How to handle perspective.

I was working at my desk when the news flashed on the screen. Notre Dame was burning. The videos and pictures were heart-stopping and across the world we were joined by a sense of helplessness as a thousand years of history and culture exploded in flames. I had visions of a charred wreck left to hulk on the Seine, a post-modern monument to human fragility surrounded by rioting yellow vests. The toppling spire sparked a deep sense of dread in me, that our civilization itself was toppling, that our history was being erased, that humanity was all too vulnerable, that I too would soon be forgotten dust.

Twenty-four hours later, the fire was out, the damage assessed. It was extensive but appears confined to the roof. I read with relief that the cathedral had been heavily damaged and rebuilt several other times in its long history, and by day’s end almost a billion dollars had been raised to start the restoration. Within a day, we had gone from annihilation to resiliency to the Mueller report. Next.

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Where have I been?

I have spent the last two weeks doing everything but writing blog posts. Let me catch you up on what I’ve been up to, as I hope that you will be a beneficiary of my efforts.

Last fall, we presented SketchKon, the first Sketchbook Skool convention, and when it was over, we did a lot of stock taking. It had been a wonderful opportunity to meet many of the people who had taken kourses with us and who had formed our vibrant community. We learned so much in those few days and came away even more determined to give you exactly what you want and need to make art making a joyful part of your lives.

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Portrait of the artist as a young librarian.

When I was eight, the librarian pulled my mother aside and said she was worried because I had read every children’s book on their shelves. That seems like a hyperbolic and inaccurate memory but it nonetheless smacks of the truth.

I’ve been an unrepentant book fiend from an early age.

I’d opened my own library that year. I made a card for each book I owned and slipped it into an envelope I’d pasted on the inside cover. I taped handwritten tags onto each spine Identifying the book’s category and author. And I started to lend them to the other children in the neighborhood.

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How to cure hypochondria.

On Friday, I shared the news of losing my hound Joe, my cancer diagnosis and my surgery and so many people sent me touching notes of support and encouragement. I’m immensely grateful to have a lot of friends to share my life’s ups and downs.

I’ll be honest though, I was a little reluctant to share this news with you or really anyone. I’ve known that something was going to happen to me since early in the summer but what exactly it would be crept up in increments. Sharing my doctor’s suspicions with anyone but my closest relatives would have seemed unnecessarily upsetting.

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How to fight cancer.

The last few months have been wonderful for me. And simultaneously rather awful. But the awful stuff has inspired me, perhaps more than the good. That’s the nature of the creative process, isn’t it? To take the manure of life and use it to fuel new growth.

Pharmaceutical smorgasbord.

So many of my favorite artists turned adversity into raw material. Van Gogh was fueled by his isolation and mental illness into a turbo–charged creativity machine that cranked out another startling painting virtually every day. Frida Kahlo, whose body was crisscrossed with scars from polio and from being run over by a bus, turned her disabilities, her awful marriage, her abortions and miscarriages into the sources for her brilliant work. Hockney faced homophobia; Basquiat racism; Bacon, Goya, Picasso were all inspired by the terrors of war.

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How to get rid of rust.

A couple of years ago, I looked in the mirror as I struggled to button my trousers and said, “You fat bastard, get to the gym.” I dutifully signed up for a gym membership, got a trainer and vowed earnestly to show up. My initial physical assessment was depressing. I was fat indeed. But, energized by novelty, I showed up at my first appointment with visions of a lithe me doing handsprings in my head.

God, it was grueling. I was red faced and puffing a few minutes into the session. I clearly had an awfully long way to go. How would I stick to it rather than retiring to a pint of ice cream on the couch? The financial commitment was somewhat helpful; I’d optimistically bought an expensive package of training sessions so I couldn’t very well blow it off outright. Instead I just started to space the sessions further and further apart, from three weekly sessions to one that I managed to fill with chitchat rather than cardio.

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Author sits down to write blogpost — you won’t believe what happens next!

I’m not sure that I have anything to say today — but I do miss my blog. The poor thing has fallen victim to various impulses within me that claim to know best.

One said, “Hey, I read an article online that says that people don’t read any more, so you should just post videos. Oh, and another article said blogs are dead and people just look at Facebook posts, so stop bothering to write here.”

Another impulse is to focus my time and energy on my job, i.e. Sketchbook Skool. (Yes, I refer to it as a job. The world’s best job, but a job nonetheless.) That means I figure I should devote my creative energy to making kourses and telling people about them, rather than venting here.

It’s a funny thing, being your own boss. There are definite perks, like taking off early to go to yoga or hiring a special effects team to make something you dreamed up, but there’s also the issue of having a boss who sits in a corner office in your skull and can call you into review your performance on a daily basis. My boss loves to tell me I could always be doing more. And this blog strikes him as a pointless cul-de-sac. (As you can tell, my week’s vacation helped revitalize my monkey. He’s tan, well-rested, and eager to get back to work.)

Despite all this wound licking, I have been thinking of a lot of ideas in the last few months, ideas that don’t necessarily have anything to do with teaching. A few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea for a new book and wrote it down, in the dark, with a Sharpie, on a pile of paper on my dining room table. It’s sat in that pile ever since, unread.

I think it could be something interesting or utter crap, but I’m not ready to either take it on or be disappointed by it yet — so it just sits there, in a neat pile, waiting for me.

Another project: drawing dogs.  I started drawing on an iPad Pro this summer and flailed around for a while looking for a direction to my efforts. It was a pretty interesting exploration and I have been meaning to write a long post about it sometime (pending resolution of the issues in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 above) but suffice it to say it kick started my drawing practice and toppled a number of hardened prejudices. The latest stage in this exploration has been to try to make a drawing of a dog every single day, always a different dog in  a different style.  Today I posted number 56.

This process has been energizing but has also resurfaced the usual issues.

One — monkey struggles. Three days ago I convinced myself I had milked the idea dry and could not make a drawing I could abide.   After giving up completely and bathing in failure, I drew three new dogs I really liked.

Two — the quest for approval, a monkey variation. Posting my dogs on social media has led inevitably to being overly aware of likes, comments, and all the attendant distractions. People like the ones that look like photos best and the monkey tells me these are the most pedestrian and not creative at all. Sigh.

I do apologize if this first post in ages feels a little lachrymose. I need to shake off the cobwebs and think of stuff I actually want to write about. But writing here this morning has scraped some of the rust off my hull and I look forward to setting forth on a new adventure.

Hopefully no one is reading this because you are all too busy watching baby hippo videos.