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.    

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.  

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. 

My Life On Paper

Keeping a sketch-journal for the better part of three decades is respectable to say the least. I used to go to cafes to draw and I’d never see anyone else doing the same thing. It was strange to see that. Okay, maybe every once in a great while I’d see another bloke with a sketchbook but it wasn’t very often that I did. Nowadays, that’s changed. Now, it seems like everyone is lugging around a sketchbook — I think that’s great. I, personally, can’t imagine myself not carrying my sketchbook around with me. What if something amazingly awesome were to happen in front of me? Can’t draw it without my sketchbook.

Over the years, I’ve written and drawn about all sorts of stuff in my journal: ideas, thoughts, feelings, opinions, you name it, I’ve written about it. Throughout my years of graphic journaling I’ve felt like there’s never been a real balance between what I write and what I draw. I think that a successful sketch-journal should reflect both aspects in equal measure. Ah, the ongoing struggles of a working artist. I wonder how many people ever imagine such things when looking through my sketch-journal? My gut instinct tells me not many. I’m not surprised and ultimately I don’t really care.

There’s always something to write about and there’s always something to draw; every single day is filled with strange and wonderful things done by people who are strange and who do strange things all the time. You just never know what you’re going to see and hear on any given day. Good, bad, stupid, pompous, disgusting — it’s all game for my trusty Rapidograph. There’s going to be a whole lot of that in my forthcoming journal pages. What will make it all different is the approach that I’ll be taking: a little more honest, a little more reflective, a little sarcastic, a little more to the point. It’s the only way to do this. Barbara Bradley, the head of the illustration department at The Academy of Art College in the 80s used to say, “Put it down with authority,” when it came to drawing; those sage words can also apply to writing as well. When someone looks at my sketch-journal my life has to be on those pages otherwise I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.

Lastly, a word about the sketch for this post. I’d been sitting at my local coffeehouse drawing and sucking up the free AC for the better part of a Sunday Afternoon and I had started to pack my things up when suddenly, outside the window, I saw this vision of beauty appear. There was no way that I was leaving before drawing her. Beautiful dark eyes, long lashes, long dark thick hair, how could I resist? Thankfully, she sat for quite a while as she conversed thus allowing  me to immortalize her in the pages of my journal. Job done.

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!