Drawing on memories


Patti had a birthday last month, the 22nd we’ve celebrated together. When you’ve been together as long as we have, you have to think  a little hard at birthdays and anniversaries and Christmas time to keep things fresh, to make sure that you can still express how much you love each other without falling back on the tried and trite.

Anyway, this year, I decided that one of the ways I would commemorate our history together was to take our ancient home movies and transfer them onto DVDs so we could watch them over and over. We have scads of old video tapes but the cameras that recorded and played them are long defunct. In fact, we have never looked at any of them since we initially shot them – films of our first trips together, of our wedding, of Jack’s early days and so on, all moldering in shoe boxes. Now we have a dozen gleaming DVDs, a box set of our lives up to about 1997 or so.  We have all watched them together over and again, particularly the ones when Jack first learned to use the potty and his first big argument with us on a trip  to Nova Scotia.

One of the more profound DVDs is the one I made when Patti had her accident and I was alone each night at home with the baby. For two months, I made videos of our daily life to take up to the hospital to show Patti that we were okay, that life was going on, that she had something to come back to. These are the hardest tapes to watch because I feel so sorry for the me that was, giving Jack a bath, rocking him to sleep, listening to music (Teddy Bear’s Picnic, The Ugly Bug’s Ball, Let’s Go Fly a KIte…) that was once so sweet and important to us but forevermore will signify the hollowness of those days.

Funnily, the more I got into drawing, the less video tape I shot. As the films peter out, my journals expand, so our whole life is recorded but just in very different media — and with very different effect. I read recently that when you look at old photos, they stir up old memories, facilitating recall. But when you look at old home movies, those images tend to actually replace your memories of the periods being recorded. When you think back on those times, your brain tends to pull up scenes from the films rather than organic (but not necessarily as reliable) memories. My mum had an 8 mm. movie camera when I was a baby and the images from those old reels are the only scenes I can remember from when I was two or three or four. Maybe nobody has much memory from that time, and mine are quite vivid, but I know they are all just scenes from one movie or another.

When I watch these old movies, I sort of vaguely remember the times when they were taken. When I look at these old videos, my experience is often of surprise. I think about how young well look, or weird my hair was, or how I seem to speak out of the side of my mouth. The experience is from outside — I am watching myself but not as myself. In fact I would venture that most of my experience is not radically different from what a total stranger or an acquaintance might think of the same footage.

The drawings in my journals, however, summon up a completely personal and intimate feeling. It’s more like a time machine than watching TV. I am in the moment, I am me now and also the me I was then.The act of drawing, painting and writing rather than just pushing a button on a  machine, forms completely different sorts of memories, When I look back at a page, even one that’ s more than a decade old, I remember so much about what I was doing that day, my mood, the weather, even the smells in the air. The experience itself is deeply embedded in my head and just glancing at the drawing takes me back there.

I am so glad to have both sorts of records of my past (not to mention dozens of photo albums and zillions of digital snapshots). I can travel back to any period of my life now and see my life as a continuum. There are so many lessons to be learned by looking back and seeing where one has come from, who one has known, how one made choices, how one felt.

Creating these records, particularly the ones that consists of just some feeble drawings and a few scratchy notes, is probably one of the most important things I’ve done. That sounds odd perhaps, that recording and observing one’s life could be of the most important things one can do with it, but that is the true purpose of art — at least to me. The value of taking a step back, of putting a frame around a moment so that it can stand for a thousand other moments unrecorded, to learn from one’s mistakes and to cherish one’s blessings, to hold up one’s experience so that others can share it and learn from it,  these things seem like the very purpose of art — and of life as well.

Portrait of the artist as a spotty, callow youth

I was fifteen. Had just rid myself of the meager mustache and the cracking voice, acquired a pussful of pimples. I was a curious combination of know-it-all and trembling violet; sure I was smarter and more tuned in than any adult but also terrified of most of my classmates, especially the girls. This was before Facebook and MySpace, and our only TV was a small black and white unit in my parents’ bedroom. So I had plenty of time on my hands, plenty of opportunity to write stories, build models, read “grownup” novels, and make art.

Recently I came across a sleeve of slides in a box in a drawer.  I haven’t seen the images or the originals in decades but they are still so familiar. I worked pretty long and hard on these paintings, balancing stretched canvases on my bedside chair or struggling with the compressor and airbrush that always clogged and spat up on my nascent work.

I think I was very self-conscious about the coolness of these images and how daring they might seem to my peers. I liked to think of myself as an artist, but there were much better artists than me, like my pal, Eric Drooker, or the super cool Ed Weiss. Still, I managed to get drawings in the school paper (this became easier when I became the editor) and the school yearbook. The big painting of the foot hung in our school library for a while. It looked like it was crashing through the ceiling onto the heads of unsuspecting readers.

(Click on one of the thumbnails to open a gallery of images)

A plan


I’ve just marked five years of keeping this blog. The milestone prompted me to think about how much time blogging, corresponding, promoting, writing,self-justifying and so on have absorbed of my free time. It has been a wonderful experience, but the very thing that started me on this road has suffered the most — namely, time for my own drawing.
So I have decided, for an indeterminate period, to take a break from scanning and posting and uploading and monitoring and responding (and I’ve been pretty lax at even at doing that recently). I will be using that time instead to draw and paint and write and think and learn and be.
I shall keep a bit of a record of how that’s progressing on the right hand side of this site, a mini blog within a slumbering blog where I can ruminate on what I am doing and learning with no intention to make a mark on anything but the pages of my journal.
Eventually, I shall probably return, recharged, refreshed, and newly resolved.
In the meantime, feel free to read the 842 posts that precede this one or any of these books. Or better yet, join me in getting off the computer and doing some drawing instead.
Until we meet again, I remain,
your pal,
Danny Gregory

Childhood memories

(click images to magnify)When I was a boy, I travelled a great deal. My family wasn’t in the Armed or Diplomatic services. I guess they were just adventurers, peripatetic wanderers, refugees, gypsies.

These are pages of random memories, without any real conclusions, just snapshots of stuff. I drew them from old family albums with a dip pen and india ink, painted them with watercolors. If you can bothered, click to enlarge the pages and read the captions.

My maternal grandparents (Gran and Ninny) were German refugees and were married in Rome. Mussolini threw them out in the mid 1930s.

1940.jpgThen they escaped to the part of India that became Pakistan (after World War II and Partition). My grandparents were doctors and they remained in Lahore for thirty-five years. My great-grandparents had also fled Germany and joined them in India, but later moved to Palestine. My mother (Pipsi from Püppchen or ‘little doll’ in German) and my uncle grew up in Pakistan, then went to boarding school and university in England.

baba.jpgI was born in London and first went to Pakistan when I was two. Of all the places I’d lived till I came to America, I always thought of Pakistan as home.

landing.jpgThe long voyage to Lahore, via plane or ship, was always an event.

wallah.jpgSnake charmers and bear trainers came to our house to perform for me.

tongas.jpgLahore was always bustling.

girls.jpgWe moved to Pittsburgh when I was five, then Canberra, Australia when I was six.

danny.jpgAt nine, I moved back to Pakistan alone and lived with my granparents for a year and a half.

oranges.jpgThen we moved to a kibbutz in Israel.

abatoir.jpgI went to a public school and became fluent in Hebrew. I also got my first job, at a slaughterhouse. When I was thirteen, a week before the Yom Kipur War, we moved to Broooklyn.

Air Devils and Mad Men


When I was a boy and living in Israel, my mum happened upon an ad in the Jerusalem Post looking for children who spoke English and were interested in appearing in an American TV commercial. I was both and so I went to an audition in Tel Aviv. A group of people behind a table asked me to run around a small yard and look like I was having the time of my life. Getting attention like this was sort of fun but also a little nerve wracking.
A few days later, I was invited back to Tel Aviv for the shoot. I walked on the sound-stage in awe. Someone had built a perfect replica of a perfect boy’s room surrounded by bright lights and a camera. In the middle of the room, there sat a circular cardboard runway with a plastic mountain in one corner and a control tower in the center.
I was one of three boys in the cast. One had brought his mother, a plump and bossy woman carrying a makeup case which she used to polish her son’s perfection. The other boy was quiet and shrugged when spoken to. The plump mother told the director that she insisted her boy should get the lead role; he was very handsome, she said, a great actor and extremely sensitive. The director told her son that, indeed, he would get to fly the toy plane while I was to look on with enthusiasm. The shrugging boy was used as hand model and plugged the toy into the wall socket in a close-up shot.
Air Devils proved to be one of those elaborate toys that are interesting for about five minutes and then up in pieces or gathering dust. A wire on the control tower spun the plane around in a circle; it landed and took off and not much else. There was no room for imagination in playing with it but it took up a lot of floor space, even in the gigantic idealized American boy’s room on the sound-stage.
I don’t remember much else about the shoot except it lasted for thirteen hours and that the director said the plastic mountain looked like someone had pissed on it (which, for a twelve year old boy, was the height of subversive humor). I was paid the equivalent of $10 for my day’s work, which went toward buying some candy and a soccer ball which my neighbor kicked onto the roof of an adjoining building a few days later.
Six months after the shoot, we moved to New York. One day after school, I was watching TV and the Air Devils commercial came on. I was shocked by the weirdness of seeing myself on television. I don’t think I ever saw the spot on the air again but the memory of it stuck somewhere in my brain, replaying in weirder and weirder re-edits over the years. I have sat through so many auditions and shoots over the past quarter century and the memory of myself, a twelve year old weird, multi-national kid standing in front of that table of strangers, flickers past me now and then.
I have casually looked for a copy of the spot every so often, screening reels of old commercials, thinking it would be amusing to add it to my own reel of commercials. However, it never turned up.
Then this afternoon, bored in an editing session, I typed the words ‘Air Devils” in the YouTube search field… and there it was. You can see me in a wide shot and then a close-up of my home-cut hair and fake enthusiasm.
It’s funny, as a person who makes and judges ads all day, to be a part of this commercial. The complete absence of an idea, the histrionic voice-over and completely unpersuasive cop[y. I can imagine the poor creative team, working on Hasbro, knowing they have a shoestring budget, knocking together a script and then flying to Israel, of all places, to avoid union costs and produce something, anything to throw on the air for a few weeks before Christmas.
It’s so much a conceit of my business that what we do matters very much, that every commercial must be polished and crafted and made as good as possible, that we must fall on our swords for every creative decision … and yet, after they have served their purpose, our well-cut gems retain as much appeal as last month’s milk. I assume that the zillions of other people’s dollars I have spent on high-end production will end up, if I am lucky, being just someone else’s blogged memory in twenty years from now.
Sic transit.

Collaboration isn't just for the French


I am writing this on a flight to Los Angeles where we are going to shoot the first five commercials for the campaign I began last summer. It was July 27th when I stood at a urinal on 22nd street and was suddenly struck with the idea which, through various barrel jumps, backflips and slaloms, has brought me to this seat on American Airlines.
Of course, it’s absurd that it should have taken 200 days for three or four minutes of advertising to go from my urinal to your television. Well, actually the commercials haven’t even been filmed yet. It’ll be closer to 300 days before they actually hit the airwaves. This is certainly a long time for even advertising to be birthed, but not unheard of.
When you sell your creative work, the results are invariably a collaboration between your imagination and the processes of the person or corporation who is funding them. In the case of a new brand advertising campaign, your collaborators include various levels of decision makers in your agency, some ‘creative’, some administrative and some strategic, all of who provide input based on their own experience, ego, time and attention span.
Next, the work runs through the filter of the client company’s marketing executives. Some have long and illustrious careers producing great advertising and can often make your ideas better and sharper. Others have ended up in marketing by virtue of their success or failure in another part of the company. I have worked with clients who were former antifreeze salesman, flight attendants, bank tellers, and tax attorneys. When I created ads for the Postal Service, my client was a former mail carrier. However, their past is not necessarily an indication of their utility as creative collaborators.
As I have done a lot of corporate and brand advertising, I invariably end up presenting to CEOs and CFOs. Most of them have little interest in advertising and consider it a waste of time and money. They tend to be results oriented, I’m from Missouri, kind of left brainers, Some, by virtue of having a lot of money and a lot of power, have odd and interesting ideas about how advertising should work. They often cite their wives’ or children’s opinions. Because they are unused to talking about executional creative matters, their words are often ambiguous and hard to take at face value and much time is spent by others, parsing their phrases and trying to determine the hidden meaning behind all sorts of cabalistic executive signs. I have worked with agencies who note down the colors of executives’ ties and shirts in an effort to come up with logo and advertising palettes that will pass muster.
These creative approvals are funny things. They are so often subjective and frankly irrelevant to the effectiveness of advertising. The best clients are the ones who are extremely clear and smart about what they know best. They tell you what they want to accomplish with their businesses and how advertising can help. They couch their reactions to the work you bring them in terms of their original intent. Often they are surprisingly lucid and insightful, demonstrating in spades how they got to where they are. They respect the people they hire and assume that they will do their work well. They keep their egos in check and use their authority to clear impasses further down the food chain. They can break loggerheads with a phrase or two. As one CEO said to me recently, ‘People assume that because everyone has a voice that this is a democracy. It’s not. I want this done so let’s move on.” Someone who works for someone who works for someone who works for him and who had been our daily contact had said something equally memorable and candid in an earlier meeting:” My boss told me that my job is to tell you what you have done wrong. I can’t see anything wrong in what you’ve done but I still have to figure out how to do my job.”
There’s little question that, unfortunately, much of what we are paid for is to deal with the process. To be able to listen to someone’s incoherent rant and turn it into some thing actionable. To respond to the various thumbs stuck in the wet clay of one’s idea and yet emerge with something that isn’t embarrassing and wasteful.
There are different styles that creative people have to deal with this obstacle course. Some defend their work against every single remark and soon devolve into shrill defensiveness. Others sit quietly, waiting for the moment to insert a devastating retort. Some try to come up with constructive responses as the clients lays out his objections. Some give long rebuttals that communicate little but ego and leave the client wondering if they heard a word she said. Some sit gulping in anxiety, waiting for others to defend their efforts. Some smirk smugly, all but saying ‘ You are such an idiot”.
The most constructive approach is, first, just to listen. Particularly when there are lots of clients of various levels in a room, they tend to circle around each other, ideas canceling each other out, objections overruled, problems solving themselves. Then, if the audience has the patience, summarize what they have said and see if they agree with your summary. Then offer a solution or two for the present and withdraw and try to form a coherent plan of response. When you do respond, show them what they asked for, accompanied with a range of other solutions.
I think most clients like the creative process. They want to be wowed. When they come up with their own ideas and insist upon them, they also have a nagging feeling that they’re doing the wrong thing, buying a dog and barking themselves. In some ways, advertising seems easier than other creative forms. When I do illustration work, no one has ever redrawn my pictures like some clients feel they can rewrite my copy. When I work with composers, I have (almost) never seen a client tell them which specific notes to play. A bad and desperate client will push past agency and director and go up to an actor and tell him specifically how to say his lines but he’ll rarely get in front of the camera himself.
The key again is to listen and observe. That’s the way to get the clearest sense of what’s really going on. Then by re-presenting the client’s POV to him or her, you show that you get it, you want to help, you care. Don’t insist on logic — often the process spits up a lot of nonsensical mandates that come about through intricate games of Telephone that make no real sense. People, intimidated by their inarticulate bosses, can resort to just taking dictation and passing the buck on to you. But try to see through that and get to the truth underneath.
Then, try to take all of the comments as a new creative challenge. Be willing to sacrifice your children in order to end up with an even stronger result. I’ve often had good ideas become great ones as they were annealed on the forge of the approval process. Despairing of being able to fix your crippled creation, you toss it aside and fabricate a far more elegant solution.
Am I making it all sound horrible? Do I seem like an arrogant know-it-all who thinks all clients are boobs? Maybe so, but I don’t really feel that, not most of the time. It’s a thin line to tread between making something that fits the needs of the people who hired you to do it and something that you are proud of, that is fresh and exciting to you. I often write commercials based on events or perceptions that have occurred to me and it is heart breaking to see them mangled beyond recognition. It feels very personal. But in the end, it really isn’t. That’s what Art is for, to express the personal. The creative work we are paid to do, while growing from our integrity and values and personal aesthetic, is always a collaboration and must be respected as such. When created honestly and openly and generously, it is is the best sort of collaboration, Rogers and Hammerstein, Dolce & Gabbana. At other times it’s more Rogers & Frankenstein, Dolce & Gambino. So you pick your fights. You say to you yourself, if they want to drive this Lamborghini over the clff, it’s their dollar. I won’t allow myself to be twisted in the wreckage. Recognizing that jobs and millions of dollars are at stake, that these matters are impacting people’s better judgment, doesn’t make you a hack. Just a professional.
So the simple answer is: throw yourself 90% into what you do for money. Reserve that small part for self-protection. Be willing to stand back, to be objective and dispassionate. And channel the feelings you have, the reaction to disappointment and limitations, and put it into the work that really matters: your Art. Now be uncompromising. Insist on the highest quality from yourself. Be clear, be strong, be energetic and bold. Experiment, reach, push. Stay up later than you would on a client project. See yourself in this work, the real you. Keep working, keep fighting, be heedless of others. And keep telling yourself that you work to earn a living and that you must never forget to to do the living that you have earned.

They pull me back in


It’s a year and a half since I left my last job, left meetings, left acount executives, left downsizing, left that tight feeling between my shoulderblades. For the next year, I managed to do a lot of drawing and travelling. I created this blog, worked on the staff of the Morning News and the New York Times, and finally achieved my dream of being paid to be an illustrator. I finished one book and then conceived and wrote another, the book I have always wanted to read. I spent a lot more time with the people I had abandoned during my four years of senior management: I picked Jack up from school, I sat in the kitchen and talked to Patti every morning, unencumbered by bosses and office gossip. I met hundreds of great creative people around the world. A happy time.
Somewhere in the back of my head, probably on a nerve that connects right to that tightness in my shoulders, a little voice continued to murmur. “You’ll never make enough money. You’ll never be able to afford the standard of living you had during all those years in advertising. You are still a rank amateur. What will you do when you’re sixty? Seventy? What if you live as long as your grandfather? You can’t survive to 95 on scraps. Wipe that smile off your face.”
On and off, I freelanced in ad agencies. I had steady clients who brought me back in time and again. In one day of advertising freelancing, I could make what took me a couple of weeks of illustration and so I did both.
And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it like I hadn’t in years. I was being hired just to sit around and come up with ideas, to make things. Not to hold clients’ hands or draw up lists of people to fire or listen to my boss quote from his most recently read book on management techniques. All they wanted was ideas and I have become a fire hose of those. At the end of each assignment, I would throw on my suit and present the work to the client and most everything was well received.
Then last summer, just before I went on my cross-country trip, I came up with a campaign that won a small agency an account worth about a quarter of a billion dollars. When I finished my trip, visiting Andrea in San Francisco, I got a call on my cellphone while walking down Market Street. They wanted me to come back and run the account.
It was exciting to have been part of this sort of victory. We had beaten the biggest, most famous agencies in the country, based on a line I’d thought of at the urinal one afternoon. The agency has done a lot of good work and it is on a phenomenal wave of success. Right after the big win, we reeled in one of the leading sneaker companies, then an international beer, and now we are on the verge of three other huge new accounts.Our success is like nothing in the recent history of advertising and there are just a meager overworked handful of us doing it.
Like the tsunami that hit Asia, this agency’s momentum has threatened to devestate all of the changes I made to my life over the past couple of years. It is easy to succumb and work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. I can give up this blog, see my family only in their pyjamas, stop drawing altogether.
I can also succumb to the tension and fever pitch and not even enjoy the incredible creative opportunities on my plate. I just got the go-ahead to shoot a dozen commercials, each with a budget over a million dollars. I’ll be traveling around the country to do it and yet I can still make myself feel miserable about it. Miserable because I worry about what I am losing, breaking my commitment to myself. Miserable because I can worry about not living up to expectations. Miserable because I’m an ad guy again.
It has been a struggle not to succumb. I know that sounds dreadful and there are so many people who would do anything to be in my place. What I am wrestling with, truely, is the danger that I could slide back under the waves, go back to how I felt a half dozen years ago, when I didn’t draw, didn’t share my feelings, couldn’t conceive of myself as an artist.
But guess what. I can and am and will continue to win that battle. I am not the person I was. And even though I am in the world I left, I am a new man. My year off was transformative. My imagination works better than it ever did. My confidence and self-knowledge are magnified.
If you are considering chucking a job or career or a direction that stifles you, I hope my experience is helpful. You can decide to walk away and then to walk back without feeling like your experiment was a failure. You will return, if you do, changed and smarter and knowing where the exits are in case you feel like you need fresh air ever again in the future. Or perhaps you will stay on the new path and never look back. All that really matters is that you take each day as it comes, look for the beauty in it, abandon preconceptions and focus on what you want to be. A healthy, creative, complete person.
I wish it for you. And for me.

Like father, like son


A few days ago, this drawing arrived from my stepmother, Sue. It was drawn by my father when I was about three, around the time my parents were divorced.
Many of these objects are things of my mum’s. I think she still has the copper ashtray on the lower left. Sue pointed out how similar this piece is to much of the work I have been doing and I must agree. I never really thought of him doing illustrated journaling but clearly he did.
Keir lives in Leicestershire, near Nottingham (that’s in England, folks). His three daughters (my half sisters) are all grown and he seems to spend most his time drawing daily self portraits or writing software for his own amusement. I’ve only seen my father a half dozen times since the divorce and we correspond very intermittently. I have a few of his sketchbooks from the early 1960s and I have always loved them.
Between Jack’s painting and this newly arrived drawing from Keir, I must say I am thinking quite a lot about heredity these days.

Here is some more of Keir’s work circa 1964 (he never shows his work so I hope, on the off-chance that he stumbles across this web page, that he doesn’t take offense to this little tribute exhibition). Some of it is pretty angry and hard core so please don’t yap about the language or the macabre-ness:

Early morning habits

coffee-shopToo long ago, I went to the gym every day. At seven a.m., the doors opened and a small group of us would shamble in and begin lifting weights. I had a little notebook in which I charted my regimen and recorded my progress; accumulating the little pencil scrawls kept me committed for close to a year. I was pretty intense about it, seven days a week, rain or shine, always at 7 a.m. If I overloaded the stack of iron and strained a rhomboid, I would switch to a leg routine for the next few days until I healed. But I had to keep going
I took a fair amount of pleasure in how my body developed. I wasn’t a steroid freak or anything though some of the other 7 a.m. crew were a little scary, particularly a couple of the women with lats like pterodactyl wings and neck as thick as my thighs. For me, weight lifting felt like a creative act; I liked how my arms felt like they belonged to someone else, like touching a horse or a large dog’s back. I had made my body into something, something essentially useless as I rarely had to lift toppled trees off cars or open jars of pickles, but something hand-crafted nonetheless. I don’t even know how healthy the whole thing was: I almost always hurt somewhere and woke up each 6:30 wincing and groaning.
When it was still cold and dark outside, Patti would urge me to stay in bed but I would refuse. There was simply no room for discussion. If I missed a day, I would lose momentum, my streak would end. I was convinced that I had to be 100% committed to my routine. The pathological drill sergeant in my head gave my will zero room for excuses.
Then my sister said she wanted to join me. For a week or so, she met me every 7 a.m. and it was fun to have someone to work out with. Till one morning she called me at 6:45 and croaked that she didn’t feel like going today, that I should take the day of too. So I did. And the day after that and so on. I never went back to the gym again.
Habit is enormously powerful. The bad ones are easy to pick up and a drag to shake. Each bad habit starts by stifling a voice in your head, the one that knows better, and says ‘go ahead, just try it’ and leads you to drag that first cigarette though you know it’ll lead to the grave, to accompany every burger with fries, to flop on the couch in front of the tube, to drink too much, talk too much, do too little…. The angel on your shoulder doesn’t stand a chance.
For me, developing good habits requires the same sort of censorship. However, this time I have to stifle the voice that leads me astray, to be absolutely rigid in my refusal to capitulate. It works best when I have an inflexible routine, like my 7 a.m. appointment at the gym.
These days, NPR wakes me up at 6:57 a.m., and I go mechanically through a series of maneuvers that have me walking up the street and arriving at my desk at 8:30 while the office is still cold and empty. I am at my most productive in that first hour. I’d love to add another hour to my morning, to rise before six and really get something done with my first cup of joe. I haven’t muscled myself into that harness yet.
What does this sort of rigidity mean when it comes to creativity? Can you be so iron-clad and expect your imagination to function just because you have put it on a regimen? Will the ink lie cold in the pen? Will the mind stay half-asleep?
Not if you insist. The muse can be put on a tight schedule. I have had to come up with ideas, on deadline for decades and, if anything, things flow more easily when you bear down on the brain. It’s not guaranteed but showing up is half the job. If I am focussed, resolved, and present, ideas will come.
I’d like to be more disciplined about my drawing. When I have an illustration assignment or a commitment to another like sketchcrawling, I can deliver. I just did it in Paris, crawling out in to the cold rainy dawn to draw. But it’s not as much fun as when I am suddenly inspired to pick up the pen. It feels like work. But maybe that’s because I am irregular in my early morning sessions. I mean, I could stagger over to the gym tomorrow at 7 am and bench press something but it would not be fun.
My pal, Tom Kane, has a great habit. When he walks into his office each morning, he snaps on his computer, loads the NY Times homepage and draws something from one of the lead stories in a Moleskine reserved for the purpose. Each day, at least one drawing of a newsmaker. Only then does his work day begin. His book is full now, brimming with great caricatures and portraits, built one drawing at a time. His drawings muscles ripple. Of course, he does not stop there; he draws New York City most days, detailed pen and ink drawings that fill the page from corner to corner. Tom’s compulsive too. He cannot stop until every square inch of paper is covered and crosshatched. He tells me he doesn’t do it because he enjoys it; he does it because he has to. He’s got the habit.