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.

Continue reading “How to cure hypochondria.”

Podcast 03: The artist who couldn’t…

Amazingly, there are so many wonderful creative people who make all sorts of amazing things — but are afraid to draw.
In this week’s episode of my new podcast, art for all, I tell the story of one and how he overcame his fear.
You can listen to it here but please subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

Episode transcript: Continue reading “Podcast 03: The artist who couldn’t…”

A summer whine.

As I start writing this, I already feel ridiculous. Hypocritical. Spineless. Overprivileged. Maybe if I just write whatever’s on my mind, I’ll get some clarity and balls. Let’s see.

This afternoon, Jack and I are going to pick up the keys to our brand-new studio. It’s a big, lovely empty space made for doing nothing in but making art without interruption.Jack can’t wait. The weeks since he moved out of his studio in Providence have been torturous as his mind brims with unpainted paintings. He’s itching to get to work and put them all on canvas.

Jack has a clear sense of himself as a painter. He’s not thinking about the whys of making art, not concerned with who will see the work and what they’ll do in response. He knows that he’s meant to make art and so he’s been like a clamped firehose, thrashing around the pavement, struggling for release.

I am stomped down, bottled up, and tightly capped. I haven’t made anything larger than a sketchbook page since we left Los Angeles, almost two years ago. Even that period in the garage was an anomaly. The idea of making art that could hang on the wall is still scary and ‘wasteful’. I have used our lack of wall space as an excuse for decades. I have long-claimed that art with a small ‘a’ means focussing only on the process and filled books to gather dust on shelves. I tell people not to think about what they will have made but only on what they are making now. When you are done, store it, frame it, burn it, I don’t care.

This is not just a black and white matter. On the one hand, I believe that when I take the pressure off myself to produce something finished and public, I am freer and more likely to take risks and make progress. So working in obscurity has helped me develop. And on the other, I don’t liven a hermitage. I do share images of my images in books and on-line. You’ve seen ’em. So have thousands of others.

But there are shortcomings to this approach. For one, I am always off-hand about the images I make. They are mere illustrations for my blog posts or book pages. It’s a way of avoiding real responsibility, this business of making pictures that are just marginalia, just a record of a nice breakfast, a quick sketch here or there.

I know this is gift-horse dentistry, a problem we’d all like to have.

I could say the same about my writing. Even when published in a book, my words still lack a certain seriousness, a full embrace of their role. It’s as if I only write captions, quips, epigraphs, body copy to be tossed out with tomorrow’s trash. A brief amusement in a social media post here, an email there.

Am I writing or drawing for the ages? Can I? Do I dare?

Maybe my years in advertising convinced me that what I make is always subservient to someone else’s agenda, another’s strategies and goals. And making advertising is inherently impermanent. A commercial last for thirty seconds, a print ad runs for a couple of months. It’s a diversion, never the main event. I know that some of my books have been in print for years, and that they have had more than a passing effect. Nonetheless this, sense of triviality is deep-dyed in me. I’d like to make something that matters. But trying to also scares the shit out of me.

Jack is a wonder to watch because he doesn’t feel a burden to achieve greatness each time he picks up a brush. He throws things around, then paints over them. He doesn’t stop to explain or justify. He just does. He’s the same kid who made elaborate Lego towers, then knocked them down to build something new.

Before Jack was born, my mother and my sister chipped in to rent a painting studio for me for a moth. I entered it with a sketchbook, a marker, and a lump on my throat. I hadn’t really drawn for ages and this room seemed designed to strip me of excuses. The first week there I wrote a long polemic about art and posted it on the wall. The next week, I made a few half-hearted collages. I spent the final two weeks trying to make a painting from an old photo of my grandfather. When the month was up, I left behind the handful of things I’d made and ran like hell.

I know it won’t be like that when we start this new adventure. First off, Jack won’t let me get away with it. But also, I have the feeling I can get there, that there might actually be stuff in me that is worth saying, worth saying large, and worth saying well. On that last point, I know that I need to work harder on what I make. Instead of dashing off a sketch or a watercolor, I want to push myself deeper into a painting, to explore, to respond, to refine. To evolve from playing the field to deepening my relationship with a work of art.

I know this is gift-horse dentistry, a problem we’d all like to have. And I am ashamed to start a summer in a painting studio with a whining screed about my inadequacies and fear. But I hope this self-assessment helps me to move past the anxiety of starting something new.

Thanks for holding my hand while I steel myself for the first leap.

Living in the real world.

Things that happened so long ago were real.
The pain was real.
The marks were real.
As I grew bigger, other bad things happened.
Unexpectable things. Unimaginable things.
Things that were all too real.

But the worst things seem to be the things that could be.
The sound of approaching sirens that could be heading to my house.
The boss who could be getting ready to fire me.
The smell that could be smoke.
The leading indicators that could be a sign.
The cough from my son’s room.
The phone ringing in the night.
The falling buildings.
The impending war.
The news around the clock.

Bad things happen.
But worse things could.
What does happen can be cleaned up or treated or paid for or even buried.
But what could happen must only be dealt with one way.
By refusing to fear what could be.
By accepting that all that matters is all that is.
That no matter how bad it is, we will live with it.
That the world that skulks out of the midnight recesses of your head is just your creation.
And that you can put your imagination to better use.
And insist on living only in what is.

Art by another name


One thing I keep encountering when I talk to people about starting to draw: fear.  People are terrified of pens, paper, and brushes.  Art is scary.

So I propose we call it something else. Drawing or journaling or sketching or doodling or sketchbooking or testing your pen. I call it ‘art with a small a‘.

Here’s how I look at it.

There are so many things we are willing to do that we know other people do much better. There are all sorts of amazing chefs on TV doing incredible things with scallops and opening four-star restaurants, but we are all still willing to cook some burgers for dinner without being terrified. We don’t say, I just can’t use  a microwave, I didn’t go to cooking school.

We may not be ready for the NBA but we’ll toss a basketball around with some buddies.  We won’t be headlining at Madison Square Garden or winning any Grammys but we’re all still willing to sing in the shower or whistle while we work.  We may not be on the Pulitzer shortlist but we can still write an email or a birthday card.  We are just doing it to have fun. Or because it’s an essential part of life.  And I think art can be both.

We don’t need to label ourselves chefs, or basketball players, or musicians, or writers.  So why does art have to be so different?

If you want a painless, unscary way to start expressing your creativity, sign up for the best semester yet of Sketchbook Skool. Thousands of people who are rusty as barn door hinges are doing it.  Join us!