A new Sketchbook Film: Pencil & Ink


(Sorry for the delayed launch of this post; had some last minute tweaks to do)

Tommy Kane, Jack, and I have just completed production on another in our series of drawing films — this one about NY artist, Justin Klein. It was a long and grueling shoot day, a good 14 hours, and by the end of the shoot, our set was full of bloodied paper, broken furniture, and empty beer cans and whiskey bottles. We all left the set changed for ever.

As I say to myself with each subsequent film, this is the best one yet. It is a bit of a departure from what we have done in the past but I think you’ll agree that it is an interesting extension of our core idea.
I’ll try to post again with some behind-the-scenes details about the production and answer any questions you post here.

Happy New Year!

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Filmed with a Canon 7D, edited in Final Cut Pro X.
Music: “Lux Aeterna – Cum Sanctis Tuis” from the Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Color Correction by Lenny Mastrandrea at Nice Shoes.

To El and Back: a film about Butch Belair

We just completed the next sketchbook film —it’s about Butch, my pal who’s a famous photographer, then became a 3-D illustrator and then, a couple of years ago, took up watercoloring in a small book. He excels in every medium. You can see more of his work. here and here.

Tommy Kane and I have gone on a few sketchcrawls with Butch. I generally finish up my drawing in half an hour, Tom keeps crosshatching for an hour, but Butch can just sit, hunched over his books for a solid day and then come back the next day to keep going. He’s a monster.


You may remember Butch from my last book, An Illustrated Life. When I interviewed him he said:

I usually draw alone in my car. Very few people know I am doing it. I think I may be hiding somewhat, in the car. Having people watch while I do it would be a bit of a buzz-kill. Don’t tread on my zen, man.

Sometimes I will drive to a place that has caught my attention in the past. But usually, I just get in my car and try to get lost. When I see something that has a story to tell, I stop. I try to record what it is that I see, and somehow fuse the feeling of being there in my memory.

I tend to view these places as stage sets, just after the Play has been performed. In science, there are certain phenomena that cannot be seen or directly recorded (black holes for example). Scientists only know they exist by observing their effect on the objects that can be seen. For me, people are one of these phenomena. Actors that have left the stage. I may be attracted to the evidence in the details of buildings, or an arrangement of structures that would suggest the people or generations of people, that have passed through and made their mark.

Finding a place to park is also very important in selecting a site.

And the light. Light is also very important to me. Representing the quality of the light in a scene is something I struggle with. It is probably a big part of what attracts me to a place, so learning how to achieve this would be very satisfying. Learning to do it quickly would be a huge conquest for me. Even when I feel I am onto something, more often than not, it takes me so long to do one of these sketches that the light has changed drastically by the time I’ve finished.

Butch is usually a man of few words and his paintings remind me of Edward Hopper, so we tried to make the film feel like it was made a long time ago, a hard-bitten time when New York city was strung with elevated trains like this one in Brooklyn.

Tom and I planned this film out for a couple of weeks, discussing the look of the film, lenses (we ended up using a 14, a 50, and the old trusty 100 macro), locations, and the best way in which we’d capture and condense Butch’s marathon sketching sessions. The weather toyed with us a lot too, but we were blessed with a perfect morning and managed to get the film in the can by early afternoon of the first day of shooting.

Here’s the final product. Amazing.

Here are our shooting boards. We deviated from them a fair bit but they were a really helpful road map:

Unfortunately, Jack, my boy and usual collaborator, could only consult from afar. He had to take the SATs on the morning we shot. He was very helpful through post-production, as was Tom and my friend JJ. They all helped curb my tendency to make things fancy and we ended up with a taut little film I really like.

I hope you enjoy it too.

A new drawing film: Red Hook

(This film was shot, and is best viewed, in full-screen HD. If there’s  a problem, you can go to it directly on Vimeo here.)

A few months ago I decided I wanted to make a series of films about illustrated journaling. Not a how-to, step-by-step sort of thing but films that capture the adventure of drawing, the discovery, the spirit, the fun. I hope they will inspire you to make drawings (and films, if you want) and to keep an illustrated journal as a regular part of your everyday lives.

My son, Jack Tea, has joined me in this project and together we have worked through lots of technical obstacles to make films that look as good as we can make them on no budget. Our inspiration comes from the Cooking Channel, from Etsy’s vlog, and from too many decades of loving movies.

We shoot on our Canon 7D, rent different lenses each weekend (in this case we relied heavily on the 100/2.8 L IS Macro), use Jack’s skateboard as a dolly, and rope our friends in for help and opinions.

Here’s the newest film in the series, a portrait of my great friend, Tommy Kane, as he rides around his neighborhood in search of something new to draw. Tom is a great traveller — he regularly posts sumptuous journal pages made on his vacations and business trips. His favorite home-away-from-home is Korea and he has made many amazing drawings on its streets and in its markets.

This time, we decided he should travel through his own neck of the woods, see it anew like a visiting stranger and capture a mundane little corner and fill it with his particular brand of magic. Normally Tom works mainly on site, dragging out all of his materials onto the pavement around his little folding stool but instead we decided to expand the scene and show you some of Tom’s home and studio and incidentally some of the wonderful big paintings he’s done on canvas. (He took the unusual step of using a reference photo he shot of the scene to jog his memory once back at his studio).

When journaling, he works in Uniball, watercolor and pencil, sometime in books, sometimes on loose sheets of bond or watercolor paper. He is a meticulous crosshatcher and spend hours on some of his drawings.  When we draw together, I invariably start to chafe at the bit and beg him to finish at home as I am tired of sitting in his shadow, my own drawing long finished and yellowing on the page, glazing over as he crosshatches more and more details.

We shot the film in two days — on the streets of Brooklyn and in Tom’s home where his lovely wife, Yun, made us lunch and watched our obsessiveness with a bemused smile.  It was the height of a baking summer and storm crowds rolled in and out, marring our continuity.

We shot an extravagant amount and it took a month to wade through it all and pare it down. The first cut was twice as long as what you’ll see today, but we resharpened our blades and ruthlessly trimmed back to the bare essentials. We tried to retain the essence of how Tom works, the way he layers media and adds detail. It’s fascinating to see how his drawing builds and builds — when you see the final result, it’s often hard to figure out how he got there. With this film, please share in how the journey unfolds.

The Art of Breakfast

Watch this film in HD and full screen for maximum pleasure.

I have long wanted to make higher quality films that would show the process of illustrated journaling. I’m not a huge fan of detailed step-by-step instruction because I think everyone finds their own way to recording their lives in a journal. But I do know that seeing good films about how people make things is always inspirational to me. I love the videos Etsy posts periodically as well as small documentaries about how people make artisanal foods.

Jack shot this film with our new Canon 7D. He has an amazing ability to make images in any medium and picked up cinematography right away — insisting that we rent certain lenses and keeping my most commercial instincts at bay. Thanks to him we ended up with a slick film that still has some artistic merit.  Tommy Kane, my long-time drawing buddy, and master of his own video domain, was on hand to make suggestions and climb ladders. We shot over one weekend, then spent a couple more weeks putting it all together.  We all learned a lot during this process and can’t wait to make the next film.

Here are some of the videos that inspired our film:

Just in case

photo

My boy Jack has launched a line of iPod/iPhone etc, cases. They are high quality plastic and he has been selling them to his classmates like hot cakes. New designs seem to pop out of him every week. I love my cigar smoking dog one. (Click any design to see open a full-scale gallery)

Jack's Audition

Stage parents wait for their auditioning offspring.

Jack is applying to the Summer Arts Institute, a fantastic program which allows him to study drawing and painting for eight or so hours a day through July. It has loads of dedicated teachers and visits with professional artists and, probably most importantly, the company of other teenagers who are committed to art.
He participated in the program two years ago and did some extraordinary work.
Admission is fairly competitive; applicants need to show a portfolio, complete a drawing assignment, and survive an interview and portfolio critique.
Jack’s portfolio is really diverse these days, oil and acrylic paintings, pastel, conté, various types of prints and the medium at which he truly excels: pen and ink drawing.
Early Saturday morning, Jack and I rode out to the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a beautiful new public school in Astoria. While he went off for his audition, my pal Tommy Kane drove up and we pulled our pens and drew next to the elevated subway overpass. I think this may be my first drawing in this borough.
An hour later, Jack appeared with a broad grin: “Interview went well. The teacher didn’t like my paintings but loved my drawings and sketchbooks. I think I’m in.” I’m sure his confidence isn’t misplaced, but then I’m his biggest fan. We hope to hear the verdict soon.
Next landmark event: next’s months audition for the Summer Outreach program at the famous Cooper Union School of Art.

Under the subway overpass, Tommy draws the 99c store.

This is Jack’s current portfolio.[click on any thumbnail to see the gallery].  Next time, I’ll share some of the work in his sketchbooks.