Drawing away the veil.

like drawing because it helps me to see. It shows me what is actually in front of me. That is important to me because I’ve tended to live in my head a lot. 

I think that started when I was very small, when a lot of time the world around me wasn’t very nice and the hard walls of my skull offered me protection. I disappeared into books. I constructed theories about the world that would explain a lot of things that even to this day are inexplicable. The seismic changes in my life that were beyond my control, peoples’ disappearances, the random and selfish behavior of grownups. In my head, things could become rational, orderly and manageable.

toaster reflection

But my constructions weren’t accurate. They couldn’t be. They were purposeful distortions that worked to protect me, at least for a while.  I didn’t really want to live in the real world, to face reality, because it wasn’t a good place for me. Reality didn’t use to be a friend of mine.

As an adult, when the world did mean things to me, it was very tempting to move deeper into my intellectualized view of the world.  By creating my own logic to explain the world, I could save myself from random acts.  But one pays a heavy price for disconnecting. It’s impossible to understand other people, to get a real bearing on one’s life, and ultimately to be happy. Because when you live in unreality, you can never trust your feelings.

And that’s where drawing has come in. When I hold a pen and look hard at something, I am piercing the veil and stepping out of the Matrix. It may not last for long, like diving deep to see a coral reef. But the bursting of the bubble, again and again, means breaking the temptation to disassociate from reality and run away. Instead of making habit out of fantasy, I force myself to see.

I’ve learned that being here now is not as scary as it might seem. I find now that it is easier to face even awful things things than to dwell in a fog of denial and fantasy. Some things in the world are harmful, most aren’t. Clarity makes it easier to distinguish them rather than establishing a blanket policy that keeps everyone and everything at arms’ length.  Anxiety comes from repeating old patterns when they are no longer appropriate. Treating every noise as the approach of a saber tooth tiger may have protected our ancestors but it can leave us as quivering messes. Better to face your fears, one a time, and vanquish them.

Drawing has made me look the world in the eye. That’s the only way to do it. That’s why I rarely draw from my head any more, rarely draw the cartoony faces and silly monsters that filled the margins of my high school notebooks. Now I look at a half-eaten piece of toast, a pile of bills, a broken tree branch and I boldly examine its every inch. And I do it with a pen, like an upright sword, compelling me to advance out of the shadows, to see and be seen, to take my punishment if I must, but to never again run away in fear.

Working it.

IMG_1113Sorry if I seem to have vanished.  I am hard at work on my next book, art Before Breakfast, which I have to turn in to my publisher all too soon.

I love working on this book and it has taken a back seat for far too long. It’s funny how one can love doing something and somehow forget how much, especially when it’s your own project and nobody else is prodding you back to work.

In the old days, when my creative work was being done for large corporations, there were always herds of people in suits thundering in and out of my office, making sure I was being productive.

But now, as I sit in my studio with my hounds and pre-war Swedish jazz on the radio, I’m the only one to remind myself of why I’m here. The most insistent voices are the dinging of incoming emails, the buzzing of text messages, and the growling of my stomach. Like some great Pavlovian dog, my instinct is to respond to them first, dutifully answering emails, updating my calendar, and debating whether I have to go to the gym before or after lunch.

Being an artist or an author or a blogger or an Olympic biathlete requires tenacity and discipline. Creative habits are all too easy to break, especially if there are louder voices in the room to lead you astray. That goes for me in the studio all day but probably for you too, struggling to fit in the time to draw in your journal between chores and obligations and paid work.

What I discovered years ago —but all too often forgot under the pressures of life — is that making art is not a guilty pleasure. It’s as essential to living properly as flossing and getting aerobic. Without it, life is shorter and duller, and the world lacks meaning and beauty. Not to mention it’s fun.

However, no one will tell you to make time for art. No one will find the time on your calendar to draw your lunch. No one will make watercoloring your bagel a priority for you. You must do it — and do it you must.

Speaking of which, I have to get back to work. Scratch that, I want to get back to making stuff. I hope you’ll find the opportunity to do the same.

Sketchbook Skool – first update

Phew, it’s been a crazy day and loads of people have enrolled in Sketchbook Skool and there have also been all sorts of questions about how it works.  To clarify, here’s a video from HQ West.

If all your fears and concerns are allayed, please stop by SketchbookSkool.com for more information and a chance to sign up for our first semester on the theme “Beginnings”.

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.