Pavement Art (or, how a sidewalk made a great portrait)

Bust of a man etched randomly in the sidewalk

I stand in awe of the world sometimes. Here’s a crack in a granite sidewalk with the remnants of a metal signpost and various sized stones stuck into the dirt and it is creating, at least for me, an portrait of a slightly disheveled and anxious man.



Let’s just say it reminds me of a Francis Bacon painting and, well, Mr. Bacon himself.

black & white photograph of Francis Bacon

Hugging Tar (or, how an abstract line became a koala)

Pavement tar and white dividing line create koala hugging tree

This photo is of a road with a tar patch and white divider line.

Look at it again: can you see that the tar patch takes on the shapes of some sort of square-headed bear hugging a white tree trunk?

No, I’m not crazy. I’m seeing basic shapes.

We learn how to draw by looking at things. But most of the time we think we need to put a bowl of fruit or a live model in front of us to gather information.

If you wanted to learn how to draw a koala bear hugging a tree, you’d go to the source or find a picture and you’d use that as your teacher. But sometimes drawing lessons come to us. Like right now: this is a strong opportunity to grasp the basics of the koala image by looking at this tar patch. It’s true!

Lesson: Basic structure

The basic structure is: a rectangular shape (the bear) behind a skinnier and taller rectangle (the tree) with another smaller shape coming around to the front (the bear’s arm holding onto the trunk). And while we’re at it, that smaller dark triangle below the arm? Let’s call that his little foot grasping the bark and maybe the manhole cover is a sun…

Lesson: How does it work?

How does this work? The bear has to sit behind the tree. One way to do this is to make it a similar value as the background (value is dark or light) in this case that’s the dark grey. For the tree to come in front of the bear it has to be sharper, stronger or a different value and in this case, it’s white, sharp and bold.

For the bear’s arm to come around in front of the tree, it now has to be different enough from the tree so that it stands in front of it. So, it’s a strong shape and a different color. Add appropriate proportions to all of these elements, i.e., the size of bear shape to tree trunk and the size of a bear arm to its bear body, and you’ve got the basic structure of a koala hugging a tree.

Beauty: The take away

So you’re not drawing a koala bear anytime soon? Not a problem. Gather your observations and store them in your mind’s eye. You’ll be able to pull upon them when you are working on drawings that work with similar elements.

I’ll be finding more examples from the street and post them. If you find some, feel free to share.

Profile Happenstance (or, when things just line up)

friend backlit in home office with plants

Trash on the sidewalk creates bright white profile


Here’s the timeline:

Friends have an in-home office set up and because they just had a baby, all the plants from one side of the room had to be moved to the other side of the room so there was space for the baby to play. We were laughing because the dad was now engulfed by his own, very tall and healthy, houseplants. I tried taking photos of him in his jungle office but got frustrated when the flash wasn’t working.

I deleted all but one photo because I wanted a reminder to try again after I figured out the flash.

Next day, I saw a face in some trash on the ground. I thought it was so funny that I took a picture of it.

Day after that, I was going through my camera roll and right there, sitting side by side, were these two pictures. The pure chance of it all. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Jungle office photo was, in my mind, a failed attempt. But the brightly lit area in the photo turned out to be an incredible match to the profile I saw in the trash photo! I would never have seen this if they hadn’t been side by side. But there they were, lined up and waiting to be discovered.

Magic, I tell you. It’s everywhere.

Heart Vine (or, transient love seen)

orchid plant peeking over desk and forming the shape of a heart

orchid plant from a different angle and the heart shape disappears

Have you ever stood in front of a painting and seen something in it that nobody else is seeing so you point it out and then it becomes obvious?

Have you ever stood viewing a painting with the artist and you tell her what you see in the painting and she says that’s not what she intended but it’s cool that you see your own interpretation.

Have you ever read the title of a work and thought: what in the world could that artist have been thinking because this painting looks nothing like the title?

It happens all the time. That’s the beauty of art.

Take this for example:

I’m walking down the hall at work and I see a beautiful heart visually formed by the branches of an orchid. I asked around if anyone had seen it. No one had. Once I pointed it out though, everybody said it was totally obvious.

The reality is: this is a desk with a plant on it.

The beauty is: this is also a message of love.

Looking Around (or, staying open to interpretations)

Paper plates and pizza box strewn on the sidewalk

Store window with 3 round nesting tables and rectangular books

Sometimes I walk around and something catches my eye. These 3 paper plates did just that. They registered in my brain as 3 bright white discs. I continued walking.

Not twenty feet away, I passed a shop window and saw these nesting tables. They also registered. I paused. There they were again, the 3 discs.

Take a look back at the picture of the paper plates; here they lay, fallen in a sequence not unlike the nesting tables. One, two, three, almost like they’ve been pulled out one from under the other.

And the pizza box, that shape, there it is sitting on top of the tables.

How beautifully random, this find, these objects, their close proximity. If I had seen the window display even one block later I probably would never have connected the plates to it.

These visual connections are everywhere. Try and catch them when you can though because they are fleeting. When I went back to snap a photo of the paper plates, a shop owner was sweeping the sidewalk. Thirty seconds later those plates were gone.

Exchange Angles (or, what you see isn’t always what you see)

Severe architectural angles on buildings on Exchange Place

Many years ago I was in Europe sitting in the shadow of a cathedral looking straight up and attempting to draw the buttresses that were protruding from the wall.

It just wasn’t working. What I was seeing and what I was drawing didn’t make any sense. My drawing buddy told me to take my pencil, hold it at arm’s length, line it up with the angle the buttress made, and then, keeping that line, lay the pencil flat on the paper.

Try it sometime. The angle was probably 80 degrees but my brain kept flattening it out. But to draw the building correctly, I had to find and believe the extreme degree of that one line.

Something to keep in mind: train your eyes to observe what’s really there. The moment you take your eyes away, your brain takes over. When your brain takes over it begins to translate what it thinks it saw. It’s quite a task keeping it real.

I offer that story to you as you now look at this picture.

Dissect these angles. Which ones would your brain have dismissed as impossible if you were drawing or painting this scene?