How to make an artist.


When I first started drawing in a journal, almost twenty years ago, I didn’t know anyone else who did it. I bought books on drawing and I looked at catalogs of art workshops and courses but none of them described what I was getting out of drawing and recording my life: a real personal transformation. I wasn’t just interested in mastering media and technical challenges.  I wanted to change how I saw the world.
Then I found one book that described illustrated journaling. It was called “A Life in Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal” by Hannah Hinchman. Hannah draws beautifully but underlying her lovely illustrations was the message I had been seeking: draw your life and you’ll live it more deeply. I carried the little paperback everywhere ’till the binding broke and the pages fell out.
Next I discovered a  ‘zine in a record store in the East Village. It was called “Moonlight Chronicles” published by D.Price who lived in Eastern Oregon. It was a simple illustrated journal, drawn with a pen in a book and chronicling his life.  Just what I was doing.  I wrote to him and asked for some back issues.  Soon we were writing to each other regularly and we became fast friends. We traveled across the country to meet up and draw. In Manhattan, in Oregon, in California, in Death Valley. Our lives were completely different. I was an ad guy living in Manhattan. He was a hobo living in a kiva in the woods. But we had this thing in common, a thing that could include the world.
Then, as I spent more time online, I met Richard Bell.  He was recording his life and observational drawings and sharing it on a web site called Wild Yorkshire.  We started corresponding and eventually I started keeping a blog, just to share things with him.
One day, I was walking through the East Village and saw a guy sitting on the curb drawing in a book.  As I got closer, I saw it was my old pal Tommy Kane.  We hadn’t seen each other in a half dozen years.  I told him I also drew in a book He said he knew, he’d read my blog and it had given him the idea.
Fast forward a decade. Now I have thousands of friends around the world who all love what I love: recording their lives in drawings in a book. This simple habit has changed my life.  But what has made it all the more rewarding is sharing my drawings, learning from others, getting support and encouragement.
Maybe you also draw in book. But maybe you don’t know anyone else who does. Maybe you live far away and feel all alone in what you are doing. You may have joined an online community but deep down you would love it if someone you knew shared your passion, someone you could sit with on the weekend, someone whose journal you could hold, someone who could share their experiences and experiments. A neighbor, a relative, a colleague.
You can make it happen.
Just pick up an extra sketchbook and pen and ask them to sit with you. Show them the basics you have learned. Show them the work you admire. Help them overcome their own fears about not having skills or talent. Encourage them in what they do.
The habit of making art is wonderful. Sharing it is sublime.

My glass is half full. But can I drink the water?


So much contemporary fiction these days, especially the stuff for kids and YAs, is dystopian — people trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world in which electricity and information technology have disappeared. I think that’s because we all know deep down that we are relying on this stuff too much.

That’s been brought home to me over the past couple of weeks here in China.  A hundred times  away I reach for my phone or pull up Google on my laptop … and am stymied in some way (FYI, Google, Facebook, YouTube, and lots of innocuous websites are all blocked here. You need a VPN to get access to them and that is far from reliable. And the powers-that-be are supposedly just randomly choking the life out of people’s bandwidth too).

Under certain circumstances that can be a relief, a way of getting off the maddening treadmill of emails and texts, and I am all for it — when it is self-imposed.  But it can be a real drag when you are lost in a hou-tong (a labyrinthine Beijing neighborhood of twisting lanes and dead ends), Google maps is blocked, and have no way to ask anyone for directions because you can barely say ‘hi’ in Chinese.

And it actually becomes a little scary when you spend two hours sitting on a United plane on a Beijing runway only to be told that your flight has been cancelled and you need to get off the plane, get your bags and find yourself a new flight. Which is what happened to me last night. The flight attendant muttered a phone number over the PA which I scrambled to write down — but my phone (not really working here to make calls, get texts or get data — thanks, Verizon) only reached some incomprehensible Chinese message. 

Eventually another passenger helped me connect but the only flight I could get on would be in forty eight hours, i.e. tomorrow. I made my way to a hotel, tried to make some calls to get an earlier flight, reached lots of dead ends and people who don’t speak any English, and then finally resolved to just chill out here, a dozen thousand miles from home and twenty miles from anything but the airport. 

I left my phone charger in my other hotel, the wifi is spotty (in fact, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to upload this post), a volcano blew up in Japan, there are demonstrations in Hong Kong, a madman apparently burnt down the control tower in Chicago, and my throat is raw from two weeks of Beijing smog.

However, I have a bagful of pens, ten blank pages left in my journal, a really good breakfast buffet, the Discovery Channel, a decent charge on this laptop and there are no zombies or vampires or nuclear plumes out my hotel window. 

It’s all good.

Oh, and I’ll also be polishing my best-ever klass for Sketchbook Skool. It’s all about how to make art when you travel, even just on a trip to the grocery store.  Join me and enroll at Sketchbook

Further on down the road

The final leg of our cross-country drive.  4,000 miles, 10 days, loads of eating, driving, drawing, and fun. Click on any picture to see the gallery. Or you can follow me on instagram: dannyobadiah.

Images from the road.

We are driving from LA to NYC.  I’ll post pictures from the trip here. Click on any picture to see the gallery.

Or you can follow me on instagram: dannyobadiah.


photo 2 copyI finished cleaning out my studio today, this old garage in which I’ve I spent much of the last eleven months. I felt a bit melancholy as I swept it out and locked the door for good.

I came here last autumn not knowing what I was doing or what might become of me, but I felt I needed a place to do it in. And I’ve done quite a bit between these three walls. I picked up a brush again and made forty feet of paintings. I wrote and illustrated a book. And started another. I wrote, shot, and edited films in here. I read books. I thought. I napped. photo 1 copy

And we started Sketchbook Skool out of this garage, like real West Coast entrepreneurs. Maybe they’ll put up a plaque.

And now, concrete and wood, it’s going back to being a garage again. But me, I’m not going back to what I was. IMG_7924

Jenny and I are hitting the road today. We’re heading eastward on what was Route 66. Don’t know how long we’ll take to get back to New York. A week, two, whatevs. I’ll try to keep you reasonably updated.  Follow us on  Instagram: dannnyobadiah

Life story.

corners n curves

Tonight I was thinking about the story of my life. The story that began when I was born and then certain things happened. My parents did certain things, my family was a certain way, we lived in a certain place, I went to certain schools. That was my childhood. In some ways, it was like other people’s childhoods but in other ways it wasn’t. But it was the only childhood that I had.

And then I had my teen years. My adolescence was, what five or six years of my life. They were pretty important years, even though I don’t actually remember that much about them. I remember the first time I kissed a girl, the first time I drank so much I threw up on the subway, the first time I was in a play.

These were all important events in my life. But they were one-time events and I will never have them again. All these events were difficult to judge and put into context at the time. Things happened that seemed incredibly important at the time but now I don’t remember them at all. Whereas other things that seemed trivial have remained with me for decades since.

What I was thinking about tonight was, I guess, this finite quality of my life. Not death, the end, but just the whole arc of my life. Right now I am at a certain point in my life. It feels like it’s probably the middle of my life but I don’t know that for sure — I could be a day away from the end. But assuming it is the middle of my life, I can’t necessarily look at it and see how everything that has preceded it has led to this point. It feels sort of like progress but also somewhat random.

Looking back at those events in the past that had either a significant impact on me or were completely forgettable, I’m struck by the fact that they are so difficult to assess. I look at things that were clearly watersheds, like getting married, having a kid, losing a loved one, but all those events turned out to have a different meaning than I thought they would have the time. It’s just proved impossible to chart the course of my life or even understand it as it unfolds.

So I could look at this very moment, sitting here, a certain point in the summer, when certain events have happened or changes took place, and I can imagine that I could look back on this time and see it for something or other, but right now I have no idea what that is.

The only meaningful way to look at your life is twofold. On one hand, this big sweeping story: I was born, I lived my life, and then it ended. Or the minuscule: one day at a time, one hour at a time, putting down the events of each day in my journal, I ate this for lunch, I talked about that with my friend, I bought new tires, I discovered a lump, I found five dollars on the street. I can’t tell whether it matters, or why, or how much, I can only live through it. And thinking about the big picture reminds me that this is the only time that I will have today, and because I don’t know what role or purpose today will hand I should try to live it fully.

Perhaps this is all just a trite observation. But tonight it struck me that my life is like a TV show and I can pause it and see how much time has passed in the episode so far, but I can’t tell how much time is left. I can look back on what has happened in the episode so far but I can’t change any of it. And what is to come may or may not have as much excitement or laughs as what has transpired so far but I plan to watch the rest of it regardless.

When I look back at what has happened so far, it’s again that feeling that that was my one childhood, that was my one adolescence, that was my one first job, and that’s it. It can make life seem fleeting but it can also show the importance of each one of these sections, including the section I’m in now. And when I think about the uniqueness of this period I’m going through, it makes me want to get the most out of it, to not take it for granted but to live it deeply, richly, cause this is the one I have. ‘One Life to live’, so I guess in the end, yes, the conclusion is trite. But somehow, tonight, that didn’t make It any less true or less important to think about.

Oh, and I know my blog looks different, You’ll get used to it. So will I.

Father’s Day

boothHow do you convey what it is to feel pride in your child? It makes one’s own accomplishments pale. Because it is your doing — and so much more.
It is the sum of the love and work you put in over the years, the lost sleep, the dilemmas, the improvisation, the fear that your own failings would leave scars. And it is a second chance at your own life, a do-over that lets you rewrite the decisions you came to regret. It is the high road.
But of course it’s not so simple. A child is not a puppet to toe a well-laid plan. Every child has her own intentions, his own hopes and flaws. And yet when things turn out well, when they amaze, there is no height more exhilarating.
I grew up without a dad and had to write my own handbook. And becoming a father was a scary business at the start. Every setback seemed so high stakes, so unutterably bleak. But I was fortunate to have a boy who rarely disappointed or scared us. Quite the contrary. And now I feel him pass me on the track, surging ahead to make his own brighter mark. For what more could I hope?
Being a father is a dance — step forward, step back; lead, follow; hold, then let go. You are investing your all in a person who is destined to fly away and then (you pray) to return.
And the stakes of that dance are so high. Of all the jobs you can fail at, none is more significant than being a parent. And we all fail. How we dance back from that brink is a test of our mettle and our ultimate effect on the world to come.
When your child is suffering or lost, there is no deeper fear or sharper pain. ‘Take me instead,’ you inevitably say. Because only parenthood reveals the awesome power of unconditional love, of how much even your feeble heart is capable of.

Another human that makes us more so.