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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

It Is What It Is

El Arte No Es Para Imbeciles Color

Sometimes, an idea and an opinion come together in a spontaneous and very satisfying way. That’s basically what happened when I drew this page. I wanted to play around and experiment and see what would come of that, so I started with no preconceived idea in mind. I used to use this approach a lot years ago — Usually, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. 

I started with a shape and that shape led to another and another – you get the idea. Despite the fact that I drew this directly in ink, it still took me a while to finish. As you might guess, adding the crosshatching and building up the shading takes me a while. I’ve been drawing this way for 20 years; it stems from my love of drawing in ink that began in my teens and the satisfying feeling of repetitiously drawing line after line. Maybe it’s some sort of OCD thing, I’m not sure. What I do know is that it’s very gratifying to me. 

As I got closer to finishing my cubist-inspired image, I started to feel that it needed some text to accompany it. I started to think what I could make a statement about. You know it didn’t take me long to come up with an answer. As an artist, I have some very definite ideas when it comes to art. Sometimes, I come to my wit’s end with people’s simplistic opinions about art and artists. Therefore, I decided that a straightforward, no holds barred, statement is what was needed here. The statement came fairly quickly: “El arte no es para imbéciles.” Yes, it’s true, sometimes I really feel that art is not for imbeciles. Is it ever? Does that sound elitist? Maybe it does — if it does, then so be it. I offer no apologies for this. 

Art isn’t supposed to always be beautiful; if you view art with such a narrow point of view, then you fail to understand what art is all about. That’s like thinking that life is always good or bad — we all know that it isn’t either of those things all the time. Things are getting interesting in what i’m doing and I’m liking it. This whole other side of me is spilling onto the page and that’s bringing forth all sorts of ideas. Watch out, here I come!