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.

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.

My Yorkshire – a visit with Richard Bell

My-Yorkshire1

When I went to Yorkshire to visit my drawing pal, Richard Bell, an ITV film crew showed up to profile him. They shot us as we drew together and later, they took him off for a tramp in the wild.
See me act like a New Yorker and horrify the locals while painting a snack truck.
(ITV was kind enough to send me a tape but they have not posted the show online so I am taking the liberty of sharing it here.)

http://www.youtube.com/v/OxBPwhkhuBs&hl=en&fs=1&

(Part 1 of 2)

http://www.youtube.com/v/M1hvQsXLSk0&hl=en&fs=1&

(Part 2 of 2)

A Fountain of Learning


As my Rapidograph was still empty, I continued drawing with my green fountain pen. I drew this funny old car against the curb, managing to overcome my usual disasters with angled wheels. The ink in my fountain pen is not waterproof, so I just hit the shadows a little bit with a blue Crayola.

I change the color of the ink cartridge in my fountain pen every time one is empty so the ink is always changing hue. Right now it’s going from black to blue; next up is a vermillion cartridge, so I’ll be entering a sort of purple phase pretty soon.

Ronald Searle is my idol, my spiritual guide, my ideal. Drawing with his tool of choice, the fountain pen, made me want to look at his work again so when I got home, I filled up my Rapidograph with fresh India, opened my copies of Back to the Slaughterhouse and U.S.A. for Beginners and copied some works of the master, Then I drew my slumbering mini-pup, Tim.

The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are

creative-license

My guide to discovering and increasing your creativity. It’s over two hundred pages of essays, ideas, and watercolors. Here’s a peek inside.

Buy Now From Amazon

I got the first note from someone who has bought my new book at Barnes and Noble today and I realized it is high time I shared some more details about the book with everyone. First of all, I have put together a crude little gallery with a few representative spreads from the book, generally one from each chapter.


Next I’d like to share some opinions from people who’ve gotten their hands on it. I hope to do this less in the spirit of self-congratulation (though I am quite proud of this book) and more to just let people know what the whole things is about and hope fully to inspire some readership.

Let me also say something quite important up front. I have written this book and kept this website going for years now for a simple reason. Re-awakening my creativity and sense of myself as an artist changed my life and helped me to deal with the most horrible thing that has ever happened to me: the day Patti was run over by a subway train and her resultant paraplegia. I am not exaggerating when I say that Art became much of the reason for me to carry on with my life.

I believe that we are all born creative and that, at some point in most people’s childhoods, they lose the urge, but not the ability, to make art. This is a tragic loss. Through the history of our species, ordinary people have always made paintings, sung songs, decorated their homes, expressed themselves in a hundred ways. Today, however, we are increasingly creatures who expect others to provide us with entertainment and culture. We take for granted that creativity is the domain of professionals. We are convinced that if we cannot be perfect, we should not try.

What a loss. I believe fervently in the spirit of amateurism. I know in my heart that it is far better to do an inaccurate, clumsy drawing than not do one at all. It is better to sing off-key than be mute. A scorched home cooked meal is far more nourishing for the soul than a frozen dinner. And I want to rekindle that spirit in whomever I can.

I make a decent living at my job. So I don’t do drawings and watercolors and write essays about creativity or even publish books in order to make money. I do it because I feel that it is important to encourage others (and simultaneously myself) to give oneself permission to be the artists that we all truly are.

My book is called The Creative License but of course, I can’t issue such a license. I can’t give anyone permission to be themselves. All I can do is provide examples, suggestions, encouragement and hope that magic happens.

One of my first readers seems to be getting this. Tonight, after reading just a chapter she writes:

After only the first 11 pages, I feel like you are a voyeur in my life. You said it very well when you talked about people who just have to create. (When I see something beautiful, ugly, interesting–whatever, I don’t just want to look it–I want to get it down on paper and recreate it). But you really struck a nerve talking about those of us who put that creativity into a box and try to keep it there for whatever reason (Will my kids really want those journals that I fill when I’m gone?–yeah, they probably will.) “So with the very first chapter you have looked deep into the heart of people who know they are creative, but stifle it, and the people who are afraid to find out that they are creative. And that encompasses pretty much everyone! I realize that the title of the book is “…giving yourself permission…” but the “familiar” tone that you use to expose those thoughts about creativity almost make it feel like it’s OK for the permission to come from an outside source–the author–someone who has a grip on the understanding of the creative process. “

I hope her enthusiasm doesn’t wane and that the ensuing chapters continue to fuel her creativity and lead her to new places.

Finally, here is a very generous review from one of my favorite artists, my watercolor teacher and mentor, Roz Stendahl, one she recently posted to the Everyday Matters group:

“I was fortunate to be able to read the proofs of Danny’s new book, “Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are.” First a disclaimer for those of you on the list who don’t remember my name from my infrequent posts. Danny is a pal. We’ve corresponded, chatted on the phone, he’s visited, we have drawn together. You could stop reading this email right now because of that, expecting a bias.

But I also am a life long journaler and I teach visual journaling at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts so I read almost all the books that come out in this field. I want to provide up to date recommendations for my students.

I think these things put me in an interesting position to tell you something: reading this book is just like spending time with Danny. His sense of humor comes through. He is silly and playful, wry and sarcastic by turns, but always engaging. Something is always popping out of his brain. He’s gathered all this up and put it in a book. And he wants to encourage you to draw and tap into your creativity.

There are a lot of books on creativity on the market. Some of them try cheerleading and cajoling, some encourage you through psychology, and others practically shame you into picking up your art materials. Danny’s approach is different. Like the great pitch man he is, he creates an analogy (creative license is like a driving license) and then joyfully explains and expands until you want in. The nice thing about this approach is that you don’t end up with two dozen vegematics in your attic like Opus. You’ll end up with a visual journal that records what’s important to you and you’ll be more connected to your life.

Danny’s book is organized in such a manner that it can be read straight through or dipped into. There’s an introduction which establishes the groundwork for you to view yourself as a creative being. The driving license analogy is introduced here.

This is followed by nine chapters which deal with everything from how to draw (giving you instructions for exercises to get you up and running today) to shock (getting out of a rut), resistance (going on), and identity (self acceptance as an artist). (And lots more.)

Each chapter is further divided into smaller sections, often only a page spread or two, dealing with some aspect of the chapter topic. These sub sections read like brief meditations, parables, or pep talks.

I feel this type of organization is one of the best aspects of the book. It allows the reader to come back to the book for small tune ups so he can get back on the road (keeping with the driving metaphor).

Throughout the book Danny provides his readers with suggestion upon suggestion of things they might want to draw, examine, think about, or respond to. If you are new to drawing, visual journaling, or doing creative activities in your life, this book will help you realize how you’ve been a creative being all along. Now’s the time to reengage your life, dreams, and creative self. Danny’s book will give you enough gas to get you a fair ways down the road and the insight to be able to spot refilling stations.

If you already have a creative license and use it daily in your life, the book will still encourage you. Chances are your take on visual journals and creativity is skewed differently because you already understand your process. But a fresh view, another angle, can help you appreciate what you have and enable you to flex your creative muscles even more.

After reading the book I felt that the experience was like being swept up into a brainstorming meeting where there was a lot of laughter and enthusiasm but also serious, earnest work. I believe you’ll enjoy this book.
I’ve only seen a black and white proof, but I’ve seen many of these journal sketches in person. The book is going to be a colorful and visually entertaining book.
Danny can sell an idea and he does it clearly and with humor. I’ll be taking this book along to my journaling classes so that my students can benefit from the perspective Danny brings to the topic.
Danny didn’t ask me to write a review, but I felt compelled to because there are a lot of “creativity” books on the market and we talk about books on this list. Why buy this one? If you’ve enjoyed and found Danny’s insights on his blog helpful, if you like the supportive aspects of exchange that happen on this list, then you’ll enjoy this book which grows out of this seed. The book will speak to you in accessible ways that other creativity books might not.”

If you gotten this far, I hope you’ll check out the book. And if you do buy a copy and read it, I hope it’ll motivate you to expand your creativity. And finally, I hope you will evangelize, gently helping others to see their own creativity, helping make the world more present, more forgiving and more beautiful.Peace out. Commercial over.