The Passenger

A Passenger: Sketchbook Page – Pencil, watercolor, collage – 8.5 x 11 inches.

A flight between Sacramento and Seattle normally takes about two hours, so there was enough time to draw a fairly accurate likeness of the man in the window seat. Watercolors are too messy for me to use on an airplane, so I added colors later in the studio.

Colors: Students sometimes ask me what colors to use when painting non-white people. From the point of view of artists, “white” and “black;” are just words; humans are all lighter or darker mishmashes of different shades of “beige.” My answer is: use variations of the same pigments you would use to paint anybody, that is, two warm colors and a cool one: a red, a yellow and a blue. Or a vermillion, ochre and green. In this case, I used Quinacridone Red, Raw Sienna, and Viridian, both for the man’s hair and skin. I used black only on his eyeglasses.

Studio: Visitors are often surprised to find my studio “orderly,” by which they mean “not messy.” Then they look at my sketchbooks. “Messy!” Usually the pages are invariably messy because they reflect whatever happens to interest me at the moment, like the wine label, color swatches, Spanish stamp and repro of the Fool card from the Tarot. Plus, sketches are messy like rehearsals for concerts are messy; the artists are trying to figure things out so that the finished product appears smooth and natural.

Storm Study

Storm Study – Pencil, Watercolor – 8 x 8 inches.

It wasn’t long ago when small green shapes, like soft blades, slowly poked up out of the dirt and last autumn’s leaves, the color of rusted iron. Then stems and yellow petals. Red, blue, golden too, and purple. It felt like months of winter here in the hills were beginning to blossom into spring. Almost. Then one afternoon our green world turned back into white.

The tulips and daffodils don’t seem to mind. Nor do the Sparrows, Finches, and Western Bluebirds. (Shh, I don’t mind either. Shh, it’s heretical to say this in California, but I don’t want to let go of the snow’s cold embrace.)

The Seventh Storm of Winter

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here
to bless the falling snow.

Let it bury us and all our cares and pains, and bury
every one of our wishes and preoccupations, especially
the ones we think are most important.

Let it, which neither scorns nor loves, but falls
on all our lives with the same indifferent silence,
bury our pasts and bury every one of our dreams as well.

We pray you, blessed snow, to leave bare spots
beneath the apple trees for winter birds to peck for
seeds, but otherwise, please blanket our incessant

human chatter beneath the frigid benediction of your
whiteness so we can pull up the covers of our beds
and burrow even deeper into sleep like hibernating bats

and bears and not emerge until the ides of March, or April,
or maybe not until the ides of May.

(There you have it, friends: Shh, I hope my secret thoughts are safe with you.)