The smell of accomplishment

Well, friends. Still going strong on wearing a unique perfume each day of 2023 so far—today is day 53, which doesn’t mean much. I have a few new samples on the way, as well as bottles that haven’t gotten any love yet, so I should be able to stretch this out for a bit longer (without having set out to do so).

What I had set out to do, although with no specific timing promised, was finish a batch of dog portraits that were requested after people received or saw the previous batch that were given as a surprise last month. My momentum was greatly slowed this time as I was busier and/or distracted by other things that prevented me from “getting into the zone” of drawing as easily as the last time. Drawing is for me like a jigsaw puzzle, although I am creating the pieces as I go, but the feeling (and dopamine hit) is similar when an area starts to look like the reference photo. The amount of detail I notice in the photo also increases as the drawing progresses, which means that essentially a drawing is never truly “done,” but I have my limits.

My favorite of this batch was a majestic Mastiff, with amber eyes looking off into the distance, noble and statuesque (never mind the large eye booger and chain of drool bridging her jowls, which I took the liberty of omitting).


Artificial intelligence being all the rage, I tested out DALL-E using the prompt “Photorealistic charcoal sketch of left side of an English Mastiff’s face in bright sunlight” and of the 4 images generated, 3 were of the right side of the face. In previous tests with other dogs, the terms “realistic” and “hyperrealistic” had yielded similar and not very convincing results. It doesn’t seem that “photorealistic” took it much further.

I then modified the prompt to match more closely the format of the example descriptions: “Left side of an English Mastiff’s head in bright sunlight, photorealistic drawing,” thinking maybe it might become more realistic by not being limited to a charcoal sketch style.

These results are smoother and with more variety of styles. Seems it still can’t tell right from left, but the third image comes pretty close to the description.

I don’t know enough about the true capability of AI at this time to determine how I really feel about it. The part of me that’s resistant to change is not keen on the possibility of it diminishing the perceived value of artists’ and designers’ work that so far has required a lot more human input. The other part is cautiously welcoming of the possibility of it becoming a useful tool that allows the same people to expand their scope.

What I do know is that I personally am not ready to give up the tactile, analog modality of paper and pens, pencils, stencils, erasers, and other manual tools that enable a sense of “craft” and intimacy with the process of creation. No matter how good the haptic feedback on drawing tablets might be (I haven’t tried any recently as I’d lost interest after I couldn’t figure out how to use one properly many years ago…) The suggestion that digital art will inevitably replace paper drawing makes me want to run out and buy a bottle of the new Diptyque L’Eau Papier, which is supposed to evoke the scent of paper, to display on my desk as a “protest perfume.” However, it doesn’t seem to be available yet, and I would like to smell it first…

Does pencil drawing have a smell? Not really, at least not to any degree that I can really detect. I am not surrounded by the aroma of Virginia cedarwood. However, the fixative that is sprayed onto the final work to lock down the charcoal/carbon/graphite to prevent smudging—that is strong stuff. The aerosol can label includes the phrase “VAPOR HARMFUL.” I try not to breathe it in too much, but it is hard to avoid. It also smells like a powdery lipstick blasted into ten thousand particles, or a good iris perfume. As it dries, it smells mildly sweet, earthy, papery, even slightly metallic, more so like concrete.

That scent is associated with the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a drawing—although, more often than not, I will see something to tweak after I’ve sprayed it. More shading here, another few lines there. So, it’s not “final” until it’s been scanned (converted to digital!) and then mailed: another tactile process of going to the post office, putting the drawing in a stiff envelope, writing the address, standing in line, handing the envelope to the cashier, answering the questions (“Does it contain anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous?”) without being philosophical, paying in person, and walking out with a sense of… finality?

…before starting the next chapter of multiplying the joy by sharing the digital version.

6 thoughts on “The smell of accomplishment

    1. Thank you for the compliment. Drawing is something I’ve been doing since I was a child, so I’ve had a bit of practice; learning techniques from books and video tutorials helped a lot as well!


  1. You’re doing well wearing a unique perfume each day. I think I would crack and wear something I enjoyed on consecutive days for sure. I’m a creature of habit. Love those dog portraits, and like you, I’m still waiting patiently for that new Diptyque to land in store.


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