Pencil Stubs

Yesterday, I started a new Intarsia project. It’s been a few months since I completed ‘Libre’ the Bald Eagle, and my weary bones yearn for the woodshop. My projects always begin with a model. Usually, it is a photograph of something that moves me. This time, the subject is a piece of art I bought on one of our trips to Arizona. It is a three-dimensional, life-size rendering of a Lotus leaf. The artist found the leaf in the Far East and then used it to cast a mold. He then filled the mold with an epoxy ceramic material to form a hard rendering. On this casting, he applied various colors. While the paint was still fluid, he spun the casting to move the paint outward from the center. The effect is similar to that of a tie-dyed shirt, with the colors spread through the various veins within the leaf. It has been one of my favorite pieces, and I have promised to give it to my stepdaughter as part of an inheritance from her mother.

The next step in my process is to make a paper pattern of the model. In this case, I used a digital photo of the artwork and projected the image using my computer. I taped a large sheet of vellum paper to the screen and began tracing. I dug around in my desk drawer for a pencil and found a Number 2 yellow wood Faber Castel with an eraser that is petrified to the end. The pencil had been sharpened using a hand crank sharpener, giving the tip a perfect conical shape. The lead was rather blunt from prior use, and it needed resharpening. That is when my brain kicked out a memory from seventy-five years ago. I was ten and using a similar yellow pencil to do my homework. My Grandpa Jim was living with us for the winter and sat in the armchair reading his four-week-old Hungarian newspaper in the living room. The memory is somewhat sketchy about why I threw a tantrum to get my pencil sharpened, but it needed sharpening. Grampa Jim pulled out his pocket knife and chipped away to give me a stubby-looking sharp point. My problem was that I insisted on having a perfect machine-sharpened conical point. He shook his head and let me go about screaming and hollering for a perfectly conical point. I left him to carry on with my mother for a conical point. After she ignored my demands, I returned to the living room, and Grandpa handed me a pencil with a perfectly conical point. He had taken the time to carve the wood into a perfect cone with lead to match. I was shocked, amazed, and satisfied that he had done it for me.

I don’t own a hand crank pencil sharpener anymore, and I didn’t even have a portable plastic jig with a blade that, when twisted around the end of a pencil, will result in a perfectly conical point, but I did find a pocket knife with a somewhat dull blade that I used to resharpen my number two yellow pencil. I hacked away the wood, scraped the carbon into a point, and traced the work while remembering Grandpa’s patience and skill with a pocket knife. It was a mellow moment.


One of my lifelong passions is art. Ever since Sister Flora introduced me to drawing and coloring in the fourth grade I have pursued art. Grammar school training is all I ever had, but like Abe Lincoln, I taught myself using a pencil. Today, we call it doodling. Along the way I bought a few self help books on figure drawing and used them as my guide. Drawing the human form is a big challenge. Once a person knows the proportions of the anatomy drawing is a little easier.

My color media consists of Crayons, colored pencil, water-color, pastel, charcoal, food coloring, tempera, and oil. When I color my cartoons I use color pencils. More recently, I have used spray paints for backgrounds. About thirty years ago, I enrolled in a Junior College art class and lasted one semester, but learned a lot about the creative process. I also took drafting in high school, and college which I don’t really count as art, but I learned perspective, shading, and point of view.

My art looks kindergardenish next to Grandma Moses who had a very distinctive but primitive style. My notebooks are filled with various pencil doodles, water colors, color pencil, ink, pastel, and charcoal. I’ve done some portraits in charcoal using a photograph as my model.


For the past thirty years I have concentrated on using wood to make pictures. Since I also dabbled in wood carving the step toward making pictures from wood using the natural colors of the wood was a logical step. It all started simple, a pair of dolphins jumping side by side. At the time I did not know about blue pine so I chose some other colored wood to depict the dolphins. Since making those first dolphins choosing and finding wood has been a challenge. I love bright flashy colors in my work, but the palette is limited by the wood available to me. I love to depict flowers in their true colors, but most of the ones I have made are in the color of the woods I have. Usually, I wind up picking a base color and then finding wood colors that are shades darker or lighter to work around the subject. Since most woods are brown, or some shade of brown, my flowers are brown. To get true colors, I have experimented with food colors to stain the wood. At first, this produced the exact colors I wanted for a striking piece. Over time the food coloring fades and the pieces lose their beauty.

Three Roses One Red, Two White
Three Red Roses

Internet searches have led me to companies that sell wood in various colors from around the world. I have purchased boards from them in various colors and grains. I tried using a red colored wood for some roses but was disappointed with the outcome. The red is so deep it looks more like black. Another set of roses is from aspen, but it didn’t look right, and so, I wound up staining them to be a bright white, The white stain was so heavy it completely blocked out the wood grain and the roses looked crummy. I will try roses one more time, but in a wood called yellow-heart. It should be better.

My very next project is a Bald Eagle in flight. I searched my entire stock of boards to find the correct match for the dark brown of the eagle. I had only very small pieces of dark-walnut that was the right color, but none were large enough the cover even five percent of what I need. I shopped at four local sources without luck. Finally, I found a source in Arizona that had dark walnut. When I learned what the cost would be I almost decided to scrap the project in favor of a simpler subject that I had colors for. The current cost for dark walnut is $11.99 per board foot. That doesn’t sound too bad, but the board was only available in six foot increments, and had to be sent; shipping more than doubled the cost.

With the cost of wood as high as it is, I may opt to change gears into a less costly medium. Writing for instance costs much less, but when I add in the cost of the internet, a domain name, and storage space the cost per word can be expensive. Simple pencil drawings will most likely become my next medium. I can use a number three pencil, on simple paper, or an expensive sketch pad, and I will need an eraser. Pencil sketching will lack the smell of fresh sawed wood, copious piles of wood-dust, wood-chips, and a bunch of noisy tools. It will also lack a necessary space, the size of a living room, hidden from view where I can escape to spend time with my tools.

This Will Make Your Head Spin

Take special note of the rotating hands, only one hand goes through the cutouts. The second hand is there to confuse you.

The Movie Will Be Even Better

Wow! I just finished reading a lovely story based in Venice, Italy.The author Rhys Bowen held me spell bound throughout. Her story titled, The Venice Sketchbook spans several generations of family in England and Italy and begins just before World War Two. Lately I have been enamored by tales that involve the Big One. Ms Bowen’s characters are real and believable. The heroine is someone I wouldn’t mind dating myself. The theme of using artists, art, and Venice together kept my interest in this page turner. The plot of young love between a middle class English girl and a very rich and titled Italian boy stretches into middle age love. Life in Venice seemingly was untouched by war, that is until the Germans invaded Poland, France, Belgium, and began bombing England. That is when the real story begins, life suddenly became different.

I am an amateur artist and I studied art appreciation in my early college years. I still have a bent for the medium and more than ever frequent showings, and galleries and appreciate good artistic ability. To me this plot to put the central character into an art school in Venice filled a void in my mind.

I also love knowing about Italy. Another favorite story of mine is Under the Tuscan Sun by author Frances Mayes. The bucolic scenes painted of the in Tuscan countryside make me want to live there or at least visit. When combined with my recollections of twenty-four hours in Italy back in the nineties these stories are fueling my desire to travel and roam the countryside on a bicycle, or at least a Maserati, Ferrari, or Fiat.

The Venice Sketchbook is filled with complex plots told using a time traveler theme. An modern day English niece inherits her great aunt’s estate, and begins a quest to learn of her aunt’s mysterious past as a covert intelligence agent in WWII while trapped in Venice. Intertwined in both the past and present stories are love interests keeping the aunt’s and her niece’s lives interesting and alive.

I give this story five stars. * * * * *

I can’t wait to see the movie version.

Immersed in Van Gogh

Today, I spent with my youngest grand daughter Jenna. A few months ago we agreed to take a day to visit the Art Institute to see the Van Gogh exhibit. We had missed the Monet show because of the COVID shutdown, and vowed to see the next one. In my mind we would go to the famous Chicago Art Institute, find the room with the Van Gogh exhibit, ogle the paintings for a while and come home. Life treated me to a giant surprise when I visited the A.I website without finding the show. Instead my trusty computer led to something called “Immersive Van Gogh.” I popped the $131.98 for two Premium tickets and printed them out. I had no clue as what was meant by Immersive except that it is something like jumping into a pool and are covered with water. That is exactly what it was. We were completely covered head to toe in Van Gogh artwork.

The Germania Building competed in 1889 is a Chicago landmark located at the south edge of Lincoln Park. I never knew it existed, nor have I ever want to know it existed. Evidently it was built by German immigrants as a place to hang out. There were so many of them they could afford to pay for this elaborate building. Based on the entry fee charged of people like me going there to visit Immersive Van Gogh, I’d say the owner recovered his cost for the building.

The most adventurous part of our trip to the Germania was finding parking. That part of town consists of streets that never see the sun because they are in the shadow of high rise apartment and condo buildings. Street parking is almost non-existent but there are cars parked all along the streets. We finally found an obscure hotel at 1325 North Astor Street with parking on the third loop around the neighborhood. It was a beautiful morning to take a walk.

We arrived at the entrance to the Germania, now renamed the Lighthouse ArtSpace, at 10:00 a.m. sharp. It took another ten minutes to negotiate the lobby, gift shop and the ticket taker to get into the immersion. The show was in progress. The grand ballroom of the Germania was painted solid white, walls, floor, ceiling. Somewhere hidden in the woodwork there were a myriad of projectors pointed such that we sat in a 360 degree orabal screen. As far as sitting went, there was seating for about a couple dozen people in a room that held several hundred. At the ticket desk we were handed a cushion which came with the premium ticket. We sat of the floor atop the cushion. Aside from hearing my joints crackle when getting into a yoga position the pictures were accompanied by a musical score.

I have to admit that even though I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see Van Gogh’s original works, but what I saw was something magical. His works in their full glory magnified beyond a wild imagination were also animated. The seeds cores for the Sun Flowers were rotating spirally, as were the stars in Starry Night. The gulls in a shore scene were flapping their wings as they flew out over the water. The reflection of shore lights on the bay next to a village twinkled as did the stars above. In the few of his works that I have seen I never realized the amount of detail that he put into the humans that worked the fields, but magnified to several times life size it was clear that the man had a talent for human form.

I thought to myself that we were seeing not just the works of a great Dutch Impressionist but of a great digitalizer. The work that went into creating the animation, the fades in and out, the transitions from one painting to the next all took a huge amount of creative energy as well as technical ability. We were truly immersed, and then suddenly the credits appeared and the showing was over. I looked at my watch it was ten-thirty. We got up from the floor, waited until a seat was free and sat to we watch the whole thing again. The engineer in me calculated that the $0.0366 per second that we were entertained was worth it.

The walk back to our car was taken at a leisurely stroll but seemed to be much shorter than the hurried one at the beginning. We people watched the residents walking their dogs, running, bicycling, carrying plastic shopping bags with food purchased from God knows where, and some just sitting on a stoop enjoying the morning sun.

I took a scenic way to the interstate and gave Jenna a quick tour of the Gold Coast neighborhood, Rush Street, the Magnificent Mile, Millennium Park, the real Art Institute, the Museum Campus, a very brief stint on the Outer Drive, and finally onto I-57 where we literally flew home.

We pulled into Frankfort to find the town loaded with people and cars. Luckily, I parked within a block of Fat Rosies Taco and Tequila Bar. The hostess seated us immediately on the rear patio. Together we polished off three tacos apiece along with a generous scoop of refried beans and fried rice. KETO be damned, I don’t lunch with my baby girl often.