Style Court

Eight Years of Textiles, History, Art, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes

9.30.2011

Some Texture: Dorothy Wright Liebes


[Above, a detail and, shown below, the full view of Dorothy Wright Liebes's Chinese Ribbon textile, 1940, cotton, silk and metallic yarn, 102 x 45 inches. Collection of Oakland Museum of California. Currently included in LACMA's California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way".]


Once a household name, celebrated handweaver and textile designer Dorothy Wright Liebes captured the attention of Life magazine in 1947 and her work was included in numerous museum exhibitions (just one example is MoMA's legendary midcentury Good Design series). Today, if you Google Liebes, you'll find her in the Met's timeline of art history. Adding to the record, in LACMA's hot-off-the-presses catalogue accompanying California Design, 1930–1965: "Living in a Modern Way", Melissa Leventon writes that Liebes was arguably the most influential textile designer in the United States during the 40s and 50s. Yet, her name doesn't seem to pop up much in conversation now -- at least not outside specific textile circles.

So, if you're able to visit Living in a Modern Way, be sure to see one of Liebes's signature, highly-textural designs, Chinese Ribbon. According to Leventon, the painter-turned-weaver/designer's work is characterized by a free-spirited use of vibrating color and unexpected materials such as tape measures, ribbons, wood, cellophane and metallic yarns. Liebes was also part of the movement to bring good, functional design to the masses. 

Click here to learn about LACMA's free California Design, 1930–1965: "Living in a Modern Way" app. Here for more on the book.


 
Another pioneering woman in textile design:Vanessa Bell. Click here for more.

9.29.2011

Succumb to its Charms: The Eames Elephant

[Charles Eames and Ray Eames, Elephant, 1945, molded plywood, from the LACMA exhibition, California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way”.]

The real animals have long been so beloved that even Charles and Ray Eames "succumbed to their charms and in 1945 designed a toy elephant made of plywood," notes LACMA. Although the Eames creature never made it into mass production, the Museum's gift shop is now offering a plastic version for kids. And the original prototype, above, is included in LACMA's soon-to-open, very major exhibition, California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way".


Initially lured in by the image chosen for the exhibition catalogue cover (Saul Bass for Capitol Records, Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color, 1956), I couldn't resist buying the book. In keeping with the innovative spirit of the show -- which explores how midcentury modern California design and style profoundly impacted the material culture of the entire United States -- LACMA is offering both electronic and traditional print versions of the catalogue. Ordinarily I like my exhibition books in trad hardcover but today I gave in to the more budget-friendly, space-saving option. It did not disappoint. I've been zooming in on all the luscious California pottery and the vintage shelter mag covers.

California Design, 1930–1965 encompasses textiles, furniture, architecture, pottery, fashion and other elements and represents the first monumental study of its kind. You may have seen the L.A. Times' terrific time-lapse video covering the complete deconstruction and re-installation of the Eames living room for the show, which BTW will be on view October 1, 2011 through March 25, 2012.

Also of interest:

Album Cover Art

Blue Crush

Very Last Century

The Human Touch

Behind the Decoration

[The Porthault firm embroidered all the linen for Aristotle Onassis's yacht, Christina. Shown above, marine life serves as a unifying decorative theme. According to author Francoise de Bonneville, the execution here is "so perfect, especially in terms of shading, that it is hard to distinguish the watercolor sketch from the final embroidered version." Photo credit: G. de Laubier from The Book of Fine Linen by Francoise de Bonneville ©Flammarion: Paris 2011. All images are posted here with written permission from the publisher.]

In my mind, I've been dividing the new fall book releases into two loose, sort of subjective categories: Idea/Dream Starters (jaw-droppingly beautiful tomes like Oberto Gili's Home Sweet Home: Sumptuous and Bohemian Interiors, which I experience mainly with my eyes -- few words are needed) and Reference-Meets-Visual Treat. Francoise de Bonneville's updated edition of The Book of Fine Linen is the latter.

 [Empire-style embroidery. Laurel wreaths, stars and horns of plenty are motifs typical of the period. The yellow embroidery and green appliqués seen here were executed by the Porthault workshop. Credit: J. Boulay from The Book of Fine Linen ©Flammarion: Paris 2011.]

The decorative arts journalist tackles a topic traditionally thought of as a fluffy, "women's interest" kind of thing and uses fine linen as a jumping off point to deal with economics, sociology, technology -- in short, world history. Beginning with the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, she traces the story of bed, bath, and table linens through to the present day. Even though it might seem like a really obvious point, I think de Bonneville does a particularly good job reminding us how incredibly intimate linens are, in contrast with other household items. Many old master paintings and vintage ads are mixed with detailed contemporary photographs, to illustrate the tale, so some design enthusiasts and art history students will find inspiration simply by looking at the images.  

[Wicker baskets hold an assortment of contemporary linen, in classic white and ecru. Credit: J. Boulay, same book.]

All of the art seems to have a dual purpose: In the preface, Marc Porthault notes that exceptionally hand-worked household linen once rivaled a fine painting (the watercolor-like embroidery from the Onassis yacht, shown at top, is a not-so-old example).

A significant chunk of the large book addresses fibers, specifically cotton, linen, and silk. Covered in the extensive glossary are terms ranging from the more obscure, such as Madapolam (originally a strong, smooth calico used for making feather pillowcases) and Nainsook (a lightweight, plain-weave cotton) to the better-known like Cutwork (a type of embroidery which involves literally cutting away fabric to create a design).

[Cotton bath set of matching hand towels and bath towels has a knotted fringe and fine checkerboard weave produced by alternating smooth sections with fluffy sections (typical of the towels used in steam baths in Turkey). The embroidery of stylized roses is done in gold and silver thread. Credit: J. Boulay and Bibliothèque Forney, same book.]

Embroidery and stripes must have been lodged in my subconscious when I chose the images for this post and the previous one but many different types of intricately-worked lace and lavishly printed textiles are well represented too.

9.28.2011

Paint it Forward

[Photos my own]

Remember eating from green plastic trays with defined compartments for the mashed potatoes, squishy peas, roll, and chocolate milk? (At least on days when Mom didn't pack the wholewheat pita with sprouts?) Last night a message from Nate Berkus's team brought back a few of those memories for me: Nate is spearheading a fundraising initiative to help refresh Chicago's public Talcott Elementary School cafeteria.

During Design Harvest, a free, rain-or-shine, family-friendly street happening showcasing local furniture makers, contemporary wares, vintage pieces, and antiques at the Windy City's Grand Avenue on October 1 and 2, festival goers are invited to bring in a photo of a specific room in need of a lift. For a $10 donation, a Berkus designer will ask you some brief questions (expect a short two-minute per room consultation) and suggest a couple of viable paint options on the spot. Alternatively, if you would simply like to support the project, donations are most welcome. Click here for details.


Speaking of paint and creative teams, the fascinating Beyond Bloomsbury exhibition catalogue just arrived, so I'm looking forward to pulling together more Vanessa Bell/Omega Workshops posts as soon as I can.

9.27.2011

Gilt-y Pleasures

[Photo my own.]

This morning, after pausing to admire unruly vines dripping down one of the sleek, Renzo Piano-designed wings of the High, I went up to see Beaux Arts & Crafts: Masterpieces of American Frame Design 1890 – 1920.


[At left: detail, circa 1894 Stanford White-designed (Alexander Cabus attributed maker) frame with gold leaf, gray bole (gilder's clay), and gesso applied ornament on wood. At right: detail, Charles Prendergast early 20th-century frame described further below. Both are from Beaux Arts & Crafts: Masterpieces of American Frame Design 1890 – 1920.]

It's usually a revelation to see an intricately crafted frame completely on its own, hung without a painted landscape, a pastel portrait, or even a mirror within. Displayed simply, totally out of context, and against a plain deep-gray wall, very heavy frames -- pieces that aren't always everyone's cup of tea -- suddenly can be appreciated anew. We recognize the beauty. At least for me, it's like jewelry meets architecture.

[Gilder's tools pictured in the exhibition catalogue: Max Kuehne's circa 1920 molding sample; carving tools and mallet of Frederick Harer and Bernard Badura; colored bole cones, or gilder's clay; lump of dragon's blood resin and gold leaf from William B. Adair. Photo by Ed Owen, Gold Leaf Studios, Washington, D.C.]

[David Flint Wood photographed by Fernando Bengoechea for a House Beautiful story produced by Miguel Flores-Vianna.]

Of course, empty, not-so-precious frames propped against walls or stacked on shelves have long been a perennial favorite of stylists and designers (see some very lovely examples in this past post), but I think we've covered that before.

Back to the High's exhibition: Among the fifteen stellar moldings handcrafted in the U.S. during  America's golden age of frame-making, the work of architect Stanford White (a household name in design circles) is well represented. But today, a circa 1910 frame made by Charles Prendergast -- a craftsman/artist known for his simpler, less formal, very original and quirky style -- grabbed my attention. Detail views, which don't do it justice, are pictured second from the top, on the right, and below.

According to the exhibition notes, Prendergast was inspired by 18th-century Venetian models yet had a contemporary sensibility. For example, he did not carve his frames in such high relief. Typically, he incised and punched patterns into his golden handcarved moldings as if "drawing the design on a piece of paper." The frame shown here was gilded with low-karat gold leaf and muted to make the already silvery surface appear antique; Prendergast rubbed through so that the red bole (gilder's clay) peeked out and also worked chalky white gesso into the crevices.   


In person, all of the frames are stunning. This is really a little jewel-box exhibition and it remains on view through November 27.

9.26.2011

Explore the World, Discover Yourself


[Arne Bang large vase for Holmgaarde dated 1930, Denmark. Characterized by crystalline glaze in shades of ocher, mint, and forest green. Modest Designs Brooklyn.]

[Circa 1950 miniature vase with dripping sang de boeuf glaze by Scandinavian ceramicist Axel Salto. Sam Kaufman Gallery, Los Angeles.]

Today's post title was snaked from a Birmingham Museum of Art news update that just landed in my mailbox. I love the concept behind the tagline and find it especially appropriate for the BMA; in addition to being home to the finest collection of Wedgwood outside England and the largest, most comprehensive assemblage of Asian art in the Southeast (more than 4,000 pieces encompassing what's said to be one of the top three collections of Vietnamese ceramics in the U.S.), the Museum now holds forty-plus pieces of 20th-century Danish studio pottery.



Tradition Transformed: Danish Ceramics in the Twentieth Century opens October 23 and celebrates the latest gift. Take note fans of early-to-mid 20th-century pottery: this exhibition will explore Modernist pieces including works by artists Jais Nielsen, Arne Bang, and Axel Salto. The two Bang and Salto pieces at the top of this post are not from the show; they just caught my attention.

[Jar, Vietnam, glazed stoneware from the Ly - Tran dynasty (12th-14th century). Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Bequest of William M. Spencer III.]

Later, beginning in January 2012, the BMA's acclaimed Vietnamese ceramics collection will take center stage with the monumental exhibition, Dragons and Lotus Blossoms. And this weekend, September 30 through October 2, the Museum wraps up Faces of India: Sculpture from the Collection of the Callahan Family with Celebrate India: A Feast for the Senses, a festival of art, film, music, and dance.

A Little Hint


[Photography and graphic design by Marc Walter © Exotic Taste: Orientalist Interiors, The Vendome Press 2011.]

"A trembling of the Soul." For some in the 18th century, interior design and decorative arts were a serious part of the pursuit of happiness -- a way to stir the senses or maybe try something new. So much so, in fact, that, in the introduction to Exotic Taste, Emmanuelle Gaillard uses Le Camus de Mezieres's "trembling" phrase to underscore the high expectations put upon textiles, furniture, wallpaper etc. Westerners looked to distant lands for increasingly unfamiliar sensations that injected excitement into the domestic realm. If the design was powerful enough, the soul might tremble.

[Photography and graphic design by Marc Walter © Exotic Taste: Orientalist Interiors, The Vendome Press 2011.]

Between Marc Walter's ravishing photography and graphic design, and art historian Gaillard's text, I have to say Exotic Taste has stirred my imagination. Obviously the subject matter isn't new to us now, in the 21st century, but this presentation is exceptional. Today I offer a little hint at what's to come; a complete review is on the way. (BTW: I cut out a significant number of Starbucks runs to make room in my monthly budget for a hardcover, keep-forever copy of Beyond Bloomsbury, so the Bloomsbury/ Omega Workshops posts will also continue.)

Shown at top, from the Musée Galliera-Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, a late-19th-century Campagnie des Indes shawl in its original box. Pictured second, Emile Galle's Japanese-influenced 'Carp' Clair de Lune glass displayed at the Exposition Universelle, 1878 -- object is from Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.


Related past post: Paisley Study.

9.25.2011

Coming Soon: Fine Linen

[Photo: J. Boulay from The Book of Fine Linen ©Flammarion: Paris 2011. Posted here with written permission from the publisher.]

Soon I'll be sharing some thoughts on Francoise de Bonneville's updated edition of The Book of Fine Linen, but in the meantime, here's a tiny peek inside. Shown above are pieces of sayal, or cotton-and-linen serge, woven with seven bands corresponding to the seven Basque provinces. Although these examples are revivals made in France by Jean-Vier, de Bonneville explains that the sayals are based on old Basque country traditions. Four colours–blue, red, green and yellow–were traditionally associated with four big annual holidays, and the relative width of the decorative bands was once an indicator of a farmer’s prosperity.

[Photo: J. Boulay from The Book of Fine Linen ©Flammarion: Paris 2011. Posted here with written permission from the publisher.]


Of course, in addition to my obsession with stripes, I also have a rustic fringe fixation. According to de Bonneville, the bands of dark blue decoration and knotted fringes on these towels make them near replicas of medieval models: "Some of them have an alternating mat-and-glossy cotton weave. To prevent the fringe from getting tangled in the wash, the towels should be placed inside a pillowcase before going into the machine."

What's Up

 [Credit: Sanjay Patel for the San Francisco debut of Maharaja: The Splendour of India's Royal Courts.]

Ever since I first announced that the V & A's spectacular fall 2009 blockbuster, Maharaja: The Splendour of India's Royal Courts -- an exhibition of fit-for-the-king furniture, textiles, metalwork, jewelry (and other jeweled pieces), photography, and paintings spanning three centuries from the early-18th to the mid-20th -- is headed to the States, I've been looking forward to doing the follow-up posts. Well, the initial stop is just around the corner: October 21 is opening day at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum. Distinguishing the West Coast venue is original work by illustrator and Pixar animator, Sanjay Patel.


[Games box. 1825-1850. Rosewood, ivory, brass. © V&A Images/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London.]

Originally, AAM tapped Patel to draw attention to the exterior of the Museum -- really capture the public's imagination -- but the project grew. Here the Museum shares Patel's very personal (and humorous) account of the whole adventure. If you're in one of the creative professions or do any sort of consulting or free lance work, I think the story will resonate with you.


[Elephant jewelery including a necklace (halra), tail ornament (dumachi), head ornament (fateh-pech) and bells (ghanta ). Materials are silver, white metal, cotton, and leather. Click here to see more.] 


[Via  San Francisco's Asian Art Museum.]


BTW: Related items like silver three-tier Indian food carriers, or tiffin, are starting to appear in the Museum's gift shop. Many public programs will be offered in conjunction with Maharaja, including a film series with a special guest appearance by producer James Ivory. The show will be on view in San Francisco through April 8, 2012, and then travel to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to be exhibited May 19 through August 19, 2012.

[Large jar with peony scroll decoration. Korean, Joseon dynasty (1392-1910); late 15th - early 16th century. Buncheong with iron-painted design. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul.]

But currently on view at the Asian Art Museum is another traveling exhibition we discussed a while back, Poetry in Clay: Korean Buncheong Ceramics from Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art. As mentioned before, the clean, white, informal buncheong stoneware looks very modern but actually dates back to the 14th century and was a groundbreaking style when first created. Here I share a bit about the accompanying free app.


On the East Coast, Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100–1900 opens this week at The Met, September 28, and continues through January 8, 2012.

9.23.2011

White Out

 [Detail, White, the Victoria and Albert Museum.]

I know. White, the name of this 1913 Omega Workshops printed linen attributed to Vanessa Bell is a little confusing considering the spirited use of color. But, like the other furnishing fabrics we looked at this week, White was apparently named for a contemporary of Bell's -- most likely suffragette Amber Blanco-White.


Bell's abstract linear design incorporates alternating stripes and a step pattern over patches of color. When I first saw it, I responded the same way I would to a Rorschach test: subjectively. For me, the blobs of color resemble falling leaves and some of the lines also suggest veins on leaves. In these podcasts,  Courtald curator for sculpture and decorative arts, Dr. Alexandra Gerstein, says that when Omega Workshops furnishing fabrics were produced, some women had them made into tunics. I however am feeling this linen for a bench, foot-stool, or bolster.

For more, visit Beyond Bloomsbury and the V & A collections.

9.22.2011

Save the Date: Anna Fewster at Charleston

 [Hand-marbled wrappers hold Anna Fewster's letterpress edition of Teddy Macker's poetry.]

[Anna Fewster's Bloomsbury bookplates.]

Looking at the previous string of posts, it's probably not hard to guess I've been preoccupied this week. Cross-hatches and zigzags on early-20th-century textiles (mainly inspired by abstraction, African design, and Indian block prints) have been floating around in my mind.

 [Fewster's Charleston notecards, green. SOLD.]

But while going through the Bloomsbury group image archives over at Charleston, I came across a calendar listing for an upcoming workshop with book artist Anna Fewster that brought me back to paper -- marbled paper.

Although this December 2011 event is not even happening on my side of the Atlantic, I wanted to help spread the word to friends across the pond and globe trekkers.

Fewster has spent years studying both the visual and literary aspects of the avant-garde books created by the Bloomsbury group at the Hogarth Press and the Omega Workshops. While earning her doctorate, she actually had a workspace in Vanessa Bell’s studio, as well as unlimited access to Charleston's collection. (Maybe you saw her work in Vogue, a while back?) When she leads the Paper Marbling workshop on Thursday, December 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fewster will teach the traditional method of floating watercolor paints on carrageenan. Inspiration will come from Quentin Bell’s marbled designs and participants will make an array of papers for collage, holiday cards, bookbinding, or whatever appeals.

Using Farrow & Ball wallpapers and paints, another well-known artist, Sophie Coryndon, will guide participants in creating holiday birds and other ornaments on Thursday, December 8 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Click here for details.

9.19.2011

Cover Stories: Bloomsbury, Rose, and Burnham

[Image via Barnes & Noble]

I've got a pretty enormous stack of fresh reading material to tackle this week (Emmanuelle Gaillard's Exotic Taste is even more beautiful than I expected, by the way), so I'm not sure what possessed me to revisit books from 2009. But I had to pause and linger over the Courtauld's exhibition catalogue cover, above. The Omega Workshops Pamela printed linen chosen for the hardcover version of Beyond Bloomsbury, mentioned in this earlier post, has that striking Vanessa Bell/Duncan Grant palette of lavender, orange and blue. (See a range of Bell's fabrics over at the V & A.)

Another older book related to 20th-century design, Muriel Rose: A Modern Crafts Legacy, grabbed my attention, too. In the 1930s, at her Little Gallery in London, Rose exhibited the block-printed textiles of  Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher (spotlighted in the previous post) as well as work by other English craftswomen and men. The Crafts Study Centre notes that Rose also favored pieces from India, Europe, and South America. 

[Book available at Crafts Study Centre]

If the tribal aesthetic highlighted in this recent post -- or, more specifically, this older one -- appeals to you, I think you'll appreciate Betsy Burnham's Pendleton blanket find for Elle Decor. I definitely did.

9.17.2011

Girton and Maud

 [Detail of Winchester hand-printed linen from Meg Andrews.]

Today's wow-factor linens were spotted over at dealer Meg Andrews's site. First, a 1930s hand-blocked and discharge-printed indigo, natural linen, panel from the Girton Curtains printed by the groundbreaking English team, Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher. Their innovative take on classic flame stitch was called Winchester and installed in Girton College's Fell dining room. According to Andrews's article, it seems that the earthier, less formal look of hand-blocked linen initially raised eyebrows among a Girton committee overseeing the design commission given to Barron and Larcher. Andrews offers comprehensive background as well as images of the team's printing blocks here. (Learn more about Barron and Larcher and see extensive samples of their printed paper and fabric at the Crafts Study Center and at VADS.)


[Girton designed by Dorothy Larcher for the school commission. Image from Crafts Study Center archives.]



In case you passed by one of my more obscure links to Omega Workshops' circa 1913 linen, Maud, in the previous Bloomsbury post, check out Andrews's find here and related article here. V & A researchers weigh-in on the famous furnishing fabric here.

BTW:  Christopher Farr's new limited edition collection of rugs inspired by avant-garde early-20th-century designs by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry and other Omega Workshop members will be on view at the Los Angeles showroom, 748 N. La Cienega Blvd., October 22 through November 19, 2011. I'll post more on this in the next few weeks.

9.16.2011

Bloomsbury: Back to the Future

[Printed linen, Maud, named for Lady Maud Cunard, as seen in the 2009 exhibition, Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913–19.]


[Courtald Gallery's Dr. Alexandra Gerstein stands before the printed linen, Maud, discussing Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913–19.]

Have you had a chance to flip through the October Elle Decor? Maybe you noticed Peter Terzian's nice piece about Christopher Farr's new limited edition collection of rugs inspired by five never-produced Omega Workshop designs. Terzian's story prompted me to revisit the Courtald Gallery's  2009 exhibition, Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913–19 (this show was sort of the seed that grew to be Farr's collection).

If you were a toddler, little girl, or teen in the 1980s with any fabrics from Laura Ashley's Bloomsbury collection (I had Emma curtains) then, in a way, you were living with the tangible results of Roger Fry's endeavors. Early 20th century English art critic and painter Fry was interested in bringing the fresh look of contemporary avant-garde European fine art (think Matisse and Picasso) into the everyday lives of Brits (not so unlike what Sonia Delaunay and Vera Neumann did later with textiles). To that end, he founded in 1913 the Omega Workshops, a highly experimental design collective including Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and other artists of the Bloomsbury Group.


Many of the decorative pieces -- and ideas for pieces -- that came out of Omega before 1919 show the influence of Cubism, Fauvism and African textiles.  Courtald curator, Dr. Alexandra Gerstein, explains this in detail, here, and shows an example of an early rug that was produced.  While the past exhibition doesn't have a complete microsite, I was happy to find so many resources still available through the museum's main site. Check out the modestly priced catalogue here. Also, in issue 28, Selvedge covers Vanessa Bell's affinity for textiles.

9.15.2011

Walk the Line II


[A rainbow of blank-page recycled leather notebooks at Kate's Paperie.]

During the past few weeks I've been finding excuses to ride past the site formerly occupied by Atlanta's Brookwood Kroger (across from Neel Reid's Italian Renaissance-inspired train station), hoping to see fresh signs of new occupant, Sam Flax South, the in-the-process-of-relocating art supply and paper emporium. Like I've said before, shelves stocked with endless rows of colored pencils and sketchbooks seem to excite me far more than cases filled with sparkling jewelry. And it's a funny thing, because I haven't really sketched or painted regularly since I was a teenager. Must be the appeal of object after object arranged in softly gradating lines of color or the creative possibilities suggested by all the tools.


[Sylvia Drew's extraordinary leather-bound albums photographed by James Fennell, The World of Interiors, September 2011. Click to enlarge.]



[Hermes leather notebook -- a reminder of the Pannonica de Koenigswarter project.]


[Moleskine large Japanese notebook]

But I haven't forgotten Sylvia Drew's spectacular albums; I still want to loosely emulate her and enhance my own scrapbooks with original drawings. So, when Chronicle Books sent me a review copy of Matt Pagett's primer, Sketching and Drawing, I really poured over it and decided to share a bit about the petite edition here.






The basic premise is that many of us instinctively (and joyously) drew before we could write but eventually stopped or lost our enthusiasm because we became intimidated. Still, drawing is a wonderful means of self-expression and a great way to sharpen our observational skills. Pagett notes:

"Drawing is a language in which letters, words, and sentences have been replaced by form, tone, and texture. Just as language is learned, so too the basic skills of drawing can be studied and understood."

He begins by easing us back into the realm of the drawn line -- prompting us to really look at drawings, and suggesting what types of basic art supplies will be most useful as well as what we probably don't need to buy. (Another reason to visit SF.) Then he offers an extensive series of exercises designed to help us loosen up and simply put pencil to paper.  For example, one drill involves drawing with closed eyes. Following chapters offer lessons and more artistic workouts that deal with composition, line, value, and surface.  


[Melanie Acevedo photos of artist Konstantin Kakanias painting, not drawing, and vignettes in his house as seen in House & Garden.]


I think Pagett strikes a nice balance by keeping the book relatable for the reader with no previous formal instruction yet relevant to former art students who simply feel rusty.  He also gives the reader ample space -- and encouragement -- to experiment and find his or her own style and voice.

The book is economically priced at just under $25 and includes a sketchbook and primer together in one compact folding case, designed so that the reader can quickly alternate between text and creative exercise. Truth be told, I expected this to function quite awkwardly, but to my surprise the case works very well.  Although both the sketchpad and book are detachable, I've found them to stay put when I want them to. There's also a handy stretchy band for extra security.  

I like the idea of setting aside a block of quiet time each week to assemble a still life composed of beads, boxes, and vessels that truly captivate me and then tackle the sketching exercises little by little (sort of like taking a private lesson but free). Maybe by November it won't be so embarrassing to participate in Drawing in the Galleries night at the High