I’m exploring a sloppier style. Some results are better. Some are worse. I did try a new idea, though. It involved taking a virtual road trip by way of Google Maps. I can use “Street View” wherever I decide to go, look around, stop and draw what I want. Travel is rare these days so it’s a manner of interacting with a distant environment. This time out, I only ventured to Ashland, Oregon (about twenty miles away). I like how the fish-eye perspective forces everything into weird angles.
Shortly after I moved to Oregon fifteen years ago, my dad and his wife (at the time) paid us a visit where my wife (at the time) and I had settled down. Some sightseeing was in order. We drove to Golden, a ghost town north of Grants Pass. Afterwards, we stopped off for lunch at the Wolf Creek Inn where they sell Golden memorabilia in the gift shop. I hadn’t realized that our visitors had bought a postcard until after they had returned to California. We found the souvenir in our guest room with a message on the back.
It’s taken me a while but I’ve finally gotten around to honoring their request.
In March of 2020, I finished illustrating my third novel, IMAGE. Seventeen of the pictures were of antiques, the eighteenth of nothing at all. It took almost a year for me to complete another sketch: a sloppy rendering of a car. I needed to learn to get the chaos under control. With that accomplished, I can move ahead. What to portray is a different question. Abandoned buildings are appealing (I’ve included a recent example here). My work has always dealt with desertion. It’s why old objects have such a mystique, I believe. They speak of the lives that were lived around them.
I had started and discarded twenty sketches or more by the time that I finally finished one. It happened a couple of weeks ago. Until then, none were perfect and that’s where I had gotten discouraged, wadded each up and thrown it away. In the interest of simply filling the page, I saw the final attempt to completion. Although straight lines are beyond me, a sloppier version — as it turns out — is still within my reach. There’s a reason why I have wasted so much paper drawing a 1969 Dodge Charger. The car and I have a history.
When I was thirteen years old, I had a disagreement with the neighbor’s Doberman about whether I could walk to the school bus stop or not. I prevailed after sustaining a bite to the bridge of my nose. A few stitches, a medical bill and a small insurance settlement later, my parents told me to spend an extra $700 however I chose. I chose a ’69 Charger (sorry college fund). Part of the money went to renting the trailer to haul it home. My dad and I spent a lot of the next three years underneath the hood. I drew that old beauty countless times, once even getting my vision of it into print.
As a result, I have kept that issue of Popular Hot Rodding magazine. Now I can use it to measure my fifty-year-old ability. My control has suffered but what’s important, I think, is that I still have a good idea of where the lines are supposed to go (my perspective in 1984 was crazy; of course, I was only a kid). So all is not lost. Maybe it took looking thirty-seven years into my past to see it.
I can’t draw or paint like I could once. That’s how it goes. I need to accept what I can’t change. For now, the doctor says that the best thing for me is exercise. In Oregon, spectacular trails abound. Lisa and I spend a lot of our time exploring them. One is at a lake a short drive from our house. It traces the water’s edge. For many years, we have used it to get to a good swimming spot. About halfway to our favorite beach, another path branches off. It leads away from the lake and up a steep hill. The extra work to move away from a refreshing plunge on a hot day isn’t very inviting. Even so, last Summer, we tried it. After a grueling climb, we reached a breathtaking vista atop a ridge. The view was amazing. It justified the effort involved to the point that we have returned on several occasions since then, the most recent being a couple of days ago (we forgot the camera — imagine the same scene with a little snow). Why do I mention it? Here’s what occurred to me: just because you’re on a different path doesn’t mean that you can’t encounter some beauty along the way.
In 2006, I walked into the warehouse where I would work (off and on — I tried screen printing elsewhere for a while) for the next thirteen years. Within its walls, something went seriously wrong for me. The building is home to a book manufacturer. As an art major with bills to pay, I had drifted into bookbinding shortly after graduation. Since 1993, my day-job has been in the printing industry. As a machine operator, it has always been said of me that I was pretty good with my hands. When one of them (the right and more dominant of the two) no longer functioned as smoothly, the reason why remained a mystery for months. Last week, I was reminded of the course of my decline. One morning, with a visit to the neurologist scheduled for that afternoon, I tried drawing as a way to measure my dexterity. Three attempts resulted in three wadded-up sheets of paper. My frustration led me to reflect on how things had gotten so bad. The first red flag that I can remember was raised while I was demonstrating a cutter program for a tour group.
A handful of onlookers watched as I jogged their product into place. Having just come off a press, six printed panels had to be cut apart and stacked into a singular tower of text. My audience represented one of our biggest customers (one of the biggest companies in the world, in fact — a confidentiality agreement keeps me from saying which). With my back to them, I was getting through the program when my right arm began to shake uncontrollably. I willed it to work despite the weird vibration. Any hope that I had harbored that no one had noticed was dispelled when I turned around. Their expressions can best be described as compassionate alarm. A few asked questions about the process but with the tone of people addressing a developmentally disabled first-grader. My humiliation, eventually, waned to the point that I could wonder about my condition. That’s when I became aware of a startling truth.
My formerly dominant right hand had taken a backseat to my left. The keypad that I had to press a thousand times a day had become the sole domain of my no longer secondary digits. Why hadn’t that strange development ever dawned on me before? The safety guy, when I mentioned it to him, responded, “Yah, we didn’t know why you were holding your arm at your side like that.” What’s worse, I was soon diagnosed with adhesive capsulitis: frozen shoulder. An occupational health doctor blamed overuse. I went to physical therapy and got a steroid injection from an orthopedist, regained some range of motion yet still suffered from motor-control issues (at a restaurant once, I had to have Lisa cut my food). When I went back to see the specialist and told him that his shot hadn’t done the job, he replied as if it were obvious, “That’s because you have Parkinson’s.” A bad shoulder hadn’t caused my dexterity problems. A reliance on my other arm had caused my right one to seize up. It was so pathetically slow that I was inadvertently letting the limb go dormant. A three-month-wait to see a neurologist later, my worst fears were confirmed: I did, in fact, have Parkinson’s. It explained a lot, from my plodding pace (I have always preferred the adjectives ‘thorough’ and ‘methodical’) to my displeased expression (they call it ‘mask face’ and it’s the consequence of your features going slack) to my trouble speaking (a weak voice is yet another symptom). I had already taken leave from work. It allowed me to finish illustrating a novel, maybe my last. I finished the final drawing in March and hadn’t tried to sketch again until last week. At fifty years old, I worry that my art-making days are behind me. Of course, I mourn the loss. What surprises me is that I would ever miss a printing plant.
Since my previous post touched on the subject of my book covers, I’d like to share the latest. It was a challenge, at first, to imagine how to bring it to life. The solution was so amazingly simple that I’m still surprised that it took me so long to see it. At the outset, I knew that I wanted an empty, old-timey picture frame hanging on a weathered-looking wall. Where could I find a suitably run-down structure, how could I gain entry and who would let me hammer nails into their historic property? The answer, as I perused different places on my computer, was literally right in front of me.
I do all of my writing at this old table. I don’t remember exactly where I got it but we’ve been together for twenty years (my ex-wife, an antique dealer, may have picked it up at an auction; regardless, I got custody of it in our divorce). At any rate, the way that my palms tend to stick to the finish while I’m typing has always bothered me. You lift your hands on a hot day and there’s a shredding sound where the furniture stain and your sweat have adhered together. Wait a minute, I said to myself as I had an epiphany concerning the discoloration of the wood: wasn’t it precisely the sort of surface that I needed? What’s more, if I were to set the picture frame on a horizontal plane, it wouldn’t require any hardware to hang and try to hide in the final picture. A photo shoot resulted.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the camera high enough on the tripod to achieve a wide enough vantage. I unbolted the legs from the table and wrestled the top to the floor (no easy task given its weight — the thing is a monster). The greater distance below the lens was sufficient to capture it all. The frame was donated, after being robbed of its artwork, from elsewhere in the house. I had described it, in the novel, as a reproduction so I wasn’t worried about its authenticity. The newer gold, I thought, played well against the darker background, anyway. After I had tinkered with the image in Photoshop, tweaked the format and created a print-ready file, I sent off for the proof.
Here’s the finished product. I’m thrilled with it. The table on which I wrote is honored with a starring role. It reinforces the message of a book where everyday objects are like characters. Few viewers, however, will identify it as a desk. Wherever the frame is in reality, people, I think, are likely to assume that it’s on a wall. The band across the title reads “Not for Resale” because the novel has yet to be published. I don’t know how or when it will happen. I only hope that my cover survives the process.
It must be my obsessive personality. That’s why I had trouble accepting my Facebook ad. We’re all on the mental health spectrum, I believe, and each of us has our quirks. I had tried to promote my website on Facebook by boosting a post about it. The featured image turned out to be a painting of a nude woman. Because it appeared in the thumbnail preview, my ad was rejected.
So I tinkered with the settings, got a different picture to appear with the link and my promotion was approved. So, what was the problem? It didn’t fit thematically. That bothered me. It was posted on a page dedicated to my second novel, “The Sketchbook”: https://www.facebook.com/dcmorrister/. To summarize the plot, a woman wagers that she can stay naked all summer long, an artist takes her to stay at his cabin and she finds a new life in the neighboring town. Drawings of her illustrate the novel and are sampled on the Facebook page. The picture that resulted in my new ad, however, was of a bridge.
It’s a nice painting. I don’t mean to brag. Rather, my guilt compels me to say so. After a decent number of people had clicked “like” (and a couple, even, “love”), I deleted it. The landscape had nothing to do with my novels. At the top of a series of entries about the figure, the bridge was incongruous. I formulated a new approach. My website’s homepage features a detail of a chalk-pastel drawing. The sitter in it is turned away so that her nipples aren’t even visible. Surely, no one could object to such a harmless scene.
Wrong! It was rejected once and, after a brief review, a second time. What I needed was something where the model was suitably obscured. Why not, I thought, use the same photograph that I had for the cover of “The Sketchbook”. Maybe, if I wrote something intriguing, it would lead to more engagements. So I submitted my request along with the image in question.
Nope. It was rejected, too. The explanation cited provocative content as the reason. It also said something vague about too much skin. Never mind that it doesn’t reveal any more of the model than a bathing suit would, how does holding a sketchbook imply anything sexual? I was amazed. As a test of what exactly was acceptable, I tried the photo from my first novel, “In So Many Words”.
At last, my campaign was approved! Who knows how well it will be received? I’m not spending a fortune on it. In my frustration, I typed a placeholder sentence as a caption. Hopefully, it will do the job. What ‘s surprising is how strict the standards are. A lot of my writing regards the idea that nudity can’t really hurt you. If the censors have their way, nobody will ever know for sure.
Lisa recently told me that I need to have more confidence. One goal of our website is to generate sales, after all. It’s important to promote my work continually. That’s undeniable. I’ve written three novels, two of which are available on my bookshelf. The third has yet to be published. All are literary renderings of the nude. Each is artfully crafted. Why am I reluctant to follow her advice, say how great they are and pressure people into buying them? My search for a suitable answer has involved a lot of introspection.
Starting when I was a kid, I had dreams about naked women. None were sexual in nature. They simply featured a prominent female who neglected to cover up. She — eventually a single individual — haunted me for years. My second wife had a background in psychology (although I have been married twice before, neither relationship lasted as long as my decade with Lisa). The mystery figure, she claimed, was my anima. The term has, since I began wondering what exactly is wrong with me, resurfaced. I looked it up.
Carl Jung had used the word to refer to a mental image of a lady who embodies the unconscious feminine side of a man. To quote Wikipedia: “Jung believed a male’s sensitivity is often lesser or repressed, and therefore considered the anima one of the most significant autonomous complexes.” More importantly, she manifests in dreams and enables creative ability. Eve, Helen, Mary and Sofia comprise the four stages of her development from desire to wisdom.
Sigmund Freud, on the other hand, speculated that nude dreams were about sexual awakening or anxiety. In my scenarios, however, I wasn’t the one without any clothes on. She was.
Typing “nude anima” as a topic on the internet only returns “nude anime” which, I found, are pornographic cartoons. My dream persona never behaved suggestively. Rather, she always seemed as relaxed as the models represented here (my apologies for the oil paint smeared across the sketches; the were used as source material in the studio). The figure from my dreams simply went about her business. So what was the problem?
Maybe she personifies my artistic side. It might explain why she seems so vulnerable to me and no one else. I’m more worried about her exposure than she has ever been. Her depiction, whether in imagery or words, amounts to revealing my innermost self. A level of fear results. I respond with expressions of modesty. They cause me to minimize my achievements … which is where I started. Lisa recently told me that I need to have more confidence.
I once had a sweet little studio In Grants Pass, Oregon. It was on the upper floor of the house where I lived. In it, I drew meticulous drawings (so painstaking, in fact, that I finished very few).
A bout of nostalgia made me reflect on that work today. I spent a couple of hours this morning rummaging through some old portfolios of mine. Most were full of school assignments. What was I hoping to find? I couldn’t even say. Maybe I expected some kind of proof that I had been a prodigy. What I found was amazingly average. My student exercises, studies and various projects showed talent more than drive. Had I been too lazy to hone my skill? Have I wasted my potential? I zipped the cases shut, washed my hands of the charcoal and chalk dust and put the portfolios away.
The disappointment darkened my spirits. I can’t change the past. My trembling hand does not bode well for my artistic future. As often happens when you start reminiscing, however, it’s hard to stop. My search veered into a closet. I found an old notebook. As an art history minor, I had poured over the slide banks in the hallways outside of my college classrooms. Light boxes with the images from recent lectures occupied me for hours. I would sit on a stool and sketch paintings, sculpture and architecture. What I stumbled on today was exactly such a tablet. Is it weird that it’s some of the best stuff from my school years?
At least I can point to those pages and say, “That’s where I excelled.” The pieces that I brought to studio critiques weren’t as good, in hindsight, as the doodles that I drew for myself. Is there a lesson here about letting go? Should I learn not to overthink things? Whatever led to these sketches, I want more.
The nature of regret, I think, is to blame. Personally, I tend to dwell on my shortcomings. Sure, I could have done a lot of things better. There’s also a lot that I did pretty well. In the case of my art, a pursuit of perfection may have gotten in the way. I was too worried about getting every line right. That’s why my notebooks are livelier. They’re spontaneous.
It reminds me of the phrase, “Accentuate the positive.” Anymore, I can barely draw a straight line. None of the thumbnails that I discovered today are perfectly rendered. That wasn’t the point. My hope of finding a masterpiece in my old portfolios had disheartened me. I’m glad that I looked elsewhere.