A Bigger Day

photo A couple of mornings ago I got up a bit early and took a plane, train and a bus to the de Young Museum in San Francisco. I had an early lunch in the cafe with my old pal Andrea Scher and then we began to tour A Bigger Exhibition, David Hockney’s retrospective of the past decade or so.

Color, color, color, color.

The work is traditional in a sense — all landscapes and portraits. But that’s where the familiar ends. Room after room is deluged in color, the colors that are Hockneys signature, salmon, teal, violet, burnt orange, sky blue, fuschia, and every imagine able shade of green. There are rooms full of Watercolors, watercolor that does things mine never do, bright, clean colors that vibrate off the paper, Watercolors that look like acrylics, acrylics that look like television screen, oils that fill the walls as he stacks two, then four, then twelve, then thirty (!) individual canvases to make landscapes that are as big as the landscapes themselves.

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Nine canvases. He painted this scene in every season.

Iphone painting blown up 15 feet tall.

Iphone painting blown up 15 feet tall.

There were several rooms of paintings he made on his iPhone and iPad then blew up into prints that are ten or more feet tall, prints that look like oils from across the room and look like electric squiggles close up.*   There’s a room filled with screens and on each one new iphone images appear. You can watch them unfolding as he layers lines and pure colors. And there are hundreds and hundreds of them, landscapes, portraits, still lifes, … blah!In other rooms, long processions of watercolor and oil portraits, people sitting in the same chair in the same room, all different, all alive.

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Thirty cavases, sandwiched together.

I kept getting waves of inspiration throughout the show, a fizzy feeling in my belly that I had to run away immediately and start to paint, draw, anything.  I love Hockney so much and I learn from everything he does. He’s always the smartest kid in the class, the one genius among we sheep.  His work is not heady and intellectual, it’s right there, familiar and yet, he makes it looks so easy. HOCKNEY-videoSixteenByNine1050 Watch him paint and you think, okay, okay, that’s doable. But he manages to knock out fields of spring flowers while I wade through the mud. He’s a seventy-five year old geezer but he’s working in ten media at once, filling a whole room of sketchbooks, and paintings and making these insane Cubist Videos by strapping twenty high-def cameras to his car and driving through the forest, season after season.

Drawn on a freakin' iPad!

Drawn on a freakin’ iPad!

The man jumps onto every new thing as soon as it half emerges.  He made fax drawings in the ’70s and Polaroid collages.  He drew on the computer before any one. I hope he keeps living and showing me what it can all be.

By Andrea Scher

By Andrea Scher

Then, on the way out, Andrea and I found a fairy door in a log in Golden Gate Park.

The perfect end to a magical day.

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* I looked at my own iPhone in disgust and showed it these works of genius. “All you seem to do is send texts and visit Facebook all day,” I sneered, “Why don’t you make some art?” Siri just said, “Okay” and showed me a website about making Valentine’s Day hearts. Why can’t you be more like Scarlett Johansson?

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P.S. I would urge you to go but the show closes this weekend. :(

The fears of a clown.

I am afraid. I am afraid of lots of things and always have been.
When I was little, I was afraid of getting lost, of monsters, of the dark.
Later I became afraid of girls.
Of exams.
Of plane crashes.
Of my stepfather.
Of fire engines pulling up outside my house.
For a while, I was afraid of going to the ATM, afraid I had no money
I have long been afraid of my body, of the hidden diseases and disasters it is concealing.
I have been afraid of strangers who write me mean emails telling me why they no longer like me or my blog.
I have been afraid of speaking to crowded rooms.
I have been afraid of death, especially the deaths of people I love.
I have been afraid to draw, afraid I can’t do it.

I have come to believe that my life’s purpose, the key to my happiness, is to pare away the things I fear.
Some I have outgrown — I can now sleep with the door closed and the lights off.
Some I have had shaken out of me — I don’t fear death much anymore. Bring it on, bitch.
Some I have just faced — I have had a physical, so I know I am healthy, regardless of what the monkey voice tries to make of that twinge in my gut, the ache in my knee. I speak to groups of all sizes, no butterflies. I drive the freeways, radio blasting. I fly hundreds of thousands of miles, cool as a clam. I quit my fucking job. I fell in love again. I moved across the country. I roar, godamn it, and I rock.

A few months ago, I overheard somebody at the gym talking about something called “Clown School”. I googled it. I found there’s one here in town. I signed up for the next intensive session. Why? Because I have no idea what it is but it sounds scary and important and utterly alien. Then I committed to not to think about it again until the day arrived. Why? So I wouldn’t chicken out.
I am now in my final day of Clown School. It was very scary — as clowns can be. Not because we wore makeup and big shoes, which we haven’t, but because we confronted many of the things that scare me the most. I stood in front of a room of strangers staring each one in the eye and telling embarassing shameful things. I collaborated with strangers on humiliating choreography. I shrieked with fear, wailed with grief, howled with anger until I literally lost my voice. I sung a spontaneous song about what I loathe most. I danced across the stage, by myself, to demonstrate my self-confidence, and then had to do it again and again and again, until I was utterly without guile or reserve.
I have never before seen the people who saw me do this, and I sincerely hope that, though I loved them all, I never see them again. I couldn’t have done it otherwise.
Mostly, I revisited the most powerful emotions there are, familiar and often hateful emotions that I have worked so hard for so long to deny and avoid. And now, for day after day, I have sought them out and felt them surge through my body, grip my throat, shudder through my veins, cramp my stomach, churn my bowels. Terror. Loss. Humiliation. Sorrow. And joy, lots of joys — the longest lasting physical toll was the aches in my cheeks and neck and stomach: aches from too much laughter.
I am not a physical person, I spend all too much time living exclusively between my ears. But a few days of Clown School have helped me loosen my hips, have reminded me of what it is to really move with feeling, to express myself spontaneously from my gut, from my spine, from my balls, to be gripped by rhythm and to respond on a subconscious visceral level to another’s movement, to an impulse, to an emotion deep within.
Our teacher, a wise and hilarious clown, told us that clowning is about the importance of being ridiculous, because to be ridiculous is to fail, and failure is what we all have in common, the most basic and honest human experience, the one that helps us grow and change and improve and survive. If we are willing to open ourselves up and be laid bare, to respond to the moment and without hesitation, to connect deeply with our audiences’ eyeballs and the minds behind, we will be freed of the bullshit that holds us back. We will tap into the deep wellsprings of creativity that lie beneath our artifice and style and selfconscious crap and hesitation and self-deception and excuses and fears. We will make art of truth.
Time and again, as I adressed old emotions in a new way, I thought about drawing.
About how the most important part of drawing is not what pen you use or the weight of your paper. At their core, drawing, painting, clowning, all art, are about letting go, of responding from your gut, of trusting, of working hard. Can you let go of all your preconceptions and finally, truly, truthfully see? Can you embrace and trust your audience rather than trying desperately to impress or con them? Can you put in the hours, the sweat, the pain of failure, so you can get deeper and deeper, looser and looser, sharper and sharper, digging down to essential truths?
Art is not entertainment. It is the way to what matters in our lives. To conquer our fears, we must face them, turn their ugly lies to beautiful truth, and share what we have made of them on the page or the stage.
I may just be a clown and a not very good one at that, but I ask you this: If you aren’t making art, what are you afraid of?

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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Fallink in love again

fallinkWhile visiting Bergamot Station, a collection of art galleries in Santa Monica, I happened into Hiromi, a lovely store full of exotic paper from around the world. The store blind-sided me — Jack and I really just wanted to see some art — so I wasn’t prepared to start properly drooling over Korean mulberry Hanjo, Bhutani Dekar, or handmade tissue from Berlin.
Rooting around the shop’s counter for a business card as a reminder for a future more leisurely and acquisitive visit, I came upon a basket of what seemed to be regular old rollerballs pens. But on closer inspection, these unassuming bits of white plastic revealed themselves to be superfine Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pens. Their tips weren’t brush shaped, more like a plasticky fiber tip, so I tried one out on a scrap of paper.
As the first line serpentined out onto the page, clouds parted, birds tweeted, the world became ashimmer in a golden glow. This pen was amazing, as flexible and responsive as a steel nib, capable of super thin lines, then big fat wet ones, and all the gradations in between. The lines were jet black, crisp when I wanted, mushy when I didn’t.
I was in love. Again.
My name is Danny and I am a pen Lothario, a promiscuous and fickle romantic. It’s high time to sit down and discuss my oat-sowing ways before I commit blindly to yet another drawing playmate.
Flash back. My first pen was a roller ball, the Uniball, a friendly and welcoming old stand-by. It’s cheap, widely available, waterproof and a sensible choice, the pen next door. But after a while, its dependable lines began to bug me. They had so little character and variation. And the way the hard ball tracked a groove into soft paper began to grate, high heels tap-tap-tapping on parquet.
Another fling: a superfine needle-nosed technical pen with a pointy backside and a cap that always got lost. I drew microscopically with this pen, favoring smaller and smaller sketchbooks, until I was tempted to draw entire landscapes on the head of a pin while peering through a loupe. It was a super-anal relationship — clearly not healthy.
In a stationery store in the Esposizione Universale Roma, where Mussolini built a grand expo to celebrate the triumph of fascism, I came upon my first Faber-Castell PITT artist pen. Despite the unseemly way in which we met, these pens have been loyal friends to me ever since and I have PITTs stuffed in every drawer and pocket. They are the old standbys, the ones I come back to when the latest fling lets me down. I am never quite ready to settle down with any of the PITT family. Not even the soft, warm embrace of the Big Brush Pen. Always a bridesmaid, alas.
Speaking of big-boned pens, I spend a crazy month or so this fall scrawling on cardboard with increasingly huger Sharpies, working my way up to the King Size and finally the Magnum. Wow. I was a little wild and out of control for a few weeks, going on pure instinct and I loved the abandon of these fist-filling chunks of inky permanence. They can’t be let near my sketchbooks, however, drooling and seeping through the pages like Rottweiler puppies.
Another pal let me down this fall. My Lamy Safaris have fallen out of favor; well, to be fair, the blame falls on the ink that runs through their veins. For some time, I had been blaming my steel-nibbed calligraphy pens for the smears and speckles that kept appearing on my finished drawings but finally realized that the real culprit was the Noodler’s Bulletproof black ink in the Lamys I draw with. Now this ink is amazingly good stuff, black, waterproof, and super-permanent when it’s thoroughly dry. And there, quite literally, is the rub. I work fast, I work messy and if the page isn’t 100% dry before I turn it — catastrophe. Supposedly, it dries in under a minute; I have waited far longer still with disastrous results. And when I am in a period of wild abandon, cavorting with Sharpie Magnums, I have no time for noodling with Noodler’s plodding pace. So my Lamy’s are at the back of the desk until my pulse slows once more.
Back to my new Japanese amor. It didn’t take me long to discover her flaw — the ink is not waterproof. With a moist brush, her lines turn into a pool of ink. However, if decades of marriage taught me anything, it’s that one must compromise to be happy. And so for now, I am willing to draw and only draw. No slatherings of Dr. Ph Martin’s, no limpid pools of Winsor Newton. Simple line drawings are fine for now. Especially when those lines are springy, expressive and full of life. They suggest color, even in black and white. As we head into the grays of winter, I will work within Kurtake’s limitations. But Spring is not far off and my heart may soon wander again. Just saying.

Addendum.  This is the specific pen I just fell in love with. You can find it also on JetPen.

A quickening.

studio

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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