February 07, 2008

I'm not an artist. I just like to draw shit.

Monet had his lilies. Degas had his ballerinas. I has a carrot.

I didn't do well in Intro to Drawing. I started the class as Not One Of The People Who Can Draw and ended it as One Of The People Who Cannot Draw. It could have been the most fun class of my undergraduate career: an excuse to buy lots of art supplies and benevolent instruction in how to use them. One fairly obvious reason I didn't do well is that the instruction was not so benevolent as all that; being a class for architecture majors, it was run on the time-honored "pin up and ridicule" system. It's a nice system for widening the skill and confidence gap between your best and worst students, because after enough ridicule the worst students will save themselves the heartache and stop trying. For actually teaching people to draw, you'd probably have more success by taking all their paper away and forbidding them to touch a pen.


But the other problem is this: the premise that someone can learn art by being told what to do. Where I fell off Intro to Drawing's wagon was where the instructors would tell me, here is an object. Draw it this way and in this medium. Look at your hand and draw it in contour with a 4B pencil but but what if I want to paint it in watercolors no. Draw it in contour with a 4B pencil. My sketchbooks from that class are full of loving, frustrated doodles in all the media I wasn't supposed to be using on any given assignment. Obviously if I'm trying to learn pencil drawing all the beautifully spontaneous impressionistic oil painting in the world isn't going to teach me, but if what I really want is to be delicately mixing and coaxing paint colors into dappled fields of hyperbolic light and color, why the hell would I be trying to learn pencil drawing in the first place? Because someone said this is how Learning Art works: you draw and then you shade and when you have mastered those you can paint careful portraits on nice canvas with long brushes and a serious expression.


It has already been established that what I really want to do, in any medium, is make vegetables. If you give me screen-printing I will give you two-color beets. If you give me highlighters I will lovingly shade you some eggplants and rutabagas. If you give me sharpies I will give you a bold, cartoony tomato. Someone gave me a whiteboard at work and I have been giving splashy impressionist chard and pumpkins to everyone brave enough to walk by.


Last night I decided to give myself some acrylic paints and a piece of cardboard to practice on. I just wanted to see what would happen, and anyway I was annoyed with the way whiteboard markers don't blend.


Imagine my shock. I spent a half an hour happily brushing and dabbing and getting excited and changing things, and made something I like. I'm trying not to wreck the discovery by going around expecting masterpieces or thinking I should learn to paint properly; that is precisely where I went wrong in Learning To Draw. But it's kind of nice to realize that my firm conviction that I'm hopelessly unartistic is just kind of an optional piece of bullshit. I, like probably all the other people who washed out of Learning To Draw, can make neat things to look at if I just feel like it. It opens the door to all kinds of alarming thoughts: maybe there are circumstances under which I can do other things I officially Cannot Do. Sing? Play piano? Dance?? Somewhere out there is the mood and time and place that will cause me to spontaneously bust out some amazing moves. I look forward to it.

Posted by dianna at 11:15 PM

February 02, 2008

PhoPo: Complete and total bullshit.

I went up into actually north North Portland today, to look around Cathedral Park with a classmate for our anthropology class project. When I left my house it was raining and slightly slushy, but before we even got to the park it was snowing, hard, falling in huge flakes and piling up on the ground.

I have discovered that I am over snow. It happened -- snap -- just like that.


When I got home after walking my bike around the snowy park, heaving it onto and off of wet freezing bus racks, and finally riding the last half-mile home through rain and slush, I was drenched and frozen and numb of finger and miserable and so fucking cold. And now I have to go find some towels and get the ice off my gears before my bike turns into the sad rusted junker shell of a once-beautiful machine, and I'm already warm and dry and over touching cold icy things and I don't want to bother.

Fuck this shit. I'm ready for spring.

Posted by dianna at 01:21 PM

November 10, 2007

Charismatic megafauna!

I just went to the zoo! It was unexpectedly nice out (read: sunny and not raining but still 48 degrees) today and I was casting around for something outsidey to do when I suddenly realized I had not yet been to the Oregon Zoo. So I grabbed my camera and hopped on the train, and spent two hours roaming around the zoo by myself getting strange looks from small children.

One toddler was so much more interested in me than in the Amazon Flooded Forest exhibit that I felt compelled to gently inform him that I was not a zoo animal. He continued staring anyway.

The zoo was, as zoos generally are, awesome for the little kid part of me and kind of horrifying for the adult part. I spent several minutes standing in front of the chimpanzee habitat apologizing on behalf of Homo sapiens sapiens for the fact that fuzzy people who use tools and exhibit complex social structure and optional bipedality have to live in glass-walled concrete boxes instead of in the forest. Of course, non-fuzzy people who use tools and exhibit complex social structure and obligate bipedality live in concrete boxes for the most part too, so maybe I should apologize to myself while I'm at it.

Then I saw a peacock standing in line at the coffee stand. It was patient and orderly and stood behind this dude for several minutes before anyone but me seemed to notice it.

I took a crapload of pictures, but because I was trying not to be the jackass with the camera flashing lights at the animals, I took them all without flash. Ergo they are mostly blurry and dim, but in light of the important lesson I learned about the animal kingdom -- they are not at all impressed by me and feel perfectly at home showing me their rear ends -- the lack of clarity is probably not that tragic. But I will show you a few of the ones that turned out okay.

That, right there, that is a giraffe. I knew giraffe, and sir, you are no giraffe.

There was, through careful selection of the viewing flock no doubt, only one black sheep. I felt a sudden cliched and exaggerated kinship. And for the record, what I thought was people making unconvincing "baa" noises at the sheep was, in fact, the sheep. Making unconvincing "baa" noises. THEY SOUND JUST LIKE PEOPLE SAYING BAA. What the hell?

I thought this was a gnu and so I had a clever comment about freely distributing its picture all ready for you guys. It turns out that I was totally misinformed about gnus, and this is, er, something else.

That is a sarcastic twentysomething taking pictures of herself making spooky faces in a fake hippopotamus den next to the Lagoon Of Invisible Hippopotami. Five seconds after this picture was taken a speaker next to the fake hippopotamus den started making incredibly loud, and above all close-sounding, hippopotamus noises and the sarcastic twentysomething got the hell out of there at high speed. She was subsequently, well, sheepish.

On the way to the zoo I had a strange encounter with a sort of pressingly-friendly dude riding the Max. He tried to strike up a conversation with me, but by two minutes in it had turned with apparent irrevocability to the subject of whether I wanted to hang out with him sometime and what we might go do. I ended up refusing to give him my phone number and failing to articulate the perfectly valid reason why not, which was that having established no common interest or rapport with me in the course of my few halfhearted responses, his intense interest in making plans with me was out of all proportion to our interaction thus far and I found it unnerving. But since of course that clear explanation wasn't available to me on the spur of the moment, he was taken aback and insulted. I hereby confess that his subsequent pointed ignoring of me totally failed to make me repentant.

Look an elephant!

Posted by dianna at 07:02 PM

November 06, 2007

From the Oregon Department of Ghostly Glows

I've been wondering how anybody in Portland ever manages to get undressed.

The issue is layers (and ogres). When you are wearing three shirts and two sweaters, or a skirt and two pairs of pants, it just isn't that easy to take them all off. But my owning roommate and my bike friend have both patiently explained to me that this is just how we operate around here: not with big heavy coats, but with hoodies on top of sweaters on top of thermals on top of other thermals.

Not with a bang, in fact, but with a whimper. At least not with a bang if we cannot conveniently remove enough layers to get on with the banging. Perhaps this is why Portland is such a city of immigrants -- the Oregonians are not making more Oregonians because their clothes are in the way.

I speculate that bedtime is not a problem because people simply don't go to bed at all. Around 4 am the entire city shifts en masse from late nights with crappy beer to early mornings with good coffee. Maybe the bars have trick walls like the casinos in Dick Tracy, and at the appointed hour they all swivel around and turn into coffeeshops. The bleary-eyed barflies take their places behind the counters and turn into surly baristas. They sulk behind the espresso machines until mid-afternoon and then swivel back with a sigh of relief to become barflies again.

It goes a long way toward explaining why, after 5 pm, you can't buy a cup of tea but you can have three drinks in three bars without walking a block.

I suppose these are hipster circles in which we operate, and so showers aren't strictly necessary. But I wonder if they've worked out some way around going to the bathroom.

Posted by dianna at 09:38 AM

November 02, 2007

PhoPo: Photoblogging Portland #1.

On Wednesday morning, once again with the blinding fog, I rode to work past the increasingly weird intersection of Interstate and Greeley avenues. This time, having camera in hand, I stopped to take pictures.

Here is the intersection as it presently looks. It's a nasty piece of work as intersections go, thus the accident last week and thus the enormous heap of flowers. But that's been discussed ad nauseum in every blog and newspaper in this city, and I would rather talk right now about the stuff that people have been leaving there. Flowers, yes. But this is Portland.


Junk sculptures! I am deeply impressed by this. The little man riding the bike is made entirely out of rusty chain, and I haven't got the faintest fucking idea how someone got it to stand up like that.

And let's look at the flowers again, anyway. Under the heap is a ghost bike, which presumably has the typical black-and-white "A Cyclist Was Killed Here" sign on it somewhere, but bike and sign are both obscured by the rest of the heap at this point. Other things tucked away in the pile include: biking medals, a paintbrush, fingerless gloves, a small gear mounted on a board, a bandana, a water bottle, a spare chain, what appears to be a shoelace, and a couple of rubber bands. (Edit: and my cycle computer, which is stuck reading 8.9 mph at all times. I saw it this morning and decided to helpfully illustrate the moderate speed of the locked, stationary, nonfunctioning ghost bike.) I can't figure out whether it's more like leaving things that the dead might want to have in the next life (dude you do not want to be without your water bottle), or just people leaving whatever they happen to have on them when they pass by. Nor can I really figure out which idea I enjoy more; they both tend to make me go "awww".

In conclusion:

It didn't help this time, but damnit, it never hurts.

Posted by dianna at 07:31 AM