Sketchbook Memories of Sketchy Saner Days

I came across this while fumbling through some older sketchbooks. It was sketched during a small outing with a few urban sketcher friends of mine at Cafe Lucerna in Prague. There was a lot of wild arabesque art nouveau architecture to sketch both in the cafe and outside the window onto the Lucerna Passage. For some reason, I ignored all that and just did a quick sketch of my friends, sketching. I gotta say I’m grateful I now have this image of who and how we were back in the new age of innocence.

On the one hand that feels like yesterday. On the other hand, thinking about all that’s changed since February 2018 makes my whole being even wobblier than it might already be. How cloistered and naively safe we were. There was no Covid. The Make America Grate Again nightmare we are surrounded by still seemed like it could believably have been a fluke. Mango Mussolini was widely thought to be manageable. His idol, Vladimir Putin, had not further invaded Ukraine. Artificial intelligence was something comfortably somewhere in the future. It was before Kyle Rittenhouse. Before January 6th. Before mass shootings became a weekly if not daily occurrence back in the States. Elected officials hadn’t been talking about civil war since right before the Civil War. It was before there was a war in Israel. This was even two years before I had the faintest notion that I was epileptic, and … before the outcome of whatever it is that’s going to happen in 2024 happens. Who knows?

Urban Sketchers Sketching at Cafe Lucerna, Prague
-Watercolor & Ink

So much for being younger and out of touch. Back then I never would have spent the better part of my waking hours doomscrolling through issues that I have no control over anyway — accomplishing nothing more than reinforcing the fact that things are even more horrific than I have the capacity to imagine.

Our Cat Learns to Read the News, 2017 – Watercolor 21*30 cm

Hmm 🤔

What to do? I’d like to believe that this chasm of good and bad shit has got to be teaching someone some kind of lessons. Regardless, one’s got to be able to auger some kind of wisdom facing forward. Gotta work on making things good so these days might be good ones to look back on.

“A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven.”

James Baldwin

Definitely I’ve got to keep on contributing to my sketchbook journals. The more I sketch truly, the clearer and richer the aesthetic reality of “now” will be rendered for my future eyes to happen on like my eyes happened on this one. Hopefully I’ll figure out the rest in the meantime. Please feel free to let me know if any of my work resonates with you too. Getting feedback from people really helps.

How’s Everyone’s Sanity and Balance Doing?

I feel a need to check in with whoever’s there. Coming across this sketch I did from exactly two years ago, and a thorny late poem by William Carlos Williams really drives home for me this sudden urge to connect with … something.

I tried to have only two things in mind back while I was nervously sketching this while listening to news about protests against common sense Covid-19 protection, namely:

  1. to think about anything other than myself and everything else that was worrying me even sicker than I was at that time. Which time? Well … chronic illnesses — especially ones causing cognitive damage — make that one kinda tricky to pin down. These were some of the unravelings happening within my “edge of one of many circles.” Past the palm at the edge of that mind the “de facto” stabilities of most things I had held my exterior to hold were collapsed or collapsing.
  2. to see how my new Canson Mix Media 9*12’ sketchbook behaved with different charcoals and inks.
GA on my mind

Many of these worries were universal, like Covid-19 (and the ways it was then being dealt with) or Climate Change (and the ways it was then being dealt with) or, say, systemic racism or the continued growth of a Trumpist fascist state (and the ways …)

A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven.

James Baldwin

Other worries were more individualized. For me, the growing disability and ferocious pain that Multiple Sclerosis was doling out had eclipsed itself on every frayed fiber. There were a few times that I looked deep down into myself and swore to remember that “yes, it really was this indescribably agonizing!” so a future me would not forget when/if things ever moved past the present state.

Georgia continued – pen & ink

That was two years ago

  • That was before George Floyd.
  • It was before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the new (hot) Cold War arrived.
  • It was before attitudes about vaccination against covid insanely became ferocious ideological and political tenets.
  • It was before almost two million (and counting) people had died of covid.
  • There hadn’t yet been a coup attempt on the Capitol and the illusion that America was not in an existential crisis was still generally held. Now democracy itself seems impossible to sustain going forward.
  • I hadn’t realized that even while having long been deeply impressed by the first part of that quote of James Baldwin about a society needing to assume that it is stable, I had no clue how blind I was in failing to appreciate the crucial remainder of that sentence All this while being an “artist” no less.
  • Oh yeah … my then lousy condition has continued to worsen.

The ways so many things have fallen apart since April 2020 — when I made those sketches — make the worried existence of two years ago seem charmingly naive.

William Carlos Williams wrote a poem in 1961 titled “Poem” where emotionally and spiritually he was also confronting the clash of madnesses of the then not too distant past with the even more terrifying madness that followed through his present; he might as well have written it today.

William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams


William Carlos Williams

The plastic surgeon who has
concerned himself
with the repair of the mole

on my ear could not be
more pointedly

let all men confess it
Gaugin or Van Gogh
were intimates

who fell out finally
and parted going
to the ends of the earth

to be apart, wild men
one of them cut
his ear off with a pair of shears

which made him none the less
a surpassing genius
this happened

yesterday forgive him
he was mad
and who among us has retained

his sanity or balance
in the course the
events have taken since these days

Here’s to looking forward to a day when this poem is not applicable to that day’s then present.

In the meantime, given that the instability of everything is making itself achingly clear, I don’t know that an artist is needed to fill that role right now. Rather, I’ll just keep being aware that my search for something stable under our violent sun is futile and keep on creating images anyway.

Cheers 🥂

Happy New Year from a Cat on a Table

2022 looks like it might be off to a good start. Aside from being sick and quarantined, I actually got to enjoy several hours of feeling pretty good last night. It’s been months since the pain had subsided enough for me to uncurl from fetal position in bed and stand long enough to do a small watercolor sketch. And there she was ❤️

Elektra is an alarmingly intelligent cat who gets bored easily —kind of like a feline border collie. Usually we can sate her fantastical mind by opening up the balcony or hallway for her to spring out into and upon all of the world’s chase-able mysteries out there. Instead of sheep, she prefers to herd butterflies and hornets and flocks of birds up in the sky.

For now, she’s had to settle for chasing inanimate things throughout the apartment and pissing Pytlique off. With our flat under temporary lock down, both of our cats, too have had to deal with not being allowed outside for a while. The first thing I saw when I walked into the kitchen to see what Elektra was yawling about was her lying on the kitchen table with a palpable glower of defiance and disappointment on her face. Of course she wasn’t going to hold that pose for long and I was lucky enough to snap a quick photo before she marched back to the closed doors to the outside world and resumed yawling there.

I got the point but went ahead and painted this instead. It was hard work because the moving paintbrush immediately became her de facto indoor prey of choice. I’m going back to bed to scribble some more in my dry sketchbook.

Happy New Year, little Elektra. Tomorrow you get to see the outside again 🤩

Elektra on a Table
watercolor 22×18 cm