Pencil Drawings

August 19, 2011

I’ve been returning to pencil drawing as a way to reconnect with my artistic roots and to accumulate drawings for a special project.  I always liked the detail and soft, warm gray of graphite drawings, but didn’t really get interested in this medium (other than sketching for ink or watercolor drawings) until I was in college and good fine-point mechanical pencils became widely available.  The mechanical pencils that I had in high school all seemed to have thick, hard leads that weren’t good for much besides math homework.  I tried various traditional artist’s drawing pencils in several hardnesses, but found them all scratchy, brittle, and hard to sharpen into the fine point that I wanted for detail work.

One day in about 1985 I found something new:  A “Quicker Clicker” mechanical pencil with a bright blue see-through plastic barrel.  It came with several extra erasers and a package of nice thin .05mm HB leads.  Finally I had a graphite drawing tool that suited my drawing style, and that’s all I used for pencil drawing for many years.  It worked especially well for drawing bones, like this skull of an old male opossum that I found in Kentucky:

Opossum Skull - pencil, 1999

Opossum Skull - pencil, 1999

Here’s a recent mechanical pencil drawing from a few weeks ago.  This is Pseudevernia intensa, the Western Antler Lichen, which is common on conifers (especially Pseudotsuga) above about 7000 feet in the southeastern Arizona mountains.  It is very conspicuous and often grows with several species of Usnea.  Occasionally, tufts of it blow off the trees and end up on the ground.  The specimens in the drawing were picked up on a hiking trail.  This lichen is bluish-gray with dark brown apothecia, and is black and white underneath.  It is fun to draw because it is so variable in shape, with many fascinating and beautiful details.

Pseudevernia intensa - graphit drawing

Pseudevernia intensa - graphit drawing

I decided to try some ordinary art pencils again, and discovered O’bon “Artiste” pencils.  These come in a set of ten in a wide range of hardnesses.  They are made from rolled-up recycled newspaper instead of wood, so they are round in cross-section and a bit larger in diameter than most wood pencils.  Compared to wood pencils they are more durable and easier to sharpen.  The leads are made from a graphite-polymer blend like mechanical pencils, instead of the traditional graphite-clay blend, so they are very smooth and not scratchy.  I usually prefer to buy American-made tools, but I made an exception for these.  They are made by an Asian company and are marketed rather oddly as “green” toys rather than as art supplies.  Graphite pencils are already very “green” compared to most other media, and in this case, any potential environmental benefit is cancelled out by the overdone, non-reusable packaging.  But they are nice, inexpensive art pencils, and very enjoyable to use.  Here’s a drawing that I finished yesterday using the O’bon pencils (a few very dark spots were added last, with a Faber-Castell 9B woodless graphite pencil).  It’s on a 9×12 sheet of paper so the whole drawing didn’t fit the scanner.  It is an old, dry, fragile piece of a branch that fell from a huge desert cottonwood.  The bark is gone, the surface is cracked and weathered, and carpenter ants have hollowed out galleries in the interior, but the sense of movement, organic growth, and the seasonal variations of rain, drought, and wind all remain in the wood.

Cottonwood Dancer

Cottonwood Dancer

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Today I measure wealth and abundance in the ancient way, with a handful of skystones…although these aren’t turquoise.  I cut this set of smithsonite beads from a single chunk of pale bluish-white, chalky-looking rock that I picked up at an old copper mine.  The black material is mostly manganese oxide but there are also a few tiny crystals of murdochite, a rare lead-copper halide.  The center bead is 15 mm in diameter.  Smithsonite (ZnCO3) is an ore of zinc and is usually found as translucent, pearly-looking bubbly layers in a variety of pastel colors.  Massive smithsonite has a sugary texture, like marble, but is heavier and a bit harder.  The beads might be confused with a copper ore, but they are more translucent than turquoise and softer than chrysocolla.  The polish on these is rather uneven because some parts of the rock were soft and chalky and others were hard and glassy; this is one reason (other than rarity) why smithsonite isn’t often cut as a gem.  When it is cut, it’s usually as cabochons, not beads.  Still, they turned out much prettier than I expected.  The polishing brought out a lot of color and patterns, and the beads have a lot of presence.  The hardness is only 4 (same as fluorite), so they would be too easily scratched for a bracelet.  They will make a nice necklace but I’ll have to make some more beads – probably from various copper ores – to go with them.

Handcarved Smithsonite Beads

Handcarved Smithsonite Beads

Calico Jumper

August 8, 2011

Since I make most of my clothes, it means that I don’t have many of them, but they are well-made and last a long time.  They typically have a wearable-in-public life of at least two or three years, a couple more years as hiking outfits, and maybe a year for shop, yard, and housework.

This cotton calico jumper is made from four different brown/black/blue/teadye fabrics from the same collection.  (“Nottingham Village” by Judy Rothermel for Marcus Brothers; marketed as 1860s-style fabric suitable for vintage-inspired quilts, Civil War reenactment clothing, etc.).    The top is lined with tea-dyed muslin, all seams are bound, and the skirt has pockets.  Front and back are decorated with embroidery and a few tiny vintage blue mother-of-pearl buttons.  I have several off-white shirts that go with this.  The fabric that looks pale gray in the photo is actually a dusty greenish blue.

Calico Jumper

Calico Jumper

Here’s a detail of the front, showing the delicate fabric designs, embroidered black bias tape strip, and decorative buttons.

Jumper Front

Jumper Front

The back has a narrower embroidered strip and a folded point detail at the top center.

Jumper Back

Jumper Back