Going Dutch.

Amsterdam-16

Holland is the birthplace to so many artists I love. Vermeer —the original everydaymatters artist, who painted tiny moments that take my breath away. Van Gogh —the greatest self-taught artist of all, who captured the world around him and imbued it with his passion and nuttiness. Rembrandt —who was so amazing at capturing light that I scarcely bother to be inspired by him because he was on a an unreachable plain. Anne Frank —who made a humble daily journal into an immortal art piece and, despite all her hardships, said “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!” 

And of course, there’s Mondrian, and Bosch, and van Eyck and De Kooning and Paul Verhoeven…

And the museums! The Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk, and the Van Gogh , which just reopened after decades of renovation.

And then there’s the cheeses, the chocolates, the Stroopwaffles, the tulips, the prostitutes, the drugs, the wooden clogs, the windmills, the dykes, the canals, the bicycles, the ladies scrubbing their doorsteps. For a country with barely twice the population of New York CIty, it’s bursting with clichés.

I am waxing rhapsodic about the Netherlands today because I have booked my tickets for a week there in mid-November. Not the loveliest time of year to be there perhaps but I did not choose it. I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the conference of The European Council of International Schools and to tell several thousand teachers of the wonders of illustrated journaling and how it can help inspire and educate the yoots of today.

Patti, Jack and I went to Amsterdam eight years ago and had a lovely time as tourists. Now I am hoping to augment my speechifying and museum going with a few encounters with Dutch sketchbookers.

If you or someone you know can fill me in on the drawing scene there or introduce me with some people who like to draw, I would be most grateful. Or, failing that, you can just recommend a decent Indonesian restaurant or a “koffiehuis“.

Epic.

snail2

My mother just sent me a link to a site documenting a journalist’s trek on foot from southern Africa to South America (I’ll give you the link in a minute). This isn’t just another endurance stunt —Paul Salopek is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer for National Geographic so his trip is all about science and journalism. He started earlier this year and will take seven years to complete the odyssey.

I have always been fiercely attracted to this sort of epic journey.

A few years ago, I was in thrall as my pal, d.price, rode his recumbent bike some 5,000 miles from Eastern Oregon to Key West. I loved Travels with Charley and On the Road.  Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl (finally a movie!), Bill Bryson’s Appalachian trail book, A Walk in the Woods, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. The Happiest Man in the World by Alec Wilkinson describes Poppa Neutrino’s quest to build a boat out of garbage and sail it across the Atlantic. Mike McIntyre walked across the country with no money and relied entirely on The Kindness of Strangers (which is the name of his amazing book about the trip). The list goes on.

Ten years ago, I wrote a proposal for a book in which I’d follow the original epic travel journalists, Lewis and Clark, from St. Louis to the Pacific. I was going to adhere to their path and record the differences the couple of centuries had wrought. My editor said, “Make the trip, write the book, and then we’ll see.”  I didn’t. Life got in the way. Good thing Jefferson wasn’t counting on me.

Recently, Jenny has been urging me to drive across country with our dogs. I am sort of intrigued by the idea. Pros: 1. It seems romantic and epic and larger than life. 2. This is the perfect time of year for it. 3. It would be a great symbolic start to my life on the West Coast.  Cons: A) I don’t have a car. B) I think taking the dogs would make this a really bad idea. C) This is really her fantasy and she’ll already be across the country in her office in LA while I check into a long string of Motel 6s. For now, the cons have probably won but I still like the idea a lot, particularly if I could get a travel companion who I could stand to sit next to for a couple of weeks and who would be willing to stop and draw along the way.

Maybe next spring.

What intrigues me a lot about Paul Salopek’s journey is its emphasis on slow. He is taking seven years (!) to do this because he really wants to absorb the world as he goes. And he is looking for people along the way who are also seeking slowness in this madcap, speed obsessed world.

I think that’s the right thing to look for. Boy, it’s hard to slow down. I sat in the park this morning with my dogs and did a drawing. It was a small drawing, just filling a little box on the page, but I had to catch myself mid-way because I was tearing through it, barely looking at the arch I was drawing, just scratching out hasty, inaccurate and ugly lines. What the hell was my rush? It’s Sunday morning, I have nowhere to be till brunch, everyone else is sleeping, and yet I am belting through this drawing as if I was in an Olympic event. If I was Paul Salopek, I’d probably be half way to Rio by now.

Even though it’s been several weeks since I left the rat race, I still have my rat cleats on. I can feel it in the need I still have to accomplish things, to generate product, to log hours on my calendar. I so very much want to focus on the journey, the process, not the finish line but all these decades in the business world, in New York, still have me panting and pushing. I remind myself: I am on an epic adventure that will probably take another few decades to finish (in fact, I would like to push off the ending as far as possible) and what matters is the daily walk through life — the things I see, the people I meet, the lessons I learn.

If I’m really honest with myself, the reason I am not driving across country with my dogs is that the monkey is telling me I need to get to LA and start getting on with it. There’s no time for meandering and roses sniffing. I need to set up shop and start making something of myself. The monkey is wrong, again, of course. I make something of myself every day. It may not be something that can be direct-deposited, it’s true, but it’s also something that can’t be accelerated. Step by step, day by day, eyes open, head up.

—-

Here’s the link to Paul Salopek’s journey.  (I have put off giving it to you till the end of this blogpost for fear that you would rush off to read it and never come back to finish my blather. Clearly, I am better at slowing you down than I am at putting my own brakes on.)

On drinking the water.

20130811-164947.jpg
As our plane swooped down over Mexico, endless green filled the windows. My first instinct was to wonder what sort of farming this could be, dense, unbroken and stretching to the horizon in every direction. As the wheels touched down, I saw it was jungle, an impenetrable mass of unruly, complex life. The runways had been cut out of the wilderness but no attempt had been made to cultivate the creepers and trees. Nature was too vast, man too small.
Mexico is a mostly modern country with drive-through Starbucks and TGIFridays. But many Mexicans accept the unrelenting power of nature, impossible to dominate completely when the air is humid and the sun shines brightly all the live long year. Grasshoppers the size of iPhones, careen through the sky with chartreuse scales and hot-pink wings. Raccoons wander into four-star restaurants and take corn chips off the bar. Cars are sun-faded, concrete is cracked, donkeys walk slowly. It’s not a rich country, but that’s not the reason things seem shop-worn and resigned. It’s because Mexicans accept the inevitable encroachment of Nature, that it’s pointless to be fastidious when geckos will wander onto your kitchen counters and carpets of kelp will wash onto your freshly grouted patio.
I like it.
In New York, we have been beating Nature back for 500 years and we think we’ve won. So we can’t help but freak out when mice nibble on the organic granola box, when mosquitos find their way under our 600 thread count sheets, when Hurricane Sandy knocks out our wifi for a week. If Nature gains the slightest foothold, we take it as a sign that our entire civilization is crumbling.
I like that in general Mexicans are so much less uptight about perfection. They are cool if you do things that are a little risky — but hardly dangerous. Things that would have flocks of lawyers descending anywhere in the States. Unsecured seatbelts don’t have those annoying warning alarms. There are packs of cigarettes in the minibar. People build restaurants out of driftwood and light them with masses of candles. Some cars are missing fenders or bumpers and are painted patchily by hand. Most streets have no sidewalks or street lights so walking at night under starry skies can be an adventure.
We sat in a beachside restaurant that served food that would have been the envy of any entry in the NYC Zagat. But before our appetizer arrived, the waiters patrolled through with smoking pails, emitting clouds of burning citronella so chokingly dense we could barely see our $12 artisanal margaritas. The mosquitos and gnats were barely dissuaded but no one bothered to complain to the Health Department, pausing only to reach under our designer linens to scratch the welts.
Mexicans don’t value their lives less than their Northern neighbors. They just accept that we can’t control everything all the time. And that this acceptance makes life easier and preserves resources for more important things. Insisting on perfection makes thing a lot less interesting and spicy. It’s also a losing battle.
Maybe it was the heat or the Negro Modelo but my pen line was a little looser in Mexico. I did a number of scrawled pages in my journal, drawn half lying down, book propped against my spreading gut, mango juice on my unshaven chin. Maybe this was how Gauguin felt.
I am sloppy as a rule, but I’m not always loose. I value looseness because it feels more organic and expressive, more human, more natural, more the way life is. Less uptight, less gringo. Jack tells me his drawing teacher insists they draw standing up, with their pads on an easel, and that they draw from the shoulder, not from the wrist, to make bold and sweeping lines with their whole bodies. Flat on my back on my chaise, I am far from that, but I feel integrated, natural, in tune with my surroundings. My body, immersed in sweat and heat and verdant richness, feels sensual and at ease. My inner critic, the monkey is dulled too. He is chewing lazily on a mango in the shade, indifferent to my drawing. He can’t be bothered to nag me when we have the jungle at our doorstep. In Mexico, monkeys sit on your roof, squat on your car, hoot from the trees above your hotel window. But it seems they stay out of your head.
Over this past week in Mexico, I haven’t been as insanely productive as I might have been. But I have been more in tune with my nature. I’ve dismantled waves, I’ve counted grains of sand, I’ve listened to grackles eat French Fries, and I’ve felt the walls of perfection erode. Rules, goals and expectations, it turns out, may not help me make as much stuff as simply sitting in the sun and letting the world grow on around me.

I Left My Art in San Francisco…

We had a lovely mini-vacation by the Bay, eating all sorts of things and walking for miles and miles. We had amazing ice cream…

b2763ae8dc4811e28c5322000a1f8f97_7

…at a place with this for its mascot…

d2604e02dc4811e28c8322000a9e08d3_7

It’s been a bit nippy and drizzly but that didn’t dampen the mood. We bought way too many books and saw so much art everywhere.

8c410454dc4111e28df922000a9f1991_7

We saw all sorts of beautiful street murals in the Mission, including on one of my favorite of all streets, Balmy Alley:

8df55ce8dc3f11e2a8af22000a9f133c_7

I did see the following on a car’s bumper sticker…

b7dfad9edc4711e29b2522000a9f13d5_7

…but then again it was on this car….

58747c06dc4f11e2918122000a9f4d8a_7

Oh, and I gave my talk at the HOW Design Conference about creativity and sketchbooks. At first, I was a little worried about the turn out…

71885b40dcea11e2947622000a9e138b_7…but ultimately hundreds of people showed up and many came up to say hi afterwards. If you were one of them, I hope you had as much fun in San Francisco as I did.

a2605b5edc7311e2babb22000a1e868c_7Tomorrow morning, back to New York.  (I’ve done way too much traveling of late.)

 

On the Road

Here are a few souvenirs from my  whirlwind tour to San Francisco. I spent some time at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

clock

Waiting to see Christian Marclay’s “The Clock”. I watched this piece from 2:32 until 3:27. I could have stayed much longer but the film gave me an incredible sense of how much time I was wasting by watching it. The seats were incredibly comfortable. So of course I napped briefly. I think it was from 2:44 until 2:49

 I really love Jenny Saville's work. This painting is about 10 feet tall. It's super raw but also almost photographically rendered in places. Super fleshy . She's a disciple of Lucien Freud. And I'm a disciple of a disciple of a disciple of Lucien Freud.   I love to take photographs in museums but I almost always get in trouble when I do. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has a crazy rule that you cannot wear a backpack with both straps on. It has to hang off one shoulder or else a guard will come over and correct you. Mysterious and strange. like so much Modern Art 2 days ago

I really love Jenny Saville’s work. This painting is about 10 feet tall. It’s super raw but also almost photographically rendered in places. Super fleshy . She’s a disciple of Lucien Freud. And I’m a disciple of a disciple of a disciple of Lucien Freud.
I love to take photographs in museums but I almost always get in trouble when I do. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has a crazy rule that you cannot wear a backpack with both straps on. It has to hang off one shoulder or else a guard will come over and correct you. Mysterious and strange. like so much Modern Art.

These pages were drawn in idle and potentially bored moments and turned out to be the best things I got from the trip.

IMG_0283

Watercolor, PITT artist pen, gold ink.

IMG_0284

Watercolor, PIT Pen, waterbrush

IMG_0285

Left: Watercolor, PITT Pen, waterbrush. Right: India ink, dip pen.