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.