Thursday, March 13, 2008

Politics, Prose and Painting

Yesterday at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC, 110 fourth-graders from three different schools attended my PowerPoint and Magic Marker presentation.

Afterwards I met up with my artist friends Patrick O’Brien (left) and Armand Cabrera (right).

Armand and I set up our pochade boxes to paint the Chinese restaurant across the street from the bookstore. Jeanette stood, holding her watercolor sketchbook. There was a steady stream of curious spectators on the busy sidewalk behind us.

Two guys stopped on their way to delivering beer to a pub called Buck’s Hunting and Fishing. They wondered if we were having a painting contest. (photo courtesy Patrick O’Brien).

Here are the Three Stooges deep in concentration.

An old man stopped beside me. He folded a newspaper and put it under his arm. “Something you might want to know about that building,” he said. “The guy who owned it in the 1940s baked German pastries for President Roosevelt. He baked them right there in that building.”

“Didn’t someone have to taste the food to make sure it wasn’t poisoned?” I asked. He just laughed. “It was different in those days.”

One by one the chefs from the restaurant ran across Connecticut Avenue to see what we were doing. They commented among themselves in Chinese. After they returned, a big cloud of garlic smoke billowed out from the exhaust vent.

A little kid came by, dragging his mom. “That’s AWESOME,” he said.

A woman with a shiny purse said, “Why are you painting that place? It is the ugliest building around here.” Then she looked at my picture. “But you made it look beautiful.” I told her that I tried to paint it just the way it was without changing anything.

Here’s my painting in two different stages. Some of the construction lines, drawn in umber with a bristle brush, still appear in the block-in at left. At right was how it looked when I quit.

The painting wasn’t really finished, just abandoned after about two and a half hours. Near the end of the afternoon, the sun popped out from behind the clouds, bleaching out the pink and green colors of the awning.

Tomorrow: Backlit Bare Branches


Erik Bongers said...

Just some thoughts that jumped up while reading this post.
I never thought I would be able to like outdour drawing with all those eyes in my back, but the way it's described here, there's quite some appeal to it.

Heheh...most people would write something like "The old man started a long talk on the history of the building."
Typical for writers to say exactly the same thing with "He folded a newspaper and put it under his arm.".

About the "Awesome!"-boy.
That was recognizable.
When signing at the Antwerp Book Fair, this boy walked up to me and rest his chin on my table while observing me drawing some random heads. His eyes were really...ermmm ...twinkling ?
I immediately felt warped back in time to when I was his age : I remembered being in absolute awe for these 'pencil-magicians' signing those books. How did they do that ? I could never learn that !
So here I was, doing exactly that what I never thought possible.
And the cirle was round ! Here's the next kid getting inspired by something he sees a grown up do, thinging "I wannado that when I grow up !"
Suddenly the teacher/preacher in me couldn't resist :
"You know", I said, "This isn't just magic, it's actually the result of lots of practice...and blablabla...observation...blabla...old masters...blah"
He didn't react and just kept staring at the drawing that I was doing while blah-ing away.
Anyway, after about half an hour, when I was finaly done and pleased with my spiritual guidance work I asked the kid to tell me what he wanted to become later.
I prepared myself to act really surprised for the all too evident answer.
"A policeman", he said.

But his dad did buy the book !

Antony Bridge said...

Brilliant work. Will keep checking new paintings.


Mary Ann Archibald said...

Thanks for taking us on this excursion with you! A very talented group.

craigstephens said...

Nice painting! It's great to see "in progress" shots, they offer a a much appreciated insight into a painter's methods.
I can relate to working in front of an audience. I was a commercial sign painter for about 15 years before I started teaching. I lettered many boats down at the marinas along the Sacramento River during the summertime. There was always a lot of traffic. The people were always very nice. I was constantly being asked if I got nervous when people watched me work. I actually liked the audience. The interactions were invariably a lot of fun. I would almost always get offered a beer and/or a sandwich. Unfortunately the beers went unclaimed (I found that a beer or two tends to kill my incentive;-) I would usually walk away with a couple of other jobs lined up. Those were fun times!

Sarah Stevenson said...

That's a great story. I love all the different reactions and comments from people stopping to watch, especially the restaurant chefs all running out to check it out.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the greatest parts of being an artist -being able to reach out to complete strangers and invoke reactions to things they usually overlook -including the people around them.
I wish I had a posse of artists to galavant about the city with, stirring up the folks like this, I imagine it's good to have a bit of competition from your peers, too.
I also relished this post as another short story with full colour illustrations and delightful descriptions of those involved (shiny purse woman :D)
I feel inspired!

Unknown said...

Excellent work! The painting definitely improved as you added more indications of light and a sense of the time of day. I love the Roosevelt story, you must meet all kind of cool folks on these excursions.
Have you ever heard of sketchcrawl? It's a worldwide event where people meet up in their local towns and go sketching, it's pretty sweet!

Shawn Escott said...

Just beautiful! "Awesome" job! :) You make me want to go plein air painting.

Shawn Escott said...

Just beautiful! "Awesome" job! :) You make me want to go plein air painting.