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

Pens of the Moment

These days, I have quite a nice little arsenal of pens (here each presents a self-portrait), and they are influencing how and what I draw more and more.
First off is (1) my trusty nib holder. It’s a General’s #204B with a cork finger grip area, now deeply dyed with a couple of years of various inks. Despite my collection of nibs, this one is permanently in my holder: aHunt Ex-Fine Ball Pointed (my sight is beginning to go and Jack had to read the tiny letters off the nib) with a nice big reservoir hole. It’s a squishy nib that can draw very fine lines or big fat ones.
(2) came from Venice with my Friend, Tom. The holder is champagne colored Murano glass with steel hardware and it’s a lot more solid and weighty than everyday pen. I like the weight but am nervous to carry it away from my desk. It came with this nib that looks like a steak knife which lays down sharp lines, a little less flexible that the Hunt. In my current journal I am only drawing in browns, blacks and yellows � my main inks are Doc Martins’ radiant concentrated Sepia and Golden Brown and Daler-Rowney’s FW Acrylic Artist Ink. The former is a little more transparent that I always want, the latter is thicker, almost like paint and takes a while to dry.
(3) I’ve mentioned my bamboo pen before. I use it with any ink but most often Sum-i ink in a heavy stone inkwell. It draws all sorts of line depending on how hard I press and feels lovely and organic.
(4) is a Faber Castell PITT pen, brown ink, preferably, S or F, and usually in my pocket. The ink is permanent so I can watercolor over it right away and depending on the age of the pen it can be smooth and creamy or scratchy and textured. I can draw very little broken lines with it or bear down and make dark ones. It’s less alive than dip pens but the best marker I’ve found.
(5) After years of searching, I found a fountain pen I really like. I got it in Italy: a Columbus Maxima and it’s very heavy and silver and cost about 80 Euros. I use disposable cartridges with non-waterproof ink which I can smear with a wet fingertip. At first, I thought the tip was too stiff but I carry it with me everywhere and it had become a good friend.
These pens tell me quite a lot about my drawing at this stage. I like dip pens because they slow me down — I take my time with open bottles of ink and the small load of ink they can sustain. It also makes me feel connected to centuries of artists who worked in just this way. My love of technical pens like the Rapidoliner has ben replaced by a desire for variable lines that give drawings more interest and life.
It’s also interesting to see how my pen choices have changed. Here’s the inventory I did a year and a half ago. The entire original cast has changed.

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


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.

On crosshatching

As you spend more and more time drawing, there usually comes a point when contour drawing isn’t enough. You can set down lines that perfectly describe the shapes in front of you but you become interested in giving your work dimension and exploring the effects of light and shade. Several people have reached that point recently and written asking me to talk discuss the whys and wherefores of cross hatching. let me try.
Cross hatching is quite miraculous. How is it that black ink lines on white paper have the ability to create an infinite number of shades of grey, to evoke all the colors of the rainbow and to suggest textures and materials and varied as silk and stone, glass and schnauzer hair?
The first thing to do is to get in the groove. Practice drawing lines until you can lay them down in fairly predictable parallel strokes. Do it in boring practice sessions or just start working them into your drawings. Try greying gradations, filling boxes from pure white to solid black — space the lines far apart in the first box, then halve the distance in the second box, then halve it again in the third and so on until your final block is completely black. Next, try crossing your vertical lines with horizontal ones, weaving darker and darker gradations. Then lay a diagonal set of lines over the grid, upper left to lower right, then cross back upper right to lower left. Try keeping them as regular and even as you can, so you can create various sorts of grey with various sorts of combinations of lines. Don’t make yourself nuts just experiment with lines at 45 and 90 degree angles.
The next things to consider: What do these shades of grey represent? The answer seems to fall into three main effects: Tone, color and texture. You can decide that darker greys mean things in shadow, or that different greys represent different surface colors, or that the lines represent different textures.
These drawings (by Guptill — see below*) are basically about light and dark. The lines tell you the volume and direction of the light on the object and that’s about it.
These lines tell you a lot more about the materials the objects are made from; straw, wood, wicker, etc. all accomplished with crosshatching various sorts of lines.
In this drawings, my pal Tom Kane uses lines to suggest different colors in a girl’s kerchief.
But here he uses the same sorts of lines to express the direction and shading of light on a girl’s hair.
As you can see, once you start introducing these tones, you have a lot more decisions to make. You aren’t just recoding shapes; you are expressing an opinion about what you found interesting in the scene.
Consider the differences that values and tones make in these three interpretations of a scene:the various choices evoke different temperatures, distances, moods and degrees of importance.
It’s interesting to play around with line quality and stippling too: Consider the different feelings these drawings have because of the varying degree of regularity and the direction of the lines used in each identical composition.
My inclination is to avoid incredibly regular lines; they seem mechanical and inorganic to me. I lay down one value in the middle then go back and firth balancing areas with more or less crosshatching until I have described the effect I want. It’;s all a matter of balance and crosshatching is pretty forgiving, If things feel off, just go back and hit your darker areas with a new layer of lines to get the emphasis right.
Like so many things in drawing, there aren’t a lot of hard fast rules or rights and wrongs. Crosshatching is just another opportunity to record your observations, capture your feelings and have fun. And there’s something about that hypnotic regularity of drawing parallel lines that is very soothing.
“Drawing is just an excuse to crosshatch”— R.Crumb
* The greatest practitioners and teachers worked and published in the 19th century, when every day’s paper was full of endless engraved examples of cross hatching. I have learned a lot from the publications of Watson Guptill, beginning with seminal works by Arthur L. Guptill himself, like Rendering in Pen and Ink and moving on to the less encyclopedic but crystalline Henry C. Pitz’s Ink Drawing Techniques. I also love Paul Hogarth’s Creative Ink Drawing. Many of these are still in print or can be picked up cheaply second-hand.

Technologica Artistica di Roma

So there have been various technical questions from readers who wonder what sort of mountain of gear I have brought with me here to the Holy City to get shit* onto paper and onto this site. It’s an important and pressing issue so I will explore it here in full.
Here’re the highlights: I carry an aluminum alloy Soltek Pro Easel in a calfskin and spandex torsal harness and a Herman Miller folding titanium stool with translucent Cygnus mesh; a 22×30″ Roma Luss Journal re-bound with 300 lb. Fabriano Artistico Cold Press; a full set of Series 44-14 Dan Smith Autograph Series Watercolor Round brushes in Russian winter male Kolinsky sable fur; my trusty 18 Kt rose gold finished Mother of Pearl 85th Anniversary Aurora fountain pen and three different sets of Daniel Smith watercolor pans, each customized for optimal performance under varying heat and humidity conditions.
Oh, and my personal assistant, Franellika, carries a 72″ linen parasol; two Art Bin Ultimate Solutions tote full of miscellaneous markers, pencils, paints, brushes, scalpels, quills, sandwiches, and iced martini fixins; a fully loaded iPod plus backup; a portable library of travel guides, art monographs and r.crumb sketchbooks; and a yellowing skull for contemplation
Back at the hotel, I have two Power Mac G5s (2.7GHz dual-processors) each rigged up to 30-inch Cinema HD Displays and 2-terrabyte external drives; I digitize my drawings with my Aztek Premier drum scanner and run off prints of each page on my HP Color LaserJet 3700dtn Printer. The gear takes up most of the extra hotel room I set up as EDM production HQ but it’s worth it to bring you my high quality art work in the sort of breath taking verisimilitude you have come to expect from this site.
Any further questions on techniques? Please post a comment and/or refer to this profile of my usual gear inventory and inventory of art supplies. Rome-21.jpg

—— *My language may be a little questionable today as I have discovered my new favorite filthy thing: The Dawn and Drew Show, the fucking funniest thing I have heard at least since coming to Italy if not before, and am listening to it on iTunes while I write this)

Drawing day

roundtablea-1I have been kerchunking out drawings today, primarily for the Morning News. As part of the series’ illustrations I’ve been doing for the newly redesigned site, Rosecrans, my editor, asked me to create a drawing for TMN’s occasional round table discussions. At first, feeling uninspired, I pulled out a photo of a conference room business discussion and turned it into this.


The next day, Rosecrans said he liked everything I’d been doing except the roundtable illustration one which looked like I’d done it from a photo of a conference room business discussion. So I took another crack at it, this time a little more bohemian and came up with this.


My next job was to create illustrations for the next installment of Peanut is coming up on Tuesday. I decided to just focus on still life objects that represent parts of the story rather than contrive some actual illustrations of people and events, my least favorite illustration to do. These are three separate ones.
At the new Blick art store down my street, I picked up a new set of Pelikan opaque watercolors. They are a little chalky but work pretty well in moderate conjunction with my transparent watercolors. A worthwhile addition for just 20 bucks for 24 colors. I also grabbed a handful of PITT artists pens from Faber Castell. I love their brush pens and now will try out the S and F pens in black and umber.
I also splurged and bought myself a new set of watercolors called “Yarka St Petersburg”. They were pretty expensive: $69 for a set of 24 pans but I really want to upgrade my colors and I hate little tubes. I’ve tried making my own set by drying little cakes in a metal box but it was a disaster.
Anyway, when I got the St. Pete’s home, I realized they were not worth the money. The pans sit in a flimsy plastic box that would crack in no time in the field. And the pans themselves sit in the thinnest plastic egg carton sort of arrangement of cups. There’s no way they will survive a year or so of daily use. Why would anyone make such a flimsy piece of shit I wonder? The Pelikans are beautifully made and designed (though the paints themselves are probably just student grade) and these professional paints were designed by monkeys who’d never seen a real human use them,. They’re going back to the store this afternoon.