Rapid Watercolor Pencil Sketch of Methodist Church Tower

Provincetown Methodist Church Tower

Quality time for art work today was near-zero.  Another lousy public school day–too many classes and responsibilities and bureaucratic crap to tend.  Tonight was a grading night till near midnight.  I will rise at 5:00 tomorrow morning, as I did the last two mornings, for no other reason than catching up on school responsibilities.

During a lull in one of my classes today, I attempted a super-quick rendering of this, taken from Edward Hopper’s 1930 watercolor of a Methodist Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  He accomplished this feat from the backseat of a Dodge, somehow folding his 6’5″ frame inside that small space, and balancing a vertical 25 x 20″ watercolor page.  At least I had the luxury of standing at a teacher’s desk.

I used Prismacolor watercolor pencils exclusively on this quick study.  I’m trying to open up another avenue of watercolor exploration, working only in watercolor pencils, and avoiding the Winsor & Newton tube paints or cakes from my plein air hand-size palette.  I’m still trying to get used to the new experience, and feel that this is the best of my pieces in the past three days.  I only have 20 minutes  total invested in this one, and think that if I could give one, uninterrupted hour to an endeavor such as this (I think I never got even 5 minutes of non-interruption on this one), that I could crank out something halfway decent.  I’m starting to get a feel for the pencils on architectural details.  Who knows, maybe tomorrow?  I wouldn’t bank on that.  Tomorrow I have 4 classes in 4 classrooms on 2 floors–worse than today’s ridiculous schedule.

So, why am I doing this?  For a number of reasons.  One:  school this year is a farce.  I have an assignment to teach four different subjects, and every-other-day I have to change classrooms with every bell.  I’m not a pediatrician who is able to stroll briskly from one examination room to the next, keeping separate the prescriptions and diagnoses of male and female children from infancy to pre-teen.  I just cannot do that the way I did twenty years ago.  My brain is scattered and I’m having problems keeping the disciplines of Art I, Advanced Placement Art History, Regular Art History and Philosophy flying in proper, linear formations.  Aside from the teaching there is the grading, accountability, attendance, disciplinary and intervention issues.  How could any administration, locally or statewide, really believe such a feat possible?  And this will last the entire academic year.

Two.  My passion now is to make art.  I used to live for the classroom.  My heart used to beat for the classroom.  Posturing politicians and political administrators managed to kill that for the time being.  Right now, making art matters to me, not crossing all the “t’s” and dotting all the “i’s” for administrative, vacuous political paperwork and bureaucracy.

Three.  For the past several years, the issue of productivity has weighed heavily on me as a practicing visual artist.  I finally realize that talent doesn’t matter.  If one doesn’t produce, who cares if s/he has talent?  If one does not make art, who cares about his/her aesthetics or theories?  No one.  If an artist is going to be authentic, s/he has to be prolific.  I used to average 10-15 watercolors a year, and used my school job as an excuse.  I didn’t have time.  I made a New Year’s resolution in January 2010 to create 30 watercolors by year’s end.  I made nearly 100.  I have not bothered to count the watercolors of 2011, but one day I will.  Maybe I will not reach 100, but I certainly have made more than 10-15.  Sometimes I average one a day.  Many times I average one a week.  Large 20 x 30 compositions I have managed to complete in less than two weeks.  I am now making art more than ever before in my life, and in that I do find a genuine delight, even if the world around me crumbles.  This is one thing over which I can exert control.

I’m inspired when I learn that Bach wrote a cantata a week, in the service of the church.  Some of them were not that good, but he still produced.  I learned that Jean-Paul Sartre and T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were capable of churning out unheard-of numbers of manuscript pages per day.  And yes, some of the work was sub-standard.  But they produced.  Artists produce plenty of good work along with plenty of bad work.  But they produce, period.

Four.  The blog.  This daily exercise in blogging keeps me working in the enterprise of making art.  I feel an accountability.  Though I’m not a copy editor of a newspaper facing daily deadlines, I do feel the interior deadline of the blog, daily, and have for a long time.  When I don’t put out a blog for the day, I feel that I have not turned in my homework.  I feel that I have not completed my 40 hours for the week.  The blog is always there.  I’m grateful for all my subscribers, for all my daily readers, and for the wonderful network connections that continually find ways to fling my words and images out before an audience.  And so, I continue to make art to feed the blog.

Five.  10,000 hours.  That is the magic number from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.  It takes 10,000 hours of practicing one’s craft to achieve excellence.  This is a fascinating book.  I don’t know if I’ve turned in my 10,000 hours, but I’m conscious that I will not improve on my art if I don’t repeat the practice, the discipline, and at the same time push myself in new directions, flexing aesthetic muscle.

And so I keep at it, and this is a Quality part of my life right now.  Thanks always for reading.


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4 Responses to “Rapid Watercolor Pencil Sketch of Methodist Church Tower”

  1. Turnbull Chapter - CAHSPierre Says:

    Hang in there! You are a good artist and, talking about your students, surely you recall that story about the guy observed throwing starfish back into the sea after a bad storm? When told he was wasting his time because these were all soon to die in the hot sun, he replied – as he threw another one back into the sea: “Well, not that one, anyway.”


    • davidtripp Says:

      Excellent point you raised. My students are certainly not the source of my current “issues.” It is the devastating, unrealistic schedule. I simply cannot give the students what I once did, because of the way the schedule is packed this year. But I’ll give them whatever I can–I always have. Right now, there is not enough of me to spread over this daily, hourly schedule. Certainly not the space to prepare (unless I forgo sleep, and I have indeed sacrificed plenty of that).


  2. Linda Halcomb Says:

    David, To many of your points I can only say, I understand. I’ve been there. I feel compassion for your situation since I come from a family of teachers, one of which retired five years early in May, 2011 because of the legislative and political issues surrounding teaching. But I can comment on the last two. Like you I feel accountability to my blog – that is actually why I started my blog. I made a commitment and I want to be held accountable. Secondly when I read Malcomb Gladwell’s book it was an “aha, oh yes, I see.” During 2010 I actually tracked my hours so I could see progress towards the big 10,000. I always maintain a focus on his concept of “dedicated practice”. You can’t just put in your time, you have to stretch and grow. You will be successful and your current frustration will work itself out. I am a Protestant but I have found several Buddhist principles that help me when I am facing a tough situation. First, acceptance – some things cannot be changed, you will be happier if you recognize what you can influence, change what you can and (for today) accept the rest. Second, focus on today (ie live mindfully). This helps you prioritize, maintain focus and fight depression and procrastination. Remember nothing is permanent. This will pass, you will have touched the lifes of a few young people and you will have created some stunning art. All my best, my friend! I hope I am not out of line with what I say…


    • davidtripp Says:

      Thank you, Linda. You are not out of line. Thank you for talking with me. Today is already better than yesterday (well, not necessarily the art, but my disposition!). I like the Buddhist strands you have introduced, and take those seriously. As for school, well, I just show up and do my job. Painting has moved to the center of my priorities, and I do like what has come out of that re-alignment. I’m enjoying the “unknown” as I move into a different world of quick sketching, relying more on watercolor pencils, and laying aside for the moment the Winsor & Newton pigments that I had relied on exclusively. I’ll certainly come back to them, but right now I want to loosen up–I’ve gotten so tight over the past months. I also wish to move outside the studio and work more directly from nature. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m trying to get out of this comfort zone, fearing a complacency setting in. Complacency in art and unhappiness with one’s job makes a toxic mixture.

      Again, thank you for your thoughtful, compassionate response.


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