My Chinese four o’clocks came from seed a Chinese exchange student sent me about fifteen years ago. They are totally satisfactory. Neither gophers, nor deer, nor ground squirrels, nor any other pest seems to like them while hummingbirds think they have died and gone to heaven when the flowers are in bloom. The flowers even bloom on Chinese time. While other four o’clocks are supposed to open at around four in the afternoon and bloom all night, these plants open their flowers the first thing in the morning and keep them open until about four in the afternoon.
If I was a real environmentalist I would not only agree with but passionately espouse and defend the idea that when we are visiting beautiful places like the Hana Highway in Maui we should take only pictures and leave only footprints. Unfortunately I’m afraid I have to disagree. There are, and should be, loop holes that must be taken advantage of. And even though I am accused of acting like Attila the Hun and engaging in scourge-of-the-earth behavior, more than just photographs sometimes demand to be taken. After all, how does it diminish the Hana Highway or any natural wonder if a painting or sculpture or some other piece of art is taken away?
“Ah!” you say. “What if it is a lousy painting or a cruddy sculpture?”
“Well then,” I say, “the environmentalists should trip over themselves singing the artist’s praises because those who look at that piece of tripe might think the original source equally without merit and so stay away.”
So take away, take away everything you can when you are on vacation, and help save and beautify the earth.
My forlorn prints sit overshadowed by un-shelved and un-cataloged piles of various editions of Chaucer’s works. I had always thought of Chaucer as being the kindest and gentlest of men, and yet here I sit surrounded by malevolent books accusing me of being a dilettante with Chaucer’s ghost hovering in disapproval pointing at me in righteous anger while saying, “I know Chaucerians. Chaucerians are friends of mine, and you’re no Chaucerian! You don’t even deserve to be called a bibliophile. And as for being a collector, it would be more accurate to call you a pack rat. Look at this mess. Do you even know what you have? Faded baubles collecting dust are all they are to you. Shape this midden into a collection or I’m cutting you off. You’ll never win another auction, and every time you try to buy another edition someone else will have already bought it. Shape up Simola, and shape up this mess before a real Chaucerian comes knocking on your door!”
Who knew Chaucer could be such a bully?
After just fifty years of carving, I finally have a tool that will actually put that mythical razor-sharp edge on my carving tools. My gravers cut much better when they have been polished with the 3600 sandpaper on my new Work Sharp machine.
It may be the wrong time of year to start a series of iris engravings, but I have some iris drawings in my sketch book, and there are actually some irises blooming in the garden at the end of our driveway, and if I am quick I will be able to gather some more drawings before they remember it’s fall and not spring. And if I’m not quick about gathering their images, then my projected series of iris prints may find themselves waiting for spring.
So here I am with a second engraving, the first since I took the wood engraving workshop with Rik Olson, and not only is it not perfect, it’s a mess. It’s a disaster. It didn’t come out anything like it was supposed to. If Elizabeth Barrett Browning will excuse me, “How did I screw up? Let me count the ways.” How can it be that I am not perfect when I’ve done this once before? I am eating worms and have a permanent case of the grumbles!
Oh well. At least I don’t have to go out and spend money on bigger hats to fit a swelled head. And there are benefits even to disasters. I am pretty sure I can do better next time. After all, what if I had really created a masterpiece? I would have had to throw away or give away all my brand new engraving tools because I would be certain I would never be able to create another engraving as good. Now I can talk about my incremental improvement and force people to look at one good line out of an entirely poorly cut block and have them say, “Oh. I see. Yes. That is very good.” while they neither see nor care to see what it is I am talking about and while they are thinking, “How can I escape? Get me out of here! Where did this bore-of-the-month come from?”
And I have learned a great deal from this piece. Although I keep hearing from people that I should set up an outline on the block and leave room for embellishments and spontaneity when carving, I think it works better for me to plan everything out ahead of time. After all, using a little bit of an eraser is much cheaper and less frustrating than ruining another block. I’ve learned that even rock maple has soft spots, and less is more when it comes to pressure. I’ve learned that with a little less force, the gravers slide through the wood more easily, and the block will still print when I don’t try to dig the tool deeply into the wood.
So I think, over all, my failure was a success after all; and I can get started on my next practice piece.