spilled scarlet ink, luckily mostly on the stones, so I blotted up as much as I could and then did a pale orange wash to blend in the mistake.  So the stones are darker than I intended. Also, I smudged some Daler-Rowney Indian Yellow inside the arch.  It's one of my favorite inks, but it takes a long time to dry. I'm always eager to erase my pencil lines and this time I paid for my impatience.

I covered up the smudge.  just a few more lines and I'm almost done.

Now I've done the interior wall.  I still don't know what to put in the doorway--blue sky, like it's the back door?  Another elephant? I may have to leave it until I get an idea. 

I thought I'd finish this today but I'm afraid that won't happen.  I don't know what to put in that interior white spot, but it needs to be darker so it doesn't compete with the elephant's tusks. I don't know what color to make the door frame, and I need to put a lot more little dark blue dots in the background.

Here's my next project.  This lovely building, across Fourteenth Street, was a bank, then it was a Balducci's grocery store, now it's a CVS.  New York is like what they say about Vermont weather; "If you don't like it, wait a minute and it'll change."

One more!

I did this a few years ago--the trees on my block are so pretty in the winter--they remind me of calligraphy.  But the picture's a little dull so I put it away.  This fall I've been in love with the yellow leaves, especially in the playground at Bleecker Street where there's one with no leaves in front of one in all its glory--I should look them up and learn the names--but I thought of this drawing and decided to fill the background with golden leaves--the ground too.  As I said, I'll keep you posted.

Do you feel like you've watched sausage being made?

Thursday, November 5, 2020

An Old Notebook

 The other day I came to the end of number twenty-two of my little black books and put it on the shelf.  In making room for the new book I pulled out number fifteen, dated January 12, 1996 to November 19 of the same year. I was taking Margaret (Bunny) Gabel's course on Writing for Children at the New School.  Each week Bunny would read a student's work out loud and the class would respond.   Every week she  wrote a wonderful quote on the board, and I copied them into my book.

Here's one:

"If an artist of any kind sits around waiting for inspiration he'll have a very small body of work. Inspiration usually comes during work, not before it."  Madelyn L'Engle

"If the artist, in whom the crowd believes, dares to declare he does not understand what he sees, that alone comprises deep knowledge in the domain of thought and a good step ahead."  Anton Chekhov

"Good writers and painters, I suspect, compliment their audience by expecting the best of them.  The responding thrill of understanding is what art is all about."   Roger Angell, writing about William Steig in the New Yorker.

When I was in school I had a terrible time keeping my mind in the classroom--it was always out the window.  But as an adult, I found a way to keep my mind engaged, and it was through my hand.

Doodling!  Maybe I should give the practice a more dignified name because it enabled me to succeed in a way I never had before.

Here are some samples.

Aren't they fun?  Contrary to what my teachers may have thought, drawing was not distracting; rather, it kept me tethered to the desk and to what was happening in the room.

These books are my treasures.  Here are some collages. I had a great time, cutting or tearing out images and putting them together in ways that pleased me, and now I have a record of that time and inspiration for new work.  In fact, in this book I found an idea that I'll share with you next week.  

This is a poignant page; remember, it was 1996.

This page is a celebration of red, even though today we're thinking, hoping and praying


Monday, November 2, 2020

Have you Voted Yet? Part II

Keep this young patriot in your thoughts today.

Molly Louise Baler will be eligible to vote in 2029; her first presidential election will be 2032.

What will the earth look like in 2032?  

Christmas in July

I've been feeling a little uninspired and overwhelmed by papers and stuff, torn by needing to clear the decks and get rid of everything ...