Study Hall: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

I love this week’s klass in Exploring with one of my idols, Felix Scheinberger. I made a bit of a mess with my homework but then was inspired by an old spaghetti Western. I hope you had fun with your assignment.

Department of Redundancy Dept.

I had a great time drawing my top 32 favorite pens. Sadly, I had to leave the other 749 out.

My homework for Andrea Joseph‘s magnificent klass at Sketchbook Skool. If you don’t know her work, your life, like my pen collection, is incomplete.

How I draw a selfie.

Call me a nerd if you must but I loved doing homework. In this video, I do my assignment for Week Two in Seeing, a Sketchbook Skool klass on drawing self-portraits, taught by my partner, Koosje Koene.

It’s not too late to join Seeing! Click here to learn more.

Something new from me

I’m pretty jazzed to be launching a brand, spanking new kourse at Sketchbook Skool in a few weeks.

It’s been a year since I taught a regular klass, one that’s just focussed on stuff I find interesting (and hope others do too).  I’ve been thinking a lot about how creativity works (and doesn’t) over the past year and was looking for a way to communicate those thoughts through a special kind of video technique.  I also wanted to explore a technical aspect of drawing, how to capture tone and light with black ink lines on white paper.

Beyond getting to teach, I love working on new klasses with new teachers. And we’ve managed to land several of the leviathans of illustrated journaling and urban sketching, luminaries who our students have been requesting for years.

One of my watercoloring mentors, Felix Scheinberger, is back to talk about watercoloring and composition. I pour over his books regularly and always come away with a new idea or two each time.

My partner, Koosje shot a klass with Nina Johansson who was a contributor to my book, An Illustrated Journey. Her watercolors of cityscapes are really breathtaking and it’s a treat to finally get to see how she makes them. Koosje also shot a klass with illustrator Lynn Chapman in England, another rock star of Urban Sketching. She’s incredibly peppy and generous with her ideas and techniques. Watching her paint was another revelation.

And, finally, we also have a brand-new teacher from Miami, a street artist who I shot recently in Los Angeles as he painted a 30-foot mural. Brian Butler is one of the most productive sketchbook artists I’ve ever met and, by dedicating his life to drawing, he has had incredible experiences all over the world. I’ve long wanted to explore street art at SBS and this was my first chance. We spent two days shooting Brian as he painted a wall on a busy intersection of Downtown LA — and it was amazing. This sort of epic production with an artists who I admire is one of the chief reasons I love working at Sketchbook Skool.

Anyway, check out the video to get a taste of what this kourse will be like. I can’t wait for it to start!

Find out more on our website.

A Drawing a Day

One of the hardest things about starting something new is developing a habit that will help you carry on. Even though I’ve been drawing for quite a while now, I occasionally need some sort of kick in the butt to get back on track.

Here’s what works for me: a reason to be consistent. It could be a absorbing project I devise that keeps me engaged — so I am eager to keep working at it. It could be a collaboration with other people who I don’t want to let down — so I keep showing up and making stuff.

We’re about to kick off a new undertaking that combines both. It’s called A Drawing A Day. The first phase of it is a Sketchbook Skool kourse, taught by a teacher I admire enormously: Veronica Lawlor. (If you took our kourse, Storytelling, you remember her amazing, epic demo in which she made over 100 drawings of a pair of dancers.)

We’re beginning this kourse on the first Monday of the January so the year starts off right. Every day Ronnie will do a demo for us and each Friday we’ll go on a virtual field trip. We’ll get encouraging emails every day to keep you on track and engaged. Like all of our new kourses, this will initially be a “Community” kourse, meaning we’re all going to do it together in January, supporting and encouraging each other to keep going.

I think it’s gonna be great. We put a lot of work in to producing this kourse and it’s gorgeous, exciting, smart and fun. Kinda like Ronnie.

That’s not all, though. We’re also launching a year-long project to really make this new habit stick. A year of prompts, interviews, demos and ideas. We’ll be sharing encouragement through a special Facebook group and on other forms of social media. It’ll be a great adjunct to the kourse.

As I said, the kourse begins on January 2nd, but 1) you can sign up now and 2) we will make the kourse available again after January so you can sign up whenever you want and take the kourse immediately.

A Drawing a Day is gonna make 2017 a beautiful, creative year. I can’t wait.

Wanna join me and Ronnie and the rest of Sketchbook Skool? Click here.

My new kourse

I only started drawing in my late thirties. I was super-motivated but it was a struggle to learn. I read books, I copied the masters, I looked into classes, but ultimately the only thing that worked — was work.  I kept drawing and drawing and, slowly, I figured it out.

In retrospect, it was worth all the effort. Drawing changed my life.  But I suspected all along that there’s probably an easier way. And every time I’d hear someone say, “I can’t draw, not even a stick figure,” I’d vow to myself that I’d figure out some way to make the process of acquiring this skill (and that’s all it is, like juggling or shoelace tying or bike riding or driving — a skill) easier and more fun.

I tried a few times. I wrote about it in The Creative License and again in Art Before Breakfast, I even made a series of crude how-to YouTube videos.

But then, this summer, I sat down and really worked it out. I went back and studied my own process over the years, figure out what had worked and what didn’t, I did further research, I consulted experts, and then I made two dozen clear, fun video lessons that explain how drawing works and how to do it, step-by-step.

I set my standards high. I avoided jargon, I avoided tedium, I added jokes, and corralled my friends, family and even my dogs into helping.  And I decided that the kourse should be something you could do at your own pace, but with the encouragement and support of other people who are going through the same process of discovery and transformation.

And then, to make sure that nothing gets in the way of people watching and using these lessons, Koosje and I decided to move this kourse (and ultimately all of Sketchbook Skool) to a fresh new platform that is intuitive and fresh and inviting.

Oh, and we’d price it to be even more affordable that our other kourses — so the monkey would have one less reason to prevent people from signing up.

Finally, this week, after five months of work, the kourse is ready. I hope it is the first step in launching a lot of extraordinary creative lives. Maybe yours.

You can watch the video trailer below.

If you’d like to try it, sign up here. 

Heads up: Even if you have an SBS account already, you’ll need to get a new user name/password to enroll on our spanking new platform. It’s worth it.

See you in klass!


PS: Someone asked how this kourse differs from “Beginning” at Sketchbook Skool.

My answer: “It’s totally new. Totally different. Beginning has 6 teachers and is a great place for people to start keeping an illustrated journal. How To Draw Without Talent is about the basics of drawing. Beginning is a recipe book, HTDWT teaches you how to boil water and use a knife.”

What I did this Summer

It’s been a while. The last you heard from me, I was whining about my extraordinary good fortune, that I had rented a painting studio for the summer to share with my son and how challenged I felt by this enormous hot fudge sundae.

And, while it may have appeared on this blog that I had disappeared into that studio and locked the door behind me for two months, I actually was absent because I gave myself an even bigger gift.

A summer off.

It wasn’t a deliberate plan at first. But despite my industrious and responsible nature, I decided to shirk more and more habits and rutware and see what grew in their place. And to see how much trouble I’d get in to for not showing up.

Studio.

I made a bunch of paintings and some sculptures. Despite my initial trepidation, I let myself go fairly wild with how I made them, experimenting with new media and working much bigger than usual. Most of the paintings were fairly large and the sculptures were all knee high but were installed in various sites as if they were monumental. In a few days, I’ll write a detailed post about what specifically I did and what I learned by doing it, but suffice it to say for now that going to the studio was a refreshing departure that helped me examine and combat a lot of those fears I had expressed to you a few months ago. I drew some but less than normal and didn’t keep any sort of illustrated journal at all.

Reading.

Usually, the summer is a great time to go to the movies. But over the past few years, the cinema has lost its appeal for me. I find most of the films really forgettable. I can think of two I have seen this year that I liked (Hunt for the Wilderpeople and The Lobster) and, because so many of my friends don’t seem to go the movies any more either, even they haven’t been good fodder for dinner party conversation.

Instead, I have watched TV and read books.

I made time to read a lot. I’d get up early and read before breakfast and go to be early and read for an hour every day. I read a fair amount of escapist crap as one should in the summer. I also read some fantastic books, many of them new. Many of these are memoirs and others are novels that feel like memoirs. Here are the ones that have really stuck with me, creating moods and insights that I keep coming back to as the best books do.

Americanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Vol.4 of Karl Ove Knaussgard’s My Struggle, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, The Nix by Nathan Hill, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Ahmad.

I read some books about business and about creativity. The better ones include How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton, Makers and Free, both by Chris Anderson, The Prize by Daniel Yergin, Let the Elephants Run by David Usher, Choose Yourself by James Altucher,  and Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Watching.

We watched a fair amount of TV when staying in the air-conditioned living room seemed the sanest plan. We watched the ABC series Lost on Netflix, a strange and endless tease which I hadn’t watched when it was first broadcast. It took the better part of the summer.

We watched the Olympics, although our initial enthusiasm waned over the two weeks of breathless coverage. Partly because living with a millennial for the summer who doesn’t get the Olympic quadrennial ritual and wonders why we need to watch hours of gymnastics and swimming when there 700 other things on to watch instead. And partly because I started to wonder the same thing.

The Election.

(Note: One thing that I have learned in a dozen years of blogging: avoid talking about religion or politics; it just ruins the party. But I’ll break that rule today to share how I have felt watching the election this summer.)

Since high school, I have always been a deeply committed election follower. I was a political science major at Princeton, a White House intern, and devoured all the classic books about campaigns like Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail by Hunter Thompson, The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse, The Selling of the President by Joe McGinnis, and the various edition  The Making of the President by Theodore H. White.

I like following the campaign strategies, the unfolding dramas, the twists and turns. And, in at least four elections in my adult life, I have felt pretty passionate about one of the candidates running for office.

This election has been a gobsmacking, rubbernecking train wreck but it lacks the usual pleasures. There’ve been no real discussion of solutions, no traditional campaign strategy, and the result, despite the media’s shrill thrashings, has been forgone for some time. It’s like the 1972 Olympics in Munich — instead of watching a match of amazing accomplished competitors, we are watching a highjacking. It’s disturbing that at a time of such change in the world, this important opportunity for discussion has become just a referendum on two individuals. Like a lot of people in this country, I don’t feel much enthusiasm for either candidate, and I am just waiting for it to be over. Nonetheless, it’s hard to tear one’s self away from the spectacle. I just hope I can get back to enjoying the race next time.

Okay, back to more important things we can all agree on, like Sketchbook Skool.

Sketchbook Skool.

We are entering a new phase in the Skool’s development. It may not always be apparent from outside, but we do a lot of thinking and planning and replanning and rethinking about what the future of the Skool should be and if it should even continue at all. What began as an experiment almost three years ago grew into a business. And a passion project became a job. There are times it has been the best job I could imagine. At times, I have felt like I work for the worst boss ever: me.

This year, we had lots of ambitions, tried lots of experiments, and finally came to a maturing in the early summer that has made us all feel both excited and in balance.

We have created a number of new kourses this summer. We released Andrea Joseph’s Creative Lettering klass, one of our biggest launches
ever and people really love it.

We filmed another intensive kourse with Veronica Lawlor that we will be launching later this year. I am in the midst of creating a kourse called “How to Draw Without Talent” that I am having loads of fun with. And we have several new teachers segments in the can for another 6 week kourse to launch in the winter.

Jack and I even made a film (to be released soon) called “How to Draw Your Dog” featuring our two favorite canine mascots, Tim and Joe. We’ll share that soon.

We are also advertising on Facebook for the first time which has been a great way to welcome new people and has made us completely rethink how we present ourselves and what our Skool can be. It has also been fascinating, as a person who created advertising for thirty years, to be marketing my own business, and to be using new tools and technologies that work in such amazing ways. I can’t say I ever knew exactly how any ad I ever write really worked. Now I know on an hourly basis.

This summer we also committed to doing a Study Hall video for every single week of every kourse, a daily blog post that’s useful and inspiring, a weekly newsletter, a weekly video roundup of everything that’s going on in the community and to our first wave of Teaching Assistants, recruited from our alumni.

Our growth has had some pains. We have come to terms with the fact that our platform may not be right going forward and in the next few weeks, we will begin to transition in a hopefully seamless way to a new technology that is faster, more secure, and has lots of new features that will improve the Skool. It’s one of the most essential and most disruptive things we have to do (we changed platforms last year and it was like moving to a new country) and it’s taken many months to finalize the decision but it’s gotta be done.

We are also getting better at doing our jobs. For the first time, we are regularly getting planning and things done long before they are due, sticking to proper production and marketing schedules. And we are being realistic and focused in what we take on so we can get things done, and grow in the way we want to, to accomplish our personal and business goals.

Sketchbook Skool is a great part of my life and the lives of lots of other people, my colleagues, fakulty, and students. Keeping it viable and thriving is challenging but rewarding and this summer has been one of our most important chapters, even though much of that work has gone on behind the scenes.

Advertising.

I signed on to do a three-month project for a former client which will take me through early October. I can’t discuss the deets but it involves a sizable budget and a fair amount of autonomy.

It has been interesting to fire up those sections of my brain that have been under a tarp for three years and see if they still work. They do.

It has also been interesting to see how I have changed in the past three years, how differently I work, how differently I view the processes of big corporations and of the advertising business. I must say I much prefer how we do things at SBS. So much less bureaucratic, more decisive, more flexible — but so it goes. I don’t miss working full-time for the Man but an occasional visit is fine.

Jack.

My boy graduated this summer and has spent a couple of months working to save up for his move to Los Angeles in the fall. It has been great to have him here with Jenny and me but bittersweet because we all know it’s the last time he’ll really be living here. Soon he’ll start his new life, far away, and I am savoring every one of the moments we have left.

At the end of September, I plan to drive with him from New York to Los Angeles to help him get setup in his new apartment and to leave him the family car. Then I’ll fly home and he will begin his next chapter. Gulp.

Cooking.

We spent last Spring having our kitchen renovated and we love the results. Jenny and I have a beautiful, sunswept place to cook now and we are making the most of it, visiting the farmer’s market, ordering mystery boxes of artisanal veggies from Fresh Direct, and having an excuse to buy even more cookbooks. Our kitchen is so big and well designed that all three of us can work in it together, without knife fights or saucepan jousts.

Exercise.

Maybe it’s my demographic, but more and more of my friends and relatives are getting decrepit. They’re spending time in the hospital, struggling to reach their shoe laces, filling drawers with pill bottles. I want to avoid that. My shingles experience last Spring really brought that home. I have been ever more dedicated to working out with my trainer Keith, to avoiding french fries, double dip cones, and the sun’s rays. I am also realizing that I am not meant to be thin but that doesn’t mean I am meant to be fat. I am, however, meant to be baldish, it would seem.

Ideas.

This summer I began a new habit: I start each morning by writing down a bunch of ideas. Each day I concoct a different assignment and write down whatever occurs to me. It pumps my brain with blood, clears the cobwebs, and is a nice habit. Most of the ideas are worthless but the occasional one is worth developing and that’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll share some of those lists with you here, in time.

Workbook.

I have a new book. It just came out at the end of August. It’s called Art Before Breakfast – the Workbook. It is designed to help you develop a creative habit, of drawing and seeing the world around you every day. If you have read Art Before Breakfast, you will recognize some of the content but it has been redesigned and expanded and printed on high quality sketchbook paper so you can not only carry it around with your for inspiration but also draw and write and even paint right in its pages. I hope you like it.

And if you prefer Frühstück to Breakfast, you will be glad to know that the original Art Before Breakfast is soon to come out in German. That will be the sixth edition foreign language, including Spanish, Russian, Korean, Mandarin and I forget the other one. Aussie?

The fall.

Well, I hope you had a great summer too. Do tell me about it.

School’s back in session, I have my new shoes, fresh haircut and sharpened pencils and will be at my workstation, posting semiregularly again. So get used to coming back to this same batchannel in future for more ruminations on all things creative.

Inspiration Wednesday: Fun with Faces

I am working on my homework for Week Four of Polishing at Sketchbook Skool. Nelleke Verhoeff is a fantastic teacher, a former street performer, hilarious and imaginative, and if you have missed her klass, please try to take it next time Polishing comes around.

 

A pox upon me.

I like to make stuff. Probably too much. I can sit at my tiny desk in the corner of Jack’s old room, oblivious to the workmen ripping our kitchen apart, wiener dogs napping on my feet, frittering away hours on an edit or a paragraph until Jenny pounds on the door and tells me I absolutely have to take a break or I will be crippled by sciatica. Sitting, she yells through the door crack, is the new smoking.

I’m not always efficient. I can piss away time looking for a new plugin for an app or watching YouTube how-to videos or reading a whole book which I just wanted to consult for a quote. But I like to think that all this meandering is filling my well and making sure that the lion that brings me great ideas will eventually yawn, stretch, see me with my head down and drop some inspiration in my lap. Usually works.

ABBW cover proof Over the last month and a half though I have felt distracted. Still about 80% productive, but distracted. We got married and that took up some time. We are doing our kitchen which requite a ridiculous number of decisions and visits to Home Depot. We are just about to launch a new kourse at SBS which takes a lot more work than you probably think it does. Shut Your Monkey is out and about. And I just got the cover proof for my next book which will be coming out before you know it.

But this number of balls in the air  is pretty normal for me. The only problem is that one of those balls is on fire (which sounds like an ad for Cruex).

It all began half way through my visit to Vietnam when I began to feel a tenderness in my ribs. I thought it came from leaning too hard against the edge of my desk but it persevered. Then, on one of the last days I was there, I woke up with a Braille-like rash splayed across my chest. We were having a sketchcrawl that morning and one of the sketchers was the school nurse. She looked at the rash and diagnosed it immediately: shingles. She got me some ointment at the pharmacy, and we went off to draw.

The next day the rash was worse and the ointment didn’t seem to being helping. To make things more interesting, I had to spend 24 hours at the back of a plane flying home to New York. I saw my NY doctor first thing the next day but he said it was too late to do much about it. The antiviral pill I should have taken when I got the first symptoms wouldn’t help at this point and I’d just have to ride it out.

It’s been a long ride. Tomorrow it’ll be five weeks since that day in Hanoi. I spent a few days in bed because if I am run down the symptoms are worse. My rash turned into blisters that eventually drained and left me without a few layers of skin and my nerves in a jangle. On my wedding day, my heart was full but my chest was sizzling. Each day it gets better but there have been a lot of days and there are probably a few score to go.

Shingles do lots of things. Sometimes they feel like someone has belted a bunch of Brillo pads to my chest. Other times they ache or tickle or go numb. I can have sensation in one place that moves to another. It’s totally unpredictable.  Basically they get on my nerves which are like a bunch of rogue electrical cables flailing and sending sparks through my rib cage. Oddly, when I just lay my hand on my skin, it reorients them and they simmer down, at least for a while.

I’ve had acupuncture, taken Vitamin B complex, rubbed on tubs of cocoa butter — but it seems that time is the best medicine. And I have to use my time wisely, not overdoing things, and being patient.  Of course, taking it easy isn’t me, but Jenny’s at the door. I gotta take a break.

I have refrained from sharing this with you for a while because I think there’s nothing more boring than talking about your health. But I did want you to know that I have lots of ideas for what I want to write about here, more than just ads for books and kourses — but for now, they’ll have to just keep simmering in the old brain pan.


P.S. Happy BD, PL!

 

Take three.

What with this, that, and lots of the other, I haven’t gotten around to telling you about a brand new klass I am teaching in the new Kourse at Sketchbook Skool. So I shall. But first, let me show you a little film about the kourse and its fakulty.

I also wanted to tell you what I was thinking in putting it together. This has actually been harder to do than I thought (the telling, not the putting together). In fact, this is the third film I’ve made on the subject this week and I hated the first two. So this time I shall just turn on the camera and see what comes out. If it’s boring, don’t worry. Polishing, I assure you, is not.

I hope to see you in klass. It begins on April 15th and you can learn more about it here.