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. 

A Silver Lining

Dr. Nina Ansary. 2020. Pen, ink, and digital color.

This blog post originally started as a spontaneous “Here’s what I’m doing this Monday morning,” but after ingesting a near lethal dose of uneducated rubbish regarding, amongst other things, COVID-19 all day, it quickly changed. Sometimes I seriously wonder what the bleeding hell is wrong with people nowadays. Never in my life have I seen so many ego-driven, self-centered, fact-less opinions being doled out willy-nilly. Social media is an unending barrage of uneducated, misinformed bullshit – a literal daily shitshow. Sadly, the flame of anti-intellectualism has been fanned into a roaring blaze by the internet, social media, pop culture, and so called smartphones. We live in the information age and yet people seem to be dumber than ever. Nowadays, Joe Blow and Jane Doe are suddenly effing geniuses despite having barely crawled out of high school. Funny that. They don’t read; they have no intellectual curiosity, and they live on a steady diet of jalapeño poppers and pop culture. In short, they’re as hollow as the culture they come from. This is where we’re at as human beings: ”My ignorance trumps your knowledge.” It’s a sad state of affairs and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

I’m supposed to have sympathy for these schmucks? Yeah, that’s never going to happen. In the end, you have to decide how much of your time and energy you’re going to spend verbally slugging it out with the denizens of Slobville. They’re not going away anytime soon and verbally sparring down in Slobville isn’t high on my priorities list. The stupidity, the lack of empathy, and the all around selfishness have reached levels so nauseating that I think it’s time that I call it a day and cut back my time on social media before I suffer permanent brain damage. This, of course, excludes anything having to do with my work; the production and promotion of what I do will continue unabated.

Truth be told, I have much better things to do – you know, like make art. When I get sick and tired of people’s BS I retreat into my own little creative world where I can create, explore, and learn. Some might say that I live in a bubble. Perhaps. I might live in a bubble, but at least I’m being productive and that is reason enough to get away from social media and pop culture. Instead of going round and round with selfish, unempathetic idiots, I’d rather tell you about some of the things I’m currently working on. I’ve started to work on a new series of drawings that will likely carry me well into the fall; this batch of new work is some of the most complex work that I’ve ever done. I’m excited to be starting work on these new drawings which will represent me better than anything I’ve done previously.  Besides being some of my most ambitious work, these drawings will reflect my personal interests more clearly than ever before. Things such as Spanish cante, gitano culture, Moorish design, and late Victorian draftsmanship and painting will be woven into the images that I will be creating over the coming months.

We’re all living through an unprecedented moment in time, but we must all remember that as horrible as all this seems, it’s just a moment in time. In a few years it will all slowly fade into history as we start to return to a normal way of life. This unexpected pause to our daily life has a silver lining for creatives. This is an unexpected opportunity to be as creative as possible. I can’t help but feel as if the universe is tapping me on the shoulder and telling me to go balls out and create the best work that I’ve ever done. Hey, that sounds pretty good to me. Don’t miss out on this opportunity dear friends – the likelihood of something like this happening again anytime soon is pretty doubtful so unleash your creativity and go for it. For now, I will continue to remain positive and hopeful that a vaccine is developed in the coming months. Stay safe, wear a damn mask, and practice social distancing. We can get through this if we all do our part.

The drawing that adorns this week’s post is the second portrait that I’ve done of Dr. Nina Ansary. My first drawing of her from a few weeks ago wasn’t quite what I wanted; It didn’t really capture Dr. Ansary’s beauty, elegance and aplomb so I decided to do this second portrait. I like this drawing a lot better – it’s closer to what I would expect of myself and I’d like to believe that I’ve finally done Dr. Ansary justice. I hope that she feels the same way I do when she sees it.    

Live The Life

Marco Pierre White. 2020. Pen, ink, and gouache in sketchbook.

Everyday, somewhere in the world, there’s someone who will spend another day of their life toiling away in anonymity, hell-bent on becoming the best at what they do. They’re driven to make art by a creative urge that they were born with and have nurtured since childhood. Making art is all these people know to do; there is no plan B for them, no 401K, no trust fund; it’s either make art or die. Despite the lack of any type of a safety net they continue undaunted down their chosen path. They’re not  seeking approval or applause from anyone. A little money might be nice but, by and large, it’s excellence that drives them. The path they’re on is one that they’ve followed not for weeks or months, but probably for years and most likely for decades. For them, it all started with a dream, a belief, and a vision. From early on they knew they had the potential to be great and they were willing to chase that down and make it a reality no matter what. If any of this sounds familiar to you, then we are kindred spirits.

Being an artist in this century, or any century for that matter, is something that is grossly misunderstood by the majority of people who don’t make art and have half-baked ideas about what art is. That’s not a popular opinion, but it’s true. Although I could continue ranting and raving endlessly on that particular topic, I’m not going to because it’s not the reason that I’m writing this, despite the fact that it does play into what I’m going to talk about.

This post is about something completely different: it’s about what some people refer to as living the life. In my youth, I started to rehearse to living the life and everything that would come along with it. From the age of five I knew that I wanted to be an artist who would live from work that would be recognized on a global level. That goal has always been crystal clear to me. I knew that I had it in me to be great and I also knew that I had the persistence and dedication to make that happen. Legendary British chef Marco Pierre White said the following while talking about how it felt to achieve 3 stars and 5 red knives and forks, the ultimate ranking in the prestigious Michelin Guide to restaurants, “Things don’t happen overnight. You have to make the personal and emotional investment.” He’s absolutely right – you either give 100% of yourself or you will never achieve your goals. In a previous post, I spoke about playing the long game and how most people will never play it because the idea of spending years or decades perfecting a skill seems psychotic to them. There’s no instant gratification in it. It’s not an on demand thing. You can’t buy it. It’s something that takes years, often decades of tireless effort to achieve. There’s no two ways about it. Oh, and if you’re expecting any sort of adulation from the general public you can toss that idea right out the window. It’s not going to happen. People only care about success after it happens to you not while you’re working towards it. As soon as it happens, everybody wants to be your best friend, hang around you, and invite you places. Let’s face it, people are effing pathetic.  

Doing this will never be easy. You have to stay strong and you have to be resilient, otherwise you can easily get thrown off your chosen path by all manner of foolishness. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be great at what you do, but you should understand that most people are not going to understand that. There’s going to be lots of hurdles along the way and people are going to have a never ending list of why what you’re doing is a bad idea. In addition to that, you will encounter the strange phenomenon of people wanting to keep you down at a certain level and not wanting to see you rise despite allegedly liking you. The sad truth is that some people just don’t like watching others succeed. Do not doubt for a single minute that humans can be absolutely petty.

There’s always going to be someone trying to trip you up and throw you off, but the one thing that you have to remember is that you’re the person who decides who you are and what you are capable of. Being great begins with an inner belief and a vision. You can see the finish-line despite the fact that it’s decades away and through sheer will, determination, and bloody-mindedness you reach it. The majority of the people you know will never see that finish line. You are chasing something that is invisible to them. If you’re going to be great then you have to be that. Frank Lloyd Wright had some sage words when it came to this, “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.” Quiet tenacity has worked well for me. No matter what has happened to me in my life, good or bad, I have continued on. If your belief is made up of a hard-wired self confidence, education, experience, and the fact that you’ve rabidly earned every bit of skill that you possess inch by inch then damn it, don’t hide that. Proclaim yourself to be the best at what you do and rejoice in the fact that you have had the resilience to continue for years and decades while refining your skill to a high degree. There’s always going to be those that hate the fact that you’ve been able to do this but, hey, that’s their problem not yours. Comics artist and educator Jessica Abel had some kick-ass advice when speaking on this topic, “Be a poser. Be pretentious. Be ambitious. Be the thing you want to be.” If you’re going to live the life then live it to the maximum unconcerned about what anyone thinks or says and equally unconcerned with wanting attention.

As hackneyed as the saying life is short has become, it still holds true. I believe that in the end it all comes down to priorities. Those things that are deeply important to you will be at the very top of your priorities list without any excuses whatsoever. If the thing that you love to do has helped form the foundation upon which your life is built and helped shape you as a person, then that thing will automatically have the highest priority in your life. It’s something that has deep personal meaning to you; it matters to you profoundly, and you loathe having it trivialized. 

Making art is all that and more to me. I’ve invested my whole life into what I do and I’ve worked hard to earn all the skill I’ve acquired. When I was a young boy I knew that I had the potential to be great. As time went on I understood that it would take time and unrelenting effort to achieve that – if I never gave up, that is. There was a time, not that long ago, where that could have happened. I could have thrown in the towel, called it a day, and stuck to my cubicle job in hopes of reaching 65 so I could start having fun. Fortunately, something like that could never happen to someone like me. I was born to be what I am. The sensibility and aptitude required to make art were clearly present in me at a very early age. I knew that art was my calling ever since I was a young boy and I have never ever doubted that.

At the age of 54 I’m pretty damn clear about who I am and what I’m about. There’s no pretension in that statement, only a rabid self confidence. My patience has become non-existent for those that fail to understand me. I’ve spent far too much time putting up with people’s bullshit over the years. Doubters, skinflints, and  second-rate mediocre hacks no longer have a place in my creative sphere. I am what I am through and through and I’m not going to pretend to be anything else than what I know myself to be. If you’ve had a similar experience and relate to these words, then celebrate all that you’ve achieved, be who you know yourself to be, and above all, live the life. 

P.S.

  1. Always strive to the highest standard because the easiest thing to do in art is to be mediocre.
  2. Be hard on yourself, push yourself. No one is going to push you harder than yourself because no cares about your work more than you do.
  3. If you want to grow look and study the work of people that are better than you. In real life do the same, surround yourself with people that are better than you who will make you strive to be your best.
  4. Stay away from people who have stupid half baked ideas about art Those type of people think that art is a free ride. Stay away from them or they’ll drag you down to their mediocre level.
  5. Surround yourself with people who value what you do and who don’t expect things like discounts and free art. People who expect those things have no respect for your work; they’re cheapskates who are trying to get something for nothing. Tell them to fuck right off.
  6. It’s best to be by yourself and strive to be the best then to be amongst a group of people who settle for mediocrity. 
  7. Always remember that the cream always rises to the top. 
  8. Read about the lives of artists that you admire and for a better understanding of their motives and for guidance. An artist who doesn’t read is one dimensional and boring. 
  9. Forget fame and fortune and concentrate on love of craft and creating great work. Love of craft cannot be bought. If you lose it your work will suffer.
  10. Always be honest with yourself; never attempt to be something you’re not. Not everyone is cut out to be an artist – that’s not a popular opinion these days but who cares, it’s true. Making art takes years of hard work and dedication. It’s not something you buy, it’s something you earn. If you’re really cut out for it you’ll know and if you’re not you’ll know that too. it’s better to be honest than to be delusional. 

 

A Week In Review

Dr. Nina Ansary (Preliminary). 2020. Pen, ink, and gouache in sketchbook. 

Today will be another might-as-well-be-living-in-Sub-Saharan-Africa day in the Central Valley. Summers here are relentless and unforgiving and their effect on my ability to be creative is just one more hurdle I have to overcome in my daily routine. It is what it is.

This week I will continue to give you an insight into what it’s like to be a professional, working artist in the 21st Century. This week I am going to give you a peak into a working week from start to finish, warts and all.

Monday: My days start early, usually between 6:30 and 7:00 am. I normally start them with a book and my first of many cups of coffee. It’s always been important for me to read – an artist who doesn’t read is shallow in personality and short on ideas. I love reading about the lives of artists that I admire; it gives me an understanding of what I’m doing and where I’m going. 

This morning, I’m starting work on the second version of a portrait of Dr. Nina Ansary. My first preliminary pen and ink drawing adorns this week’s post. As always, I feel that it can be better, so I’ll likely redraw it. If I’m lucky, I’ll finish work on my preliminary pencil drawing by this afternoon amidst the sweltering and unbearable heat in my petit atelier. The drawing will be in a very elementary state: a tight but loose sketch that’s ready to be traced and transferred to my tracing pad where it will be refined. That probably won’t happen until tomorrow at the earliest because I’ve got lots of other projects that I need to get to. The pieces that I will be producing in the coming months are important to me and will likely be some of the best work that I’ll ever do. Great art takes time to create and I intend for these to be nothing short of extraordinary. After all these years, I’m still full of piss and vinegar, so without any hesitation whatsoever I can say that I will be going balls out on this new work and pulling no punches in its execution. My time has become precious and I despise wasting it. Most of these ideas are in a preliminary phase and there’s an unimaginable amount of hours left before I can even begin to fathom putting pen to paper and bringing them to completion. 

Tuesday: This morning my work continues on my second portrait of Dr. Ansary. I traced and transferred what I did yesterday over to my tracing pad, so now I can begin to refine and hone the drawing to where I want it to be – this usually happens after multiple tracings. Once I’ve got the drawing where I want it to be, I’ll trace it onto a thick sheet of 3 ply Strathmore series 500 Bristol board and start inking it with Rapidograph technical pens. 

By late in the afternoon, I’ve worked up my pencil preliminary of Dr. Ansary to a satisfactory level and move on to other projects. I’m in the process of organizing a publicity event for later this year that will showcase some of the new work that I’ve been talking about. All of my new work will reflect my love of 19th and 20th Century art, especially Pre-Raphaelite painters such as Sir Edward Burne-Jones and fin de siècle Symbolist painters, draftsman, and engravers such as Carlos Schwabe, Alphonse Mucha, and Gustave Doré. My new work will be a mélange of these influences and reflect personal interests such as Spanish cante, Moorish art, ancient English storytelling, and a myriad of others.

Wednesday: It’s midweek, and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with the process of choosing which projects I want to work on in the coming months. Don’t get me wrong, I want to work on all of them, but I need to zero in on the ones that need to get done sooner. It’s tough doing this because all of these projects are important to me. This feeling isn’t anything new to me, however; it’s part of my creative process. Big projects usually start like this and slowly but surely get organized in my mind. That normally takes place late at night when I’m lying wide awake ruminating on what to do. 

Today was a scorcher. When I say scorcher, you should know that it’s an understatement. I was only half joking earlier when I called the weather here in The Valley Sub-Saharan. Summers here in the Central Valley can be brutal with stretches of days where the weather is over 100° F. The heat is stifling and makes it a challenge to be creative. Scorching weather or not, the show must go on. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamic for everyone including me. Initially I found myself struggling to adapt to it. My wife is a private tutor who usually goes from home to home all afternoon and evening, but all that changed with this pandemic. I was used to days where I could take a break and either read or watch TV whenever I wanted to, but that was taken away from me when my wife started working from home. The first month and a half were kind of rough and I wondered how I was going to adapt to the change. Thankfully, my wife and I worked together to develop a solution. I wake up early and have the morning hours to myself and she stays up late and enjoys the quiet hours of the night. In addition, time has helped resolve the issue. I’m grateful that both my wife and I are able to continue working and doing what we do amidst this worldwide tragedy. 

Thursday: Today it seems as if the universe has listened to my pleas and bestowed a cool and cloudy day upon me. The preliminary pen and ink that adorns this post is something that I’ve been working on over the past few days along with everything else I’ve mentioned. I’m done inking it and making corrections, so it’s time to scan it and get it ready for posting to my social media accounts. The drawing is well done and whatnot, but I’m not sure I’ve captured my subject’s elegance and aplomb. It’s a solid start that will lead to a much stronger drawing when it gets worked up into a more finished piece.

Out of the blue, I’ve decided to start writing the post you’re currently reading a little ahead of schedule because I’m driven to do it; I spend the better part of my afternoon at the computer pounding out the beginnings of this post. The urge to write is something that’s becoming stronger as time goes on. Aside from these weekly blog posts, I’ve also started working on two manuscripts and a collection of short snippets of random moments. I’m not a writer per se, but I like to write, so this will now become part of my creative output – albeit at a much slower rate than my visual art. 

Friday: The universe continues to bless me with cool and cloudy weather. Praise. Today I’m looking forward to continuing all the preliminary work for my upcoming projects. One of the main factors that will differentiate this new work from things I’ve done in the past is that many of these new pieces will be substantially larger than previous work. This obviously means that it will take an even greater amount of time to complete most of the work I have planned. The most exciting thing about these new pieces is that I’ve been keeping a list of “Projects I Will Someday Have the Skill to Complete” for the past 35 years and I finally feel technically ready to undertake the work required to bring these ideas to fruition.

The week is ending on a good note. I ‘m feeling more productive than I have in quite some time. Work on all my projects is moving ahead, and I’ve got everything I need in order to move forward with everything that I want to do over the coming months. Onward, ever onward.  

Creating A Drawing

People often inquire about how I go about creating a drawing, so I thought I’d take this week’s post to answer that often asked question. 

The drawing that I’ll be using as an example for this post is my brooding pen and ink portrait of painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, cofounder of the English Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. When I decide to draw a portrait of someone, the person has to intrigue me in one way or another – there has to be a fair amount of depth and intrigue to them. If you know anything about Rossetti, you’ll understand why I chose to draw him: painter, poet, translator, visionary, and one of Victorian England’s greatest figures; the choice to draw him wasn’t difficult. 

The first step in my process is the search for good photo reference. This is a practice that was drilled into my head when I was an illustration major in art school and one that I’ve not abandoned despite no longer considering myself an illustrator. Fortunately, I found a great portrait of DGR by preeminent Victorian photographer, Frederick Hollyer. The next step is the preparatory pencil sketch where I establish all the angles and proportions of the face and where I start to indicate facial features. I usually do this using a Rotring 800 mechanical pencil using HB lead. I did my drawing in a Stillman & Birn softcover Alpha sketchbook. SB uses really sturdy paper so things like repeated erasing usually isn’t a problem. SB sketchbooks also take ink really well. This first stage is often the hardest as I have to make sure that all the angles and proportions are just right so that I don’t have to go back and correct mistakes later. Correcting mistakes that could have been avoided is just a waste of my time. 

In the next phase, I start to work up the subject‘s features in order to bring forth their personality. Features are a tricky thing; again, lots of attention must be paid to them at this stage so that the personality of the subject comes through. Setting a drawing aside for a day or two will aid greatly in picking out any mistakes that have been made. Once the preliminary drawing is at a solid stage of completion it’s time to move on to the final and most tedious stage: rendering in ink. 

The majority of my ink work is done with Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph technical pens. I favor point 0/.35 for most of my work. I prefer Rapidographs because they use real ink and are refillable. I’m no fan of supposedly modern disposable pens like those made by Micron. I tried them years ago and they felt flimsy and unreliable. My Rapidographs are solid pens that haven’t failed me in 35 years. 

The first thing I do when I start to render my drawing in ink is to outline the subject’s features. Once that’s done, I start to thicken my line work by going over my lines to add variety and depth to my them. At this point I start putting in the darkest values in so that I can contrast all lesser values against them. I repeat this until I achieve an overall and pleasing balance. Once this balance is achieved, I correct any and all mistakes with Winsor Newton white designer’s gouache. 

I’ve included my original version of my portrait  and the updated one I did a few months later. The drawing didn’t feel right when I finished it; some of the proportions were off and the value balance was off. Using gouache, I whited out a portion of his forehead at the hairline and shortened it. I also whited out some of the hair on the back of his head as well. In addition, I darkened the background. These changes really brought the drawing together and brought out that brooding quality that’s evident in Rossetti’s features. 

Pen and ink is amongst the most challenging of mediums to work with. It’s similar to watercolor in that everything must be well thought out before the actual rendering begins and because there’s very little room for mistakes. Yes, you can white out mistakes with gouache but it’s better not to make those mistakes to begin with. Pen and ink is also challenging to work with because of the difficulty in achieving subtleties in shading. Unlike pencil, pen and ink requires a lot more work in order to achieve this. If there’s one thing that’s true about pen and ink it’s that a well executed drawing has a definitive power to it that is unique to this drawing medium.

Lux Aeterna


When I woke up on the morning of February 24, 2005, I did so knowing that on that day I would have to do the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do: ask my mother if she wanted to continue living. I also knew that I would have to respect her decision no matter what it was. I sat by her bedside and held her hand on that overcast day and asked her three times if she wanted to continue onward. Each time she said no. Like most people, I was ill prepared to deal with this. All I could do was roll with the tide of uncertainty that had already enveloped my daily existence and hope that I’d survive it and not fall into that dark abyss that I teetered closer and closer to with each passing day. 

In that turbulent era, I adopted a daily mantra. It was something that my mom had said throughout my life and now I was telling it to myself: Onward. Ever onward. Those words defined my mother and how she lived every day of her life. When my mom turned 40 she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term autoimmune disorder that primarily affects joints. A common sign that someone has it is a gradual deformation of limbs such as hands. In its advanced stages, RA also attacks organs. Ultimately it was this that took my mom’s life at 70 years old. 

During the thirty years that she lived with this disorder, my mom fought the good fight each and every single day. I once asked her how she could live with such pain on a daily basis, and she said something that I’ve never forgotten, “I have accepted the pain, but I have to continue onward ever onward,” or, as she would say in Spanish, “Pa’lante, siempre pa’lante.” My mom was a fighter. 

Had it not been for rheumatoid arthritis I would have had my mom at least another decade. To say that I feel cheated by life would be a massive understatement. I wish she could have met my wife; she would have loved her – my mom always had a great respect for educators and education. I wish she could have seen me evolve and refine my talent to the level that I have. My brush and ink portrait of Auguste Rodin from 2013 would have thrilled her to no end. Despite the fact that my mother had zero formal art training, she loved art and never doubted my ability or my future. She always said that my brushwork was something special, and her eyes would have glistened with pride on seeing the brushwork on that portrait of Rodin. Alas, my mother will never meet my wife; she will never see the development of my skill and the work that I am producing now and will produce in the future. Although she’s no longer physically with me, however, she is more a part of me now than ever before. Now she is always with me; wherever I go, she’s there. She’s never far away. Her fighting spirit lives within me. She is my lux aeterna; an eternal light shining in my heart. 

My mom always believed in me and supported my talent. “Art is in the blood,” she would say to me, “and you have that.” My gratitude to her for her belief in me and her support of my talent is unending. It’s because of my mom that I’m an artist. From the time I was a small child, she astutely understood that her one and only son had a talent for making art. She always made sure that I had what I needed: books, supplies, tutors, etc. Despite my mom never believing that my talent came from her, she had an innate sense of design that became more and more obvious to me as I went through art school. Her sense of design was completely natural; she had never been taught about design and yet there it was. She always had a knack for putting things together and having them just look right. I’m never in doubt that this is where my own sense of design comes from. 

After she passed in 2005, I lost my way and my skill diminished. For so long I was unable to focus on my work and unable to sit and allow the ideas to flow from my brain like the ink from my pen. I never stopped drawing altogether, but I felt like I had suffered such a set back. It was like it put me years behind. However, I always remembered my mom’s words and her spirit: Onward. Ever onward. I learned from my mother to never ever give up, so I kept fighting, kept pushing, and now I’m seeing that fight pay off. Now, I draw better than I ever have. Because of that the direction that my work will now follow has become very clear to me. 

My mom always believed that I had the talent and the skill to be great. She made a lot of sacrifices to make sure I got the education to make that happen. She knew that the education she was giving me would live on long after she was gone. She used to tell me that the education she was giving me was the sword that would help get me through life. A decade and a half after I sat next to her on that overcast February day, saying goodbye and holding her hand, her fighting spirit is burning more brightly within me than ever before. She believed that I could be great and I don’t intend to disappoint her. 

The drawing that accompanies this post is a pen and ink study from my sketchbook for a larger drawing that I plan on doing later this year.

Voices Not Forgotten

The world seems crueler in 2019. It’s not really any worse, but it feels like it is. With the advent of the internet and social media we are all now hyper aware of the worst things that happen in our world. The days of hearing only vague details about something happening in another part of the world on the nightly news are gone. We now get, on a daily basis, blow-by-blow, live on-the-spot, in-your-face reports about all manner of atrocities that are happening in any part of the world at any given time. 

As time has passed, I have felt an increasingly strong need to use my work to give voices that have gone silent a chance to be heard anew. Each and every day there are atrocities committed all over the world that leave me speechless. Last week, it was another mass shooting at a high school in Southern California where more innocent people died and yesterday and today it was Fresno and Oklahoma. Tomorrow it’ll be somewhere else and it’ll happen to people that you are currently completely unaware of. You will learn the names of these innocent souls because their lives will have come to a sudden and unjust end. You might not personally know these people who are lost to senseless violence, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not important. The names of the innocent deserve to be heard. Their lives deserve to be remembered.

One such person that I recently found out about is 14 year old Ana Kriégel of Dublin, Ireland. Ana was brutally murdered in May 2018 by two 13 year old boys who lured her to a derelict farmhouse outside the city. Here’s a bit of Ana’s story from Wikipedia:

 “Anastasia “Ana” Kriégel (/kriːˈeɪʒəl/; 18 February 2004 – 14 May 2018) was a Russian-Irish girl who was subject to a violent attack, murdered and sexually assaulted in an abandoned house late May 2018 in Lucan near Dublin. Two boys, known only as Boy A and Boy B who were 13 years old at the time of Kriégel’s death, were convicted of her murder, with one of the boys (Boy A) being further convicted of aggravated sexual assault. The two convicts are the youngest in the history of Ireland to be charged with murder.” 

There simply are no words for this act of pure evil. Ana’s death was a senseless, cold-blooded murder that can never be justified. Just like so many other victims of violent crime, Ana’s name deserves to be remembered. As an artist I feel that it’s important for me to share these stories. It’s the least that I can do. I hope that my drawing has done Ana justice. 

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.

Empathy and Finesse

It’s late on an August evening and I’ve spent the better part of my day behind my drawing table working on a myriad of projects, including this blog post. It’s stifling in my studio tonight, but work must continue. People often ask me how much I work on a daily basis, perhaps a better question would be how much I don’t work. I’m up early, around 7:30, and I’m in the studio a great part of the day. Lately, I’ve been racking up the hours — I’m starting to slowly edge back to those 14 hour days that were so common in the past.

The drawing that I’ve chosen for this new blog post is one that I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time. It’s been quite a while since my last post; I’ve put off making a new post because I just couldn’t bear to bring myself to publish yet another journal page filled with drawings of food or coffee-swilling patrons. These things are so commonplace nowadays that they have become cliche. Surely there’s more interesting things to draw, right? There has to be more tto a post for me than the shine of silverware and the ritualistic act of daily caffeine ingestion. 

Recently, the world has felt so dark. The news can be so overwhelming and it’s easy to feel a sense of hopelessness and despair. As always, though, there are those that burn like beacons in the dark, showing us the way forward. Powerful women are stepping forward worldwide to guide us. These include Americans like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ruth Bader Ginsberg as well as international figures such as Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist, and Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. On March 15, 2019 the city of Christchurch, New Zealand suffered a horrific terrorist attack where a gunman killed 51 people and injured 49 others at two local mosques during Friday prayer. In the wake of these attacks, the Prime Minister reached out to the families of the victims and held them close to her as they came to grips with such a senseless and cowardly act. Most importantly, within a month she helped pass legislation that banned assault style weapons in New Zealand. 

I remember seeing images of her comforting her bereft countrymen on social media and I was moved by the great empathy that the Prime Minister showed them. Her actions were the exact opposite of what I see here in the United States — her actions were heartfelt and genuine as opposed to being just another photo op. This portrait is the first in a series of new drawings that will celebrate exceptional women. 

What you see here is basically a preliminary drawing that will lead to a finished piece. I’m still working it out and finessing her features. It may look finished, but I can assure you that this is far from done. Her face is the most important element of my drawing, so her features have to be spot on. I hope that I’m able to capture the sincere and heartfelt empathy in her gaze. Showing such emotion is a challenge that I’m excited to be undertaking. 

A Kindred Spirit

Originally, this post was set to appear on Saturday, June 8th, 2019 to commemorate the first anniversary of Anthony Bourdain’s death; however, once I started working on my portrait I realized that wouldn’t be able to complete my drawing to my satisfaction. Instead of rushing to complete the drawing, I decided to put it off by a day in order to ensure that my portrait of Tony would meet my standards.

A year ago, on the day he died, Anthony Bourdain’s name was only vaguely familiar to me. I’d heard his name mentioned here and there by the cool cats that I’m fortunate to know; you know, people in the know, people that know the cool stuff that most folks are oblivious to until those things hit the mainstream years later. One such soul is my old pal, Kenny. He had read Tony’s classic culinary exposé, Kitchen Confidential, when it was originally published in 2000. What can I say? I’m a serious latecomer. Worst of all is that I missed out on many years of enjoying the exploits of one of the coolest people to ever walk the world stage.

I read Kitchen Confidential for the first time in 2018, and I instantly connected with Tony and his tale of the ups and downs experienced while living, “The Life.” It sounded all too familiar: living a life outside the norm and hell bent on making a success out of it all while putting up with the general public and their total misconceptions about what a working professional goes through. Most of all, I loved that Tony had the same attitude towards being a chef and cooking that I have towards being an artist and making art: shit or get off the pot.

Within days of his untimely passing, I was watching Parts Unknown and discovering something truly wonderful: storytelling through food. I watched and re-watched as many episodes as I could. Since then, I’ve discovered all manner of things — terminology such as mis en place, foods like roasted bone marrow, great restaurants like St. John, and great chefs like Marco Pierre White and Fergus Henderson. Because of Tony’s insatiable curiosity, I’ve discovered a whole new world that has expanded my world view. I am not alone in my feelings about this, his curiosity, adventurous spirit, and easygoing personality has enriched us all. Thanks, Tony.

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.

Craft and Substance

After my last blog post, I realized that there are two things that it boils down to when making art for me: craft and substance. I’m at an age where certain things need to be inherent in whatever I create: It must be well designed and it must be well crafted. I’m not a fan of bad art. I loathe it; I loathe it even more if I’m the one producing it. In my eyes, there’s no excuse for mediocrity. None. You either do it right or you don’t do it at all. Facility and great technique can certainly be impressive, but they alone are not enough. The piece of work being created has to say something about me as a person — it has to have substance to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to hang on a gallery wall or if it’s going to be in my sketchbook — the work has to reflect some aspect of me as an individual and my POV on the world at large, or whatever. Otherwise, what’s the point? The drawing that adorns this week’s post is a fine example of what I’m talking about.

When I read the story of Helene Lebel, it struck a chord deep within me. In my life, I’ve encountered and witnessed up close what the effects of mental illness do to people. On a personal level, I watched as my uncle, Raul, struggled valiantly with schizophrenia for over 30 years. It’s a horrible thing to watch – physically, my uncle appeared to be well but his appearance belied the internal chaos and the forces that were mentally ravaging him. I also witnessed the scourge of mental illness as part of a job I held. Years ago, I worked as a Spanish mental health interpreter for San Joaquin County; on a daily basis I, once again, got to see the insidious effects of mental illness at work. Along with the doctor or therapist and the client, I was present during appointments. This meant that I heard everything that was said during the appointment. Sometimes, I wish that I’d never heard some of the things that were discussed during those appointments. Interpreting at the clinic for adults was bad enough, but interpreting for the children’s clinic was heartbreaking.

Sadly, in 2018, mental health still carries a stigma. People who suffer with mental health issues are still described as being: crazy, nuts, cuckoo, whacked, touched, bat-shit crazy, etc. It’s so unfair to label people like that — they can’t help it. I often wonder if the people who make such remarks about complete strangers would do the same for someone they love? I’ve learned that everything changes when an issue becomes personal. Funny that. After my experience with mental illness, and based on what I’ve seen and heard, I wouldn’t wish mental illness on my worst enemy.

Helene Lebel’s story is tragic. At age 19, when she was a law student, she began to show symptoms of schizophrenia, and was forced to abandon her studies. In 1936 she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and placed in Vienna’s Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital. Two years later, the Germans annexed Austria. Helene’s parents were made to believe that she was going to be released, but that was never going to happen. In August 1940, Helene’s mother was notified that Helene had been transferred to a hospital in Bavaria, when in reality she had been transferred to a converted prison in Brandenburg, Germany. There, she was subjected to a physical examination and then lead into a shower room. Helene was one of 9,772 persons who were gassed at the Brandenburg Euthanasia Center. She was listed in official paperwork as having died in her room from “acute schizophrenic excitement.”

I would like to thank the US Holocaust Memorial Museum for providing information and details on Helene’s life.

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.

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.

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. 

 

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!