Feeling a little La-la

santa-monica-cacti

I have been holding on to my jet lag quite well while here in LA; getting up early and going to sleep most nights before ten. Still my internal clock has slowly drifted west a little more each day; I’m probably somewhere over Oklahoma today, rising at 6:30 and feeling rested (last week it was 4:30). It’s been great to get up at dawn and have a couple of hours to myself. I usually walk along the beach for forty five minutes; to the Santa Monica Pier and back before breakfast, passing the homeless people still in their sleeping bags under the palm trees.
After breakfast, I work on my book. I am able to dart on to my computer several times a day to make adjustments to the work in progress, rewriting, redesigning, lettering and drawing elements to insert into the layout. Last night, while waiting for a final meeting on casting, I finished my final read through and am pretty much satisfied. The book is 208 pages long; each with a unique design, rimming with drawing and colors and thoughts and weird lettering. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I feel deeply satisfied by it. I could go on tweaking forever and yet it also feels quite complete, organically whole. I will look at it on the plane again tonight and then send it off to my editor.
I’ve spent most of my days over the past week and a half working on the campaign we are set to start shooting next week. We’ve figured out every shot and transition, pulling the spots apart and reassembling them, challenging them to their basic premises and seeing how we can plus them. We have dozens of roles to cast across the campaign and each day look at DVDs full of actors in LA and New York. Last night was our last round of callbacks and we are in pretty good shape. This afternoon we will take our clients through all of the decisions we make and on Tuesday the cameras will start to roll. We have tested so-called ‘animatics’ (basically cartoon versions of the spots that let us see how people respond to the basic plots of the spots) with consumers and they have all done exceptionally well, hitting historic highs for communication, persuasion and likeability, so we are hoping that our clients will be filly on board with all of the subsequent decisions we’ve been making. But, of course, one never knows. Our director has just finished shooting a movie and every day must meet with the studio and discuss the edit; he says it is a horrible experience and one he won’t repeat any time soon.
This evening, I’ll be on the red-eye back to New York. I’ll get to spend a few days with my family (who I miss terribly) and to duck into my office and straighten out some things on the other parts of my account. We are in the midst of launching a huge print campaign too and have photographers to hire and many, many details to work out.
It has been a very stressful experience because so much is riding on our efforts both at the clients and at the agency. Hopefully things will all go smoothly and the tension will subside.
My book is keeping me sane, quite honestly. It is like a quiet lagoon I can dive in to when all around me is chaos. It’s not just the fact that it’s a real project that has been met with so much good energy so far. It’s also that it’s mine; a little world of my own making that reflects nothing but my own experience of reality. It’s also something I hope will be very positive for those who share it and will help them to embrace their own creativity and make lagoons of their own. Drawing has always brought me such peace and happiness and the further I wander into the Valley of Darkness, the more important a beacon it becomes.
Sure, my book is going to be published — but that’s not it; all of the books that precede it, the 38 volumes of drawings I have filled in the past few years, have all brought me this satisfaction, helping me see the world as it truly is, not a tangle of subjectivity and judgment and tensions and ego, but a place of peace and great beauty, even in the smallest things.
That said, I’ve finished my breakfast now. I’m going to go and do a little drawing in the sunshine before my day takes off.

They pull me back in

workdesk

It’s a year and a half since I left my last job, left meetings, left acount executives, left downsizing, left that tight feeling between my shoulderblades. For the next year, I managed to do a lot of drawing and travelling. I created this blog, worked on the staff of the Morning News and the New York Times, and finally achieved my dream of being paid to be an illustrator. I finished one book and then conceived and wrote another, the book I have always wanted to read. I spent a lot more time with the people I had abandoned during my four years of senior management: I picked Jack up from school, I sat in the kitchen and talked to Patti every morning, unencumbered by bosses and office gossip. I met hundreds of great creative people around the world. A happy time.
Somewhere in the back of my head, probably on a nerve that connects right to that tightness in my shoulders, a little voice continued to murmur. “You’ll never make enough money. You’ll never be able to afford the standard of living you had during all those years in advertising. You are still a rank amateur. What will you do when you’re sixty? Seventy? What if you live as long as your grandfather? You can’t survive to 95 on scraps. Wipe that smile off your face.”
On and off, I freelanced in ad agencies. I had steady clients who brought me back in time and again. In one day of advertising freelancing, I could make what took me a couple of weeks of illustration and so I did both.
And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it like I hadn’t in years. I was being hired just to sit around and come up with ideas, to make things. Not to hold clients’ hands or draw up lists of people to fire or listen to my boss quote from his most recently read book on management techniques. All they wanted was ideas and I have become a fire hose of those. At the end of each assignment, I would throw on my suit and present the work to the client and most everything was well received.
Then last summer, just before I went on my cross-country trip, I came up with a campaign that won a small agency an account worth about a quarter of a billion dollars. When I finished my trip, visiting Andrea in San Francisco, I got a call on my cellphone while walking down Market Street. They wanted me to come back and run the account.
It was exciting to have been part of this sort of victory. We had beaten the biggest, most famous agencies in the country, based on a line I’d thought of at the urinal one afternoon. The agency has done a lot of good work and it is on a phenomenal wave of success. Right after the big win, we reeled in one of the leading sneaker companies, then an international beer, and now we are on the verge of three other huge new accounts.Our success is like nothing in the recent history of advertising and there are just a meager overworked handful of us doing it.
Like the tsunami that hit Asia, this agency’s momentum has threatened to devestate all of the changes I made to my life over the past couple of years. It is easy to succumb and work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. I can give up this blog, see my family only in their pyjamas, stop drawing altogether.
I can also succumb to the tension and fever pitch and not even enjoy the incredible creative opportunities on my plate. I just got the go-ahead to shoot a dozen commercials, each with a budget over a million dollars. I’ll be traveling around the country to do it and yet I can still make myself feel miserable about it. Miserable because I worry about what I am losing, breaking my commitment to myself. Miserable because I can worry about not living up to expectations. Miserable because I’m an ad guy again.
It has been a struggle not to succumb. I know that sounds dreadful and there are so many people who would do anything to be in my place. What I am wrestling with, truely, is the danger that I could slide back under the waves, go back to how I felt a half dozen years ago, when I didn’t draw, didn’t share my feelings, couldn’t conceive of myself as an artist.
But guess what. I can and am and will continue to win that battle. I am not the person I was. And even though I am in the world I left, I am a new man. My year off was transformative. My imagination works better than it ever did. My confidence and self-knowledge are magnified.
If you are considering chucking a job or career or a direction that stifles you, I hope my experience is helpful. You can decide to walk away and then to walk back without feeling like your experiment was a failure. You will return, if you do, changed and smarter and knowing where the exits are in case you feel like you need fresh air ever again in the future. Or perhaps you will stay on the new path and never look back. All that really matters is that you take each day as it comes, look for the beauty in it, abandon preconceptions and focus on what you want to be. A healthy, creative, complete person.
I wish it for you. And for me.

All Quiet on the Artistic Front

tintin-composite
Where’s Johnny Got his Gun? Where’s All Quiet on the Western Front? Where’s Catch 22? A Farewell to Arms and For whom the Bell Tolls? From Here to Eternity? The Naked and the Dead?
Where’s Guernica?
Where’s Alice’s Restaurant? Where’s All Along The Watchtower? Where’s Give Peace a Chance? Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy? We Gotta Get Out of This Place? Born in the USA? Rocking the Casbah?
Where’s The Star Spangled Banner?
It’s been three years since 9/11 and yet, (except for a couple of forgettable efforts from Springsteen and Bowie, a few made-for-TV movies, and Michael Moore’s upcoming Fahrenheit 911) artists don’t seem to have responded in a significant way that has caught on with the public. Where’s the first great anti-war hip hop song? The Whitney Biennial was great but if any of it referenced 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, I missed it.
Granted, it may have taken a few years for great art to emerge from other wars, and so far no one’s been drafted for this one, but we live in accelerated times and all feel threatened and yet there doesn’t seem to even be a movement afoot. These events are changing our lives and our world, and people all over the planet seem to have strong feelings about it and yet, the music, film, fiction and art world seem way, way too peaceful.

Inspirational Journal: GI Sketchbook

For anyone who has ever felt that they had no time to draw, were too stressed out to draw, had nothing interesting to draw, I offer a few pages from “G.I. Sketch Book”, published by Penguin Books on July 1944:

From the FOREWORD
WHEN YOU get upward of ten million men together from every walk of life, you find a large number of them who think pictorially and who burn with a desire to record their thoughts. What cries out more for the permanent record of the artist than enormous masses of men in combat, in preparation for combat, at rest, or at play! The skill of an artist is not always the same; there are influences that heighten or lessen the ability to transmute mood and scene. If he is greatly moved by what he sees, it is very probable that he will transcend his ordinary technical limitations and produce something that will come close to satisfying even him.
The pictures in this book have all been made by American G.I.’s and, as you thumb your way through the pages of sketches and finished pictures, bear in mind under what conditions some of these chef d’oeuvres were produced. What foxhole did a marine use as his studio? What bombed and burning deck inspired the sailor-painter to portray magnificent light and atmospheric effects? Many scenes were sketched on wrapping paper, some painted on ship’s canvas with ship’s paint. One lad in the Air Forces sends his wife a daily letter from China, from India or from Burma, constantly illustrating a point with a pen and ink sketch. This is what he writes about his G.I. life and art: “It’s a nice feeling that though I am so far away, I am still contributing to the cultural life of our community. Also to know that I am still doing art work in the combat zone, and under real primitive and warring conditions, proves conclusively that the desire for the fine and aesthetic is not a shallow, meek appendage to the lives of humans, but a forceful necessity to life.”