Death Valley Sketchbook

deathvalleyjournal

A decade ago, I did a week-long drawing trip through Nevada and parts of California with my pal, D.Price. The sketchbook I kept (only my 7th to that point) was the first step in my publishing career. When I shared it with an editor at City & Co., who liked it so much she asked me to assemble a book of my journals. Ultimately, though I ended up placing that book with Princeton Architectural Press (Everyday Matters), it was so nice to have someone interested in my work and this concentrated drawing trip was the kick-off point.
I was flipping through the original journal today and thought I’d make a little video tour. It’s also notable as several other firsts — one of my first hand-bound books, one of the first times I made a dedicated journal for one trip, and one of the first times I experimented with watercolors.

The film I made ended up being eleven minutes long, so I cut it into two episodes. You can see them both there.

Oh, and if you like this sort of thing, let me know and I’ll do more if it. (Though I am not trying to make anything technically sophisticated with these little films, I would love to know if there’s any particular information you’d like to know about my sketchbooks). I appreciate your comments and insights.

Childhood memories

map.jpg
(click images to magnify)When I was a boy, I travelled a great deal. My family wasn’t in the Armed or Diplomatic services. I guess they were just adventurers, peripatetic wanderers, refugees, gypsies.

These are pages of random memories, without any real conclusions, just snapshots of stuff. I drew them from old family albums with a dip pen and india ink, painted them with watercolors. If you can bothered, click to enlarge the pages and read the captions.

fascist.jpg
My maternal grandparents (Gran and Ninny) were German refugees and were married in Rome. Mussolini threw them out in the mid 1930s.

1940.jpgThen they escaped to the part of India that became Pakistan (after World War II and Partition). My grandparents were doctors and they remained in Lahore for thirty-five years. My great-grandparents had also fled Germany and joined them in India, but later moved to Palestine. My mother (Pipsi from Püppchen or ‘little doll’ in German) and my uncle grew up in Pakistan, then went to boarding school and university in England.

baba.jpgI was born in London and first went to Pakistan when I was two. Of all the places I’d lived till I came to America, I always thought of Pakistan as home.

landing.jpgThe long voyage to Lahore, via plane or ship, was always an event.

wallah.jpgSnake charmers and bear trainers came to our house to perform for me.

tongas.jpgLahore was always bustling.

girls.jpgWe moved to Pittsburgh when I was five, then Canberra, Australia when I was six.

danny.jpgAt nine, I moved back to Pakistan alone and lived with my granparents for a year and a half.

oranges.jpgThen we moved to a kibbutz in Israel.

abatoir.jpgI went to a public school and became fluent in Hebrew. I also got my first job, at a slaughterhouse. When I was thirteen, a week before the Yom Kipur War, we moved to Broooklyn.

Oregon and Back

Outside Joseph

Jack and I just spent a week driving 1,000 miles or so (a crazy distance for New Yorkers) across Oregon and back to visit our pal, d.price. It was the first time Jack has seen the huge scale of things in the West and the first time we’ve done and dad-and-boy epic drawing trip.

My Oregon journal

My journaling skills were a little rusty. I haven’t been doing bona-fied illustrated journaling in awhile; over the past few months, I’ve been drawing various things in various books in various ways. So I decided to take a long two drawing books, one larger for ink and such, the other a smaller one made by Roz Stendahl. It’s 3 and 3/16 inches by 3 and 3/4 with Fabriano Artistico 90 lb. cold press paper, palm-sized and very handy.

OJournal1 Jack's Passport

We began the trip a little spasmodically as you can read above. We had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and then double back to get Jack’s passport (which turned out to be completely unnecessary — kids under 18 don’t need ID to fly).

Fake Lewis & Clark journals

In Portland, we rented an SUV (a very odd vehicle for me, the non-car owner) and headed east. Jack is a very able navigator and we used the Google maps function on my Blackberry. We took our time ( on my last trip to Oregon, I got my first and very expensive speeding ticket; this time, I relied on my cruise control to keep us legal) and stopped at interesting stuff along the way. Looking for lunch, we stumbled into the Bonneville Dam and its sturgeon hatchery. We learned about fish ladders and saw the most enormous fishies ever — critters a dozen feet long placidly floated past the hatchery window like prehistoric aquatic cattle. As its near the end of their trail, replicas of Lewis and Clark’s journals were also on display.

OJournal CharBurger

We found lunch at the politically incorrect CharBurger and then continued east.

OJournal3 Pendelton

The weather had been overcast and intermittently rainy since we’d left Portland but midday things started to heat up.We were pretty knackered from the long day and decided to make camp midway, pulling into Pendleton to find a motel. We decided to look for one where we could swim and ended up at the Travelers’ Inn which boasted a pool with the dimensions and sanitary status of a New York urinal. After paying for the night, we discovered our room was similarly fragrant; clearly the former resident had developed some sort of kidney disorder and was forced to use the thick shag rug as a bedpan.

Sold out show in Pendeleton

Eschewing a dip and a nap but still anxious to escape the rain, Jack and I headed to the town cinema. A triplex, it proved to be sparsely attended. In fact, we were the only audience for the 4:40 show of ‘Tropic Thunder’, the sole patrons of all three screens. We returned to the Inn and found our next door neighbors were burning hot dogs on a propane grill outside our door.

We miss her

Early the next morning, we had a hearty breakfast ( we miss Patti!) and finished the last leg of the journey. We pulled into Joseph and met up with D.Price. Dan gave Jack a tour of his meadow, pointing out the various tiny buildings he has built by hand.

d.price's studio

There’s the studio where he writes and prints his magazines.

Sweat lodge

The sweat lodge where we would spend evenings having mystical conversations then plunging into the river.

outside the kiva

The Kiva, Dan’s hobbit house. Inside it’s about seven feet wide in diameter, wooden walls, carpeted, low ceiling with a sky light, snug as a bug.

OJournal Kiva

Here’s my impression of what it looks like inside.

Jack in the shower room

Dan has a little shower room, with a gravity shower. River water is loaded into the cistern by the bucketload and then heated electrically.

Tents in the meadow

Later, we were joined by Ryan White from Portland. He is a soil engineer who also likes to draw and camp. Jack and I spent the first night in tents and then we and Dan sopped places each night so we all had different sleeping experiences.

OJournal 4 Horsies

We drive around Joseph, stopping to draw. Here are pack horses that climb up the mountain trails that surround the town.

OJournal 5 Lake

The lake is lovely and huge, filled with boats but few swimmers. Last week it was over 100 degrees but the rain has arrived and cooled everything dramatically.

OJournal 6 Joseph

Dan’s a master of improvisation and craft. He turns old bikes into fence rails, and recycles driftwood, paving stones, and old wooden signs.

Jack in the outhouse

Jack checks out the gallery walls of the outhouse.

OJournal Trial and Lake2

Dan had some court business with his ex-wife and then we went back to drawing.

Drawn by Jack

Jack’s drawing has been transformed in the past six months, since he fell in love with drawing from life. His summer arts camp helped him develop the most amazing ability to concentrate. While Dan would dash off a drawing in minutes, Jack could sit in full meditation for an hour, until he was forced to abandon his drawing midway and come with the annoying grownups. Here’s a bunch of the drawings he made on our trip.

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

I’m admittedly biased, but I think he’s scary good.

OJournal Teepee

Dan spent years living in a teepee like this, back when dinosaurs roamed Joseph.

Jack on 1948 tractor

One of the wonderful thing about hanging out with a bunch of fellow artists, is the opportunity to compare visions. Here for example are the ways we all approached a bunch of old tractors we found in Enterprise, OR.

Ryan's tractor

Tractor by Ryan White

Dan's tractor

Tractor by Dan Price

Drawn by Jack

Tractor by Jack Tea Gregory

My tractor

Tractor by Danny Gregory

Drunk driving

Personally, if I had to spend more than a couple of days in a small town like Joseph, I would blow my brains our from boredom. However, there are endless lovely things to draw there, as there are in every corner of the world.

OJournal 10 Barn

A tornado whacked this barn a while back. Rather than fix it, the owners are waiting for Ron Paul.

Drawn by Jack

Jack’s version.

Redesigning d.price's website

One of our projects in Oregon was to help d.price to set up an online version of his ‘zine, Moonlight Chronicles. The first few pages are up and I urge you to visit his new site regularly for updates. He will continue to publish on paper but is scaling back to minimize the environmental impact of tree killing. If you like his work as much as I do, consider buying some back issues (or even the first 50 in a lovely hand-painted box).

OJournal 11 Truck

Our drawings of an old train were constantly interrupted by the fact that the crew moved it up and down the rails.

Squished coins

So instead, I put some coins on the rail and the train squished them flat:

OJournal 12 Road Back

At week’s end, we drove back across Oregon. It was a super trip — one we plan to make a regular summer tradition.

Jack & Ryan draw the train

I guess normal men do this sort of thing regularly, except they go fishing or hunting or play golf. We weirdoes prefer to just sit around, pen in hand, seizing the moment.

ImageP.S. For this and probably future posts, I shall be putting my images on flicker where you can see them larger (just click on the blog image you like and it will take you to the flickr page). I have also posted a couple of hundred other pictures up there from our trip.

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An Illustrated Life Podcast 006: Rama Hughes


This week’s podcast is an interview with LA illustrator and teacher Rama Hughes.
Rama’s work is clear and confident and his ability to capture likeness is unnerving. A long time sketchbooks keeper, he has a lot of interesting things to say about incorporating art into your every day life — he and his wife Christine seem to be endlessly creative and just sit around with their friends making things while the rest of us are at McDonald’s or watching the American Idol semifinals. I urge you to listen to this interview carefully and be inspired.
I also urge you to join Rama’s Portrait Party. My family has been drawing each other for the party (I’ll post some pictures soon).
I am very happy that Rama will be represented in my upcoming book, An Illustrated Life: drawing inspiration from the private sketchbooks of artists, illustrators and designers due out in October from HOW books ( though you can pre-order it today).
The whole episode is 47 minutes long; it’s perfect to listen to as you draw in your own journal.
Please stay tuned and consider subscribing via RSS or iTunes* to this weekly feature until the book comes out this Fall.
See all previous episodes on my podcast home page.

Having a problem playing the podcasts? Make sure you have installed Quicktime! You can get if free by clicking this link.

Oh, and here are some pictures from the Gregory family Portrait party: (I drew Patti who drew Jack who drew me….etc.) and Roz just joined the party too. Check it out!

http://www.db798.com/pictobrowser.swf