Oblique Strategies

A couple of days ago, Jack and I went to hang out with a friend of ours while he works on his latest album. He was spending a week or two in a giant recording studio on the West Side. It was Saturday but he had a bunch of engineers huddled in the booth while he sat alone in this gigantic space and laid down bass tracks. During a break, he explained that it was one of the last of the great studios, built in the ’70s, an enormous space with warm acoustics, where lots of classic albums had been recorded.

It seemed a unusual place to find my friend, who is famous for cutting edge electronic music and dance tunes. I’ve usually experienced his works in progress as MP3 files that arrive in my email box, songs that are reworked and morphed over the years. He generally works alone and surrounded by computers. But here he is in this creaky wooden yurt of a room that looks like a sauna and feels like the end of an era.

He told us that he was trying to record an album using no electronic instruments, no effects, a string section, and even the electric bass he was laying down would ultimately be replaced by a standup. He asked if I’d ever heard of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. I nodded but then admitted I hadn’t. He said that Eno had a made up a deck of cards each of which had some instruction or limitation which you’d follow to turn your work in a new direction. It had inspired him to try something completely different. It reminded me of a film called the 5 Obstructions in which Lars Van Trier has Jorgen Leth make and remake a film according to various rules he’d give him. It was one of the things that inspired me to think of ways to shock my own system when I draw, to challenge myself to work in very particular ways or with various limbs tied behind my back. It’s the idea behind the Everyday Matters challenges, to provoke you into a direction you’d never considered, trying something that may be uncomfortable but which opens a door.

Creativity is all about fresh perspectives, about finding the truth and seeing what’s really there. You have to break out of the box you’re in and get things moving — even if that means tricking yourself. Sometimes you have to draw with your eyes closed to see clearly. Sometimes that means standing on your head, or drawing with a Sharpie, or using your left hand — or turning off the computer and getting in a string section.

Self Distortraits

As I flip through my last few journals, I see that I am more and more drawn to drawing faces. Maybe that’s just a function of winter — when the weather is warm I can go out and plunk down on the sidewalk somewhere and draw landscapes, buildings, dogs being curbed. When the weather is inhospitable, I sit at my dining table and after I’ve drawn every object in the room, I flip through magazines and start drawing faces.

I tend to draw a lot of self-portraits — not become I am so fabulously handsome but because my face is always handy, right there, wrapped around my eyes. I’ve done hundreds, none of them even remotely alike. This winter, fiddling with my computer, I started taking distorted pictures of myself with my laptop’s built-in camera, then distorting them further with dip pens and brushes and sumi ink.

They’re part of my effort to do more than just draw exactly what I see but to add some feeling to the exercise. Of course, it’s impossible for me not to inject some subjectivity into any drawing. That’s enhanced when I keep it loose and free, the flaws enhancing my point of view.  But I find that when I start with something that’s unfamiliar, like the bulges and twists the computer puts into my face, I tend to pay more careful attention, take nothing for granted, create something that looks like a photo in the degree of detail; and yet feel free to push the lines further and add more sweeping grotesqueries.

I’m done with series for now as the sun has come out and my park beckons

Jack Ckomicks

My comic drawing style is still developing. I’ve given myself three handicaps: I’m drawing small, with a brush, and from my imagination. Despite my reservations about my drawings, I do like the look of these wee moleskine pages filled with greys.

I have also set myself another task. Every day, Jack tells me some story from his day and I try to turn it into a comic. I am working to develop a Jack-like character that I can repeat frame after frames, story after story.

Like father, like son.

My father has been drawing self portraits every day for ages. He just sent me a day’s output, drawn looking down into a mirror lying flat on the table.

In the accompanying note, he says:

“Doing things in pen is very nerve wracking as if you get one line wrong the whole thing is ruined. This makes you concentrate so you tend to get a picture that is more accurate than otherwise. I n each case I started with the left eye which is the only one I can see out of (the other has been blind all my life), I did the last two in the afternoon, I had to wear my glasses (as you can see in the pics) because after lunch I am unable to see without them, (except all blurry).”

It is sad that I didn’t know about my father’s blindness until this letter. He sends these sorts of little packages to me every year or so. They are more or less the only contact I have with him any more. My parents were divorced when I was about three so I don’t know a lot about him.

His drawings are so similar. He has really developed his ability to draw himself down to an almost mechanical science.

He is pretty unflinching in his scrutiny too.

I decided to try my hand at the same experiment. It is a very unflattering, through-the-nose-hairs sort of perspective on oneself. The last time I saw my father, about three years ago for a couple of hours in London, we were walking down the street and he said to me, “Is that your stomach?” As a result, I made my head very thin in this first drawing.

More accurate, less paranoid view of self.

Third go: scary, pig-snoutish.

I tried a version with my glasses and could barely see my reflection through them. The resulting drawing looks a lot like Ozzie Osbourne’s loutish son, Jack.