Visual records

Originally this column was going to talk about long Covid. My social media posts get steady feedback that assumes life is good and I am well when, in fact, I have not fully recovered from my “mild” bout of Covid-19 a year ago. I feel exhausted and vaguely unwell much of the time. Sometimes I run out of energy unexpectedly. I keep moving because I am not ready to take to my bed. There is a lot I could say about long Covid, but the truth is that I lose interest quickly each time I sit to write about it. Right now my drawings make a more compelling topic for both creative and practical reasons. Long Covid will either still figure or it won’t when I get to it.

Despite long Covid, I have been drawing regularly since arriving in Montevideo in September 2021. The several most recent pieces (and likely next two or three) are views of favorite cafés. The originals are small. Reproduction at size would almost fit on a large postcard. A slight reduction absolutely would, and would also tighten the images nicely. I am exploring options for having prints made, somewhat hampered by lack of familiarity with the technical vocabulary in Spanish. Every day brings new lessons.

What to do with the prints?

That question was in mind one afternoon last week when I visited Tarascón Bar, subject of the drawing currently in progress. One of the owners saw a social media post of the drawing as it was a couple days previous, and expressed hope for a copy to hang in the café. It seemed like an auspicious moment to ask what she thought about selling prints. Her response was enthusiastic. May others be so easy.

Floating the idea to café owners requires some steel because, as art products, these drawings seem crude. In some ways they are. That’s part of the permission I gave myself when I began using ink and watercolor pencils to document the city.

I think of the drawings as sketches, although clearly they are more than that. Their point is to create casually, to capture loose impressions without much worry over polish or technique. Actually, the point is to draw and keep drawing. This relaxed approach is why I have to take a deep breath before talking business.

Over and over I am pleasantly surprised that people familiar with the subjects react with “Que lindo!” Loosely, that means, “How lovely!” An impulse to point out shortcomings is strong, but I resist. If third parties tell me the drawings are lindo, I should embrace that. The willingness of Tarascón’s dueña to offer prints for sale boosts my confidence.

Labors of love

It may go without saying that every café I visit does not automatically slip into the queue for drawing. I’ll say it anyway. Each drawing represents a sentimental bond. They are illustrations of friendship as much as place, and that adds pressure to make them more than sketches. Clumsy rendering may not be fatal, but failing the emotional attachment would be. With each drawing I am pulled to second guess myself. I have to consciously remember that the most important point is to work casually. Abandoning a disappointment and starting over is always an option. So far, it has not come to that. The only one set aside to date was set aside carefully. It could go back onto the drawing board at any time.

Given their roots in friendship, it may seem strange that the illustrations are not filled with the people who bring these places to life. That may happen in a future round. At this time, I lack chops for casual portraiture. The figures that appear in a couple of drawings are based on real people, but deliberately generalized. Experience has shown that the only way I can make an identifiable face is by drawing it over and over. That’s a stiffer business than what I do now. First, I’ll nail the casual approach. Later will come time to aim for something more rigorous.

Heating up commodification

As for acts of commerce, producing drawings is only a start. No matter which way I proceed, going forward will require effort beyond what these hands can achieve. Putting together an eventual show and sale of the originals will require mounting, mats and frames. Once this was prep I did at home, but that was long ago. Today I lack tools and steady hands. Controlling brushes and pencils is tough enough, even with an approach that allows some fudge factor. There is no fudging a mat. Either it’s perfect or it fails. Contracting for the work will call for dollars—more likely pesos—not yet in the budget.

This is where prints enter the picture. If enough café owners will sell prints, and if enough of their customers will buy them, pesos to pay for prep will trickle in. If some of the cafés will sell prints of the non-café drawings as well, so much the better. Even if sales are slow, the exercise will begin to build presence. One never knows when presence will open a door.

Prints and tips

Prints will also provide something to give back to those who feed the tip jar, which is my term for the Ko-fi and Buy Me a Coffee buttons in the right column of this website. They figure in the current context for two reasons. The first is that making prints will require cash outlays, likely for art-quality scanning and certainly for reproduction. The second is because my orthodontist is allowed no claim on the tips.

Would you like to hear about orthodontics in Uruguay? No? Let me say that while routine dentistry is inexpensive, unexpected orthodontic care is not. I am in the hole. Fortunately, the payment plan worked out with the orthodontist is based exclusively on my regular retirement income. One hundred percent of the “coffee” you fund helps sustain Stikmantica. Drawings and prints are in that big tent. Will you help?

Update on The Seven Jewel Bird

Rewrite of the novelette is complete. The text is aging in the barrel before its final proofread. That will not happen until after a trip to and from Texas in January. After proofing, I’ll grapple with decisions about how to package the story as a gift for supporters and how to format it for ebook release. The latter will require a cover illustration. That necessarily has to bide while I draw another café or two. Supporters willing to accept it uncovered need wait only for the PDF to come up on the Do list.