Posts Tagged ‘drawing’

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Maybe 30 years ago I read Katherine Paterson’s brilliant Bridge To Terabithia*. There was a note at the end which said the illustrator drew the pictures while listening to the music of the Beatles. (To see one of Donna Diamond’s beautiful drawings from that book, click here.) Her work was so ephemeral and dreamy, and I was not surprised to learn of the particular musical influence. I’d bet you aren’t either.

In my Advanced Studio Art class in high school we always had the radio on, set to a local station, while we drew. My work was inevitably co-authored by Mister Mister, Heart, and Dream Academy. By college I’d graduated to Belinda Carlisle and MC Hammer.

lady speed stick

This is a Lady’s Speed Stick. Hammer would be proud.

Sometimes I listen to music while doing busy work like cutting and freezing produce. Once I wrote to Gourmet Magazine** and told them I spent the afternoon slicing organic strawberries while accompanied by Led Zeppelin. It was a solid choice, I thought. Gourmet agreed. They printed my letter.

But back to the vein of Donna Diamond, Bridge drawings, and the Beatles; and me, my drawings, and late ’80s power ballads: I think the music I’m listening to when I’m creating has a hand in the product. That includes cooking. This past few weeks I’ve needed some deep rest—soul-core rest. Aside from sleeping, that means comfort food; and in my case, making it.

First I went to my farm and bought some local, low-spray, ripe peaches. Then I sliced them and tucked them into a butter crust, latticed and sprinkled with demerara sugar. My co-author was The Carpenters. I felt like I was moving not through air but through Karen’s exquisite honey-colored contralto. That was a mellow-tasting pie, indeed (there it is above).

A couple of days ago I became oddly obsessed with a recipe I’ve had for years but have never made: blackberry brown-sugar cake. I took some liberties, since it was to be a breakfast or teatime cake for me, not a celebration cake for others. Omitted the buttercream and jam and half the sugar, swapped in some olive oil for part of the butter and whole-wheat pastry flour for some of the all-purpose. The recipe also called for ground walnuts and a little sugar at the base of the pan, but I didn’t have any walnuts, so I used hazelnuts instead. They were so heady and delicious that going forward I’ll never use walnuts. I topped the cake with tangy, organic plain yogurt and blackberries I’d just picked at the farm. The result was subtle and moody and surprising.

Nat ‘King’ Cole made this cake with me. You might not be able to tell by the photo, but you’d know for sure when you ate a slice.


*The movie is rubbish.

**Requisite whimper that they’re gone. 😦

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silly putty

Figure drawing, college. We had to draw a hand grasping something. This is a Silly Putty egg. I spared you the one with the Lady Speed Stick.

I used to have this problem with talking. It wasn’t a larynx thing, mind you—it was a chicken thing. But while the universe gives us locusts and Ann Coulter and Ebola, it also gives us many ways to express ourselves besides talking. This is a plus.

Here are the ways that worked for me. Feel free to swipe any or all.

1) Art

If you have a good teacher, and I had a lot of them, you can learn a lot more than art in art class. Miss Lieneck, for example, used to say, ‘draw with your eraser.’ In other words, get comfortable with taking away as well as with adding.

Lesson: Editing is crucial to quality.

I was used to drawing my still-lifes small, in the center of the paper. In another class, Katy made me draw to the edges—to cover every inch of the 18×24″ paper.

Lesson: Think big. Force your brain out of that tiny space.

Katy also had us set up our own still-lifes, and we were told to draw them from unorthodox vantage points. She was an ex-hippie who let her two-year-old daughter stretch masking tape all over one side of the room while we drew on the other side. In other words, she was exactly what I needed. I drew the below sitting cross-legged from the top of a three-drawer file cabinet, perched on a paper cutter.

At one point Katy suggested I go with the plant’s curved stem and make something new out of it. Blew my mind, honest to God, that I could actually choose to do that. Wait, I’m in charge of what I create?

Lesson: Make yourself look at the world from a new perspective. If you’ve never tried your own, give that a whirl.


Be kind. I was 17.

2) Writing

It can be fun, not to mention ferociously lucrative, to BS around with writing, but my teachers giggled at that prospect. In high school we were constantly nabbed with the red pen when we weren’t clear with our assertions. Probably the most common school-wide margin scrawl on our essays was ‘Proof??’ This is why I’m not writing for Philip Morris.

Lesson: You can say anything you want as long as you back it up. Death to ambiguity.

3) Cooking

Then the spoken word finally burst forth! Like Bruce Banner’s biceps out of his shirt sleeves when he was served a grande instead of a venti!* Right? Nope. Not yet, anyway.

That took time and piles of therapy. But the reason why I didn’t implode and make a disaster all over one portion of the Jersey Shore is because I was nevertheless talking—through my drawing, through my writing. And through cooking.

Cooking is something I’ve done since I was a wee child, working my way up from cookies and muffins to being the go-to Easter bread dough kneader. I don’t draw every day (not even close, considering for the first half of my life I drew as often as I brushed my teeth, or more). I don’t write every day. But I cook every day. It’s helpful when one wants to eat. But it’s also valuable and powerful expression. I’m untrained, but I picked up a few things on my own.

I cook when I want to sort through a dilemma, or when I need to step away from a problem. I cook when I want to celebrate, or when I want to connect with someone. I cook when I’m upset, and also when I’m feeling all nesty and cozy. I cook when I want to speak but it’s not the right time, or it’s just not appropriate. I cook when there seem to be too many loose ends in my life that I can’t control, and I need to do something that has a concrete start and finish so I can sleep. This generates an awful lot of food, but darned if it doesn’t work.

These days I don’t usually have a problem with talking. But I’m saluting the universe for giving me options in speaking, and for the teachers who insisted that every expression be strong and clear. And I can’t forget the people around me who help share the spoils. My freezer’s only so big.


*I’m clear, but I didn’t say I was good.

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With the Zig Zag (L), at a Red Bank, NJ dance studio.

Some of the weirdest food choices I’ve ever made were made while working a show. Any theatre person can attest to this: there’s something about the combination of a gnawing stomach and having worked your caboose off that steers a person, oddly, toward malnutrition. Counter-intuitive as it is, what’s chosen for a really-late-night dinner is often enough in the orange food group (the fried banana pepper rings with ranch dressing, the fried calamari with Thai chilies) and it’s about as useful for your body as drywall spackle.

Then again, starvation plus long hours occasionally steers a person toward something he or she would never so much as sniff otherwise. Sometimes that’s a good thing. I detested mushrooms up until one day in 1995, when I hadn’t had breakfast. It was 1 in the afternoon, my magic partner and I had been working for hours, and he ordered a Domino’s pizza with mushrooms. I took a bite and pronounced them Not That Bad. The frozen, synthetic crust was a different story, being Domino’s; but again, hunger won out. And now I love mushrooms—any kind at all. If Domino’s ever offers porcini as a topping, I’ll forgive them their crust.*

I worked with this magic troupe for a few years after college, moonlighting as a magician’s assistant. We’d get the gig and start planning immediately. Everything needed to be taken into consideration: the venue, the audience, the amount of set-up time and performance time, backstage space, and on and on. Many of the illusions we used were bought or rented, but a couple, like the Asrah and Sword Basket, were built by a theatre tech who was also a great carpenter. Those needed us for paint, bells and whistles. And for most of the gigs it was just the illusionist (Doug) and me, but occasionally we brought in a stage manager who would help us load in illusions, run sound and lights, help strike (break down the illusions and the set) and load everything out. Many’s the New Year’s Eve I’ve loaded out at midnight wearing sweats and sneakers over fishnets and sequined Lycra, still in stage makeup and fake eyelashes, and with my hair teased out to one of the more affluent Cleveland suburbs.

While magic was some of the best fun I ever had, it was also some of the dumbest food I ever ate. After days and nights spent like the above, we got hungry. REALLY bloody hungry. (And tired. I have memories of going to a restaurant, wordlessly plunking ourselves down into a booth, ordering our dinners, then sitting in silence for the rest of the meal. This is the standard definition of zonked.)


During a strike.

One of my better memories of dumb food is of going to Ruby Tuesday’s with Doug and ordering a Tallcake. This was taken off the menu a while ago, sadly. Do you remember it? It was an oversize goblet filled with cut-up cake, ice cream, and a few toppings. Doug and I are chocolate people and loved the chocolate cake one that came with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and a crazy pile of whipped cream. It contained absolutely nothing even remotely healthy; I’m sure of it. Everything in that goblet came from a box or a squeeze bottle or a spray can, full of enough chemicals to melt an average-sized four-door Suburu. But (and this is coming from me, Miss Authentic Ingredients) that’s all right. Crap now and again is okay. It is.

We would easily destroy a Tallcake between the two of us after a show or a long day of sewing, painting, or building. Our most shameful hour—or finest, depending on your perspective—was the time we ate an entire Tallcake, then looked wide-eyed at each other across the table, and ordered and ate ANOTHER one.

The strawberry ones were pretty good, too.


*That’s what it would take. Get on it, boys.

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