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.

Reconnecting and Refocusing


There are three things in my life that I value greatly: good friends, good conversations, and great ideas. There’s nothing like picking someone’s brain over a nice cup of coffee and discovering something new in the process. This is part of my creative ritual; it’s how new projects begin for me.

The past two weeks have been overflowing in abundance with such things and people. I was in dire need of reconnecting with my Bay Area roots and of being around the people who inspire me and whom I respect. The first part my adventure began on the patio of Julie’s Coffee and Tea Garden in Alameda with my wife and our dear friend Tara. It was a perfect Bay Area afternoon. As I sketched, we talked about traveling, languages, and food. Exactly the type of conversation that I like to have. Things only got better after this. Later that evening, we drove to Oakland to our friend Sebastian’s house for a fabulous get together. We talked; we drank; we laughed; we sang; I saw people I hadn’t seen in almost 30 years, and I gorged myself on Maria’s tortilla de patatas! Hombre, ¡que delicia! It just doesn’t get better than that. A huge thanks to Kevin, Tara, and Sebastian for making our time in the Bay Area so enjoyable. The following day started with a yummy breakfast and conversation at local country diner, Marti’s Place. We topped off our breakfast with a serving of blintzes — yumm! At that moment life was pretty damn good. I like Alameda; I could easily live there if not for the price of rent. I must admit that I’m pretty fortunate as I’ve spent a lot of time in the Bay Area over the past 30 plus years. Most of the major events in my life have taken place there — the Bay Area will always be my home to me. After saying our goodbyes after breakfast we drove to San Francisco and met up with friends from Washington State who were passing through. It was their first time in The City, so we got to play tour guides.

Finally, this past weekend, we spent our Saturday in Davis doing all the things that we love doing: hanging in cafes, watching good movies, going to bookstores, eating good food, and hanging at cafes even more. Watching Spike Lee’s new film, Blackklansman, was a highlight for me. Despite its subject matter being vile and abhorrent, it’s still something that must be addressed in this day and age. It’s treatment of racism is unapologetic and a punch to the gut of the viewer. I can’t recommend it highly enough. See it. Afterwards, we walked across the street and spent time in the Avid Reader because, you know, you can’t ever have enough books. Sure enough, I scored a brand spanking new copy of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. That made me a happy camper. We rounded off our day with a delicious dinner al fresco at a Mexican joint called Toro Bravo. Yeah, I’ll have a five gallon jug of their bean dip fed intravenously to me next time, thank you. Afterwards, we topped dinner off with a trip over to The Davis Creamy. A scoop of avocado coconut and a scoop of vanilla and, well, it’s not getting any better than that.

The past three weeks have done exactly what I wanted them to do: they have recharged my batteries, helped me refocus, and given me a much needed kick in the arse. Let the projects begin!

My Week In Words and Pictures

Another week of adventures, another journal spread. This is the metronomic pace by which I live my life. My days have become events that need to be chronicled and preserved no matter how grandiose or pedestrian they may be. Those events then go from being pages in my journal to becoming blog posts, social media posts, and ultimately who knows what — you’re guess is as good as mine. Book editors out in the wide world, that’s a big nudge to you.
This past week was good and I managed to get a good sketchbook spread out of it. Weather it’s having a beer or two with friends, enjoying a free play in the park, watching a really good documentary on someone whose work I admire, or drawing unsuspecting victims at my local Starbucks , it’s all about capturing moments that will never return. This past week was filled with lots of great music as you can tell from my Clapton Playlist. All those songs were flowing through my earbuds this week as I worked on my latest journal spread. Listening to music as I work is something that I’ve been doing for as long as I’ve been drawing; it truly is one of the most pleasurable things that one you can do with your time.

For those of you reading this post who keep a sketch-journal, make sure that you’re capturing those all important moments in your own lives that come and go in a flash. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter, put ‘em down and give them a place to exist. Eventually, at some point, you’ll look back and give thanks that you chronicled your daily life as it happened. Doing so will give you insight into your own life in a way no other medium can. Such is the magic of keeping a sketch-journal.

Make Art, Be Happy



“Make art, be happy,” popped into my mind this morning as I was having my first cup of coffee while drawing in my sketchbook and listening to my Steely Dan playlist on Spotify. I often have these types of thoughts pop into my mind that throw me a curveball; they’re deceptively simple but they somehow make perfect sense. Crazy, right. There’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple.

This past week has been decent; it’s been a mixture of both good and bad — mostly good. At the end of it all, I learned a few things. One of them is that the things that leave a bitter taste in your mouth are often the things that teach you the best lessons. At my age, I’ve learned that there are something’s that are simply not worth my time and that it’s best to move on. A lot of my thinking is done as I draw. That’s one of the magic things about drawing: I can totally cut everything around me out and focus on one thing. It enables me to work through whatever it is as I put pencil or pen to paper.

This week’s drawing afforded me to sit and enjoy music and podcasts that put new ideas into my head. That in of itself is priceless. Household objects may seem boring but they’re actually quite fun to draw. Not only are they great practice but they also challenge you to try and put some character into them and use them to help you communicate what you’re experiencing at any given moment. It’s like a quick snapshot of a moment in your daily life that others wouldn’t necessarily ever know about. That type of communication is what art is all about; pulling the viewer into your personal world is the whole point. Writing and drawing about your daily life is one of the best things you can do. It’s therapeutic, it helps you to focus, and it gives you an outlet to express yourself. What more could you ask for, right? Make art and be happy.

Louts, Laundry, and Humility

Another week of sketching in the hateful and wretched Central Valley of California, and another blog post. Before you decide to send me hate mail for calling The Central Valley hateful and wretched, please know that I didn’t come up with that gem of a title; that credit goes to the and only Robert Crumb, so address your letters to: R Crumb, Medieval Village, France.

Crumb lived in The Valley for nearly 20 years between the early 70s and early 90s so he knows a thing or two about life here and his assessment isn’t too far off the mark. After 25 years, I can relate to his blunt and disdain filled observations of life here. If you’ve lived in The Central Valley long enough, you know that you need endurance and loads of patience to be here. This week was a good example of that. Between the continuous and oppressive heat that’s enveloped the area and the denizens that live here its been a true test. Thankfully for me, I can express my angst on paper so that helps to keep me productive and sane, so it’s not all bad.

This week’s page started late last week at my local Starbucks as I observed an old guy going on and on about god knows what for almost an hour or so. Cafés remain the best places to find unsuspecting victims who hardly ever move. That’s great for guys like me — it makes it easy to fill sketchbook pages on a regular basis and it keeps me from sitting around and doing nothing. Art is always waiting to happen. The remainder of this week’s page is made up of a quick sketch of a loutish bloke that was sitting at the laundromat on Monday. He was entranced with something on his phone, so it wasn’t hard to preserve his thick-headed likeness in my sketch-journal. Finally, a quote about Internet humility, a strange and deceptive phenomenon that I see a lot of these days. Click the link, it’s a good read.

Laundromat Musings

Laundry day is always a roll of the dice for me; you just never know what you’re going to see or hear at the laundromat. Some of the stuff that I’ve seen and heard here I couldn’t make up even if I tried. Today, it wasn’t too bad — the people here weren’t crazy like they can be. I noticed a few characters milling about but I didn’t really take much note of them. Maybe it’s because I had my face buried in my sketch-journal or because I was busy snapping candid photos of the establishment’s denizens for a series of black and white photos that I’m working on. Whatever the case maybe, I kept myself busy which is always a win win for me. Instead of staring at Facebook or whatever, I get a blog post out of this outing. Not too bad for a day at the laundromat.

The drawing that accompanies this post is a drawing of a young Asian woman that I started at my local Starbucks late last week. A little more shading and some technical tweaks and voilà, you have this week’s blog post.

My Life On Paper

Keeping a sketch-journal for the better part of three decades is respectable to say the least. I used to go to cafes to draw and I’d never see anyone else doing the same thing. It was strange to see that. Okay, maybe every once in a great while I’d see another bloke with a sketchbook but it wasn’t very often that I did. Nowadays, that’s changed. Now, it seems like everyone is lugging around a sketchbook — I think that’s great. I, personally, can’t imagine myself not carrying my sketchbook around with me. What if something amazingly awesome were to happen in front of me? Can’t draw it without my sketchbook.

Over the years, I’ve written and drawn about all sorts of stuff in my journal: ideas, thoughts, feelings, opinions, you name it, I’ve written about it. Throughout my years of graphic journaling I’ve felt like there’s never been a real balance between what I write and what I draw. I think that a successful sketch-journal should reflect both aspects in equal measure. Ah, the ongoing struggles of a working artist. I wonder how many people ever imagine such things when looking through my sketch-journal? My gut instinct tells me not many. I’m not surprised and ultimately I don’t really care.

There’s always something to write about and there’s always something to draw; every single day is filled with strange and wonderful things done by people who are strange and who do strange things all the time. You just never know what you’re going to see and hear on any given day. Good, bad, stupid, pompous, disgusting — it’s all game for my trusty Rapidograph. There’s going to be a whole lot of that in my forthcoming journal pages. What will make it all different is the approach that I’ll be taking: a little more honest, a little more reflective, a little sarcastic, a little more to the point. It’s the only way to do this. Barbara Bradley, the head of the illustration department at The Academy of Art College in the 80s used to say, “Put it down with authority,” when it came to drawing; those sage words can also apply to writing as well. When someone looks at my sketch-journal my life has to be on those pages otherwise I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.

Lastly, a word about the sketch for this post. I’d been sitting at my local coffeehouse drawing and sucking up the free AC for the better part of a Sunday Afternoon and I had started to pack my things up when suddenly, outside the window, I saw this vision of beauty appear. There was no way that I was leaving before drawing her. Beautiful dark eyes, long lashes, long dark thick hair, how could I resist? Thankfully, she sat for quite a while as she conversed thus allowing  me to immortalize her in the pages of my journal. Job done.

Making Art

I make no secret about my dislike of taking commissions. Most people are completely perplexed when I tell them this — they’re astounded that I would turn away perspective clients. Last year, I made an in depth post detailing exactly why I choose not to take commissions. You can read the post here.

This post isn’t about that, it’s about the flip side of the coin. Every once in a great while I encounter a person who actually gets it when it comes to commissions. They want me to do something for them, they don’t try to lowball me, get a “special,” discount, or attempt to tell me how my career will somehow be furthered by doing work for them — none of that. They pay me what I ask for, and they let me do my thing. It’s almost miraculous when it happens — it’s why I’m so grateful when it does. This past week, I delivered a long standing commission to my dear friend, Gamal. The commission was given to me many years ago when I was going through a very trying time. Without being overly dramatic, I can say that my personal flame of inspiration was starving for oxygen when my friend gave me the commission. He obviously saw something that I couldn’t see at the time. He gave me the commission and waited patiently for his drawings to become a reality. The one thing that makes me happiest about finishing this commission is that I gave him something that I couldn’t have possibly given him in 2007. The subtleties and finesse in these drawings are things that only come about with time and experience. You can’t buy them, you earn them through relentless effort.

It’s gratifying to have friends that support you unconditionally. My friend Gamal is amongst a handful of people who have taken the time to tell me that they’ve watched my progress over the past few years. Things like that are priceless. It was a real pleasure handing my friend his drawings. The look on his face when he saw his portrait was worth all my effort. That’s what making art is about. The best is yet to come.

Doing What I do

Today, I started my day at my local coffeehouse working in my sketchbook. It was a cloudy, cold, rainy day so there were lots of folks sitting inside having tasty hot beverages. I’m about halfway through my softcover Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook, and I must say that I’ve found it very nice to work in. I’ll definitely being buying another as soon as I’m finished with this one. Along with drawings of cafe patrons, this sketchbook has also allowed me to start stretching and exploring other stylistic options as well. Interestingly, this sketchbook has not only allowed me to experiment, but it’s also reminded me of the importance of it also being a journal for opinions, thoughts, and ideas.

As I was drawing, a young man sitting over at the bar waved, gave me a thumbs up, and flashed his sketchbook at me. I wandered over, and greeted him. We had a really good discussion and he asked for some advice. He’s just starting out, but he definitely wants to learn. More importantly, he’s willing to listen to critical feedback. This puts him ahead of a lot of people. Today, people get offended far too easily when it comes to such things. I always say, “You can either be offended or you can learn.” It was a pleasure speaking to someone who clearly wants to learn. I love sharing my knowledge and encouraging younger artists when the opportunity presents itself. I feel that it’s something important because it’s not every day that you run into someone with decades of experience who’s willing to give you advice. All in all, it’s been a good day. Life is good.

Back In The Saddle

 It’s been quite a while since I last made a blog post here. While I haven’t been too active on this blog, I certainly haven’t been inactive creatively. This year, I’d like to make this blog more of a priority and bring the focus back to it. Social media has taken away from blogging in the last couple of years, but I’d like to change that. With the advent of smartphones, it’s now easier than ever to keep you updated on what I’m up to, and I intend on doing just that.

The image that adorns this post is my portrait of my friend, Summer. She’s a lovely mixture of American and Chinese ancestry. It was a pleasure drawing her. The drawing is currently part of an exhibition celebrating my local cafe’s, Empresso Coffeehouse, one year anniversary. Keep an eye out, the best is yet to come.

Stephen Biko


This month marks the 40th anniversary of the death of anti apartheid activist, Stephen Biko. On August 18, 1977 Biko and a friend were detained at a police road block in Grahamstown, South Africa. Biko was arrested for violating a banning order against him, and was taken to Walmer police station in Port Elizabeth where he was held naked and shackled in a cell. On September 6 he was transefered to room 619 at security police headquarters in the Sanlam Building in central Port Elizabeth. There, handcuffed, shackled, and chained to a grill he was interrogated for 22 hours. He was beaten so severely by one of the officers that he suffered a massive brain hemorage because of the beating. After this incident, he was forced to remain standing while shackled to a wall. On September 11, he was loaded onto a Land Rover after a doctor suggested that he be transfered to a prision hospital that was 740 miles away. Biko made that trip naked and manacled. He died alone in a cell on September 12, 1977.
I wanted to post this drawing on September 12, but was unable to complete it in time because of other commitments. I learned about Biko, like many other people, through Peter Gabriel’s moving musical eulogy to him. I had long wanted to draw a tribute to Biko, and this is it. I am very proud of this drawing and consider it one of the absolute best that I have ever produced. Read more about Biko on Wikipedia.

An Idea and A Statement


A few days ago, I was sitting at Empresso Coffeehouse soaking up the free AC and staying cool on a scorching Californian summer’s day. As always, my trusty and ever present sketchbook was lying open in front me with a fresh blank page beckoning me to put down something. Not feeling overly interested in delineating any of the locals, I set my pen down and started drawing, not knowing what would appear. This Surrealist technique of automatic drawing is something that I’ve used often in the past, but not so much recently. Some of my best ideas have come about this way; my drawing, Raven is something that was created by starting with no preconceived idea whatsoever. As time went on, a female figure began to emerge slowly, but surely on the blank page before me. I thought that this might be a good opportunity for me to do something different from what I normally do — something that would surprise people.

A couple of days before starting this idea, I had been looking at Moebius Oeuvres: Les Années Métal Hurlant, an omnibus volume containing every single story that legendary comics creator Moebius contributed to the groundbreaking French science fiction comics magazine, Métal Hurlant. Feeling inspired by Jean’s brilliant line work, I proceeded to craft a faux comics cover in the spirit of his now legendary work. In order to capture some of that essence, I knew that I was going to have write my text in French. Luckily, one of my dearest friends speaks fluent French, so that certainly made things easier for moi, as my French is limited to a few phrases and pick up lines. Looking at my drawing, I spontaneously came up with some things that I thought would make a strong statement. Now, mind you, I wasn’t concerned with being politically correct or anything like that at all. I wanted to say something, and I wanted to be very direct about it. When I texted my friend to see if he could translate my text for me he said, “Oh man, this is going to be a challenge.” Of course, he came through like he always does, and thus I was able to finish work on my idea. Despite the fact that this is fairly detailed, it’s still nothing more than just an idea for now. With a little more effort, it could really become something quite strong. I’m not exactly sure if I’ll work it up into a more finished piece, but the possibility is certainly is there.

Finally, I’m sure that you’re all wondering what my faux cover says, right? Well, part of the idea was to make you feel the way I felt when I would look at one of my French
hardcover bande desinée books. To this very day, I still sit and stare at them trying to decipher bits and pieces of the wonderful puzzle that lies within them. The fact that I do not speak French has never ever been important to me. My French
hardcover bande desinée books have spoken to me loud and clear from day one in a language that transcends any and all cultural differences. Anyway, I’m sure there’s quite a few Francophones out there amongst my readers who will enjoy the statement that’s being made in my faux cover; Leave me a comment and tell me what you think.

The Road To Excellence


The road to excellence in art is long and hard won. There are no shortcuts, and there are no free rides — you either put in the work or you don’t. As someone who’s devoted his entire life to perfecting his artistic skills, I can tell you that it has not been easy, but I have long known that it wouldn’t be. The pleasure that I get from making art outweighs any and all things that have stood in my way. Making art is something sacred to me and I will not compromise that for anything or anybody. 

This past week, I produced the drawing that adorns this post; it is without a doubt one of the best drawings that I’ve ever done, and one that I’m quite proud of. This is drawing is the direct result of my discovery of the fabled illustration/fine art monograph, The Studio that chronicled the four man collective that consisted of artists Barry Windsor-Smith, Jeffery Jones, Michael William Kaluta, and Bernie Wrightson. Over the years, I’ve been influenced and inspired by the work of all four of these men. When I was 16, the person that made drawing in pen and ink so compelling  was Bernie Wrightson. During his tenure at The Studio, he began work on the illustrated version of Frankenstein that was published in 1983 by Marvel Comics. He drew influence from the work of such pen and ink virtuosos such as Franklin Booth, and also people such as French illustrator Gustave Doré. His illustrations for Frankenstein were nothing short of a revelation to my 16 year old mind. From that point onward, drawing in pen and ink became an obsession for me and I have relentlessly sought to master the medium and live up to the bar that was set by Bernie Wrightson. My portrait of Maria Zambaco is a piece of work that lives up to that standard. I feel as if I am standing at the entrance of a doorway that is going to lead me to bigger and better things. I have a list of ideas that I’ve kept since I was in high school that I had not attempted because I never felt that I was ready to tackle them. That changed this past week. Thirty-five years later, I’ve finally reached a level that I only dreamed of in 1982. Let the work begin, the best is yet to come. 

No More Commissions

Commissions don’t work for me; they never have and they never will. In the end, commissions are about illustrating someone else’s vision and something that never ever favors the artist. This is why I am choosing to make it known that I am not interested in any sort of commission whatsoever. I had decided this some time ago, but had not officially announced it. That time has come, so let me be clear: I am not interested in being commissioned by anyone. I, however, will continue to independently produce work based on my ideas that can be purchased via this website. 

When I was in my senior year of art school, I took a commission from a Bay Area couple that wanted me to paint a family portrait for their parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. They seemed like nice people, so I didn’t think that I had anything to be concerned about. I remember meeting with them on a couple of occasions to discuss the project: we went over size, medium, deadline, etc. At the time, I quoted them a price of $700.00 dollars; the painting was going to be something like 18″x24″ in size and would involve multiple figures. Easily a 70 to 100 hour job. At the time, $700.00 dollars was the most I’d ever charged anyone for a piece of work. When you’re young, seven hundred dollars is a king’s ransom and you’re willing to kill yourself for that because you need the cash. After our second meeting, I began working on the pencil preliminary for the painting. That means working out a composition starting with thumbnail sketches and then working and refining those thumbnails up until arriving at the finished product. Getting to that point involves lots of redrawing via multiple sheets of tracing paper. Oh, and let’s not forget hours and hours of work. In this case, it would have been close to a hundred hours. In the end, after our third meeting where I showed them all the preliminary work I had done, I received a letter from them informing me that they were no longer interested and that they were sending me a measly $100.00 for my troubles. Ah, the general public — they love art, but they’re not willing to pay for it. When you see a piece of work by me that’s taken 40 hours to complete, you should understand that it’s 40 hours plus 46 years of drawing that came before that in order for that piece of work to exist. 

Ever since that incident, I have encountered this problem to one degree or another on more occasions then I care to admit. The term “starving artist,” is popular with the public; the truth is, no artist enjoys starving and if they are starving, it’s because people are cheapskates. You want to buy well crafted art by a professional? Then pay the price. After all these years, I’ve learned that the best thing that an artist can do is to not accept commissions from anyone. The hassle involved isn’t worth it. People see your work, commission you, and then: art direct you to the point that you might as well give them the pencil and let them do the drawing, or they haggle with you, or even worse, they ask for a “special” discount. I often wonder if these people resort to these types of tactics with their doctor? The majority of these people couldn’t draw a stick figure to save their lives, but damn, they’re brimming with ideas on how things should be done. I’ve seen drawings with lots of potential go to compete crap because of being over art directed. 

After all this time, I’ve learned that It’s not worth my time and energy to deal with commissions. At this point in time, my work has achieved a certain level of refinement and I expect to be paid what I’m worth. My patience for people who want to wheel and deal, haggle, or use other assorted methods of getting a “cheaper” price is non existent at this point. Years of “will you do a free drawing for me,” and, “can I get a “special” discount?” have tarnished my belief that people have good intentions. The only thing that rings true about good intentions is that they pave the way to hell. In the end, commissions serve no purpose other than to frustrate you. Most of the time you take them because you need the cash, so you end up drawing things that you’re not interested in under terms that never ever favor the artist. Life is too short for this nonsense. This is why I will never take another commission. 

 

Starbucks, Big Heads and Big Cigars

A couple of weeks ago, I popped in to my neighborhood Starbucks to say hi to friends; it was the first time I’d been there in a while. The past couple of months have been extremely wet for us here in California so, it’s been hard to get out and walk. Thankfully, that has come to an end. The sun is shining and the days are long once again. The following months will be busy ones for me — I have quite a few projects planned that require my attention, but I intend to make as much time as I can to get out and soak up the sunshine and draw.

As I walk around my neighborhood and draw the people that come and go into places like my local Starbucks I see certain characters over and over; they’re part of the establishment just like the furniture. Some of them have been coming into SB for as long as it has existed here. That’s a long time. The guy that I’ve drawn here isn’t an exact representation of anyone, but instead an amalgamation of different blokes that I spy while drawing. They all have certain features that are very “drawable,” so I’ve chosen a select few of those features and created my own Frankenstein monster. It was pretty enjoyable, I must say.

As for the text that runs along the side of this page — what can I say, I have my opinions when it comes to art. In this case, they’re opinions that I’ve had for a long time; They’ve gotten stronger over the years and I’m finally spitting them out based on what I see going on. It is what it is, take it or leave it. I’m not a gold coin that that’s here to please everyone. C’est La vie.  

Don’t Think About It Too Much


This week, I decided to start writing my weekly blog post without any preconceived idea and without a pre-drawn image. I usually have a bunch of random thoughts running through my mind so I thought that I’d make use of them. In the few days that I’ve been pondering on what I would write about I just happen to complete a new drawing that I thought I’d share with you.

Originally, I was going to write about all the thoughts I’ve been having in regard to making changes, and moving forward, but at the last minute I changed my mind because I didn’t want to write a long winded post that sounded like me making a resolution. Instead, I’ve decided to be more direct and write about some of the things that I’ll be doing in the coming months. 

If you remember, in my last post I spoke about a series of drawings of women that I want to do over the coming months; my original idea was to draw some of the fabulous female friends that I have — I still intend to do that, but now, I’d decided to expand on my idea to include notable women in general. By doing this I am giving myself a greater variety to draw from. I’d like the drawings to be mostly in pencil but I don’t want to limit myself either. So, you’ll likely be seeing portraits in a variety of drawing media. The pen and ink drawing of my friend Jennifer from last post is the first official drawing in this new series. The of drawing of Jennifer that I used was from my sketchbook, but I intend to work it up into a finished piece. Keep an eye out for it because I’m sure it’ll be fabulous. 

The drawing that adorns this week’s post is of Jane Morris, wife of Willam Morris, muse and lover of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Pre-Raphaelite icon. I first discovered the work of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) at age 16 and have remained fascinated with their work ever since. The story behind many of the women that posed for various members of the group are interesting portraits of individuals living in Victorian England. Many of the men in the group were well known in the Victorian era and outwardly appeared to adhere to the rigid morals of the time. However, in the studio and alone with their models it was a different story. These men and women spent hours alone together confiding in each other and building a trust amongst themselves. They poured their hearts out one another and not all were happy in their marriages. So you can imagine how easy it was for affairs to start. The affair between Rossetti and Jane Morris is probably the most well known when it comes to the Pre-Raphaelites. Their story is full of all of the elements that make for a good read: drama, pathos, and tragedy. The men in The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were like rock stars in their day and some these women were the equivalent of modern day groupies. Photographs of these women are hard to come by as photography had just started to be widely used; Jane was most likely the most photographed muse in the group and therefore the easiest to find reference material on. I found the undated  drawing that I used to work from in a random Internet search sometime last year. To my delight, I discovered a wonderful photo that clearly displays Jane’s iconic looks in all their splendor. I had started the drawing months ago and it hung around my studio until last week when I finally completed it. The term stunner was coined by Rossetti for Jane. As you can see, he wasn’t exaggerating. 

I had a wonderful time drawing this portrait and I am eagerly looking forward to the next one. All of the drawings in this series will be scanned and put up for sale in the gallery section of this site. I’ll probably wait until I have a few done before I start adding them. If you see one that interests you please contact me via the contact form and I will provide you with all the details. 

 

Beauty and Bolognese 

There’s no two ways about it — it pays to have friends that are beautiful. It’s even better when you can draw them. Does it sound like I’m gloating? Good, because I am. Every artist has certain things that they love to draw over and over; I’m no different. As an artist, the one weakness that I have is women. I absolutely adore drawing them. I attribute this to growing up admiring the work of people like Alberto Vargas, Alphonse Mucha, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones amongst many others. These men shaped my idea of what beauty is and I have aspired to capturing some of that in my own work ever since.  

Recently, I decided that I was going to start doing a series of female portraits in a variety of media. I’ve had this idea for years, but for whatever reason I had not taken any action to making it a reality. At this stage in my life I simply don’t have time to put projects off anymore. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand that my time here is limited and that all that matters is doing as much work as I can. Fortunately, I’m blessed to have lots of beautiful, smart, and talented women that I’m lucky enough to call friends. They each have unique and wonderful qualities that will make excellent challenges for me to capture. Doing this series will also allow me to work with media and techniques that I haven’t used in decades. It’s not that the techniques are new to me — it’s just that I haven’t used them in a long time. One by one I’ll reacquaint myself with them and reintroduce them into my work. I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re an artist of any worth, you’ll not only be able to draw anything, but you’ll be able to do it in a variety of media with equal mastery.

Finally, a word about my friend Jennifer, the subject of my drawing for this post; Jennifer is one of those rare females who simply cannot take a bad photo. Jennifer might highly disagree with me on this, but I think that this is something upon which we can happily agree to disagree. She’s graciously allowed me to draw her and I am grateful to her for that. I hope that I do her justice in my efforts. This drawing is just a beginning — there’s a lot more great photos of Jennifer that I hope to draw in the near future. Keep an eye out for them because they’re sure to be fabulous. Interestingly, Jennifer also inspired the title of this post; the last time I saw her, we talked about an idea for a project that she has in mind and the title of this post is the happy result of our conversation. Thanks Jennifer!  

 

Doing What I do Best


I was recently looking at my old blog, Cubist Comix, via the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. It’s interesting to see all the changes that my work has gone through and the progress that I’ve made since I started my first blog in 2008. Since then, my internet presence has grown and I’ve, unfortunately, become too distracted by things like Facebook and Twitter. I know some bloggers that have all but stopped updating their blogs because of social media. Facebook and Twitter certainly have a place, but I don’t feel that they can entirely replace  what you can do via a blog. For this reason, I have decided to focus more time and energy on updating this blog more often and growing its audience in 2017. My sketchbook is an important part of my work and it’s important for me to share my day to day experiences along with my ideas, thoughts and opinions as recorded in the pages of my sketchbook. It’s what allows people to get a glimpse into my artistic life.


In addition to refocusing my energy on my blog, I would also like to focus on giving people a better overall picture of my work.The gallery and store sections of this site will be getting updated more frequently from this point onward. I love my sketchbook work, but I can’t live from just that. In order to remedy this situation, I plan to start offering prints of my work in small limited edition runs along with originals pieces. I’m doing this in order to make my work more accessible for everyone – serious collectors and fans alike. In order to do this I will need to make some changes. Please bear with me as I get things all worked out.

I think these changes will bring balance and variety to this site and give me the satisfaction of knowing that I am showing all facets of my artistic skill. The best is yet to come.

Why I Will Not Stay Quiet

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, my country elected a new president. The person that was elected does not represent my views in any way shape or form and I am opposed to everything that he stands for.

For the past eighteen months the new President-elect has constantly and consistently used hateful and racist rhetoric to attack women, immigrants, the handicapped, and people’s religious beliefs. In addition to this, he’s said that he intends to repeal the Affordable Care Act, build a wall between us and Mexico, and deport 11 million people. He’s said all these things in order to garner votes for himself. In doing so, he’s give a voice to misogyny, hate, and bigotry and sent a very dangerous message to certain individuals that it’s now OK to engage in such acts.
I vehemently oppose all of these things. I, like many Americans, was stunned by the results of this election. That shock has now turned into anger and that anger is something I intend on using as fuel for future drawings. When I was in art school in the late 80’s I majored in illustration. Illustration is visual communication and illustration as protest has a long tradition. As an artist, I will use my work to point out any and all injustice and hypocrisy during the President-elect’s term as Commander In Chief. These intentions shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
This is why I will not “suck it up,” and accept the results of this election. By doing so, I would be condoning all of the President-elect’s hateful rhetoric; I know people, people that I love, from all of the communities that the president elect has insulted. In addition to this, I have friends who depend on The Affordable Care Act for medical treatment and medication. By staying silent I would in effect be turning my back on them. That’s not going to happen.
This isn’t about the fact that my candidate didn’t win; this is about our future, here in the US and globally. The decision that was made on November 8 was one huge step backwards and not in keeping with my desires and those of many of my fellow countrymen. The hateful rhetoric of the President-elect is archaic and completely out of place in the 21st Century. I will do my part to speak out and denounce this in the strongest way possible. I stand with everyone who rejects the election of Donald J Trump to the presidency of the United States. I will not stay quiet.
Please share this post and invite people to follow me on: My Facebook artist page, Twitter, and InstagramThank you.

It’s All About The Work

 

Abstract 1 - February 2016

After a nice long break from blogging, I feel refreshed, energized, and ready to jump back into it. My break was good for me; it allowed me to reconnect with myself and things that are important to me, and it also allowed me to put things into perspective.

So, here I am. Most people who know me well know that I am hugely influenced by both American and European comic book art, especially French bande desinée. I get just as excited by seeing an original Robert Crumb or Dave Stevens as I do by seeing an original Jean Giraud, Philippe Druillet, or Enki Bilal. I love comic book art, but I also love Picasso, Burne-Jones, Lord Frederick Leighton, and Joaquín Sorolla too. As an artist, I must be able to express different things in different ways and still retain my own identity. Doing that is the trickiest thing for any artist to do but, ultimately, you have to deal with it; otherwise you’re doomed to becoming boring and one dimensional. I’m not too impressed with artists who are limited in their outlook — it’s like talking to someone who only talks about one culture or one interest and nothing else. I’m even less impressed with artists who put creativity over craft. The quick, slap-dash style doesn’t mean crap unless you’re a strong and competent draftsman. Trying to be cute and clever is even worse. Learn to draw first, then get creative. People want skill for free today. They don’t want to work for it, they want to acquire it by an act of magic. Get a clue folks. It doesn’t work that way. Bust your ass, master your craft, then come and talk to me about it.  

Retaining your identity despite stylistic changes is one of two huge challenges an artist faces. The second, and more important, is being yourself through and through no matter what. Maturity and experience have taught me that it’s not about what school you went to, or if you’re self taught, or if you have a drop of fame, or if you have a million followers on social media or whatever. It isn’t about any of those things — it’s all about the work. My credo is and always will be Draftsmanship is craftsmanship. If you don’t draw well, then you simply cannot move forward. You can’t break the rules when you don’t know them. It’s all about the work. When I was 19 years old, I was accepted to one of the best art schools in the world and I’m also an ex-student of Barron Storey, an illustrator who’s a noted figure in the history of American illustration and whose students have influenced a generation of comics artists, BUT it’s not about any of that. Someone can brag all they want about what they do, who they know, or where they studied, but that won’t hide anything from a trained and experienced eye. In less eloquent words, at this stage in the game I’m not easily impressed and I can see right through people’s bullshit. If I come off as arrogant because of this, then so be it. I’ve been drawing since the age of five and I’ve been a professional since the age of 25, so it is what it is; take it or leave it. Beautiful, well-crafted work will always take precedence over ego.  

The drawing that adorns this post is something that started as a smaller doodle in my current sketchbook. My love of Picasso’s work is pretty clear here. As I often do, I scanned the page with the doodle on it and posted it to my social media accounts. Not long after I posted my page, Michael Kalman, co-founder of Stallman & Birn sketchbooks (my faves), came along on Twitter and kindly left me a very encouraging comment. His comment inspired me to expand my original doodle idea into a bigger drawing. I feel as comfortable working in this style as I do when I draw a portrait of someone, when I do a comic style drawing in brush and ink, or when I paint in watercolor — it’s the same thing to me; all those things are part who I am. I’m fortunate that I can easily do different things equally well; t’s something that not everyone can do. Switching between different approaches is something that I’ve always been able to do, but not something that I do too often. That is going to change.

In closing I’d like to inform all of my dear readers that I reached an important Twitter milestone a couple of days ago: 500 followers! I’ve been on Twitter for quite some time, but the majority of my new followers have come in the last 2 years – 430 followers in that time. I am so grateful to all the people from around the globe who follow me here and on social media. THANK YOU to each and every one of you for helping me reach the big 5-0-0 on Twitter. I greatly appreciate your continued support.