Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Drawing Realistic Faces: A Few Tips

from my Art Journal (May 2017)

  1. Closing one eye flattens the world. To draw a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional piece of paper, close one eye. (From: Parks, Carrie Stuart. Secrets to Drawing Realistic Faces (p. 39). F+W Media. )
  2. Here are a set of tools to help train your mind to recognize shapes. They are: 
  • Isolate: To see shapes by studying individual shapes separately. The first artistic technique is to isolate the shape. Look at the works of any artist, and you will find sketches of eyes, hands and parts of the face. These artists are isolating each of the different components of the whole of the art that they will be doing.
  • Simplify: A tool for learning to see shapes by seeking the simplest expression of that shape in the form of a straight or curving line.
  • Relate: A tool for learning to see shapes by using one shape to help see a second shape. 
  • Measure: A tool for seeing shapes by measuring a smaller shape and comparing it to a larger shape. 
  • Invert: Turn the line drawing you're trying to copy upside down. It is best to use a line drawing for this technique, not a photo.
  • Rename: A tool for seeing the shape in facial features by renaming that feature in terms of shape.
  • Incline: Use a ruler for checking subtle angles in the facial features by using a ruler.
  • Negative space: A viewfinder allows you to see a positive shape (solid space) clearer by focusing on the negative shape (empty space) next to it. Using a viewfinder can help you to isolate the figure so you can better see the negative space. Make your own by cutting a square out of a pice of paper.
  • Question: A tool for seeing angles and shapes more clearly by asking yourself exactly what it is you are seeing. This tool is so named because you ask questions: What is the line/edge doing? In what direction is it going?
  • Compare: A tool for seeing shapes more clearly by tracing that shape from the photograph, tracing your own drawing and comparing the two shapes as line drawings.
  • Flatten: A tool for seeing a three-dimensional shape more clearly by closing one eye to level the image into two dimensions.

(from Parks, Carrie Stuart. Secrets to Drawing Realistic Faces, pp. 44 - 58. F+W Media. )

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#SOL17: Do Not Look Away from Life

Walker Evans, Subway Portrait, 1941, Gelatin silver print, from here.

It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long. 
                   - Walker Evans,  Many Are Called, quoted in the Afterward, p. 197.


One birthday, Rob gave me a book of photographs made by Walker Evans. He knew my love for photography and the iconic images are certainly ones I have long appreciated. The bit of advice by the artist that tops this post comes from a book of images Walker made while riding New York subways. 

It is also advice I now take to heart. 

Witnessing your husband die an early death, only sharpens Evans' words--resulting in a clarity so brilliant it is hard to look away.  

Perspectives alter. 

Evans is right--We are all not here long. We ought to make the most of it.


I began reading Sheryl Sandberg's and Adam Grant's Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resistance, and Finding Joy earlier in the week. Their discussion about post-traumatic growth--the capacity to grow from trauma--resonated. They write, growth could take five different forms: finding personal strength, gaining appreciation, forming deeper relationships, discovering more meaning in life, and seeing new possibilities (p. 79).
In the bereavement group I have participated in during the last 14 months, post-traumatic growth can be seen in the women I have come to know. I want to say that these are exceptional women, but that would be a partial-truth. They are also beautifully ordinary. Perhaps like you. Certainly like me. 

In this group, I see women who find personal strength in the adversity they are experiencing, who show appreciation for dwelling in the beauty of a moment of an ordinary day, who question their lives and what they are making of their lives, and perhaps most significantly--they are women who speak of what is possible. In seeking possibility, joy unfolds. 

What I have mostly learned is that how we name what happens and re-happens to those we love and ourselves are choices we make. That we are each responsible for those choices may be the most significant understanding I have garnered during the last 20 months since Rob was first diagnosed. 

I am responsible for my own life. You are responsible for yours.


Recently, I was able to join a writer's group in northern NJ.  At first I had been waitlisted and I was delighted a week ago when I received an email from the group's leader saying there was now an opening.  It's a sharp group and discussing two writers' submitted works reminded me so much of the way Rob and I supported one another for decades.  My husband was my own, personal editor.  No one read my work with a more critical eye, than Rob.  I love when others see things I simply have missed while reading. This new knowledge and perspective is such a gift. I found that to be the case last week as I listened to the other writers' discussing the texts. 

Next month, I plan to share with the group a section of the memoir I am writing. The work is based not only on my husband's death, but also on the life I am creating in the aftermath. There is a grace to knowing deep in my bones what is most essential from what is merely interesting, what is merely catchy. Chronicling Rob's death and the grief and resilience Devon and I struggle with has helped me to discern what matters from what does not.

What I want to contribute via the memoir is some of the understandings that have emerged in the journey these last two years. Grieving, writing, making art, being a single parent, connecting with other widows and so many others--all of it has helped me to not look away from life.  It's like those images Walker Evans made on the subway so many years ago when he pointed a camera at those unknowing and captured ordinary lives being lived. Each image seems to be saying, Do not look away from life. Do not.

Perhaps that is what Rob meant when he told me all those months ago to live brilliantly.  Do not look away from life.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Teaching Writing and Tacit Knowing

Devon at 6.


The photograph above always reminds me that interests are far more important than any given direction. Devon wrote the first two lines --"Spring is here. I can play"--from dictation and with support.  He was in kindergarten and had turned 6, two months earlier. I can remember that after he finished he thought for a moment and then he drew the triangle-like shape, paying a lot of attention to darkening the edge. I was curious as to what he was creating. Then he wrote his own sentence.  

"This is A BLA hoL." (This is a black hole). 

He asked me to help him make the words correct. I showed him on another piece of paper and he then added the changes, using the red marker. 

Which statement is more interesting to you as a reader? Which statement tells you more about the mind of a child at 6? Which statement prompts you to pose questions?


I think about these lessons I learned at home with my son when I think of the many ways we attempt to teach writing to children at school.  With the CCSS's narrow stance on writing product, there are a lot of units of study being enacted in schools as if knowing the parts of a report or argument might somehow be what is most essential for being a writer. 

Yet, when I read students' writing--the product that is being developed in many classrooms I most often grow bored. The texts seem so lifeless.  Having something to say is rarely a matter of recipe and more often a matter of curiosity, stance, question, passion, and belief. Knowing what you want to say comes from being wide awake, being uncertain, and having a habit of writing. It is not from studying the parts of an argument or the sections of an expository report.  Yes, these bits of knowledge can help shape a text, but ideas are rarely generated by following steps that have been explicitly stated by someone else. 

The irony here is having something to say often involves not knowing. Here, tacit knowledge is more king than pawn.  I wonder if there is room at school for such matters?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

#SOL17: The Handmade Art Book

Part of a two-page spread.

Bettina's handmade journal.

Last month, when my art journaling group met we created handmade journals using composition book covers, file folders, and wax linen to bind the books. I used white file folders and have found that these work well as pages. I also have been surprised at how well paint (acrylic and watercolor) and collage papers adhere to the folders. They really make an excellent substrate.

The book making process was complicated, yet very doable, especially as we had an excellent teacher. One of our group members, Bettina Makley, taught all of us how to create the journals. Bettina is a practicing artist and she was gracious to teach us. We had seen a journal she had made at a prior session that was held in her studio and we knew we wanted to try our hands at creating our own.

This past week, I finally started to use my journal and I must say that I am loving it. Using a journal I made by hand is special.

Note: You can see more of Bettina's forays into book making here. She is available to teach small groups if you have an interest. You can contact her through her Facebook page. She is an excellent art teacher.

Below are some of the first pages from the journal.

Journal from side view .
I created different sized pages to add interest.

Part of a two-page spread.

Part of a two-page spread.
A cut page (you can see the pages that peek out)

2 page spread background only - not sure what I'll be doing on this page - Perhaps some buildings.

Just started 2 pages.

painted woman on tissue paper and textured background

Friday, May 19, 2017

#SOL17: Newark, 20 Years Later

4th graders creating a map

2nd grade teacher reading aloud a novel
20 years ago this month, I accepted the position of the director of literacy for Newark Public Schools in New Jersey. I was in my 30s and had just finished my dissertation and would defend it that next spring. The job was somewhat overwhelming given the academic needs that seemed so prevalent, the pressure heaved upon children and staff to produce academic gains as measured on a state assessment, and the scale.  When I worked there the enrollment was about 50,000 students across 80 schools. Working with staff and students in Newark was  the most important work I would do while employed in public schools.  What I didn't understand well until today is that the years there would fundamentally change me, allow me to see whiteness in ways I simply had not and prepare me to be, perhaps, a better mom to my own son who would be born two years later. What was most important, without question, were the children and teens who populated the schools. 20 years later, I still know that to be true.

Newark was a source of love.

4th graders from NPS reading Hawthorne's The Pomegranate Seeds during a Greek Mythology unit.

Working in Newark allowed me to be a minority--as much as one white woman from Ireland might be. For the first time in my working life there were daily references to music, art, literature, food, dance, and historical and contemporary happenings that I did not understand, and needed to learn. Working in Newark and becoming friends with so many there allowed me to (un)learn some matters of race as I had been taught and to experience from others there the nature and pulse of profound joy and kindness that often were connected to community and faith.

20 years later, the published news out of Newark continues to be more desperate than kind, and often is limited to recounting dangerous situations and terrible deaths. The myriad of caring acts that more typify the different communities there are lost or under-reported. And frankly, we are all the worse for that.

I still work in Newark helping schools there to better ensure the development of fine readers and writers. It is such doable work and some days it feels a bit frustrating to know how important these learning changes could be had and to not be able to influence the public schools who seem bent on chasing academic success with products, not people. If products alone could alter performance trajectories, large scale need would no longer be an issue. In the last two years of Rob's life, before he was diagnosed with cancer, he worked with me in the city. He told me more than once that he understood why I found the place, the people, and the work so compelling.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

#SOL17: Waxing Crescent Moon

Crescent (M.A. Reilly, Rockport, Maine, November, 2012)

Earlier last week, I removed the ring that Rob had placed on my finger all those decades ago. It was done with far less ceremony than when we first married. I removed it without hesitation. Sometimes you just know when it is right. And I knew without question that Rob was gone forever.

There's death, it's aftermath, and then there are those singular events that profoundly show what has been known, yet not truly felt.

My husband is dead. I am not.
Life pulses on.


The months between Rob's death and now, have revealed a new understanding of what it means to be a parent. No longer can I turn my body into Rob's and seek answers through touch. No longer can I pass parenting to Rob, knowing he will care for Dev. Now, the joys and challenges of being the only parent are all mine.

Some days it's lonely here without Rob--other days, less so.


After a week, an imprint of my wedding band remains. For years I have been wearing that slender bend of a waxing crescent moon wrapped tightly around my finger.

Now, that young moon is gone and only the pale glow remains. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

#PoetryBreak: The Main Thing to Know

Grief (Cohen and Reilly, 2016)

The main thing to know
about grief is how lonely it feels,
like an empty boat moored
beneath moonlight.
Here, breath
remains the color
of silence.

When you
finally speak
grief rises
from the ground
like thunder,
like a too-angry god
so loud
you can't hear
your own wings beating.

Even now,
your heart
feels too tender,
too undone
like the bowline
that slips
my hand
to form
this poem.

It is in the making
that you learn
to live