PORTRAIT OF THE (SKETCH) ARTIST By GARRY ARMSTRONG

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!”



Categories: Anecdote, Arts, Birds, Blogging, Drawings, Photography, Sketchbook

Tags: , , ,

44 replies

  1. So much talent in your family, Garry, and I love Marilyn’s sketches!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your wife has demonstrated quite a talent with her sketching. You — and she — should be very proud.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. HI Garry, this is a lovely post about Marilyn’s new form of self expression. She is certainly gifted at drawing and I really admire her pictures. I particularly like the picture of the bridge and the water you have featured here.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A wonderful tribute, Garry! Marilyn’s choice of colors is perfect, regardless of their names — and I do agree about portraits!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautiful loving tribute, thanks for once again making my day, as you two often do~!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Now Garry, your words are true works of art. Absolutely lovely. Marilyn–have you posted the Indian Corn drawing before? I don’t remember it, but it’s a beauty!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Garry, what a beautiful post about Marilyn. Not only do I strive to write as well as her, I hope to continue climbing new mountains. Thank you both for your inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wonderfully loving post, Garry! It’s exciting to see Marilyn’s “act 2” – or maybe it’s act 3, 4, or 5 for her? Marilyn’s reinventing a way of seeing, a way of living is a profound joy to behold. I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag, but not howdy do I covet Marilyn’s special art pencils in so many fine color gradients!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Um that was “boy howdy” do I covet. (Auto correct strikes again.).

      Liked by 1 person

      • No matter how hard we try, we never entirely escape the clutches of “auto-correct”! And, no matter how many sets of pencils you have, getting exactly the color you want is a challenge not because you don’t know what you are looking for, but because the people who make the sets NEVER put them in any kind of order. So you buy anywhere from two dozen to 150 in a set — depending on how specially focused the set is — and then, if they don’t come in a zip-case, you have to take the set apart and manage to get all the yellows, greens, blues, reds, purples, browns, gray, and “what IS that?” colors in a semblance of order. That’s usually when you realize you’re missing anywhere from one to three pencils — which you will never find.

        I wish they would stop giving colors names like “light Jade green” since jade isn’t ONE color or “medium Turquoise blue (or green)” because it isn’t one color or even close. Or “Mars Black.” What does that MEAN? What is “cadmium… (color name)” in light, medium, or dark? What is a chromium or “Light Eggplant”? Can’t you call it light, medium, or dark purple? They have the grays arranged by percentages from 20% to 80% in either warm (hint of pink) or cool (overtones of black), so why not go nuts and do that with all the colors?

        I have the same trouble with sweaters. I don’t wear pumpkins, cantaloupe, or kiwi. Maybe they should measure color by the ripeness of the fruits? After all, in this country, Kiwi is green, but in Israel if was more or less magenta (different amount of acid in the soil). So an unripe kiwi would be (here) pale green with yellow overtones versus very ripe kiwi which is… actually, what IS it?

        Liked by 2 people

    • Babsje, thanks so much. Hey, I cannot draw my way out of that same paper bag. Marilyn’s drawing pencils are quite the sight and their numbers will likely increase.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. It looks like Marilyn’s sketches have invigorated both of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Life, yes they have. It’s fascinating to watch Marilyn’s sketches evolve from the first stroke. So much more than the quick process of taking photos.

      Like

  10. i’ve loved her as a blogger and wordsmith and now as a visual artist

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks Garry for sharing Marilyn’s sketching/drawing journey. I really admire her talent and her gift of finding the right colors.

    Liked by 1 person

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