Kitchen Confidential

Cafeteria artist

Remember the cafeteria ladies who worked in your high school? Their last serving of chipped beef may still be lurking in your colon but your probably never knew much about the ladies themselves, not even their names.

I decided to do portrait of some of these hard working people when I was in Beijing, to learn a bit about them and share it with the students who are coming by my studio. I’d been looking at a lot of posters of proud workers from the Cultural Revolution and this take on Soviet realism inspired me. I thought about drawing them on location but I would have just gotten in the way of the preparation of the dozens of dishes they make for thousands of hungry kids. The head of catering took me behind the scenes and we got three women to agree to pose for my camera. Those photos became the basis for a cardboard painting in shades of yellow, red and gold.

When I had completed my painting and had written down what I knew about them in English and Chinese, we invited the models to see what I’d made of them. They were flattered and pleased.

The next day, one of the cooks (the one behind the safety mask) returned — with an amazing drawing she had done of me. Our studio assistant explained that the cook had always wanted to be an artist, and when she was young she had applied to the main art school in Beijing. There was just one remaining place in the class and it was given to a man. So she gave up her dreams and went to work in the kitchen — but she still kept drawing. Now she’s a grandmother but her skills are still exceptional.

Over the next few days, we saw more and more of her art and the school began to celebrate her. Soon there will be articles and videos about her story and hopefully she will be able to live her dream and share her at with the world.

What a strange serendipity. And a wonderful one.

BTW, you’ll find lots of people who are looking to get their art making back on track at SketchBook Skool, those whose skills are rusty as an old barn hinge and those who have been let their love of drawing stay buried beneath a distant failure.
Ready to get out of the kitchen and join us? Come over and enroll.

Building Castles.

castle1

I first heard about James Castle at the Outsider Art Fair on Houston Street almost twenty years ago.
A gallerist told me a story that lodged in my brain, one of those stories that I may have misheard and embellished but still seems so touching and relatable that most of it had to be true.
The story was that James was a deaf mute who one day started to make art. He lived on a tiny farm in a remote part of Idaho and knew nothing of the Art world beyond. He taught himself to make art, using home made art supplies. He would draw on any piece of cardboard that came to hand — many of my favorite pieces were on the backs of unfolded ice cream cartons. He made his own ink, mixing soot from the wood stove with his own spittle. He soaked the pigment out of crepe paper to add color to his paintings. He drew with sharpened sticks.
What I remember most vividly about James’s story was his subject matter. Profoundly deaf and unable to use sign language, James lived his whole life with his family, subsistence farmers who barely got by. And so James compulsively drew houses, dream houses, big and small, making hundreds of paintings and drawings of the houses he saw and the ones he imagined.
One day, James’ nephew came to visit. Bob worked at an art school in Oregon and recognized the genius of James’ house drawings. Soon the Castles were overwhelmed by offers to stage exhibits and to buy the art. The family finally had enough money to build James his own little house on the property.
As soon as the house was completed and James moved in, he never made paintings of houses again. His work was done.

Art has that power for me too — not to create real estate perhaps, but to focus me on what’s really important. To communicate with those parts deep inside me that don’t have a voice. To take that yearning and draw it out.
In my case, it’s not as simple as just wish fulfillment. It’s a barometer on how I feel, my degree of confidence or of focus. It shows me the value of what I have, the wonders of my city, the treasures in my home, the beauty of the people who fill my life.  It puts a beautiful gilt frame around the things I have been too distracted to see.
Drawing alone can clear a path through the fog and chaos and help me see what I truly want out of life.
But unlike James, my work will never be done. At least I hope not.

Things you’ll like.

photo 3

An Excuse to Draw: Tommy Kane Sketches the World.

I want to share a few experiences I’ve had recently which you might enjoy too.

An Excuse to Draw: I mentioned Tommy Kane’s book a while ago, but it’s a pleasure I’ve re-experienced over and again since then and it has filled me with so many emotions. photo 2

One is enormous pride in my friend who is such an extraordinary and hard-working artist. I have always loved the things that Tom makes but seeing them all in one place, takes my breath away. The enormous variations of things he draws, the intense detail and perfection of each image, the wit, the beauty — they ricochet me about. And seeing them all hardbound and being shared with the world, well, that’s the fate he always deserved and I’m immensely glad he is finally getting his due. photo 1

Another is admiration at his tenacity. Tommy is such a perfectionist, to the point of obsessiveness, filling each page edge to edge, never forsaking a drawing if it starts to go awry, always riding it out to the end, which is never bitter. Each page is a grand battle, Tom vs. Tommy, slugging it out until Nirvana is reached. The sheer volume of time, sweat and ink that went into tis book would loop around the world many times I admire his balls and wish I had that perseverance.

Third, is the pleasure in seeing the drawings I’ve watched him make and all the ones that he made on the other side of the world — all together. This book is as big and complex as the planet, so many details one every page, so many pages, so many pages within pages, all laced with jokes, and stories, and observations. Poring over it reminds me of how I used to read books when I was a kid, studying every picture, looking for faces in the windows, scrutinizing each detail and fantasizing about going to every place. It’s an adventure.

If you haven’t ordered a copy of Tommy’s book yet, start saving up. It will educate you, entertain you, and blow you away.

Oh, and if you want to see how he does it all first-hand, I hope you enrolled in “Beginnings” at Sketchbook Skool. His klass is the final one in the kourse.

Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger

Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger

Urban Watercolor Sketching: Another friend and collaborator on An Illustrated Journey has a new book out too. It’s actually not brand-new except in its English translation. Felix Scheinberger is a great illustrator, teacher and author.

photo 3-1This book (which I think is kinda misnamed as it doesn’t actually just focus on Urban Sketching but is about all things watercolor) is a treasure trove because it has so many witty, loose, energetic, gorgeous watercolors by Felix that are inspiring me over and again but also contains so much deep technical information, all presented in such a useful and accessible manner. photo 2-1Reading Felix’s book has re-whetted my appetite and rewetted my palette too. I am chomping at the bit to get out there and paint. I think it may have a similar effect on you too.  Now if I can only convince him to teach a klass for us!

Pocket Palette:

IMG_1690

Pans labyrinth.

IMG_1693And speaking of my palette, Maria Coryell-Martin just sent me a credit card-sized metal palette with a magnetic base into which you can swap pans of watercolor.  There are two sizes of pans and they all snap into place in this sleek little package. I just filled it up with my favorite tube paints and am ready to try it out. I am curious about how the mixing surface will work. Maria is an expeditionary artist who has painted in some amazing places and this invention seems quite genius. If you’d like one of your own, visit her shop.

IMG_1688

My current favorite colors

Until now, my palette situation has become less than optimal. I have my Winsor-Newton portable set which I just replenished, two teeny palettes which Roz sent me, and a big metal palette with too many paints in it.

IMG_1694

Teeny weeny kiddy paintbox

They are all a little dirty and muddy so sitting down and laying out my palette from scratch was a great feeling.  Now to pack up my gear and head out.

I just need to locate my favorite brush which seems to have strayed.  Heeeere, brusy-brushy!

The art of friendship

20140323-085717.jpg
My pal, Tommy Kane and his wife Yun just spent a few days with us in California. It was so good to have them with us and we spent a lot of time eating in good restaurants, wandering through Venice and, of course, drawing.
I have known Tom for thirty years and we have drawn together for the last ten. Despite how close we are, when it comes to drawing we are quite different. Tommy is an illustrator, an artist who works toward beautiful finished pages, every one suitable for framing. His journals are immaculate, and each page is perfect from corner to corner. He just put out a lovely book of his work and it is a treat to have all that perfection in one place. The experience of looking at his journals is like looking at a final, published book—so immaculate, so rich.
My style of drawing is far more hasty, slapdash and impatient. And that can be a problem when we draw together. Tom expects to spend hours and hours doing a single drawing. He has a very specific way of doing a page, starting with his uniball pen, putting in loads of careful hatching, then adding watercolors and finally a layer of bright pencil marks. He’d prefer to do the entire thing on location, perched on his little stool. He has a patient wife/traveling companion and has drawn this way all over the world.
When we sit down together, as we did on the Venice Boardwalk and on Lincoln Boulevard, I find myself adjusting to his pace and do horrible overdrawn pages that don’t look like my normal work. I find it impossible with the way I draw to spend hours on a single page, Tom also compromises when we’re together and usually only manages to finish his line drawing before I start squirming and pacing and has to color his picture later on, from a photo.
I don’t begrudge Tom his slow and careful pace. He manages to capture so much detail and observation and yet keep his work fresh and bright. I draw, like almost everything else, at a neurotic pace, and the luxury of time just stirs up the mud.
Everyone has their own speed. Our friend Butch draws at a glacial pace, thinking nothing of spending ten or twenty hours on a page, D.Price, on the other hand, can knock out a drawing in three minutes. We have all drawn together and it’s like a tap dancer, a heavy metal guitarist, a tuba player and a sitarist trying to jam.
Whenever I go on a sketchcrawl, I have to adjust to the group, moving toward the mean of all the people drawing together. And it’s good to challenge that someotimes, to go faster or slower to add variation and stretch. In the long run, though, the work I do with others is never my favorite. It’s more of a fun, communal, social experience than a satisfying artistic one.
I’m not antisocial and I love to hang out with my friends.
But I’d rather pee, nap and draw alone

PS if you’d like to draw with Tommy Kane, join his klass at sketchbook skool.

A Bigger Day

photo A couple of mornings ago I got up a bit early and took a plane, train and a bus to the de Young Museum in San Francisco. I had an early lunch in the cafe with my old pal Andrea Scher and then we began to tour A Bigger Exhibition, David Hockney’s retrospective of the past decade or so.

Color, color, color, color.

The work is traditional in a sense — all landscapes and portraits. But that’s where the familiar ends. Room after room is deluged in color, the colors that are Hockneys signature, salmon, teal, violet, burnt orange, sky blue, fuschia, and every imagine able shade of green. There are rooms full of Watercolors, watercolor that does things mine never do, bright, clean colors that vibrate off the paper, Watercolors that look like acrylics, acrylics that look like television screen, oils that fill the walls as he stacks two, then four, then twelve, then thirty (!) individual canvases to make landscapes that are as big as the landscapes themselves.

08A01_cropped

Nine canvases. He painted this scene in every season.

Iphone painting blown up 15 feet tall.

Iphone painting blown up 15 feet tall.

There were several rooms of paintings he made on his iPhone and iPad then blew up into prints that are ten or more feet tall, prints that look like oils from across the room and look like electric squiggles close up.*   There’s a room filled with screens and on each one new iphone images appear. You can watch them unfolding as he layers lines and pure colors. And there are hundreds and hundreds of them, landscapes, portraits, still lifes, … blah!In other rooms, long processions of watercolor and oil portraits, people sitting in the same chair in the same room, all different, all alive.

The-arrival-of-spring1

Thirty cavases, sandwiched together.

I kept getting waves of inspiration throughout the show, a fizzy feeling in my belly that I had to run away immediately and start to paint, draw, anything.  I love Hockney so much and I learn from everything he does. He’s always the smartest kid in the class, the one genius among we sheep.  His work is not heady and intellectual, it’s right there, familiar and yet, he makes it looks so easy. HOCKNEY-videoSixteenByNine1050 Watch him paint and you think, okay, okay, that’s doable. But he manages to knock out fields of spring flowers while I wade through the mud. He’s a seventy-five year old geezer but he’s working in ten media at once, filling a whole room of sketchbooks, and paintings and making these insane Cubist Videos by strapping twenty high-def cameras to his car and driving through the forest, season after season.

Drawn on a freakin' iPad!

Drawn on a freakin’ iPad!

The man jumps onto every new thing as soon as it half emerges.  He made fax drawings in the ’70s and Polaroid collages.  He drew on the computer before any one. I hope he keeps living and showing me what it can all be.

By Andrea Scher

By Andrea Scher

Then, on the way out, Andrea and I found a fairy door in a log in Golden Gate Park.

The perfect end to a magical day.

______

* I looked at my own iPhone in disgust and showed it these works of genius. “All you seem to do is send texts and visit Facebook all day,” I sneered, “Why don’t you make some art?” Siri just said, “Okay” and showed me a website about making Valentine’s Day hearts. Why can’t you be more like Scarlett Johansson?

———

P.S. I would urge you to go but the show closes this weekend. :(

Koosje!

IMG_0849

Vincent van Gogh was not the only Dutch artist I met in Amsterdam. I also had a lovely time with Koosje Koene, a wonderfully talented illustrator who has been my online pal.  Koosje draws amazingly well — I am especially amazed by her work with color pencil — but also has a lovely sense of wit and wisdom. She creates cartoon characters, illustrates food, tell visual stories, and has become the mentor for lots of people in the EDM community.

We met at a teahouse in the Vondelpark, shared stories, tea, and a stack of journals, then drew together.  Our styles are different but complementary, doncha think? Then we met up with Pascal, Koosje’s musician husband, and had a sumptuous Indonesian feast.IMG_0844Koosje is also one of the first people to offer really great online classes in drawing and she has been really helpful with advice on my budding efforts. I urge you to check out her work, watch her free weekly drawing tip videos,  and sign up for her next class. She’s awesome!