Filtering the World

PPW #4An art teacher once said each attempt to create an experience on canvas or paper, “is imagination reaching outward to filter the world.” This is true even if one is not seeking to ‘imagine’ anything but only ‘copying’ the entrance to the building around the corner and filtering out everything else.

Here is an entrance out of context, unrelated to the noise and rush of the city, the shifting light, the passersby. Here are only lines and shapes, crevices and protrusions. The grand flourishes and ornate details circa 1900 as they appear on a six-story apartment building in Brooklyn that overlooks the park.

You will find it on Prospect Park West between 8th and 9th Street. People go in and out or walk by it, cars and bikes whizz by. Who stops to stare and marvel at Brooklyn in the Beaux Arts style? I never did until the other day, and I only live around the corner.

The art teacher also said: “Perception is not passively given us; it is a continually expanding interaction and engagement, both mental and physical, with the world… What a writer or painter undertakes in each work of art is an experiment whose hoped for outcome is an expanded knowing.”

Exactly. By following the lines and measuring them, leaving the lights and filling in the darks, familiarizing myself with details as I seek to copy what has already been created, I’ve expanded my knowledge of what was once just another apartment building around the corner. And somehow made it my building too. It’s called filtering the world, one drawing at a time.

PPW #3So I drew the one next to it too, because they’re similar and look like a pair, and take me back to a time of grand flourishes and needless decorations of the sort that Howard Roark would have loathed… But he needn’t have worried, because who looks or notices them now but an artist who happens to live around the corner…








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Personal Items: Desk

my deskNow that I’ve settled on calling the sequel, The Nancy Who Drew the Way Home, I started to think about what the concept of home means to me now. In the book it’s a metaphor for soul consciousness. It took place thirty years ago, and it’s where the story ends, in 1987.

1987 was a long time ago! The story is about how and why I became I an artist, and what happened then. In the years since then, as well as entering into motherhood, I became a writer. I live with memories of what “home” meant when I was growing up, and what it meant when I was married and raising a child of my own. Now, after spending the better part of two decades writing about the long ago past, it feels refreshing to look around me and draw and describe particular objects that represent “home.”

The first that came to mind is the secretary desk that’s followed me about for the last 40 years. It’s where you’ll find me first thing in the morning with coffee, and last place at night with tea. I will be seated on an old chair with a new cushion at this beat-up secretary desk made of yew wood.

The glass doors of the bookcase are gone. The back has fallen off too. It lies behind, gathering dust on the floor against the wall. From this drawing you can’t see the nicks or the missing pieces of molding, but it makes no difference to my writing or typing, sketching or scribbling, reading or dreaming, streaming movies or music, sometimes eating, texting, or talking on the phone.

The drawers under the drop-leaf hold treasures from the past. The framed photos on the top shelf of the child who grew up are from the past too. And in between are books and staplers and paper and envelopes and a multitude of writing instruments lounging about in their canisters. Because I’ll always remember the day long ago when the desk was new and shiny and I sat before it with a tear-stained map trying to figure out a route to the coast where I could drive my car off a cliff into the sea. And then a week after that when I sat down to write out a dream that made me realize I knew things inside. But the only way I’d ever find out what that knowledge was, was through writing or drawing. So I always made sure I had plenty of paper and the tools to mark it up with. And though I found other desks and easels for drawing and painting, the writing has mostly been done here, at this very desk that has witnessed it all.

Yew wood. Because I would. I would live and express and describe and perceive and wonder and despair, and then not despair. And wonder and express some more. Seated at this silent, stable pile of wood first seen gleaming fresh and new under a spotlight at Harrods.

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Drawing Leaves

red leavesFor this lover of fall, October can never come too soon. But alas, after only one chilly week, summer has asserted herself once more with warm humid days we haven’t quite seen the end of yet. So, though not many leaves have fallen, I managed to catch a few.

Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale. ~ Lauren DeStefano

leaf drawingAutumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. ~ Albert Camus






I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. ~ L.M. Montgomeryleaves

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Notes on a Sequel

dense growth

The Thicket by N. Wait ~ representing the density to penetrate in order to awaken my own ‘sleeping beauty’ within. 

It might have begun as wishful thinking, naming the sequel, “The Nancy Who Drew the Way Home,” but I will be keeping it. It started out as a working title, one I thought I’d have figured out by the time I reached the end. And now that I’ve actually reached that end, what can I say except that to draw and paint is to find “a way home.” It doesn’t preclude an arrival, but it doesn’t promise one either.  And yet, to draw the way—that is something in itself. Something to celebrate, or at least remark upon. Especially if you’d been as lost as I was then.

The sequel begins where the first book left off, when I returned to New York after seven years as an actress in England. I’d given up the acting life and was resolved to learn secretarial skills and have a regular job. In the late seventies, even with the low pay of secretary-receptionist I could afford my own three-room apartment in mid-town Manhattan. Less than two hundred dollars a month it was, and New York still resembled the city I had grown up in. But that’s all by-the-by.

Perhaps there is some truth to the saying that in order to find yourself, you have to keep losing yourself. Because to begin to “draw the way home,” I would have to leave Manhattan and move to Brooklyn where I didn’t know anyone and the terrain was so completely different it might as well have been a foreign country. Isolation and loneliness may not sound appealing, but it was being thrown back on myself that allowed for those stepping stones of painted canvases to come into being. It was a journey down, not across, and when I reached the bottom it wasn’t drawing or painting that would take me up again. It was writing. I had to put down the brush and pick up the pen. And learn to write about what I had drawn. For I had gone to the depths of my subconscious, and only more consciousness would bring me back. The kind of consciousness that for me could only come from writing down the specifics of thoughts and feelings, and what led up to them. And what happened afterwards. The truth as I experienced it then.

Art allowed me to enter into those non-linear, non-rational states of consciousness to explore the unseen worlds of my imagination. Then ‘people’ looked at what I had done and had their own thoughts and interpretations, their own likes and dislikes, which is fine and to be expected. But for me, writing the story behind the pictures, what caused this one to come into being and why I painted that one, was to take charge of my interior life in an entirely different way. And to own it.

Life can strip you of everything. What it cannot do is take away your inner being. For that is yours and yours alone.   

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July 2017

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See Ding! Hear Dong!

Painter 1980I have not been the same since the eclipse last week. I stayed inside, though as I was working I kept looking out the window to see if there was any change in the light. There wasn’t much in New York, but you could feel the atmosphere changing. It wasn’t until I saw the photos and videos—specifically the ones where the moon completely covered the sun and there was a halo of light around the darkness, and then a light popped out…like a diamond ring, and something about that popped out at me too. Something went DING! So, in short, I’ve been playing out the DONG! part of the “ring” “tone”—this whole past week, hearing the 2nd part of the bell, ever since. The sound when the dinger comes back for the dong.

In this upswing, upsurge of energy we’re experiencing, everything seems magnified—because it is, actually. Positive as well as negative emotions come through in greater intensity, “flooding” the system in some cases…

But, since I am currently writing, i.e., my “current” is a highly focused stream of consciousness, (has been more or less for the past 20 years) I’ve learned the lesson of moderation. But, I’ve needed outside help, and thankfully it’s there on YouTube in the sounds of the sea and my favorite horn player. (Right now I’m staring at this screen, but listening to the screen on my right playing “Gentle ocean waves” while the tides roll in on a sandy beach in Wales…)

And what popped out at me most recently was this photo from 1980 when my “sitter” turned the tables on me. I was the portrait artist—he was the sitter. I was the one in charge of doing his picture. It was me giving the commands. Me holding the brush in one hand, the palette in the other, duplicating his form and presence. And how I gloried in it, this former actress who for years had been bossed around by her Directors—move here, now there, now say your line this way, and on and on… “Can you give it more *?#%!*” and so on and so forth, and I was happy to oblige because it was for the good of the ‘show.’ For the pleasure of the audience. And we were there to please/confront/explain/suggest/tease/titillate/entertain – and everything else you expect when you come to a ‘show.’ But I’d switched. Instead of being on the stage, I was behind the easel—watching you/them/the models/the sitters. And what a relief it was. “Don’t look at Me, let me look at You now…” And they did. And so, here I am/was, wearing a green tee-shirt with the word Freedom and in the middle was/is a cross. I’m not religious, and I’m not sure how I came by that shirt, but I know I liked Freedom blazing across the front. And if it came with a cross—Fine. I thought I was free now. In charge, and all that…

So along comes this man, this sitter, this man who also happened to be my teacher and gave a lot of talks sitting in one of those canvas Director’s chairs. And he had commissioned me to paint his portrait. When I said, “Can you bring your director’s chair? I’d like to paint you sitting in your chair,” it was no sooner said than done. Ah-ha! thought I. I’ve got the Director sitting in his director’s chair—in My studio, under My crystalline gaze. And I got on with my work, painting and painting away, when suddenly he pulls out his camera and starts clicking the shutter.

I ignored him and went on with my work. Men and their cameras! (&%#*$?+)

A few weeks later he gave me this 8×10 glossy. And all I could think of was Wow. Legs apart, feet firmly planted on the Floor, palette thrust in front of me, arm hidden behind the canvas, and me not looking to please him. Me, with focused passion and total commitment. What a gift he gave me. But then, his name was Gavin. I gave in to his giving. And he showed me this side of myself. Oh, Men and their cameras…and what they shoot… I can see it more clearly now, now that I’ve developed my own two lenses. With the help of my glasses. (“Four-eyes,” they used to call me –when they weren’t calling me “bug-eyes” or “pop-eyes.”)

Well, I’m glad I stuck around long enough to see the light pop out of the dark moon on a bright sunny day across the Americas.

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She Will Have Music

Iron Railings 2The other day while walking down the slope of Ninth Street between 8th and 7th Avenues, gazing as usual at the rhythmic flow of brownstones and the variety of ornamental ironwork balustrades and gates, I imagined I heard them singing. Maybe it was because I’d left my ear buds at home that day. Listening to music made walks so much more pleasant, especially on these hot summer days. Perhaps without it, I was automatically tuning into the music of my surroundings. It made me think of the woman in the nursery rhyme with “rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,” who had “music wherever she goes.”

I wasn’t wearing any rings. My toes were bare too. But what are fingers and toes but extremities, our farthest points. Our feelers. Perhaps our first responders when it comes to picking up vibrations. I pictured my fingers and toes ringing with the sound of patterned ironwork as if it was a kind of sheet music.

How strange sheet music must look to the untrained eye. Yet musicians have no trouble playing the symbols, or composers in making up new patterns. They may fill up the page with odd symbols, but it’s music they hear in the mind.

I photographed the ironwork where I was standing when I saw its music. Then, as often happens, when I got down to the business of drawing, the execution fell short. It didn’t have quite the same ring to it as when I was walking down the slope feeling the breeze on my face and the movement around me. Perhaps it was something felt more than seen. I had to try and capture it anyway. That moment when patterned ironwork sang to me.

(My fascination with ironwork fences isn’t new. Here’s a blog with more drawings I posted two years ago:  )


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Drawing Churches

7th and 7thI keep dreaming of a screened-in porch with a view of a lake or something, forgetting how much I love to draw buildings. Especially in Brooklyn, the borough of brownstones and churches. This is a view I’ve been admiring for the 25 years I’ve lived here, and finally I took some photos and drew it from a couple of angles in a 5×8 inch sketchbook.

Maybe the reason I love drawing buildings is because they gave me my first sense of place. I was five when we moved to New York City from a suburb of Chicago. Until then, I took my surroundings for granted and gave them little thought. I could have been anywhere for all I knew. Then we came to Manhattan, and that night when the buildings were all it up I thought we’d moved to fairy land. I think part of me has always remained in that first glimpse of a magical place. I’ve never lost the habit of looking up in wonder. It might be the moon or the clouds or the trees, but more often than not it will be made of brick or stone.

view 2 churcesI don’t think we ever forget what first sparked our imagination. These days it’s my neighborhood in Brooklyn. Like the tops of these two churches on Seventh Avenue, one on the corner of Seventh Street, the other on the corner of Sixth. I love how odd they look together, almost fantastical. Maybe not quite fairy land, but somewhere far away. Much farther away than Brooklyn.


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To Die in the Night

Die in the nightOh, to die in the night…
(first you have to die in the night)
to awake like Ebenezer
at Christmas.
Just get through the eve
live through the eve
by dying, in the night.
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Down Down Down

Journey down

B&W photo of a watercolor 11×14, 1985 by N.Wait

When we push up through the ground of our being, we alter the earth that contains us. Seeds want nothing more than to bloom and blossom. Seeds wait for the water and wait for the sun and the moon. They wait for the right season to soak up the nourishment that comes their way so they can grow up-up-up.

I grew up too. And after a while I seemed to have reached some kind of limit, for there was a stop sign. And another one, pointing back down. (Perhaps I should mention my secret wish was to go back to the stars, which would have been ‘up’ on quite a grand scale!) Instead, it was down-down-down, back into the darkness I went with my paints and brushes. To paint the dark. To see what I’d left behind.

As you’d expect, there was a stillness underground. A quiet stillness. A sleeping, dreaming world. Yet it was a teeming place, swarming with the colors of lives that had lived before, and lives still in seed form, not yet manifested.

I was only a transfer student, a traveler, an intern. After 5.5 years my visa was up. Five-point-five. Half-and half, is the way I see it. So that when I came back I would remember to live half up, half down. Because both held the light. And colors. Oh, the colors!

This story comprises Part Two of my sequel-in-progress. I call it Journey to the Deep. Though it was very colorful, the black and white photo of my drawing better illustrates light and dark. It was also a hairy time, so it’s a mystery why I made the head in this drawing completely bald…

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