My wife, Marilyn, has always been a skilled wordsmith. In fact, Marilyn has been my editorial ‘Max Perkins,’ polishing up all the things I’ve written in recent years. She knows my voice and her edits make my work much better.
Marilyn has been a prodigious blogger for almost a dozen years, turning out many posts every day. She’s acquired myriad followers from around the world as she addresses everything from birds to political leaders. She writes as she talks. Honest, direct and with a tech writer’s judicious use of those stinkin’ adjectives. She took the mundane to an art form but may — after a dozen years — have finally begun to run out of steam as a daily blogger. It happens. Nothing is forever.
Instead of wailing, Marilyn — without missing a beat — took to sketching. She was looking for another way to express herself. She began with a favorite subject, birds. Birds are part of our extended family. They are daily visitors to our back deck where multiple feeders offer varied treats for even the most selective of our winged friends. I’ve learned a lot about birds from Marilyn who identifies different families to my grade school knowledge.
Marilyn usually sketches from photographs she’s taken of our back deck visitors. The bird pictures, I’ve learned, are triumphs as she has to shoot everything through small windows in a French door. Getting a good picture — in focus — is timing and luck. Birds don’t see themselves as photographer’s models and they don’t do selfies.
Marilyn sketches, one eye on her photograph, the other on her pad, her fingers deftly finding the right strokes and angles to recreate a likeness. This isn’t easy. It’s not the doodling we do in our idle moments. Marilyn sketches with the same determination she uses when she writes. She has purpose and a sense of where and what her drawing will be.
It doesn’t always work out, but no form of art is always satisfactory. It’s fascinating to watch the process. I’m impressed with her concentration. On a good day, the images flow from her brain to her fingers in harmony. Again, no easy feat. On a bad day, a lot of expensive paper bites the dust.
I’ve seen Marilyn labor over the shape of a bird’s head, bill and tummy to achiever her own version of realism. She goes through multiple “takes” until she feels she’s done justice to the bird of the day. She tried to capture the bird’s mood, the look in his or her eyes, the curve of beak. You can see who’s happy with the environment and who wishes Alfred Hitchcock would lend a hand. The birds could take Marilyn’s sketchbooks to court in a class action suit against climate change dissidents.
Marilyn has successfully done a lot of flowers, canine portraits, and a few humans. She did one of me I find it flattering given how my soon to be 80 physique has changed with time. I guess human portraits can be difficult given the egos of the subjects. Hey, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, right?
Marilyn has a vast array of sketch pencils for different purposes — and sometimes for unique colors included in the set. There’s muted laughter as Marilyn struggles to find the proper slots for the pencils and is constantly rearranging them to achieve some semblance of order. So many shades of a color can make placing them challenging. What is “Chartreuse Blue”? It that green with blue overtones or blue with green overtones? I am tempted to say “they all look alike.” Too soon?
Marilyn works without an easel, cradling sketchbook and pencil in her lap. An easel might make things easier but would be an perfect target for Duke who likely would knock over a work in progress as he makes one of his mad dashes around the rooms. Nothing is safe. Duke is not an art patron.
The drawings seem to have given Marilyn a new lease on life. A sense of satisfaction somewhat lost in our photography sessions. We are saturated with familiar local sites. We need, when the weather is less erratic (if that day ever comes), to find some new places to shoot. We are full up with bridges, dams, canals, rivers, and folks casting fishing lines into various watery venues.
Sketching has opened new horizons for Marilyn. It’s like breathing fresh air after the smothering feeling of “What can I write that I haven’t written before”? Art has no boundaries and I think she’s entitled to stand and shout out that old familiar refrain: “Top of the World, Ma! I made it!”