The Fine Art of Hypocrisy

     The terms “Starving artist and “Famous after death” have never sat well with me. They’ve always struck me as being simplistic and condescending. People who toss around these dimwitted epithets do so with an air of derision and a sense of warped frivolity. It’s all a big joke to them. They don’t care. First, they insult you, and then they proceed to ask, “By the way, can I talk to you about designing a free logo? Helen Miren famously said that she would advise her younger self to use the words “Fuck off” more often. At fifty-five, I have learned that lesson. Being blunt and to the point is also a fine art – you have to know when to land your punch. Don’t get me wrong, some people genuinely love, understand, and value what people like myself do. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. Regrettably, they’re not who I encounter most often. Usually, it’s people from the other faction that I run into, the people who dub everyone an artist and attempt to get cheap work out of them. 

     In all my years of making art, there’s one thing that has become more than clear to me: it’s not skill or talent that most people value. It’s the price tag that’s attached to your work. The bigger, the better. A little fame doesn’t hurt either. The mighty dollar and notoriety are a potent narcotic cocktail and aphrodisiac to most people. One drink, and suddenly you’re the toast of the town; people want to be around you, have you at their parties, and take you to dinner. Some people think that crack or meth is a big problem; trust me, crack and meth have nothing on money, greed, and power. It’s why terms like “Supporter of the arts” are dubious at best. I know people I would consider actual supporters of the arts – they’re a precious handful. They buy art, and they pay full price. It’s a glorious thing. Most would-be supporters of the arts are nothing more than hypocrites who can’t differentiate between Michelangelo and Charles Schultz and who insist on giving their money to people like Denzel Washington. They haven’t figured out that Denzel Washington doesn’t need their money.

     Thanks to social media, we’ve reached a point where anyone can hawk their wares to whoever is willing to buy them. There are advantages and disadvantages to that: on the one hand. It allows any hardworking artist to get his work seen by the public, and that’s fabulous. On the other hand, it won’t be long before drunken monkeys make art and proclaim, “I got prints.” Platforms such as Instagram have become virtual flea markets for art. Every Tom, Dick, or Harry with even the slightest inclination towards making art is there, prints in hand. Do you laugh, or do you cry? I don’t know. This phenomenon is rooted in the lack of art education in our schools, amongst other things. If you do not understand the amount of work an artist puts into refining a skill, how can you value them? Artbooks and museum visits are nice, but that’s just the surface of it, not the guts. If you happen to know someone who makes art professionally, talk to them and ask them about what’s it like to make art. I guarantee that what you hear is going to be different from what you think. 

     With the advent of social media and smartphones, people’s perceptions of art have changed a lot. Frankly, it’s not just in the visual arts where you see this change. You see it all over the place. In a nutshell, in regards to visual art, it boils down to this: if you can fling paint at a canvass, then you are an artist. It doesn’t matter whether you have a skill or not, just as long as you can soak that canvass with blobs of paint. You may be wondering why something like this would interest me. It’s simple: it’s because “Anyone can be an artist” sends the wrong message to people about what artists do. To be clear, when I say artists, I am referring to professionals -not hobbyists or people who do it as a side hustle. I’m talking about the people who make art day in and day out for a living. Please understand that I will always stand up for the people who have spent their lives busting their asses to elaborate skill and refine it to a high level. Refining skill requires a certain level of commitment. It’s a level of commitment that most people aren’t willing to make.

      Making art isn’t a free ride. Artists invest copious amounts of time learning their craft because it’s something important to them. It’s not a hobby – it’s their livelihood. Attempting to devalue or minimize that in any way will never sit well with me. If you think anybody can be an artist, I cordially invite you to pick up a pencil and take a whack at elaborating actual real skill. Instead of pushing the notion that everyone can be an artist, we should present the idea that being an artist requires as much work as anything else and that hard dedicated effort pays off. Trivializing what artists do is insulting and helps nothing. 

     Some people ask, “Why is your work so expensive?” It’s not – not by a long shot. If your idea of expensive art is twenty-dollar paintings seen at the flea market, then I’m the motherfucking Louvre. The price that I place on my original work isn’t something I’ve arrived at willy nilly. Besides the cost of my materials, my education, knowledge, years of experience, and skill level all determine the price of my work. Is it expensive, perhaps? Is it fair? It absolutely is. I’m often gobsmacked by how little the general public understands such things. When you buy work from me, you’re getting art created with skills perfected over decades. Beyond that, you’re getting something that is unique, and that has singular value.

      The surface of my work is alive with human involvement and thought. The image I’ve brought forth results from a long series of decisions – I have thought about every detail. I do this over and over until I am satisfied with my composition. All the choices I’ve made are evident on the surface of the original you buy from me. In the digital age, you don’t have that tactile dimension. Instead, you have things like the newly minted NFTs that people use to validate ownership of digital files. I skeptically watch at a distance as people pay exorbitant amounts of money for the right to be declared the official owner of a digital file. A digital file is not an original piece of work. You cannot touch its surface and feel the paint or ink with your fingertips. In my era, you had copyright – artists still have copyright. It’s something that happens automatically upon completion of a work of visual art. If someone wants to own the copyright in addition to owning my original, they will pay for a complete buyout upon purchase. Desiring this can often triple the price of a piece of work; hey, if you want my copyright and the bragging rights of being the owner of my original, then you’re going to have to pay steeply for it.

     As you can see, there are all kinds of things happening when it comes to making art. More than ever, an artist must know who they are and what type of work they want to make. They should have a reason for making art beyond making money, creating a product, or creating content. Along with a strong sense of self, they should also have a robust set of skills that they have mastered. If you can go to art school, go. If the school is in a major city, you’ll also get an education outside the classroom. Experiencing culture firsthand is one of the best things that you can do. Growing as a person is just as essential as growing as an artist. Learning from the best in your field of study will advance your skills by leaps and bounds. There’s nothing like in-person technique demonstrations. 

     I know, I know, art school isn’t affordable for everyone. I get it; it’s expensive – more now than ever. There are other alternatives: community colleges seem to be offering a much higher level of education when it comes to the visual arts than in the past. You can save money by starting there then transferring. You can also choose to be an autodidact. This route is much trickier as it requires double the drive you usually need to become a professional. If you’re hell-bent on succeeding, you can do it, but those who triumph by taking this route are the exception, not the rule. Lastly, there are online courses and YouTube. Choosing this would be my last choice unless you’re already a professional with experience. If you’re a novice who’s just beginning, I would be aware. You can teach certain basics via video, but that’s limited. You cannot learn to draw the human figure on a computer – you have to be there; otherwise, it doesn’t work. Lastly, teaching art via video has become a cottage industry where any Joe Blow can proclaim to be an artist. If you’re not careful, these slick wheeler dealers will reel you in and take your money. If the person teaching me isn’t solid in basic skills like drawing and painting, why would I want them to teach me? If you’re a hobbyist, these types of things could be beneficial, but if you’re serious-minded and wish to become a professional, I would urge you to go and sign up at your local community college. The worst thing you can be as an artist is ignorant. Master the basics, learn about the history of your particular discipline, and understand where you come from and what you’re doing. Above all, realize that making art professionally is no free ride. You either put the work in, or you don’t. Finally, stay away from people that believe that everyone can be an artist. They’ll never truly value your work.

 

Illustrations used in this blog post.

Renee. 2010. approx 9’X12″. Pencil, pen, ink, and gouache on paper.

  1. I love drawing portraits that reveal something about the subject of the drawing – a small personal detail that adds a deeper level to the artwork. My friend Renee has unique features that I felt would make a wonderful drawing. She graciously agreed to pose for a series of pictures that I snapped while visiting family in Southern California. As always, I take numerous shots so that I can cherry-pick the best ones. It’s not too hard to find good shots when you have someone with wonderful features like Renee. As I snapped my photos and we chatted, she told me that she was of Indonesian descent. I was automatically intrigued and wanted to find a way to convey that fact in my drawing.  Anyway, I started with a preliminary done in red pencil. At the time, I thought that using a color underneath my inkwork might give it a little more depth, but for some reason, I didn’t follow through with my idea. I honestly don’t remember why, but who knows, maybe I’ll go back and give it a shot.
  2. The most important thing to me at the beginning of any drawing is getting a solid pencil preliminary done. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to do this as you begin your drawing. Everything has to be worked out at this stage: proportions, facial features, likeness, details such as hair, etcetera. If these things are not worked out here, you risk making time-wasting mistakes later on. At this stage, I was still trying to figure out how to incorporate my friend’s Indonesian heritage into my design.
  3. Here you have the finished article. As you can see, I incorporated a repeating Indonesian pattern in the background. It was this detail that brought everything together for me. I’m well pleased with my drawing; without it, it would be just another nice pen and ink drawing that says nothing. Interestingly, my desire to give my portraits personal depth has not ceased since I did this drawing but, instead, increased. I find myself more interested than ever in doing drawings that reveal personal stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death, Art, and The Universe

     My father-in-law is nearing the end of his life, and his passing in the coming days will tear our family asunder. The heartbreak is palpable in the thick, hot desert air that blows around us. Saying goodbye is never easy, and there’s never a perfect time to do it. It’s something that no one likes to do but that we all have to accept. All we can do is try our best to navigate the heartache.

    My father-in-law passed away five days ago, on July 3, 202. The past week has been brutal, to say the least – especially for my wife. It was barely a year ago that we lost my mother-in-law, and now my father-in-law is gone as well. It feels so unfair. You’re supposed to have time to finish grieving before having to say goodbye again. My heart aches for my wife, and I wish I could make things different for her, but I can’t. I lost my mom years ago, but I’m not entirely free from the hurt of her loss. It’s always there, lurking in the background, waiting for situations like the one I’m currently going through to assail me. Dealing with death is fucking hard – there’s no other way to say it. Each of us finds a way to deal with it as best we can – that’s all we can do.

     Today, I find myself standing on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. I haven’t been here in thirty years, and it feels good to be back. My wife has gone to walk down the shore by herself – I don’t mind. She needs some alone time to think about her dad. I, too, need some alone time to ruminate over things that have been stealing my sleep at night lately. As my feet sink into the soft, wet sand, I look to the horizon and feel myself gazing into infinity and connecting with God and the universe. As I stand transfixed, a plethora of thoughts come rushing to mind as the cool ocean breeze blows across my face and the sun bounces off my Ray-Bans. It’s impossible not to recall my art school days of the late eighties when I would come to Ocean Beach to drink and waste time with my college friends. Those halcyon days were a magical time that will always hold a special place in my heart. They were some of the best times of my life, but they were not my best days – those have yet to come. More than anything, it’s the promise of those days yet to come that looms large in my mind as I stand gazing into infinity. The talent that was so obvious at the time got honed over the past three decades, and through good times and bad times, I fulfilled that promise. Now, it’s time to move on to the next phase. That next phase is what’s occupying my thoughts on this wind-swept San Francisco day. 

      The next phase in my journey will be about creating things that say something about me and that matter to me. Storytelling will be important to my work once again after many years of being almost non-existent.  I will add my love of music, books, documentaries, food, and traveling to the pot to thicken and enrich the stories I tell so that I can leave you with a satisfying feeling of satiety. If I’m going to give you an honest portrayal of what I do, I need to write honestly about that. After thirty-five years of making art, you better bet that I have an opinion about things. I believe that an artist’s work speaks for itself. If you have indeed acquired real skill, then your work will show that without the need for any hyperbole or explanation. We live in a world where people confuse social media likes for knowledge. For most people, the difference between a hobbyist and a professional continues to be a conundrum.

     For those who may be offended by my directness, you should be aware – my opinion isn’t always the popular opinion, but it will always be the honest opinion.   

Illustrations used in this post.

  1. Gitana MoriscaA sketchbook spread from 2020 with ideas and notes for a series of decorative panneaux based on flamenco. I was inspired to celebrate my love for flamenco after watching a documentary on the genius flamenco dancer Sara Barras. The passion and elegance in flamenco dancing are undeniable, and this powerful combination is something that has to exist on paper. These sketchbook pages are the beginning of an idea; the coming months shall see these rough ideas worked out and refined. 
  2. Revenge. When I was in art school in the late 80s, I majored in illustration and was ingrained with all manner of illustrative formulas and ways of doing things. Because illustrators work for magazines, they must complete their work quickly, so their original art size must be manageable. This practice has stuck with me for decades, and I want to break free of it, so I have decided to produce a series of much larger drawings than my usual size. I have a long list of ideas that I’ve kept intending to execute in a larger format – it seems as though that time has come. The content of these larger works will be a lot different than what I usually do; not only will these ideas be larger, they’ll also be a lot more personal in content; I look forward to the challenge that I’ve given myself.
  3. Dr. Nina Ansary. Dr. Ansary is an Iranian-American historian and author best known for her work on women’s equity in Iran. Dr. Ansary’s research has notably countered conventional assumptions of the progress of women in Iran while continuing to advocate for complete emancipation. In recent years I had started to feel that my blog posts had begun to look and sound cliched and that they did not offer any insight into who I am as an artist to my readers. My worldview and interests were not very visible in what I was writing, which needed to change. The world is full of interesting people such as Dr. Ansary and Sara Barras; they are precisely the type of people that I wish to fill the pages of my sketchbook with and who I want to write and draw about in my blog posts as I move forward. 

      

Why So Expensive?

       In all my years of making art, there’s one question that never ceases to come up: “Why is your work so expensive?”

     I set the price of my work based on the amount of time it takes me to complete it. Of equal importance is the quality of the materials I use in its creation and, most importantly, the years of education and the hard work I have invested in honing my skill to a highly refined level. The amount of effort that goes into creating a piece of work from start to finish is something that most people misunderstand. Let me explain to you how that works.

     When I graduated from art school, two things were at the top of my list: selling my work and having my work seen. Unfortunately, this desire left me open to every cheapskate imaginable. These tacaños all possess one quality: they never want to pay full price – EVER. They always have a reason as to why they can’t do it, “My car needs a brake job, and I can barely afford it, but I seriously want to buy your drawing. Can you lower the price?” “My daughter’s birthday is coming up – I can make the first payment now, and I’ll pay you off when I get my next paycheck?” Whatever. When you’re fresh out of college, these occurrences are a given – you will encounter these shameless lowballers and grifters. They’re unavoidable – sort of like roaches. 

      And if they didn’t want a discount, they wanted free work! Whether it’s a logo or a portrait of their mother, sooner or later, someone’s going to hit you up to work for free. The general public’s reasoning for their brazen expectation for free work is always the same: “It’ll be good exposure.” These fine folks are all, as my mom used to say in Spanish, “Como el azadón,” which roughly translates in English to, “Like the hoe.” A hoe pulls things in one direction, just like a grifter pulls everything toward himself. They take advantage of you when you’re young, optimistic, and fresh out of school. In the beginning, you do your best to overlook this nonsense because you want to sell your work, but after a while, it gets to be a bit much, and your patience starts to wear thin. No one who has worked for years to hone their craft likes getting hit up to do free work. FYI,  such actions and expectations will automatically put you at the top of any self-respecting artist’s shitlist lickety-split. 

     Even now, people continue to ask me about my pricing. After a while, it starts to really gall me. I often wonder if the people who ask me this question ask doctors, lawyers, or plumbers the same thing. Doctors, lawyers, and plumbers charge for their work based on things like education and experience, and no one ever bats an eye about it, but when it comes to art, it’s a whole different thing. Why are people always so skeptical when it comes to the price of artwork? They always seem suspicious of price and never seem to understand why a piece of work is “so expensive.” It doesn’t matter how well-crafted something is – they’re still going to be suspicious. All too often, people want to haggle about the price of the artwork in question and talk about getting a better deal. These fine folks are not subtle in their approach – they’re brash as hell, and they don’t give a damn. I’ve had people tell me they’ve seen art similar to mine at the fucking flea market. Sometimes I feel like a used car salesman trying to sell a Jaguar to someone who wants to pay as if they were buying a Gremlin. It gets old. My patience for cheapskates, bargain seekers, and lowballers is gone. I’ve done my share of charity handouts over the years. Never again.

     The general public’s bewilderment with price isn’t anything new, and it’s likely not going away anytime soon. Being well aware of this, I’ve decided that this would be a good time to point out the fine details of why a piece of work is “so expensive.” The piece that I’ll be using as an example is a pen and ink study of Carmen Aguado, Duchess of Montmorency, after the portrait by German painter Franz Winterhalter that I’ve produced in preparation for a more extensive drawing of Madame Aguado. My study is a 9″x12″ pen and ink drawing on paper. Not only do I plan to use this study to complete a larger, finished drawing, I will also be selling this gorgeous piece individually. My portrait of the Duchess of Montmorency is small and straightforward in approach, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that those things, or the fact that I completed it in my studio journal, will lessen my asking price of $1200.00. Here’s why.

     Firstly, a project like this takes longer than you think. This piece took me, from start to finish, close to twenty-five hours to complete. Twelve hundred dollars may seem like an exorbitant amount of money for a drawing, but if you do the math, you’ll realize that my time comes out to a paltry forty-eight dollars an hour. At that price, I’m practically giving away this fabulous piece of work. Great drawings result from accumulated knowledge and great skill; as with every new project, this study started with a solid preliminary pencil drawing. This sketch is the foundation of everything that will come afterward. At this stage, I need to work out certain things in a very exacting way. A small error in something like proportions at this stage can become a huge problem later. Spending extra time at this stage pays off later. My time is valuable, and I cannot afford to waste it by making foolish mistakes. Once I’ve worked up my initial drawing to where I’m happy with it, I make a tracing of it and continue refining it on tracing paper. When I complete this, I will transfer my drawing back into my studio journal and work out any last-minute details before moving on to the best part: drawing in ink. I would never consider moving on to this final stage if I felt unsatisfied with my preliminary drawing. Every i has to be dotted, and every t has to be crossed before I begin drawing in ink.

     For me, drawing in ink is the most enjoyable part of doing this type of drawing. Once I get to this stage, I’ve already done all the hard work and figured out things like proportions, values, likeness, et cetera in my preliminary drawing. Now it’s time to bring my pencil drawing to life; I do all my ink drawing with a Rapidograph technical pen. Rapidograph pens are refillable pens infamous for their non-flexible points; this unavoidable fact forces me to ink my pencil lines twice or thrice to get variety in my linework. In years past, I used to use a crow quill pen to do my ink work, but using a traditional dip pen requires waiting for the ink that flows from the nib onto the paper to dry, which takes up time. There is none of that when you use a technical pen; it’s why I lean so heavily on Rapidographs for my work. 

      In addition to the cost of my labor, I always insist on using the highest quality professional-grade materials available. The longevity of my work is important to me. It makes no sense to invest so much effort into something if it’s not going to last. The paper I use for finished ink work, Strathmore series 500 3 ply Bristol board, is entirely archival and of one hundred percent rag content, unlike cheaper papers made of wood pulp. The drawing inks I use, Koh-I-Noor Universal and Pelikan Schwarz, are waterproof and also archival. My drawing of the Duchess is in my studio journal, a hardcover LEUCHTTURM 1917 Master Sketchbook, and it’s on a 9″x12″ sheet of pure white, 150g/sqm paper that’s sewn into book form. My study is drawn in pen and ink using a technical drawing pen, and it has small touches of Winsor Newton Designer’s white gouache, an opaque watercolor that I’ve used to make corrections. I usually do studies for in-progress work on whatever scrap piece of paper is available in the studio. However, this time, I decided to do my drawing in my studio journal and not on an individual sheet of drawing paper. I don’t make it a habit to use my studio journal for full-size studies – instead, I use it to work out ideas for upcoming projects. Its pages contain various thumbnails, sketches, smaller studies, and technique roughs that will all assist me in realizing finished projects. This study, however, just seemed to belong there. When I am ready to sell it, I will carefully remove it from my sketchbook using an X-acto knife and lots of patience.

      Finally, the most crucial component of my pricing is quality. Nothing speaks more loudly or clearly than finely crafted work. Beautiful art is the result of hard work, knowledge, and experience. When you buy a piece of work from me, you’re not only paying me for my time and materials – you are also paying for all the years that have come before that allow me to make what I do. It’s not something that happened overnight or something that’s come about by hippy-dippy magic. The price I put on my work isn’t about ego – it’s about thirty-five years of education, knowledge, and experience. Decades of effort do not carry a cheap price. If I ask you for twelve hundred dollars for a piece of work, it’s because I believe it to be worth that much. My work is excellent because I have refined my talent and skill to an exceptional level through years of hard work. There is no hyperbole in this – I have slowly elaborated and refined my talent and skill over decades in anonymity. My work tells the whole story at a glance; none of what I do would be possible without the struggle that came before. 

     Creating art isn’t just about technique and materials – it’s about much more. It’s about the life experiences that an artist has lived through that give their work depth and help communicate the pathos and gravitas of their story. These things factor heavily into the price of original art. A close look at the surface of any professional’s work will show you all the experiences the artist has lived through to create their work. It’s all there – every mark and trace of pentimento are part of the artist’s story. I hope these details have given you a greater understanding of pricing. I have the utmost faith that you, my dear readers, will consider my words the next time you ask an artist, “Why is your work so expensive?”

An Introduction

Things have not changed.

   Even after all this time, making art is still a thrill; the creative flame burns more intensely than ever, and I continue to be susceptible to that spontaneous surge of inspiration that will keep me up drawing all night. Drawing remains a complete pleasure for me. Being the best at what I do still drives me relentlessly, and I continue to expect the best from myself. I’m as hungry and cocky as ever, and I’m still hell-bent on achieving the remainder of my goals. As I write this, I remain on the path I chose for myself all those years ago. In the beginning, I wanted to go to art school, I wanted to become a professional artist, and I wanted to achieve an exceptional level of skill. Over the past thirty-five years, I have chased these goals ceaselessly. There has never been a Plan B because failure has never been an option. I went to art school, I became a professional artist, and I have achieved an exceptional level of skill, but I haven’t finished yet; there’s still more to accomplish – a lot more.

   I have been blogging about my daily exploits since 2008 when art blogs were all the rage. At the time, people like France Belleville-Van Stone and Andrea Joseph were leading the pack and setting a standard through their art blogs. I was the new kid on the block. In the beginning, writing about my sketchbook musings seemed like a good way of giving people an idea about what I experience daily as an artist, so I started my first blog, Cubist Comix. Initially, I enjoyed the whole “this is what I drew today in my sketchbook” aspect, but as time went on, I began to feel like something was missing; I felt like I wasn’t telling the whole story. I was posting regularly, but I didn’t feel like I was saying much about being a working professional. By 2010 it became apparent to me that I needed a new space where I could write more authentically about my day-to-day adventures in the creative trenches.

      I said goodbye to Cubist Comix and created my eponymously-named second blog, Salvador Castío. That blog was also short-lived. It didn’t take long to realize that it wouldn’t satisfy my urge to have space where I could write more authentically and a place where I could house all of my ongoing work. This unfulfilled yearning led me to create my website, salvadorcastio.com – my home on the internet for the past decade. Several years would go by before I found my authentic voice and developed a vision of what I wanted for myself. Things began to change in earnest by 2016; by then, it was clear to me that the direction of this blog had to change. Giving people a more accurate view of what I do requires a very different approach.

   In late 2018 I began to incorporate more meaningful and diverse subject matter into my blog posts. Along with anecdotes about my daily exploits, my worldview must also be present in what I write to give you a complete image of my life as an artist. It’s easy to overlook what is going on around us when we’re so focused on our own story. Ana Kriégle was murdered outside Dublin in 2018 by two teenage boys who lured her to a remote location via social media. She was fourteen years old; her name is important, and you need to know it. There are many things and people in the world that are significant and whose stories deserve to be known. In 2019, for the better part of six months, I heard the anguished cries of an older woman who was living in a care center behind my house. Hearing her cry out every day was unnerving and heartbreaking. I could only imagine the mental hell that she was experiencing in her anguish. One day, the screams stopped, and I never heard them again. The silence was deafening. Her story deserves attention. These are the types of things that matter to me. They’re the things that will give you a more nuanced understanding of what I do and who I am as a person.

   The day-to-day routine of a professional artist is something largely unknown to the general public. It’s entirely different from what most people imagine it to be. I don’t spend my days painting happy little trees for a living; I’ll leave that to the Bob Ross’s of the world. The idea that I’m always happy when I make art is grossly erroneous. I experience occasional moments of great joy, but those moments are certainly not a daily occurrence. The only people who understand this are my fellow professionals who, like me, have been at it for decades. This life isn’t for everyone — there is no instant gratification when you play the long game. There are no free rides when it comes to making art professionally. You either put in the work, or you don’t.

     Over the last three-plus decades, all sorts of things have happened to me. You may be wondering what some of those things might be, so I’ll happily provide you with a few juicy tidbits that you can look forward to in future posts. I’ll tell you stories of people approaching me about making me famous, and I’ll share art school exploits about me and The Night Stalker in Los Angeles; if that isn’t enough, I’ll also tell you about being in London to show menu designs in the early 2000s during the mad cow outbreak. Finally, I’ll address some of the brain-numbing questions that people continue to ask me. All these things are infinitely more interesting to write about than confessional self-portraits or drawings of coffee-swilling patrons.

     Let’s start with some of those brain-numbing questions about me and my work, shall we?

          “Have you been working on your art?”

     No, Karen. It’s easier for me to hire a team of drunken monkeys to fling paint at blank canvases than to develop actual skill.

          “Have you been selling work?”

     Kyle, if you were an actual supporter of the arts, you wouldn’t have to ask me this.

And finally, the mother of all questions –

     “Do you still draw?”

You know Joyce, I feel for you, I do. It must be hard.

     These are the sorts of things that have driven me to write more honestly about my life as an artist. I can’t make this stuff up, and I refuse to sugarcoat it. It’s these types of things that will give you, dear reader, an insight into what goes into making art full time that’s far more profound than sketches of half-eaten sandwiches.

     My exploits are not unique. All working professionals go through similar things in one way or another. We’re all brothers in arms with individual stories decades in the making. It’s this that drives me to want to write; it’s what I know, and it’s the life that I’ve lived. There’s no hyperbole; there’s only my truth. A truth formed over more than thirty-five years of trials and tribulations, ups and downs, triumphs, failures, heartbreaking loss, and anything and everything you can imagine along the way.

     As I move forward, this blog is going to reflect all these things and more. I will share down-and-dirty anecdotes of five hundred dollar hand-made watercolor brushes along with lurid tales of dried-out gouache, cheap crappy kneaded erasers, and the clueless general public. Along with all this, I will also happily tell you why supplies from Michaels and Aaron Brothers suck and how to hang an exhibition properly. I shall pull no punches nor feign anything. Please join me – the best is yet to come.

Notes about the images in this post:

  1. Maria Aguado, Duchess of Montmorency (After Franz Winterhalter). 2021. Study. Pencil in sketchbook. A study for a drawing that needs to be enlarged and have more details added before being drawn in pen and ink.
  2. Flamenco (Bulería). Idea for panneaux. 2020. Pencil, pen, and ink in sketchbook. The first in a series of decorative panneaux based on various flamenco styles. This is but a start; it’s going to require many many hours of solid work before this idea can crystalize and come to fruition.
  3. The Non-Noetic Beast. 2021. Graphic story idea. Pencil, pen, ink, in sketchbook. An idea for a graphic story that will address the anti-intellectual atitude that has been unleashed upon the world via the internet, social media, and smartphones. We’ve created our own Frankenstein monster and now we have to deal with it.

A Decade of Evolution

The last ten years has been a time of great change and growth for me. A decade ago, I was in a very different place both professionally and artistically. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I found myself in a dead end job and my skill as an artist had diminished to a shocking degree. This, as you may well guess, horrified me. What once had come so easily to me was now something I struggled to do. That was something that I could never accept. I could never allow years, decades really, of effort to dissipate before my eyes. I was taught to never give up and therefore have a complete inability to give in when it comes to my goals. 

That’s why my wife and I decided that I should leave my dull and lifeless county job and focus on creating work and improving my skill full time. I knew that I would have been able to do this at some point and had been working towards it as a goal from the moment I had been forced to leave the path I was meant to be on, but being able to do it at that time has allowed me to use the past ten years to both hone my skill as an artist and to create work that has risen to a level of excellence of which I am proud.

The following twelve pieces of work represent my evolution as an artist over those ten years. They are a testament to my unshakable persistence and determination as well as examples of my total unwillingness to accept anything but the best for myself.

 

Auguste Rodin. 2012. Five years prior to this drawing, my brush rendering skill was such a complete disaster that I was unable to complete any work using this technique; it had been many years since I had last worked with a brush prior to that. After five years of daily and focused work, this drawing not only showed me that I was on the right track overall, it also turned out to be the finest example to date of my brush and ink technique. 

 

Virginia Woolf. 2012. I create most of my work using pen and ink, only using pencil in the preliminary stages of its creation or, on occasion, in my sketchbook. However, I do enjoy creating an occasional pencil piece and this portrait both shows my skill at its best and was yet another indicator that I was on the right path. 

 

Madonna and Child. 2014. I expect to see excellence in all my work, including my sketchbook. This drawing was the first to show that I was serious about leveling up my sketchbook work and exemplifies the path that I knew would force me to grow and reach that excellence in my sketchbook and elsewhere. 

 

Stephen Biko. 2017. A portrait of the iconic South African anti-apatheid activist and martyr. This drawing is without a doubt a crystal clear example of how much my draftsmanship had evolved between 2010 and 2017.

 

Maria Zambaco. 2017. This portrait of Burne-Jones’s muse and lover demonstrates a new level of excellence in my work. There’s a subtlety and finesse in it that had previously been absent in my pen and ink work. It’s taken me decades to reach this point. 

 

David Bowie. 2017. Much like my portrait of Maria Zambaco, this drawing is quite simply a serious leveling up in regards to technique. It’s one of the best drawings that I’ve ever done and I’m very proud of it.

 

Jane Morris. 2017. My portrait of the famed Pre-Raphaelite model and muse. I was clearly starting to level up my pencil work here.There’s a refinement and subtlety in this drawing that is not in my prior work.

 

Picasso. 2018. Completed four years after Madonna and Child, this sketchbook portrait of Picasso is an indicator of the ever increasing level of my sketchbook work. Excellence should be in everything an artist does.

 

Anthony Bourdain. 2019. When I first read Kitchen Confidential I immediately recognized a kindred spirit in Tony. His attitude towards cooking reflected my own attitude towards art: You’re either serious about what you do or you’re not. Like Anthony Bourdain, I don’t have time for bullshit or mediocrity. He called a spade a spade and wasn’t scared to do so. I loved that about him. This is another example of a higher level of sketchbook work.

 

Flamenca. 2019. The melding of technique and voice is something that all artists desire to achieve; it’s pivotal in creating exceptional work and separates my work from that of everyone else. It is impossible to overstate the importance of achieving a level of technical excellence to use in service of expressing a unique voice and worldview.

 

Ana Kriegel. 2019. I first heard about the murder of Ana Kriegel via my friend Jim Fitzpatrick who tweeted about it. As I read about this heinous crime, it made me think of how quickly the names of innocent victims are forgotten after the fact. Their loved ones live with an overwhelming sense of loss every single day – their hearts are shattered forever. The names of the victims of these horrible acts deserve to be heard and remembered. This portrait of Ana Kriegel, who was murdered outside of Dublin in 2017 by two teen boys that she’d met online, was my attempt to bring some dignity to Ana’s name and memory. It’s pretty clear that my technique is stronger than it’s ever been. 

 

Neeners. 2019. The creation of this piece, a commission for some dear friends, changed everything upon completion. As unlikely the subject is, the achievement of its creation fills me with a great amount of pride – all my years of dedication and unrelenting hard work are expressed in this work. The promise and the potential that were there in the beginning decades ago are coming to fruition now. This drawing stands as a statement of intent; my skill has reached a formidable level and it’s clear that what’s to come will not only live up to the standard of excellence that I’ve chased for nearly four decades, but will also define me as an artist. The best is indeed yet to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny Gems

Dr. Nina Ansary. 2020. Pencil preliminary in sketchbook

Some weeks ago I lamented the anti-intellectualism that’s running rampant in my beleaguered country. This week isn’t any different; the flagrant and callous imbecility continues unabated on social media and it isn’t going to stop. All the uneducated, misinformed wannabe epidemiologists and virologists spewing their opinions on social media were selfish assholes before all of this started and they’ll continue being selfish assholes long after this is over and done with. That, dear friends, is the last you’ll hear from me on this topic. I don’t know about you but I have better things to do.

Truth be told the aforementioned situation actually has some value to offer If you look for it. In the grand scheme of things, the daily shitshow on social media is nothing more than a pathetic example of just how stupid and self-centered humans can be. In that sense, it’s a complete and total waste of time, but if you dig beneath its bloated ego-laden surface, you’ll find a nice little tidbit of wisdom: Life is short. Live your best life without compromise.

It’s easy to get caught up in the anti-intellectual mire that is modern-day America, but that, dear friends, is a choice. Mental stimulation is always within arm’s reach, if you truly desire to have it. You can either watch another mindless sitcom or you can choose to read or watch something informative. Books like Anthony Bourdain’s classic culinary memoir, Kitchen Confidential offer profound understanding into the struggles and aspirations of a working chef. Documentaries like The Birth of the Cool, the recent Miles Davis documentary, are fantastic for giving you insight into the mind of a musical genius, and musicals like Hamilton expose you to the life of someone such as founding father Alexander Hamilton. The truth is that there are a plethora of things to choose from that will help stop brain rot. Choosing between a mindless sitcom or gameshow and Miles Davis is like choosing between a Big Mac or some gambas al ajillo. You get my point, right? Mental stimulation is out there, it’s not hiding. If you want to  continue growing as a person then the choice is yours. Evolving as a human being is part of living your best life. There’s many facets to living your best life, and a lot of that falls to the choices that you make as an individual. You either continue to grow or you stagnate. It’s all up to you. 

As an artist, I’m very mindful of all this. Perhaps because of my profession this kind of thing is that much more important to me than it is for other folks. For me, being an artist and learning new things go hand in hand. It’s because of this that I was able to go from being a kid from a humble background who read comic books by Jack Kirby to an art school graduate who counts people like Burne-Jones and Lord Leighton as influences.

At my age, my thirst for knowledge has not lessened; on the contrary, it has become even more insatiable. As I get older, my patience for conversations about mundane pedestrian things is getting shorter and shorter. I like to be around people who talk about ideas and about books they’re reading, different cultures, music, art, etc. This is where I’m at and it’s what I want.

These things are going to take on an even greater importance as time goes on. Art and  culture inform and influence me as a person and artist. Hispanophile, Anglophile, Francophile – yes, all of the above. This is just the tip of the iceberg. That fact that I speak fluent Spanish opens me up to an additional world of enrichment. As a kid, I grew up with Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, and the Three Stooges while also taking in the work of the equally brilliant Mario Moreno “Cantinflas,” and Roberto Gómez Bolaños in all his various guises. Anyone who speaks another language fluently knows exactly what I’m talking about. All of this influences my interests, my tastes, and most importantly, my worldview. Growing as a person doesn’t have an age limit. The only limits that exist are the ones you put on yourself. The world is too vast and too interesting to limit myself to one culture, one way of seeing things, so yeah, you can be pretty sure that when it comes down to it I’m always going to choose Miles Davis over over a sitcom. 

Agribusiness cities aren’t exactly cultural meccas, but if you’re hungry enough you’ll view that sort of situation as a challenge rather than a nail in the coffin. It’s a choice you make. As an artist and individual it’s important for me to continue learning about the world I live in. That means looking beyond the limited parameters of where I’m at. I refuse to stagnate in the all too familiar humdrum situation that could easily derail me at any given moment if I let it. Life is short and the world is too vast – go beyond the never ending monotony of everyday life and nourish yourself with the hidden gems that are out there waiting for you. 

This week, I have chosen to show you a piece of work before it is fully worked out and completed. In this case, it’s a pen and ink portrait of Dr. Nina Ansary that I’m currently working on. What you see here is a pencil preliminary from my sketchbook. It’s close to being done but still needs some work. Dr. Ansary’s features are very fine so they must be handled with the utmost finesse when drawing them. This is why I do a preliminary study beforehand. I need to be sure of what I’m going to be doing when I do the final piece so I work everything out before my pen ever touches the paper. In case you were curious, this is how art is made.      

A special thanks to Dr. Ansary for graciously giving me permission to do this portrait. 

An Idea

Lately I’ve been thinking that I need to do something in between my regular blog posts. I feel as if there needs to be spontaneous updates of some sort in order to keep me going and to keep this blog interesting. I had an idea today that I’m hoping will help fill the void between blog posts. I’m going to start posting and sharing from my WordPress iPhone app while out and about or when I’m feeling inspired to write something off-the -cuff that doesn’t warrant a full blog post. I feel good about this – little nigglings of ideas and whatnot before a blog post seems pretty damn appealing to me.

The graphic that you see here is a promo graphic that I recently created to share on social media. It’s an updated version of an earlier graphic that I had created late last year. My work is starting to reflect my 19th and 20th Century fine art influences more and more and I want everything I do to reflect this. The drawing in the graphic is a vignette taken from my carnet. I’ve had very favorable feedback from people that have seen this and that has led me to consider working this up into a formal drawing. Many hours would have to come beforehand before I could arrive at a suitable finish. Although I do not consider myself a graphic designer I will admit to liking the design of this graphic very much as it accurately reflects qualities I want associated with my work such as world-class draftsmanship, elegant design, and brilliant execution.

A Silver Lining

Dr. Nina Ansary. 2020. Pen, ink, and digital color.

This blog post originally started as a spontaneous “Here’s what I’m doing this Monday morning,” but after ingesting a near lethal dose of uneducated rubbish regarding, amongst other things, COVID-19 all day, it quickly changed. Sometimes I seriously wonder what the bleeding hell is wrong with people nowadays. Never in my life have I seen so many ego-driven, self-centered, fact-less opinions being doled out willy-nilly. Social media is an unending barrage of uneducated, misinformed bullshit – a literal daily shitshow. Sadly, the flame of anti-intellectualism has been fanned into a roaring blaze by the internet, social media, pop culture, and so called smartphones. We live in the information age and yet people seem to be dumber than ever. Nowadays, Joe Blow and Jane Doe are suddenly effing geniuses despite having barely crawled out of high school. Funny that. They don’t read; they have no intellectual curiosity, and they live on a steady diet of jalapeño poppers and pop culture. In short, they’re as hollow as the culture they come from. This is where we’re at as human beings: ”My ignorance trumps your knowledge.” It’s a sad state of affairs and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

I’m supposed to have sympathy for these schmucks? Yeah, that’s never going to happen. In the end, you have to decide how much of your time and energy you’re going to spend verbally slugging it out with the denizens of Slobville. They’re not going away anytime soon and verbally sparring down in Slobville isn’t high on my priorities list. The stupidity, the lack of empathy, and the all around selfishness have reached levels so nauseating that I think it’s time that I call it a day and cut back my time on social media before I suffer permanent brain damage. This, of course, excludes anything having to do with my work; the production and promotion of what I do will continue unabated.

Truth be told, I have much better things to do – you know, like make art. When I get sick and tired of people’s BS I retreat into my own little creative world where I can create, explore, and learn. Some might say that I live in a bubble. Perhaps. I might live in a bubble, but at least I’m being productive and that is reason enough to get away from social media and pop culture. Instead of going round and round with selfish, unempathetic idiots, I’d rather tell you about some of the things I’m currently working on. I’ve started to work on a new series of drawings that will likely carry me well into the fall; this batch of new work is some of the most complex work that I’ve ever done. I’m excited to be starting work on these new drawings which will represent me better than anything I’ve done previously.  Besides being some of my most ambitious work, these drawings will reflect my personal interests more clearly than ever before. Things such as Spanish cante, gitano culture, Moorish design, and late Victorian draftsmanship and painting will be woven into the images that I will be creating over the coming months.

We’re all living through an unprecedented moment in time, but we must all remember that as horrible as all this seems, it’s just a moment in time. In a few years it will all slowly fade into history as we start to return to a normal way of life. This unexpected pause to our daily life has a silver lining for creatives. This is an unexpected opportunity to be as creative as possible. I can’t help but feel as if the universe is tapping me on the shoulder and telling me to go balls out and create the best work that I’ve ever done. Hey, that sounds pretty good to me. Don’t miss out on this opportunity dear friends – the likelihood of something like this happening again anytime soon is pretty doubtful so unleash your creativity and go for it. For now, I will continue to remain positive and hopeful that a vaccine is developed in the coming months. Stay safe, wear a damn mask, and practice social distancing. We can get through this if we all do our part.

The drawing that adorns this week’s post is the second portrait that I’ve done of Dr. Nina Ansary. My first drawing of her from a few weeks ago wasn’t quite what I wanted; It didn’t really capture Dr. Ansary’s beauty, elegance and aplomb so I decided to do this second portrait. I like this drawing a lot better – it’s closer to what I would expect of myself and I’d like to believe that I’ve finally done Dr. Ansary justice. I hope that she feels the same way I do when she sees it.    

Live The Life

Marco Pierre White. 2020. Pen, ink, and gouache in sketchbook.

Everyday, somewhere in the world, there’s someone who will spend another day of their life toiling away in anonymity, hell-bent on becoming the best at what they do. They’re driven to make art by a creative urge that they were born with and have nurtured since childhood. Making art is all these people know to do; there is no plan B for them, no 401K, no trust fund; it’s either make art or die. Despite the lack of any type of a safety net they continue undaunted down their chosen path. They’re not  seeking approval or applause from anyone. A little money might be nice but, by and large, it’s excellence that drives them. The path they’re on is one that they’ve followed not for weeks or months, but probably for years and most likely for decades. For them, it all started with a dream, a belief, and a vision. From early on they knew they had the potential to be great and they were willing to chase that down and make it a reality no matter what. If any of this sounds familiar to you, then we are kindred spirits.

Being an artist in this century, or any century for that matter, is something that is grossly misunderstood by the majority of people who don’t make art and have half-baked ideas about what art is. That’s not a popular opinion, but it’s true. Although I could continue ranting and raving endlessly on that particular topic, I’m not going to because it’s not the reason that I’m writing this, despite the fact that it does play into what I’m going to talk about.

This post is about something completely different: it’s about what some people refer to as living the life. In my youth, I started to rehearse to living the life and everything that would come along with it. From the age of five I knew that I wanted to be an artist who would live from work that would be recognized on a global level. That goal has always been crystal clear to me. I knew that I had it in me to be great and I also knew that I had the persistence and dedication to make that happen. Legendary British chef Marco Pierre White said the following while talking about how it felt to achieve 3 stars and 5 red knives and forks, the ultimate ranking in the prestigious Michelin Guide to restaurants, “Things don’t happen overnight. You have to make the personal and emotional investment.” He’s absolutely right – you either give 100% of yourself or you will never achieve your goals. In a previous post, I spoke about playing the long game and how most people will never play it because the idea of spending years or decades perfecting a skill seems psychotic to them. There’s no instant gratification in it. It’s not an on demand thing. You can’t buy it. It’s something that takes years, often decades of tireless effort to achieve. There’s no two ways about it. Oh, and if you’re expecting any sort of adulation from the general public you can toss that idea right out the window. It’s not going to happen. People only care about success after it happens to you not while you’re working towards it. As soon as it happens, everybody wants to be your best friend, hang around you, and invite you places. Let’s face it, people are effing pathetic.  

Doing this will never be easy. You have to stay strong and you have to be resilient, otherwise you can easily get thrown off your chosen path by all manner of foolishness. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be great at what you do, but you should understand that most people are not going to understand that. There’s going to be lots of hurdles along the way and people are going to have a never ending list of why what you’re doing is a bad idea. In addition to that, you will encounter the strange phenomenon of people wanting to keep you down at a certain level and not wanting to see you rise despite allegedly liking you. The sad truth is that some people just don’t like watching others succeed. Do not doubt for a single minute that humans can be absolutely petty.

There’s always going to be someone trying to trip you up and throw you off, but the one thing that you have to remember is that you’re the person who decides who you are and what you are capable of. Being great begins with an inner belief and a vision. You can see the finish-line despite the fact that it’s decades away and through sheer will, determination, and bloody-mindedness you reach it. The majority of the people you know will never see that finish line. You are chasing something that is invisible to them. If you’re going to be great then you have to be that. Frank Lloyd Wright had some sage words when it came to this, “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.” Quiet tenacity has worked well for me. No matter what has happened to me in my life, good or bad, I have continued on. If your belief is made up of a hard-wired self confidence, education, experience, and the fact that you’ve rabidly earned every bit of skill that you possess inch by inch then damn it, don’t hide that. Proclaim yourself to be the best at what you do and rejoice in the fact that you have had the resilience to continue for years and decades while refining your skill to a high degree. There’s always going to be those that hate the fact that you’ve been able to do this but, hey, that’s their problem not yours. Comics artist and educator Jessica Abel had some kick-ass advice when speaking on this topic, “Be a poser. Be pretentious. Be ambitious. Be the thing you want to be.” If you’re going to live the life then live it to the maximum unconcerned about what anyone thinks or says and equally unconcerned with wanting attention.

As hackneyed as the saying life is short has become, it still holds true. I believe that in the end it all comes down to priorities. Those things that are deeply important to you will be at the very top of your priorities list without any excuses whatsoever. If the thing that you love to do has helped form the foundation upon which your life is built and helped shape you as a person, then that thing will automatically have the highest priority in your life. It’s something that has deep personal meaning to you; it matters to you profoundly, and you loathe having it trivialized. 

Making art is all that and more to me. I’ve invested my whole life into what I do and I’ve worked hard to earn all the skill I’ve acquired. When I was a young boy I knew that I had the potential to be great. As time went on I understood that it would take time and unrelenting effort to achieve that – if I never gave up, that is. There was a time, not that long ago, where that could have happened. I could have thrown in the towel, called it a day, and stuck to my cubicle job in hopes of reaching 65 so I could start having fun. Fortunately, something like that could never happen to someone like me. I was born to be what I am. The sensibility and aptitude required to make art were clearly present in me at a very early age. I knew that art was my calling ever since I was a young boy and I have never ever doubted that.

At the age of 54 I’m pretty damn clear about who I am and what I’m about. There’s no pretension in that statement, only a rabid self confidence. My patience has become non-existent for those that fail to understand me. I’ve spent far too much time putting up with people’s bullshit over the years. Doubters, skinflints, and  second-rate mediocre hacks no longer have a place in my creative sphere. I am what I am through and through and I’m not going to pretend to be anything else than what I know myself to be. If you’ve had a similar experience and relate to these words, then celebrate all that you’ve achieved, be who you know yourself to be, and above all, live the life. 

P.S.

  1. Always strive to the highest standard because the easiest thing to do in art is to be mediocre.
  2. Be hard on yourself, push yourself. No one is going to push you harder than yourself because no cares about your work more than you do.
  3. If you want to grow look and study the work of people that are better than you. In real life do the same, surround yourself with people that are better than you who will make you strive to be your best.
  4. Stay away from people who have stupid half baked ideas about art Those type of people think that art is a free ride. Stay away from them or they’ll drag you down to their mediocre level.
  5. Surround yourself with people who value what you do and who don’t expect things like discounts and free art. People who expect those things have no respect for your work; they’re cheapskates who are trying to get something for nothing. Tell them to fuck right off.
  6. It’s best to be by yourself and strive to be the best then to be amongst a group of people who settle for mediocrity. 
  7. Always remember that the cream always rises to the top. 
  8. Read about the lives of artists that you admire and for a better understanding of their motives and for guidance. An artist who doesn’t read is one dimensional and boring. 
  9. Forget fame and fortune and concentrate on love of craft and creating great work. Love of craft cannot be bought. If you lose it your work will suffer.
  10. Always be honest with yourself; never attempt to be something you’re not. Not everyone is cut out to be an artist – that’s not a popular opinion these days but who cares, it’s true. Making art takes years of hard work and dedication. It’s not something you buy, it’s something you earn. If you’re really cut out for it you’ll know and if you’re not you’ll know that too. it’s better to be honest than to be delusional. 

 

A Week In Review

Dr. Nina Ansary (Preliminary). 2020. Pen, ink, and gouache in sketchbook. 

Today will be another might-as-well-be-living-in-Sub-Saharan-Africa day in the Central Valley. Summers here are relentless and unforgiving and their effect on my ability to be creative is just one more hurdle I have to overcome in my daily routine. It is what it is.

This week I will continue to give you an insight into what it’s like to be a professional, working artist in the 21st Century. This week I am going to give you a peak into a working week from start to finish, warts and all.

Monday: My days start early, usually between 6:30 and 7:00 am. I normally start them with a book and my first of many cups of coffee. It’s always been important for me to read – an artist who doesn’t read is shallow in personality and short on ideas. I love reading about the lives of artists that I admire; it gives me an understanding of what I’m doing and where I’m going. 

This morning, I’m starting work on the second version of a portrait of Dr. Nina Ansary. My first preliminary pen and ink drawing adorns this week’s post. As always, I feel that it can be better, so I’ll likely redraw it. If I’m lucky, I’ll finish work on my preliminary pencil drawing by this afternoon amidst the sweltering and unbearable heat in my petit atelier. The drawing will be in a very elementary state: a tight but loose sketch that’s ready to be traced and transferred to my tracing pad where it will be refined. That probably won’t happen until tomorrow at the earliest because I’ve got lots of other projects that I need to get to. The pieces that I will be producing in the coming months are important to me and will likely be some of the best work that I’ll ever do. Great art takes time to create and I intend for these to be nothing short of extraordinary. After all these years, I’m still full of piss and vinegar, so without any hesitation whatsoever I can say that I will be going balls out on this new work and pulling no punches in its execution. My time has become precious and I despise wasting it. Most of these ideas are in a preliminary phase and there’s an unimaginable amount of hours left before I can even begin to fathom putting pen to paper and bringing them to completion. 

Tuesday: This morning my work continues on my second portrait of Dr. Ansary. I traced and transferred what I did yesterday over to my tracing pad, so now I can begin to refine and hone the drawing to where I want it to be – this usually happens after multiple tracings. Once I’ve got the drawing where I want it to be, I’ll trace it onto a thick sheet of 3 ply Strathmore series 500 Bristol board and start inking it with Rapidograph technical pens. 

By late in the afternoon, I’ve worked up my pencil preliminary of Dr. Ansary to a satisfactory level and move on to other projects. I’m in the process of organizing a publicity event for later this year that will showcase some of the new work that I’ve been talking about. All of my new work will reflect my love of 19th and 20th Century art, especially Pre-Raphaelite painters such as Sir Edward Burne-Jones and fin de siècle Symbolist painters, draftsman, and engravers such as Carlos Schwabe, Alphonse Mucha, and Gustave Doré. My new work will be a mélange of these influences and reflect personal interests such as Spanish cante, Moorish art, ancient English storytelling, and a myriad of others.

Wednesday: It’s midweek, and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with the process of choosing which projects I want to work on in the coming months. Don’t get me wrong, I want to work on all of them, but I need to zero in on the ones that need to get done sooner. It’s tough doing this because all of these projects are important to me. This feeling isn’t anything new to me, however; it’s part of my creative process. Big projects usually start like this and slowly but surely get organized in my mind. That normally takes place late at night when I’m lying wide awake ruminating on what to do. 

Today was a scorcher. When I say scorcher, you should know that it’s an understatement. I was only half joking earlier when I called the weather here in The Valley Sub-Saharan. Summers here in the Central Valley can be brutal with stretches of days where the weather is over 100° F. The heat is stifling and makes it a challenge to be creative. Scorching weather or not, the show must go on. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamic for everyone including me. Initially I found myself struggling to adapt to it. My wife is a private tutor who usually goes from home to home all afternoon and evening, but all that changed with this pandemic. I was used to days where I could take a break and either read or watch TV whenever I wanted to, but that was taken away from me when my wife started working from home. The first month and a half were kind of rough and I wondered how I was going to adapt to the change. Thankfully, my wife and I worked together to develop a solution. I wake up early and have the morning hours to myself and she stays up late and enjoys the quiet hours of the night. In addition, time has helped resolve the issue. I’m grateful that both my wife and I are able to continue working and doing what we do amidst this worldwide tragedy. 

Thursday: Today it seems as if the universe has listened to my pleas and bestowed a cool and cloudy day upon me. The preliminary pen and ink that adorns this post is something that I’ve been working on over the past few days along with everything else I’ve mentioned. I’m done inking it and making corrections, so it’s time to scan it and get it ready for posting to my social media accounts. The drawing is well done and whatnot, but I’m not sure I’ve captured my subject’s elegance and aplomb. It’s a solid start that will lead to a much stronger drawing when it gets worked up into a more finished piece.

Out of the blue, I’ve decided to start writing the post you’re currently reading a little ahead of schedule because I’m driven to do it; I spend the better part of my afternoon at the computer pounding out the beginnings of this post. The urge to write is something that’s becoming stronger as time goes on. Aside from these weekly blog posts, I’ve also started working on two manuscripts and a collection of short snippets of random moments. I’m not a writer per se, but I like to write, so this will now become part of my creative output – albeit at a much slower rate than my visual art. 

Friday: The universe continues to bless me with cool and cloudy weather. Praise. Today I’m looking forward to continuing all the preliminary work for my upcoming projects. One of the main factors that will differentiate this new work from things I’ve done in the past is that many of these new pieces will be substantially larger than previous work. This obviously means that it will take an even greater amount of time to complete most of the work I have planned. The most exciting thing about these new pieces is that I’ve been keeping a list of “Projects I Will Someday Have the Skill to Complete” for the past 35 years and I finally feel technically ready to undertake the work required to bring these ideas to fruition.

The week is ending on a good note. I ‘m feeling more productive than I have in quite some time. Work on all my projects is moving ahead, and I’ve got everything I need in order to move forward with everything that I want to do over the coming months. Onward, ever onward.  

It’s Always Expensive

Dr. Nina Ansary (Preliminary Drawing). Sketchbook.

I became a professional artist at the age of 25. At that point, I had some knowledge and a somewhat refined set of skills, but I had a long way to go before those things were truly polished and honed to the high degree that they are now. Five years of art school did wonders for me, but, truth be told, it was just a beginning. Of all the things that I learned during my years at Parsons School of Design and the Academy of Art College, there was one that was sadly missing: dealing with the general public. Such a class would have softened the blow to the system that happens when you start dealing with the GP. Instead, I had to learn that the hard way. Beyond all the erroneous ideas and misconceptions about art that exist within the GP there’s one thing that has stood out more than anything else: the trivialization and the under valuing of what I, and other professionals do. This became apparent to me right from the get-go, and it’s something that hasn’t changed over the years. Sadly, it’s probably gotten worse.

As a young professional, you want people to like your work and you want to get paid decently for your efforts. Because of this, you back yourself into a corner that the GP loves to exploit. If there’s one thing the GP loves more than cheap art, it’s free art. To add insult to injury, the GP assumes some sense of knowledge about what it takes to make art. These fine folks will commission you and then art direct a project straight into the ground with all their bad ideas. This nonsense is what folks like me have to put up with all the time. It’s also why I have stopped taking commissions. On rare occasions I may consider making an exception to this rule, if it gives me the freedom I need and pays me what I’m worth. You think I’m making this up? I couldn’t make these things up even if I tried. At this point I’ve heard it all and then some. The variety of erroneous ideas and misconceptions about making art held by the GP is truly breathtaking. No matter how crass people can be when it comes to art, nothing compares to the nonstop attempts to trivialize what people like me do on a daily basis. Years ago I was asked to draw a portrait for someone’s birthday. The person who was interested in commissioning me was a friend, so I waived the fifty percent fee I normally charge up front and assumed things would go as planned. Two weeks later, when I had completed the work, I was met with a plea of, “I couldn’t get all the money – can I pay you as soon as I get paid next week?” That week never came, and, in the end, I never saw one single cent for my efforts. The GP has no shame whatsoever in doing such things. The bottom line here is that, according to the general public art should always be cheap if not free.

I guess the one thing that I’ve learned over the years that’s spoken loudest to me is the fact that people are hypocrites when it comes to the visual arts. On the one hand they don’t believe that making art requires any real special skill. In the GP’s eyes art is something that everyone and anyone can do. No special talent or knowledge required. Before someone gets their knickers in a twist about what I just said, please allow me to clarify. I’m talking about professional level work here, not stuff that’s done by folks as a hobby or as a cathartic release. I’m fine with those things – they are, however, not what I am addressing here. What I’m talking about here is something that has existed as long as people like me have made art. A good example about what I’m getting at here is something that underground comix legend Robert Crumb has talked about. Until the age of 25 he had been pretty much blown off by most people. Nobody cared about what he did or how well he did it. Then in 1968, he drew the first issue of the seminal title, ZAP Comix, which made him a counterculture icon overnight. Crumb has often talked about how crazy his life became after his work began attracting attention. Everybody wanted to be his best friend; everybody wanted to invite him to their parties or to dinner. All the women who had shunned him suddenly wanted to sleep with him. Fame and money changed everything for him. They validated him as a “Real Artist,” in the GP’s eyes. Before that he was just another loser: nothing special. It’s this blatant dichotomy that’s hard to overlook. One day you’re a nobody doing work that anyone could do and the next you’re the toast of the town – a brilliant artist all of a sudden (as if you weren’t before). The GP always wants to have its cake and eat it too. 

After years of putting up with this kind of crap, you do one of the following: 1. call it a day and get yourself a dead-end cubicle job and cruise on down to 65, 2. swallow your pride, sell your soul, and start creating vapid art that caters to the bad taste and bad ideas of the general public, or 3. you come to your senses, take the bull by the horns, and proclaim yourself to be an artist that isn’t going to play the bullshit game that some expect you to play. We all get one go around in this thing we call life. We all decide what we truly want and its level of priority to us. Some people want to fly to the moon; some people want to be movie stars; some people want to sit in a cubicle eight hours a day until they reach 65, etc. My lot in life is to make art. I’ve known that since I was 5 years old and I have never ever contemplated doing anything else. I started like a lot of folks: with a dream and a desire. From an early age I knew that I had the potential to be great. As the years went by it started to become clear to me that fulfilling my potential was going to take decades of hard work. It’s what’s called playing the long game. Most people don’t have any idea about that because the idea of someone spending decades to perfect something is psychotic to them. Most folks will never be interested in playing the long game for one reason: there’s no instant gratification involved. We live in an age where we want everything by yesterday. We want to click a button and download it right now, we want it on demand 24/7. The notion of everything by yesterday doesn’t work when it comes to playing the long game. Truly great things take time: great skill, great work, etc. If you stick it out long enough you’ll eventually reap the rewards.

This is not something unique to me. Other people have also traveled a similar road. They too have invested blood, sweat, and tears into what they do. I refrain from using cliche terms like “Paying your dues,” because they fail to give an accurate picture of all the effort that a person has invested into becoming the very best at what they do. Despite everything I’ve been through, the crass and uninformed comments hurled at me over the years have served a purpose: they’ve forced me to make a clear and informed decision about what I want for myself. I’m acutely aware of the fact that you get one shot at what you want in life, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to do things my way. I’m not here to impress anyone or to collect accolades unless they’re from my peers. I do what I do to satisfy myself and no one else. I’m not easily dazzled and I’m very picky about the people I hang around with. I like to be around people who will challenge and pushed into making better work. If any of what I’ve written here comes across as arrogant don’t worry, I’m fine with that. Frank Lloyd Wright used to say that you can choose between honest arrogance or hypocritical humility. My choice is clear. Great things take time, especially great work. I value what I’ve worked for and it’s for this very reason that what I do will always be expensive. 

Alive and Kicking

Preliminary study for Ensueño. 2020. Pen, ink, and gouache in sketchbook.

Great things take time and hard work to make; there’s no two ways about it, you either put in the time or you don’t. I have believed that for as long as I can remember and it’s something that’s never going to change. This belief colors and informs everything I do as an artist and it is reflected most directly in my work. My work is the result of talent, education, experience, knowledge and years of hard work. If what I do is great it’s great because I’ve put in the time. There are no free rides in what I do, I’ve earned every bit of it inch by inch. 

Because of this, I have an attitude when it comes to being an artist. I make no apologies about it – it is what is. If I show no quarter in my opinion when it comes to making art you can blame it on education, knowledge and experience. I loath mediocrity and I have no qualms about dropping the hammer when I need to.

I recently decided to slow down the rate at which I post on social media and focus on my work. The last thing that I need to be worrying about is having to feed the hungry dog that is social media. In years past I felt compelled to make constant updates but that desire has run its course. What I make cannot be held captive by an insatiable need for updates. That mentality does not mix well with my fine art sensibilities so I have decided that it’s something that will not continue. New work will appear when I feel it’s ready to be seen and not because I haven’t posted something new in the last 10 minutes

The work that I’m currently doing is quite different to what I have done in the past. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say what I’m doing now is a complete about face to the way most people work today. For one thing, the work that I’m doing now completely eschews pop culture. In years past that’s where my attention and focus was at at but I’ve lost my interest in that sort of thing because it now rings hollow to me and, like my past need for constant posting to social media, it too has run its course.

Recently, my love for reading has been reignited and I am head over heals in love with the daily ritual of reading as I have my morning cup of coffee. My renewed love affair with reading has already had an immediate affect on me. I recently finished reading Fiona MacCarthy’s brilliant biography of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, the genius Pre-Raphaelite painter and artist-dreamer. The coterie of artists that make up The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood have long been an inspiration to me; Burne-Jones in particular has always been an example of what I should aspire to and a guiding light as well. Over the month that I spent reading Fiona MacCarthy’s book I began to question what I was doing in my work. It didn’t take me long for me to realize that I had strayed far from my path and that I needed to go back to the things that had inspired me in my formative years.

It’s for this very reason that I have chosen to slow down the rate at which I post on social media and to focus on my work. Great work takes time to create and I”m not interested in keeping up with the Joneses. That’s not what being an artist is about for me. I’ve invested decades of my life into what I do with the singular intent of being the best at it. It’s what’s called playing the long game. Most people have no idea what that means because for most people the idea of someone spending decades to perfect something is psychotic. There’s no instant gratification or 401Ks in it, only a minute number of people would ever do this. There’s nothing I can do about this because it’s my lot in life – I was destined to do what I do. Art is my life, it’s what I do every single day. When someone asks me if I’ve been “Working on my art,” they fail to understand what I do. I’ve decided to slow down my posting on social media because making great work is important to me and that’s where I wish to concentrate my efforts. Just because I’ve decided to  slow down my posting rate on social media doesn’t mean that I’m not hard at work each and every day; It means that I want to make amazing work so don’t ever doubt that I’m active because I am indeed alive and kicking.

The image that adorns this blog post is a detail from a preliminary pen and ink study from my picture Ensueño; it is one of the many in progress drawings that I’m currently working on.This oversized drawing is inspired by Burne-Jones, Lord Leighton, and John William Godward’s very best work. I hope I’m able to reflect that in the finished piece. In my scan I purposely let the white gouache that I used to make corrections with show through in order to give readers an insight into my working methods.     

Creating A Drawing

People often inquire about how I go about creating a drawing, so I thought I’d take this week’s post to answer that often asked question. 

The drawing that I’ll be using as an example for this post is my brooding pen and ink portrait of painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, cofounder of the English Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. When I decide to draw a portrait of someone, the person has to intrigue me in one way or another – there has to be a fair amount of depth and intrigue to them. If you know anything about Rossetti, you’ll understand why I chose to draw him: painter, poet, translator, visionary, and one of Victorian England’s greatest figures; the choice to draw him wasn’t difficult. 

The first step in my process is the search for good photo reference. This is a practice that was drilled into my head when I was an illustration major in art school and one that I’ve not abandoned despite no longer considering myself an illustrator. Fortunately, I found a great portrait of DGR by preeminent Victorian photographer, Frederick Hollyer. The next step is the preparatory pencil sketch where I establish all the angles and proportions of the face and where I start to indicate facial features. I usually do this using a Rotring 800 mechanical pencil using HB lead. I did my drawing in a Stillman & Birn softcover Alpha sketchbook. SB uses really sturdy paper so things like repeated erasing usually isn’t a problem. SB sketchbooks also take ink really well. This first stage is often the hardest as I have to make sure that all the angles and proportions are just right so that I don’t have to go back and correct mistakes later. Correcting mistakes that could have been avoided is just a waste of my time. 

In the next phase, I start to work up the subject‘s features in order to bring forth their personality. Features are a tricky thing; again, lots of attention must be paid to them at this stage so that the personality of the subject comes through. Setting a drawing aside for a day or two will aid greatly in picking out any mistakes that have been made. Once the preliminary drawing is at a solid stage of completion it’s time to move on to the final and most tedious stage: rendering in ink. 

The majority of my ink work is done with Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph technical pens. I favor point 0/.35 for most of my work. I prefer Rapidographs because they use real ink and are refillable. I’m no fan of supposedly modern disposable pens like those made by Micron. I tried them years ago and they felt flimsy and unreliable. My Rapidographs are solid pens that haven’t failed me in 35 years. 

The first thing I do when I start to render my drawing in ink is to outline the subject’s features. Once that’s done, I start to thicken my line work by going over my lines to add variety and depth to my them. At this point I start putting in the darkest values in so that I can contrast all lesser values against them. I repeat this until I achieve an overall and pleasing balance. Once this balance is achieved, I correct any and all mistakes with Winsor Newton white designer’s gouache. 

I’ve included my original version of my portrait  and the updated one I did a few months later. The drawing didn’t feel right when I finished it; some of the proportions were off and the value balance was off. Using gouache, I whited out a portion of his forehead at the hairline and shortened it. I also whited out some of the hair on the back of his head as well. In addition, I darkened the background. These changes really brought the drawing together and brought out that brooding quality that’s evident in Rossetti’s features. 

Pen and ink is amongst the most challenging of mediums to work with. It’s similar to watercolor in that everything must be well thought out before the actual rendering begins and because there’s very little room for mistakes. Yes, you can white out mistakes with gouache but it’s better not to make those mistakes to begin with. Pen and ink is also challenging to work with because of the difficulty in achieving subtleties in shading. Unlike pencil, pen and ink requires a lot more work in order to achieve this. If there’s one thing that’s true about pen and ink it’s that a well executed drawing has a definitive power to it that is unique to this drawing medium.

Lux Aeterna


When I woke up on the morning of February 24, 2005, I did so knowing that on that day I would have to do the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do: ask my mother if she wanted to continue living. I also knew that I would have to respect her decision no matter what it was. I sat by her bedside and held her hand on that overcast day and asked her three times if she wanted to continue onward. Each time she said no. Like most people, I was ill prepared to deal with this. All I could do was roll with the tide of uncertainty that had already enveloped my daily existence and hope that I’d survive it and not fall into that dark abyss that I teetered closer and closer to with each passing day. 

In that turbulent era, I adopted a daily mantra. It was something that my mom had said throughout my life and now I was telling it to myself: Onward. Ever onward. Those words defined my mother and how she lived every day of her life. When my mom turned 40 she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term autoimmune disorder that primarily affects joints. A common sign that someone has it is a gradual deformation of limbs such as hands. In its advanced stages, RA also attacks organs. Ultimately it was this that took my mom’s life at 70 years old. 

During the thirty years that she lived with this disorder, my mom fought the good fight each and every single day. I once asked her how she could live with such pain on a daily basis, and she said something that I’ve never forgotten, “I have accepted the pain, but I have to continue onward ever onward,” or, as she would say in Spanish, “Pa’lante, siempre pa’lante.” My mom was a fighter. 

Had it not been for rheumatoid arthritis I would have had my mom at least another decade. To say that I feel cheated by life would be a massive understatement. I wish she could have met my wife; she would have loved her – my mom always had a great respect for educators and education. I wish she could have seen me evolve and refine my talent to the level that I have. My brush and ink portrait of Auguste Rodin from 2013 would have thrilled her to no end. Despite the fact that my mother had zero formal art training, she loved art and never doubted my ability or my future. She always said that my brushwork was something special, and her eyes would have glistened with pride on seeing the brushwork on that portrait of Rodin. Alas, my mother will never meet my wife; she will never see the development of my skill and the work that I am producing now and will produce in the future. Although she’s no longer physically with me, however, she is more a part of me now than ever before. Now she is always with me; wherever I go, she’s there. She’s never far away. Her fighting spirit lives within me. She is my lux aeterna; an eternal light shining in my heart. 

My mom always believed in me and supported my talent. “Art is in the blood,” she would say to me, “and you have that.” My gratitude to her for her belief in me and her support of my talent is unending. It’s because of my mom that I’m an artist. From the time I was a small child, she astutely understood that her one and only son had a talent for making art. She always made sure that I had what I needed: books, supplies, tutors, etc. Despite my mom never believing that my talent came from her, she had an innate sense of design that became more and more obvious to me as I went through art school. Her sense of design was completely natural; she had never been taught about design and yet there it was. She always had a knack for putting things together and having them just look right. I’m never in doubt that this is where my own sense of design comes from. 

After she passed in 2005, I lost my way and my skill diminished. For so long I was unable to focus on my work and unable to sit and allow the ideas to flow from my brain like the ink from my pen. I never stopped drawing altogether, but I felt like I had suffered such a set back. It was like it put me years behind. However, I always remembered my mom’s words and her spirit: Onward. Ever onward. I learned from my mother to never ever give up, so I kept fighting, kept pushing, and now I’m seeing that fight pay off. Now, I draw better than I ever have. Because of that the direction that my work will now follow has become very clear to me. 

My mom always believed that I had the talent and the skill to be great. She made a lot of sacrifices to make sure I got the education to make that happen. She knew that the education she was giving me would live on long after she was gone. She used to tell me that the education she was giving me was the sword that would help get me through life. A decade and a half after I sat next to her on that overcast February day, saying goodbye and holding her hand, her fighting spirit is burning more brightly within me than ever before. She believed that I could be great and I don’t intend to disappoint her. 

The drawing that accompanies this post is a pen and ink study from my sketchbook for a larger drawing that I plan on doing later this year.

Voices Not Forgotten

The world seems crueler in 2019. It’s not really any worse, but it feels like it is. With the advent of the internet and social media, we are all now hyper-aware of all the bad things that happen in our world. The days of hearing only vague details about something happening in another part of the world on the nightly news are gone. Daily, we now get blow-by-blow, live on-the-spot, in-your-face reports about all manner of atrocities that are happening in any part of the world at any given time. 

As time has passed, I have felt an increasingly strong need to use my work to give voices that have gone silent a chance to be heard anew. Every day, there are atrocities committed all over the world that leave me speechless. Last week, it was another mass shooting at a high school in Southern California where more innocent people died, and yesterday and today, it was Fresno and Oklahoma. Tomorrow it’ll be somewhere else, and it’ll happen to people that you are currently completely unaware of. You will learn the names of these innocent souls because their lives will have come to a sudden and unjust end. You might not personally know these people who are lost to senseless violence, but that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. The names of the innocent deserve to be heard. Their lives deserve to be remembered.

One such person that I recently found out about is 14-year-old Ana Kriégel of Dublin, Ireland. Here’s a bit of Ana’s story from Wikipedia: “Anastasia “Ana” Kriégel (18 February 2004 – 14 May 2018) was a Russian-Irish girl who was subject to a violent attack, murdered and sexually assaulted in an abandoned house in late May 2018 in Lucan near Dublin. Ana was brutally murdered in May 2018 by two 13-year-old boys who lured her to a derelict farmhouse outside the city. Two boys, known only as Boy A and Boy B, who were 13 years old at the time of Kriégel’s death, were convicted of her murder, with one of the boys (Boy A) being further convicted of aggravated sexual assault. The two convicts are the youngest in the history of Ireland to be charged with murder.” 

Ana’s death was a senseless, cold-blooded murder. There are no words for this act of pure evil. Just like so many other victims of violent crime, Ana’s name deserves to be remembered. As an artist, I feel that it’s important for me to share these stories. It’s the least that I can do. I hope that my drawing has done Ana justice. 

Anguish and Luxury

A cool October breeze blows gently through the trees outside my house as leaves rustle, swoosh, and swirl to the ground. Along with the rustling of leaves there are other sounds that waft through the air on a daily basis in my neighborhood: neighbors mowing their lawns, kids going to school, people walking their dogs, and people out for their daily runs. Along with all that hustle and bustle is the sonic cacophony of police and fire engine sirens that seem a permanent part of the landscape. Without them blaring in the background this place would feel a little off-kilter.

Aside from the neighborhood sounds and the daily chorus of sirens, there’s another sound that fills the air near my house on an almost daily basis. It is perhaps even more unnerving and jarring than the aforementioned chorus of sirens. Directly behind my house there’s a small, rundown rehabilitation center for senior citizens; I’ve lived in my house for two years and up until six months ago everything seemed fine. Recently, though, I am forced to listen to the agonizing screams of an elderly woman who clearly suffers from some sort of a mentally debilitating illness. She screams at the top of her lungs nonstop for what seems like hours on some days. She’s clearly in mental anguish, and it’s unsettling to hear her call out in such desperation. 

I often wonder, “What if that was me?” The mere thought of going through what this poor woman goes through on an almost daily basis sends chills down my spine. More than anything, it reminds me of just how damn lucky I am. The fact that I wake up every morning in complete control of my bodily functions is a total blessing that I can’t overlook and yet sometimes I do. I can only imagine how much of a torture it must be for this poor woman to get through days that most of us spend pissing away on the most banal  and trivial of things. Think about this, you’re driving somewhere and someone unexpectedly pulls out in front of you and it triggers some ego-induced road rage that gets you to speed up and go and cut the person off just to satisfy some pathetic need to be dominant or perhaps you spend your days online spewing nonsense and reveling in the fact that you can because you choose to. We think these things are torturous and are the worst things that could happen to us. We go home and spend our time complaining about these things that are, in the larger picture, trivialities. The woman in the rehab center behind me doesn’t have those luxuries available to her anymore. Instead, she spends her days in a type of mental anguish that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Somebody has to feed her, dress her, bathe her, clean her, and most of all, make sure that she’s safe. Hissy fits about other drivers and what someone said to you on Facebook are things that are completely nonexistent in this woman’s world. Trust me, pissing away your time because you choose to do so is a luxury that most people take for granted each and every single day. 

The anguished screams that flow through the air near my house do not go unnoticed. Those screams have meaning to me. As one person fights with every ounce of her being to get through another day, I have the luxury to learn something from her and to gain some perspective on my life. Despite it all, things aren’t so bad for me. How could I even think that they’re anything other than damn good knowing full well that I could be the person screaming behind my house in the blink of an eye. 

I’ll leave you with this bit of food for thought: someone said something or posted something on Facebook that upset you. The woman in the rehab center behind my house is screaming in mental anguish as she struggles to get through another day. Now, please tell me again about  how upsetting your insignificant Facebook incident was. We all need to get a clue. 

Getting On With It

Summer. 2019. Pencil Preliminary (Study II). Pencil in sketchbook. 

As a self confessed and proud perfectionist I admit that I drive myself a little crazy at times. I’m not ashamed of being nit picky at all as that keeps mediocrity at bay at all times but sometimes I do feel the need to just jump in and get on with it. Spontaneity doesn’t mean that quality has to suffer. Solid draftsmanship is solid draftsmanship and that doesn’t change.

Lately, I’ve felt the need to loosen up a bit and shove my hands into the creative dirt. The main thing about all this is that I’ve decided to stop overthinking things and just do them. The only thing that matters now is creating and everything else takes second place to that. Interestingly, this approach is a throwback to past era of my life when I was much more willing to be spontaneous and experimental. Those things have their importance but there must be skill beneath them to give them support otherwise they’re there’s really nothing there.

The drawing that accompanies this post a drawing of a good friend of mine that I recently did in my sketchbook. If you have beautiful friends you should draw them. There’s nothing better than drawing a beautiful woman and capturing her beauty. I’m fortunate to have quite a few highly photogenic friends so I am not too worried about the scarcity of subjects for my pen. There’s definitely more to come. This drawing was fun to do; I left a bit of pencil in for the shading and finished off the rest in pen and ink. I’m pleased with the results I’ll probably rework this and refine it a bit and turn into a proper finished piece so as to do it’s gorgeous subject justice.

Empathy and Finesse

It’s late on an August evening and I’ve spent the better part of my day behind my drawing table working on a myriad of projects, including this blog post. It’s stifling in my studio tonight, but work must continue. People often ask me how much I work on a daily basis, perhaps a better question would be how much I don’t work. I’m up early, around 7:30, and I’m in the studio a great part of the day. Lately, I’ve been racking up the hours — I’m starting to slowly edge back to those 14 hour days that were so common in the past.

The drawing that I’ve chosen for this new blog post is one that I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time. It’s been quite a while since my last post; I’ve put off making a new post because I just couldn’t bear to bring myself to publish yet another journal page filled with drawings of food or coffee-swilling patrons. These things are so commonplace nowadays that they have become cliche. Surely there’s more interesting things to draw, right? There has to be more tto a post for me than the shine of silverware and the ritualistic act of daily caffeine ingestion. 

Recently, the world has felt so dark. The news can be so overwhelming and it’s easy to feel a sense of hopelessness and despair. As always, though, there are those that burn like beacons in the dark, showing us the way forward. Powerful women are stepping forward worldwide to guide us. These include Americans like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ruth Bader Ginsberg as well as international figures such as Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist, and Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. On March 15, 2019 the city of Christchurch, New Zealand suffered a horrific terrorist attack where a gunman killed 51 people and injured 49 others at two local mosques during Friday prayer. In the wake of these attacks, the Prime Minister reached out to the families of the victims and held them close to her as they came to grips with such a senseless and cowardly act. Most importantly, within a month she helped pass legislation that banned assault style weapons in New Zealand. 

I remember seeing images of her comforting her bereft countrymen on social media and I was moved by the great empathy that the Prime Minister showed them. Her actions were the exact opposite of what I see here in the United States — her actions were heartfelt and genuine as opposed to being just another photo op. This portrait is the first in a series of new drawings that will celebrate exceptional women. 

What you see here is basically a preliminary drawing that will lead to a finished piece. I’m still working it out and finessing her features. It may look finished, but I can assure you that this is far from done. Her face is the most important element of my drawing, so her features have to be spot on. I hope that I’m able to capture the sincere and heartfelt empathy in her gaze. Showing such emotion is a challenge that I’m excited to be undertaking. 

A Kindred Spirit

Originally, this post was set to appear on Saturday, June 8th, 2019 to commemorate the first anniversary of Anthony Bourdain’s death; however, once I started working on my portrait I realized that wouldn’t be able to complete my drawing to my satisfaction. Instead of rushing to complete the drawing, I decided to put it off by a day in order to ensure that my portrait of Tony would meet my standards.

A year ago, on the day he died, Anthony Bourdain’s name was only vaguely familiar to me. I’d heard his name mentioned here and there by the cool cats that I’m fortunate to know; you know, people in the know, people that know the cool stuff that most folks are oblivious to until those things hit the mainstream years later. One such soul is my old pal, Kenny. He had read Tony’s classic culinary exposé, Kitchen Confidential, when it was originally published in 2000. What can I say? I’m a serious latecomer. Worst of all is that I missed out on many years of enjoying the exploits of one of the coolest people to ever walk the world stage.

I read Kitchen Confidential for the first time in 2018, and I instantly connected with Tony and his tale of the ups and downs experienced while living, “The Life.” It sounded all too familiar: living a life outside the norm and hell bent on making a success out of it all while putting up with the general public and their total misconceptions about what a working professional goes through. Most of all, I loved that Tony had the same attitude towards being a chef and cooking that I have towards being an artist and making art: shit or get off the pot.

Within days of his untimely passing, I was watching Parts Unknown and discovering something truly wonderful: storytelling through food. I watched and re-watched as many episodes as I could. Since then, I’ve discovered all manner of things — terminology such as mis en place, foods like roasted bone marrow, great restaurants like St. John, and great chefs like Marco Pierre White and Fergus Henderson. Because of Tony’s insatiable curiosity, I’ve discovered a whole new world that has expanded my world view. I am not alone in my feelings about this, his curiosity, adventurous spirit, and easygoing personality has enriched us all. Thanks, Tony.

Common Ground

No one could be more different from me than Marco Pierre White. I’m an American – he’s English. I’m a visual artist – he’s a chef. I’m chill – he’s volatile. Despite these differences, reading his autobiography, The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness, and the Making of a Great Chef, has both inspired me and spoken to me both viscerally and intellectually.

This is not the first time that I have found commonality with people that seem very different from me; despite our differences, and sometimes because of them, these people have often served as guiding lights and I have seen them as kindred spirits. As a teenager I discovered the work of Pre-Raphaelite painter, Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Despite the cultural differences between us, I found much in common with Burne-Jones: he was also an only child from humble beginnings who used art to better himself. I also connected with people such as French comics artist Jean Giraud: again, he was an only child, his biological father was absent in his life, his grandparents helped raise him, and he used his art to navigate through childhood. These are just two individuals among many others that I’ve felt an affinity with. I feel a strong kinship with these people because the fight for excellence knows no boundaries: cultural, geographical, or other differences do not matter whatsoever.

As a draftsman, storyteller, and picture maker, I’ve drawn most of my inspiration from visual artists: painters, illustrators, comic book artists, and the like. In addition, I’ve also drawn inspiration from musicians, writers, directors, etc both foreign and domestic. No matter the discipline, the one common denominator that’s always inspired me is excellence. My reverence for excellence is what led me to discover Marco, a British chef and culinary hero who’s famous for being the first and youngest English chef to win three Michelin stars.

Marco’s book showed me that the struggle to succeed as an artist is also the same struggle that one faces on the road to becoming a great chef: it’s all or nothing. You either do it right or you don’t do it all — there is no in between. I found the same relentless, hell-bent attitude that exists in my life on the pages of Marco’s book. It’s always comforting when you find another person whose bloody mindedness is the same as your own. Perhaps the one thing that struck me the most while reading The Devil In The Kitchen was that beyond all the kitchen staff bollockings, service meltdowns, cheese-flinging episodes and notoriety there was a deeply profound belief in himself and his abilities. Things like that always speak to me. It’s the common thread that binds me with every single person that has inspired me along the way. Again, the fight for excellence unites me with this brotherhood of people who are driven by a singular and profound belief in themselves. Despite our differences, we are the same.

Craft and Substance

After my last blog post, I realized that there are two things that it boils down to when making art for me: craft and substance. I’m at an age where certain things need to be inherent in whatever I create: It must be well designed and it must be well crafted. I’m not a fan of bad art. I loathe it; I loathe it even more if I’m the one producing it. In my eyes, there’s no excuse for mediocrity. None. You either do it right or you don’t do it at all. Facility and great technique can certainly be impressive, but they alone are not enough. The piece of work being created has to say something about me as a person — it has to have substance to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to hang on a gallery wall or if it’s going to be in my sketchbook — the work has to reflect some aspect of me as an individual and my POV on the world at large, or whatever. Otherwise, what’s the point? The drawing that adorns this week’s post is a fine example of what I’m talking about.

When I read the story of Helene Lebel, it struck a chord deep within me. In my life, I’ve encountered and witnessed up close what the effects of mental illness do to people. On a personal level, I watched as my uncle, Raul, struggled valiantly with schizophrenia for over 30 years. It’s a horrible thing to watch – physically, my uncle appeared to be well but his appearance belied the internal chaos and the forces that were mentally ravaging him. I also witnessed the scourge of mental illness as part of a job I held. Years ago, I worked as a Spanish mental health interpreter for San Joaquin County; on a daily basis I, once again, got to see the insidious effects of mental illness at work. Along with the doctor or therapist and the client, I was present during appointments. This meant that I heard everything that was said during the appointment. Sometimes, I wish that I’d never heard some of the things that were discussed during those appointments. Interpreting at the clinic for adults was bad enough, but interpreting for the children’s clinic was heartbreaking.

Sadly, in 2018, mental health still carries a stigma. People who suffer with mental health issues are still described as being: crazy, nuts, cuckoo, whacked, touched, bat-shit crazy, etc. It’s so unfair to label people like that — they can’t help it. I often wonder if the people who make such remarks about complete strangers would do the same for someone they love? I’ve learned that everything changes when an issue becomes personal. Funny that. After my experience with mental illness, and based on what I’ve seen and heard, I wouldn’t wish mental illness on my worst enemy.

Helene Lebel’s story is tragic. At age 19, when she was a law student, she began to show symptoms of schizophrenia, and was forced to abandon her studies. In 1936 she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and placed in Vienna’s Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital. Two years later, the Germans annexed Austria. Helene’s parents were made to believe that she was going to be released, but that was never going to happen. In August 1940, Helene’s mother was notified that Helene had been transferred to a hospital in Bavaria, when in reality she had been transferred to a converted prison in Brandenburg, Germany. There, she was subjected to a physical examination and then lead into a shower room. Helene was one of 9,772 persons who were gassed at the Brandenburg Euthanasia Center. She was listed in official paperwork as having died in her room from “acute schizophrenic excitement.”

I would like to thank the US Holocaust Memorial Museum for providing information and details on Helene’s life.

Ten Years On Paper


I started my first blog, Cubist Comix, in September 2008, which means my work has been online for a little more than a decade. Back then, blogging was fairly new, and sketch blogs were rare. I remember how confused I was by HTML — it was all Greek to me! Thankfully, my wife understood the basics of this foreign language and was able to help me set up many parts of my blog. Since then, keeping a sketchbook has become incredibly popular and many people are sharing their work on websites, blogs, and social media. Some of the work out there is good, but a majority of it is pedestrian, banal, and poorly executed. I continue to be proud of the quality of work that I insist upon for myself. I’m very hard on myself; I loath mediocrity and the lack of wanting to improve. I am also proud that while I maintain a social media presence, I have not abandoned my blog as many others seem to have done.

The past ten years have been full of changes for me and for my work. It should come as no surprise that my point of view regarding visual journaling and blogging has changed as well. For many years, most of my blog posts consisted of a drawing created during the previous week and the story behind its creation. Believe me, I’ve drawn my share of coffee swilling cafe dwellers over the past decade; it seems there’s a never-ending supply! I loved these drawings and associated posts, but recently I have come to realize that they are just not enough any more. I have come to realize that I need to approach both my work and my posts in a way that is more filled with meaning.

When Twitter first started, people were literally tweeting about the most pedestrian things you can imagine. The novelty of doing that wore out lickety-split. Why? Because no one really cares that you’re going to your kitchen to get a bagel – that’s why. Sketchbooks are wonderful things, but ultimately they need to say something more profound about you beyond what you’re going to eat or what the person sitting next to you looks like. I’ve always been of the opinion that after someone thumbs through the pages of your sketchbook, they should have a good idea about who you are and what you believe in, and the longer I keep a sketchbook, the more I see that this is the truth.

Maybe this approach to keeping a sketchbook and blogging about it isn’t for everyone. After all, opening up and spewing your opinions takes cojones. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s something that’s necessary if you’re going to grow as an artist and as an individual. Whether you’re a professional or hobbyist doesn’t matter, what matters is the bravery to embrace change and put yourself, the raw unadulterated you, out there. This is why Barron Storey and Robert Crumb’s sketchbooks will remain as examples for me to follow. Visual journaling has exploded over the past ten years and that’s great, but it’s full potential has yet to be realized. Much like with Twitter, soon folks will realize that fluff wears out its novelty right quick, and only that which has depth will survive.

Fighting The Good Fight

Vivir es lo más peligroso que tiene la vida,” — The most dangerous thing in life is living. These words from famed Spanish singer-songwriter, Alejandro Sanz, are something we can all relate to. There are things that can happen in a moment that can change things forever. Sometimes for good, but, unfortunately, far too often for the worse, and, sadly, too often for the much worse. There is no rhyme or reason to why such things happen — one day something happens and, bam, things are never the same.

One of these things happened to my friend, Serena Miller, when she was eight. She was involved in an auto accident caused by a drunk driver and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The results of that accident have affected her life, often dramatically, every day for the past thirty years. Sadly, Serena isn’t the first person whom I’ve known that has suffered a traumatic brain injury because of a drunk driver. My sister-in-law was similarly injured when she was a little older than Serena, but not yet an adult. It’s a horrible thing — a thing that robs you of your own future potential and brings forth demons that you’ll struggle with again and again whether you want to or not. It’s a fucked up thing for someone to have to deal with.

Mental health is no joke and yet it’s still something that the general public stigmatizes and makes heartless cracks about. Too often people with mental health issues are told: “You need to work more,” or, “Do something to get your mind focused on something else,” or, “You just need to get more exercise and to eat right.” Would these same people dole out such bleak wisdom to someone suffering from cancer? To someone suffering from alzheimer’s disease? To someone suffering from kidney failure? This level of ignorance is infuriating to say the least. To add insult to injury, they refer to people with mental health issues as “cuckoo” or “nuts” or whatever. I always wonder if they would say the same things about someone they loved.

Last week, Serena reached out and asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing a GoFundMe fundraising account that she’s established to help her get through the rough period that she’s currently going through. Serena continues to deal with her mental health issues as well as trying to raise her ten year old son. As an artist, I feel that it’s my duty to speak up about things that matter to me and help as much as I can, so I told Serena that I would draw her and spotlight both her story and her GoFundMe link as part of this week’s post. It’s the least that I can do. Please help if you can. If you can’t help monetarily, then please share Serena’s link. Finally, please remember to be kind as you go through life; you never know what somebody else is going through.

Living The Life

Every week I make a post about my continuing exploits of living the life. After all these years, I can tell you that it’s getting better all the time. I draw all day; my work continues to improve and grow in visibility, and people pay me damn decent prices for my work. All those things are awesome, but the best thing of all is drawing in my sketchbook. Journaling really is a completely unique endeavor: you live your live and do whatever you do, and then you put it all down on paper and report back with tales of public characters that you couldn’t make up if you tried: crowded laundromats, busy restaurants, coffeehouses brimming with students, hipsters, and baristas with the patience of saints. At this point, there is no alternative and I, quite frankly, wouldn’t have it any other way.

This week’s post is adorned with a drawing that I started a couple of weeks ago over a couple of nice cold porters. Drinking and drawing is a good time; drinking, drawing, and eating while having a really good conversation is even better. Usually, all my masterpieces are created while I’m doing one or more of the aforementioned activities. Add to that all the very kind compliments that are hurled at me by coffeehouse patrons, laundromat attendants, random passersby, and the occasional cute girl and you get an idea of what I’m getting at here. Hyperbole you say? How little you know about the life of an artist.

Like the art, the lifestyle is getting better and becoming more and more interesting all the time. Being the dedicated graphic journalist that I am, it is my job to continue this time honored tradition of reportage and to carefully observe and record every act of random human behavior that gets put on public display. All of this done, naturally, over a fine beverage, a tasty bit of food, or a good conversation, or if I’m lucky, all three. Life is good, and the best is yet to come.