Childhood memories

map.jpg
(click images to magnify)When I was a boy, I travelled a great deal. My family wasn’t in the Armed or Diplomatic services. I guess they were just adventurers, peripatetic wanderers, refugees, gypsies.

These are pages of random memories, without any real conclusions, just snapshots of stuff. I drew them from old family albums with a dip pen and india ink, painted them with watercolors. If you can bothered, click to enlarge the pages and read the captions.

fascist.jpg
My maternal grandparents (Gran and Ninny) were German refugees and were married in Rome. Mussolini threw them out in the mid 1930s.

1940.jpgThen they escaped to the part of India that became Pakistan (after World War II and Partition). My grandparents were doctors and they remained in Lahore for thirty-five years. My great-grandparents had also fled Germany and joined them in India, but later moved to Palestine. My mother (Pipsi from Püppchen or ‘little doll’ in German) and my uncle grew up in Pakistan, then went to boarding school and university in England.

baba.jpgI was born in London and first went to Pakistan when I was two. Of all the places I’d lived till I came to America, I always thought of Pakistan as home.

landing.jpgThe long voyage to Lahore, via plane or ship, was always an event.

wallah.jpgSnake charmers and bear trainers came to our house to perform for me.

tongas.jpgLahore was always bustling.

girls.jpgWe moved to Pittsburgh when I was five, then Canberra, Australia when I was six.

danny.jpgAt nine, I moved back to Pakistan alone and lived with my granparents for a year and a half.

oranges.jpgThen we moved to a kibbutz in Israel.

abatoir.jpgI went to a public school and became fluent in Hebrew. I also got my first job, at a slaughterhouse. When I was thirteen, a week before the Yom Kipur War, we moved to Broooklyn.

Oregon and Back

Outside Joseph

Jack and I just spent a week driving 1,000 miles or so (a crazy distance for New Yorkers) across Oregon and back to visit our pal, d.price. It was the first time Jack has seen the huge scale of things in the West and the first time we’ve done and dad-and-boy epic drawing trip.

My Oregon journal

My journaling skills were a little rusty. I haven’t been doing bona-fied illustrated journaling in awhile; over the past few months, I’ve been drawing various things in various books in various ways. So I decided to take a long two drawing books, one larger for ink and such, the other a smaller one made by Roz Stendahl. It’s 3 and 3/16 inches by 3 and 3/4 with Fabriano Artistico 90 lb. cold press paper, palm-sized and very handy.

OJournal1 Jack's Passport

We began the trip a little spasmodically as you can read above. We had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and then double back to get Jack’s passport (which turned out to be completely unnecessary — kids under 18 don’t need ID to fly).

Fake Lewis & Clark journals

In Portland, we rented an SUV (a very odd vehicle for me, the non-car owner) and headed east. Jack is a very able navigator and we used the Google maps function on my Blackberry. We took our time ( on my last trip to Oregon, I got my first and very expensive speeding ticket; this time, I relied on my cruise control to keep us legal) and stopped at interesting stuff along the way. Looking for lunch, we stumbled into the Bonneville Dam and its sturgeon hatchery. We learned about fish ladders and saw the most enormous fishies ever — critters a dozen feet long placidly floated past the hatchery window like prehistoric aquatic cattle. As its near the end of their trail, replicas of Lewis and Clark’s journals were also on display.

OJournal CharBurger

We found lunch at the politically incorrect CharBurger and then continued east.

OJournal3 Pendelton

The weather had been overcast and intermittently rainy since we’d left Portland but midday things started to heat up.We were pretty knackered from the long day and decided to make camp midway, pulling into Pendleton to find a motel. We decided to look for one where we could swim and ended up at the Travelers’ Inn which boasted a pool with the dimensions and sanitary status of a New York urinal. After paying for the night, we discovered our room was similarly fragrant; clearly the former resident had developed some sort of kidney disorder and was forced to use the thick shag rug as a bedpan.

Sold out show in Pendeleton

Eschewing a dip and a nap but still anxious to escape the rain, Jack and I headed to the town cinema. A triplex, it proved to be sparsely attended. In fact, we were the only audience for the 4:40 show of ‘Tropic Thunder’, the sole patrons of all three screens. We returned to the Inn and found our next door neighbors were burning hot dogs on a propane grill outside our door.

We miss her

Early the next morning, we had a hearty breakfast ( we miss Patti!) and finished the last leg of the journey. We pulled into Joseph and met up with D.Price. Dan gave Jack a tour of his meadow, pointing out the various tiny buildings he has built by hand.

d.price's studio

There’s the studio where he writes and prints his magazines.

Sweat lodge

The sweat lodge where we would spend evenings having mystical conversations then plunging into the river.

outside the kiva

The Kiva, Dan’s hobbit house. Inside it’s about seven feet wide in diameter, wooden walls, carpeted, low ceiling with a sky light, snug as a bug.

OJournal Kiva

Here’s my impression of what it looks like inside.

Jack in the shower room

Dan has a little shower room, with a gravity shower. River water is loaded into the cistern by the bucketload and then heated electrically.

Tents in the meadow

Later, we were joined by Ryan White from Portland. He is a soil engineer who also likes to draw and camp. Jack and I spent the first night in tents and then we and Dan sopped places each night so we all had different sleeping experiences.

OJournal 4 Horsies

We drive around Joseph, stopping to draw. Here are pack horses that climb up the mountain trails that surround the town.

OJournal 5 Lake

The lake is lovely and huge, filled with boats but few swimmers. Last week it was over 100 degrees but the rain has arrived and cooled everything dramatically.

OJournal 6 Joseph

Dan’s a master of improvisation and craft. He turns old bikes into fence rails, and recycles driftwood, paving stones, and old wooden signs.

Jack in the outhouse

Jack checks out the gallery walls of the outhouse.

OJournal Trial and Lake2

Dan had some court business with his ex-wife and then we went back to drawing.

Drawn by Jack

Jack’s drawing has been transformed in the past six months, since he fell in love with drawing from life. His summer arts camp helped him develop the most amazing ability to concentrate. While Dan would dash off a drawing in minutes, Jack could sit in full meditation for an hour, until he was forced to abandon his drawing midway and come with the annoying grownups. Here’s a bunch of the drawings he made on our trip.

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

Drawn by Jack

I’m admittedly biased, but I think he’s scary good.

OJournal Teepee

Dan spent years living in a teepee like this, back when dinosaurs roamed Joseph.

Jack on 1948 tractor

One of the wonderful thing about hanging out with a bunch of fellow artists, is the opportunity to compare visions. Here for example are the ways we all approached a bunch of old tractors we found in Enterprise, OR.

Ryan's tractor

Tractor by Ryan White

Dan's tractor

Tractor by Dan Price

Drawn by Jack

Tractor by Jack Tea Gregory

My tractor

Tractor by Danny Gregory

Drunk driving

Personally, if I had to spend more than a couple of days in a small town like Joseph, I would blow my brains our from boredom. However, there are endless lovely things to draw there, as there are in every corner of the world.

OJournal 10 Barn

A tornado whacked this barn a while back. Rather than fix it, the owners are waiting for Ron Paul.

Drawn by Jack

Jack’s version.

Redesigning d.price's website

One of our projects in Oregon was to help d.price to set up an online version of his ‘zine, Moonlight Chronicles. The first few pages are up and I urge you to visit his new site regularly for updates. He will continue to publish on paper but is scaling back to minimize the environmental impact of tree killing. If you like his work as much as I do, consider buying some back issues (or even the first 50 in a lovely hand-painted box).

OJournal 11 Truck

Our drawings of an old train were constantly interrupted by the fact that the crew moved it up and down the rails.

Squished coins

So instead, I put some coins on the rail and the train squished them flat:

OJournal 12 Road Back

At week’s end, we drove back across Oregon. It was a super trip — one we plan to make a regular summer tradition.

Jack & Ryan draw the train

I guess normal men do this sort of thing regularly, except they go fishing or hunting or play golf. We weirdoes prefer to just sit around, pen in hand, seizing the moment.

ImageP.S. For this and probably future posts, I shall be putting my images on flicker where you can see them larger (just click on the blog image you like and it will take you to the flickr page). I have also posted a couple of hundred other pictures up there from our trip.

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Beyond the finish line

Jack just made this beautiful piece by making a squiggle and then drawing portraits in each section.

Last weekend, Jack had his ‘audition’ at the art high school, doing three drawings under supervision and showing the portfolio of work he’s done over the past few months. He reports that he was quite happy with his work: a still life drawn from memory (oranges slices, a box and bowl of cereal), a portrait of a student who posed for them, and a pastel of a rock show, showing at least three people. However, he said the experience was pretty unpleasant. The art supplies were crummy, the sheets of paper was small, about 5×7, and the teacher who looked at his portfolio was rushed and uncommunicative. It was as I had feared, that the school is so big, had so many applicants, that it would be a very different experience from the schools he’s attended so far.

Art teaching can be terrific. But more often, it is either useless or off-putting. It’s not like teaching math or Spanish, and the emphasis on a right way and a wrong way can be chilling. Jack is also pretty averse to art instruction, though I have fantasies about finding a great extra-curricular program for him, a course designed for kids that are talented and motivated, a teacher that will help expand him, guide him, and keep him fired up. If you have any suggestion on how to find such a person, let me know.

Speaking of your input, Patti and I were so pleased to read all of the solid advice readers sent in regarding my last entry. It helped us to solidify our view — that Jack should go to a strong, progressive, general sort of school and we are lucky to have several great options. Jack has had to write application essays for several of them. One asked him to describe a commitment he had made and how it effected him. He decided to write about his love of art and I thought you might enjoy reading it:

Addicted to Art
I push my pencil to the paper once again and I hear a faint buzzing of the model’s timer and papers begin rustling. I look up and see that “Victoria” is up and stretching her legs. I sigh and put down my pencil to look at what I’ve done so far. Yellow teeth, chin hairs, and two green eyes fill the page. While it seems like I’m almost done with her face, I’m really just getting started. I look up and see about 20 people, each at least 15 years older than me. A sign missing a few letters reads, Li_e Dra_ing Classes! Two hours earlier, my friends had asked me if I wanted to head up to Central Park for a game of soccer. I had turned them down without even thinking. Why? Because art is my obsession.

Art has inspired me to do many things. I draw all kinds of stuff, create t-shirts, and even paint skateboards. There’s nothing quite like the rush you get from hopping on a board fresh with the smell of acrylics and oil. I scratch the art off the bottom then repeat the entire process. My t-shirts designs are drawings I am very proud of and want the rest of the world to see. I draw live models, animals, photographs, monsters, cartoons, and superheroes, just about everything. You name it; I’ve drawn it.

My whole family has been a huge influence on me. I write different designs of my name because my grandmother writes poems and designs art with calligraphy. I work with Photoshop and tried different designs on it, inspired by my aunt, a printer. My father and I talk about art at least fifteen times a day because of our shared interests. My mother studied fashion and
textiles, which has led me to want to learn how to create shirts and work with collages.

Part of the reason I love art so much is because I’m surrounded by it. Living in New York and having galleries, museums, and movies to study and go to has really made it grow on me. I also make art so much because of how it makes me feel. The moment my pen or pencil hits the paper and my iPod starts to play, I forget all about any homework or stress I may have and I am sucked into the page. There’s nothing like going out on a brisk morning and studying the streets around me. Capturing the scene on paper is the icing on the cake.

While I love art, I’m only thirteen, so I have no idea whether or not I’ll commit to it as a career. I know a lot of people who do this as well, businessmen and women who are artists at heart and all share a very strong love for art with no need to make it their jobs. We share ideas, visit museums, and go out together on ‘Ssketchcrawls,’ trips to museums and parks for drawing. Sometimes we even make art to raise money for different organizations and people in need of food or shelter.

I love art (as I’m sure you know and I’m sorry for being a bit repetitive) and I hope that as I grow older, I continue to work at it. Over the years art has expanded my view of the world and taught me discipline. It has taught me to become a better student at art and the world as well. I think that if I keep it a major part of my life, I will do it more and more and hopefully, one day, I will have mastered all different aspects and it will stay with me for my entire life, ‘til death do us part.

If you’d like to buy one of Jack’s t-shirt designs. he’s made a little online store here:

http://www.zazzle.com/assets/swf/zp/zp.swf?cn=238860589517453985&st=date_created&tl=My+Zazzle+Panel&skn=default&ch=jacktea

C

The Mouse Race


In most normal parts of the world, when children graduate from their local middle school (also known as intermediate school or junior high school), they go onto their local high school. Their school choice is pretty much set by their address. New York City, however, given its position as most extraordinary city in the solar system, has to have a far more complex and stressful solution.
Jack, who is now 13, has to submit almost two dozen choices for school next year.
First of all, we had to decide if he should continue to go to private school or return to the public school system. If we had chosen the former, he’d have to take a very long multiple choice math and reading exam, then write essays and be interviewed at however many schools we had visited and thought good candidates. Then, if we he was accepted at one, we would spend over $100,000 to make sure he got a high school diploma.
Because we’ve opted to send him to public school. his choices are multiplied. First we had to go through a directory of NYC High schools that is over 600 pages long, listing choices from the FDNY High School for Fire and Life Safety to the Urban Assembly School for Careers in Sports, from the EL Puente Academy for Peace and Justice to the School for the Future.
Patti, Jack and I, collectively and separately, have gone on scores of school tours, grilled acquaintances for inside info, read books, articles and websites, and finally narrowed down on our list to the mandatory top 12 schools. That’s right — everyone who applies to NYC public high school must rank their top dozen choices to get into even one.
Some of the schools are really amazingand we are so lucky to have them as options (we visited one that just got 12 million bucks from Bill and Melinda Gates, another which takes the kids on trips to Europe) while others are scary and ringed with metal detectors and classrooms full of hooligans and pre-cons.
There’s more. New York also has a group of “Specialized” High schools that includes schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science that are among the very best schools in the country. To even be considered for admission to these schools, Jack had to study for several months and then, last weekend, along with 25,000 other students, took a three hour test with a few insanely hard questions (in helping him prepare for this test I have had to take a nightmarish stroll down memory lanes to my dusty repository of algebra and geometry, knowledge I haven’t accessed once since Carter was in the White House). He also took yet another test for entrance to Bard, which covers all of high school and the first two years of college before the students turn eighteen.
If all all of this sounds like I am a neurotic, over achieving yuppie parent, I promise you, we are merely average in this city. As soon as you enter the maelstrom of high school selection, you inevitably are faced with all these choices and feel you must at least do what you can to give your kid the best options. And, because you have to rank those twelve schools without knowing whether your kid will get his first choice or his twelfth, you must get somewhat involved and get the lay of the land. Every one does it, from bus drivers in Staten Island to investment bankers in Brooklyn to short order cooks in the Bronx. If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere. Otherwise, move to New Jersey (shudder).
Alright, I hear you wondering, so what does all this have to do with drawing?
Well, about a dozen of the schools in town are art schools of one kind of another. Most seem to be training people who will end up in making mechanicals or painting signs, anything to divert talented kids who would otherwise be spraying graffiti everywhere. We checked out a couple of these schools and they seemed quite grim, with lousy facilities, unimaginative teachers and slack-jawed students. One school, however, LaGuardia High School of Music and Performing Arts has been top Jack’s list for a while. The guitar player from his band was admitted last year and he raves about it. LaGuardia was the basis for the movie and TV show “Fame” (“I’m gonna live forever…) and it full of amazing singers, dancers, musicians, actors and artists. Each year thousands of the most talented kids in the most talented town audition for entry. Less than 10% get in.
Jack has been working hard on his portfolio for the art program. He has to submit fewer than twenty mounted pieces and then take a test: drawing a figure from life, a still from memory and a pastel painting form his imagination.
Jack loves to draw and had filled many sketchbooks with masterpieces. However, he has never really taken much in the way of academic art and usually resists formal teaching. For his application, however, he has had to sit down and really concentrate on the sort of art neither of us particularly love to make. He has drawn long careful portraits of Patti and me, has drawn a range of still-lifes in various media, had drawn urnban landscapes, done some watercolors and has even attended four hour life drawing studio classes with me, sticking it out for the whole session (no nudes, alas).
I am amazed at his commitment and at the strength of his drawings, I had neither the ability ntr the commitment at his age.
The question of course is, will he get in? And the next question is, if he does, should he spend this much time on art? That’ss an interesting question coming form me — I have always bemoaned my own lack of formal training and would personally love to go to art school. But Jack is also a very good student, getting As and B+s in every other subject and we are concerned with whether the academics at LaGuardia will be enough. The fact is, other schools offer better social studies and writing and math programs, no question. But he loves to draw… Well, we’ll see what’s what this spring when the decisions are made by the Board of Ed and we learn the options
Meanwhile, I am posting the pieces he has made for his portfolio. Would you accept him?

Jack Tea’s Portfolio gallery

Slumberpups

Sometimes I use my journal to do more involved, careful drawings. At other times, I use it to just fill in a few minutes, or to record a little factoid about my day. This spread is a good example.

Tim is such a nervous little creature that if I draw him while he’s awake, he gets very nervous that I appear to be staring him down. He can be really tough at times, joining Joe in barking at random dogs in the street, or fighting over a rawhide on the living room rug, but most of the time he lives up to his name: Timid Tim. If you met for the first time, you’d assume he’d been horribly abused as a pup, but he inherited his nerves from his mother, who is a total basket case.

I quite like this painting of Jack for the colors and the layering of paint but my unfortunate use of shading dots makes him look like he needs a good shave. Live and learn.

Backstage with the Peeps


Jack’s band, the Peeps, continues to flourish. They are currently big fans of Tenacious D and discussing playing some of their songs at their next concert.

The lineup coninues to vary a little bit and some members are switching instruments. However, despite changing schools, Jack’s pal Max continues to be a Peep, a loyalty that bodes well.

I made up this composition as I went, beginning with Jack’s drumkit and then adding the rest of the band in a reflection in a mirror in the corner. The whole practice room is jammes with gear, wires, light and mirrrors — a challenge and a treat to draw.

Comic Class

Yesterday, Jack and I overcame our usual aversion to art classes and joined Patti on 6th Street and Avenue B at a comic drawing class. The teachers were graduates of a comic drawing college in NJ, though one of them has left the biz and become an illustrator. They handed out a thick package of material Xeroxed from some great anatomy and comic drawing books, then gave us a few assignments, one to make up a character and draw a spec sheet of the character from all angles and write a description, of the character and his powers. This seemed dull to me so I decided to tackle a comic right off.


I haven’t really tried to draw a full up comic since I was a kid, and since I generally don’t draw from my imagination, it was a bit of a struggle, I just started drawing panels describing what was going on in the class, and, because I couldn’t be bothered to write real dialogue, I just filled bubbles with chicken scratching.


Patti, who’d initiated the thing, ended up having to leave early so Jack and I drew on.


He invented a bunch of weirdo characters, including a hilarious slug-like bunny.


Then we were asked to draw a 2 page comic about two characters finding a box.


Jack was cursing and crumpling up paper, damning his own drawing abilities, which was pretty unlike him.


I got very into the minutiae of the character’s morning ablutions and only got around to the box in the last few panels. There were several layout and composition problems I couldn’t crack. Fortunately, Jack is a genius and helped me out.


I quite like drawing the comic though it was far from my normal drawing experience, I like pushing myself to draw from my head and should probably do a lot more of it.