With Enough Masks and Tails, I Am All Animals

Gestural ink drawing with elephant & animal-like forms, by Eric WaldemarAll animals indeed. Hmmph. Alright Mr. Shape-changer, how about those dishes? OK, but I’ll be back, and not for the first time.

What is this thing? The minimum standard: is the paper improved by being marked? I think so, yes, I’m sure of it, but I can’t really say why. This kind of nonsense is indefensible, but is no less valuable for all that. The work matters, however modest, and whatever it takes to persuade oneself step in again and again is fine, makes sense, enough.

I’m drawn to the elephant in the image, but elephants are currently a big topic in my life, and it may just be that I’m seeing them everywhere. Oonagh and I spotted one recently under my parents’ couch (a pink one) By ruling out other possibilities, we had previously figured out that the elephant we keep hearing at home resides in the oven. It keeps waking me up. Pffffft!

InkPainter for iPhone: The Appeal of “Simulated” Ink & Brush Drawing

abstract inky scrawl made with InkPainter, an iPhone drawing appHaving sniped in a recent post about the way that Photoshop opens graphic possibilities, but impairs decisive intention and clarity of mind, I thought I’d now play devil’s advocate to myself, looking at how even low-tech “digital painting” has substantial rewards. It’s true that there’s no substitute for ink and a brush, but in the right context, an enjoyable fake can be just the thing.

I spend a fair bit of time with tools like Photoshop and Corel Painter, but in recent days, I’m more excited about painting on my iphone with a tool that’s not all that far from a toy. Read more

Digital Tools for the Timid, Ink for the Brave

Black ink and brush, 3 drawings in one by Eric Waldemar

When an ink-filled brush touches paper, it might or might not lead to something thrilling, but there’s no turning back. One pauses, settles the mind, limbers the fingers, and then the process begins. It can go wrong, and a lot of the time it does. That first mark redefines the situation on the paper, and the next mark responds to the first, in a process that combines intention and intuition at every moment. Too long a pause, or too controlling an intention, and the poor thing dies on the page. Begin again. In any case, the moment comes when one has to either touch the brush to paper or put it away. In an instant, it comes to life, or the paper is spoiled.

I can sum up the main difference between physical media like ink drawing and digital tools like Photoshop in one word: “Undo.” (In other words, Ctrl/Cmd-Z”.) With black ink, there is no undo, no trying it 10 ways and then deciding which one works best. One has to actually take a chance, and act with the possibility of failing.

As for the image: “Less Than Three, 3, More Than Three.” Someone has to finally tell the truth about what the number three  really is, what it means, and it’s not going to be me. I merely mean to draw attention to the question. Oh, come on.  Really. It’s a trace of a passing moment with brush in hand, spinning out some little chain of rhythm and un-named form. Nothing more, but I like it enough that I’ve kept it around for a long time. The title is silly, comes later, and mostly serves to amuse me (and act as a mnemonic device – oh, yes, that drawing.)

Let’s not get carried away with mystifying the process of art-making, but on the other hand, let’s not forget that when it works, it’s like something fell out of the sky. An inky brush touching paper defines commitment and captures spirit in the moment. If every gesture can be undone with a click, a magic process becomes a merely graphic one. Sometimes. Take this rant with a grain of salt, from someone who uses a wide range of tools, physical and digital.

Dip the brush in ink, and begin.

A face looking over shoulder? Semi-abstract brush & watercolor drawing by Eric Waldemar.Oonagh’s been getting into watercolors, and her sure, if wild, touch with the brush is an inspiration. Outrageous splashes, streaks, and smears are immediately named: kitty, choo-choo, tracks, bear. She, at two, is doing what I aspire to, though I’m a little less quick to pin a name on things.

During her nap, my momentary break, I finally got some colors and water out for myself, for the first time in a while, and just messed around. I laid some paper on the pull-out breadboard and scattered a few colors and palettes around the kitchen counter, amidst crumbs and crusts. Could have wiped up first, sure, but daddies learn that time is always short.

Secret Tunnels Under Denver & Boulder

Gestural Eric Waldemar ink drawing. Child with huge shoes & hat.

This clumsy little scrawl fell out of my brush a long time ago, about 15 years before I actually had an actual little girl shuffling around the house in my big boots, sporting huge hats and dragging bulging carpetbags full of toys.


Father and Daughter, faces against a storm drain in an alley.Today the two of us spent about a half hour crouched next to an iron storm grate in a nearby alley, listening to dropped pebbles hit the bottom of the big tunnel beneath. We then chased the echoes down the tunnel with howls, hoots, and caw-caws, mouths pressed against the metal. Cities are full of secret holes. The grate was loose, and not that heavy. Maybe I’ll have to investigate one of these days, perhaps without Oonagh. There’s no ladder – anyone have a strong rope?

Then there was that time Tucker Gurney and I were creeping around the steam tunnels under the CU Boulder campus. Caught, held by the wrist while authorities were called, and then we suddenly twisted away and ran for it, chased by approaching police on foot and in cars. We rounded a corner fast and dove under a leaf pile. Did not twitch, breathe, or move a muscle as police searchlights probed the pile at length. Some of the officers on hand thought we were in there, but none was willing to suffer the indignity of stepping over and actually kicking the pile. They debated whether we were under the pile for several minutes, yards away, before moving on and giving up. Circa 1985.

If the body is just a change of clothes…

Man takes off muddy clothes. Ink, brush, pencil by Eric Waldemar

"In From the Bog," ink & pencil, c.1992

Well, what if? Suppose for a moment that you’re just passing through.

The details of your personality, your quirks, tastes and preferences, what you look like – these come about from genetics and surroundings, sure, at least mostly. A lot is random. The course of your life is shaped from whatever happens to be going on as you wade into it again and again, every day.

That combination of obvious variables is often what we consider to be our “self.”  Our personal history defines us most of the time in daily life, for ourselves and others. But if you’d somehow been brought up 10,000 miles away from where you actually were raised, by different parents, in a different culture, by some fluke…  What part of you would still be the same? Any?

Whatever that ghost might be, it’s not the same thing as your “personality.” You could have come out very differently, given different circumstances. But then there’s that nagging near-insight, about some fragment of yourself that wouldn’t be altered at all by a shift in time and place. You could change the eyes or even the species, but you’re still there, looking out, going through it all.

The drawing, by the way, was done about 20 years ago, when I was living on a hay farm in Clifton, Colorado. I’d spend days up to my calves in mud, opening up creases in the field when the irrigation water was flowing. (The property’s water rights permitted only a small number of hours of water flow per month, so when the fields were flooded, there was much to be done before the water gate was shut off again. In the desert.)

I’d come in with inches-thick mud covering my whole body, and would have to dry and scrape my clothes before I could put them in the washing machine. Been a long time since then. It feels like a whole different “incarnation.” I’d like to get in touch with Kim Mariner, to get some insight into what that guy who lived on his farm was like. Who was me, actually, at the time.

The Bird Steps Up

There comes a point when the bird just has to step up to the front and begin. There’s a certain awkward charm and anxious magnetism to starting out, but it doesn’t last all that long. The question is, what to do while you’ve got the benefit of the doubt – How do you hold the crowd’s attention and point it in the direction you have in mind?

This is from a series of tiny drawings, done one after another after another on the backs of business cards from the job I had at the time (at Denver’s Capitol Hill Books). The printed text on the other side affected the way the ink was absorbed, and ghost traces of letters provide an eye for our avian friend.

Jack: Re:Beanstalk

a few lines with ink and brush, perhaps a latter or a stalkHere’s the step
and the step gone
as the foot fumbles
at the stringer,
finds a notch for the toes,
which claw for purchase
and a little friction.

Rising always
borders on falling,
as steam inevitably condenses.