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. 

 

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.

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.