Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Winter Ink

Early winter on the East Coast. Unless my memory is fraying, we're lucky to see much more than a dusting or two before January. Now we're getting two to four inches every two to four days. I am not complaining.

Forgive me for returning to previously trodden ground, but even when December seems to crawl on like a dysthymic slough, I always find myself with a renewed appreciation for the austerity of the season. There is an elemental honesty in the cold beyond the mere rawness of authenticity and impartiality. Cold is the natural state of things, inasmuch as time is an arrow toward thermal equilibrium, and the average temperature of the universe is -270.42º C. Cold is a taste of the future. It's a keyhole into the end of things.

These wintertime walks are brisk and sobering. It does require an effort of will not to immediately turn and scuttle back to an artificially heated enclosure. (These reminders that human activity is circumscribed by environmental contingencies can be nothing but helpful.) The four senses that aren't shot through with cold have little to titillate them; there is not much activity to apprehend the mid-Atlantic woods after the first December snow. Hardly anything moves. Nothing makes much noise except for the occasional chicakdee or passing airplane. The summer forest of four months before is a bouquet of viridescence, earth tones, and bright-hued flowers; the winter forest is just white and disconsolate shades of grayish brown.

At certain times, in certain attitudes, it seems positively achromatic. Black and white, unvarying in shade. And there are moments of visual fancy when it seems as though the protruding features of the landscape are superimposed over the snow, like inkstrokes on a white canvas.

If I were a better artist, there is a good chance my entire creative output between December and March would consist of minimalist ink renderings of winter landscapes. But since I'm not, I am resigned (not unhappily) to looking at other people's minimalist ink renderings of winter landscapes:

Sesshu Toyo, Winter Landscape

Utagawa Hiroshige, Snow Falling on a Town

Utagawa Hiroshige, Evening Snow on the Asuka Mountain

Carolyn A. Pappas, Deerfield Orchard in Winter

To this day, however, the art that best communicates winter as my heart recognizes it is found in Calvin and Hobbes:

I'm tempted to say I prefer the winter landscapes (or the parcels of them) from the weekday strips. The restrictions of the format impose a black/white binary which inspired some very stark, simple, and striking efforts from Mr. Watterson.

That last panel. Gorgeous. It's a safe bet that Watterson used a relatively dull two-panel joke as an excuse to give himself the space of a free panel to paint a parsimonious winter landscape in miniature.

Interestingly -- as far as I know -- all of the winter landscapes in the colored Sunday strips are rendered in grays and browns. All but one: the black ink/white canvas snowscape of the final strip:

Poland tomorrow. If I don't update between now and Saturday (which is possible), have a frostbitten but cautiously optimistic solstice, everyone!


  1. Winter is my favorite season (though living in California, naturally it's not much a season at all here...). It's dark and cold on one hand, warm and comforting on the other, which fits my personality.

  2. I usually love winter at the beginning and loathe it by the end. I do appreciate the stillness and calm of this bleak time of year. It usually makes me get overly self-reflective and really brings out the enjoyment of watching things like Evangelion.

    Also, "Evening Snow on the Asuka Mountain" is a favorite painting of mine.

    1. It's the opposite with me. I dread its approach but by the time the skunk cabbage is starting to appear I find myself wishing for just one more snowstorm, one more week of excruciatingly cold weather. Guess I'm just not so into change, huh.

      But I wish it were socially acceptable to just sleep through the damn thing.