Aprés le deluge

Not a welcome sight, The last time we had Army vehicles on our streets was after 9/11.

I woke up at 4:25 this morning. The lamp next to my bed had just come on after being dark since Monday night. It was an incredible relief to have power again and I crawled out from under the covers to survey the house. All the radiators were on, valiantly pushing back the accumulated cold. The lamps in the living room were just like they were when we were interrupted while watching “Damages” on Netflix on Monday night, thinking we were just going to enjoy a long weekend once the storm had passed, a million years ago. I tested the elevator. It whirred right up; now we wouldn’t have to trudge up and down the eight flights of fire stairs carrying the dogs for their constitutional. We could clear away the candles that surrounded our nightly card games, empty the flashlights of the batteries we’d hoarded, toss out the empty beer bottles and spent matches.

I walked past this broken crane as it dangled 90 stories over my friend’s neighborhood, a literal Sword of Damocles.

I was lucky, of course. My sister’s home was swamped, her basement filled to the ceiling with Atlantic Ocean, her car destroyed. It may be six months before they are whole again. My little niece who just started kindergarten could be out of school for a month or more. And so many other people lost it all, in some cases their lives. I don’t need to tell you that—you are probably far better informed than I am, clinging to my dwindling cel phone and my staticky radio.

I am also lucky because I was given another wakeup call, a reminder of how inundated I am with media and luxury and bullshit. To spend the evening listening to a crackling jazz station and eating beans on toast by candlelight is a rare pleasure, a reminder of the simpler things. I hope I don’t lose the insights Sandy gave me. And I hope the next storm isn’t even worse.

I am taking a brief break from my string of daily attempts at the EDM challenges. I am rather busy at work these days and in the home stretch of being a dad before Jack starts at RISD in a week or so. I shall be back to draw again very soon and hope my example doesn’t deter you from drawing as often as possible.

EDM #29: draw something architectural


I looked through some of my old travel journals and realized that what I have been missing in my recent drawings is the interaction between different drawings, the flow of events as I capture them, different drawings done in different places butted up against each other. I’ve been doing these morning edm drawings in a specially designated book, one per page and I have lost a lot of that antic energy I like. So on our trip to Appalachia, Jack and I are both drawing in smaller moleskines and I’m using a smaller pen (usually a PITT XS). I have my super tiny paint set and a water brush. It’s a whole new set of challenges using a finite set of art supplies and tiny ones at that and it is making things new again. All that is of course multiplied by being in a new place and seeing things through fresh eyes.
Some of it is very annoying, particularly trying to use my phone, my iPad and any available wifi to post these drawings to my blog but it’s all party of the adventure.


To El and Back: a film about Butch Belair

We just completed the next sketchbook film —it’s about Butch, my pal who’s a famous photographer, then became a 3-D illustrator and then, a couple of years ago, took up watercoloring in a small book. He excels in every medium. You can see more of his work. here and here.

Tommy Kane and I have gone on a few sketchcrawls with Butch. I generally finish up my drawing in half an hour, Tom keeps crosshatching for an hour, but Butch can just sit, hunched over his books for a solid day and then come back the next day to keep going. He’s a monster.

You may remember Butch from my last book, An Illustrated Life. When I interviewed him he said:

I usually draw alone in my car. Very few people know I am doing it. I think I may be hiding somewhat, in the car. Having people watch while I do it would be a bit of a buzz-kill. Don’t tread on my zen, man.

Sometimes I will drive to a place that has caught my attention in the past. But usually, I just get in my car and try to get lost. When I see something that has a story to tell, I stop. I try to record what it is that I see, and somehow fuse the feeling of being there in my memory.

I tend to view these places as stage sets, just after the Play has been performed. In science, there are certain phenomena that cannot be seen or directly recorded (black holes for example). Scientists only know they exist by observing their effect on the objects that can be seen. For me, people are one of these phenomena. Actors that have left the stage. I may be attracted to the evidence in the details of buildings, or an arrangement of structures that would suggest the people or generations of people, that have passed through and made their mark.

Finding a place to park is also very important in selecting a site.

And the light. Light is also very important to me. Representing the quality of the light in a scene is something I struggle with. It is probably a big part of what attracts me to a place, so learning how to achieve this would be very satisfying. Learning to do it quickly would be a huge conquest for me. Even when I feel I am onto something, more often than not, it takes me so long to do one of these sketches that the light has changed drastically by the time I’ve finished.

Butch is usually a man of few words and his paintings remind me of Edward Hopper, so we tried to make the film feel like it was made a long time ago, a hard-bitten time when New York city was strung with elevated trains like this one in Brooklyn.

Tom and I planned this film out for a couple of weeks, discussing the look of the film, lenses (we ended up using a 14, a 50, and the old trusty 100 macro), locations, and the best way in which we’d capture and condense Butch’s marathon sketching sessions. The weather toyed with us a lot too, but we were blessed with a perfect morning and managed to get the film in the can by early afternoon of the first day of shooting.

Here’s the final product. Amazing.

Here are our shooting boards. We deviated from them a fair bit but they were a really helpful road map:

Unfortunately, Jack, my boy and usual collaborator, could only consult from afar. He had to take the SATs on the morning we shot. He was very helpful through post-production, as was Tom and my friend JJ. They all helped curb my tendency to make things fancy and we ended up with a taut little film I really like.

I hope you enjoy it too.