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.













Tiny Gems

Dr. Nina Ansary. 2020. Pencil preliminary in sketchbook

Some weeks ago I lamented the anti-intellectualism that’s running rampant in my beleaguered country. This week isn’t any different; the flagrant and callous imbecility continues unabated on social media and it isn’t going to stop. All the uneducated, misinformed wannabe epidemiologists and virologists spewing their opinions on social media were selfish assholes before all of this started and they’ll continue being selfish assholes long after this is over and done with. That, dear friends, is the last you’ll hear from me on this topic. I don’t know about you but I have better things to do.

Truth be told the aforementioned situation actually has some value to offer If you look for it. In the grand scheme of things, the daily shitshow on social media is nothing more than a pathetic example of just how stupid and self-centered humans can be. In that sense, it’s a complete and total waste of time, but if you dig beneath its bloated ego-laden surface, you’ll find a nice little tidbit of wisdom: Life is short. Live your best life without compromise.

It’s easy to get caught up in the anti-intellectual mire that is modern-day America, but that, dear friends, is a choice. Mental stimulation is always within arm’s reach, if you truly desire to have it. You can either watch another mindless sitcom or you can choose to read or watch something informative. Books like Anthony Bourdain’s classic culinary memoir, Kitchen Confidential offer profound understanding into the struggles and aspirations of a working chef. Documentaries like The Birth of the Cool, the recent Miles Davis documentary, are fantastic for giving you insight into the mind of a musical genius, and musicals like Hamilton expose you to the life of someone such as founding father Alexander Hamilton. The truth is that there are a plethora of things to choose from that will help stop brain rot. Choosing between a mindless sitcom or gameshow and Miles Davis is like choosing between a Big Mac or some gambas al ajillo. You get my point, right? Mental stimulation is out there, it’s not hiding. If you want to  continue growing as a person then the choice is yours. Evolving as a human being is part of living your best life. There’s many facets to living your best life, and a lot of that falls to the choices that you make as an individual. You either continue to grow or you stagnate. It’s all up to you. 

As an artist, I’m very mindful of all this. Perhaps because of my profession this kind of thing is that much more important to me than it is for other folks. For me, being an artist and learning new things go hand in hand. It’s because of this that I was able to go from being a kid from a humble background who read comic books by Jack Kirby to an art school graduate who counts people like Burne-Jones and Lord Leighton as influences.

At my age, my thirst for knowledge has not lessened; on the contrary, it has become even more insatiable. As I get older, my patience for conversations about mundane pedestrian things is getting shorter and shorter. I like to be around people who talk about ideas and about books they’re reading, different cultures, music, art, etc. This is where I’m at and it’s what I want.

These things are going to take on an even greater importance as time goes on. Art and  culture inform and influence me as a person and artist. Hispanophile, Anglophile, Francophile – yes, all of the above. This is just the tip of the iceberg. That fact that I speak fluent Spanish opens me up to an additional world of enrichment. As a kid, I grew up with Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, and the Three Stooges while also taking in the work of the equally brilliant Mario Moreno “Cantinflas,” and Roberto Gómez Bolaños in all his various guises. Anyone who speaks another language fluently knows exactly what I’m talking about. All of this influences my interests, my tastes, and most importantly, my worldview. Growing as a person doesn’t have an age limit. The only limits that exist are the ones you put on yourself. The world is too vast and too interesting to limit myself to one culture, one way of seeing things, so yeah, you can be pretty sure that when it comes down to it I’m always going to choose Miles Davis over over a sitcom. 

Agribusiness cities aren’t exactly cultural meccas, but if you’re hungry enough you’ll view that sort of situation as a challenge rather than a nail in the coffin. It’s a choice you make. As an artist and individual it’s important for me to continue learning about the world I live in. That means looking beyond the limited parameters of where I’m at. I refuse to stagnate in the all too familiar humdrum situation that could easily derail me at any given moment if I let it. Life is short and the world is too vast – go beyond the never ending monotony of everyday life and nourish yourself with the hidden gems that are out there waiting for you. 

This week, I have chosen to show you a piece of work before it is fully worked out and completed. In this case, it’s a pen and ink portrait of Dr. Nina Ansary that I’m currently working on. What you see here is a pencil preliminary from my sketchbook. It’s close to being done but still needs some work. Dr. Ansary’s features are very fine so they must be handled with the utmost finesse when drawing them. This is why I do a preliminary study beforehand. I need to be sure of what I’m going to be doing when I do the final piece so I work everything out before my pen ever touches the paper. In case you were curious, this is how art is made.      

A special thanks to Dr. Ansary for graciously giving me permission to do this portrait. 

Getting On With It

Summer. 2019. Pencil Preliminary (Study II). Pencil in sketchbook. 

As a self confessed and proud perfectionist I admit that I drive myself a little crazy at times. I’m not ashamed of being nit picky at all as that keeps mediocrity at bay at all times but sometimes I do feel the need to just jump in and get on with it. Spontaneity doesn’t mean that quality has to suffer. Solid draftsmanship is solid draftsmanship and that doesn’t change.

Lately, I’ve felt the need to loosen up a bit and shove my hands into the creative dirt. The main thing about all this is that I’ve decided to stop overthinking things and just do them. The only thing that matters now is creating and everything else takes second place to that. Interestingly, this approach is a throwback to past era of my life when I was much more willing to be spontaneous and experimental. Those things have their importance but there must be skill beneath them to give them support otherwise they’re there’s really nothing there.

The drawing that accompanies this post a drawing of a good friend of mine that I recently did in my sketchbook. If you have beautiful friends you should draw them. There’s nothing better than drawing a beautiful woman and capturing her beauty. I’m fortunate to have quite a few highly photogenic friends so I am not too worried about the scarcity of subjects for my pen. There’s definitely more to come. This drawing was fun to do; I left a bit of pencil in for the shading and finished off the rest in pen and ink. I’m pleased with the results I’ll probably rework this and refine it a bit and turn into a proper finished piece so as to do it’s gorgeous subject justice.

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.

Don’t Think About It Too Much

This week, I decided to start writing my weekly blog post without any preconceived idea and without a pre-drawn image. I usually have a bunch of random thoughts running through my mind so I thought that I’d make use of them. In the few days that I’ve been pondering on what I would write about I just happen to complete a new drawing that I thought I’d share with you.

Originally, I was going to write about all the thoughts I’ve been having in regard to making changes, and moving forward, but at the last minute I changed my mind because I didn’t want to write a long winded post that sounded like me making a resolution. Instead, I’ve decided to be more direct and write about some of the things that I’ll be doing in the coming months. 

If you remember, in my last post I spoke about a series of drawings of women that I want to do over the coming months; my original idea was to draw some of the fabulous female friends that I have — I still intend to do that, but now, I’d decided to expand on my idea to include notable women in general. By doing this I am giving myself a greater variety to draw from. I’d like the drawings to be mostly in pencil but I don’t want to limit myself either. So, you’ll likely be seeing portraits in a variety of drawing media. The pen and ink drawing of my friend Jennifer from last post is the first official drawing in this new series. The of drawing of Jennifer that I used was from my sketchbook, but I intend to work it up into a finished piece. Keep an eye out for it because I’m sure it’ll be fabulous. 

The drawing that adorns this week’s post is of Jane Morris, wife of Willam Morris, muse and lover of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Pre-Raphaelite icon. I first discovered the work of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) at age 16 and have remained fascinated with their work ever since. The story behind many of the women that posed for various members of the group are interesting portraits of individuals living in Victorian England. Many of the men in the group were well known in the Victorian era and outwardly appeared to adhere to the rigid morals of the time. However, in the studio and alone with their models it was a different story. These men and women spent hours alone together confiding in each other and building a trust amongst themselves. They poured their hearts out one another and not all were happy in their marriages. So you can imagine how easy it was for affairs to start. The affair between Rossetti and Jane Morris is probably the most well known when it comes to the Pre-Raphaelites. Their story is full of all of the elements that make for a good read: drama, pathos, and tragedy. The men in The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were like rock stars in their day and some these women were the equivalent of modern day groupies. Photographs of these women are hard to come by as photography had just started to be widely used; Jane was most likely the most photographed muse in the group and therefore the easiest to find reference material on. I found the undated  drawing that I used to work from in a random Internet search sometime last year. To my delight, I discovered a wonderful photo that clearly displays Jane’s iconic looks in all their splendor. I had started the drawing months ago and it hung around my studio until last week when I finally completed it. The term stunner was coined by Rossetti for Jane. As you can see, he wasn’t exaggerating. 

I had a wonderful time drawing this portrait and I am eagerly looking forward to the next one. All of the drawings in this series will be scanned and put up for sale in the gallery section of this site. I’ll probably wait until I have a few done before I start adding them. If you see one that interests you please contact me via the contact form and I will provide you with all the details.