Finished sunset sketch

I made some more progress on this 5×7 sunset sketch from my drive home a few days ago. If I put in more of the trees, they’ll obscure the sky too much. This wasn’t for any other purpose than fun, so I think I will leave it here.

Thanks for reading.



Sunset study just for fun

IMG_3506On my drive home yesterday I saw another interesting sunset while at a light. Needing a break from the close studies I’ve been working on, I thought I’d give this a try as a small sketch. The dogs had me up long before my alarm, so I laid in the first washes before work. Another day I will come back over with some broken clouds up the left side, and then fill in all the trees obscuring the sky. It’s good to loosen up and enjoy playing with paint.

Daydreaming In Place


…If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the daydreamer, the house allows one to dream in place. Thought and experience are not the only things that sanction human values. The values belonging to daydreaming mark humanity to its depths. Daydreaming even has a privilege of autovalorization. It derives direct pleasure from its own being. Therefore the places in which we have experienced daydreaming reconstitute themselves in a new daydream, and it is because our memories of former dwelling-places are relived as daydreams that these dwelling-places of the past remain in us for all time.

Now my aim is clear. I must show that the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories, and dreams of mankind…

From The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Bachelard

I am slowly reading Gaston Bachelard’s work “The Poetics of Space,” a philosophical exploration of home. The role that our spaces play in our lives has been an interest of mine for a long time, perhaps as far back as the first paper I ever remember writing (I think it was in 7th grade) on Frank Lloyd Wright, and I am trying to more deliberately bring this interest (and all my other interests) into sharper focus. The quote above so perfectly captures the importance of home, of the role it plays in humanity, that I couldn’t help but giving a silent Kerouac style “Yes!” while reading it.

One can find this safe place for dreaming in place elsewhere. What can be said about one’s home can extend to the places one frequents (though the home might be the strongest place), to one’s community, to one’s hometown. The coffee shop has become one of those places.

The challenge in painting any space for daydreaming is conveying it as such, giving it life, giving it a little mystery, the opportunity for meaning, or at least implication.

I’ve made some more progress in that direction with my painting this morning. I focused on the window, more or less finishing it off, and emphasizing the blown-out lighting. This helps convey the daydreaming feeling I think. I’ll bring that out further once I get to the facial expression. I’m really just experimenting with what I can do in painting. There are all sorts of tricks to borrow from cinema and photography, and I’ll try to get smarter about that over time. I also am trying this year to do paintings that feel more finished (not polished, though), have more texture and effect to them. I think the three I’ve finished so far, and the two I’m working on now, fit that profile.

Thanks for reading.

Millennials and Coffee Shops

IMG_3488.JPGThe prevailing narrative on the millennials’ housing preferences has been that they can’t get enough of big city living (they’re part of the drive for denser development), and they just don’t want to live out in the suburbs. Being on the fence between millennial and gen x, but not an example of the “delayed adulthood” set (we have two kids and a house in the burbs), I’ve been a little suspicious of the main narrative, at least for the simplistic reason that I don’t fit, and if I don’t fit, who else doesn’t? Of course, looking at a whole generation as some group-thinking block has its problems, though it makes for an easier headline, but it might still be useful as a discussion point because even a few percentage points shift in the balance between city preference versus suburban preference can be meaningful. On the whole the effect of millennials living in denser spaces may be there, but I’ve wondered if that’s a result of desire or something else? There seemed to me to be some nuance not making the headlines. This is some of that nuance. In this recent Atlantic article, there are a few studies cited indicating that millennials aren’t looking for long-term life in the city, they just can’t afford to move out because of when they entered the job market (obviously, it’s awful to enter work during a recession) and the high cost of living in the city near their jobs.

The surveys cited suggest that millennials want features of city life–easy access to cool places to hang out, easy access to work–but that doesn’t mean they want to live in a city. This makes sense to me. I’ve never been a true city person, though I loved my time in Providence, RI, but I do like having a few good local places (not in a strip mall) with character that I can go to regularly . That’s part of feeling like part of a community. Independent artsy coffee shops serve that purpose pretty well, and Leesburg, VA, where I live now, has a bunch.

The painting I’ve started above is at one of these coffee shops (Trinity House) in a very old house with what feel like secret rooms. Instead of the normal layout ofone or two big room around the counter, Trinity House uses the whole house as dining space. There’s even a playroom for the kids.

There seems to be a bit of Wyeth potential in this scene, so I’m seeing what I can do with an 8×10 study. I am preparing myself for some larger works, but I am just not ready for the commitment yet. More on that later. For now, thanks for reading.

Thinking through pencils

Disclaimer: this post is a navel-gazing reflection on my note taking practices inspired by this great 10 minute talk on the importance of using different tools for thinking and expressing ideas: click here

In theory:
You retain more if you take notes by hand, and it’s even better if you doodle while doing it.
You get your ideas out best by typing, especially when you type faster than 24 words per minute. The key with fast typing is that you can keep up with the rapid flow of ideas.

In practice:
This is true for me. At the Smart Growth conference last month I took about 50 pages of notes with a pencil in a Moleskine Sketchbook. It was a physically satisfying experience with those two tools–I used .7 Pentel hi-polymer lead, which flows so nicely in the thick smooth sketchbook pages, I could keep up and synthesize at the same time. The Blackwing pencil is equally awesome. Note taking like this forces you to grasp the key points, and using a pages without lines encourages me to draw connections between ideas. My notes have circles and lines connecting different parts, words go in all directions, good ideas get boxed letters by them, and when I recognize building blocks for innovate concepts, I mark them and put a small note to myself about what to do about it later, what design question should be addressed as a result. After the events were over for each day, I spent dinner iterating through new concepts, asking more questions of myself and my notes, drawing new connections.

I run design sessions the same way, I just do it in public in a whiteboard–it actually makes for good performance art. When it comes to the typing stage, I can transcribe quickly but also get into thinking through the details. I iterate through more handwritten notes and sketches, then back to typing and continue the cycle until completion.

If I don’t take notes, my mind wanders to all sorts of questions I am working through. That’s sort of a shame. I love the BBC radio show In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg. I am always informed and inspired by it, but recently I’ve been unable to make it through an episode without my mind wandering off onto various problems I am trying to solve. I should really listen deliberately with a sketchbook and pencil in my hand. That’ll help me get through the episode on phenomenology.

I did start on some more painting, and I will post on that tomorrow. Thanks for reading.



This morning I had an idea for letter and word practice for my kids. I drew the outlines of letters, and they filled them in by writing the letter over and over again. My older daughter chose “monster.”

More of my own art soon. I was in Baltimore last week for the New Partners for Smart Growth conference, and I got some good pictures while there. Whatever I do with them won’t be as cool as my daughter’s fish monster.

Thanks for reading.