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.

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.

Reconnecting and Refocusing


There are three things in my life that I value greatly: good friends, good conversations, and great ideas. There’s nothing like picking someone’s brain over a nice cup of coffee and discovering something new in the process. This is part of my creative ritual; it’s how new projects begin for me.

The past two weeks have been overflowing in abundance with such things and people. I was in dire need of reconnecting with my Bay Area roots and of being around the people who inspire me and whom I respect. The first part my adventure began on the patio of Julie’s Coffee and Tea Garden in Alameda with my wife and our dear friend Tara. It was a perfect Bay Area afternoon. As I sketched, we talked about traveling, languages, and food. Exactly the type of conversation that I like to have. Things only got better after this. Later that evening, we drove to Oakland to our friend Sebastian’s house for a fabulous get together. We talked; we drank; we laughed; we sang; I saw people I hadn’t seen in almost 30 years, and I gorged myself on Maria’s tortilla de patatas! Hombre, ¡que delicia! It just doesn’t get better than that. A huge thanks to Kevin, Tara, and Sebastian for making our time in the Bay Area so enjoyable. The following day started with a yummy breakfast and conversation at local country diner, Marti’s Place. We topped off our breakfast with a serving of blintzes — yumm! At that moment life was pretty damn good. I like Alameda; I could easily live there if not for the price of rent. I must admit that I’m pretty fortunate as I’ve spent a lot of time in the Bay Area over the past 30 plus years. Most of the major events in my life have taken place there — the Bay Area will always be my home to me. After saying our goodbyes after breakfast we drove to San Francisco and met up with friends from Washington State who were passing through. It was their first time in The City, so we got to play tour guides.

Finally, this past weekend, we spent our Saturday in Davis doing all the things that we love doing: hanging in cafes, watching good movies, going to bookstores, eating good food, and hanging at cafes even more. Watching Spike Lee’s new film, Blackklansman, was a highlight for me. Despite its subject matter being vile and abhorrent, it’s still something that must be addressed in this day and age. It’s treatment of racism is unapologetic and a punch to the gut of the viewer. I can’t recommend it highly enough. See it. Afterwards, we walked across the street and spent time in the Avid Reader because, you know, you can’t ever have enough books. Sure enough, I scored a brand spanking new copy of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. That made me a happy camper. We rounded off our day with a delicious dinner al fresco at a Mexican joint called Toro Bravo. Yeah, I’ll have a five gallon jug of their bean dip fed intravenously to me next time, thank you. Afterwards, we topped dinner off with a trip over to The Davis Creamy. A scoop of avocado coconut and a scoop of vanilla and, well, it’s not getting any better than that.

The past three weeks have done exactly what I wanted them to do: they have recharged my batteries, helped me refocus, and given me a much needed kick in the arse. Let the projects begin!

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.

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.