Monday, January 5, 2015

fresh powder

     It's cold outside. Fresh white powder is everywhere. Dressed in my gray parka over Orscheln coveralls, I stand on the hillside of the city of Carrollton, the south end that slopes down down to the flat bottoms, and further out across fields to a distant unseen Missouri River. The stillness of January and winter. Sketchpad gripped close, this pencil describes the plume of smoke from the chimney in the lower yard just ahead.

      I slip into my car to bring back circulation and warmth to these hands and cold feet in boots. The engine purrs. Fifteen minutes pass. That's enough. Gloves on, I'm outside puffing steam. The drawing resumes.

     The year is 2013. Clay Street offers rooftops and pristine yards under snow.

      This city has variety, neighborhoods clustered, with woods winding through the city limits and ponds and hills. Farmland on the edge of town, appears in town for a city block, if your are on the east side of this village, our hamlet. Our population is just under four thousand residents (not including chickens or dogs).

      Houses peek out behind barren branches, just off South Ely Street before it meets West Lincoln Street.

       In that same locale, I can look up and see the sun trying to burn through the winter haze. A silvery disk, the light traces of graphite on white paper.

       Hints of dried brush, lilting smoke, tracks in the snow, and sled trails. The blue sky is described as darkness with this 6B lead pencil.

      What I observe with clear sight, what might have been a point-and-click photograph, is now living-reminders-of-what-I-am-about. Not a photograph-maker like my father. For me, image-making BEGINS when I interpret and exclude and include and make marks on white paper, and decide which elements I want to keep. A store of locations, pinpointed on my map, my sketchpad. The haze in the air, which I cannot draw like a photograph, becomes vague, wispy, incomplete, yet sufficient. Yes. This is what makes a drawing a "drawing." An organized jumble of abstract lines and scuffs. A full record that I can always go back to and savor with my eyes.

      I WORK HARD on this limb and trunk. A balance of description and silhouette. Some of it graphic and bold. Some of it a shell and empty. Poetic. And this time it worked!! I pulled it off. (Even a whole year later, when it was carved onto a rubber linoleum block with razor blades and sharp gouges, inked black with a brayer, squeezed tight onto flat paper-- that limb still held the poetry-- exactly what I wanted to remember of this day, Friday afternoon January third.)

      It was a year from now that the drawing was turned into rigid black and white. Let me tell you what I learned from that. Carved lines cannot be light grey and wispy like a drawing unless the ink applied is faint light grey. I knew that going in. This is why I am so pleased with the composition of the "limb over houses in the snow" that I drew today. I made this composition with my own hand. It is mine.

      My fingers are freezing. The downtown shops poise on a mountain over there. Stiff grass sticks out of the snow by my boots. Traces of snow activity leftover from Christmas meander across the vacant lot below my gaze. There are sledding trails, snowmobile ruts, footprints, and the lonely houses huddled along West Lincoln Street, down towards the Lincoln Lake. The winding tree rows, the crisp Midwest chill. "Gee, it's cold out here!!"
     Back in my idling car there is an apple, the raisins and the carrots I've packed to munch on. Yesterday I was out drawing. Tomorrow I will be doing the same. But for now, while I munch and swallow, I am thinking where to drive to next. Out by the Oakhill cemetary, just a few block from here? Or up on the east side, where I can look over rooftops, an old barn, a ridge of trees to the house rows on Third Street that disappear up by the Adams Elementary School and skyline of church steeples?