Fired up in the dark

I am really inspired by working with Melanie Reim on her klass for Sketchbook Skool. Her loose, fast drawing style and her ways of capturing people in motion is just what I need to loosen up.

Here’s one of the pages I filled waiting with Jenny at the DMV.


A couple of days ago we were invited to attend Sting’s new Broadway show. The music was good, the story and characters less so. During the second act, I pulled out my little Moleskine and  a couple of pens. It was so dark I couldn’t seem my book at all and  wasn’t sure what I was scrawling. During intermission, I flipped through my pages and, heartened, kept going after the curtain went up again. When I walked out of the theatre,  I had the story of the whole evening recorded in my book and my grey cells.

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This sort of quick, take-no prisoners kept me fired up and, over the next few days, I drew a bunch of people in the street and from photos too.

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Another reminder that — as in rock ‘n’ roll —sometimes speed and volume are just the ticket to loosen you up and silence your inner monkey.

Oh, and that Sketchbook Skool has the power to change your view of the world.

Even if you just work there.

Getting back in shape

The last year has not been a great one for drawing. At least not for me. After being a dad and an employee and a housekeeper, the little spare time I have had left has been consumed with the two books I have been putting together. I’ve had to do a lot of drawing to get those books done, of course, but it’s certainly not been the sort of art that fills my dozens of old sketchbooks. It’s not really a record of my daily life.

A few weeks ago, once the last of my book files was picked up by the FedEx man,I had to admit that I had pretty much lost the habit of drawing and I’d better do something about it. I just kinda didn’t wanna.

Even though it’s been a mild winter, it’s not been conducive to drawing outside so I sat for in the kitchen for a while and looked at the odds and ends on the counter and tried to psych myself up. Instead, I sighed. I just can’t draw my pepper mill again, nor a box of raisins or my knife block. I have a new, great-sounding but boring-looking radio — its a black rectangle with a small monitor and two knobs. Most of the view out my window has been blocked by two newish NYU buildings. They are as dull looking as my new radio and, in any case I’ve drawn them over and again over the years. My mind whined: there’s nothing to draw. But really, beneath my feigned boredom, lurked fear. An anxiety that maybe I had lost my ability to draw. Look at Tiger Woods — even great talent can slip away in the night and leave you swatting the air.

I had to find a way to ease back into the water without scaring the muse away. I didn’t want the pressure of making great journal pages or writing witty marginalia. I just wanted the visceral pleasure of making lines and slowly and carefully studying something, anything. I unearthed an empty, spiral-bound journal with not terribly nice paper and filled my fountain pen. Then I picked up the dogeared copy of last week NY Times Magazine and let it fall open to a random photo. Then I began to copy the picture into the book, focussing on cross hatching, spiraling lines in neat rows, lining up a smooth gradation of micro dots, making ribbons of greys and undulations of silky blacks.

The old pen was a little rusty but not nearly as bad as I feared. And soon the sweet flood of neurotransmitters swept over me, like emptying a too full bladder, and I entered the zone.

So I made a small deal with me. Each morning after my breakfast was chewed and the French press was still half full, I would do one drawing from the morning paper on one page in the book. At least one. If the urge was there and the coffee held out, maybe I’d make a second.

Most mornings I fill a page (and I don’t beat myself up about it if I miss a day to give the dogs some extra time in the park or to make an early meeting). And the fun is back.

Granted, I’m making drawings of unknown faces from news photos, not the sort of things I want to fill books with, but I figure, what the hey, it’s spring training, and the season will eventually  start for real. Meanwhile, just keep loosening up the shoulders, stretching the hamstrings, and shagging those flies.

By way of explanation.

I have been received occasional emails and comments from people wondering why I have stopped posting on this site. Let me begin by saying that Jack and I are doing quite well, despite the silence. We have both had milestone birthdays in the past month; he turned 16 and I turned (gulp) 50. We have been making a lot of art, spending time with each other and friends,moving our lives ahead. There have been setbacks and moments of deep sadness and anxiety, but as each one passed, I felt stronger and clearer.

I have decided however that I am less comfortable sharing enormous amount of detail here. I have received a lot of encouragement, wisdom and support from visitors to the site,  but I feel that these enormous passages in our lives should be expressed somehow differently, with more care and perspective. So, while I continue to write and draw about these days in my journal, I will be much more selective in how I share them, here and elsewhere. Instead, I shall use as a place to express myself as I always have, about matters creative and artistic, rather than as deeply personal as the posts I put up in the early summer. I promise to share a lot of this material with you in the future — just in a different shape and form.

I don’t regret that public airing of my private feelings, but I no longer have the same need to do so. I’m sure you understand.

Also, after being plagued by malware and paying a consultant to repeatedly exterminate the vermin in my site, I have decided to radically redesign dannygregory,com. I will launch the new site soon and on it I will share a lot of material from my sketchbooks which I  hope you will find useful.

If you have visited this page over the years, you are probably quite used to my occasional bouts of ambivalence about leading a public life and know that inevitably I shall prance back onto center stage, neuroses in full display and reveal more than a sane person probably should about my experience of the world.

Until then, I remain small and timidly yours,



Oh, one more thing  —  Seth Apter has just published an interview with me in which I explain, for the first time, the real origins of Everyday Matters. You might find it interesting.

Comic Experiment

(Enlarged image of comic here)
I have always enjoyed reading comics. I started when I was about 7 or 8, with Disney comics and Archie and Tintin and Beano then in puberty progressed on to underground comix by Crumb and Bodé and Hernandez Bros. etc. In the last few years I have been into Seth, Ben Katchor, Jason and Kochalka.
I have never particularly enjoyed super hero or fantasy comics. I like small stories that reflect reality in an interesting way.
I am often struck by how little does happen in these stories and I wonder to what extent this is a reflection of the enormous amount of work involved in making comics. If you have to learn to draw so well and then draw so much to tell a story, do you lose the opportunity to have a life? There are so many comix about guys who have no life, no girl, no clue and I wonder if that’s a reflection of their creators’ experience or lack thereof.
Anyway, I have decided that I will work in this form for a little while, just to strech myself. It is a difficult assignement as it violates so many of the rules I have set up for drawing over the past decade or so. It means drawing from my imagination rather than from observed reality, by and large. It is also takes a certain amount of forethought and planning. And you have to be reasonably neat, or at least a lot less loose than I am.
This first comic tells the the story of a recent incident in which, while walking up 6th Avenue with my family on a Sunday afternnoon, I got a huge gash in my head from a hockey puck.
As you can see, the comic is pretty awful. It’s so tiny ( I drew it in my teeny moleskine) and cramped and ill-planned and messy. Still, for me, it sort of captures the event in a way that ‘s more satisfying than my usual approach of just drawing a puck and then surrounding it with calligraphy.

I am starting to turn the members of my family into characters that can be drawn over and again in different poses and be recognizable from frame to frame. Again, this is so dffferent from how I normally work. I am drawing in sumi-ink and working very small. My lettering virges on the indicipherable for which I apologize. Write me with strenuous complaints.
I imagine that comics aren’t your cup of tea. Still, think about them and how they could effect your own journaling. They offer a good way to use drawing to tell a story and force you into some dfficult design and drawing problems that may teach you something.

Going to Van Gogh

Inspired by van G, I have been drawing with a bamboo pen of late.

On Friday, Jack and I headed up to the Met to check out the van Gogh drawing show. It’s the first time that all the known drawings have been assembled in one place — they’re fragile and very sensitive to light — and, after Jack’s school conferences in the morning, I decided that visiting them was a better way to spend my afternoon than revising Chase checking ads. Hooky is good for the soul.
There are four or five rooms full of drawings and a half dozen paintings and they are arranged chronologically so you can get a sense of his progress. Right off, I was struck but how much better he was at the beginning than I’d thought. I have always disliked the Potato Eater period and thought that his early drawings would be hamfisted and ugly. In fact, they are quite accomplished; however, he had the beginner’s anxious tendency to overwork. Most of the drawings are thick with heavy-handed lines. It also seemed that he was so anxious to develop himself into a commercially-viable genre painter that he was unoriginal and struggling. He even spent a very brief period in art school; his academic nude is embarrassingly mawkish — he is clearly not working from instinct but trying hard to fit in. It was only after he’d left Paris and found himself in Arles that his drawings really took off.
I discovered that he was always a bit of an art supply freak — particularly in his first few years, he did drawings that used graphite, ink, watercolors, thinned-down oil, pastel, all in the same pictures. His most lovely works were done in just sepia ink and the variety came from his lines rather than his media. He had so many ways of making lines, swirls, hashes, dashes, circles, dots, capturing the rich textures of the countryside, the soft waving wheat, the dried, gnarled trees, the prickly cypress leaves, the delicate wildflowers… WIth just reed pen and ink, he could capture layers of mists sfumattoing off to the horizon. Most evocative was the way he rendered the harsh, ever-noon light of Southern France; the high contrast and deep shadows makes the heat wave off the page.
I was struck by things he does that I probably should do but don’t. He’d redraw good drawings and perfect them. Back at the studio he’d paint from drawings done in the field. He’d do drawings of paintings he’d done and send them off in letters to friends, relatives, potential patrons; I was interested in how in different drawings of the same painting he would emphasize different aspects of the composition —  making it more abstract, more colorful, more accessible, depending on what would appeal to the particular audience. I just never work my stuff through that way. I like to think of VvG as being very spontaneous and visceral but he was obviously a lot more thoughtful and deliberate than I am.
He gave a couple of the paintings a painted edge which the catalog explained as an attempt to make them special and more ready for sale. One even had a crude marbleized paper matte. SItting on one of the rare benches at the show, I wrote in my journal, “How could people at the time not have bought these? I want to take them all home.”


On Sunday, I took the first drawing class I’ve had since I was eleven. It was at the Open Center, a sort of granola-y place in Soho which offers many new Age classes on creativity, meditation, and other sorts of grooviness.
My particular class was called “Drawing as a way of being” but I’d not been lured so much by the title as by the teacher’s teacher, Dr. Frederick Franck. I learned a lot about drawing from Franck’s books, The Zen of Seeing; The Awakened Eye; A Passion for Seeing, etc and, now that he is ninety six, blind, and deaf, he has passed his workshop duties onto Joanne Finkel, a fiftyish woman with bright eyes, pigtails and well-furred calves.
Most of the other students identified themelves as undrawers, anxious about their inability, and armed with Venti Starbucks and Pearl Paint bagfuls of art supplies. My supplies were new too; I decided to abide by the class materials list and had a mechanical pencil loaded with .5 HB lead and a kneadable eraser. Under my arm, I clutched a huge virginal drawing pad.
We did a pleasant meditation exercise and then the teacher handed out leaves. I clicked my pencil a few times and got going on the blind contour exercise. It ws a little dicey at first as I just never draw with a pencil, but by the second pass, I was in the groove.
When we were given permission to look at the leaf as we drew, I got heavily into the details, mainlining the veins that branched off the stem, sinking deeper and deeper into the plant’s very cells. The teacher came by to say, “Wow, you’re really into those veins, huh?” As that was what the leaf seemed to be to all about, I was a tad puzzled. On her next pass, she suggested that I squint and only draw the major landmarks of the leaf. This seemed regressive but in the spirit of being a good student, I complied and felt like a half-walked dog. On the next circuit, she suggested I vary the intensity of my grip on the lead, making lines that exressed where the leaf seemed very clear and where it was ‘less crispy’. It all looked pretty clear to me but dutifullyI rode my pencil up and down with fluctuating line weights, something I rarely do with my ink pen. Before long I recognized Frederick Franck’s style expressed on my page. My drawings looked just like his, not much like mine.
It’s interesting that what our teacher saw as a pure response to the subject, I perceived as an exercise in style. I was seeing the way she and Franck saw, but not really as I do. I tend to bore deep into things, and to treat every line and detail with similar emphasis. There is something more sensual but tentative (dare I say ‘feminine”) about the varying lines of this new style.
As we broke at lunch for an hour, the teacher dangled the opportunity to draw fruis and vegetables after we returned. I decided to forgo the salad and played hooky. Instead, I went out and bought myself a 1980 Honda motorcycle. In Dr Franck’s honor, I spent the rest of the afternoon drawing the road with my tires, shifting from first to second to third gear, depending on how crispy the potholes looked.