The shortest distance between two coasts is a wonky line.

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Playwrights say that if a gun appears on stage, somebody will use it before the curtain falls. Photographers say that the best camera is the one you have with you. The New York Lottery says “You gotta be in it to win it.”

I just spent ten days in a car with a journal on my lap.  As  result, I did a lot of drawing. Not that drawing in a car is ideal. I am prey to carsickness so jolting highways and juddering views are usually not the ideal environment for the delicate stomach of my muse. Nonetheless, as I looked out the windshield four thousand miles, I was constantly drawn to draw.

Aphorists say when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And as I spent my whole day with a pen lightly gripped in my hand, everything looked like a drawing. The only effort required to start a drawing was to shrug off the cap and, whenever I wasn’t at the helm, I seized every excuse to draw (thank you, Tommy Kane).

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The unfolding miles inspired me to use the pen which in turn defined the journey we were on. I saw connections between things, I saw unusual shapes, I saw common things suddenly looking very uncommon. I was hyperaware of the light, of the weather, of the ravages of time. Holding a pen can be like donning polarizing sunglasses, sharpening everything in your field of vision.

Now I am back on terra firma, I want to hold on to that urge and habit. To keep recording all the days that pass under my feet, to keep seeing even the most familiar landscape with the fresh eyes and open mind of a traveler.

Further on down the road

The final leg of our cross-country drive.  4,000 miles, 10 days, loads of eating, driving, drawing, and fun. Click on any picture to see the gallery. Or you can follow me on instagram: dannyobadiah.

Going Dutch.

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Holland is the birthplace to so many artists I love. Vermeer —the original everydaymatters artist, who painted tiny moments that take my breath away. Van Gogh —the greatest self-taught artist of all, who captured the world around him and imbued it with his passion and nuttiness. Rembrandt —who was so amazing at capturing light that I scarcely bother to be inspired by him because he was on a an unreachable plain. Anne Frank —who made a humble daily journal into an immortal art piece and, despite all her hardships, said “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!” 

And of course, there’s Mondrian, and Bosch, and van Eyck and De Kooning and Paul Verhoeven…

And the museums! The Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk, and the Van Gogh , which just reopened after decades of renovation.

And then there’s the cheeses, the chocolates, the Stroopwaffles, the tulips, the prostitutes, the drugs, the wooden clogs, the windmills, the dykes, the canals, the bicycles, the ladies scrubbing their doorsteps. For a country with barely twice the population of New York CIty, it’s bursting with clichés.

I am waxing rhapsodic about the Netherlands today because I have booked my tickets for a week there in mid-November. Not the loveliest time of year to be there perhaps but I did not choose it. I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the conference of The European Council of International Schools and to tell several thousand teachers of the wonders of illustrated journaling and how it can help inspire and educate the yoots of today.

Patti, Jack and I went to Amsterdam eight years ago and had a lovely time as tourists. Now I am hoping to augment my speechifying and museum going with a few encounters with Dutch sketchbookers.

If you or someone you know can fill me in on the drawing scene there or introduce me with some people who like to draw, I would be most grateful. Or, failing that, you can just recommend a decent Indonesian restaurant or a “koffiehuis“.

Welcome to America!

When I was twelve, I took a ship across the Atlantic and, after weeks at sea, finally saw the arm of the Statue of Liberty poking through the early morning mist. Upon descending the gang-plank, I bought my first-ever can of Coca-Cola from a Sabrett stand on the pier. It tasted like America and. for the next four decades, that’s where I thought I was living. 

Now, after traveling 3,00 more miles, I’ve realized I was never actually in America — I was in a completely different country called “New York”. And now, finally, I’m in the U. S. of A. It tastes quite different.

In New York, if you need groceries, you go across the street to the corner deli. In a cramped room, you will find a fridge full of beer, some shrink wrapped fig-newtons, a lottery ticket machine, and way behind the counter, a recent immigrant who will barely acknowledge you as he takes your money.

In America, there are enormous buildings called “Costco”. In New York, such a building would be called “Madison Square Garden.” But here, it is filled with palettes of merchandise stacked to the distant rafters. And what merchandise! Many of the brand names are familiar but the products themselves seems to have been manufactured for giants. Twenty-five pound bags of jerky. Seventy-two rolls of Brawny paper towels, in a bundle the size of an East Village duplex.  Need some AA batteries? Here’s a footlocker full of 500. A bucket of Vitamin C tablets, an entire side of beef marinated an shrink-wrapped. I felt like Gulliver amidst the Brobdingnagians. I staggered around for an hour and a half and walked out with a box of hangers.

In New York, if you need to get somewhere, you walk there. If it’s far, you go down to the subway or hail cab. In America, you drive your own car. Everywhere. To Costco, so you can haul home your plunder. To the gym, so you can walk on a treadmill. To the mailbox, so you can collect your Costco coupons.

Now, I know cars and I know how to drive. I got my license at 25 so I’d have proper ID. But when we arrived at LAX with several big suitcases, Jenny went to Hertz and rented a Ford Explorer which is essentially an 18 wheel-truck with cup holders. Every day, I have chauffeured her to her new office and then I have spent the day setting up our house, unpacking boxes, filling the pantry, going to Home Depot and IKEA (oy!) and building my new studio (I’ll tell you more about that next time).

All of my chores have had me glued to my Neverlost GPS device and dragging up and down the 405, which is like the Nile, the Yangtze, and the Amazon only covered with asphalt, amphetamine-addled truckers, and Mexicans in pickup trucks delivering lawn mowers. Everyone slaloms back and forth across lanes, while I squeeze my fingertips deep into the Explorer’s leather steering wheel. I am in an advanced yoga class of some kind — one ear cranes towards the clipped orders of the Neverlast lady, the other twitches at every honk and siren, one eye is on the swarming lanes ahead of me, the other darts back and forth between the various mirrors and monitors arrayed around the vast landscape of my car’s interior, sweat courses down my ribs, my right foot dribbles back and forth across the pedals, now lunging toward the accelerator, then jerking to the brake.

On one horrific trip back from IKEA, somewhere near Mexico, I realize that I have ordered and paid for a gigantic stack of lumber that they laughingly called a shelving unit and in my frenzy and disorientation I have managed to leave it behind at the store. The Neverlast lady sullenly tells me she is recalculating as I exit the freeway only to be ordered to do a U- turn and head back to the distant blue store over the horizon. In New York, incidentally, you had to rent a car and then travel to another state or borough to get to an IKEA. Here in my new American city, there are five different ones, all crammed with those 3-D jigsaw puzzles with made-up Swedish names.

In New York, you are never more than seven feet away from another human being. Literally — above, below, or on one side of you, there is alway somebody. Somebody who is blasting their radio or calling the cops or getting drunk or clog dancing. In America, you can sit in your home and hear … nothing. You can walk down the street, and see … no one. My dogs are so confused by the silence, they sit on the back yard with cocked heads and looks of utter disbelief.

In New York, you put on your coat and your scarf and your hat and a sweater or a coat and a harness and maybe a muzzle and rubber booties on your dog, take a stack of newspapers and bundle him in to the elevator, travel down to the lobby, through several sets of doors and finally onto the sidewalk. Then you drag him away from chicken bones, abandoned big macs, broken glass, pit bulls, and sleeping homeless people. When he is finally ready to relieve himself, you scoop up the offering in the paper under your arm and drop it in the corner garbage can. Then you head back, hoping you have your keys.

In America, you can just open that back door and your dog runs out onto your gigantic lawn and pees while you stand in the doorway in your underwear holding mug of coffee.

In New York, you sprout an avocado pit and put it in a mayo jar on the window sill. In America, you have lawn mowers you can ride and lemon trees and orange trees and mandarin trees all groaning with fruit and your for th taking because they are growing in your own yard!  Two nights ago, Joe and Tim walked across our neighbor’s front yard and Jenny said, “What’s that weird sound they are making?”, a sort of swishing, crunching sound as they walked across the impossibly, perfectly manicured grass. I bent down to feel it. Astroturf.

In New York, if your clothes are dirty, you put them in a bag, and take them to the laundromat on the corner where a lady shrinks and mangles them for you for ten bucks. In America, you interrupt your writing for two minutes, walk to the laundry room, take them out of the dryer, fold them and go back to your blogpost.

So far, I find America lovely and exhausting. I have to rethink so many basic things — walking, eating, slices of pizza (I have yet to see a single pizzeria in America). Even though I have visited LA many times, living here is a whole new kettle of balls of wax and fish. And so many things I thought were basically made up or exaggerated in the movies and on TV are all around me all the time.  Jenny, who grew up in Arizona and lived for nearly a decade in LA is quite used to America and rolls her eyes at my epiphanies and at my apparently dreadful driving.

With all of the new experiences I’ve had exploring America this week, I haven’t made a single piece of art. But next week, I can’t wait to begin my travel journal in earnest.

Okay, I have to stop now as tonight we are going to the movies. In America, they have movie theaters in which they bring you dinner and beers while you are in your seat watching the film. This I gotta see.

On drinking the water.

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As our plane swooped down over Mexico, endless green filled the windows. My first instinct was to wonder what sort of farming this could be, dense, unbroken and stretching to the horizon in every direction. As the wheels touched down, I saw it was jungle, an impenetrable mass of unruly, complex life. The runways had been cut out of the wilderness but no attempt had been made to cultivate the creepers and trees. Nature was too vast, man too small.
Mexico is a mostly modern country with drive-through Starbucks and TGIFridays. But many Mexicans accept the unrelenting power of nature, impossible to dominate completely when the air is humid and the sun shines brightly all the live long year. Grasshoppers the size of iPhones, careen through the sky with chartreuse scales and hot-pink wings. Raccoons wander into four-star restaurants and take corn chips off the bar. Cars are sun-faded, concrete is cracked, donkeys walk slowly. It’s not a rich country, but that’s not the reason things seem shop-worn and resigned. It’s because Mexicans accept the inevitable encroachment of Nature, that it’s pointless to be fastidious when geckos will wander onto your kitchen counters and carpets of kelp will wash onto your freshly grouted patio.
I like it.
In New York, we have been beating Nature back for 500 years and we think we’ve won. So we can’t help but freak out when mice nibble on the organic granola box, when mosquitos find their way under our 600 thread count sheets, when Hurricane Sandy knocks out our wifi for a week. If Nature gains the slightest foothold, we take it as a sign that our entire civilization is crumbling.
I like that in general Mexicans are so much less uptight about perfection. They are cool if you do things that are a little risky — but hardly dangerous. Things that would have flocks of lawyers descending anywhere in the States. Unsecured seatbelts don’t have those annoying warning alarms. There are packs of cigarettes in the minibar. People build restaurants out of driftwood and light them with masses of candles. Some cars are missing fenders or bumpers and are painted patchily by hand. Most streets have no sidewalks or street lights so walking at night under starry skies can be an adventure.
We sat in a beachside restaurant that served food that would have been the envy of any entry in the NYC Zagat. But before our appetizer arrived, the waiters patrolled through with smoking pails, emitting clouds of burning citronella so chokingly dense we could barely see our $12 artisanal margaritas. The mosquitos and gnats were barely dissuaded but no one bothered to complain to the Health Department, pausing only to reach under our designer linens to scratch the welts.
Mexicans don’t value their lives less than their Northern neighbors. They just accept that we can’t control everything all the time. And that this acceptance makes life easier and preserves resources for more important things. Insisting on perfection makes thing a lot less interesting and spicy. It’s also a losing battle.
Maybe it was the heat or the Negro Modelo but my pen line was a little looser in Mexico. I did a number of scrawled pages in my journal, drawn half lying down, book propped against my spreading gut, mango juice on my unshaven chin. Maybe this was how Gauguin felt.
I am sloppy as a rule, but I’m not always loose. I value looseness because it feels more organic and expressive, more human, more natural, more the way life is. Less uptight, less gringo. Jack tells me his drawing teacher insists they draw standing up, with their pads on an easel, and that they draw from the shoulder, not from the wrist, to make bold and sweeping lines with their whole bodies. Flat on my back on my chaise, I am far from that, but I feel integrated, natural, in tune with my surroundings. My body, immersed in sweat and heat and verdant richness, feels sensual and at ease. My inner critic, the monkey is dulled too. He is chewing lazily on a mango in the shade, indifferent to my drawing. He can’t be bothered to nag me when we have the jungle at our doorstep. In Mexico, monkeys sit on your roof, squat on your car, hoot from the trees above your hotel window. But it seems they stay out of your head.
Over this past week in Mexico, I haven’t been as insanely productive as I might have been. But I have been more in tune with my nature. I’ve dismantled waves, I’ve counted grains of sand, I’ve listened to grackles eat French Fries, and I’ve felt the walls of perfection erode. Rules, goals and expectations, it turns out, may not help me make as much stuff as simply sitting in the sun and letting the world grow on around me.

I Left My Art in San Francisco…

We had a lovely mini-vacation by the Bay, eating all sorts of things and walking for miles and miles. We had amazing ice cream…

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…at a place with this for its mascot…

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It’s been a bit nippy and drizzly but that didn’t dampen the mood. We bought way too many books and saw so much art everywhere.

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We saw all sorts of beautiful street murals in the Mission, including on one of my favorite of all streets, Balmy Alley:

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I did see the following on a car’s bumper sticker…

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…but then again it was on this car….

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Oh, and I gave my talk at the HOW Design Conference about creativity and sketchbooks. At first, I was a little worried about the turn out…

71885b40dcea11e2947622000a9e138b_7…but ultimately hundreds of people showed up and many came up to say hi afterwards. If you were one of them, I hope you had as much fun in San Francisco as I did.

a2605b5edc7311e2babb22000a1e868c_7Tomorrow morning, back to New York.  (I’ve done way too much traveling of late.)

 

EDM #26: Draw anything you like.

I drew this under a misting fan in an outdoor restaurant in Dallas where the temperature was heading to 106 degrees.  Overwhelmed and distracted by this intense heat,  I scratched feeble white charcoal pencil lines. Others, more hardy, jogged and cycled up and down the Katy trail in the background. I had prepared the page with gouache back in New York on Friday, anticipating a certain browness to the proceedings, but naive as to the desultory effects of the actual weather.

While I was unable to do much drawing in Dallas, I did manage to take some photos of Dealey Plaza and the Texas Bok Depository, a grim and effecting place that I have read so much about since I was a teenager. It was smaller than I had imagined and I felt a terrible sadness that I had only ever experienced at Gettysburg and Ground Zero. an ordinary street corner that my imagination and memory populate with powerful tragedy.

A misting fan in the tree overhead.

A rare sighting in Dallas.

Marks the spot on the road where JFK was shot.

On the back of the fence overlooking the grassy knoll where conspiracy theorists share their versions of history for five dollar tips.

Too hot to draw much.

Nutrition advice from Rusty Taco.