School for Evil – exploratory

Toward the end of Fall semester of my sophomore year, I found a small reading room deep within the bowels of my college library. It was called “The Somebody or Other Memorial Hunting and Fishing Library” and was almost always unoccupied. Its walls were lined with glass cases of leather bound editions of Izak Walton on angling and assorted dusty memoirs of African safaris and was furnished with a few oak table and soft-bottomed leather wing chairs It was a hidden treasure, my very own study, and the perfect place to while away the winter evenings. Like much of the school, the Hunting and Fishing library was criminally overheated and, after a day of lectures and an evening of French irregular verbs, I would often nod out against the comfortable soap-oiled embrace of the armchair.

One afternoon I awoke from a sweaty dream to discover that my sanctum sanctorum had been invaded; several other students had crept in while I was dozing. Embarrassed at being discovered in oblivion with my head thrown back and my mouth open and drooling, I pretended to have been lost in thought not the arms of Morpheus, grabbed my notebook and began to write the first thing that came to my pen.

This proved to be a story called “Under the Awning,” a funnyish and appropriately surreal tale of a man and a girl sheltering from the rain. Ten or so pages tumbled out of me in a flash and was published, unedited in the school literary magazine. Rereading it now, I am surprised by the unfamiliar voice of my deep unconscious and the carefree turns of phrase and plot it took.

Early this June, while walking up Ninth Avenue in Chelsea, an idea whacked my brain with the same sort of thunder bolt immediacy. It was a title of a novel, The School for Evil” and the essential elements of its plot. The whole thing struck me as from the clear blue — I haven’t written much fiction since I was in my twenties and the the idea was so developed already that I decided to pursue it. Over the next nine weeks or so, I wrote a couple of drafts of this 200 page novel, polishing it off by Labor Day.

Part of the idea was to write short chapters — fifty of them in all — and to illustrate each one with an ink painting. I drew the first ten or so and showed them to some friends. At the time, I thought the book was for children, probably ones a little younger than Jack, and wanted it to be a little shocking, a little brutal (think Edward Gorey, Lemony Snickety, Roald Dahl), and as funny and absurd as I could make it. I showed the drawings around to friends and the first ones were judged to be a bit scary — some people thought that was a fine thing, others felt they were too edgy for pre-teens. I took a second pass at the drawings and this time made them cartoony and a bit silly. I went on to make a couple dozen in this style.

While I rather doubt the book will ever be published, the process was very interesting and informative. Working from my imagination rather than just my experience was a refreshing change; writing fiction and then drawing made-up scenes was so far from the documentary journaling and non-fiction work I usually do and it opened new hidden doors in my head.

I am posting a gallery of alternating drawings from each series. I called the scarier ones “Rated (R)” and the more cartoony series I labeled “PG”. See what you think.


I’ve been working on this series for a while, all in one book. They are in watercolor, pen, brush and sumi-ink. They are all drawn upside down.

I made a couple of little time-lapse films of how I drew and painted some of these portraits.
Click To Play

How to draw a How cover

How:Design Ideas at Work is a great magazine, primarily for graphic designers and art directors. It has a lot of practical advice as well as coverage of the leading edges of design, advertising, and art. Recently, I was asked to write an long (8-page) article about how drawing and journal keeping can feed one’s creativity. It was a topic I’d long wanted to address to the professional image-making community because so many of those folks have lost their touch with drawing, though it was probably the very thing that got them into their chosen field at the get-go.
I am pretty happy with the article and was delighted when the senior art director for the magazine also asked me to draw the cover for the issue, a special one dedicated to Illustration. How has a fairly strict format for the cover, one that revolves around their enormous logo, so I did a design that integrated the three letters into my idea. Because illustration is a personal medium, I liked the idea of putting a thumbprint on the cover, maybe the thumb of an artist sighting his subject. I did a quick sketch of myself in that pose, colored it on my computer, and fired it off to her.

Unfortunately, the magazine’s staff felt that the image was confusing. Some didn’t like the fact that the fist might interfere with the coverlines (the titles of the articles inside). Then some others thought it was a person giving a thumbs up, rather than sighting.
Back to the drawing board. The art director suggested I just draw a hand drawing the logo filled with clouds with some art supplies scattered around. I resisted this idea and instead thought I could make a little design out of pens and stuff. I cobbled together a collage from drawings I’d already done to convey the idea.

My client didn’t like this design much because it doesn’t play up the logo enough and was a two 2-dimensional. Instead she brought up the idea they’d proposed earlier: filling the logo with sky and having a hand drawing it. I gave that a try but thought the hand looked so lonely. Instead I sketched in the artist’s head and torso too. I did another self portrait but shaved off my beard in case that was a turn-off.

The email arrived the next morning:

There are still a few hang-ups. Something about the person coming from the back of the logo is off-putting. The focus needs to be on drawing not on the person doing the drawing. The viewer needs to be in the place of the artist.
I’d like you to draw the cover as if it were a page in your sketchbook where you drew the act of drawing the cover. Forget the hands. Just draw the set up since you’re so good with everyday objects. Leave the middle just a wash background or blank so the focus is totally on the logo. I’ll attach my thumbnail. That may help.

Yesterday I started again, following the art director’s sketch. Just to put a little bit of myself into it, I added her sketch as part of the assignment, lying on the table where I drew from it.

I sent the final image to her last night but don’t expect to her about it till Monday. We’ll see. It was an interesting experience; I may have been stupid to have resisted the idea she clearly wanted me to execute and insisting on other interpretations. It’s a hard lesson to learn for a stubborn know-it-all, but I am trying.

Dibujo en Mexico*

We are back after an all too brief trip to Mexico. It’s a country that I have always liked so much but never spent time in before. I would love to do a long cross country sketchcrawl sometime.

We stayed in Puerto Vallarta which is a touristy place with a huge Walmart and we spent a fair amount of our vacation sunbathing and reading trashy novels and eating from buffets and avoiding the horrors of New York in December and the transit strike.

I spent a grim evening at the bullfights watching four innocent creatures being tortured to death in front of several hundred tourists fresh off the big cruise ships., I went in the spirit of seeking out new adventures when possible but left feeling nauseated and vegetarian.

From a drawing perspective, this trip certainly didn’t have the immersive qualities of trips I’ve taken to Rome or Jerusalem or Paris. However I think that even a daytrip to Dayton is made richer by drawing and writing about one’s travels and so I thought I’d set down some things I’ve discovered about travel journaling:

I like to travel fairly light. I carry a smallish shoulder bag with my journal, pens, watercolors. I like NiJi waterbrushes because you can load them with water in the morning and they will carry you through the whole day without needing to carry water jars that could spill. I recommend some sort of folding stool. You can buy them light and inexpensively at camping stores and they let you set up where you want to without having to worry about being in the way or finding an empty bench.

Be prepared but not overly so. Make sure you have enough of your favorite pens but if you pass a local art supply store, always check it out. You may make some wonderful new discoveries. Don’t shlep more than would be comfortable. Improvise. I sometimes rub local soil and leaves onto my drawings for color. I’ve used pasta sauce as paint in Tuscany.

Don’t just draw postcards. It’s fine to sketch monuments and tourist spots but also try to capture local color and everyday life. Draw your meals, travel on public transportation, use art to immerse yourself in a different way of life.

Be bold. I’ve great characters in Roman catacombs, Death Valley bordellos, San Franciscan homeless shelters, and Yorkshire flea markets, all through drawing. Talk to people and don;t be embarrassed to show your work. Most people are impressed that you are even doing it and won’t judge your art as harshly as you do.

Let your art be your tour guide. Every minute you’re lying in your hotel bed could be spent drawing. The more pages you fill, the richer your memories will be. I still remember the sights and sounds of street corners from years ago just because I spent twenty minutes drawing somewhere. The memories are so much more intense than if I’d just been seeing the sights through a tour bus window.

Jot down notes as you draw, not just recording the where and when but conversations you overhear, thoughts and associations you make, smells and sounds specific to the place. Show how travel broadens your mind.
*Translated by Google. Apologies if it’s garbled.


Yesterday I managed to throw down a quick drawing at the Trevi fountain before becoming overwhelmed by sun and jetlag. This morning, chipper and well-rested, I packed up my gear to head over to the Vatican. A block from my hotel, I stepped off the too-high curb and crumpled to the ground as tendons thwanged unnaturally in my ankle. Fortunately I had the self-control to get up, hobble back up the hill to the hotel and tell the desk clerk to send me up some ice.
My outer ankle had quickly developed a lump the size of a Mallomar but after three hours in bed, pack on, hoof on pillow pile (RICE- rest, ice, compression, elevation) the patient is still pink and healthy looking and my toes waggle freely so amputation can probably be postponed. I am going to be here for a couple of more weeks so I think I’ll curb my lust for the Sistine Chapel and take it easy.
Was it the Pope, cursing me? Michelangelo pegging me for an interloper? A frustrated cobble-stone-layer who, wishing he too could be watercoloring of a Monday, decided to thwart brush wielding tourists of the future?
The irony: I was crossing the road (or trying to) to check out a place that rents Vespas. Maybe it was just as well I took my spill in my sandals, rather than scraping off several layers of skin and a handful of teeth while zooming around the Coliseum on a two stroke bike. ankle1.jpg

I have constrained my drawing to my hotel’s neighborhood which in Rome
is not much of a liability. One could spend the rest of one’s life
drawing this city — the architecture is so rich and organic, the light
is wonderful, the juxtapositions are endlessly diverse. I did this
first piece during an exorbitant pasta lunch (more than $50 for a handful of
pasta and a cappuccino) at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant. Slumped low,
my hoof propped up on another chair, I strained to see the view over
the parapet.

A few blocks away on the Via Veneto, I discovered this marvelous
church. Beneath is a wonderfully macabre series of crypts, room after
room of Benedictine monks’ dismembered skeletons arranged into
sculptures and decorations — piles of skulls, chandeliers made of
tailbones, shoulder blade rosettes and baldacchinos made of pelvises.
Long lines of teenaged American girls file in and out, squealing “Ew,
gross!” and “Creeeeepy!”. I found it quite beautiful and touching, so
many 17th century bones committed to remind one of the temporary nature
of life on this planet, “As you were so once was I ; as I am so shall
you be.”
It was impossible to draw down there among the crowds so I retired to
the Church of the Immaculate above and drew its back room as the light
slowly faded and my watercolor box disappeared into the gloom. At one
point, a nut brown monk came over and wished me “Pace” but I was
already suffused with peace.

On the Piazza Barberini, I started to draw an old cinema surrounded by
lovely crumbling facades when a big white panel van pulled right up in
front of me and blocked my view. Instead I worked on another building,
listening with one ear to two slurring Englishwomen at the next table
who were drinking huge vasefuls of lager and snapping pix of each other
and emailing them to pals back home. Eventually my friends, the Pratts,
came and joined me and I laid down my pen.
Annie Pratt is a believer in homeopathic medicine and prescribed some
Arnica to me. The next morning my ankle was a lot less swollen and,
after various meetings on casting and production, we headed off to
visit the Colosseum and the rest of ruined Rome. It was blazing hot and
crowded and I couldn’t bring myself to tackle drawings of the broken
columns. En route, my pocket was picked on the subway; the bastards
made off with about $100. Sprained ankle, thieving gypsies, John
Roberts … I wonder what sort of bad luck I’ll face today.


I’m not the tourist type. My neighborhood in New York is always
overrun by people wearing comfortable clothes and cameras clutching
guide books and asking “Scusi, where Greenwich Village?” I am always gracious but wish they would walk a little faster and get a clue.
But in Rome, do as the Romanians do. Get a guide book, a map, and start
blundering around town. Nonetheless, despite my backpack, my folding
stool, my sandals, and my sweaty, parched ways, I try to pretend not to
be desperately foreign. Of course, I fail. Waiters address me in
English, vendors hawk after me with postcards and foot high replicas of
My self-loathing came to an end in Vatican City. When I lined up with
the rest of the unwashed and finally reached the portal of St.Peter’s,
I was so overcome by the beauty and splendor of the place that I just
let go and gawked. Wow. The plundered marble and bronze of the Coliseum
is mind-bpoggling lavish.. And then, waiting until the end of the day
to avoid the lines, I swept through the Vatican Museum to the Sistine
Chapel, discovering amazing things I’d never known along the way. The
map room, hundreds of yards long and encrusted with thousands of
perfect paintings worked into the walls and ceilings, the Raphael
frescoes (how could the Pope manage the hubris to command such geniuses
to paint his apartment floor to ceiling, wall after wall? Here he is a
single guy with the most ornate, Baroque pad in the universe.. How did
he sleep in there at night? It’s awesome), and then finally the
Sistine. I have read books about it, seen endless reproductions and
thought I grasped Michelangelo’s accomplishment. But to be confronted
by so much epic scenery, so many perfect, enormous bodies…; whether he painted it alone or with a crew, it’s an incredible, deeply moving feat.
I gush. I can’t help it. Despite my cynicism and my discomfort with the
Papacy’s greed, I may have to go again. My name is Danny and I’m a
tourist (don’t tell my boss — I am here working after all).




Two Roman drawings that took a while. The first about an hour, the
second, close to it,
I was moved by police three times during the first which screwed up my
sight lines a bit. The second I’m less happy with, too many stylized
people, less observed, more illustrative, too much blue underpainting,
but, whatever, it was fun to do.
Rome is just insanely great to draw because of all the details and textures and juxtapositions. Work is

done for the week — I can’t wait to spend my weekend out on my stool.

This wonderful building is on the corner of my block. It sits on top of its own little hill, surrounded by gardens. I pass it most days and finally took the time, on two separate occasions, to study it in detail. Rome-17.jpg
This city is so full of surprises. Turn a corner and a wonderful composition or juxtaposition will just jump out. This one suddenly appeared between the trees as I was hiking out to eat dinner; branches parted like a curtain to reveal this vista backed by the setting sun.
Another view that popped out; this one seen from above from a hill. These little temples must have been restored in the Roman fashion; the little tubby demons are so sweet.
The Borghese Gardens have a giant air ballon in the style of the Gondolfier Brothers. It rises silently in the air for fifteen minute trips from which one can see the whole city. Nothing in Rome is more than six stories so the big landmarks pop out across the landscape. I have now been here long enough to identify the Vatican, the Victor Emanuel Monument, the various piazzas, the Coliseum, etc.
A little bit of color, exaggerated, as it was painted in the failing light of an ending day.

I’m finally getting the hang of tires. Wheels have always confounded me when I draw cars and stuff but as I say, in Europe, I’m finally getting the hang of tyres. Rome-23.jpg
Notice the small brown mini dots on this drawing? That’s because when I start doing and drawing of something so complicated or big or whatever that I get nervous, I take a few measurements with an outstretched arm and a pen and then make little marks to indicate where things fall.
Despite all that, this drawing, made as people were rushing to work at 9 am and I had to get my ass moving for a 10 o’clock meeting, is lopsided and misisng all sorts of bits that didn’t end up fitting on the page.
Another drawing done in decline, lopsided, colored like a coloring book and full of cheats to fit stuff in. When I slow my ass way way down, I can draw things like that Vespa up above. When I rush and people hang over my shoulder and I’m roasting in the sun, Things get bleak. I know that about myself and yet I keep doing it. Sometime I can save a drawing afterwards with loads of crosshatching but it’s a lost cause, a charade, not in the moment. But, then, later in the afternoon, during the wardrobe fitting, waiting for our actors to change, I drew the Vespa which I’m pretty happy with, particularly the tyres. So even when the knack hides, it resurfaces. So shut up and do another drawing.