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.

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.

Living The Life

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

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

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

Make Art, Be Happy



“Make art, be happy,” popped into my mind this morning as I was having my first cup of coffee while drawing in my sketchbook and listening to my Steely Dan playlist on Spotify. I often have these types of thoughts pop into my mind that throw me a curveball; they’re deceptively simple but they somehow make perfect sense. Crazy, right. There’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple.

This past week has been decent; it’s been a mixture of both good and bad — mostly good. At the end of it all, I learned a few things. One of them is that the things that leave a bitter taste in your mouth are often the things that teach you the best lessons. At my age, I’ve learned that there are something’s that are simply not worth my time and that it’s best to move on. A lot of my thinking is done as I draw. That’s one of the magic things about drawing: I can totally cut everything around me out and focus on one thing. It enables me to work through whatever it is as I put pencil or pen to paper.

This week’s drawing afforded me to sit and enjoy music and podcasts that put new ideas into my head. That in of itself is priceless. Household objects may seem boring but they’re actually quite fun to draw. Not only are they great practice but they also challenge you to try and put some character into them and use them to help you communicate what you’re experiencing at any given moment. It’s like a quick snapshot of a moment in your daily life that others wouldn’t necessarily ever know about. That type of communication is what art is all about; pulling the viewer into your personal world is the whole point. Writing and drawing about your daily life is one of the best things you can do. It’s therapeutic, it helps you to focus, and it gives you an outlet to express yourself. What more could you ask for, right? Make art and be happy.

Stephen Biko


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

Starbucks, Big Heads and Big Cigars

A couple of weeks ago, I popped in to my neighborhood Starbucks to say hi to friends; it was the first time I’d been there in a while. The past couple of months have been extremely wet for us here in California so, it’s been hard to get out and walk. Thankfully, that has come to an end. The sun is shining and the days are long once again. The following months will be busy ones for me — I have quite a few projects planned that require my attention, but I intend to make as much time as I can to get out and soak up the sunshine and draw.

As I walk around my neighborhood and draw the people that come and go into places like my local Starbucks I see certain characters over and over; they’re part of the establishment just like the furniture. Some of them have been coming into SB for as long as it has existed here. That’s a long time. The guy that I’ve drawn here isn’t an exact representation of anyone, but instead an amalgamation of different blokes that I spy while drawing. They all have certain features that are very “drawable,” so I’ve chosen a select few of those features and created my own Frankenstein monster. It was pretty enjoyable, I must say.

As for the text that runs along the side of this page — what can I say, I have my opinions when it comes to art. In this case, they’re opinions that I’ve had for a long time; They’ve gotten stronger over the years and I’m finally spitting them out based on what I see going on. It is what it is, take it or leave it. I’m not a gold coin that that’s here to please everyone. C’est La vie.  

Doing What I do Best


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


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

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

And So It Begins

 

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

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

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