Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chautauqua Sketchbook

"Laughter is an instant vacation." - Milton Berle
One last tidbit from my travels back East over the summer: I usually scan pages from my sketchbook and assemble a little minicomic to mail back afterwards to a few folks, friends & family, whimsical mementoes by way of thanks for their hospitality and humoring me (in many ways). This year instead of doing pen + inks of random things, I went with cartoon panel format just for fun. Here's a handful of sample pages and the cover: it'll be double-sided copies on plain white 8.5 x 14" (legal size) paper, collated, folded in half and stapled . Everything was done with either a ballpoint pen (I recommend the free ones available at Goldhill Liquor) or a Faber-Castell "Pitt Artist Pen" set (ok enough, but I prefer Microns). Here's some excerpted pages ... like a director's cut DVD with a bonus commentary:

“Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television.” - Woody Allen
Shown is a poke at my penchant for making whoever's driving pullover and stop so I can play tourist by taking pictures or a quick doodle. I suppose years of inundation with the splendor of Alaska has jaded me to the point I get aesthetically excited over hayfields, much to the puzzlement of local residents who are as bored with barns as I am with majestic moose.
Also my habit is to carefully drive the speed limit, much to the annoyance of fellow travelers sharing the road. In my defense, I've logged many thousands of miles up & down the coasts + back & forth across the U.S. and several trips to Alaska and back without any accidents, and I never seem to be in much of a hurry to get anywhere in life. Needless to say, I am a country mouse, and begin to exponentially hate dealing with the insanity of driving the longer I have to do it in the Lower 48, in my experience, people are pretty much the same nomatter where you go, and that includes the inconsiderate and rude, along with the friendly and hospitable.

Food makes a prominent appearance of course; regional favorites include weekly Fish Fry Fridays (featuring deep-fried haddock or perch, homemade coleslaw and a mound of fries) where most restaurants and bars finally change out the week's accumulated oil after unending chicken wings and start afresh. My favorite IPA has to be by Southern Tier brewery, and a tub of Helluva Good French Onion dip. Given the demographics of ethnicities around this neck of the woods, smörgåsbords are always a local favorite to waddle through, and prices are cheap enough in comparison to Alaska to feel like I'm in a 3rd World country where the almighty dollar reigns supreme.

My German + Polish heritage predisposes me to many specific comfort foods, which I load up on whenever visiting an Aunt & Uncle at their mobile home retirement community, and am reminded again at my inherited sense of humor on display. Hosting me usually entails a trip to Liehs & Steigerwalds butcher shop for some ring bolognia, cooneys and franks, a can of Read German Potato Salad and a cold quart of Byrne Dairy chocolate milk.
This in no small part accounts for a slow morph from the Welsh + English genes that endowed me with such handsome good looks for the first part of my life. Hence the "Were-Polack" which has been evolving ever since.
"If something is going on in my life, it winds up getting into my strip." - Bill Griffith
" Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." - John Steinbeck
Other notable events included my trying to imitate John Henry/Paul Bunyan while helping a cousin out with some wood-splitting along with two other uncles and my dad. They were using a 21-ton power-maul while I poo-pooed mechanical means and boasted of my many manly sourdough winters spent splitting wood for the cabin. First blow with the axe and the head flew off.

Right down the road from where I was staying, the Ralph C. Sheldon Jr. Nature Trail crosses over, and I spent many an evening with binoculars, sketchbook and camera out strolling around the countryside. wandering down it before bedtime. This was part of an extensive network throughout the county and Western New York as part of the "Rails To Trails" program, an impressive national conservancy effort. There was one particular tree set off by itself in the marsh which attracted a mind-boggling number of birds right at the magic hour of twilight; seemingly unending flocks would just keep disappearing into the foliage and set up a truly cacophonous clamor before falling eerily silent at sunset. Right around then I would also be reminded of the stupidity behind another Mighty Alaskan fallacy which stated "I don't need no stinkin' bug dope."

Unfortunately, this visit was marred by even more destruction of nature while on a hike in the Allegheny National Forest: the first couple miles of the Morrison Loop Trail was trashed from oil drilling, and pump jack pads + access roads now crisscross the area completely ruining the trip for me. It recalled a similar experience once before trying to locate a section of the AT which we couldn't even find anymore due to the rampant development in the area, courtesy of the Bush administration's rescinding of the roadless rule. Cause & effect - I hadn't personally witnessed such a dramatic case of before + after, and it's a damn shame such a beautiful and scenic treasure has been spoiled. I was furious enough to vow a letter to someone that I hope they're happy ensuring their legacy was to fuck things up. Knowing beaurocracy's inherent ability to avoid anyone ever taking personal responsibility, I'd nevertheless love to find the idiot who did this and take a big shit on their front lawn, every day, for a year, and see how they like it.

While camping out for another fantastic Great Blue Heron music festival (well worth a weekend), my cousins and I were treated to a hilltop display of fireflies dancing over the pastures, all the while set against a backdrop of several 4th of July fireworks displays that were simultaneously going off all across the region. I tried to capture the moment with a digital camera that wasn't quite up for the task, and was left with a dozen shots of the flash going off in a dark field at night (giving rise to some worry about just what exactly I indulged in to think I saw what I described afterwards). Some things are just better off left to the devices of an artist.

Another weird occurrence was being woken up several times by the sound of coyote packs in nearby fields: the best way I could describe it is something like slaughtering an abattoir of children high on crack. What with the second or third successive generation of farmlands laying fallow, undergrowth is perfect for the reintroduction of deer and wild turkey, which in turn is now attracting more apex predators such as black bear and coyote - but these are no ordinary coyotes, having been hybridized with wolves. This means they are much bigger and also are exhibiting pack behavior, and I never thought I'd see the day that I would actually miss the melodious chorus of dog-sled teams echoing across the Goldstream Valley (the difference between Beethoven and punk).

There's a panel that shows me on the cafe porch during a massive storm: one of the sublime pleasures for me during these visits is watching these immense light shows - something even modern special effects completely fail to even come close to. The climate there generates powerful lake effect systems and the resultant storms are phenomenal, and I never tire of hearing and seeing the incredible thunder and lightening - few things are as exciting, aside from almost-fatal accidents.

"Moodling, a combination of musing and mental doodling, can lead to floating over any number of obstacles... " - Jane Champagne
Much as I love to stock up on my favorite Roastaroma tea (which isn't distributed in the Pacific NW anymore), true to habit I will orient myself into habitual camp-outs at a local cafe so as to stroke my goatee over a sketchbook while staring off into space, in other words, work for a few hours every morning. Stedman Corners is a personal favorite: after a tasty breakfast sandwich and a big, hot mug of their Noir blend I set up shop on the front porch with a handful of newspapers for inspiration and let the creative juices flow.
One final interesting observation from the above panel is the tendency to be attracted to environments that are conducive to both creativity and juice: where the atmosphere itself is infused with the aroma of stuff being made...
"I draw like other people bite their nails." - Pablo Picasso

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