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Goldberg, Natalie. Writing down the bones. 1. Authorship. I. Title. PNC64 " ISBN (pbk.) ISBN (cloth) . go to the tree." If you want to know poetry, read it, listen to it. Let those patterns and forms be imprinted in you. Don't step away from poetry to analyze a poem. Natalie Goldberg has been practicing Zen meditation and teaching writing for the last twenty-five years. She is the author of the renowned Writing Down the.


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Natalie Goldberg - Living Color Painting, Writing, and the Bones of Seeing (, NATALIE GOLDBERG).pdf. Murali N. Helen's Backyard, FOR HELEN. from Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg. For fifteen years now, at the beginning of every writing workshop, I have repeated the rules for writing practice. So, I will. First Thoughts by Natalie Goldberg. The basic unit of writing practice is the timed exercise. You may time yourself for ten minutes, twenty minutes, or an hour.

This one I simply titled Ben Goldberg. If a house was shabby, ill cared for, I was attracted to it. She sat in a chair in the large high-ceilinged, stone-walled room with two huge windows on one side and a wall of glass on the other. The day after I drew it, I walked by only to see a huge crane swinging a wrecking ball against its lovely face. An original watercolor of hydrangeas hung on the right-hand wall. He loves contact with young people. Give us a picture of it in words, and then explain what is in it that made you choose it.

Log In Sign Up. Murali N. I jokingly say, Never. Writing is a visual art. You want the reader to see what you are saying. Instead you have to tell her how the mountain looked at dusk, the heavy creases seen from a distance, a canyon leading to a blue lake, how you knew there was water by the line of green cottonwoods, how the clouds gathered behind the twin peaks, a summer storm, and the sunset glazed the flanks of the mountain with the color of watermelon juice.

Now draw it. People used to tell me that all the time about writing, too. First, you need to understand that writing and drawing are natural human endeavors. Trees, apples, sauerkraut jars, cars, tables, lions, dolphins—none of these write or draw.

Only human beings do. Even twenty-five thousand years ago, prehistoric mortals left images on the walls of caves deep in the earth. I had the privilege of visiting Peche Merle in Cabrerets, France, walking down many flights of stone stairs into dank, dark grottoes. We turned a corner and behold, two spotted horses etched on the craggy wall. I was here. This drawing is a testament.

Pdf natalie goldberg

We have a need to express ourselves in this transient world. To stop time for a moment. To show how we see and feel before we are gone. Go ahead. The coffee in the cup with steam coming up at you, the spoon, the saucer. Draw the raisins, the blueberries, in your muffin. Color them in with your pen. Sketch the edge of the table, the napkin.

As you draw you might hear your mind thinking. Maybe you wish you had a cupcake, piled high with icing and jelly beans? Go ahead, draw that on the other side of the coffee cup. No one says you have to absolutely stay with the concrete—you get to capture your desires a little, too.

It has character. No erasing, no tearing up the paper. Accept the way it comes out. If you practice this acceptance, more will come out. Space and freedom will open up. Turn your head to the left. A lamp, a clock, a box of tissues on a wood table.

Go ahead, draw them. We already know a proper clock. This one is yours. Give no thought about it being perfect. No good or bad, no judgment, no editor.

Drawing relaxed and refocused his restless mind and I imagine on endless tours it helped to order, stabilize, and relieve him of the tension of performing in different places night after night.

From simple line drawings you can begin to build a ground of being, a world of visual art in black and white. And then the impulse might arise—add red, add turquoise, orange, blue. Living Color is my memoir about traveling into the life of drawing and painting.

I have often juxtaposed assignments that are not obviously connected with the chapter you just read. My hope is to jostle your mind out of the ordinary, out of logic, and maybe after a moment of shock, snap you into feeling and creating from a non-rational place, where things are interconnected on a whole different level. Writing, painting, and drawing are linked. The mind is much more whole and vast than that. I sensed it in my body, in my hand holding the brush—a dash of yellow in the center, red close to the purple.

I moved quickly. The sky outside was dark, the house silent. A drop of bright orange, more yellow, green. I wanted to paint the night, the windowpanes.

My mind was big and calm. There was only the soft air of evening and the direct connection I felt with the pot of Johnny-jump-ups on the windowsill. A moment when I glanced up at those faces bobbing at the end of stems; another moment—yellow—that thought exploded in the hollow seat of my mind and my hand moved toward the tin of watercolors.

My breath was a warm tunnel. I saw a glint of light on the water glass, on the kerosene lamp. I heard a moth bat at the screen. Black, I thought—do I dare? I dipped the brush in water and into that round cake, then over to the paper. I had let go and let something larger than myself take over.

I stepped out of the way and let painting do painting. No Natalie and her bossy will, no fear of rejection, no desire to be Rembrandt. Just raw hunger. I loved those little flowers and wanted to capture them. I loved the moment.

Those pansy petals, the color on the page. I painted that picture years ago, but recently I looked at it again. I was stunned. It had nothing of the grandeur I had imagined. It was a sweet painting of purple flowers on a windowsill. None of the night was there, not even any black color. Where were the drops of bright orange on the Johnny-jump-ups? Why were the dots of yellow so vague? Why had I chosen brown to fill in the windowpanes? Brown was meek, nothing like the flashand fever I remembered feeling.

Was I mistaken about the experience? No, the experience was in me, different from the result. I was disappointed, but then I realized nothing I have ever created held the light the way a leaf did or caught the shadow in a white room. I was crazy about the wrong color sky and the heart-sinking beckoning of headlights on old cars.

I painted for that terrible overused word that a writer should never utter: For that reason, I kept trying to catch up to the picture just ahead of me in my mind and before me on the porch. I got a cheap sketch pad at the drugstore and I began to paint.

In those years, because I had little money and writing was my conscious love, it never occurred to me to buy a better brush or paints. This turned out to be a great advantage: I first drew that house with my pen and then colored the drawing in with my paints.

I liked that. I was an inordinate eater of Hershey bars and Hydrox sandwich cookies and eventually had a cavity in every molar and bicuspid in my mouth. And my two front teeth were so buck I could shoot bubblegum through them. Art was a whimsy of line and character; art was black contours, a wash of color and shade.

In those early Taos years, I developed a commitment that once I began a drawing, no matter how bad it was, I had to finish it. This understanding of commitment came from writing. But continuing to write—finishing—weakened my fear, my doubt, my disbelief in myself. Now with writing, this was all conscious. I wanted to be a writer more than anything else in the world and paid a lot of attention to it. I unconsciously carried this habit over to my painting.

When I painted, I heard a voice calling from some far distant place: Do it now. No whining. And I submitted. I simply merged with line and color. I stayed with what was and stayed away from evaluation. If there were four windowpanes on a house, I drew four. I painted the sky red instead. I painted Jazz yellow. He was a brown dog but yellow expressed him better. Color became fluid. Leaves did not have to be green. I added turquoise, then mixed blue with black and splashed on navy, which added a touch of melancholy—after all, it was the end of summer.

I was delighted one day to paint an adobe house blue. Stepping through the belief that I must paint mud brown, I experienced an explosion of energy and freedom. Objects began to dance unhinged from their pigments. That man is green, those sheep are orange, that horse is scarlet. I wanted to shout with a new found freedom as I gazed around me from the hilltop where I had drawn the blue house.

In other words, if you want to explain one thing, you have to begin with another; to talk of death, begin by speaking of birth. By going far away, by turning things inside-out, I could communicate what was right there in front of me. The supervising teacher was talking about metaphor as a teaching technique. I was learning metaphor through color on that hillside. But mostly I was playing. Writing was the eldest son being groomed to succeed. I put all my effort into writing. Painting was a younger child left alone by an exhausted parent.

Each day after I wrote and taught at the school in Taos, I could go out in the late afternoon and paint green chickens and cockeyed red goats. Drawing the outline first with my pen was important. It was how I created structure for my painting. I remembered my college friend Carol telling me that as a young girl she colored in the black-and-white drawings of fashion models in the Sunday New York Times. Essentially, I was doing the same thing, but I used paint instead of crayons, and I drew the drawing myself.

And the drawing was not just a skeleton to be fleshed out, like an outline in writing. The line was more like the thin wire some stores use to cut cheese. The wire often disappears from sight in the center of a cheddar wheel, but it still separates the wedges. The drawing in my paintings might become blurred, almost gone, in its contact with watercolor, but it still helped me create the shape of the painting. When I was out scouting things to draw, I slowed down.

I noticed doorknobs, light posts, the peeling paint of a gate. As I slowed down things became brilliant. Grass growing through a cement crack, a stop sign—its glowing yellow octagonal shape outlined in thick black—suddenly mattered, because I saw them. If a house was shabby, ill cared for, I was attracted to it. Many years later, when I lived in Minneapolis, I was depressed at so many gray days.

Then, one day as I was out searching for something to draw, I stopped and really looked at the gray of the stuccoed church on the corner against the gray of the Minnesota sky. Suddenly I appreciated that color. I saw how one gray could frame another gray. I also felt the gray Mississippi at my back several miles away and I knew if I drew a picture of that stuccoed church, I wanted the presence of that river in the picture just as I was feeling it, even if I never put a river in the painting.

If you know a thing, it is in your work whether you write about it or not. So if I drew that gray church with the immense gray sky above and behind it and I felt that river—its movement and history, its connection to Mark Twain and Huck Finn, its unending dark water heading toward New Orleans, past old river towns, through the center of America itself—the river might not be in the painting but a sense of hugeness would be held in the color gray, a sense of timelessness and the expanse of the fields that the river flowed through.

When I drew I wanted to express the friendliness I felt toward the thing standing in front of me. As I drew, it became a kindred spirit. With our human chauvinism we tend to think that chairs or saltshakers, buildings, mountains, or clouds, have no feelings, but what do we know? Everything is speaking if we listen. A rock just talks slower. It takes a hundred years for it to say one syllable. Often when I painted I was laughing.

I got lost in the swirl of an old rag rug or the tilt of a lamp. I delighted in having a blue car and a minivan stand on two wheels like bucking broncos right in the middle of downtown Minneapolis. But it was important to have something concrete before me when I was trying to draw. It directed me outside myself. This was good. It kept me stable. You have something to do; go sit in front of that animal and draw it. Without that structure I just doodled all over my notebooks and phone books.

But give me a goat—or a counter behind a chair and table with a ceiling fan above—and I created a picture. Once I had the line drawing, I colored it in. I filled an old mayonnaise jar with water, dipped in my brush, and wet the small paint cakes. I wanted the truck red. I painted it red. It was not vibrant enough. I added orange. It began to vibrate and the black ink of my pen ran and blurred the edges.

Here was where I stopped looking at anything except the picture before me. I forgot about the truck I had found an hour ago parked on a dusty road, which I had squatted in front of to draw. At the beginning, for my first ten paintings or so, I actually took the paints outside with me; after I drew something, I painted it right there. I needed direct contact with the object in front of me to feel secure. My mind was no longer up in the area above my eyebrows; my mind was my whole body.

My hands moved the brush by their own natural force. I worked by instinct, heard cues from the objects in the picture and from my heart and blood vessels. If green flashed through my mind, I painted a cup green; if blue flashed for a wall, I painted the wall blue.

I listened; I listened. I stopped the rhythm and my painting got blurred. I then tried to paint the sky blue as I thought it should be. Well, it looked terrible and I tried to cover it with red. I usually worked around the whole surface of a painting, making sure colors were balanced. Or I would put an equally powerful color on a big object over in the upper right-hand corner.

A huge orange sun or a deep red airplane might do. This did not mean that if there were two purple flowers there must be two red and two green flowers. It meant that the viewer had a sense of the greenness, the purpleness, and the redness of the picture.

How did I discover this? I think I found my balance when I let go and allowed line and color to sing to me and let my own body echo back the song. Balance was important in the drawing, too. It was how I got the objects in the drawing to relate to one another. Then I stopped and looked: Why, the whole thing was floating in space! I was in a bakery. In the Western world, we have a notion that things recede and converge as they go farther away. I remember learning one-point perspective in seventh grade in the one art class I took.

The guide lines had to be made just so, and we used rulers as we did in math class. Thirteen years later, when I began to draw in Taos, I think I intuitively suspected that perspective would put me outside the painting.

I wanted to get close to those tables and chairs, to jump in and feel myself dancing with them, even as I sat drawing them. I wanted the viewer to have a direct connection with the objects, to feel as happy as I was in their presence.

I had to anchor them to the floor and then anchor the floor to the surroundings. And maybe because I am a writer and like details, I wanted to get the place right. But when I called my grandmother in New York to proclaim my baking victory, she was dismayed. Only poor people bake their own bread.

I knew about the magic of yeast and pastry dough and the sponge method for rising. The Tassajara Bakery was important to me. I wanted to acknowledge its existence with my painting. Paul park , or a picture called Racing to Santa Fe that I envisioned one night when I was late for an appointment and literally raced in my car from Taos to Santa Fe. In my mind, I was on a bicycle instead, enjoying the stars and the mountain air. Someone once asked me to paint a picture they could give as a gift for a Jewish wedding.

I made it up completely. I placed the picture in Israel with goats and sheep in the hills, a small gray temple—I quickly ran to the scriptures to copy out some Hebrew words to etch on the building. What those words mean escapes me now. Then, as though a glow lit inside me, I added a cemetery and erected gravestones bearing the names of the wedding couple and all the guests. My mind had suddenly taken a leap from Judaism to the Buddhist truth of impermanence and the knowledge that yes, indeed, someday we all will die.

However, the person who had commissioned the painting was horrified. I quickly returned her money and sent the picture down to my parents in Florida. They promptly hung it next to the television set in the living room and proudly pointed it out to their friends.

Draw only a section of it. Draw an open journal on the desk and either write new words on the page—something you feel right now—or copy out some lines from an existing notebook. Yes, we are now manipulating the desktop a little. Just a little—for pleasure. This inspires the mind, makes it happy, and the heart wants to express more. Suddenly you add a vase of peonies, a cat, a half-eaten apple on the desk.

But also remain true to what is.

What is concrete helps to ground the picture. Let the two worlds meet in your drawing. Now find another chaotic jumble. Maybe your medicine chest or your garage. Take only a small section—where the skis are leaning on top of the snowboard. Draw that. Order your mind, make art out of the everyday mess. It has energy. Then I pick up the pen or pencil and begin.

That is the absolute trick: After that everything unfolds. Do you see? There had to be some words in this picture. Draw something mechanical: Open the hood of the car and draw its innards. I admire the bushes every day, even take breaks from my work and sit outside in a blue chair and stare at them for long moments. Do I think of painting them? Too hard. Too complicated. But when an old red car whizzes by the corner, longing rises in my chest.

I want that on paper, and I know I am capable of fulfilling that task. The car was made by humans. A part of me does not want to face the tangled green of nature. That part would prefer hanging out in a candy store, tightly gripping a Hershey bar and feeling the world secure around her.

And I am sure it is this part of me, the young Natalie, who paints. And while adult Natalie is willing to face the cruelties and mysteries of life, the child wants to stay where she is forever.

No moment but now. She does not want to develop or grow. She wants life easy and full of reliable pleasure. Was my childhood that wonderful?

No, but an element of it was. It had to do with my grandfather. Whenever I look at my paintings, I see him—my sweet, gentle, and quiet grandfather. I see himin my painting of a large yellow duck crossing the road by a red truck, in the painting I did of a farm in Ecuador, in the apartment in Jerusalem, in the sun-drenched leaning Palm Beach houses, and in the hollyhocks in front of the pink adobe in Taos. I see something of well being, of contentment and acceptance in these paintings, something cheerful and unpretentious, something ordinary and elemental: This is what my grandfather meant to me and what he gave me, and this energy is what I have transferred into painting.

He owned a big flatbed truck and every morning at 4 A. I never actually saw the truck. I was six, about to begin first grade, when he and Grandma came to live with us, and it is that age—six or seven—that I feel I enter when I paint. Sitting at the kitchen table, my grandfather ate all the leftover stale bread. Sometimes, the bread was so brittle it cracked in half.

He saved paper napkins and used them again. He cleaned up the crumbs on the tablecloth. He drank three-day-old bitter coffee. Maybe that sounds stingy or tight, but I never experienced it that way. I felt in him a reverence for life, a kind tenderness and humility. He never made me eat the things he did and often in the morning he made my bed before I got a chance, and then cheerfully and quietly washed the dishes.

One year, my sister and I received baby chicks for Passover. We lost interest in them soon after we named them Ginger and Daisy, but Grandpa cared for them in the garage. Each day when we came home from school, he would be sitting in the driveway on a lawn chair in his brown pinstriped suit and slouch fedora, smoking a short brown stogie and reading the Yiddish newspaper.

He owned a green Plymouth station wagon and I remember its round full trunk, like the behind of a stout pig, parked out front by the curb, near the thin maple saplings we planted in our new suburban development. In the middle of a boring Saturday, I could go to him. It was a wonder to me to drive in the tan back seat next to my best friend, Jo Ann Carosella, as though I had my own private taxi and chauffeur.

My grandfather drove with care the five miles down Hempstead Turnpike, and we watched the hardware store, bank, and library go by in slow motion. I think it amazed me to have an adult who wanted to please me, who had the time and patience to do something with me.

It felt like a secret world, this time with my grandfather. My father was busy at work, my mother was concerned with mopping the kitchen floor and getting us off to school, and the love between my grandmother and me was different. Acceptance and tenderness came from my grandfather. His world was simple, regular, predictable, and very comforting. Each day at 5 P.

He swung his arms energetically as he walked, because he had heard it was good exercise. Every evening he listened to the news, and I would interrupt him to model the new dress my mother had bought me that day.

I could always rely on his compliments. When I was thirteen, I walked into his room to display a daring bikini and received the same assurance of my fine loveliness. He made me feel okay about my awkward, exposed body. Only once did he admonish me. Dungarees, as we called them then, were coming into fashion. I tried a new pair on for him. His sense of humor showed itself when we would go out to a restaurant for dinner. What would Grandpa do? I see this slightly surrealistic humor in my paintings.

Just yesterday I drew a view from my desk. When I looked at it later, it felt too stuffy. I added a framed portrait of a kid sticking out his tongue over the antique lamp. There is a photo of me, my head just higher than the whiteclothed kitchen table, a barrette in my wispy brown hair, looking over at my grandfather sitting in his paisley bathrobe, counting out change. He is rolling fifty pennies into brown bank paper.

He would put the rolled pennies in his top bureau drawer where he usually kept loose coins. There was nothing else in that drawer but a white hankie he had folded neatly in the back. I often looked in that drawer. One day, I opened the drawer and there was a penny ensconced in a silver ring and it said Good Luck. I paused a moment and then took that lucky penny ring and put it in my brown corduroy pants pocket.

I knew I was stealing—and from my darling grandfather no less! It was my one transgression of his affection. Otherwise, with him, I learned what a normal thing love can be, an uncomplicated phenomenon in the regular order of things.

When I first began to paint in Taos and I went to visit my parents, who had moved to Florida, I painted a number of those old Miami Beach art deco hotels. Few of those paintings have survived, but one is of the pink New Yorker Hotel, which was one block over from the beach where my grandparents stayed. The day after I drew it, I walked by only to see a huge crane swinging a wrecking ball against its lovely face. I never think of drawing a new building. Only the old, the dilapidated, the uncared for and unnoticed draw my attention.

Even in sparkling Palm Beach, I manage to find a fading, pink stucco house with a ragged blue awning and a creaky window balcony, or a poor-looking blue house with a gray door and an anemic palm tree leaning close to it.

I like to paint what is marginal, what will not last. I wanted my grandfather to last. I painted my love for him in every building I did, in every old car like his I saw in Taos or Minneapolis and in every truck I imagined he carried poultry in. And I threw chickens and ducks into my paintings because he worked with them all his life.

My bathroom paintings come from him, too. I remember the light tap on the door. I was trying on red nail polish. Very soon, there would be another tap. There were foot bunion aids, salves for boils and arthritis, pills for indigestion and high blood pressure.

I could see that bathrooms were a hot spot for adults. Later I felt an urgent need to paint them, especially if they had colored tiles, a rickety radiator, a claw-footed tub and cracked linoleum. About fifteen years ago, in a dream, my grandfather came to me out of the grave with his face painted white and his body black.

We think people die—and they do die—but my grandfather has lived with me all these past years while I painted, in the same way he lived in my life: He died when I was twenty-four. I began painting soon after that, and although he was physically gone, he flowed over into my colored pictures and never left me. The silverware drawer in the kitchen, the cups and plates in the cupboard, the canned goods piled on top of each other in the pantry. Sketch the drawer in a barbershop or beauty shop; the money drawer of a cash register.

Manny and Priscilla were like messengers from another world. Not that the man in the Chagall painting had yellow pants, but they both had the quality of being wondrously strange and attractive to me. There was another world—and it was related to me! She was the only person I knew going to college. He owned a big flatbed truck and every morning at 4 A. I never actually saw the truck. I was six, about to begin first grade, when he and Grandma came to live with us, and it is that age—six or seven—that I feel I enter when I paint.

Sitting at the kitchen table, my grandfather ate all the leftover stale bread. Sometimes, the bread was so brittle it cracked in half.

He saved paper napkins and used them again. He cleaned up the crumbs on the tablecloth. He drank three-day-old bitter coffee.

Maybe that sounds stingy or tight, but I never experienced it that way. I felt in him a reverence for life, a kind tenderness and humility. He never made me eat the things he did and often in the morning he made my bed before I got a chance, and then cheerfully and quietly washed the dishes.

One year, my sister and I received baby chicks for Passover. We lost interest in them soon after we named them Ginger and Daisy, but Grandpa cared for them in the garage.

Each day when we came home from school, he would be sitting in the driveway on a lawn chair in his brown pinstriped suit and slouch fedora, smoking a short brown stogie and reading the Yiddish newspaper. He owned a green Plymouth station wagon and I remember its round full trunk, like the behind of a stout pig, parked out front by the curb, near the thin maple saplings we planted in our new suburban development. In the middle of a boring Saturday, I could go to him.

It was a wonder to me to drive in the tan back seat next to my best friend, Jo Ann Carosella, as though I had my own private taxi and chauffeur. My grandfather drove with care the five miles down Hempstead Turnpike, and we watched the hardware store, bank, and library go by in slow motion. I think it amazed me to have an adult who wanted to please me, who had the time and patience to do something with me.

It felt like a secret world, this time with my grandfather. My father was busy at work, my mother was concerned with mopping the kitchen floor and getting us off to school, and the love between my grandmother and me was different. Acceptance and tenderness came from my grandfather. His world was simple, regular, predictable, and very comforting. Each day at 5 P. He swung his arms energetically as he walked, because he had heard it was good exercise.

Every evening he listened to the news, and I would interrupt him to model the new dress my mother had bought me that day. I could always rely on his compliments. When I was thirteen, I walked into his room to display a daring bikini and received the same assurance of my fine loveliness. He made me feel okay about my awkward, exposed body.

Only once did he admonish me. Dungarees, as we called them then, were coming into fashion. I tried a new pair on for him. His sense of humor showed itself when we would go out to a restaurant for dinner. What would Grandpa do? I see this slightly surrealistic humor in my paintings. Just yesterday I drew a view from my desk. When I looked at it later, it felt too stuffy. I added a framed portrait of a kid sticking out his tongue over the antique lamp. There is a photo of me, my head just higher than the whiteclothed kitchen table, a barrette in my wispy brown hair, looking over at my grandfather sitting in his paisley bathrobe, counting out change.

He is rolling fifty pennies into brown bank paper. He would put the rolled pennies in his top bureau drawer where he usually kept loose coins. There was nothing else in that drawer but a white hankie he had folded neatly in the back. I often looked in that drawer. One day, I opened the drawer and there was a penny ensconced in a silver ring and it said Good Luck. I paused a moment and then took that lucky penny ring and put it in my brown corduroy pants pocket.

I knew I was stealing—and from my darling grandfather no less! It was my one transgression of his affection. Otherwise, with him, I learned what a normal thing love can be, an uncomplicated phenomenon in the regular order of things.

When I first began to paint in Taos and I went to visit my parents, who had moved to Florida, I painted a number of those old Miami Beach art deco hotels. Few of those paintings have survived, but one is of the pink New Yorker Hotel, which was one block over from the beach where my grandparents stayed. The day after I drew it, I walked by only to see a huge crane swinging a wrecking ball against its lovely face. I never think of drawing a new building. Only the old, the dilapidated, the uncared for and unnoticed draw my attention.

Even in sparkling Palm Beach, I manage to find a fading, pink stucco house with a ragged blue awning and a creaky window balcony, or a poor-looking blue house with a gray door and an anemic palm tree leaning close to it. I like to paint what is marginal, what will not last.

I wanted my grandfather to last. I painted my love for him in every building I did, in every old car like his I saw in Taos or Minneapolis and in every truck I imagined he carried poultry in.

And I threw chickens and ducks into my paintings because he worked with them all his life. My bathroom paintings come from him, too. I remember the light tap on the door.

I was trying on red nail polish. Very soon, there would be another tap. There were foot bunion aids, salves for boils and arthritis, pills for indigestion and high blood pressure. I could see that bathrooms were a hot spot for adults. Later I felt an urgent need to paint them, especially if they had colored tiles, a rickety radiator, a claw-footed tub and cracked linoleum. About fifteen years ago, in a dream, my grandfather came to me out of the grave with his face painted white and his body black.

We think people die—and they do die—but my grandfather has lived with me all these past years while I painted, in the same way he lived in my life: He died when I was twenty-four. I began painting soon after that, and although he was physically gone, he flowed over into my colored pictures and never left me.

The silverware drawer in the kitchen, the cups and plates in the cupboard, the canned goods piled on top of each other in the pantry. Sketch the drawer in a barbershop or beauty shop; the money drawer of a cash register. Manny and Priscilla were like messengers from another world. Not that the man in the Chagall painting had yellow pants, but they both had the quality of being wondrously strange and attractive to me. There was another world—and it was related to me!

She was the only person I knew going to college. What accent? Everyone in my family sounded alike. On Passover, we visited their apartment at One Tennis Court. The frames were ornate gold or mahogany. With the delicious smell of chicken and brisket wafting in from the kitchen, I asked why the number eleven over one hundred was penciled into the left-hand corner of a picture.

My aunt came from the kitchen, leaned over and looked through her spectacles, wiping her hands with her apron. And she explained how it had been made and what the numbers meant. She was delighted that I was interested in her world and she wanted me to understand. Now I was proud to understand the numbers in lithographs. My aunt went back to cooking and I eagerly took in the next picture. It was a framed old newspaper print and it had words I could read.

In bigger letters was the title, Anticipation. The picture was of two bare-chested men, both wearing boxing gloves, about to fight. One man was in orange knee-length knickers. The other wore gold ones, had a much hairier chest, and he was about to land a punch on the face of the opposite man, who was wearing a white wig with a ponytail.

Both were hefty and wore black shoes with buckles. There was some writing above each head that I could not read. I stared at that picture for a long time, trying to understand the title. As I bent over the chicken broth and matzo ball soup, I surmised that painting was something good. At that visit with Aunt Priscilla and Uncle Manny a seed was planted.

From then on, I began to notice paintings—in books in the public library, even hanging in the beauty parlor, and in the waiting room when my father consulted a lawyer. The world of painting sprang up to illuminate my world. If you want to write, study novels or short stories, poems, essays. The writers you read are your teachers. The same is true of visual art. I usually take a leap and purchase an art book—or take one out of the library and spend a full evening looking at one painting after another.

I am particularly enthralled with Wayne Thiebaud right now. I turn the pages in his book, Wayne Thiebaud: Each painting has shadows cast by the objects—a delight and a darkness.

All of them feel particularly American, holding our abundance, our sugar coating, and our yearning, hunger, desire. I wanted to paint these objects too: Hamburger Heaven in Palm Beach, Florida served cherry pie with the berries dripping over the crust; their big unforgettable chocolate layer cake. And, yes, I am copying his idea—this is how we learn.

It helps us to develop our own style. You know what to do. Draw a bag of potato chips, rows of candy bars, or mayonnaise or mustard jars. Our supermarkets are full of rows of objects to paint and draw. Draw a shelf of foods you love. I remember her thick, black, curly hair, her shiny coal black eyes, and her large white teeth and dark red lipstick. I think it was even way back then that I got the notion that love and good looks were somehow connected.

We were a family interested in beauty. When I got older, I thought my sister, Romi, was gorgeous and she thought I was. Somehow, though, I have never chosen to paint my beautiful female relatives. The only family member I have ever painted is my father. He was the one person in our house who lived outside of sedate, middle-class values. He gambled; he went to the race track; he yelled and flung his fists wildly as he sat in his underwear, absorbed in the World Series on TV.

He came and went to places unknown to my sister and me.

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He was a gap in my claustrophobic childhood. He grabbed us and we wrestled. When my father taught me something—to swim, to play pool—he was dead serious.

It was awful, but there was also something delicious about it. I had a taste of the tough, real male world. You played hard. I remember only once when he went food shopping, and I got to go with him.

My mother had the flu and made a list of groceries for us to pick up. I was wild to laugh. I was his best audience. It was exciting. We were in a conspiracy together. I remember another time, when I walked into the kitchen after everyone had gone to sleep, and the light from the open refrigerator revealed my father standing there, drinking straight out of the cold- water bottle. That was a cardinal sin in our family. My mother repeated often that it would spread germs. We both burst out laughing.

And again I felt something split open, just a crack. My father owned a bar in Farmingdale, New York. I often saw him in his white pressed shirt sitting at the breakfast table, reading the newspaper and lifting the white cup filled with coffee to his mouth.

The Aero Tavern was five miles away. Some weeks he worked nights. Again, he would be in his white, long- sleeved, button-down, freshly pressed shirt. When he came home, usually the sleeves were rolled half way to his elbows. He went to work six, sometimes seven days a week, no matter what the weather. I remember him bending over to put on heavy boots—the snow had drifted, no cars were running—to walk to work. Nothing stopped him. No type of weather, no ache or pain. The first painting I did of him was in , when he still owned that bar.

My parents were out visiting my husband and me in Minneapolis, and one afternoon in early August, I breezed through the living room to the screened-in porch, plopped myself down in front of my father, who was on the porch swing, and began to draw him. I drew quickly, with no hesitation.

My mother leaned over when I was done. They shook their heads in unison. I waited. Was he about to reveal his deep inner yearnings—to be a rabbi? A poet? An explorer? He looked up.

All I had to do was fill in with a little color the truth that was already there on paper. I immediately clamped down and shrank against the door.

When I sat in front of my father on that porch in Minneapolis, at the age of thirty-one, I saw this bitter face again. My hand cut through with its own life and drew what it instinctively saw. Ben, the Bartender made me uncomfortable, so I simply stuck the drawing up in my attic, out of sight, and forgot it. Two years later, having separated from my husband, I was depressed.

My parents called me on the phone. Again, during that visit, I painted him. This one I simply titled Ben Goldberg. He is wearing a navy-blue turtleneck sweater, a brown felt hat and a ruby ring, the one his mother, Rose, had given him forty years earlier and that he had never taken off. This time, when I held up the drawing, my mother clapped her hands.

Then he cocked his head and smiled. This one I was more comfortable with. When I look at the painting now, I also see a lot of sadness. To win the lottery? He was raised as an Orthodox Jew, but when I was a child he often proclaimed his atheism. You work hard and then you die. By , he was deep in retirement, and I drew him asleep in his TV chair, having snoozed off watching a golf tournament, wearing a casual striped polo shirt and loose pants.

You are getting concentrated care from the one person you want it from most. He is glad I am sitting with him. He can almost feel my examination of the edge of his ear with my pen. My mother walks by and offers me butterscotch candies out of a china dish. I shake my head. She leans over. I do another drawing. There he is, a vulnerable moment caught. It is the one I adore. It is self-reflective, a moment of recognition, usually followed by a sweet joke about himself.

His shirt is open and you can see some chest hairs. His hair is longer now. He says he detested the Vietnam War. I remembered my world used to bewilder him. His essential understanding came from being a sergeant for five years during World War II. Jim Perlman, my poetry publisher, told me once that his father was one of the first Americans to liberate Auschwitz. He never talked much when Jim was growing up, and the only thing that made him peaceful was planting and tending prize tomatoes in his garden.

Later, I dedicated a poem to Jim.

Writing down the bones: freeing the writer within

Part of it reads: Life was scrambled after the war. Men came back and wanted to settle quickly, put to rest what they had seen. What I felt through my father was something scary, unfathomable, dark, also true and real about the world. When I sat in front of him to draw, my hand, like a diviner striking water, found some root source of suffering, though my conscious mind was not aware of it.

In the summer of , my father and mother were due to visit me in Taos. This time I was prepared: I bought good watercolor paper and even invited some of my professional painting friends to take a gander at his face. We set up an afternoon at one of their studios. I called my father and told him. I knew he would be pleased.

He loves contact with young people. In my forties, I was still young to him. He joked on the phone. I want to get paid. I took him to the emergency room in Santa Fe, where my mother and I sat in the waiting room while a medic examined and taped his arm. When it was over, I took them to a good restaurant for dinner, to cheer them up. My father ordered shrimp in garlic sauce with rice. The restaurant served the shrimp with the shells on.

My parents had never heard of anything like that. He was disconsolate. He wanted to go home. We canceled the painting session with my friends. I sat down at my kitchen table. I felt everything drain from me. I always knew this would happen someday, but it was happening now, right in front of my face. The next day, he felt a little better. A month after they left, I went camping along the Chama River by myself. When I got there, I hunkered down in a folding chair under a big cottonwood with the pad containing the drawings of my father, opened my paints, poured water from my canteen into a jar, leaned over, picked up a brush and began.

Though the second drawing did not quite look like him, I knew I had caught something there. The picture did not come easy and direct as it had with other portraits of my father. That night, I put up the tent. I did not feel brave enough to sleep outside in my sleeping bag as I used to do.

The sky was dark, immense, and I was alone. The next morning, I ate some bread and cheese. I began to work slowly. I painted the whites of his eyes yellow.

The background was yellow, too. His skin had a green hue and his hair was purple. His ears were outlined in green. I saw how tentative his lips looked. Last Painting of My Father, I took several breaks.

Writing down the bones: freeing the writer within - PDF Free Download

I went swimming in the river. I read short chapters of Stones for Ibarra, by Harriet Doerr. Right from the beginning, it is clear that Richard Everton, the main character, will die in the end. The whole novel is an exquisite unfolding of that fact.

I was close to the finish of the painting. I leaned it against the base of a cottonwood, stepped back, and saw it. I sat back down under the cottonwood.

His picture had brought me close to him. I was once afraid of his darkness. Now I was afraid of his death. Pick one person and draw them. They may bend down to read something or turn their head, but do the best you can. Keep drawing. So what if you began frontal and now you have a good shot at their ear.

Put the whole ear in. Your one portrait might have many angles. Picasso did it. Now change places, sit in another seat. Face another direction. Draw another face. Keep practicing. Do ten portraits over several days. Trust your lines. Look closely at the nose. How much higher up is it than the mouth. How far below the eyes? Look at relationship, the chin compared to the cheekbone.

Forget that this person in front of you might be your boyfriend and you think he is handsome. You are studying the forms and lines of a face—no good or bad. Now, if you like, add color.

Apply lightly, then add more color. Kat Duff, Self-Portrait: I was in charge of finding the model each week. I loved that. I asked unusual people with interesting faces: We all had the same model, but each of our paintings looked completely different. We chatted as we worked. For me, a writer who works silently, this was heaven.

Presently I am reading Man with a Blue Scarf: He cares about the particular in everything. At the stable he also painted a head portrait of an old gray gelding. Reading this book is deep pleasure. I was thirty-six years old. We had to walk up ten flights of stairs; there was no elevator.

The walls were papered in pink flowers, and I slept on a cot along one wall while Barbara lay in her bed in the middle of the room. The red-haired, high-complexioned owner of the hotel did not speak English, and I loved practicing my high school French, to her dismay.

She took out a pair of scissors and cut the top off a plastic water bottle. Each day I would lean my drawing pad against my knee, my right foot propped on the large dormer ledge, the window wide open, and draw the fat iridescent pigeons and the steep blue slate rooftops of Paris.

Because I used the one glass in the room for my brushes, Barb poured her red wine into the square white plastic Cinzano ashtray and sipped as she read aloud from A Moveable Feast. I decided on the flight over that I was going to paint twelve pictures in the month we were there. A casual six or nine or even eleven would not do. Our first stop was Paris, and in the paper store there I found une pochette de douze feuilles a folder of twelve sheets , suitable for crayon, ink, gouache, charcoal.

I planned to fill each page with a picture. I bought gouache cakes in six basic colors. In each place we visited I painted our hotel room. I began to excel at straightback wooden chairs, painted-wood doors, bureaus with lace doilies on top and an oval mirror attached, chifforobes, pillows flopped onto beds, walls with plaster cracks and uneven baseboards.

In Florence, I painted the Arno River and a bridge; in Zurich, the train station; in Greece, on the island of Naxos, I painted a big ship, and in another picture, I drew our big empty hotel room, looking out on the ocean, and the thin white nylon curtains flapping back and forth across the sill of the open window. Barbara would fall asleep early, exhausted from our day of sightseeing, and I would paint until three or four in the morning. I felt a terrific urgency; I had to fulfill my quota.

The only light was from a small lamp near my bed; otherwise, the room was dark and I could feel night out the window. I think it was the last night on that Greek island that I did the first painting that did not rely on any original detail in front of me. I trusted my imagination completely—the confidence came from the full month of intense picture practice. Ducks and an octopus were in the water. It was that last night in the early hours that I felt our whole trip was a victory.

We had made it to Europe—how far we had come! The next day, we flew from Naxos to Athens, our treat to ourselves instead of a twelve-hour ferry ride back to the mainland. I had eleven finished paintings and the outline drawing for the twelfth. I never saw it again.

I remember waiting at the conveyor belt in Athens as the last bag appeared—not mine. I was sick to my stomach, standing empty-handed in a plaid traveling dress. I pleaded with Olympia Airlines: You can have my toothbrush, the new black dress I bought in Rome, my hairbrush, my jacket, but let me have that packet of twelve papers crinkled with paint and color. I felt an ache, a horrible longing to see those pictures again.

I could not believe they were gone. When I got back to Taos, I used the psychology of a kid who falls off a swing and gets right back on. Otherwise, you will never do it again. I added a Mobil Oil sign, sunflowers, yellow hills. I did thirty-five paintings that fall. I did not dare look back or remember. Keep drawing anything you want until the time is up. Done with your picture after eight minutes? You have seven more to go.

Stretch yourself. Keep adding things. Imagined, unimaginable, things right in front of you—your foot, your hand, the cat in the corner. Just keep going for the full time. This exercise pushes you beyond where you are when you think you are done. It can break barriers —on the paper and in your mind. We hang around indoors way too much. Bring a pad and a pencil or pen, and, if you like, a notebook. Too cold? Think of Alan Furst in Sag Harbor on Long Island who writes his historical spy thrillers in his unheated garage deep into fall.

When it hits forty degrees he goes inside. Try drawing the same thing in each season. If you live in the country, draw the fence, tractor, sheep. You get the idea. This inspires the mind, makes it happy, and the heart wants to express more. Suddenly you add a vase of peonies, a cat, a half-eaten apple on the desk. But also remain true to what is. What is concrete helps to ground the picture. Let the two worlds meet in your drawing. Now find another chaotic jumble. Maybe your medicine chest or your garage.

Take only a small section—where the skis are leaning on top of the snowboard. Draw that. Order your mind, make art out of the everyday mess. It has energy. Then I pick up the pen or pencil and begin. That is the absolute trick: After that everything unfolds. Do you see? There had to be some words in this picture. Draw something mechanical: Open the hood of the car and draw its innards. I admire the bushes every day, even take breaks from my work and sit outside in a blue chair and stare at them for long moments.

Do I think of painting them? Too hard. Too complicated. But when an old red car whizzes by the corner, longing rises in my chest.

I want that on paper, and I know I am capable of fulfilling that task. The car was made by humans. A part of me does not want to face the tangled green of nature.

That part would prefer hanging out in a candy store, tightly gripping a Hershey bar and feeling the world secure around her. And I am sure it is this part of me, the young Natalie, who paints. And while adult Natalie is willing to face the cruelties and mysteries of life, the child wants to stay where she is forever.

No moment but now. She does not want to develop or grow. She wants life easy and full of reliable pleasure. Was my childhood that wonderful? No, but an element of it was. It had to do with my grandfather. Whenever I look at my paintings, I see him—my sweet, gentle, and quiet grandfather. I see himin my painting of a large yellow duck crossing the road by a red truck, in the painting I did of a farm in Ecuador, in the apartment in Jerusalem, in the sun-drenched leaning Palm Beach houses, and in the hollyhocks in front of the pink adobe in Taos.

I see something of well being, of contentment and acceptance in these paintings, something cheerful and unpretentious, something ordinary and elemental: This is what my grandfather meant to me and what he gave me, and this energy is what I have transferred into painting.

He owned a big flatbed truck and every morning at 4 A. I never actually saw the truck. I was six, about to begin first grade, when he and Grandma came to live with us, and it is that age—six or seven—that I feel I enter when I paint. Sitting at the kitchen table, my grandfather ate all the leftover stale bread. Sometimes, the bread was so brittle it cracked in half. He saved paper napkins and used them again. He cleaned up the crumbs on the tablecloth.

He drank three-day-old bitter coffee. Maybe that sounds stingy or tight, but I never experienced it that way.

I felt in him a reverence for life, a kind tenderness and humility. He never made me eat the things he did and often in the morning he made my bed before I got a chance, and then cheerfully and quietly washed the dishes. One year, my sister and I received baby chicks for Passover. We lost interest in them soon after we named them Ginger and Daisy, but Grandpa cared for them in the garage.

Each day when we came home from school, he would be sitting in the driveway on a lawn chair in his brown pinstriped suit and slouch fedora, smoking a short brown stogie and reading the Yiddish newspaper. He owned a green Plymouth station wagon and I remember its round full trunk, like the behind of a stout pig, parked out front by the curb, near the thin maple saplings we planted in our new suburban development. In the middle of a boring Saturday, I could go to him.

It was a wonder to me to drive in the tan back seat next to my best friend, Jo Ann Carosella, as though I had my own private taxi and chauffeur.

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My grandfather drove with care the five miles down Hempstead Turnpike, and we watched the hardware store, bank, and library go by in slow motion. I think it amazed me to have an adult who wanted to please me, who had the time and patience to do something with me.

It felt like a secret world, this time with my grandfather. My father was busy at work, my mother was concerned with mopping the kitchen floor and getting us off to school, and the love between my grandmother and me was different. Acceptance and tenderness came from my grandfather. His world was simple, regular, predictable, and very comforting. Each day at 5 P.

He swung his arms energetically as he walked, because he had heard it was good exercise. Every evening he listened to the news, and I would interrupt him to model the new dress my mother had bought me that day. I could always rely on his compliments.

When I was thirteen, I walked into his room to display a daring bikini and received the same assurance of my fine loveliness. He made me feel okay about my awkward, exposed body. Only once did he admonish me. Dungarees, as we called them then, were coming into fashion. I tried a new pair on for him. His sense of humor showed itself when we would go out to a restaurant for dinner.

What would Grandpa do? I see this slightly surrealistic humor in my paintings. Just yesterday I drew a view from my desk. When I looked at it later, it felt too stuffy. I added a framed portrait of a kid sticking out his tongue over the antique lamp.

There is a photo of me, my head just higher than the whiteclothed kitchen table, a barrette in my wispy brown hair, looking over at my grandfather sitting in his paisley bathrobe, counting out change. He is rolling fifty pennies into brown bank paper. He would put the rolled pennies in his top bureau drawer where he usually kept loose coins. There was nothing else in that drawer but a white hankie he had folded neatly in the back.

I often looked in that drawer. One day, I opened the drawer and there was a penny ensconced in a silver ring and it said Good Luck. I paused a moment and then took that lucky penny ring and put it in my brown corduroy pants pocket.

I knew I was stealing—and from my darling grandfather no less! It was my one transgression of his affection. Otherwise, with him, I learned what a normal thing love can be, an uncomplicated phenomenon in the regular order of things. When I first began to paint in Taos and I went to visit my parents, who had moved to Florida, I painted a number of those old Miami Beach art deco hotels.

Few of those paintings have survived, but one is of the pink New Yorker Hotel, which was one block over from the beach where my grandparents stayed. The day after I drew it, I walked by only to see a huge crane swinging a wrecking ball against its lovely face. I never think of drawing a new building. Only the old, the dilapidated, the uncared for and unnoticed draw my attention.

Even in sparkling Palm Beach, I manage to find a fading, pink stucco house with a ragged blue awning and a creaky window balcony, or a poor-looking blue house with a gray door and an anemic palm tree leaning close to it. I like to paint what is marginal, what will not last. I wanted my grandfather to last. I painted my love for him in every building I did, in every old car like his I saw in Taos or Minneapolis and in every truck I imagined he carried poultry in.

And I threw chickens and ducks into my paintings because he worked with them all his life. My bathroom paintings come from him, too. I remember the light tap on the door. I was trying on red nail polish. Very soon, there would be another tap. There were foot bunion aids, salves for boils and arthritis, pills for indigestion and high blood pressure. I could see that bathrooms were a hot spot for adults. Later I felt an urgent need to paint them, especially if they had colored tiles, a rickety radiator, a claw-footed tub and cracked linoleum.

About fifteen years ago, in a dream, my grandfather came to me out of the grave with his face painted white and his body black. We think people die—and they do die—but my grandfather has lived with me all these past years while I painted, in the same way he lived in my life: He died when I was twenty-four. I began painting soon after that, and although he was physically gone, he flowed over into my colored pictures and never left me.

The silverware drawer in the kitchen, the cups and plates in the cupboard, the canned goods piled on top of each other in the pantry. Sketch the drawer in a barbershop or beauty shop; the money drawer of a cash register. Manny and Priscilla were like messengers from another world. Not that the man in the Chagall painting had yellow pants, but they both had the quality of being wondrously strange and attractive to me.

There was another world—and it was related to me! She was the only person I knew going to college. What accent? Everyone in my family sounded alike. On Passover, we visited their apartment at One Tennis Court. The frames were ornate gold or mahogany.

With the delicious smell of chicken and brisket wafting in from the kitchen, I asked why the number eleven over one hundred was penciled into the left-hand corner of a picture. My aunt came from the kitchen, leaned over and looked through her spectacles, wiping her hands with her apron. And she explained how it had been made and what the numbers meant. She was delighted that I was interested in her world and she wanted me to understand. Now I was proud to understand the numbers in lithographs.

My aunt went back to cooking and I eagerly took in the next picture. It was a framed old newspaper print and it had words I could read. In bigger letters was the title, Anticipation. The picture was of two bare-chested men, both wearing boxing gloves, about to fight. One man was in orange knee-length knickers. The other wore gold ones, had a much hairier chest, and he was about to land a punch on the face of the opposite man, who was wearing a white wig with a ponytail.

Both were hefty and wore black shoes with buckles. There was some writing above each head that I could not read. I stared at that picture for a long time, trying to understand the title. As I bent over the chicken broth and matzo ball soup, I surmised that painting was something good. At that visit with Aunt Priscilla and Uncle Manny a seed was planted. From then on, I began to notice paintings—in books in the public library, even hanging in the beauty parlor, and in the waiting room when my father consulted a lawyer.

The world of painting sprang up to illuminate my world. If you want to write, study novels or short stories, poems, essays. The writers you read are your teachers. The same is true of visual art. I usually take a leap and purchase an art book—or take one out of the library and spend a full evening looking at one painting after another. I am particularly enthralled with Wayne Thiebaud right now. I turn the pages in his book, Wayne Thiebaud: Each painting has shadows cast by the objects—a delight and a darkness.

All of them feel particularly American, holding our abundance, our sugar coating, and our yearning, hunger, desire. I wanted to paint these objects too: Hamburger Heaven in Palm Beach, Florida served cherry pie with the berries dripping over the crust; their big unforgettable chocolate layer cake.

And, yes, I am copying his idea—this is how we learn. It helps us to develop our own style. You know what to do. Draw a bag of potato chips, rows of candy bars, or mayonnaise or mustard jars.

Our supermarkets are full of rows of objects to paint and draw. Draw a shelf of foods you love. I remember her thick, black, curly hair, her shiny coal black eyes, and her large white teeth and dark red lipstick. I think it was even way back then that I got the notion that love and good looks were somehow connected. We were a family interested in beauty. When I got older, I thought my sister, Romi, was gorgeous and she thought I was.

Somehow, though, I have never chosen to paint my beautiful female relatives. The only family member I have ever painted is my father. He was the one person in our house who lived outside of sedate, middle-class values. He gambled; he went to the race track; he yelled and flung his fists wildly as he sat in his underwear, absorbed in the World Series on TV. He came and went to places unknown to my sister and me. He was a gap in my claustrophobic childhood. He grabbed us and we wrestled.

When my father taught me something—to swim, to play pool—he was dead serious. It was awful, but there was also something delicious about it. I had a taste of the tough, real male world. You played hard. I remember only once when he went food shopping, and I got to go with him. My mother had the flu and made a list of groceries for us to pick up. I was wild to laugh. I was his best audience. It was exciting. We were in a conspiracy together. I remember another time, when I walked into the kitchen after everyone had gone to sleep, and the light from the open refrigerator revealed my father standing there, drinking straight out of the cold- water bottle.

That was a cardinal sin in our family. My mother repeated often that it would spread germs. We both burst out laughing. And again I felt something split open, just a crack. My father owned a bar in Farmingdale, New York. I often saw him in his white pressed shirt sitting at the breakfast table, reading the newspaper and lifting the white cup filled with coffee to his mouth.

The Aero Tavern was five miles away. Some weeks he worked nights. Again, he would be in his white, long- sleeved, button-down, freshly pressed shirt.

When he came home, usually the sleeves were rolled half way to his elbows. He went to work six, sometimes seven days a week, no matter what the weather. I remember him bending over to put on heavy boots—the snow had drifted, no cars were running—to walk to work. Nothing stopped him. No type of weather, no ache or pain. The first painting I did of him was in , when he still owned that bar.

My parents were out visiting my husband and me in Minneapolis, and one afternoon in early August, I breezed through the living room to the screened-in porch, plopped myself down in front of my father, who was on the porch swing, and began to draw him. I drew quickly, with no hesitation. My mother leaned over when I was done. They shook their heads in unison. I waited. Was he about to reveal his deep inner yearnings—to be a rabbi? A poet? An explorer? He looked up. All I had to do was fill in with a little color the truth that was already there on paper.

I immediately clamped down and shrank against the door. When I sat in front of my father on that porch in Minneapolis, at the age of thirty-one, I saw this bitter face again. My hand cut through with its own life and drew what it instinctively saw.

Ben, the Bartender made me uncomfortable, so I simply stuck the drawing up in my attic, out of sight, and forgot it. Two years later, having separated from my husband, I was depressed. My parents called me on the phone. Again, during that visit, I painted him. This one I simply titled Ben Goldberg.

He is wearing a navy-blue turtleneck sweater, a brown felt hat and a ruby ring, the one his mother, Rose, had given him forty years earlier and that he had never taken off. This time, when I held up the drawing, my mother clapped her hands. Then he cocked his head and smiled. This one I was more comfortable with. When I look at the painting now, I also see a lot of sadness. To win the lottery? He was raised as an Orthodox Jew, but when I was a child he often proclaimed his atheism.

You work hard and then you die. By , he was deep in retirement, and I drew him asleep in his TV chair, having snoozed off watching a golf tournament, wearing a casual striped polo shirt and loose pants.

You are getting concentrated care from the one person you want it from most. He is glad I am sitting with him. He can almost feel my examination of the edge of his ear with my pen. My mother walks by and offers me butterscotch candies out of a china dish. I shake my head. She leans over. I do another drawing. There he is, a vulnerable moment caught. It is the one I adore. It is self-reflective, a moment of recognition, usually followed by a sweet joke about himself.

His shirt is open and you can see some chest hairs. His hair is longer now. He says he detested the Vietnam War. I remembered my world used to bewilder him. His essential understanding came from being a sergeant for five years during World War II. Jim Perlman, my poetry publisher, told me once that his father was one of the first Americans to liberate Auschwitz.

He never talked much when Jim was growing up, and the only thing that made him peaceful was planting and tending prize tomatoes in his garden. Later, I dedicated a poem to Jim. Part of it reads: Life was scrambled after the war.

Men came back and wanted to settle quickly, put to rest what they had seen. What I felt through my father was something scary, unfathomable, dark, also true and real about the world. When I sat in front of him to draw, my hand, like a diviner striking water, found some root source of suffering, though my conscious mind was not aware of it. In the summer of , my father and mother were due to visit me in Taos. This time I was prepared: I bought good watercolor paper and even invited some of my professional painting friends to take a gander at his face.

We set up an afternoon at one of their studios. I called my father and told him. I knew he would be pleased. He loves contact with young people. In my forties, I was still young to him. He joked on the phone. I want to get paid. I took him to the emergency room in Santa Fe, where my mother and I sat in the waiting room while a medic examined and taped his arm. When it was over, I took them to a good restaurant for dinner, to cheer them up. My father ordered shrimp in garlic sauce with rice.

The restaurant served the shrimp with the shells on. My parents had never heard of anything like that. He was disconsolate. He wanted to go home. We canceled the painting session with my friends. I sat down at my kitchen table. I felt everything drain from me. I always knew this would happen someday, but it was happening now, right in front of my face. The next day, he felt a little better. A month after they left, I went camping along the Chama River by myself.

When I got there, I hunkered down in a folding chair under a big cottonwood with the pad containing the drawings of my father, opened my paints, poured water from my canteen into a jar, leaned over, picked up a brush and began. Though the second drawing did not quite look like him, I knew I had caught something there.

The picture did not come easy and direct as it had with other portraits of my father. That night, I put up the tent. I did not feel brave enough to sleep outside in my sleeping bag as I used to do. The sky was dark, immense, and I was alone. The next morning, I ate some bread and cheese. I began to work slowly. I painted the whites of his eyes yellow.

The background was yellow, too. His skin had a green hue and his hair was purple. His ears were outlined in green. I saw how tentative his lips looked. Last Painting of My Father, I took several breaks. I went swimming in the river. I read short chapters of Stones for Ibarra, by Harriet Doerr. Right from the beginning, it is clear that Richard Everton, the main character, will die in the end.

The whole novel is an exquisite unfolding of that fact. I was close to the finish of the painting. I leaned it against the base of a cottonwood, stepped back, and saw it. I sat back down under the cottonwood. His picture had brought me close to him. I was once afraid of his darkness. Now I was afraid of his death.

Pick one person and draw them. They may bend down to read something or turn their head, but do the best you can. Keep drawing. So what if you began frontal and now you have a good shot at their ear. Put the whole ear in. Your one portrait might have many angles.

Picasso did it. Now change places, sit in another seat. Face another direction. Draw another face. Keep practicing. Do ten portraits over several days. Trust your lines. Look closely at the nose.

How much higher up is it than the mouth. How far below the eyes? Look at relationship, the chin compared to the cheekbone. Forget that this person in front of you might be your boyfriend and you think he is handsome.

You are studying the forms and lines of a face—no good or bad. Now, if you like, add color. Apply lightly, then add more color.

Kat Duff, Self-Portrait: I was in charge of finding the model each week. I loved that. I asked unusual people with interesting faces: We all had the same model, but each of our paintings looked completely different. We chatted as we worked.

For me, a writer who works silently, this was heaven. Presently I am reading Man with a Blue Scarf: He cares about the particular in everything. At the stable he also painted a head portrait of an old gray gelding. Reading this book is deep pleasure. I was thirty-six years old. We had to walk up ten flights of stairs; there was no elevator.

The walls were papered in pink flowers, and I slept on a cot along one wall while Barbara lay in her bed in the middle of the room.

The red-haired, high-complexioned owner of the hotel did not speak English, and I loved practicing my high school French, to her dismay. She took out a pair of scissors and cut the top off a plastic water bottle. Each day I would lean my drawing pad against my knee, my right foot propped on the large dormer ledge, the window wide open, and draw the fat iridescent pigeons and the steep blue slate rooftops of Paris. Because I used the one glass in the room for my brushes, Barb poured her red wine into the square white plastic Cinzano ashtray and sipped as she read aloud from A Moveable Feast.

I decided on the flight over that I was going to paint twelve pictures in the month we were there. A casual six or nine or even eleven would not do. Our first stop was Paris, and in the paper store there I found une pochette de douze feuilles a folder of twelve sheets , suitable for crayon, ink, gouache, charcoal.

I planned to fill each page with a picture. I bought gouache cakes in six basic colors. In each place we visited I painted our hotel room.

I began to excel at straightback wooden chairs, painted-wood doors, bureaus with lace doilies on top and an oval mirror attached, chifforobes, pillows flopped onto beds, walls with plaster cracks and uneven baseboards.

In Florence, I painted the Arno River and a bridge; in Zurich, the train station; in Greece, on the island of Naxos, I painted a big ship, and in another picture, I drew our big empty hotel room, looking out on the ocean, and the thin white nylon curtains flapping back and forth across the sill of the open window.