The Ten Thousand Things

June 18, 2006

It is in order to really see, to see ever deeper, ever more intensely, hence to be fully aware and alive, that I draw what the Chinese call “The Ten Thousand Things” around me. Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world.
— Frederick Franck, 1909-2006
    Dutch-born American artist

Back in January, when I enumerated The Six Goals of A Quality Life, I included at Number 4, “Complete art projects.” By that I meant organizing the pictures and other memorabilia that currently reside in boxes and drawers and other receptacles and filling scrapbooks and albums with them, all thoroughly identified and annotated. I shied away from resolving to actually create visual art beyond fashioning displays of the photographs I’ve taken over the years.

Frederick Franck Seven GenerationsBut something kept itching at me. Some years ago I acquired Hannah Hinchman’s A Life in Hand, a guide to creating an illuminated journal, and several books by the sculptor Frederick Franck, whose work for the Peace Garden along the Susquehanna River not far from my house (seen above) is an important touchpoint for me.

I had tried art lessons before, without much success. In the summer of 2002, however, I took “Drawing for Everyone,” a six-week series offered at a local school and gallery. Something in me clicked with the instructor, a woman named Ilene, and by the end of the course I had developed some measure of confidence. That summer’s research work was taking me to Boston. At the last drawing class, on a whim perhaps triggered by the clump of weeds I was drawing, I decided to extend the trip a little and go north to Vermont for the first time in nearly thirty years. Passing through Concord and Lexington, I bought Barbara Stecher’s Sketchbooking and made my first illustrated journal entries there.

But I let the momentum die. In 2004 I took “Watercolor for Everyone” at the same school and gallery, but that was discouraging. The instructor, although a talented painter, was not a good teacher, at least not for me, and he tended to spend a lot of time with those who were “getting it” fast. I wasn’t, and left each week with crinkled papers full of random blobs and distorted shapes that did not show what I meant them to. I didn’t even finish the course.

Alone, I tried working with colored pencils, which gave me more control than wet brush and mixed colors. But I couldn’t discipline myself to take the time time to work out a drawing, to fashion all the layers of color that even the simplest flower holds in its petals.

When the school’s summer brochure arrived I looked at the offerings and decided to give it one more shot. Last week I went to the first session of “Colored Pencils for Everyone,” and I had the same feeling from this instructor that I’d had from Ilene. A few days later I got to work, extracting all the drawings I thought worth saving from the several sketchbooks I’ve started from time to time, gathering all my art books and my notebooks, the earth-tone pencils I bought in Wyoming last year but never opened, the sketch diary with the pretty cover I bought in March at the National Gallery but had yet to make a mark in.

This morning, before church, I took my second cup of coffee and sat out in the back yard, just looking at one of my favorite trees. I wasn’t ready to draw just yet, but I was looking at it, really trying to see its extraordinariness in its ordinariness. I contemplated my Six Goals of a Quality Life, and tried to remind myself that even though I am fast approaching sixty, it is not too late to change, to develop, to become.

The readings at church today were all about trees, about seeds sprouting, about the extraordinary growing out of the unlikeliest places. “Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish . . .; they shall bear fruit in old age; they shall be green and succulent,” the psalmist insisted.

At home I wondered what Frederick Franck was about these days, where I might see more of his work. I googled his name. He died on June 5, but his death was not reported in The New York Times until this morning.

That has to be something of a sign.

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One thought on “The Ten Thousand Things

  1. Hello, I came across the fact that you bought my book in Concord, MA. Sketchbooking: How to Create a Delightful Journal of Your Travels at Home or Abroad.
    I’m glad you liked it.
    I am enjoying your website.

    Barbara M. Stecher

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