The way to work

My last office was about two miles from my home.  I could walk three blocks west, hop on the subway, get off at 23rd Street, then walk the three streets and three avenues to get to my desk in about 30 minutes. I became so used to this commute, that I could read a book the whole way. Not just while sitting in the train but while walking the streets, even when crossing them, eyes down, turning the pages.

Then I began to experiment. Some times I’d take a cab. That would save me five minutes and cost me ten bucks.  When I walked, I’d add five minutes but the trip was an adventure. I would pick a slightly different path each day, because it was grassy and wanted wear, trying to never take the exact same route. I would never read a book when I walked, never wanted to. I might listen to a podcast or some music but most of the times I left my ears as open as my eyes and I just strolled. I walked year round, no matter the temperature, taking mass transportation only when it was pouring with rain.

treeMy commute went from being a drudgery to something I genuinely looked forward to. I saw so many strange and beautiful things as I walked, I connected with the seasons, with the changes in my neighborhood, with the world around me. I would get to my office refreshed and charged up.

As drawing becomes a habit, the way I draw can become habitual too. I go through periods of being in love with the same brand of pen, using the same colors in my watercolor box, reaching for the same shades of colored pencil. In some ways that’s a good thing. Working with the same approach and the same media over a long time give me more and more proficiency. I become more efficient, more adept, and able to get my tools to work just as I want them to.

But that rarely lasts. I shake things up every few weeks. In part, it’s because I get bored with the same playmates. When I grab some new media, my drawings astonish me again. They looked like someone else, someone new drew them.  I’ll study a new illustrator, a new artist, and find their influence popping up in my own work. The journey continues over new terrain.

The deep reason for my promiscuity is that I don’t want to walk through life with my nose in a book. I want adventure and I want clarity.  It’s too easy to slide into a rut and grind out more of the same. But with novelty comes a renewed awareness, another bucket of ice water over the head, the shock of the new.

Drawing is seeing is living. Keep it real. Keep it fresh.

Drawing away the veil.

like drawing because it helps me to see. It shows me what is actually in front of me. That is important to me because I’ve tended to live in my head a lot. 

I think that started when I was very small, when a lot of time the world around me wasn’t very nice and the hard walls of my skull offered me protection. I disappeared into books. I constructed theories about the world that would explain a lot of things that even to this day are inexplicable. The seismic changes in my life that were beyond my control, peoples’ disappearances, the random and selfish behavior of grownups. In my head, things could become rational, orderly and manageable.

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But my constructions weren’t accurate. They couldn’t be. They were purposeful distortions that worked to protect me, at least for a while.  I didn’t really want to live in the real world, to face reality, because it wasn’t a good place for me. Reality didn’t use to be a friend of mine.

As an adult, when the world did mean things to me, it was very tempting to move deeper into my intellectualized view of the world.  By creating my own logic to explain the world, I could save myself from random acts.  But one pays a heavy price for disconnecting. It’s impossible to understand other people, to get a real bearing on one’s life, and ultimately to be happy. Because when you live in unreality, you can never trust your feelings.

And that’s where drawing has come in. When I hold a pen and look hard at something, I am piercing the veil and stepping out of the Matrix. It may not last for long, like diving deep to see a coral reef. But the bursting of the bubble, again and again, means breaking the temptation to disassociate from reality and run away. Instead of making habit out of fantasy, I force myself to see.

I’ve learned that being here now is not as scary as it might seem. I find now that it is easier to face even awful things things than to dwell in a fog of denial and fantasy. Some things in the world are harmful, most aren’t. Clarity makes it easier to distinguish them rather than establishing a blanket policy that keeps everyone and everything at arms’ length.  Anxiety comes from repeating old patterns when they are no longer appropriate. Treating every noise as the approach of a saber tooth tiger may have protected our ancestors but it can leave us as quivering messes. Better to face your fears, one a time, and vanquish them.

Drawing has made me look the world in the eye. That’s the only way to do it. That’s why I rarely draw from my head any more, rarely draw the cartoony faces and silly monsters that filled the margins of my high school notebooks. Now I look at a half-eaten piece of toast, a pile of bills, a broken tree branch and I boldly examine its every inch. And I do it with a pen, like an upright sword, compelling me to advance out of the shadows, to see and be seen, to take my punishment if I must, but to never again run away in fear.

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.

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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.

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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.

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* 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?

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

In production.

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FIlming an action sequence on ink spatter.

Teaching used to be a fairly simple business. You get some chalk, a dunce cap, a book with all the answers at the back and you’re in business. In 2014, it seems to be a little more complex.

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Tommy Kane and special guests on the set.

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In production with “Lord of the Pens”

When I first started thinking about doing online classes, I wanted to make sure they were as exciting and interesting as possible. So, being me and living a couple of miles from Hollywood, I immediately started to go overboard. I started to talk to my friends, many of whom you know and who are among the best sketchbook artists in the world. We decided that it wasn’t enough to just slap together some recycled lessons, a couple of PDFs and some poorly lit snapshots. We wanted to make sumptuous, hilarious, inspirational, instructional films that would get you so fired up you’d have to start drawing night and day. Our inspiration was first of all, Bob Ross, then the Cooking Channel, then National Geographic, and now we’re thinking Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

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Our mission: To boldly go where no man has drawn before.

So while everyone else was drinking eggnog, we have been deep into production.

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Warming up some ink.

Tommy and I spent several days in the depths of Brooklyn in production on his klass. Then we turned around and finished up filming my workshop. Meanwhile, Prashant is heading to India to rendezvous with a production team that will capture his insights about watercolors. Koosje is setting up lights and camera in Amsterdam.

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In the kitchen set, Tom gets his head into a drawing

Deep in a Minnesota snow bank, Roz is furiously pecking out epic scripts about paper and pens. And next week, I’ll be heading to San Diego to collaborate with Jane on her films.

Meanwhile, an elite team of even more amazing teachers are arrayed around the world, beavering away on the next wave of klasses. More on them soon.

If you want to know more about all of this flurry of activity when it is ready to launch, do sign up for our mailing list. Meanwhile, scrape together your pennies and polish your 3D glasses.

Happy New Year!

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No title. Really, that’s the title.

ArtistI think my mother was the first one to tell me, “You can’t call yourself an ‘artist’.  Other people will decide that for you. It’s pretentious to assume the title for yourself. It’s like calling yourself a  genius. Maybe you can say you’re a ‘painter’. But not an artist.”

My mum is humbling like that.

“Teacher” is another title I am loathe to assume. I don’t have a degree in teaching, I don’t work at a school. And I think teaching is one of the most important and difficult and unrecognized jobs around. I really do think that’s a title you have to earn.

But I guess I do spend a fair amount of time telling people stuff, instructing them on how to live, to drawn, to think. So I’m either a bullying bore or I am maybe a teacher. Not that the two are the same thing, of course. It’s just that if you walked into a bank and started criticizing people’s penmanship or cracking knuckles in your local Starbucks because people have poor posture and are chewing gum, well, that wouldn’t fly. Teachers get to know better because they do.

I’ve had loads of corporate titles and they all seemed sort of ridiculous. Yesterday, a guy gave me his business card and said, “There’s no title there because I still haven’t quite figured out what it is I do.” He was being modest (he was actually the boss of a really big company) but I liked his attitude.

Let me get to the point.

One of the biggest irons I had in the fire when I left my last titled job was to put together an online class.  I’ve alluded to it here a bunch of times since — but it never seemed quite right to me.  Maybe it’s because of those two titles, ”artist” and “teacher” and the even more daunting combo: “art teacher.”

A couple of weeks ago, everything changed.

As result of number of amazing conversations I had in Amsterdam, most importantly with Koosje Koene, a clear, bright path has opened up. I now know what I will be doing next and I think it will be amazing.

It combines everything I have been working on for the last decade. Making art; sharing with other people; meeting so many amazing “artists” and “teachers”; thinking about creativity and all of its gifts and obstacles; the Internet and the global nature of everything; Everyday Matters and what it has come to mean on Yahoo! and Facebook; the thousands of emails I have received from great people everywhere; my decades in advertising helping big companies tell their stories —  all of this mass of rich stuff lumped together in one beautiful stew that finally is really bubbling.

A group of us are working on something that I really think is fresh and fantastic. It’s an answer to all those people who have asked me to do more workshops or to teach online or to give them advice or make more Sketchbook Films, all the people who are interested in art and want to make it more a part of their lives. And I think it’s a great answer, like nothing out there.

We still have a lot more work to do but we think we will be ready to roll it out in March. Gulp

It’s a lesson that settling for an existing title or solution or direction may not always be as good as making up something brand new.

Which is what we are doing.

If you find this, whatever it is that I’m going on about, interesting, stay tuned.

And if you’d like me to update and include you in our project, send me an email. Please do. Even if you are only intrigued. Or vaguely interested. Or utterly confused. It’s gonna be big. And probably won’t involve titles.

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