Artist Danny Gregory inspires during ISB visit

By Tom Fearon

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New York author and illustrator Danny Gregory began his two-week visit to ISB with a Q&A session at a high school assembly on Wednesday, September 17. Encouraging students to be flexible to change and seek inspiration in their surroundings, Gregory stressed the importance of discovering their creative potential and never losing sight of their passion.

The London-born artist has authored and illustrated more than half a dozen books during a career that has seen him work in the US, Australia, Pakistan and Israel. During his Q&A session, he spoke about how he combined his work as the creative director of an international advertising agency with his artistic talent, and revealed what inspires him each time he picks up his pencil and sketchbook.

Do you have to be an artist to express your creativity?

Everybody has the ability to be an “artist” in some way. You don’t have to create paintings exhibited in a gallery or museum; we all have the potential to express ourselves creatively. Being creative means solving problems and coming up with new ideas. Everything is changing, especially in Beijing.

To think like an artist doesn’t mean you must have that title on your business card, if you even have one. But you have to be prepared to investigate and take risks. You all have the opportunity to be creative in everything you do in school and in life.

It’s less work to do what has already been done, but to be creative you have to always have inspiration and an active mind. Think about how what other people in other fields are doing could influence you; how a director creates a film could be relevant to how you want to create an app. If you want to start a business, look at how people are operating businesses in completely different fields and see how you can apply that.

For me, drawing has always been a useful tool for focusing my mind and seeing the world in a different way. Think of some other form of creative expression, be it creating music or writing poems, and use that to tap into your creativity, keep ideas flowing and make new connections.

What life lessons can you learn through being creative?

Being creative allows you to avoid boxing yourself in. It’s tempting in life to look for a label for yourself, but a more creative approach to life is allowing yourself to expand and take any opportunity that comes your way. This approach can open all kinds of doors for you. I’ve reinvented my life in different ways because I was open to do that, but there have also been times in my life where I felt I needed to be in a “box.” When you do so, you feel safe and can say, “This is where I live and this is where I work.”

But it’s a dangerous thing to do in a way, particularly when you consider the pace our world is changing. If you put yourself in a “box,” you’ll find the world has changed and left you behind because you haven’t been able to adapt.

It’s also tempting to think if you work really hard and develop certain skills, you’ll be set for life. But everything is changing all the time and if you narrowly define yourself, you may end of underprepared.

Be curious by making connections with your surroundings, meeting different people and taking risks is how you will thrive in the future.

How do you manage your responsibilities and cope with stress?

I live in New York City, which is a very busy place, and I was a major executive at an international company that involved a lot of responsibility. But I found that you need to make a commitment to use time to explore. It might be a matter of setting your alarm half an hour earlier to have some time to yourself that you might use by reading something new or creating art. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities by thinking about how busy you are; try and stay relaxed, and have faith in yourself by remembering you’re a smart, hardworking person. If you check all the boxes by engaging in every curricular activity, applying to all the right colleges and performing really well in your tests it’s easy to believe life will be fine, but life isn’t really that simple.

Considering yourself and what really interests you is more important than following a checklist and doing all the things you feel you have to do. Be true to yourself.

What influenced your decision to switch from advertising to art?

I was a copywriter and wrote lots of commercials before I became chief creative director. I published half a dozen books while working in advertising and also taught workshops.

When I was in my mid-30s I started to draw and keep a record of my life in drawings, but being creative and artistic were things I did all the time. I eventually realized I could decide to do what I wanted to do all the time, which is what I do now. It was tempting for me to think for a long time that I had to be within the corporate structure, but I learned to trust myself and do what was important to me. If they carve anything on my tombstone, it probably won’t be the titles I earned in the corporate world. Hopefully, it will be something a bit more poetic.

Why do you draw unusual scenes in life, such as people standing in line at Costco?

I carry a sketchbook and pen with me all the time, and whenever I have a spare moment I draw. Life is full of spare moments; a lot of the time we spend our spare time using Facebook, texting a friend or staring off into space. I do these things too, but I also use my spare time to draw.

How has living in New York influenced your art?

New York is full of things to draw; there’s so much energy and many things going on, but it’s also my home. I certainly go to museums and galleries and immerse myself in the “Art” world with a capital “a,” but I think of myself as existing in the “art” world with a small “a,” which means art that is part of life.

Danny Gregory will present workshops to ISB art students of various grade levels until Friday, September 26. He will attend a book signing and participate in a student-led dialogue from 4:45 pm to 5:15 pm in the MS/HS Cafeteria and then attend a student art exhibition and book signing from 5:15 pm to 6:15 pm on Thursday, September 25.

News, September 18, 2014 9/18/2014

Crazy week

IMG_1497I am back in New York  for a couple of weeks — I was tired of lovely weather and plucking tangerines of my trees each morning. I need rain, cold and bagels.

Jack is here until Monday, meeting with artists/mentors about the upcoming summer, and we have spent a lot of time talking about art and philosophy and other sophomoric matters. Such fun. I haven’t seen him since New Year’s and while he seems to be stopping at 6’2″, his brain keeps growing. I am super-proud of this boy.

I lost my wallet when I was here last, a real pain in the back pocket I managed to laboriously replace every credit card, my license and all the rest of the ephemera that seems important. Then, when I got back here and opened my bed side drawer, I discovered my old wallet and all its contents lodged therein. Grrr.

The upcoming week is gonna be nutty.

On Friday morning, we launch the first semester of Sketchbook Skool.  We are pulling together the last strands and it is kind of amazing.  I took Jack through the klasses and videos yesterday and he was surprisingly surprised by it. “It’s really rich. You shoulda charged them more.” True, tuition is cheaper than I pay for RISD (oy!).

Here’s a little summary of the semester:

  • I’ll be talking about why we need to be creative and what happens if we suppress the urge. How to draw expressively and yet accurately. How to choose art supplies. And much more from L.A.!
  • Koosje on taming your inner critic. On drawing better with colored pencils and on braving the frigid outdoors. And a whole lot more from Amsterdam!
  • Prashant Miranda on 20 years of journaling, on travel, on watercoloring and on discovering your family history through your sketchbook. And much more from all around India!
  • Jane La Fazio on mixed media, on how to uncover beauty and on turning sketchbook pages into developed works of art. And much more from sunny Southern California!
  • Roz Stendahl on how to draw animals of any kind, alive or dead(!), and what are the best media to use and why. And loads more from snowy Minnesota!
  • Tommy Kane on how to turn mistakes into masterpieces, and how to combine ink, watercolors and colored pencil to make rich, beautiful journal pages. And heaps more from deep in Brooklyn.

On Friday afternoon, I talk at the Thinking Creatively conference at Keane College.

Then on Saturday, I go to the Open Center for my workshop, Everyday Matters. I am excited to launch some new ideas for this class and to meet some folks in person.

On Sunday, I go back to LA, to work on my next series of presentations in Columbus, Boston, California….

It also looks like I will be doing an artist-in-residency in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur this fall. Details are almost nailed down.

Busy. Crazy. All good.

Me, talking.

micSometimes when I talk, I use my mouth, teeth, tongue, hands, and lots ‘n’ lots of slides. Some people find that interesting. Hence, I have a few  speaking things coming up:

You are welcome to attend any or all of them.

In production.

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FIlming an action sequence on ink spatter.

Teaching used to be a fairly simple business. You get some chalk, a dunce cap, a book with all the answers at the back and you’re in business. In 2014, it seems to be a little more complex.

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Tommy Kane and special guests on the set.

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In production with “Lord of the Pens”

When I first started thinking about doing online classes, I wanted to make sure they were as exciting and interesting as possible. So, being me and living a couple of miles from Hollywood, I immediately started to go overboard. I started to talk to my friends, many of whom you know and who are among the best sketchbook artists in the world. We decided that it wasn’t enough to just slap together some recycled lessons, a couple of PDFs and some poorly lit snapshots. We wanted to make sumptuous, hilarious, inspirational, instructional films that would get you so fired up you’d have to start drawing night and day. Our inspiration was first of all, Bob Ross, then the Cooking Channel, then National Geographic, and now we’re thinking Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

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Our mission: To boldly go where no man has drawn before.

So while everyone else was drinking eggnog, we have been deep into production.

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Warming up some ink.

Tommy and I spent several days in the depths of Brooklyn in production on his klass. Then we turned around and finished up filming my workshop. Meanwhile, Prashant is heading to India to rendezvous with a production team that will capture his insights about watercolors. Koosje is setting up lights and camera in Amsterdam.

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In the kitchen set, Tom gets his head into a drawing

Deep in a Minnesota snow bank, Roz is furiously pecking out epic scripts about paper and pens. And next week, I’ll be heading to San Diego to collaborate with Jane on her films.

Meanwhile, an elite team of even more amazing teachers are arrayed around the world, beavering away on the next wave of klasses. More on them soon.

If you want to know more about all of this flurry of activity when it is ready to launch, do sign up for our mailing list. Meanwhile, scrape together your pennies and polish your 3D glasses.

Happy New Year!

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A quickening.

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We are being very productive in the studio these days. Jack (home for Xmas from RISD) and I have been painting together, and the air is redolent with the heady scent of Gamsol and the sounds of Biggie Smalls and NPR.  Our approaches are markedly different but our passion is similar.

GARDEN

Our lemon tree has put out  a fresh crop and the oranges and mandarins are ripe for picking. Each morning in my bare feet, I peel and eat a couple.

Our vegetable garden is fully stocked now and hurling up stalks and leaves (ah, the miracle of living in Cali in December!).  It adds to the fecund atmosphere with the perfume of chicken manure and the excited yaps of hovering crows. The hounds patrol but are more apt to roll in the soil than chase off varmints. Next project: build a dwarf scarecrow.

I love watering my patch and marveling at each’s days growth.  We will be eating well come the next solstice.

Another exciting development: I have finished the manuscript for my next book and it is safely in my editor’s grasp over at Chronicle Books. Now I have a manure-load of drawings and designing to do by my springtime deadline – a lovely chore. More on that as things develop.

And finally, the project I spoke about in my last post is growing by leaps and bounds.  We are working on what it will look like, where it will be housed, how big it will be, how tall, how loud, how fortified with vitamins.  It just keeps getting more and more amazing as more great talents join our team.

I do hope you have signed up to be alerted as soon as the blossoms appear on its branches. Oh, and perhaps put a way a penny or two in your Xmas fund for seed money.

I case you forgot to sign up, there’s still time:

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