My Park

First drawing done after the park reopened

First drawing done after the park reopened

One of the many wonderful things about where I live is that’s just a block from Washington Square Park — 10 acres of trees and benches and squirrels. It’s where we walk ourt dogs there several times a day. It’s where Jack learned to skateboard. It’s where we read and draw and chill. We’ve written books about it, made films about it. It’s our front yard.

Jack gave this tour of the park in the Spring of 2001. He’d been learning its history in school and gave it a uniquely Jack re-interpretation.

Almost two years ago, we learned that the park was going to be renovated and, in short order, a huge  ugly cyclone fence encircled most of it. Ever since we walked around the perimeter, like kid’s outside of Willy Wonka’s factory. I took to drawing what I could see of the park from my kitchen window, asecond rate substitute. Last summer was the hardest leg of the exile: no fountain, no concerts, no lolling on the lawn.

Last week, I got an excited text message from Patti: the fence was coming down! We’ve flowed into the park and discovered it was (almost) worth the wait.New flagstones,  rich lawns, lovely plantings, new benches and lamps. The fountain has been moved to line up with the Arch and Fifth Avenue and the park seems a lot less ramshackle and scrappy but still like home.

Here’s a collection of drawings done before after and during our years in exile. (Click on a thumbnail to open the gallery)

Teaching

post-it-party-thumbFor the first time, I am teaching a regular class on sketchbook journaling and, it is some thing I really look forward to each week. I have an awful lot of students (25 or so) and our classroom is a less than inspiring place, but each Tuesday night we talk about drawing and journaling and the wide world of art, then we draw and write together for a couple of hours. Many of the folks in class are new to drawing but all are plunging in with courage and enthusiasm. Some have become instant sketchbook addicts, while others are still hanging around the shallow end, getting their bearings. This week, one of our exercises was to break an object into abstract parts and explore each one deeply. I then combined all of the individual drawings and revealed what we had been looking at collectively: a picture of our new President-elect. There was wild applause and excitement when the group mind came together. Teaching a class is forcing me to really think about what drawing is and how to communicate what I have taught myself over the years. It is is very challenging but the support and pleasure of my students inspires me mightily.

ImageIronically, this morning I was called out by a professional art teacher, here on my blog, who questioned whether I was disrespectful of art education. I hastened to explain:
Hi Danny. The book looks great, but I have to admit, upon viewing the little videomercial, despite the beautiful imagery, I was a bit turned off by what I perceived as a slight jab to my profession . As an art educator, I work my butt off day in day out turning kids onto art. The smiles on their faces when they enter the art room say it all. Their work says even more. I know too many good folks who are on the same boat as me who would feel the same. Am I overreacting here, or being slightly too sensitive? Maybe so. Still, in these trying times, when school budgets are getting cut left and right, and art educators (or,as we called them back in the day, art teachers) are either finding themselves out of a job, or not being able to find a job, the last thing we need is someone dissing art education. I’ll certainly buy the book – how could I resist something this good? Still, please talk me down and tell me why I’m getting my panties in a bundle over a tiny, little sentence (or don’t waste your time on me at all).
Steve

Dear Steve:
I hear you. Let me unravel my thoughts. First of all, I believe art education is vital to both children and adults. My son goes to a high school that specializes in art education and he takes two hours a day (!) of drawing classes. We have put him in several summer and after-school classes to develop his love of art too. So, I am all for art education … when it is done well.
I was deeply scarred by my art teacher’s abusive and derisive comments when I was a boy. I receive so many emails and letters form people who had similarly traumatic experiences when they were young too, dismissive or overly rigid teachers who made them feel they could never draw, would never amount to anything. These teachers are the exceptions in a profession that takes a lot of self-sacrifice and commitment, besieged from all sides by budgets and support for the football team.
So, while I do not diss art education in general, there are without question times when it is poorly taught. A bad teacher might be careless with comments, or overly programatic and rigid, or create a negative environment. There are people who are second rate in all professions but the ones who are incompetent or indifferent at art education can have long and deep impact on the very people who come to my site and books looking for a way to repair their creative instincts.
I realize that this may not be the answer you sought. But please know that a) my book contains work from fantastic several art educators (Rama Hughes, Roz Stendahl, Kate Johnson, Brody Neunschwander, Kurt Hollomon, Gay Kraeger, Christina Lopp, and more) and b) that I consider much of my mission to teach people to teach themselves art so I am also a sort of an art educator ( In fact, I am currently teaching a class here in New York).
And finally, Steve, I am often careless myself in the way I express myself here and elsewhere. I appreciate the rebuke, gentle though it was, and the opportunity to clarify.
I hope you enjoy An Illustrated Life: and that it brings ideas and inspiration to you and your students.

Your pal,
Danny Gregory

ImageI hope this seems like a fair and valid answer. I really don’t want to add art educators to the long list of people I piss off.

Image

jack-shoes.jpg Speaking of insanely great art teachers and students, here’s a drawing Jack did in class last week. ImageSeveral of the students in the class have been blogging about their experiences on Tuesday evenings. Check out Seth’s first hand reports.

Another Sunday Drawing with Jack

DannyModel.jpg
(Click images to enlarge)
Back for another go at life drawing. I un-retired my dip pen and was glad of it; it’s so much more organic and expressive than the Rapidograph. I also decided to tackled the entire form and try to concentrate on values as much as accuracy.

JackModel.jpg
Jack blew me away, as usual. He and his pastels muscled their way to a beautiful, surreal, Incredible Hulk sort of thing. Because he wanted to do something with the model’s blank stare, he put her in an imaginary train and drew in the view. I think he still has plans to fill in the top part of the page.

JackSarah.jpg
On Saturday night, Jack rushed in with this lovely portrait of the hopefully-not-next-Vice-President-of-the-United-States, Sarah Palin. I see his future in Stalinist propaganda.

A Little Portrait

SeanByDanny.JPG

Sean: ink and color pencil 7″x10″
Jack and I haven’t been to life drawing together for ages so we dropped by for a few hours of portrait drawing at the Spring Street studio. We had two models, a woman we’d drawn earlier in the year, and Sean, a little person and an interesting challenge. We both were fairly frustrated by our first few efforts but finally settled into a groove.
SeanByJack.jpg
Jack’s pastel work is pretty great and he is aching to get into some oil painting. I can’t wait to see what he does with that medium. His drawing has leaped forward in the past few months and he is so self assured and able to concentrate like a laser.
I was a little bored with my piece — I find it hard to focus on the same drawing for over an hour and our class lasted three and a half — so I started messing around with colored pencils. It was okay. We will probably go back for another go in the next few weeks.

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