Making Art

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

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

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

Doing What I do

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

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

Back In The Saddle

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

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

Stephen Biko


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

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.  

Beauty and Bolognese 

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

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

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

 

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.