You talkin’ to me?

 

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I’ve always talked to myself. When I was little, I would narrate my doings, describing the astonishing thing I was building with Lego, the culmination of a stellar building career, summarized in grandiose terms by a plummy narrator, like a BBC biographical documentary.

As big, batty person, I talk to myself in the shower a lot, singing, using accents, getting louder and louder, repeating phrases I like just to feel them roll off my tongue and into the tub. Usually someone else in the house knocks on the door and asks if I’m okay.

I talk to myself when I make dinner, pretending I am hosting a cooking show, explaining how to properly julienne.

I talk to myself, less loudly, when I walk, immediately clamming up if someone passes by. Or sometimes I’l wear headphones just so it seems I’m just on the phone.

I dunno, I like to hear my voice in my head, and I like the idea of saying silly nothings that could amuse only me. Those I live with sometimes get irritated by my chipperness. They aren’t morning people. Or morning dogs. No problem, I’ll talk to the sparrrows.

Sometimes drawing is like talking to myself, especially when I am drawing from my imagination. A couple of days ago, I listened to the radio and filled a page of typing paper with hippos, some buck toothed, some with trotters, a giraffe or two, a crocodile in ballet shoes. They spoke to me.

I like it, it passes the time, it is not for anyone but me. But I like to listen to whatever it is in me that wants to say hi.

Building Castles.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

Bits and bobs

Maybe it’s ’cause it’s Spring, but so many things are blossoming in my life these days.

Spring: Our Sketchbook Film called “Spring” was just on the big screen at TELUS S20FE374F-0152-43BF-9A1C-B841FCD086D2park, the new Science Centre, in Calgary, Canada. People liked it, they tell me. It seems a zillion springs ago that I sat in the park drawing for that film. This year the spring in New York seems far grimmer and my sister texted me from the train platform this morning to tell me it was cold and raining and she was over it. I didn’t mention that our car thermometer registered 97˙ yesterday in an LA parking lot. I’m a nice brother.

Fullerton: I am going to be giving my first talk in California next week at Fullerton

156-08_FC_DannyGregory_finalCollege. I will be talking about my life, my discovery of illustrated journaling and all the things it has taught me over the years. I’ll also be showing loads of images from my books.  It’s open to the public and free, so if you are in the area, please drop by and say hi. It’ll be nice to just drive to one of my talks, rather than have to fly around the world. Well, I like doing that too.

HOW in Boston:  I am giving a big presentation at the HOW Design Live conference in a few weeks. I’ll be talking about some thing brand-new for me, the inner critic, based on posts I wrote here on my blog. They’ve asked me to do the speech twice so I will be spending the whole week in Boston.  shut your monkeyIt’s been loads of fun, writing and designing a new talk, but I must say the monkey does not like being talked about and I have had to wrestle with him daily.  Now the speech has really started to come together and I am feeling great about it and I really look forward to seeing all the designers who will be there. Not to mention Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell and Stefan Sagmeister.

art Before Breakfast: My new book logois all written, illustrated and designed and is now with my publishers.  I just reviewed the galleys and it looks awesome. I am so excited about this one.  I hope it will have the same sort of impact that “The Creative License” had and help a lot of people to find the time and inclination to make art part of the their lives. Plus it has several hundred new drawings and paintings and is quite handsome. IMG_1678

Sketchbook Skool:  Our online school is humming along.  We had to cap the first klass at 2,000 students and those who couldn’t get in the door have already been signing up for when we repeat the next semester. We are well into production on the next Kourse. It’s called “Seeing” and our fakulty includes some real super stars: Cathy Johnson, Liz Steel, Brenda Swenson and Andrea Joseph. It launches on July 4th. We are doing even more elaborate and polished productions this semester and using professional video crews. I supervised Brenda’s shoot in Pasadena last week and tomorrow Liz shoots in Sydney with a director I found for her. Then Andrea will be joining Koosje in Amsterdam to shoot her klass. It’s all very international and exciting and I am now a producer, writer, artist, teacher, director, headmaster, entrepreneur, and fanboy. Koosje and I will also be teaching this and every term and I am really excited about the videos I’ll be making for my section.

Phew! Next I have to come back to New York to hang out with Jack for the summer. His term ends in a few weeks and then he begins a really exciting internship program working with some amazing painters and becoming part of the New York art scene. I am so proud of him and just know he will have a wonderful life making art. I have had such an amazing year. To think that twelve months ago, I was sitting in a meeting discussing marketing challenges for the oil industry!

The art of friendship

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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.