Fighting The Good Fight

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

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

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

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

Living The Life

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

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

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

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.

My Life On Paper

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

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

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

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

Making Art

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

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

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

Doing What I do

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

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

Back In The Saddle

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

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

Doing What I do Best


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


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

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

Café Adventures

This week, I am sharing two pages that I drew in November while out and about in the Bay Area. I’m quite fortunate to have friends that not only understand what I do, but support my efforts as well. One of these people is my dear friend, Monica Ambalal, who teaches music history and ethnomusicology at Merritt College in Oakland. On this particular day, I joined her for her drive to work and to check out a café called Zocalo. I remember that it was quite busy that day and there were all sorts of unsuspecting victims hanging out and having coffee and or something for breakfast. Monica hung out for a few minutes before leaving to her meeting. When she left, it didn’t take me too long to find a subject to draw. There was a woman sitting a few tables away from me who seemed to be an artist of some sort. She may have been a writer, but I’m not sure. The one thing that I do know is that she seemed to be having some sort of conversation with herself; she was rather animated, waving her hands around and even getting up and making a face before stepping outside for a break. I kid you not, I couldn’t make this stuff up even if I tried.

My second page of the day was done at Café Roma in Berkeley. I’d been to Café Roma quite a few times over the past few years and I’d had mostly enjoyable experiences there. It’s a large café that’s broken into two areas. The main area, where the bar for ordering drinks is located, is large and well lit with lots of tables. The second half of the building is a study area that is made up mainly of tables. It’s quieter than the main area since it’s away from the main entrance and the sounds of the outside traffic. The bulk of their clientele is (surprise, surprise) made up of UC Berkeley students. Amongst the students are a smattering of local characters and normal folk.  There weren’t too many drawable subjects around that day, so I decided to focus on the architecture instead. Luckily, I’m pretty decent with perspective so that wasn’t an issue. The work was in all the texture and lights and darks — whew, that was a bit of work. I’m glad that I revel in the act of making tiny lines, hahaha! 

I love these types of spontaneous outings — they’re the best. I find it exciting to discover new places and see new people. I look forward to many more spontaneous outings in the Bay Area and wherever else the wind may blow me. Such is the life of an artist — I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

Check It Out

 

Check it Out, Suckah - December 2015

After all the holiday craziness, I’m finally getting around to scanning the dozen new pages that I’ve drawn since December. This one was started in December around the time of the horrific shootings in San Bernardino. Terrorism is a cancer that tears asunder the lives of innocent people. Because of the age that we’re living in, we all have a front row seat to the carnage as it happens. It’s only minutes after the fact before we start to hear the gruesome details blow by blow. Little by little we become desensitized to the pain of those affected. I saw that happen with the events in both Paris and San Bernardino; some people couldn’t wait to politicize what was happening. They had to tell you about their right to own a gun. In that moment, when loved ones are falling apart because they’re hearing the news about their husbands, wives, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, etc, people engage in this disrespectful act. Is this what we’ve come to as a society? We’re so gung ho about our right to own a gun that we don’t care if we disrespect the recently killed and their families? Those people that engage in this abhorrent behavior fail to understand one thing: no one gives a fuck about your right to own a gun in that moment when innocent lives have just been lost. Believe me, I’m all for sensible gun regulation but this sort of behavior has nothing to do with that. It’s simply people choosing and not caring about being disrespectful at the worst possible moment. Learn some respect for God’s sake. 

On the lighter side, did you know that I like singing flamenco when I’m tipsy and happy? It’s amazing what a few bottles of Newcastle brown or, in this case, sangria can do! Seriously though, I adore flamenco and its culture: the singing, the music, the dance, everything. Andalucía is my spiritual home. It resonates deep within me like no other culture. Perhaps it’s because of my own familial ties to Spain or maybe it’s just something that was meant to be. Whichever it is, it’s a feeling that lives inside me. Hearing Camarón de La Isla and Paco de Lucia play together is a sublime pleasure for me. It’s like listening to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant or Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads. It’s an unequaled aural experience. 

I’m slowly but surely getting back into my rhythm of regular weekly posts and with a soon to be total of twelve freshly scanned pages, I have no excuse for not keeping on schedule. I’m enjoying the new sketchbook so far — I’ve got some interesting ideas that I’d like to explore so keep an eye out for some interesting graphic experimentation that’ll be dropping soon. And remember, draftsmanship is craftsmanship.   

A Life Well Lived

David Bowie died this past week after a courageous eighteen month battle with liver cancer. The news of his death shocked me like it did most people. One of the major figures of my generation has been lost. There will be no more David Bowies. 

Over the past week as I’ve thought about his passing, there’s been’s one thing that’s become very clear to me: David Bowie’s life was a life well lived. Even though his passing leaves a huge hole in the world, I find comfort in the knowledge that he lived his life to the fullest – a life that most people can only imagine. His passing has been a lesson on living. 

The one thing that has impacted me the most during the past week is the fact that he had started to write his next album knowing full well that he was dying and that his time was scarce. That, to me, defines how an artist lives his life. He works and creates until the end. There is no stopping. There can be no greater example of this than how David Bowie did it. 

His passing has definitely made me think of how fragile life can be. We live in an era where self help memes appear almost every second on our social media feeds giving us advice on how to live life. Some of them do contain a kernel of truth, but taken in on a daily basis without any action they become meaningless wallpaper on our feeds. Despite how earnestly we make and begin our new year’s resolutions, most are abandoned less than a month into the new year thus trivializing the decisions that are important to us. That’s not how it works. At least not for me. 

However you decide to make your life decisions, always make sure you make them because they’re important to you and for no other reason. Make them and then take action. Remember to be kind, to love, and to laugh. And most of all, make sure that your life is also a life that’s being well lived. 

And So It Begins

 

And so it begins… Happy New Year dear readers! I hope You’re new year has started on a positive note. I’m not really into making resolutions, so I don’t and I didn’t. I think that there are times when you need to make big decisions and it has nothing to do with the time of year or anything like that. They need to be made, so you make them. If there’s one thing I’d like to do this new year, it’s to be more consistent with my blog posts and to post lots of amazing sketchbook pages that will engage and inspire you.

I drew the page that adorns this post just before leaving on our Christmas vacation to Southern California, so I’m just now getting around to scanning the new pages that I’ve completed in my current sketchbook. This page has the distinction of being drawn at two of my favorite local cafes on The Miracle Mile: Empresso Coffeehouse and Miracle Mile Starbucks. It’s my hood, so I walk around it all the time and without much effort, I always encounter interesting characters to draw. The guy that I’ve drawn here is one of those people. I often see him at both places on any given week. I decided to draw him mainly because he tends to sit still and not fidget much. As you might imagine, something like that is hugely important for someone like me. In the first drawing, at the top of the page, he was sitting in Empresso at a table that I prefer to sit at along the wall near the bar area. It’s a tall table with two tall chairs that’s next to an outlet. I remember that they were playing Time of The Season by The Zombies that night — you know the tune, it’s the one with the famous, “Who’s your daddy?” line in it. Anyway, he seemed to be digging it and singing along quietly as he bobbed his head back and forth. Maybe he was reliving a part of his youth, who knows. The second time that I encountered him was just a day after I had done my first drawing. He came into my local Starbucks wearing a big puffy winter jacket and a baseball cap with fabric that covered the back of his head. He ordered his drink and ensconced himself at a window table. He had a book with him that night but he didn’t read it the whole time that he was there. Instead, he sat and quietly talked to himself for quite a while. I’ve seen him again since I drew him so, he’ll most likely end up on another page at some point. 

I’m pretty fortunate to live in the area that I live in; everything that I need is within walking distance; there’s a decent variety of restaurants and shops, including my two favorite local cafes, just minutes away from my home. Both have a different and unique vibe to each of them so I go back and forth between the two. I’m friends with most of the baristas at both places — they’re all a bunch of really cool people that always make it a pleasure to come in have a coffee and draw for a while. Life is good and getting better all the time. 

One Big Fat Zero

Zero Fucks Given - March 2015

You never know what is going to Impact people. When I drew the page that you see here, I didn’t think of anything other than expressing the angst that I was feeling on that particular day. That day, like most days, I walked to Empresso Coffeehouse, a favorite local café, and settled in to do some drawing in my sketchbook. There’s normally a decent number of people at Empresso – not too little, not too many – so it’s a good place to go and concentrate on whatever it is that you need to work on. When I’m there, I normally listen to music as I draw so I’m pretty much oblivious to what’s going on around me. 

A couple of days after I had drawn this, I went back to do more drawing at Empresso; as I was waiting to order a drink Sergio, one of the baristas that works there, walked by and said, “Zero fucks given,” with a smile on his face. I looked at him and smiled back. I thought, “How cool is that, he remembered.” I had never thought about the fact that there’s always a chance that something like this can happen; I mean think about it, I’m going to a public place and sitting while exposing images that, for the most part, are meant to be private. Yeah, I don’t really like people peering over my shoulder as I work but It happens. Someone sees something, it strikes a chord, and bam, there you go, “Zero fucks given.” Interesting how that works.

Almost a week later, I saw Sergio again as he took my drink order; as he was making my drink, he uttered in a low voice, “Zero Fucks.” I smiled and asked him what was it about my slogan that he liked so much. He said, “It’s so dope — zero fucks!” What could I say to that? Perhaps it may sound strange coming from an artist, but I’ve truly understood something here. As an image maker, I want people to remember what I do; more than that, I want my work to make people think. If I can do that, then I’ve done my job as an artist. I reckon that there isn’t anything more satisfying then that for an artist. 

A couple of days later, I stopped and talked to Sergio as I was leaving. I told him that I was totally caught of guard by his reaction to my slogan. He said that it was something a lot of people could relate to — he said that it reminded him of the, “Have a nice day,” slogan from the 80s. I told him that I could see his point. You just never know what will catch the public’s eye — it’s a totally random thing.

A week or so later, I went down to Empresso to draw for a while; as I approached to order my drink, Sergio took one look at me and said, “Zero Sal, zero!” I guess I was right, when you put down your thoughts and ideas without holding back, people will react. Lesson learned.