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.

Seeing the forest, oh, and the trees

tree-1In The Art Spirit, my pal Bob Henri talks about the importance of that original intention which sparks one to make a drawing or a painting. What caught my interest? And, all critically, how do I hold on to that intention so my art is infused with that interest? It’s not enough to decide to draw a tree, one must feel something about that tree and have that feeling right in front of one’s eyes and one observes. His advice is to work fast and furiously, blocking in the big masses while the flame is still burning.
My usual technique is to move slowly, with a blank mind. I enter a meditative state and let my eyes cruise around the contours, laying down every line with equal weight until I have explored the whole object. I rarely try to feel anything as I do this but I must be. I choose certain subjects over others because I like them or am curious about them. So I decided to be more aware and to explore some other ways of looking at a tree a few blocks from my hotel.
I spent a good long time working in ink first. I was very into the carbuncles and folds of the tree’s skin. As I drew, I became increasingly aware of the tree’s colors: it was quite yellow but cloaked in purple, two complimentary colors. I kept thinking about how these colors inter-played and then I painted over my line with watercolors. I was using my new paper, this Yupo pad I picked up on the weekend. The ink went down very smoothly on it but had a tendency to smear. As I painted I was pretty aware of how unnaturally the paint went down, pooling on the paper instead of soaking in. The colors remained pretty vivid, undimmed by the fibers, but it all felt temporary somehow. I couldn’t really let go, worrying that the whole thing would wipe of the page when I was done. I also felt like I had a long lens on — I was only looking at each square inch of the tree but had little sense of the whole as I drew.


While the pad lay drying in the afternoon sun, I decided to have another go and grabbed my trusty Japanese journal with its 100+lb paper ( intended for drawing but it’ll take watercolor pretty well) and my Faber-Castell PITT bold brown brush marker. In three minutes, I knocked out a sketch, thinking all the while about the flow and energy of the tree. I did a caricature of the yellow and violet and capped my pen.


Next I took a black PITT pen and thought about the tree’s architecture, how it anchored into the ground and how the limbs were bolted onto the spine of the creature. I bore down harder on my pen, drawing firmer lines and painting in more defined shapes of color.


Finally I took my cheap Sheaffer italic pen, loaded with dark brown non-waterproof ink and this time I thought about the movement of the trees, how the carbunckly growth flowed like water or vomit from the trees crotch, how the limbs pulled in different directions and how that tension held the tree together and propelled it into the sky. Now the tree seemed almost serpentine to me, writhing out of the soil, phallic, twisting, alive. The watercolors dulled the lines but it felt okay, as if the fusing the whole thing together.

I look at these four drawings and I’m not sure yet what conclusion to draw about them. I like the earthy energy of my last drawing (as if it was made by a goat or a mole) but there’s still something lovely and light about the first bird-like one. Each has something to say in its way, like the varied members of a string quartet, the ingredients of a cassoulet.
One conclusion is clear: Drawing never fails to amaze me; how it can rip open the doors into your head, how it can transform the world and your place in it. Nobody but me can see this process, this unfolding, as it happens to me. All that’s left for others to see are the pages in my journal, the ass wipings on paper — but never the feast.

A good thing (Nancy Howell's story)


From my visit to Martha’s trial last year. The Morning News editors were advised by their lawyers not to run it in my story. I’m sort of glad as it’s a fairly shitty drawing done in the height of nervous anxiety at breaking New York law.

My office is in a large building on Manhattan’s West Side. Our neighbor, one floor down, is the headquarters of Martha Stewart Living OmniMedia, so we expect to see the old ex-con wandering our halls and lurking around the showers any day now. Her stock has been soaring since she went into the clink, so I imagine we’ll hear well mannered caws of redemption from the many willowy blondes we see in the elevator each morning.
I like Martha (though I wish she’d lighten her ass up a tad) but I’m not going to talk much more about her today.
Instead I want to tell you about Nancy.
nancyNancy grew up in the South West, I think it was Albuquerque. She was always a creative person and, over Dad’s objections, she majored in Art at U of NM because she loved to draw. This was in the 70s when, frankly, drawing was not the thing. Instead her instructors were pushing performance art, conceptual art, earth works, that sort of thing. Before the first semester was over, Nancy, beaten, changed her major. She decided to become a physical education instructor., She figured art and PE both had something to do with anatomy, so she’d still be in a related field. When she graduated, she got a job as a substitute gym teacher. She would lie in bed each morning with the pillow over her head, hoping not to hear the phone ring and call her in. She hated being a gym teacher.
Nancy loved playing music. She was in band after band, playing the clubs and bars around town, making a little cash here and there. Not enough cash, however, so she got a job in a bank. She was the teller in the drive-through, sending deposits back to the branch over a pneumatic tube. She hated this job too and sucked at it.
One day, Nancy was on her lunch break at the TGIFridays across the road. It was decorated in that nostalgic style that blossomed in the ’60′s, full of mustache cups and barber poles and merry-go-round horse amidst the spiderplants. Hanging over each table was an ersatz Tiffanty lamp. Nancy deiced there and then that what she wanted to do was to work professionally in stained-glass. She found out that one of the country’s largest commercial workshops for stained glass was right there in Albuquerque and she soon had a job there.
Nancy’s friends were envious. She’d quit her straight job and was making money entirely through creative endeavors — glass in the day, music at night.
Nonetheless, Nancy still wasn’t happy. She realized that despite her field, she wasn’t really an artist. The glasswork she did was not original; she was just working from pattern books, filling orders from templates. And her band, good as it was, was really just a cover band. If they ever played original compositions, the audiences squirmed and the bar owner would complain. Albuquerque ain’t no CBGB and there was little appetite for true originality
So Nancy shed her job, her hometown and her husband, and came to New York City. Soon she had a job with the premier stained glass workshop in the country. She worked on St. John the Divine, on corporate headquarters. She even redid the glass in the Statue of Liberty’s torch. For the next fifteen years or so, she was at the top of her game. She had a new band with her new husband and they played the cutting edge clubs of the City. She had two kids. She seemed fulfilled.
Then Nancy reached the next crisis. She was the #2 person in the #1 firm. If she became #1 she would sit in an office at a computer all day and cease plying her craft. She’d topped out. She also felt past the age when she really enjoyed carrying enormous panes of glass into the grimy tops of old buildings. The work was more physical than she wanted. Time for a new page.
The part of glasswork Nancy had always enjoyed the most restoring or creating the hand-lettered legends that adorn big windows, naming the saints, the dates, the greats of the Church or the Corporation. So she decided to try her hand at something brand new to her. During her last year as a stained glass artisan, she spent each night taking classes and practicing calligraphy. She went to workshops, she learned materials and she worked hard at her craft. When the year was up, she opened her first business. She sent out a small announcement to editors and art directors and she was off doing work for weddings, for publishers, for all sorts of exciting and glamorous clients.
Within three years, Nancy went from a novice to the main calligrapher for Martha Stewart. Whenever you see some ornate lovely penmanship in MS Living, chances are Nancy did it.
Is she fulfilled now? More so than ever. But she tells me she’d still like to push further, to create pieces that are she writes herself, works of pure art that are not commercial but express herself at the deepest. She’s working on that now. Nancy and Mark and her kids are about to move out of the City to concentrate completely on their art, to play more music and to breathe fresh country air.
Nancy is a constant reminder to me that you can get what you want, no matter how far fetched it might seem. First off, know what it is you actually want. Then be willing to work hard, to take risks and most importantly, to listen only to the little voice in your head that first spoke the dream.
I hope Martha got a chance to listen to her voice as she weeded the prison grounds. Sadly. I have less faith in her than I have in Nancy. Or in you.