“Conference room. San Ramon, California”. 2013. Blood, sweat, ink and watercolor

What does it take to lead a truly creative life? What demons must you slay? What ancient voices growl from deep within your head, chanting familiar curses?

What can art do to show you the way? How do other artists embolden you and say, “It is possible. It really is.”? Do you think of Van Gogh in his shack, deciding to abandon the ministry to paint through his remaining days?

What is the price of golden handcuffs? How firmly does Money hold you by the tail, insisting it will never share your love and attention? Can art ever compete?

What do the people around you say? Do they encourage you to leap? Or pepper you with their own doubts?

Are you willing to be selfish? What’s the cost?

What are your fantasies about the way it could be? What does the best day look like? What about the scariest one? How does your grimmest fantasy compare with the worst trial you’ve ever actually endured— and overcome?

What does it take to root your life in passion, rather than necessity and obligation?

How many days do you have left on this earth? How many of them belong to you?

When, finally, will the time come?


Now that my house is back to normal, I want to catch up on the all things I have been doing for the past month.

Shoot #1:  Three weeks ago, I traveled to Los Angeles to shoot some commercials for AIDS Day (December 1st). We filmed near Santa Clara in a fantastic location, an entire Mexican village that was built just to be used as a set. It has a half-dozen streets lined with bars and churches and various hovels, all uninhabited and weathered in the hot California sun. I’ve used it as a stand in for West Africa twice now.

The new sherriff in town.

The town doctor.

Filming in our traditional African village. Tortillas on the side.

My limo awaits.

Back in LA, we shot in an abandoned hospital which was still full of equipment and supplies. It was like something from “The Walking Dead,” and filled me with an eerie feeling that resurfaced during last week’s power outage in New York.

This emergency room needs an emergency room.

Spell check. Stat!

I napped in here.

This left me in stitches.

A good subject for a drawing.

The shoot went very smoothly (I’ll post a link to the commercials when they’re done) and then I flew back to New York and immediately went into production for another client, shooting around the city and environs. More on that in my next post…

EDM #20: Draw something “Dad” – in honor of Fathers Day

Well, obviously it’s not Father’s Day today but I happen to be working on a project that is Dad-related so I’ll focus on that.

A month or so ago, my friend Risa asked me to illustrate an essay she had written for a book on fatherhood that some people in New York are putting together. Risa’s essay is about a photo of her and her dad taken when she was a teenager, a time of stress and ambivalence. She asked me to draw from an old photo she cherished and, because I like Risa, I said I’d do it.

The reference picture.

She sent me a not terribly good color copy of the picture and the struggle began. I just could not figure out how to turn this picture into something good. It was contrasty, the features were in shadow, there’s not real detail when you look at it up close, the composition was indifferent and a corner of the picture had been scissored away. Whine, whine, moan, moan.

Strangest of all, Risa at 14 looked exactly like my mother at 16 — distractingly so.

My mum in 1955.

For the last months, every day or so, I have taken another run at it. Here are a few discarded examples:

Risa as mildly nauseated skeptic.

Risa as hag with liver condition.

Risa and dad done hastily in sumi.

Risa’s dad as Sicilian olive farmer.

Risa as drawn by Daniel Clowes.

Risa’s dad as drawn by Al Hirschfeld.

Risa as David Brenner.

I actually kind of like this. Sketchy, on tracing paper. One eye way too high.

And finally this morning, under the pressure of the EDM challenge, I finally made a drawing I like. The key was their hair, making it as ridiculous and bushy as possible so they are united despite their ambivalence in some sort of genetic connection that they cannot avoid. I drew it with a Faber-Castell PITT artist pen (XS) and a crow quill in India ink on bond paper. Does Risa look too much like a small Sharon Osbourne?

Anyway, I hope that Risa likes it. I’ll let you know if it gets in the book.

Finally, something I am liking.

Dancing with myself

I have become utterly bored by my breakfast (in dismay at my shortening belt, I’ve taken to eating celery and radishes and the like while staring out the kitchen window dreaming of waffles) so I have embarked on a new subject – my reflection. I don’t think it’s pure vanity but rather the easy availability of the subject and his increasing lumpy wrinkledness which makes for more interesting lines and shadows than the usual bagel.

I have also been considering the several international trips I have scheduled for the rest of the year and wondering if there’s an easy way to make Sketchbook Films on my own while I am abroad. I plan to draw, obviously, while I’m there and it would be interesting to share the process with you. Unfortunately I won’t be able to sneak my crew into my bag, so I may have to make do with ingenuity and a jury-rigged camera setup.

To that end, I knocked out a quick test at home which was fairly educational. I didn’t plan it properly so I ended up drawing myself with a couple of Sharpies on an old shopping list and the light was quickly fading. The old Flip camera I was testing likes a lot of sunlight so I’ll probably get better image quality in Shanghai, Rio, Capetown and Perth. The resulting film is a bit ugly and fairly interesting, like the drawing itself, and if you have any creative suggestions about how to improve future versions (that don’t require helicopters, Teamsters, or an army of makeup artists), please leave a comment. I have been collecting some small tripods and a wide-angle lens so testing will continue.

If you think the idea of me doing a drawing and stopping to readjust a barrage of cameras around me like some schizophrenic paparazzo, you are quite right. These are the sacrifices I willingly make for art.