Black and white habits — they’re not just for nuns.

In my thirties, I became a mad iron-pumper.

I repaired to the gym every single day at 7 a.m., rain or shine, Sunday to Sunday, and after a year, I became a muscular beast. I didn’t have a trainer, I didn’t take steroids or HGH, I didn’t wear a little posing pouch or wax my chest. Key to my success was my ironclad will, my insistence on never, ever missing a day, or being even five minutes late to the gym. I utterly refused to give myself an excuse to break routine. I was a brutal and inflexible taskmaster. And, like it or not, it worked.

My sister, impressed by my progress, joined me at the gym. She would be there every morning at 7 too, ready to get to work. Then, one rainy February morning, she called me and said, “it’s a lousy day, let’s skip it for once.” I did, and the next day, came up with another excuse not to go.  The habit was broken and I never went to the gym again.

Soon, I was back to being a 190 lb. weakling.

Obviously, I can have a tendency to black and whiteness (not just in my journals), but, as I grow older,  I am working to be more nuanced in my decisions and commitments. I have joined a gym again and I am resolved to be less crazy this time, trying to stay committed without needing to be committed. I have a trainer who I see a couple of times a week and then I try to go most days and work out on my own. At first, pushing myself was hard, and I felt nauseated and weak. But one day, my body seemed to remember our bygone 7 a.m. routine and perked up. I felt the old surge of adrenaline through my muscles and it went from being a chore to being fun again. Now I look forward to exercise. However, I’m not a slave driver anymore and if I skip a day here and there, I don’t let it break my commitment to myself and my health. I just go the following day instead and keep going.

Journaling is another one of my healthy habits. At times over the years, I have insisted on a strict regime, like a drawing every morning before breakfast, or filling a whole book in a month or on a week’s vacation. Pushing myself to draw whether I want to or not eventually makes me want to. It also means I make a lot of lackluster pages on the way to falling back in love with my book and my pen.  There have been times when, overtaken by the stress of work and other commitments,  I have fallen completely out of the practice and eventually forgotten how much fun drawing can be, and how important it in helping me stay relatively sane.

But I can recommit.  (Like the old joke says, “It’s easy to quit smoking — I’ve done it a hundred times”). Still, I don’t have a drawing trainer and there are no steroids I can take to make me get instant results. Drawing just takes practice and patience and commitment and the more I do, the better I get, and the more I want to draw. Drawing depends on muscles too and if I don’t use them they atrophy quickly.  WIthin a couple of weeks of breaking my habit, my ability to draw well suffers enormously. Fortunately, picking up the pen brings those muscles back pretty quickly and they don’t forget all the have learned over the years.

There are incentives I can give myself to keep going eve if the monkey in my head urges me to just sleep in or watch TV. This blog is one of them and my desire to keep it a regular thing can push me to do a drawing when I feel lazy. But, no offense to you, my readers, that’s not really enough.  Writing books is another one; if I have a deadline I have no choice but to fill the pages.  The same goes for presentations and speeches.

But the best incentive is art. Going to a museum. Rereading a great book on illustrated journaling or watercoloring. Spending some time with the work of artists I love. Talking to an inspiring friend. Going back through a journal I filled years ago. 

Another carrot is to give myself an assignment. Like drawing every tree on my block, drawing the cars I’d like to drive, drawing from my collection of of mug shots, drawing what I am doing every hour for an entire day. I have a long list  of drawing prompts on my website (The Everyday Matter list) which is  another favorite way to get my gear rolling and make me want to start again. 

My journal is a forgiving companion. It doesn’t wonder where I’ve been or chastise me for the gaps in its pages. It always welcomes me back with open pages and I am grateful for its friendship. Just as exercise keeps me healthy and energized, so does keeping up my art. 

Soon I’ll be thin and wiry and rippling with new muscles. And the most developed ones of all will be in my right wrist and fingers, bulging as they choke the life out of my pen and squeeze every drop of its ink onto the page. Grrr! Aaargh! Grunt!

Epic.

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My mother just sent me a link to a site documenting a journalist’s trek on foot from southern Africa to South America (I’ll give you the link in a minute). This isn’t just another endurance stunt —Paul Salopek is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer for National Geographic so his trip is all about science and journalism. He started earlier this year and will take seven years to complete the odyssey.

I have always been fiercely attracted to this sort of epic journey.

A few years ago, I was in thrall as my pal, d.price, rode his recumbent bike some 5,000 miles from Eastern Oregon to Key West. I loved Travels with Charley and On the Road.  Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl (finally a movie!), Bill Bryson’s Appalachian trail book, A Walk in the Woods, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. The Happiest Man in the World by Alec Wilkinson describes Poppa Neutrino’s quest to build a boat out of garbage and sail it across the Atlantic. Mike McIntyre walked across the country with no money and relied entirely on The Kindness of Strangers (which is the name of his amazing book about the trip). The list goes on.

Ten years ago, I wrote a proposal for a book in which I’d follow the original epic travel journalists, Lewis and Clark, from St. Louis to the Pacific. I was going to adhere to their path and record the differences the couple of centuries had wrought. My editor said, “Make the trip, write the book, and then we’ll see.”  I didn’t. Life got in the way. Good thing Jefferson wasn’t counting on me.

Recently, Jenny has been urging me to drive across country with our dogs. I am sort of intrigued by the idea. Pros: 1. It seems romantic and epic and larger than life. 2. This is the perfect time of year for it. 3. It would be a great symbolic start to my life on the West Coast.  Cons: A) I don’t have a car. B) I think taking the dogs would make this a really bad idea. C) This is really her fantasy and she’ll already be across the country in her office in LA while I check into a long string of Motel 6s. For now, the cons have probably won but I still like the idea a lot, particularly if I could get a travel companion who I could stand to sit next to for a couple of weeks and who would be willing to stop and draw along the way.

Maybe next spring.

What intrigues me a lot about Paul Salopek’s journey is its emphasis on slow. He is taking seven years (!) to do this because he really wants to absorb the world as he goes. And he is looking for people along the way who are also seeking slowness in this madcap, speed obsessed world.

I think that’s the right thing to look for. Boy, it’s hard to slow down. I sat in the park this morning with my dogs and did a drawing. It was a small drawing, just filling a little box on the page, but I had to catch myself mid-way because I was tearing through it, barely looking at the arch I was drawing, just scratching out hasty, inaccurate and ugly lines. What the hell was my rush? It’s Sunday morning, I have nowhere to be till brunch, everyone else is sleeping, and yet I am belting through this drawing as if I was in an Olympic event. If I was Paul Salopek, I’d probably be half way to Rio by now.

Even though it’s been several weeks since I left the rat race, I still have my rat cleats on. I can feel it in the need I still have to accomplish things, to generate product, to log hours on my calendar. I so very much want to focus on the journey, the process, not the finish line but all these decades in the business world, in New York, still have me panting and pushing. I remind myself: I am on an epic adventure that will probably take another few decades to finish (in fact, I would like to push off the ending as far as possible) and what matters is the daily walk through life — the things I see, the people I meet, the lessons I learn.

If I’m really honest with myself, the reason I am not driving across country with my dogs is that the monkey is telling me I need to get to LA and start getting on with it. There’s no time for meandering and roses sniffing. I need to set up shop and start making something of myself. The monkey is wrong, again, of course. I make something of myself every day. It may not be something that can be direct-deposited, it’s true, but it’s also something that can’t be accelerated. Step by step, day by day, eyes open, head up.

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Here’s the link to Paul Salopek’s journey.  (I have put off giving it to you till the end of this blogpost for fear that you would rush off to read it and never come back to finish my blather. Clearly, I am better at slowing you down than I am at putting my own brakes on.)

Chatting. In my house. About stuff.

Recently Cynthia Morris came to visit me and we sat down for an interview because she wanted to know more about A Kiss Before You Go and the whole process of recording your life in a book.  Cynthia has started drawing fairly recently but she is a life coach and deals with creative people all the time. She describes her job as helping “people enjoy their talents and create on their own terms”.  I like that job description.  She gave me some solid advice on the direction my life is taking and I offered my own thoughts on how she could create an illustrated memoir.

Here’s a video we shot of the chat in my living room.

Cynthia posted her notes from a conversation we had once the camera was off about my advice on “8 Ways to Live an Illustrated Life“.  I hope it’s useful.

On the Road

Here are a few souvenirs from my  whirlwind tour to San Francisco. I spent some time at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

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Waiting to see Christian Marclay’s “The Clock”. I watched this piece from 2:32 until 3:27. I could have stayed much longer but the film gave me an incredible sense of how much time I was wasting by watching it. The seats were incredibly comfortable. So of course I napped briefly. I think it was from 2:44 until 2:49
 I really love Jenny Saville's work. This painting is about 10 feet tall. It's super raw but also almost photographically rendered in places. Super fleshy . She's a disciple of Lucien Freud. And I'm a disciple of a disciple of a disciple of Lucien Freud.   I love to take photographs in museums but I almost always get in trouble when I do. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has a crazy rule that you cannot wear a backpack with both straps on. It has to hang off one shoulder or else a guard will come over and correct you. Mysterious and strange. like so much Modern Art 2 days ago
I really love Jenny Saville’s work. This painting is about 10 feet tall. It’s super raw but also almost photographically rendered in places. Super fleshy . She’s a disciple of Lucien Freud. And I’m a disciple of a disciple of a disciple of Lucien Freud.
I love to take photographs in museums but I almost always get in trouble when I do. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has a crazy rule that you cannot wear a backpack with both straps on. It has to hang off one shoulder or else a guard will come over and correct you. Mysterious and strange. like so much Modern Art.

These pages were drawn in idle and potentially bored moments and turned out to be the best things I got from the trip.

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Watercolor, PITT artist pen, gold ink.
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Watercolor, PIT Pen, waterbrush
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Left: Watercolor, PITT Pen, waterbrush. Right: India ink, dip pen.

Baltimore!

Jenny & I and Tommy Kane & Yun drove down to Baltimore for the weekend. Our main objective was to eat crabs. And we certainly did that. crab a1c1921ab44d11e2950722000a1fc86f_7 We also stumbled into a half-dozen divey bars around town. This was one of our faves: bad decisions Baltimore also turned out to have some amazing art on virtually every corner: atomicman

We saw this Amish version of the Scream propped in someone’s window. scream

The art highlight of the trip was  a visit to The American Visionary Art Museum. AVAM They don’t allow cameras inside, so check out their site for more.AVAM pig It’s  a museum devoted to untrained artists and it is so moving, inspiring and awesome.  AVAM car I’ll be thinking about what I saw for months to come.  It is well worth a return trip just to reexamine everything again. black and white We also went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and drew critters and ate funnel cakes. sheep sheep2 sheep3 dog in nest

The weather was amazing. jENNY James

And it was a fantastic time with some of my favorite peeps.

tom and yun

An Illustrated Journey continues down the road.

While copies of A KIss Before You Go are being loaded into warehouses, work continues on my next book, An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration From the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers, the sequel to An Illustrated Life.

I just did the lettering for the cover (you’ll notice on Amazon that they uploaded the art for the cover before including my handlettering — that’ll be fixed soon) and the design for the interior continues. It’ll be a lavish book with work from forty of my favorite artists and will be out at the end of February, next year.

I’ll talk about it more in the months ahead but meanwhile you can see some of the art work from the book on my Pinterest page.

A new drawing film: Red Hook

(This film was shot, and is best viewed, in full-screen HD. If there’s  a problem, you can go to it directly on Vimeo here.)

A few months ago I decided I wanted to make a series of films about illustrated journaling. Not a how-to, step-by-step sort of thing but films that capture the adventure of drawing, the discovery, the spirit, the fun. I hope they will inspire you to make drawings (and films, if you want) and to keep an illustrated journal as a regular part of your everyday lives.

My son, Jack Tea, has joined me in this project and together we have worked through lots of technical obstacles to make films that look as good as we can make them on no budget. Our inspiration comes from the Cooking Channel, from Etsy’s vlog, and from too many decades of loving movies.

We shoot on our Canon 7D, rent different lenses each weekend (in this case we relied heavily on the 100/2.8 L IS Macro), use Jack’s skateboard as a dolly, and rope our friends in for help and opinions.

Here’s the newest film in the series, a portrait of my great friend, Tommy Kane, as he rides around his neighborhood in search of something new to draw. Tom is a great traveller — he regularly posts sumptuous journal pages made on his vacations and business trips. His favorite home-away-from-home is Korea and he has made many amazing drawings on its streets and in its markets.

This time, we decided he should travel through his own neck of the woods, see it anew like a visiting stranger and capture a mundane little corner and fill it with his particular brand of magic. Normally Tom works mainly on site, dragging out all of his materials onto the pavement around his little folding stool but instead we decided to expand the scene and show you some of Tom’s home and studio and incidentally some of the wonderful big paintings he’s done on canvas. (He took the unusual step of using a reference photo he shot of the scene to jog his memory once back at his studio).

When journaling, he works in Uniball, watercolor and pencil, sometime in books, sometimes on loose sheets of bond or watercolor paper. He is a meticulous crosshatcher and spend hours on some of his drawings.  When we draw together, I invariably start to chafe at the bit and beg him to finish at home as I am tired of sitting in his shadow, my own drawing long finished and yellowing on the page, glazing over as he crosshatches more and more details.

We shot the film in two days — on the streets of Brooklyn and in Tom’s home where his lovely wife, Yun, made us lunch and watched our obsessiveness with a bemused smile.  It was the height of a baking summer and storm crowds rolled in and out, marring our continuity.

We shot an extravagant amount and it took a month to wade through it all and pare it down. The first cut was twice as long as what you’ll see today, but we resharpened our blades and ruthlessly trimmed back to the bare essentials. We tried to retain the essence of how Tom works, the way he layers media and adds detail. It’s fascinating to see how his drawing builds and builds — when you see the final result, it’s often hard to figure out how he got there. With this film, please share in how the journey unfolds.