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 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. 

 

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. 

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.

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.

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.