The palest ink is better than the best memory”
– Chinese proverb
One of the many pleasures and benefits of journaling is the ability to get a clearer picture of one’s own changes over time. I just sat down and flipped through the last year of drawings I’ve done and it’s quite amazing how much experimentation I’ve done in 2006. I have always been a dabbler and though most aspects of my life don’t change an awful lot (same home, same career, same wife, same inexorable slide toward baldness), I like to try on various guises, learning enough to be dangerous but rarely sticking with anything long enough to be particular expert.
This year, however, I have been searching mightily. If you’ll bear with me, I’ll take you through the convulsions of my year and try to draw some conclusions about what the heck’s been going on with me.
In January, I had prepared the pages of a Canson watercolor book by staining the pages with Doc Martins liquid colors, mainly yellows, oranges and brown. Then I drew on them with brown PITT pens. When we were in Mexico, this was a particularly interesting technique but after a month or so of doing it, I moved on.
I published my thoughts on the difference between my experience of drawing from photos and reality and attracted a vocal minority who strongly disagreed with my conclusions. As an addendum, I would point out that a) I do believe that photography is an art form, b) that I often draw from photos myself and will continue to do so and c) that I still maintain it is an inferior experience and far less challenging than drawing from life.
I then began Vol. 44 which was a vertical drawing book with oaktag pages. I continued drawing mainly with brown PITT pens and a white pencil. In retrospect, I really quite like this book and the casualness and anarchy of its pages. I’m glad to have an idea of how to do this sort of drawing as I’ve always admired when other people draw on color paper.
I had an idea to harness the energy of our Sketchcrawls to some larger goal and so we had a get together at the Rubin Museum and raised a bunch of money for victims of the Pakistan earthquake. As usual my drawings at these events sucked but it was nice to see so many people who share my interest in drawing, many of whom did lovely work there.
We also held a contest to give away a book on illustrated letters and I received so many phenomenal responses. It is great to revisit the gallery of that work.
In February, I conducted a series of interviews with other people who had either fled or rethought their careers in advertising. I know so many creative people who are ambiguous about our industry and it was nice to share POVs.
I had long had fantasy that I should take some really good paper to a bookbinder and have the ultimate journal constructed for myself. I finally did so with Volume 45, a mixture of heavy watercolor paper and colored drawing papers. I took the book with me to LA.
At first I loved it. The pages were big, the paper was great. Most of all, I liked having perfect bound pages. I’d been dealing with spiral bound journals for a while and forgotten how different it is to design across spreads and how different the whole psychology of working in a real book can be.
Eventually though, I got tired of it. The book was too damned big and heavy so I neglected to carry it with me and eventually I stopped working in it all together, about 1/3 of the way through. In the meantime my drawings got worse and worse, more constipated, hesitant, crabbed … yuk.
I did do a few things I thought quite lovely. I also had a great sketchcrawl with a bunch of Southern Californians. It proved to be the last sketchcrawl I did in 2006.
When I got back from my shoot in LA, I grew enamored of the idea of podcasting and after a lot of technical wrangling, I did a half dozen or so episodes of my podcast. I never really found my POV – somtimes I was too casual, at other time too grim – so I eventually gave that up too. I think my main motivation was to solve the technical issues and see if I could do it. Well, I could and now I’m done. For now.
In April, HOW Magazine asked me to design their cover as well as to write an article about drawing. It was new sort of creative challenge and I loved it. (Incidentally, I’ll be speaking at the HOW conference this Spring in Atlanta. Details to follow).
I continued to flounder about. I started to get interested in cartooning and made a few attempts to chronicle my life in photo-comics, like they have in Mexico. I also drew a few, including one on the history of my hair.
Maybe it’s because I walk past all the Chelsea galleries on my way to work, but I went through a brief neurotic period when I decided I had to make some fine art. My subject matter: work. I found a picture of a horrible business meeting and then laboriously reconstructed it in watercolors. It was one of the most unpleasant art experiences I’ve had, sort of like being in the meeting itself. The best thing to come of the experience was it led me to shave off my beard.
Disgusted with my journal book, I started drawing on loose pieces of paper, Acquarello hot press paper that is lovely and smooth. I also launched a new experiment. I reset my alarm and every day I would wake up and hour early. From 6 to 7 a.m., I would do something I’d never really done before, then draw and write about the experience. I listened to multiple takes of a Miles Davis performance, followed my dog around the park, communed with my turtle, reperformed a play I’d done in high school, and a bunch of other silly stuff, It was a great month which I never really blogged about.
In June, I fell in love with Kate Williamson’s book on Japan and we had a great contest to give away copies. Great travel postcards showed up from all over.
Jack and I also got into stop motion animation and he made a few great little films, like Sunday Road Rage.
In July, I saw several photoblogs that made me think I’d like to take simple pictures of my daily life. I bought a teeny camera that also allowed me to film stuff so I started making short video journals.
I also had this massive fantasy of creating some sort of comprehensive creative resource onlone. That ended up becoming the EDM group wiki and Michael Nobbs’ EDM Superblog, both nice things.
Not journaling properly was taking a toll on me. I started to freak out at the end of July and, in August, I bailed out and announced a sabbatical from this blog. It all seemed a bit random to readers I’m sure but I was having a bit of a creative crisis. I was getting increasingly wrapped up in others’ expectations of me and feeling like I was far from meeting them. While my new book, The Creative License, has done phenomenally well for a book of its type, outselling my others by a factor of four or five, my huge publisher, Hyperion (part of Disney) wanted it to sell millions of copies and when it didn’t, they said they couldn’t do another color illustrated book with me. My original editor had quit to move to Colorado and I felt very unloved. I also realized, after dropping out of teaching an art workshop and declining requests for more Sketchcrawls that I am not an art teacher really and that what I am really looking for is a deeper more honest way to express myself and my experience of the world. Not having another book proposal on the stove was also making me antsy and shitty about myself but my imagination felt bone dry and I wasn’t coming up with anything new I wanted to write about.
In late August, we went to Amsterdam and I started journaling again. I went back to my favorite old format — a little pocket-sized moleskine, this time horizontal and filled with watercolor paper. Within a few days, I felt like I had picked up the thread again.
I continued experimenting: after reading several books by David Hockney, I bought a camera lucida and experimented with drawing portraits and landscapes with it. Cumbersome but illuminating. I also started drawing and redrawing the view out of my kitchen window, usually at breakfast, quick sketches with a fountain pen and a little watercolor set.
Then in mid September, I bought a lush new set of Winsor Newton watercolors that added new zest to my paintings. I also begain drawing portraits in a larger Moleskine, page after page of men’s head and shoulders, responding to various sorts of photgraphs, many quite old. I didn’t care who they were but I was looking for an intuitive response to their faces. Like the drawings of the kitchen view, I was interested in repeating the same subject over again, going deeper and deeper.
When I was stressing out at the end of the summer, my pal, Tom Kane, who had begun blogging this year, made a liberating suggestion. Rather than feeling I have to post my work as I do it, I should pace myself and share drawings and journal pages when I am ready to do so. This has been very freeing and, though I don’t make a big deal about it, the pages I have been posting have become increasingly out of synch with real time, giving me and more perspective on what I am doing.
For instance, in late October, I began drawing exclusively in shades of grey, painting with sumi ink. I also began doing a lot of cartooning, describing my experiences and thoughts in semi-surreal comic book from. I will post those in time.
I also found new fuel for my writing career. There are several significant new irons in the fire and I will share news about them soon (fingers crossed). I am more excited about this than anything I’ve done so far. Also, the release of Everyday Matters in paperback is going to initate a new PR effort from Hyperion that will bring in some new readers to the fold. I look forward to meeting them.
Well, that about wraps up a year of flailing around, a year that was far from pleasant in many ways but ultimately helped me grow. Much pain, some gain. I realize that these pregrinations and unpredictablity has lost me more than a few readers. I apologize to those who remain and hope to do better in the future. Past performance is of course no guarantee of future moodiness.