Death Valley Sketchbook


A decade ago, I did a week-long drawing trip through Nevada and parts of California with my pal, D.Price. The sketchbook I kept (only my 7th to that point) was the first step in my publishing career. When I shared it with an editor at City & Co., who liked it so much she asked me to assemble a book of my journals. Ultimately, though I ended up placing that book with Princeton Architectural Press (Everyday Matters), it was so nice to have someone interested in my work and this concentrated drawing trip was the kick-off point.
I was flipping through the original journal today and thought I’d make a little video tour. It’s also notable as several other firsts — one of my first hand-bound books, one of the first times I made a dedicated journal for one trip, and one of the first times I experimented with watercolors.

The film I made ended up being eleven minutes long, so I cut it into two episodes. You can see them both there.

Oh, and if you like this sort of thing, let me know and I’ll do more if it. (Though I am not trying to make anything technically sophisticated with these little films, I would love to know if there’s any particular information you’d like to know about my sketchbooks). I appreciate your comments and insights.

My Park

First drawing done after the park reopened
First drawing done after the park reopened

One of the many wonderful things about where I live is that’s just a block from Washington Square Park — 10 acres of trees and benches and squirrels. It’s where we walk ourt dogs there several times a day. It’s where Jack learned to skateboard. It’s where we read and draw and chill. We’ve written books about it, made films about it. It’s our front yard.

Jack gave this tour of the park in the Spring of 2001. He’d been learning its history in school and gave it a uniquely Jack re-interpretation.

Almost two years ago, we learned that the park was going to be renovated and, in short order, a huge  ugly cyclone fence encircled most of it. Ever since we walked around the perimeter, like kid’s outside of Willy Wonka’s factory. I took to drawing what I could see of the park from my kitchen window, asecond rate substitute. Last summer was the hardest leg of the exile: no fountain, no concerts, no lolling on the lawn.

Last week, I got an excited text message from Patti: the fence was coming down! We’ve flowed into the park and discovered it was (almost) worth the wait.New flagstones,  rich lawns, lovely plantings, new benches and lamps. The fountain has been moved to line up with the Arch and Fifth Avenue and the park seems a lot less ramshackle and scrappy but still like home.

Here’s a collection of drawings done before after and during our years in exile. (Click on a thumbnail to open the gallery)

Brush Twice a Day

Maybe I’m my own worst enemy. Or maybe I just love being a novice. Or maybe I’m bored too easily. But if I gaze back on the course of my passage across the infinite drawing landscape, I look like a veering drunkard, swerving between POVs, pens, paper, subjects, experimenting like Dr. Hyde. When I talk to people I know who are successful professional illustrators, they seemed to have done all this experimentation back in art school and then settled on a style, a technique and a set of tools long ago, so their work is predictable and knowable — that’s what make it commercially viable. When it comes to tools and techniques, I tend to be a serial monogamist. For a while I was madly in love with drawing with grey markers and white pencils on butcher paper. Then I was passionate about using the teeniest possible Rapidograph point on watercolor paper in the smallest size Moleskine, colored with water colors. I went through a period of just doing comic strips in pencil and shades of grey ink. I have always liked the effect of rough, indifferent or spidery marks, splattered with ink, grubby, and wild. In part, that’s a necessity because I am impatient and incapable of neatness. But I like it in others too, from Ronald Searle to Francis Bacon.

My newest journal is big, about 8″ x 12″. Normally I would never use such a large journal because it’s too big for my scanner. Now I’ve decided not to care. Its paper is pretty crummy, too, just ordinary stuff you’d cram into a Xerox machine– the ink easily bleeds through it. And I am not using a pen — just a plastic brush which I dip in a bottle of sumi-ink. It’s a waterbrush but it’s too clogged for the reservoir handle to work properly so I dip it in a puddle of drinking water which I pour on the pavement in front of me. And instead of writing careful, ornate captions with my dip pen I just write some sort of crappy looking note with the brush on the opposite page.

As I describe all this, I wonder is it a matter of some sort of artistic self hatred that’s making me work in this slovenly way? Or am I bored? But no, I really like the feeling of freedom I get from slashing at the page in this way. The drawings have yet to reach any sort of aesthetic that I am completely pleased with but I feel nice and loose and unfettered. I don’t care if the pages are perfect ( I had been becoming so anal in my last book that I was drawing less and less, rarely having the time or mood to be so deliberate) and I like how they are warped and winkled. This may be a summer fling but it’s already forming sweet memories.