Another nice article and video about my visit to China.

Danny Gregory draws artistic creativity from ISB

By Tom Fearon

Artist and author Danny Gregory has led a life as colorful as many of his paintings. Formerly creative director at a multinational advertising agency, his journey from “ad man” to “art man” began in his mid-30s when he started sketching the urban surrounds of his native New York.

Since then he has written and illustrated nearly a dozen books about his life experiences and drawing. Now solely focused on art, Mr. Gregory travels the world sharing his expertise about harnessing creative potential through art and other means.
ISB hosted Mr. Gregory as the school’s artist in residence from September 15 to 26. He interacted with students from all grades throughout his two weeks at ISB, from leading sketching workshops in the lower elementary school to giving seniors advice on what to expect at art school or university.
“I’ve been trying to encourage kids at all ages to feel good about being creative. Little kids are naturally creative and don’t really need a lot of help, but when kids reach late middle school they can start to get anxious about their creativity and feel judgmental about the things they are making,” he noted.
at isb
One of his first engagements was participating in a student-led dialogue during a high school assembly on September 17. During the Q&A session, Mr. Gregory spoke about how he used his artistic talent in the corporate world and revealed what inspires him each time he picks up his pencil and sketchbook.
Yasmine R and Rachel W, from years 11 and 12 respectively, led the assembly dialogue and another in the MS/HS Cafeteria on the eve of Mr. Gregory’s final day at ISB. Both said ISB’s external partnerships that bring experts from all fields to the school benefit students of all ages.
“The fact ISB has so many opportunities to invite these speakers and give students a chance to go out and explore what they want to do is fantastic,” said Rachel.
“It’s a great opportunity to engage with really creative artists. We also get new ideas and advice that we can inspire our own creativity as well,” Yasmine said of ISB’s artist-in-residence program.
Mr. Gregory’s visit didn’t only inspire students’ artistic creativity. Li Keqing, a MS/HS Cafeteria server and ISB bus monitor, was chosen by the American artist to pose in one of his paintings that featured her and two of her co-workers.
The following day Ms. Li presented Mr. Gregory with her own artistic creation: a portrait she had sketched based on his photo.
“I was born with a love for drawing. My favorite subjects to draw are people’s faces, so every day at my previous work unit I would find someone seated to draw,” explained Ms. Li, who was forced to abandon her artistic dream in her youth to study machinery manufacturing.
Mr. Gregory said his time at ISB had also inspired a personal artistic evolution driven by tapping “kid energy.”
“It’s been great to be around this many people of so many ages. They inspire me and fill me with their energy as well. I found a lot of the drawing and painting I was doing was changing; I was using different kinds of colors and drawing in a looser style,” he said.

Some stuff I learned in China that could help you too

dragon

  • 3-year-olds have a lot to teach me about drawing.
  • Chinese people rarely eat rice.  Or dog.
  • Digitizing your entire life is efficient and modern and smart. Until you can’t get online.
  • 10-year-olds can draw with a dip pen and a fountain pen.
  • Strangers are almost always helpful and friendly, especially if they have no idea what you are saying.
  • You can live happily without seat belts, helmets, or walk signs.
  • When you’re four, you’ll draw anything fearlessly. When you’re nine, you’d like to learn to draw real things but deep down would just as soon draw stick figure armies.  At thirteen, all that matters is what others think. At seventeen, you are obsessed with technique and your imagination is a liability.
  • Committing to eating new things doesn’t have to extend to donkey meat, bullfrog, or turtle.

If you’d like to learn even more stuff about all sorts of things, hurry and enroll for the best semester yet of Sketchbook Skool.  See you in klass!

All the t-squares in China

stuck-in-traffic

Some clichés are based in truth.  The one I encounter a lot in China is the Asian student who drives her/himself super hard and who is forced by expectant parents to be overachieving and highly pragmatic.

These kids have been coming to me, one by one, to ask for my advice on their future plans. A classic was the senior who said she was picking colleges to study art based on whether they also had a  great physics programs — in case she had to switch directions.

I understand their anxiety.  They live in a country that is going through a massive transformation and there’s a lot resting on the new generation.  They want to be as prepared as possible, to dot every ‘i’, take every course, ace every test…

Here’s my message to them and it might be useful to you too.

It’s good to be prepared, but what are you preparing for? I think the only thing you can intelligently anticipate is change. And no number of degrees or job offers at investment banks will prepare you for the unknowable. That takes creativity. An ability to adapt. A willingness to live with ambiguity. Resourcefulness. A knack for collaboration.

I encountered their core problem when they made art. They were so afraid of mistakes.  Kids would go to rip up their work if they encountered any sort of screwup, a bent line, wonkiness. And I would say to them, “Hold on! Try to turn that into something. Work with it. Solve the problem. It’s okay.”

mistake
I love this. It says it all.

When the teachers asked their students what they got out of my stay at their school, they say things like:” Danny taught me to make masterpieces our of mistakes” and “I tried making drawings unique instead of exact.”

Learning to live with (and embrace) our essential fallibility. It’s what I learned at Clown School earlier this year.  And I hope I managed to pass it on to all those kids who will be contributing to our imperfect future.

Speaking of mistakes, if you miss the greatest semester yet of Sketchbook Skool… well, we wouldn’t want that would we.  Enroll today!

Meanwhile…

I am enjoying my (hopefully) last day in Beijing.  I’ve been using the time to writing about the lessons I learned here and make a little film or two will be sharing them here over the next few days.

Meanwhile, here are two nice pieces on my visit to Beijing by Rena Tang, a lovely person who I met there:

 

My glass is half full. But can I drink the water?

So much contemporary fiction these days, especially the stuff for kids and YAs, is dystopian — people trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world in which electricity and information technology have disappeared. I think that’s because we all know deep down that we are relying on this stuff too much.

That’s been brought home to me over the past couple of weeks here in China.  A hundred times  away I reach for my phone or pull up Google on my laptop … and am stymied in some way (FYI, Google, Facebook, YouTube, and lots of innocuous websites are all blocked here. You need a VPN to get access to them and that is far from reliable. And the powers-that-be are supposedly just randomly choking the life out of people’s bandwidth too).

Under certain circumstances that can be a relief, a way of getting off the maddening treadmill of emails and texts, and I am all for it — when it is self-imposed.  But it can be a real drag when you are lost in a hou-tong (a labyrinthine Beijing neighborhood of twisting lanes and dead ends), Google maps is blocked, and have no way to ask anyone for directions because you can barely say ‘hi’ in Chinese.

And it actually becomes a little scary when you spend two hours sitting on a United plane on a Beijing runway only to be told that your flight has been cancelled and you need to get off the plane, get your bags and find yourself a new flight. Which is what happened to me last night. The flight attendant muttered a phone number over the PA which I scrambled to write down — but my phone (not really working here to make calls, get texts or get data — thanks, Verizon) only reached some incomprehensible Chinese message. 

Eventually another passenger helped me connect but the only flight I could get on would be in forty eight hours, i.e. tomorrow. I made my way to a hotel, tried to make some calls to get an earlier flight, reached lots of dead ends and people who don’t speak any English, and then finally resolved to just chill out here, a dozen thousand miles from home and twenty miles from anything but the airport. 

I left my phone charger in my other hotel, the wifi is spotty (in fact, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to upload this post), a volcano blew up in Japan, there are demonstrations in Hong Kong, a madman apparently burnt down the control tower in Chicago, and my throat is raw from two weeks of Beijing smog.

However, I have a bagful of pens, ten blank pages left in my journal, a really good breakfast buffet, the Discovery Channel, a decent charge on this laptop and there are no zombies or vampires or nuclear plumes out my hotel window. 

It’s all good.

Oh, and I’ll also be polishing my best-ever klass for Sketchbook Skool. It’s all about how to make art when you travel, even just on a trip to the grocery store.  Join me and enroll at Sketchbook Skool.com

Recent Chinese adventures

Internet is kinda tough out here so I am posting my experiences and drawings on Instagram while I travel in China.
 Follow me to stay updated.
Here are a few recent ones.

This place is crawling with dragons!

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This place is crawling with dragons!

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Mao is still around, a benevolent but irrelevant icon, kinda like George Washington.

Drawing fast and slow with middle schoolers.
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Drawing fast and slow with middle schoolers.

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My first cardboard painting in Beijing:
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My first cardboard painting in Beijing

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My 2nd cardboard painting.
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My second Beijing cardboard painting.

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I convinced 150 8th graders to draw each other.
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I convinced 150 8th graders to draw each other.

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3rd cardboard painting in Beijing.
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3rd cardboard painting in Beijing.

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Heading East

AIJ chinese
The cover of one of the Chinese editions of “An Illustrated Journey.”

Hello. This is Danny.  I am away from my desk right now.

I am busy talking about drawing — in Kuala Lumpur, and then in Beijing.

I will return at the end of September and will get back to you as soon as I can.

Have a nice day.

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