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by LINDA MITCHELL
WAS AROUND 8:30 WHEN I ARRIVED IN ARCATA Saturday morning for
Pastels on the Plaza, so I figured I'd be early, but by that
time two-thirds of the chalked-in squares on the sidewalk surrounding
the plaza were already spoken for. Fortunately, Bob Doran, my
pastel partner for the day, had staked out a spot for us, and
waved me over.
Now, I should admit at the outset
that I'm not one of those altruistic local artists who have been
showing up on the first Saturday in October for each and every
one of the 16 years Northcoast Children's Services has been putting
on this beloved annual fund-raiser. In fact, I've only participated
once before and, to tell the truth, it wasn't much fun. There's
the physical discomfort factor, of course, but that wasn't the
main difficulty. The real problem was that pastels aren't exactly
my medium and I couldn't get my drawing right. I kept trying
to perfect it, spending six or seven hours on my knees obsessing
about an image destined to fade away in a few days. It was nuts.
Nevertheless, I agreed to help
Bob with the square the North Coast Journal sponsored
this year because I assumed (wrongly) that I might obsess less
about a shared drawing. The spot he staked out was about a third
of the way down the block on G Street, across from Plaza Design,
and by the time I arrived he had already begun setting up.
Our plan was to draw a fictional
Journal cover featuring the Women in Black, who stand
silent vigil on the plaza each Friday for peace. Bob would do
the lettering and banners and I'd draw the women, using one of
his digital photos for reference. He showed me several images
and I picked the one with the most dramatic color.
Since Bob and his wife Amy (she
had the square to my right) have been participating in the event
for years, he came more prepared than I did. He brought thick
gardening gloves for resting our non-drawing hands on the rough
sidewalk, cushiony pillows for us to kneel on, and several old
boxes of pastels, in case we ran out of a specific color. Some
artists arrive with even more paraphernalia, strap-on kneepads
and mini-studios complete with paintbrushes and secret blending
Marie Foley, sponsored by the
Westhaven Center for the Arts, where she teaches and keeps a
studio, was set up two spaces to my left; she had brought a spray
bottle with water in it. I asked what it was for and she told
me (in that lovely Irish accent) that misting helps set the colors
between layers. Ah, yes. Layers.
I got down to work. My plan
was to finish the image in two hours, tops. No obsessing. I laid
out the basic drawing with a neutral red chalk, and then started
adding colors. It looked surprisingly good, right off the bat.
I sat back on my heels and admired my handiwork.
"That's a weird one,"
said an old man's voice behind me.
"It's Women in Black,"
his companion explained. "You know, that peace protest thing
"Still looks weird."
OK, so maybe my drawing needed
more work. I added a nice intense chartreuse green to the grass,
added more purple and black to the figures. Then I made the mistake
of trying to blow away a chunk of pigment. When the cloud of
colored dust settled, only about half the former drawing remained.
I asked Marie if I could borrow her misting bottle. After I sprayed
my drawing, the chalk settled right down. I kept working, adding
more variety to the colors, spraying between "layers,"
sometimes adding too much water, then going back and adding more
pigment. By now, spectators were saying nice things about our
Missy Fiedler set up her stuff
next to me on the left, in a spot I was pretty sure no one would
want since it had a crack down the middle of it. Missy said she
didn't mind at all, since she really didn't have an image in
mind and would just incorporate the crack into her design. Her
sponsor was the Morris Graves Foundation, where she recently
spent several days on a painting retreat. I explained to her
about the misting bottle like I was some kind of expert, and
she went to work on a drawing featuring the lake at Morris's
former home outside Loleta.
By now, Bob had wandered off
to take pictures, but I kept working, losing track of time and
my two-hour limit. The tips of my fingers started burning from
rubbing pigment into the rough cement and my fingernails became
rough and shredded. I felt like a veteran.
I stood up to look at my drawing
from a distance. Ouch. My knees screamed. I decided to stretch
my legs by walking around the plaza and looking at other people's
drawings, then come back and decide if mine needed more work.
It was around 12:30 or 1:00
by that time, still cloudy and gray, but the plaza was alive
with color. Every single square was occupied and kids were everywhere,
drawing with their families and on the sidewalks leading to the
center of the plaza. Hundreds of spectators watched the work
in progress, or shopped at the Farmers' Market, which was set
up behind the artists. The Joyce Hough Band was playing and people
of all ages were juggling and hula-hooping. I felt like a kid,
happy to be alive and participating in the chain of color encircling
I chatted with other artists,
picked up some technical tips and studied a lot of fine images.
I circled the plaza twice, then came back and looked at our square.
It definitely needed more work, I decided. More saturated color,
heartier outlines. Fortunately, Amy Doran talked some sense into
"I think you should leave
it alone," she said, kindly. "It's beautiful, and you
don't want to overwork it."
I noticed that Terry Oats, who
had started before me, was still hard at work on her lovely,
sultry portrait (which one passer-by described as "pimp-worthy").
Marie Foley was also still working, even though her drawing looked
perfect to me. Missy Fiedler was considering stuffing whole sticks
of chalk into that crack to cover it up. I looked at my drawing
again, considered how I could improve it if I added just a little
more purple, and decided to quit.
By tomorrow, I reminded myself,
people would be riding bikes over it. It's not meant to be permanent
or perfect, just a small piece of a big, colorful, inventive
day in support of kids. Still, now that I have that misting technique
down, I wouldn't mind trying again next year. There are worse
ways to spend a Saturday morning.
Linda Mitchell can be reached
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