Welkome to Sketchbook Skool

This may sound selfish but I don’t care.

Art makes my life richer and happier. And I want share that discovery with as many people as I can. The more people I meet who make art and are crazy about it, the more inspired I get to make stuff too.

On Wednesday, I spoke to a group of eighty people in Scottsdale, most of whom had never drawn since grade school. Now, a good number of them have caught the fever to keep an illustrated journal too. It was a day well spent.

I want more days like that. And I want to infect a lot more people with the passion for making art. I can travel around and give workshops and talks and speeches. And I can write more books. I plan to continue doing all those things. But I want more….

I’ve been blogging here for a decade. And I’ve been part of several great Everyday Matters communities, on Yahoo, Facebook, and Flickr. I’ve met hundreds of amazing artists and collaborated with many of them on my books.

And now, finally, thanks to an email exchange with my friend Koosje Koene, I get to be part of one of the most exciting online experiences anyone can have.

Koosje and I have been working with a group of insanely talented sketchbook artists to create an amazing project called Sketchbook Skool.  It’s sort of a high-quality online/video art school dedicated to illustrated journaling — to recording everyday life in a little sketchbook, to discovering how beautiful the world is, to getting a deeper sense of meaning and of creative confidence.

Here’s a film about it.  You can learn a lot more at the Skool’s website.

Our dream is to bring together people who love to draw and paint and record their lives into one large community and together to discover new habits, techniques, opportunities, friendships, and adventures. It starts today as we open our doors with our first online semester of klasses, taught by six artists who love to teach and share what they know. Hopefully you will join us and deepen your skills and passion, whatever your level of experience so far.

At the beginning of the summer, another group of artists will join us and we will begin the second semester of Sketchbook Skool. We already have  commitments from an amazing group, enough to fill the fakulty bench of Term Two. We plan to have four such semesters in the next year — more teachers with more stories, ideas, inspiration to get us all filling a library full of sketchbooks. And we have even bigger dreams beyond….

I know it’s selfish. It’s rare that you get to build a school just so you can take klasses in it with amazing teachers you idolize. Koosje and I think we’ve done just that. We’re lucky . And so are you. You get to join us.

Find out more about Sketchbook Skool.

The fears of a clown.

I am afraid. I am afraid of lots of things and always have been.
When I was little, I was afraid of getting lost, of monsters, of the dark.
Later I became afraid of girls.
Of exams.
Of plane crashes.
Of my stepfather.
Of fire engines pulling up outside my house.
For a while, I was afraid of going to the ATM, afraid I had no money
I have long been afraid of my body, of the hidden diseases and disasters it is concealing.
I have been afraid of strangers who write me mean emails telling me why they no longer like me or my blog.
I have been afraid of speaking to crowded rooms.
I have been afraid of death, especially the deaths of people I love.
I have been afraid to draw, afraid I can’t do it.

I have come to believe that my life’s purpose, the key to my happiness, is to pare away the things I fear.
Some I have outgrown — I can now sleep with the door closed and the lights off.
Some I have had shaken out of me — I don’t fear death much anymore. Bring it on, bitch.
Some I have just faced — I have had a physical, so I know I am healthy, regardless of what the monkey voice tries to make of that twinge in my gut, the ache in my knee. I speak to groups of all sizes, no butterflies. I drive the freeways, radio blasting. I fly hundreds of thousands of miles, cool as a clam. I quit my fucking job. I fell in love again. I moved across the country. I roar, godamn it, and I rock.

A few months ago, I overheard somebody at the gym talking about something called “Clown School”. I googled it. I found there’s one here in town. I signed up for the next intensive session. Why? Because I have no idea what it is but it sounds scary and important and utterly alien. Then I committed to not to think about it again until the day arrived. Why? So I wouldn’t chicken out.
I am now in my final day of Clown School. It was very scary — as clowns can be. Not because we wore makeup and big shoes, which we haven’t, but because we confronted many of the things that scare me the most. I stood in front of a room of strangers staring each one in the eye and telling embarassing shameful things. I collaborated with strangers on humiliating choreography. I shrieked with fear, wailed with grief, howled with anger until I literally lost my voice. I sung a spontaneous song about what I loathe most. I danced across the stage, by myself, to demonstrate my self-confidence, and then had to do it again and again and again, until I was utterly without guile or reserve.
I have never before seen the people who saw me do this, and I sincerely hope that, though I loved them all, I never see them again. I couldn’t have done it otherwise.
Mostly, I revisited the most powerful emotions there are, familiar and often hateful emotions that I have worked so hard for so long to deny and avoid. And now, for day after day, I have sought them out and felt them surge through my body, grip my throat, shudder through my veins, cramp my stomach, churn my bowels. Terror. Loss. Humiliation. Sorrow. And joy, lots of joys — the longest lasting physical toll was the aches in my cheeks and neck and stomach: aches from too much laughter.
I am not a physical person, I spend all too much time living exclusively between my ears. But a few days of Clown School have helped me loosen my hips, have reminded me of what it is to really move with feeling, to express myself spontaneously from my gut, from my spine, from my balls, to be gripped by rhythm and to respond on a subconscious visceral level to another’s movement, to an impulse, to an emotion deep within.
Our teacher, a wise and hilarious clown, told us that clowning is about the importance of being ridiculous, because to be ridiculous is to fail, and failure is what we all have in common, the most basic and honest human experience, the one that helps us grow and change and improve and survive. If we are willing to open ourselves up and be laid bare, to respond to the moment and without hesitation, to connect deeply with our audiences’ eyeballs and the minds behind, we will be freed of the bullshit that holds us back. We will tap into the deep wellsprings of creativity that lie beneath our artifice and style and selfconscious crap and hesitation and self-deception and excuses and fears. We will make art of truth.
Time and again, as I adressed old emotions in a new way, I thought about drawing.
About how the most important part of drawing is not what pen you use or the weight of your paper. At their core, drawing, painting, clowning, all art, are about letting go, of responding from your gut, of trusting, of working hard. Can you let go of all your preconceptions and finally, truly, truthfully see? Can you embrace and trust your audience rather than trying desperately to impress or con them? Can you put in the hours, the sweat, the pain of failure, so you can get deeper and deeper, looser and looser, sharper and sharper, digging down to essential truths?
Art is not entertainment. It is the way to what matters in our lives. To conquer our fears, we must face them, turn their ugly lies to beautiful truth, and share what we have made of them on the page or the stage.
I may just be a clown and a not very good one at that, but I ask you this: If you aren’t making art, what are you afraid of?

Fallink in love again

fallinkWhile visiting Bergamot Station, a collection of art galleries in Santa Monica, I happened into Hiromi, a lovely store full of exotic paper from around the world. The store blind-sided me — Jack and I really just wanted to see some art — so I wasn’t prepared to start properly drooling over Korean mulberry Hanjo, Bhutani Dekar, or handmade tissue from Berlin.
Rooting around the shop’s counter for a business card as a reminder for a future more leisurely and acquisitive visit, I came upon a basket of what seemed to be regular old rollerballs pens. But on closer inspection, these unassuming bits of white plastic revealed themselves to be superfine Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pens. Their tips weren’t brush shaped, more like a plasticky fiber tip, so I tried one out on a scrap of paper.
As the first line serpentined out onto the page, clouds parted, birds tweeted, the world became ashimmer in a golden glow. This pen was amazing, as flexible and responsive as a steel nib, capable of super thin lines, then big fat wet ones, and all the gradations in between. The lines were jet black, crisp when I wanted, mushy when I didn’t.
I was in love. Again.
My name is Danny and I am a pen Lothario, a promiscuous and fickle romantic. It’s high time to sit down and discuss my oat-sowing ways before I commit blindly to yet another drawing playmate.
Flash back. My first pen was a roller ball, the Uniball, a friendly and welcoming old stand-by. It’s cheap, widely available, waterproof and a sensible choice, the pen next door. But after a while, its dependable lines began to bug me. They had so little character and variation. And the way the hard ball tracked a groove into soft paper began to grate, high heels tap-tap-tapping on parquet.
Another fling: a superfine needle-nosed technical pen with a pointy backside and a cap that always got lost. I drew microscopically with this pen, favoring smaller and smaller sketchbooks, until I was tempted to draw entire landscapes on the head of a pin while peering through a loupe. It was a super-anal relationship — clearly not healthy.
In a stationery store in the Esposizione Universale Roma, where Mussolini built a grand expo to celebrate the triumph of fascism, I came upon my first Faber-Castell PITT artist pen. Despite the unseemly way in which we met, these pens have been loyal friends to me ever since and I have PITTs stuffed in every drawer and pocket. They are the old standbys, the ones I come back to when the latest fling lets me down. I am never quite ready to settle down with any of the PITT family. Not even the soft, warm embrace of the Big Brush Pen. Always a bridesmaid, alas.
Speaking of big-boned pens, I spend a crazy month or so this fall scrawling on cardboard with increasingly huger Sharpies, working my way up to the King Size and finally the Magnum. Wow. I was a little wild and out of control for a few weeks, going on pure instinct and I loved the abandon of these fist-filling chunks of inky permanence. They can’t be let near my sketchbooks, however, drooling and seeping through the pages like Rottweiler puppies.
Another pal let me down this fall. My Lamy Safaris have fallen out of favor; well, to be fair, the blame falls on the ink that runs through their veins. For some time, I had been blaming my steel-nibbed calligraphy pens for the smears and speckles that kept appearing on my finished drawings but finally realized that the real culprit was the Noodler’s Bulletproof black ink in the Lamys I draw with. Now this ink is amazingly good stuff, black, waterproof, and super-permanent when it’s thoroughly dry. And there, quite literally, is the rub. I work fast, I work messy and if the page isn’t 100% dry before I turn it — catastrophe. Supposedly, it dries in under a minute; I have waited far longer still with disastrous results. And when I am in a period of wild abandon, cavorting with Sharpie Magnums, I have no time for noodling with Noodler’s plodding pace. So my Lamy’s are at the back of the desk until my pulse slows once more.
Back to my new Japanese amor. It didn’t take me long to discover her flaw — the ink is not waterproof. With a moist brush, her lines turn into a pool of ink. However, if decades of marriage taught me anything, it’s that one must compromise to be happy. And so for now, I am willing to draw and only draw. No slatherings of Dr. Ph Martin’s, no limpid pools of Winsor Newton. Simple line drawings are fine for now. Especially when those lines are springy, expressive and full of life. They suggest color, even in black and white. As we head into the grays of winter, I will work within Kurtake’s limitations. But Spring is not far off and my heart may soon wander again. Just saying.

Addendum.  This is the specific pen I just fell in love with. You can find it also on JetPen.

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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The art of living.

flowers

Life is not an oil painting, sealed behind varnish and clamped in a golden frame, hanging in a white walled gallery in Chelsea, waiting to be bought by a hedge fund manager’s third wife.
Life is not an edition of etchings, a long series of identical impressions.
Life is not a mural, intended as a public display or the backdrop to an expensively furnished room. Life is not wallpaper.
Life is not a bronze sculpture, cold, monumental, an abstracted, idealized image of a hero long forgotten.

Life is a shelf.
A long shelf partly filled with journals. Some of the journals are hand-made, some store-bought, some in ornate covers, some stained and dog-eared.
Some of the journals are completely filled, others are abandoned half-way, maybe to be taken up at a later date. Some of the books are filled with paper that felt just right under your pen, smooth and creamy, bold and bright. Others were experiments that failed or overreaches, made of materials you weren’t ready to master quite yet.
Sections of the shelf may be filled with identical volumes, a type of book that you found comfortable at the time and stuck with it, disinterested in experimentation and change so you kept filling one after another. On the shelf, they may look the same, identical spines all in a row like a suburban cul-de-sac. But inside, each page is different, drawn by the same hand and pen, yet recording unique observations, days that fill up identically-sized boxes on the calendar but were all filled with different challenges, discoveries, lessons and dreams.
Each page of each journal is always different. Some are perfectly drawn and brilliantly written, insightful and illuminating. Others are a failure, with poor perspective and distracted lines. Some of the pages are dappled with raindrops or a splash of champagne, others are drawn in haste, still others crosshatched with great intensity and care. Some contain shopping lists, phone numbers of new friends, boarding passes to far-away places. Some are bright and colorful, witty and bold. Others are intimate and personal, never to be shared. Some pages describe loss and death, others a drawing of a gift you took to a baby shower.
None of these pages is an end in itself. No matter how good it seems at the time, eventually, you turn each one over. Even the ones at the end of a volume are merely leading to the first fresh page of the next. You fill the page, maybe you like what you drew or maybe it was a disappointment, but there’s always another to follow and another beyond that.
You try your best with each blank page, try to make something fresh and beautiful. Some of the time you feel excited and proud of what you’ve made, at other times you are disappointed and desperate. Often, a page you thought was just a turd looks a whole lot better when you come back to it years later. The drawing you thought was clumsy and flawed reveals some new insight and truth about who you were at the moment, fresh energy, naiveté, hope, darkness before the dawn. Each drawing, whether you know it at the time or not, contains truth. You just have to trust it and keep on drawing and writing and living your life.
Life is a process, and every one has the same end result: that last volume, partly-filled, cut off when we thought there was still art left to make. No need to rush to get there. Make the most of the page that lies open before you today.