I took a short break from new episodes of the Sketchbook Club, but I was reinspired by this week’s author. I spent much of the summer forging Felix Scheinberger’s sketches on my iPad as I waited for the release of his newest book, Dare to Sketch, which finally(!) came out a few weeks ago.
(Warning: one of the book shown contains a bit of nudity and bondage)
In this episode, I consider the following books by Felix :
Every artist has their own way of working — tools and techniques they’ve honed over years of practice. We each figure out what works for us, what we need to do to pull an idea out of the recesses of our minds. Every artist faces obstacles and self-criticism along the way and being productive means figuring out ways to dodge the arrows the monkey fires at us as we settle down to work.
Some people start work at the crack of the dawn, while the monkey is still groggy and unable to put up a fight. Others work late at night when the monkey is exhausted. Some have stringent rules for how they work, what pens, what software, how cool the room, how hot the coffee. Some plunge into work like lemmings off a cliff; others fret and bustle about, sharpening pencils and brushing lint off their smoking jackets.
It’s fascinating to learn about the processes we each devise, but there’s no one correct way to proceed. Each person’s monkey erects a different set of road blocks and each of us has to figure out our own way to navigate around them.
One of the cool things I’m discovering about making this podcast is that it’s a great excuse for meeting people I admire and asking them all sorts of questions about their private doings. I happen to discover that one of my favorite novelists, Jonathan Carroll was following me on Twitter so I tripped all over myself to invite him to join me at the microphone.
What a treat! We talked about how he starts a novel, why writers need to read, how the wrong day job can leech your soul, what it was like to grow up in an intensely creative family (his dad was a screenwriter who wrote The Hustler (what a flick!), his mom was a star on Broadway, his half-brother is the genius composer Steven Reich), what it’s like to read your own books, how to judge an artist’s work, how to become friends with your inner creator, and the joys of writing books by hand.
I had big plans for this week, clearing the decks so I could focus on doing some writing and drawing. Instead the monkey managed to help me find a million distractions.
He and I have been having a lot of discussion about why I need to force myself each week to A) make a podcast, B) make a newsletter and C) write a blog post about it as well. He insists that I need to be consistent about it or else I will disappoint my dozens of fans. I would rather be a bit flexible and play it as it comes but, as you can see (because you are reading this), he won.
To be honest, we could totally switch places. I could say it’s important to commit to this and see where it leads me and he would say, take it easy, it’s 80 degrees out, let’s go eat a Good Humor bar in the park. He loves moving the
I think he’s worried that with a fat block of free time, I might come up with something really nuts to do next.
In this week’s podcast, I talk with Todd Colby, the poet, artist, and former member of Drunken Boat. We’ll discuss the creative process and the role of discipline and preparation in keeping the monkey at bay. Todd is awesome, so’s his poetry and his art and his band rocked savagely hard.
Monkey of the Week: the Paranoid. It’s that voice that says: “They’re laughing and sneering, because no one likes you. Or trusts you. Or admires you. And they can’t wait to see you screw up.” What can we say in response?
Monkey Tale: Lenore has a revelation in the shower about who her monkey really is.
All the episodes of the Shut Your Monkey Podcast are on iTunes.
To hear them, you can can either:
Subscribe directly from your podcast app by searching for ‘Shut Your Monkey’.
Tell me about it. I am collecting Monkey Tales, stories from all sorts of people about about the challenges the monkey brought them and how they dealt with them. Real stories, real moving. If you have a monkey tale you’d like to share, just visit my website and click the red tab on the right to record it. That would be great.
When Jack was little, we started collecting his drawings in books labelled the Collected Works of Jack Tea Gregory. Before he was in middle school, we’d filled a shelf with big fat volumes. I don’t know that we always thought he’d be an artist— we didn’t give much thought to what he’d be like as a grownup. But he liked to draw and he had a great imagination and he made a lot of stuff all the time and that was just the way Jack was.
After four years at the Rhode Island School of Design, Jack and five other painters had their final Senior show last night. People held glasses of ginger ale and milled around walls covered with paintings and videos and projections. Jack had three pieces in the show, a sculpture, a painting and teeny, tiny drawing and layer he lead us up to his studio to see the rest of the work he’s been doing since he came from Rome last Christmas. It was voluminous.
Jack has been working on a series of related works for the last few months, all inspired by an encyclopedia of dogs he had as a kid. There’re a half dozen large, monochromatic and semi-abstract paintings based loosely on dog photos. There is a series of drawings and sculptures about Pluto and Goofy. A fabric sculpture of Pluto wearing dog mask that was embroidered with images of Goofy. A paper sculpture of an articulated dog that ran when you turn a crank. There was a huge painting of an attacking German shepherd. An abstracted figure with a speech balloon and a blurred action stroke. A book with a soft embroidered fabric cover that was filled with stretched digital abstraction and debossed imprints of dogs.
He has been working on a long series on Instagram. Each day he’d make a crude, bulbous, clay sculpture of Mickey Mouse. The next day he’d destroy the sculpture and reform it into another Mickey and upload a new picture. It went on for months.
Jack’s work never offers easy answers. It’s not ironic even when it’s using pop iconography. It’s always filled with emotion and a certain lack of control. It evokes loss and a commemoration of the underdog. His subjects always feel abandoned and overlooked.
When he was 19, he made a series of little sculptures he set up in the lost corners of alleyways around town. They were made by a fictional homeless artist who worked with found materials and then abandoned the sculptures to be ignored by passers by. The final pieces themselves were photos of the sculptures and their environs. One was in the ATM vestibule of a bank, photographed by a surveillance camera. In Rome, he made an installation of grubby, scratched and bent photos in glass frames. One had fallen to the ground and lay smashed underfoot.
Jack is an upbeat, funny guy. He has lots of friends, is warm and open. But his work reveals a dark part inside of him, forged perhaps by Patti’s disability and death, by his concern for the underprivileged and exploited.
Jack has always been a defender of the downtrodden. In middle school he was preoccupied with slavery and wrote plays and made drawings about old slaves who had lost their power to work. He has always worried about racism and sexism and how animals are treated.
I am so proud of him.
His willingness to reveal his feelings in his art, to have such high and selfless values, to be committed to his own creativity — they all make me bewildered at my part in making him who he is.
I don’t know where his art is going. Or where his life is going. It is beyond my control, even my influence. I think it will be challenging at times, the life of an artist always is. But I know it will be rich with experience, discovery, emotion, beauty and truth.
It’s hard for a parent to let go. To admit that your child is doing things you can’t do, sometimes can’t understand. But I have enormous faith in Jack and his abilities and talent and mind. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Recently Tommy Kane showed me this incredible video of a flip-through tour through James Jean‘s latest sketchbook.
It’s awesome but what it inspired Tommy to do is greater still: a tour of his sketchbook from this past summer. I have seen this book and I have watched him draw several of these drawings and it is amazing. Obsessive, imaginative, hilarious and moving. Just like my old pal, Tommy Kane.
I hope it sets your week off in the right direction.
Remember the cafeteria ladies who worked in your high school? Their last serving of chipped beef may still be lurking in your colon but your probably never knew much about the ladies themselves, not even their names.
I decided to do portrait of some of these hard working people when I was in Beijing, to learn a bit about them and share it with the students who are coming by my studio. I’d been looking at a lot of posters of proud workers from the Cultural Revolution and this take on Soviet realism inspired me. I thought about drawing them on location but I would have just gotten in the way of the preparation of the dozens of dishes they make for thousands of hungry kids. The head of catering took me behind the scenes and we got three women to agree to pose for my camera. Those photos became the basis for a cardboard painting in shades of yellow, red and gold.
When I had completed my painting and had written down what I knew about them in English and Chinese, we invited the models to see what I’d made of them. They were flattered and pleased.
The next day, one of the cooks (the one behind the safety mask) returned — with an amazing drawing she had done of me. Our studio assistant explained that the cook had always wanted to be an artist, and when she was young she had applied to the main art school in Beijing. There was just one remaining place in the class and it was given to a man. So she gave up her dreams and went to work in the kitchen — but she still kept drawing. Now she’s a grandmother but her skills are still exceptional.
Over the next few days, we saw more and more of her art and the school began to celebrate her. Soon there will be articles and videos about her story and hopefully she will be able to live her dream and share her at with the world.
What a strange serendipity. And a wonderful one.
BTW, you’ll find lots of people who are looking to get their art making back on track at SketchBook Skool, those whose skills are rusty as an old barn hinge and those who have been let their love of drawing stay buried beneath a distant failure. Ready to get out of the kitchen and join us? Come over and enroll.