Rob Dunlavey
On the Wing
Details from a few recent doodles:
The addition of birds is my bulwark against the indeterminancy of abstraction. I hope that clears things up.
something needs painting…
With all the fog, eyes might be overrated.
Always on!
Eating fallen fruit
Corinthian statuette of a cavalrymen
Increasingly, one's patience is exhausted and there will be no one to listen to the theories.
Sorry, I'm just in a pessimistic mood. About everything? No: just about the good old Homeland™. Where are we really headed? Greatness? What does that look like to you?
It's something I explore and see inverted in the backup mirror of my sketchbooks. Bonne journée!
miscellaneous sketchbookery
Mixed-media scribbles from the night-time sketchbook. In thedaylight I draw water and ducks and such or do commercial work. Keep your pencils busy people!
05-29-16b: been looking at Indian art among other things.
06-06-16a: palace guard
06-01-16a: what we wake to: a bird on the nose.
05-29-16a: ducks heading home.
06-03-16b: The king's assassins.
06-04-16a: insignia
Observations 2015
02-07-16 ink
02-07-16 ink, chalk
02-10-16 charcoal
02-15-16 charcoal, watercolor
Above are a couple of recent landscape drawings. Last year, I made several hundred of these types of studies. Most of the drawings are of a small area of the Charles River near my home. The philosopher says "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."
am addicted to drawing this place.
I just self-published a small book of the 2015 drawings. This book is A5 format, full color, runs 358 pages and costs $22.00. Check it out here. There may be a few bad drawings in this book but the point is more my cumulative presence and a sense of Time in a specific Place. Sometimes it feels like civil disobedience to stop in the rushing flow of this anxious age.
City Gardens
The motto of the city of Chicago where I grew up is "Urbs in horto" (Latin for "city in a garden"). I suppose many cities would claim this as a goal or even an accomplished fact of life. I've always liked the architectural mosaic that define cities. And when it comes to making pictures, I like to contrast the geometric forms of buildings with natural forms. It creates one of the most critical and important dialogues of all time: the relationship between Nature and Culture. Either one becomes the backdrop for our stories and the myths we tell ourselves about our importance as a species. It's all rather fragile.
In the last month, I've been doing more of these city views with mobs of little people milling about. Enjoy. And have a safe and happy New Year.
11/12/15: it's always Summer inside this house.
11/20/15: a doodle started on the bus ride from New York
12/03/15: Oh look, here come the military recruiters. Who cares!
12/19/15:St. Francis statue.
12/27/15a: Tell us the story about when the tigers came to visit!
12/27/15b: Seed bank
Crystal Cities
Making art is so much fun. I do these castle & city doodles while I watch the Red Sox. I do them in the car (not when I'm driving) and during meetings. I draw early and late and whenever I'm not sure what I probably should be drawing (procrastinating). It's just a great little workout. Anything goes. And I find a way to keep it interesting with different techniques, paper and media. I archive them in a flickr gallery which contains over 500 images. Some begin life as real dogs so I paint over them and do something else till they make a case for themselves.
That's it. Steady on.
Progress Report
In 2010, I steered my little art boat in the direction of children's book illustration. Enough personal work had accrued that appeared to be a children's book illustration portfolio. I showed it to a number of publishers in Paris and New York and some commissions came in. It looked mostly like this:
"Owl and Tern" personal work 2010
Thanks to Barry Blitt and to the interest of Lee Wade and Rachel Cole at Random House, my first picture book was published by Schwartz and Wade in 2014. "The Dandelion's Tale", written by Kevin Sheehan,  describes the ill-fated relationship of an old dandelion flower and a friendly sparrow. Reviewers appreciated a picture book about loss and liked my slightly "retro" style and the warm colors. Words like "style and "retro" seem very strange to me.
sample spreads and the cover of "The Dandelion's Tale:" we have birds and the intimate relationship of two very different characters like the Owl and Tern in my portfolio. So far so good.
Around the time "Dandelion's Tale" was wrapping up, I was fortunate to be asked to join Pippin Properties in beautiful New York City founded and led by the inspiring Holly McGhee. My rep there is the creative and hard-working Elena Giovinazzo who had a tailor-made manuscipt waiting for me from Simon & Schuster written by Kathi Appelt: "Counting Crows." It was published last March.
My preliminary sketches for this book were pretty detailed scenes. After several drafts, Debra Sfetsios-Conover, my art director at Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, wisely envisioned a bold typographic design solution. Then things fell into place. The drawings are done with various pencils. The color was added digitally. The final printed cover is embossed and has red flocking for the red shirts and scarf.
Last year, Schwartz & Wade asked me to illustrate another book which will be published in July. Like "The Dandelion's Tale" there's a climactic scene of a dark and violent storm ( a hurricane nonetheless!).  "Over In the Wetlands" is written by Caroline Starr Rose and it tells how Louisiana bayou animals experience a life-changing yet natural event. Caroline's poetry is measured and varied as it builds with the storm's arrival. The cimactic spreads are nearly completely black. As the hurricane retreats and the animals emerge from their refuges, they see a new "jumbled" world ready to be explored. The accompanying rhymes breathe once again and we are brought fulll circle and safe, steady and ready for a peaceful starry night. Perfect for 4-8 year olds.
Final cover design and examples of spreads. All art directed by the always-marvelous-to-work-with Rachel Cole. Mixed media: mostly watercolor and collage.
A third Schwartz and Wade book is in the works. it will be published in 2016. Here are a few sneak peeks at the early sketches:
character sketch
baby owl can't sleep (pencil, digital color)
Strangely, and this is difficult for me to sort out (because creating Art is so fulfilling and fun, I feel there is more road ahead of me. The proof is that I continue to make lots of Art (like in 2009 and 2010, etc.) that looks a whole like children's book illustration. Hidden somewhere in the tangles and jungles of my searching there is some sort of picture book… I do not know what form it will take. I wish I did. Push push push!
Thank you for reading and looking.
There's a lot of "process" involved here and art-making is a form of therapy or relaxation. It's my life-line and lifestyle. It's a shame not to monetize it a wee bit more in a way that keeps the capricious spirits satisfied.
odds & ends
this started out with a rubbing of a sanding disk I found in the street. The center is where the star is.
Recent personal work here (paintings: January to March 2015). All done in in black books early in the morning before the house wakes up --usually. I've also started using instagram to document some of this work in progress. Sometimes I blog a little about this sort of work here. Ad infinitum… ad nauseum! etc.
Finishing work can be a struggle; this is a Frankenstein monster with lots of layers of collage as I tried out different solutions. Usually, I end up with an intriguing landscape or castle scene. Then it's time to add some trees and figures or …something for the imagination to curl up close to. In this case, a scholar strolls in the university gardens while reading a book.
Just working directly is the BEST experience. No sketches. Just see what bubbles up.
An angle has a conversation with an extremist whose castle of the mind has become a prison.
a grumpy tiger (texture rubbing, latex, ink, watercolor)
Becalmed amid a sea of dragged inky brushstrokes
Spiders putting the finishing touches on a new web.
The last snowflake? (colored pencil, collage)
Not sure what's going on here. For sure, this is therapy: did the clown save the geese? Did he capture or steal the geese? What's he doing in this field on the outskirts of civilization… and so on.
Having a little quiet chat…
Power plant
baby monkeys playing in the jungle
Reminds me of the Sierra Nevada…
Finito! I hope you enjoyed my paintings.
Sketchbook: Dec. 2014
This is semi chronological for December 2014: I ping-pong back and forth between imaginary painted things, landscape drawings and doodles all in a black bound sketchbook. I also submitted the final art for a children's book and did some pro-bono things. Where does the time go?
Merry Christmas to all!
Before I go to work
Nifty brush and ink drawings of Canada Geese. Now that Summer is really here, the word has gone out to waterfowl far and near that South Natick is a destination!
There were lots of animals hanging around the South Natick Dam in the last week or two. As the water level goes down (unless we get more early season man-size hurricanes --unlike wimpy Arthur). Families of mallards will start holding swimming lessons, herons will be bumping into each other and children wil splash across the shallows over to the island to look for buried treasure and return home with poison ivy.
You can find me over there most mornings between 7:00 - 8:00 am before I go to work. 
He reminds me of the Marlboro Man: aloof, tall, strong and handsome.
Like just about every day I check these guys out. It's cheap therapy
Take a number! Geese line up on the tip top of the dam across the Charles Rover. Love that dirty water.
Drew this technicolor goose off site. I think it was in church…
The South Natick dam has a fish ladder on one end. I've seen fish trying leap up over the dam. There's no way they can make it over. They really ought to use the fish ladder. What were they thinking?
An Eastern Painted Turtle. His appearance was auspicious: I'm working right now on a painting of a similar type of turtles for a new picture book. More action shots in a facebook album:
These fish are too heavy and they do not spawn upriver as far as I know. They must weigh 10-15 lbs AT LEAST. There were about 15 big carp cruising back and forth along the face of the dam the other day. I blogged about them here
detail of three fish. (charcoal, watercolor)
Another Orphan
"The Lookout" …or it could have many other different titles: The Astronomer, the Lighthouse Keeper, Where do the stars go in the daytime?, etc. (mixed media, June 2, 2014)
Orphans! My sketchbooks are full of orphans: pictures in search of stories and stories searching for endings. But that's Life: endings, beginnings and endless questions in-between. Perhaps that's why this gentleman is snoozing at his telescope in his perch atop his cluttered beach shack/outpost.  A striped ginger cat keeps him anchored —otherwise, he might just dematerialize in the interminable and hallucinatory waiting.
I'm sorry for this unhelpful but colorful prose: the upshot is that I draw these single images for myself all the time and I successfully resist corralling the ideas into real stories with multiple images that might be enjoyed as a satisfying page-turning experience. Maybe it's time for a workshop or something. 
colophon: This was made with oil pastel, ink, watercolor, colored pencil, graphite and a little latex paint over several days of undisciplined fussing. Size: 11 x 8.5 inches.
Bird Brain
I draw birds a lot. Most of them are of the imaginary variety. Some of these doodles and personal works have inspired the few children's books I've completed in the last year or are currently working on.
back in 2012 I was sitting in the bar at the Hard Rock near Fenway Park one afternoon doodling in my sketchbook and enjoying a bowl of chili and a frosty beer.
I came up with a few pages of these silly crows. I guess it was my Coco Chanel phase. My lovely agent (Elena at Pippin Properties) loved the image and found the perfect manuscript by Kathi Appelt to go with it. Simon & Schuster is publishing it next Fall. The art is all clean graphite drawings with digital color added. Below we see the dirty dozen (minus two!) palavering about their next meal.
"Counting Crows" is made up of rhyming text about a dozen very hungry crows. Here they are eating stale potato chips and slimy snails.
A few other animals in my portfolio captured the interest of Anne Schwartz, Lee Wade, and Rachael Cole at Schwartz & Wade. "The Dandelion's Tale" written by Kevin Sheehan, was published in March. The reviews have been gratifying to read. People get so much more out of the book than I ever imagined. It's about friendship, loss and grief.
The dandelion complains that she is old and no one will remember her when she is gone. The sparrow takes pity on her and in the process of listening to her recount her favorite memories, they become friends.
This is typical of the images that were in my portfolio in 2010 when I visited Schwartz & Wade. Rachael was drawn to the relationships between the characters. This is from an as-yet unpublished story about a small tern and an owl and their friend, a big red bear. It's all very symbolic.
In "The Dandelion's Tale" there's a big storm one night. Things don't end well but I had fun painting this spread. It's ink, watercolor, charcoal, colored pencil and some digital rain
In the book I'm currently working on for Schwartz & Wade: "Over In The Wetlands" by Caroline Starr Rose there's another big storm (actually a hurricane). Here's a digitally colored pencil sketch of egrets cowering in the face of the intense wind and pelting rain. I'm embarking on the final art this weekend and it will be completed sometime in June.
I'm not crazy about this drawing of owl and tern enjoying a piece of cake around a campfire perhaps but I can call it process work. I post most of my sketchbook pages and doodles online in different places and it piles up like an archive. This is another image from my owl and tern saga that Schwartz & Wade dug up and found compelling. We'll see what happens. The book comes out in 2016 sometime. This new book for very young readers is about an owlet who takes a flight one Autumn night.
Hello Drawgerville. I am still fogging the mirror!
I'm the little guy on the right and I'm about to leap gracefully (I hope) through the hoop the big person is holding. A book project is overdue and  j u s t   a b o u t   d  o  n  e. Just a few more things to clean up!
Then I jump to several (languishing) projects: another children's book, a commission for the East Hampton Library, my own book proposals. Despite this abundance of projects and, alas, my attendant lack of discipline and complaining™ , I find time each morning to scribble in my sketchbooks for no apparently useful reason except the grim reality of my own coffee addiction and my happy, open-ended Art therapy. Enjoy! Tons more at my tumblr, flickr, blog 2 and blog 3.
10-05-13 A Romantic Cormorant
10-08-13 -Storkville
10-12-13 -at the greenhouse
10-13-13 -The careful Imperialists
10-17-13 -The children are coming!
10-21-13 -Another dreary holiday in irons
10-23-13 -Playground time
10-24-13 Turkish delight
10-27-13 --a self-portrait probably
Character Study
They asked "How wide is the ocean?" He wondered: how deep is the ocean?
The little dragon wandered without much purpose. His pleasures were small in stature too: slugs, seeds, shadowy things and places.
As luck would have it, his mood improved and he tried out his wings.
He wondered how something so beautiful could not also bring happiness to others.
They appreciated the gesture at least.
Life made no sense… and the beautiful stars just said "Uh-huh."
Draw first, ask questions later. That's my operative principle these days. Or one of the major ones. I'm trying to use what I do best (in my opinion): sketching and painting personal work in sketchbooks as a pathway into writing children's stories.
This dragon character keeps popping up. When I paint, I do pretty abstract stuff first (scratches, rubbed textures, wax resist, different types of paint, collage, etc.). These usually (lamentably?) resolve into landscapes of some sort. The empty landscapes invite and goad me into adding some narrative element or figure. Composition happens and the picture is completed. The trick is sustaining enthusiasm and listening to the character and believing in the character as they tell me about their lives.
Along these lines, I just read Milton Glaser's "Drawing is Thinking" (2008, Overlook). The essay and interview printed in the book attempt to describe the selection and sequencing of images in the book but if you just look through it, the organization is pretty obvious. I love Glaser's work and continue to be inspired since the when his first book came out in the early 1980's. —But somehow, as an aside I just wonder… is he altogether a minor artist? It feels like heresy to say this. Maybe it's just his prodigiously vital intellect and eloquence and his omnivorous and loving and consistent quoting of classical Art. Maybe it's just because it's so darn beautiful! I struggle with it.
Another book I am so happy to own is the endlessly inspiring reproductions of Domenico Tiepolo's "Punchinello Drawings" (used & rare at Amazon). Since the drawings were made in the late 1700's, scholars have tried to assemble them into a narrative of the infamous Commedia dell'arte character. Tiepolo seemed happy enough presenting the work (executed late in his life) as a somewhat jumbled family album rather than a strict narrative.
This is definitely food for thought as I juggle just making pictures and story writing. Here are a few grabs off the web from Punchinello:
"The Burial of Punchinello", ca. 1800 Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Italian, Venetian, 1727–1804) Pen and brown ink, brown and yellow wash, over black chalk
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, c. 1797 "Punchinello Carried off by a Centaur"
War Games
1989: a postcard from my young nephew August.
I'm ashamed to say, I never fulfilled his drawing request but it reminded me vividly of my childhood. August just graduated from Dartmouth. I think he's pre-med with an interest in anthropology and social aspects of health-care in the developing world. I wish there were more people like him out there!
My older sister drew horses, the Beatles and, later, the dreamy lads in the Moody Blues. I looked up to my sister. I think I may have gotten some of the art bug from her example.
I still look up to my sister and I'm still learning to draw horses. This is probably because I simply drew battle scenes when I was little. The discipline that went into figuring out a horse was foreign to my excitable boy brain. I went through lots of paper and whatever drawing implements we had (usually cast off pens, dried up markers, crayons and pencils jumbled into a shoe box). What I remember the most was the great sound effects I'd make as I drew. Maybe this was a way of post-processing the comic books I read at the time. Thank goodness my parents never gave me an app for all this!
Now, as I find myself revisiting these childhood themes in my sketchbook and enjoying it, I wonder why this self-contained memory of childhood is vivid and happy.
It's safe to say, it had nothing to do with war, per se. It had everything to do with constructing a moral universe of good & bad where justice prevails. Also, the paper was its own little theater or universe that I got to control. The story was invariably: get the bad guy's tank and blow it up with all the guns and bombs you could muster, The End. Start Over!
Later on, I would add castles  with torture chambers and haunted houses with lots of skeletons to my repertoire (with sound effects too.) Charles Addams and Edward Gorey would have approved. And later still (in the fifth grade after the death of my mother), I developed a scholarly interest in monster movies, building plastic monster models and gruesome Halloween makeup. And I always leapt into my covers at night fearing whatever was under the bed.
All children are hard-wired to master their fears which are many and mighty. It may seem appalling and misguided to some for children to enact and embody the worst humanity has done to its innocent victims. But in a child's imagination there is a sense of proportion that only they can define and own that is derived from such experimentation and play.
Alright. Enough of this. Back to the drawing board!
"5/16/13" When I was a kid, I had fun drawing battle scenes. These are recent visits to this theme.
"5/29/13" I would draw tanks and soldiers with guns and fighter planes. I guess I got the inspiration from movies about WWII, comic books and 1960's TV shows. I always added sound effects as I drew.
"2/18/13" Think of all the cinematic conventions of war imagery. Here, an ace struggles to control his plane as he ditches it in the ocean.
"2/18/13" "Just a scratch" He'll be back in the skies tomorrow.
"6/19/13" War is dirty business but luckily, these combatants all have dependable parachutes. Maybe they will play again after lunch.
Intimate Landscapes
a mirror-like vernal pool near Lake Waban on the Wellesley College campus
One crow in a leafless tree upriver
Two mallard ducks. So far, no families yet.
The island and the bridge. The Charles River flows downstream to Boston Harbor.
The Bridge
The Island below the dam
Two flycatchers
Great Blue Heron
Yellow Irises
Most days of the week, I try to get in an hour or so of drawing the landscapes near my home. Often, I end up at a dam site on the Charles River. It's a good place to listen to the white noise, have a cup of coffee and observe the march of the seasons. The images here were done between April 10th - May 25th. I do them in a letter-sized black book with charcoal or colored pencil. I mix it up to keep myself interested in making art.
I like that I'm done in 30-60 minutes. I've thought about starting some paintings but I don't think I'm ready for that kind of commitment. But, I'll have to shake things up at some point to see what this impulse is really made of.
I have a separate blog devoted to these drawings if you want to go a little deeper: ROBSERVATIONS.
The Merry Muddle
I read an interview with Ryan O'Rourke yesterday. He's a children's book illustrator — among other things. He mentioned that working on children's books is akin to running a marathon and that doing editorial illustration is more like a sprint. I would agree. I'm currently working on two picture books and I only have a lot of sketches, tests, and jabs 'n stabs on the cutting room floor. Some days it's like having a sword fight or a game of tag with an invisible friend at the bottom of a swimming pool of molasses. I head over to a coffee shop to sneak up on myself and hammer out a new outline and thumbnails but soon enough, I have to confront the molasses of doubt again as I hopefully catch a glimpses of the faraway finish line. This is my life right now.
Regardless, my inclination and extensive training in fine arts (BA painting & printmaking, MFA sculpture) compel me to make Art as constantly as I can (currently in a series of sketchbooks). I really believe that the resulting accretion of images will someday amount to an artistic life lived without too many apologies. So, while Illustration right now seems to require wandering into the lairs of personal demons and even procrastinating with well-intentioned diversions, the payoff (of sorts) is that my anxiety and doubt breed the egotistic introspection to make Art that I can live with (and others may find interesting or inspiring some day). And it occurs to me, in looking at a few items from the past month, that this personal work (examples below) looks like children's book Illustration – with a dash of editorial illustration thrown on top. I guess it stands to reason. Onward then!
PS: in this time of year with so many transitions for those dear to us, consider for whom the bell tolls and be grateful for the freedom you have to make Art (and even blog about it) --I think this is just about the ultimate form of liberty one can manage in the fog of our relative comfort.
April 4, 2013 (blogged here) pencil, colored pencil, ink
March 31, 2013 Easter Sunday "Wolf Harried by Birds", watercolor, colored pencil
April 1, 2013 "Mad Bird, Sad Bird", mixed media
February 27, 2013 "Introspection", collage, watercolor
March 28, 2013 "Empty Planet", mixed media
April 1, 2013 "Nothing Biting", watercolor, charcoal, crayon, acrylic, ink
Deluded Doodles
This is one of my favorite objects in the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston). It's a fancy Yoruba diviner's bowl from Nigeria. It shows the trickster/messenger God Isu in various poses. The most unique carving on the lid of the bowl, shows Isu on a bicycle with his pipe and several lovely attendants holding his book. He's a man on a mission; he's laid back but focused.
Isu reminds me of Hermes, one of the Greek gods (he of winged feet and snakey caduceus). These folks get around. They seem to be smarter than most of the gods and goddesses even. They have a certain sprezzatura but also a vulnerable side. Isu and Hermes can be gods then, or patron saints for artists.
Like Isu, puffing away, we run our errands and speed up the hands of time or squeeze a little extra something from the setting sun. But in the end, we're at the mercy of our clients or our own delusions. Below are a few of this past month's deluded doodles from my sketchbooks and other scraps of paper. Of course, when not dreaming and doodling, I find time to complete work for other people's stories. 
2-10-13: another Isu and his Greek chorus of chattering birds
a flexible fox doodled during the sermon at church
Pearl, the pretend Peacock
The Stork or maybe Gentleman Jim Crow (from Dumbo)…sort of. Maybe an undertaker even.
For me, pictures come first, stories later. This has caused a few problems.
I've been trying focus in on this character lately. I need to know his story. It seems hopeless most of the time.
If I just have a couple of minutes, a mindless little town emerges from my brush. Will they ever amount to anything noteworthy?
Oh, the bear helps a little mouse. Maybe there's a children's story in that. But why have I fixated on calling the bear "Orpheus?" And the mouse? Persephone? Really?
So here's Orpheus with his lyre (a guitar really) stuck in irons again without a friend in the world!
I call this "St. George" of course. But he's nice to the serpent (and you should be too!).
I have no clue what is happening here: a duck and a hippopotamus at a secret pool in some out of the way desert oasis? Go on…
This is a self-portrait of me and my muse. She lives in a bubble now and seems to be incorrigibly imaginary. Wish I could pop that bubble and get her to talk.
2-10-13: I just made this this morning. I swear, I've been to this place and and seen the shimmering moon. So it's not imaginary at all. But I want something to come at me over those waves, don't you?
Red & Black
Here are a couple of birds hanging out shooting the breeze: I made this doodle early last year. It was part of a couple of pages of two-color sketches of birds misbehaving. I was just keeping myself occupied while waiting in a bar for someone to arrive. I made more doodles and added the striped jerseys in blue and red.
In the weeks that followed, I became involved in a book proposal for a small French publisher and continued the two-color strategy in my sketches. The story I came up with was about a dog who wants to sing in the Paris Opera.
It's your basic "lost dog" picture book with split second timing and missed encounters.
The owner gets on the bus while the dog enjoys a peppy red taxi ride.
Eventually, the pooch makes it to the opera for his audition.
In this detail, the owner finally recognizes his dear pet as it sings an aria.
"Le Chien Perdu" was submitted and unfortunately languished (maybe a good thing?) but the bird doodles have found an enthusiastic response on this side of the pond. My agent, Elena Mechlin at Pippin Properties saw them and showed them to a publisher who had a picture book text about some birds and no illustrator yet. Pippin's a great matchmaker! So I'm currently working on research for this book (details below). I'm not sure when this book will be in the stores. The finals are due in April 2013!
Bonne journée! 
Happy New Year

"Three Geese" | 12-31-2012 | conté
additional text here

Scratching the Itch
I usually fill a black hardback sketchbook every month or two. Here are some snapshots from work in the latest one. These are all uncommissioned personal work (ie: doodles). I also use it for sketching out of doors. It's all very enjoyable therapy.
A few of the images anticipate or pick up a few old ideas that I plan to turn into picture books of my own making. A few publishers have made mild inquiries; the ball is in my court. There's no resting in this business is there? Amen to that!
Babes in the woods: mixed media and collage
More mixed-media, collaged whimsy: A sleepy elf and his vigilant pup.
I've been drawing crows a lot lately. This is a trend that should continue throughout the winter and spring. This is how I make my living!
Always, variations on a theme: birds, abandoned castles.
Part of a new collection I'm calling "L'Heure Bleue". I hope it coalesces into a book proposal.
I used an actual crow feather quill to draw this one (plus a bunch of other stuff).
the pleasures of a steel crow-quill pen
Schizophrenic Golem
Sleepwalking elves while waiting at the Mall for my daughter
the astronomer's bicycle
Baby Kong makes a new friend
Three companions resting on the rocky beach
one of the arches of the Pleasant Street bridge in South Natick (crayon)
The other side of the bridge. There may have been some snow.
An orchid in the greenhouses at Wellesley College (a good place to go in the winter).
one lone pomegranate seen at the greenhouse last weekend. Etc, Etc, Etc!
The Dam
It's with some trepidation that I publish this blog post about the river near my house while thousands: friends, colleagues and people I work for are still living the vividly bad memories that Hurricane Sandy left in its wake. Now, as the power slowly marches into the darker recesses of Manhattan, there is the curdling grind of putting life back together again. For the time-being, it's life in wartime with all its startling juxtapositions of venality and charity.
There is a small dam on the Charles River in Natick. It's a short walk from my house. In a calm moment, a mallard rested on the top of the dam this summer.
Boston was spared this time. And honestly, one benefit is that we've been treated to the enchanting spectacle of the governor of New Jersey palling around with the President. If only Hurricane Sandy had set up camp in Augusta, Maine! If it had been Massachusetts, we'd see our former Governor filling sandbags in Belmont. The President  might not have toured though because the state is so blue but maybe he would have invited the Romneys over for a Rose Garden beer —moment sometime in 2013. Good times …and the hatchets inadvertently covered under the New Jersey sand.
The mallards frolicked, fed and raised their families at the the dam. I drew them almost every day from July through early September.
The water pours over the dam in a well-behaved cascade. Rocks and riffles are evident in the shallow water. It's a good place for ducks and other birds which glean the algae and tiny insects off the boulders. The white noise in incredibly soothing and all my troubles join the flow and migrate to Boston Harbor and the briny Atlantic. (this is a charcoal drawing)
an effervescent moment captured in ballpoint pen and watercolor. Summer is almost over and Autumn's hurricane season seems very far away.
I've been sketching in this location for a few years now. It helps keep me moderately sane and domesticated. Just draw, with the greatest clarity possible, what is in front of your nose. It's just another drawing: tangible evidence of my sensitive mind loosed on the world for a brief flickering stream of moments.
I've seen the river flood before in Fall, Spring and Winter. I've seen it dry up in most summers. The fishermen come and go. The herons stalk about and the mergansers flit and splash. The kingfisher zooms close to the river's surface rattling its tin-can-filled-with-gravel song to any birds within earshot.
When I heard Sandy was approaching, I went down to see if the birds were aware of the impending situation. The dam had been quiet for a few weeks with only a reliable but solitary goose hanging around. On Oct. 28th there was a small flock of geese and two busy mallards. Something was up for sure.
A charcoal drawing of geese on top of the dam preening as if they are getting ready for a dance. A couple of mallards, bottoms up, making calm circular ripples in the reflective glassy river.
Here's a quick drawing done in the rain on Oct. 30th. No more geese and ducks. The kingfisher may have been somewhere nearby though.
With the hurricane due any hour, I went down to the dam again. The rain was spitting sideways and I made in a few happy drawings of the rising water. An urgent drizzle has a way of focusing one's drawing hand.
There was a woman standing by the railing (which I didn't draw, sorry). She wore a yellow slicker and looked out over the dotted and windswept river. I couldn't see her face. She was soon joined in a unashamedly romantic embrace by a scruffy young and hearty man (a poet or musician perhaps) sans coat and his flannel shirt unbuttoned one or two too many buttons. The wind raked across the park but the gale wouldn't dislodge them. As Aesop knew, they would only cling tighter and that was part of their pleasure anyway, the calculating fools. As many of you now know, the wind causes blunt force trauma. Greater cunning and delicacy is required to disunite true lovers.
Later in the day, it became very windy and fitful. The electricity finally gave out. I cooked leftovers on the wood stove and neighbors came over for wine and crackers in front of the merry fire. The wind huffed and puffed, branches crashed and we were glad we hadn't bothered to rake up the already accumulated Autumn leaves from the lawn. By the following morning, the power was restored and we were just learning the extent of Sandy's toll on New York and New Jersey. But I went down to the river to draw.
The island below the dam is submerged now.
I was there again yesterday. The water was roaring over the dam with such force. I tried to capture that. It's just another drawing and I've done a few hundred now I guess.
One final note about these drawings for all you illustrators and art buyers: These are done as self-therapy and reportage. I make them in my sketchbooks, turn the page and you'll see children's book illustrations: whimsical birds and castles there too. Since I'm hooked on drawing in general and these moments in particular, I have a blog of these types of drawings. I call it ROBSERVATIONS. Thanks for reading.
The Short Form
a procession of worthies
evaluating some celestial bodies
Wait till we get home!
Chicken Little
The Short Form:
  1. brush on some paint
  2. draw characters with ballpoint pen
  3. add texture
  4. repeat
Have a great week-end people!
Bird Brain
detail: flying mallard (pen & ink)
I'm drawing birds a lot this summer (no real surprise there). Most of it is for my own enjoyment but it goes hand in glove with a few picture book commissions I'm in the midst of or just beginning. The books both involve birds. Once I'm further along with these projects, I'll see if it's okay to blog about the process. So in the meantime, some birds for you…
Near my house in South Natick, mallards at the dam on the Charles River. (ballpoint pen and drybrush ink)
a doodle
"The Telescope" –another doodle (mixed media: collage, ink, watercolor, acrylic)
sketch (pencil. digital color) for a children's book I'm painting for Schwartz & Wade/Random House. Due out next year.
odds and ends while watching the Olympics.
Summer Sketchbook
Basalt cliffs at Arnarstapi, Snæfelsnes Peninsula (litho crayon)
I was in Iceland a few weeks ago for a family reunion (my wife is part Icelandic) and I sketched as much as I could. Since the sun didn't really set, I was out drawing the ocean views at 10:00 pm and 5:00 am; there was only a slight shift in where the shadows were being cast. The biggest problem were the kamikaze-like Arctic Terns with their dagger like bills and their laser-guided excrement bombs. Very exciting.
Sea cliffs, Arnarstapi, Snæfelsnes Peninsula. Not in this drawing are the hundreds of noisy seabirds nesting on the sheer rock cliffs. (litho crayon)
not too far from Stykishomer, Snæfelsnes Peninsula (next stop: the Arctic Ocean) (litho crayon)
Grackles among the boulders in South Natick, Massachusetts (charcoal pencil)
Low water in the Charles River, the South Natick Dam in the background. (colored pencil)
I made this yesterday morning: some geese on top of the dam. It took about an hour. (colored pencil)
Sketching at home has fewer hazards. But folks, it's also a routine. A good routine but at times, Work loses its imperative and I wonder what will come next if I take a sabbatical from my daily landscape drawing. Best not to think about it too much. Don't fix it if it aint broke. etc. 
Speaking of which, I have an exhibit of my landscape drawings up until the end of July. Please get in touch if you're in the area and want to see it (at Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary in Natick, MA).
The Red Castle
I've found to be an easy platform to post brief pictorials of my sketchbook work. This diversion is part of my attempt to keep the drawger front page focused on more worthy news items! But, I live to blog (or vice versa!).
With posterus (which was recently acquired by twitter), I focus on one picture and then add a slide show of detail images. Sometimes I write a little story or speculation to accompany it. Then I feed it to my facebook page and voilà! …it's on to more important tasks (like packing my bags for a trip to Iceland!). They look kind of like this:
06-25-12 mixed media. Part of the never-ending Crystal Cities thing.
And what is the purpose of all this blogging and naval gazing? Is it just self-absorbed wonder and delight at an ant's eye view of one's artwork? Or is it hard-nosed self-promotion on the cheap? Intervention-worthy procrastination? Yes! All that and more! Totally.
My salvation is only is possible only if you too are momentarily (a nanosecond; nothing more) thrilled and start to drag your fingers through the dust and simply create a thing that hasn't existed yet. Today, perhaps…
Memorial Day
I've been thinking about weeds a lot this Spring. All winter as a matter of fact. Back in September, I dug up clods of dandelions, grass and plantain and kept them in my studio. One sunny autumn day, the dandelions blossomed and went to seed. And now with Spring all around us, I'm intoxicated by the greenness of it all. I love weeds. All this weed-love is part and parcel of the picture book I'm working on now for Schwartz & Wade*.
*a small aside: many thanks to Barry Blitt for playing matchmaker way back when!
draft 2 sketch. The art director is Rachael Cole.
sketchbook page (charcoal pencil, wash)
sketch study (conté pencil, watercolor)
graphite pencil study (Ticonderoga #2 people!)
Of course, it's IMPOSSIBLE to behold (and attempt to draw no less) this beautiful stuff without constantly having one shining example front and center:
This of course is "The Great Piece of Turf" an amazing watercolor study painted by Albrecht Dürer in 1503 in his Nuremberg atelier several years after his return from that little trip to Italy. The original painting is in the Albertina Museum in Vienna.
Have any of you been to the Albertina? Is it amazing? I'd love to go. And wander. And draw… like Dürer… for pleasure and for work. Same thing!
Getting back to the book project, I'm working on sample finishes this week. So far, the look is more like William Steig than Albrecht Dürer. I don't think Dürer needs to worry at all! But I love William Steig!
a quick little snapshot (media: watercolor, crayon, colored pencil, ink… a few other substances)
In a jungle of tweeting birds, how will you stand out?
A vector illustration created for Nancy Duckworth at California Real Estate Magazine. With so many people tweeting, how can you create a valuable & unique brand or find other useful twitter feeds to connect with? Does this keep you up at night??
detail: textures are 1-bit tiff files dropped into my Freehand vector file.
My sketch. I did a few others but Nancy chose the one I knew was the best option. It was fun from start to finish.
More birds done the same week for Tuck Today. AD: Laura DeCapua, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College. The subject was the availability of online content for their foundation curriculum.
Here are some nice real birds that do not tweet. They quack and they do not know what tweeting is and they probably think you are really weird for even reading this far when it's such a nice day outside! I drew this pair of mallards this morning at the South Natick Dam. They are dabbling for bits of I-don't-know-what at the very top of the dam where the water flows down. It's a nice place. Come visit sometime.
If you're in Paris in April, besides whatever else that idea conjures up, plan to stop in at Galerie Petits Papiers (91 rue Saint-Honoré 75001) and see "La Valise Égyptienne" drawings and paintings by Alain Lachartre.

The drawings and watercolors open a peephole on a whimsical cosmology that includes floating crocodiles, happily suicidal monkeys, elephants that can walk underwater and at least forty pharaohs' tombs. It is quite extensive and full of offbeat philosophical humor and good old play.

He generously sent me a copy of the catalog last week and seeing the paintings as sequenced in the book (I've seen many of them on Alain's facebook albums) has made them seem even more mysterious …and funny.
Last year, Lachartre sent me a poster rolled up in a beautifully decorated cardboard box.
I found this one at my local library: "Cats, Dogs, Men, Women, Ninnies & Clowns, The Lost Art of William Steig" by Jeanne Steig. Introduction by Roz Chast and an Afterword by Jules Feiffer. Abrams, 2011
Perhaps you've already seen this book. Included are many doodles and rejected items from the New Yorker. Classic Steig moonshine unfiltered. Prepare to be inspired. The chapter intro texts by Jeanne Steig are funny and illuminating.
Sorry for the bad snapshots!
more city doodles in Studioville
sketchbook painting and a the corner of a piece for next year's Dellas Graphics Frog Folio calendar.
Home Sweet Home!
Here & There
"Day for Night" -just a doodle. I liked the idea that the headlights could be movie projectors but it's light outside and that made me think of the Truffaut film. (ink, pencil, charcoal, crayon, fabric paint)
Good stuff, items here from my sketchbooks from January. All somewhere between "here" and "there" --in the process of feeding the beast.
"Ménage a trois" (collage, colored pencil, ink)
This was meant to be autobiographical but clearly, it's not. (pencil, crayon, watercolor)
This reminds me of those winter days where the snow reflects so much warmth from the brilliant sun. This elf a migrant laborer, is on his way home from that sweatshop at the North Pole. (gouache, collage, colored pencil)
This collaged stone wall languished for months in my sketchbook. I started adding the vines and it created a more intimate space for something nice to be discovered –a special singing bird! (collage, watercolor, pencil, acrylic)
This began as a word-picture. Bernadette Gervais, a French illustrator, asked me to make a painting of it. So I did. I'm currently working on a few picture book proposals for Editions du Seuil Jeunesse. (collage, ink, colored pencil, watercolor, gouache)
Happy Holidays
Best wishes to you. I hope you find a little magic in these days. Art helps that happen frequently.
Bird Brain
I love looking at all kinds of art. And when I look at Art, I often draw it too. I'm like a vampire wanting some of the life of it coursing through me as I move and grow through my own modes of expression. And simply to SEE and possibly pay my respects.
Last Sunday, I was at the MFA in Boston where there is a nice exhibit of Colonial embroideries. These critters are from those 200-300 year old items. The designs are so charming and the animals have quite a pedigree: they originated in India and got recycled through the British trade in Indian fabrics. The designs were then were copied by the British fabric mills and sent abroad. The birds (and flowers and beasts) migrated over to the American Colonies where they became projects to keep the young'uns out of trouble and down on the farm.
And I borrowed a few to put on this pretty lame bird house. I wonder where else they will turn up?
Don't you like his purple toenail polish?
A handsome fellow…
Poor bird! This study is of a White-Throated Sparrow that was hit by a car. I have birds on my brain as I am currently working on a children's book about a sparrow and a flower.
The Blessed Event
Beauty & The Beast
An old acquaintance contacted me out of the blue the other day. It was a short and sweet yet somewhat cryptic message… 
How to deal with this Abstraction: Observe and see what unfolds OR Peck at it and put it through its paces?
Different approaches to a thorny technological and emotional Conundrum (neither of which promises success!).
Do I have an image in my stash that might suggest hope for this species of Bird in this situation? Maybe this one opens the door a crack:
I guess this old chestnut will have to do!
Good enough! Bonne journée!
Near Newport, Rhode Island there's a state park with a small museum in the lighthouse. And inside this lighthouse museum are wooden replicas of distinctive local lighthouses. Fun stuff.
Just passing this on if you like lighthouses and funky architectural models of them.
Newport's pretty nice too.
Beavertail State Park
Beavertail Lighthouse Museum
National Museum of American Illustration
a quick painting (what other kinds are there?) done the day after that trip to Narragansset Bay.
almost on cue, a year later, my doodles sprouted a few lighthouses.
A lonely outpost
OK. That's it. Get back to work.
The Life & Death of a Pencil Tip
The Chosen One: does this scrap of pencil have any idea what its fate is?
News Flash: pencil lead breaks!
I save these little things. I have collections of pencil stubs, scraps of paper and assorted ephemera that I believe has an interesting pedigree, personality or potential. I love art supplies and I really love orphaned or abandoned art supplies. Got a broken ball-point pen? I'll probably find some use for it. I'm constantly pillaging my kids' cast-off art sets for too-hard colored pencils, colored paraffin masquerading as crayons, scented markers, and watercolors that should never see the light of day. These inferior things get my creative motor running. But do you save broken pencil tips?
In my personal work, because I often don't know what I'm going to draw before I've drawn it, I seek out the stimulation of these bits of junk that usually prove worthy of exploitation. It provides a starting place when staring into the great white void. So, for what it's worth (doing my part to keep the level of unprofessionalism high at Drawger) I present to you the mighty labor and last moments in the life of a quarter-inch piece of pencil lead. He left it all out on the field.
The grip of a seasoned professional. Note the extension and curl of the pointer finger. Everything seen here was performed on a closed course using professional drivers.
a tense moment! Don't choke on me Mr. Pencil lead!
Hmmmm… what can I do with this broken tip?
A scan of the drawing. Let's see: 1/4 piece of pencil = one page drawing without any shading. A pencil is approximately 8 inches long so I might get 32 pages of drawing out of one pencil… seems like it should be more. Still, that's one picture book, 32 pages…
The Waiting Room
"Nothing to do but wait…" (Today 5:30 am in the studio)
Waiting for the phone to ring? Don't be sad, there's always:
  1. Studio work: check
  2. Doodle work: check
  3. Off-site work: check
Work is never finished is it?
Just having your eyes (and imagination) open is work !
(the best kind!)

Life's too beautiful.
The world's too beautiful
Too beautiful NOT to work.

Today, 8:00 am. down by the river for a quick drawing of the morning light.

This morning @ 10:30 as I sat in church.

Time to get back to work!

Drawing Nature
I've always thought that the only difference between illustration and what we call fine art is where the text comes into the process. In illustration, presumably, the text comes first. It's usually accompanied by a third party who desires an image to accompany a text. Fine art, on the other hand, precedes text. It flows out of a different set of desires and assumptions.
Yet, as a illustrator who blogs, the images come first — like fine art. Some of you may have some thoughts you need to get off your chest and you write them down. Then you may look for something to go with them. Or you want to describe a recent job and you assemble your collateral images to illustrate your descriptive text.
I've gotten into the habit of doing these life drawings and landscapes I see on my frequent walks near my house. Later, I scan them and the sketchbook is closed until I see something new to draw.
Many of them make it into a nature diary/sketchbook blog I've been more or less faithful to for about a year.
It's not illustration. But it doesn't feel quite like Art. Art is the illustrated life then. I guess I can live with that for the time being.
a roadkill raccoon escorted to the roadside by a snowplow is revealed by the melting snow.

Nearby forest and paths. Media: china marker or litho crayon. approx 8 x 11"

The Charles River in flood the other day. I have a lot of views of this bridge in my "Observations" gallery

3/14/2011: Coots and geese, Lake Waban, Wellesley, MA

December Errata
First: A recent passle of illustrations done for The Christian Science Monitor for their 2010 end of the year Gift Guide. It was a treat and a challenge to parlay my Pointy People into a commissioned job. The Christian Science Monitor gave me my first editorial assignments when I first moved to Boston in 1986. The art director now is veteran John Kehe and he has a loyal following among many illustrators.

a detail (colored pencil, water color, digital)

This illustration ran across the spread and bled off the top of the page

An illustration that led the Gift Guide section.

Second: I was invited by Alain Lachartre of the French design agency Vue sur la ville & Mister Brown to contribute a drawing to their 2011 calendar. A great honor to say the least. Naturally, I choked on the pressure to produce something that would span the briny and inhospitable Atlantic in its "savoir faire" and "je ne sais quoi". Other contributers include: Aline Zalko, Jamie Cullen, Laurent Courvaiser, Bruno Salamone, Yan Nascimbene, Laurent Auduoin, Laurent Lolmède, Fernando Togni, Frédéric Rébéna, Serge Bloch, and Steven Guarnaccia.
It's just a bit of nonsense. Alain only asked that, if possible, the art include the name of the month, the numbers of the days and some reference to "Mister Brown". Of course, it never hurts to add a few alligators or foxes.

Finally (I hope you've gotten this far) I've just gotten my 2011 calendar back from the printer and am sending them out. Please let me know if you want one and send me instructions as to how to mail one to you. Bonne Année et bonne santé!
The poster is 18 x 24" offset printed on a semi-gloss text weight paper. It is shipped folded.

I know it's Monday and for most people, it's not a payday but when you freelance, everyday is payday… or a holiday.
So, how come when it finally is payday and my bank takes a break from sending me love notes for a few days, that all these friendly and hungry mouths seek me out? There must be a name for this phenomena; care to suggest one?

destination: UNKNOWN

If you really like this sort of thing a printed version is available here.
Sleeping Beauty: A Rake's Progress
More vulpine doodles…

To be continued… probably.

Sleeping Beauty

The End

(or not)

Drawing in the 'hood
Somehow, it clicked this summer and I started drawing stuff around where I live. I've lived in South Natick since 1992 and I've never yet made it a habit to sketch my environs. Why now? I can think of several reasons: I discovered that I needed to draw real things as a respite from imaginary cars, castles and pointy-headed people, bears and children's book ideas. I also found that the drawing helped discipline my looking into something useful that gave me a sense of calm and accomplishment. Life can be pretty crazy (now more than ever) and focused drawing is exactly what any sensible doctor would proscribe for an illustrator/artist/whatever-person.
Since I'm an early bird, one place I'd frequently end up is at a nearby park by the river. I'd grab a coffee at the Charles River coffee shop and with colored pencils poking out at odd angles from my pockets I'd stalk my prey. At this park there's a low dam across the river and an island just below. Beyond that there's an old stone bridge and the 20-odd miles of river to Boston. Ducks, geese and other animals love the place.
Another fact that help me stay interested in this project (wait, did I say this was a project??) was that I blogged about this obsession over at my other blog. If you go there, you'll see a few more drawings and also find gleanings from my inscrutable thought processes about Nature and Art that somehow didn't seem appropriate for Drawger. Maybe I'm mistaken though.
Geese endlessly preen as they stand on the top of the dam in June.

By July, the water is getting pretty low.

I found that colored pencils worked just great. I use hard and soft ones and I carry a pocket knife to sharpen them.

A partial view of the Pleasant Street bridge. It sustains a lot of rush hour traffic as the settlers in the tony suburbs head off the big city.

I followed this family of ducklings for several months. Not one was lost as far as I know.

More low water views. The mallards scramble up and down the exposed face of the dam and dabble in the algae and slime.

Tropical Storm Earl stops in town and filled the river up again (temporarily) It's flowing too fast for the ducks to forage at the top.

Pretty soon, all this will be a summer memory.
Red Sox 3 - Tampa Bay 1
Tired of bad analog television service in the new Digital Wonderland™ (we were warned by Harry Shearer), we finally ordered cable TV this summer. All this means, besides the fact that I have no excuse (except lack of time and interest) to be more up to date on the value of the Shopping Channels or even Mad Men, I can now coccoon and watch my home team on TV. And that means art playtime because, face it, baseball represents a serious time committment with many commercial breaks. And these moments are perfect interludes to doodle nonsense.
Without further ado…

If you're disappointed by the lack of baseball content, I apologize.
However, do not despair! Several years ago, I put my baseball watching moments to good use with a different series of 100 drawings called "Homerun Heroes". They're in a different style but I still like them a lot and I hope you do too :-)
If you're very interested, I can send you a beautiful two-color catalog of these pictures.
eleven hours
The Massachusetts Turnpike, finally achieved 20 minutes into an eleven hour drive to Cleveland: "Oh no. I forgot my sketchbook…"

At least I had a magic marker and the sports section, some books on tape and a wife who enjoys driving.

the following day I doodled a bit more with some watercolors

And so on and so forth!

Cabinet of Curiosities
Tucked into a corner of a European Decorative Arts gallery at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is a curious object that has fascinated me over the years. I think it's a fairly recent piece in the collection; it may actually be on loan to the MFA. Anyway, there it is, this hulking monstrosity in a room judiciously populated with naturalistic Meissen porcelain peacocks, views of Venice by Guardi and Caneletto, a large allegorical painting by Tiepolo and a rustic romance by Gainsborough.
It is an almost six foot tall cabinet made in Germany in the mid 1700's.The decorative style mimics Asian lacquerware with rich reds and golds used on a black ground. This piece of furniture however was created entirely by craftsmen who had never travelled far from their German homes. Every surface is decorated with exotic scenes of people and potentates traveling and hunting. According to the caption that accompanies the exhibit, the illustrations were derived from a popular 1699 German translation (presumably) of Johannes Nieuhof's " An embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperor of China." Nieuhof and a his delegation of Dutch businessmen visited Peking in 1655 to negotiate trade agreements with the Chinese. What they found was a country in the middle of a war. As a result, the embassy took longer to achieve its mission and this gave Nieuhof time to amass his observations. The resulting book was popular and it is an indication of how the European world was shrinking as trade and empires expanded. In a short time, popular tastes began to include the results of the new realities of global business.
A marble bust of Jaques-Rolland Moreau (by LeMoyne) and the Miessen peacock assess the cabinet. Is it worthy or a crass party crasher? We are voyeurs to Crespi's voluptuous "Woman Playing a Lute" lost in her own world of music.
I like that the cabinet is illustrated. Every surface has a picture of some little adventure: a group of men pilot a ship that is half Dutch galleon and half Chinese junk. A fashionable woman rides in an ornate litter carried by two hefty Chinese lads, a peasant man in exotic pajamas confronts a lion with spear and shield and two gentlemen enjoy tea under a leafy Oriental bower. There's this charming and awkward clash of cultures: Chinese to Dutch to German… to me!
I like that in this gallery filled with Art, there is a clunky decorated thing. Artists were commissioned to make images that reflected and informed the worldview of the owners. Despite my training as a fine artist, I like illustration and Decorative Art better. The messages seem clearer than Art. The images seem unafraid to be just what they are. And in this case, clumsiness of execution reveals the humanity (good & bad) behind the enterprise. The reasons for its existence are down to earth and in accord with the scale of my interests.
cheap camera no flash = fuzzy images. I try not be too precious in my photo documentation of things I'd rather internalize and make my own.
In 2009 I heard about Kerala, India and I started drawing these whimsical boats. They were doodled offshoots from the German cabinet boats. I hadn't seen any photos of Kerala at the time but my boats bear a slight resemblance to boats from this intriguing coastal area of southern India. More importantly, they were an adaptation of my research concerning the German cabinet. I started seeing these boats all over.
So, 350 years ago, the Dutch went on a fishing expedition seeking trade and returned with a catalogue an an exotic culture. The Germans, enmeshed in a market for luxury goods catered to popular taste and adapted their traditional working methods. Later, A collector appreciated the craftsmanship of the cabinet and eventually wanted to share it with the world by loaning it to the museum. I then bring along all my personal and cultural baggage and aspirations and cherry-pick what I love and apply it to my own artistic projects. At some point it's all bound to come full circle. I wonder what that would look like?
A fishing expedition
Most of my pictures are fishing expeditions.  The good ones that is. However, when an illustration job becomes a fishing expedition, the result is usually not so good. Those ones often stay in the drawer and rarely see the light of day. Two different fishing expeditions and two vastly different results. How to account for and accommodate them? After all, we all have to eat!
One very real and hard nosed fact about artist-client fishing expeditions is that you always catch something. The synergy may be great and you discover some new power you didn't know you had. Or your strengths were played to and you got validated. Of course, there are those times when you get burned coming, going and yes, every step of the way of long, drawn-out torture of seeing that project to its predictable conclusion.
But the other kind of fishing expeditions! Well, magical or mundane, depending on your attitude, even cleaning seaweed out of your net can be pleasurable and profitable. There may even be surprises in the tangles and the detritus. The only trick, and it's a big one, with this kind of catch, is deciding how to get it to market. For that matter, even finding the market can be arduous in itself.
Today then, a toast! Raise your glasses to the art of angling and the losers who bait their hooks daily. It really is an inside game that, alas, only other anglers ever really truly appreciate.
Fishing is just a way of life for some: you just open your mouth and see what comes in OR goes out.
This dachshund has amore conservative approach but, yeah, she's on the lookout too.
Boy meets Girl meets girl meets boy. Anything can happen when you go fishing so don't give up hope don't forget your manners!
A day in the life...
In Pointyville, rich and poor alike have wheels.
even the commute is interesting.
Ha Ha! Bonne journée!
The roads are really full in Pointyville. Most everyone drives  a souped-up something or other. Even the bicycles have something elastic and crazy about them. Even if they are clunkers like that lucky fellow above has. Those thugs don't have a chance!
Seems the only thing to fear are the Moms. They come down pretty hard when they find their kids have been goofing off and not doing their homework. This chap was caught stealing cigarettes and tagging the Circle K. C'mon dude! You can do better than that!
What did I do?!
Pointy People: cars
Things with wheels: better than the domestication of fire, wheat and beer!  What better way to get around in the Crystal,Cities and environs than in a jalopy, jitney or elaborate velocipede?

Finally! I've found a use for an artifact that has enchanted me for years. It's at the MFA in Boston. Among other things, the lid of the bowl shows a man smoking a pipe riding a bicycle with a few passengers aboard. He's no ordinary mortal though. And I do love that bike and that he's smoking. A good balance wouldn't you say?
Here's the id card text:

"On the lid, Esu-his book and pipe nearby-is depicted as a bicycle rider, a signature of Arowogun's work and a reference to the role divination continues to play in modern life." source

Diviner's Bowl (opon igedeu) African, Nigeria (Yoruba peoples)
Artist: Arowogun (Areogun) of Osi-Ilorin, Nigerian (Yoruba peoples), about 1880–1956 Height: 31.11 cm (12 1/4 in.) Diameter: 29.21 cm (11 1/2 in.) Wood, pigment traces

More related drawings here:
Just playing with the basic elements of a conveyance.
in my early teens, I drew many dragsters, hot rods and souped up cars. It's fun to revisit them.
In a rust-best city
Putt-putt car
On the way to market
Pointy People
screen shot of a small portfolio of recent children's book illustrations. Below is an interactive issuu pdf.

Pointy People Portfolio by Rob Dunlavey


sketchbook spreads
Had enough? Thanks for hanging in here for my indulgence.
What's going to (not what should) happen to this stuff when I kick the bucket? Why do we artists do this? 
Does it matter that I looked at some goats and tried to get their irascible contours on to a piece of paper?
Or that I just filled up a few pages with lines that pleased me? Or that I made a mess with some paint and then fixed it the only way I knew? Why bother?
Have a good day!
How are you?
I'm good!
Another meaningless blog entry. Enjoy!
OK, I admit it! It's true: I copied Crumb's Mr. Natural way back when. We all did… didn't we?
Haven't I left yet? Bonne journée!
Pointy People
A few new doodles. I often do them when I'm attending church.
I call them Pointy People. Pretty cute eh?  I can see rendering them in linocut or just as they are.
I'm reminded of the great Tove Jansson (Moominland) and ancient Japanese art from the Jōman Period (maybe, possibly --I have to research this further).
"The Three Brothers" (latex paint, colored pencil, ink, watercolor This wasn't done while in the pew!)
"Skier" (ballpoint pen, digital color)
Gotta go!
2009 - 2010
Get this dang 2009 outa here!
Hmmm…? Well I guess this is an improvement. Too early to tell!
Petites Fêtes
ornaments not necessarily needed…
something worth crowing about!
designated drinker
A mild case of schizophrenia
This was done last week for Patrick Flynn. It's a cover illustration for Rethinking Schools.
This was done last week as well. One of my entries for the Galician winery Bodega Terras Gauda poster competition. A votre santè!
Another contest entry from last weekend: A book fair in Rouen, France
Throughout all these delectable gyrations, the merry flow of doodles continues unabated. It's my world, welcome to it.
Where I want to be!
Red Riding Hood exploring (with a purpose) in the big forest!
(ink, charcoal, colored pencil)
Is exploration over-rated? Our muses and mothers tell us to stop and smell the roses, doodle and dabble. Explore. Express yourself. Poke and root around and see what beautiful things emerge. But in illustration and other creative endeavors, there is this pressure… go ahead, dabble, but get it right, take it to market and ride that pony till it's frothing and dead on its feet.

It occurred to me this morning that in the illustration world there is a preponderance of monkeys styling about. Why is this? I'm sure it's not just that so many artists these days make their livelihood aping others' styles and old trends. Maybe it's because monkeys are human enough but not so human to cause the poorer draftsmen among us a little pang. Maybe it's the comic potential that simians offer. God knows we always need to poke fun at ourselves, now more than ever. But back to dabbling and delving… and maybe slipping on a banana peel too.

My dabbling has lead me in the direction from editorial to children's book illustration with some decorative noodling thrown into the bargain. I'm still adding ingredients to the bowl and I wonder…! I wonder what will I finally take to market this Fall when I launch my new chariot. The pressure! How to explore and leave doors open so that the work is fresh and original yet somehow pays respect to the giants before and beside me? How to do it all and distill a style out of all my playful ramblings?

These concerns weigh on me today as I attempt to explain my absence of late from these pages. Drawger is a place where we wave our little triumphs because, face it, this is a tough business and even the most successful illustrator is only as good as her last job. There's always the downward pressure of the swarms of new talent and low fees for most. And the alphas on our little version of Survivor climbing higher wondering how it got so lonely up there. Success and failure are equally paradoxical. So I ask you, new and old alike, rich and poor, serf and lord: How's things? Growing webs or wings? Sharpening your dagger or hoeing your beans?
recent sketchbook entries: Red riding Hood, a witch, Thumbelina in her cradle doodle, angry Queen Sun, angry Old Winter, odds & ends.
Book By Its Cover
"Book By Its Cover" is an excellent book arts (what's that!?!) blog written by New York based designer, illustrator, pattern designer (I'm sure I'm leaving something out!) Julia Rothman.

She recently ran a feature on my sketchbooks. Check it out. Below are a few spreads from the sketchbooks (many of which have appeared here).

Dunlavey/Bakal Sketchbook 2007-2009
2007? Was it 2007 when Scott Bakal and I first talked about sharing a sketchbook? Seems like it wasn't that long ago. Oh well. I DO remember there were lulls in the action and subsequent flurries of fast-paced catching up because I'd held on to the book too long.

left: we'd post little notes to each other mostly to be civil. These got pasted or taped inside the covers with other more lengthy notes, train tickets and post office ephemera. Some of these elements got recycled into the final pages.

The whole thing started out kind of slowly as we built a critical mass of marks, textures, forms, methods of applying media. Gradually, pictures got settled. Some were rather obvious; others not until the last moment when we were ready to be finished with the project. Below are a few of my favorite pages with some commentary.

I think we both collaborated on the overall head concept on the right page. It looked awkward though and unsatisfying. Various attempts at isolating the head only served to highlight it's generally muddled presentation. I think Scott connected the eye to the left page and eventually he painted the irregular blue bands on top. At this point, the picture's needs became clear and I added the collage elements to rescue the face of the man.
This one started with some cartooney elements that just weren't working. One of those elements was an alligator. I got disgusted with that direction so I painted the things out with yellow and gray. A few days later I added a realistic alligator (in black china marker) in this tortured pose. And then the picture was basically done. Scott had nothing to add for a long time. Finally, at the end, he found a new way to contribute with the red dots
Four separate pages that that are equal combinations of both our problem-solving strategies.The figurative ones all involved abstract painting and mark-making. Usually (I think?) I would isolate a profile out of the blobs of marks and scratches. That would stabilize the concept and we'd then tinker on and off for months. Usually Scott had a real knack for finishing images so that our voices were both equally distinguishable. I'm still trying to get used to the red blobs on the crow painting though. I like them but I'd thought that that image was done. But Scott had a different idea… and so it goes!
This one got finished early on. My contribution was the large blocks of color and the black stenciled figures. We started designing spreads pretty quickly. Scott's signature organic line work stitches the painting together. In some ways, the most satisfying pages were the ones that went back and forth constantly as we searched for a way to help each other make a satisfying composition while attempting to put our own individual stamp on it. Below, you can see the book in its entirety.
100 Crystal Cities
This morning I posted my one hundredth Crystal City painting and I see no end in sight. I hope you don't get tired of them! Here are a few recent favorites. The full set is here

"palace intrigue" (ink, collage, watercolor)
"My alarm clock for you"
"yellow with red trees"
March Madness
March 2009 flickr gallery
This disturbing bird image (to me at least) started things off. It doesn't appear in the flickr set.
A little later on, nicer things started happening.
The "Crystal Cities" continued. I call this "Trysting Place"
I guess I'll end this incomplete summary here with a view of the unflappable Mrs. Owl surrounded by yapping baby terns.
Joy Ride
The other morning my chair was occupied by the night watchman so I had to set up operation on the floor. No problem. It gave me an opportunity to spread out and admire a recent package from a friend enticing me to show my new work in Paris. I'm so "there" but in reality am actually still here and not quite ready. So I work on in my sketchbooks and stories and build a foundation, painting by painting and word by word, dummy by dummy.
The predominant story theme involves a pair of birds who contend with a bear that winds its way through their lives. Today, they will turn the tables and pester the creature until he gives them a ride on his back. Take that Mr. Bear! You're not so scary and we think you're kind of cute … and even cuddly!
First I laid down some pink pastel and on top of that, yellow gouache and light blue latex. The bear's form is painted in this sludgy old red fabric paint. It has a vinyl component so bits and rubbery chunks are part of the process. I try to give my materials room to breath and express themselves. Even the clunky ones.
I guess I bought this material to do some fabric stencils and it slowly migrated over to Sketchbook Land.
Next I roughed in the birds.
My Russian mentor, the great Olaf, has instructed me in the esoteric techniques of the "dot of life". Spasiba Olaf!
More dots of Life!
The completed painting. Perhaps one day, some text will go in the sky area. I'm sure by then that the tables will have turned several times and this trio will be on some new adventure.
The final scanned piece. (03-28-09a)
Crystal Cities Portfolio
see the issuu-powered pdf viewer below
Here's a portfolio (give it a minute to load) of thirty images selected from a current series: "Crystal Cities" (more may be seen here)
THINK small
Over the past few weeks my studio has become infested with these small & insane bits of paper; each one with bicycle-like things scrawled on them. Did you know that the bicycle was one of the first technologies to be adopted and spread the fastest globally! Faster than the paper clip, zipper or the even the insanely great iPod. Things with wheels (wheels that go on the ground; wheels that include spokes), easily understood, engineered re-engineered are an entrpreneurial engine the world over. Bicycles are the common denominator that binds city and country, rich and poor, young and old, oppressed and oppressor, dreamer and drug dealer.
Maybe this is why I've been thinking about bicycles lately… Then again, maybe not.
Things WIth Wheels
Doodles make church much more interesting. Helps me concentrate.
These pebbles are from Long Island somewhere. If you're over there, could you pick me up a few more? I'm running low.
pen & ink, brush & ink 3.5" x 3.5"
Essence du monocycle
Night Studio
Mr. Owl Eyes
I'm usually up and in my studio well before the sun makes its way to this side of the Atlantic Ocean. This gives me one to two hours before I have to get my kids ready for school. So it's just right for extremely concentrated personal studio time. I make a conscious effort to leave the computer off and avoid any commissioned work during this period. I work in my sketchbooks exclusively. The effort has paid off: in January and February (2009) alone, I've been able to post about 130 drawings, painting, and doodles to my flickr pages.
Stimulants are essential
This diligent compulsion feeds on itself and I'm never stuck in my practice. I have enough varied materials and ways of using and abusing them that they have become my trusted accomplices as I search my memory with pen and brush in hand.  I'm just working through things as I engage in a dialogue with the materials and what ideas and themes have been predominating. Right now, it's an ongoing series of "postcards from a love story" and it involves an owl and a tern and the emotional spaces between them. The pictures are never planned beforehand. So far at least, this is not a picture book (although I will try to bend it to that purpose eventually). Here are a few postcards from my nocturnal studio while the house is sleeping.
the current book I'm working in. It's part journal so there's often some writing that accompanies whatever ends up on the page.
Meet some of my friends
Whatever works
Yes, that's a set of expensive, archival Crayola watercolors. Other materials include: ballpoint pen, different dip pens, inks, gouache, watercolor, fabric paint, water-based Speedball inks, oil pastels, crayons, markers, collage, leftover latex paint and acrylic paint. The kitchen sink basically.
I first dampened the absorbent page and dragged some yellow and red ink into it. Then I added this pale aqua latex blending it in with a big mop.
Then a NEED for trees expressed itself and, lo! these bushes appeared.
a blurry photo of a tree that got into the act and made the composition a bit more interesting for me.
The completed painting ("02-25-09a"). The birds are collage and ink.
With that tree finally in place, I knew I had created a meaningless, empty world. So I snapped my fingers and my two characters deigned to inspect and (briefly) inhabit this snowy postcard. Thank you for reading to the end here. It's 6:00 am and the birds are starting to sing ouside. Before I can join them, I just need to scan in today's catch!
Under the influence
Mr. Tern and Mrs. Owl on a late night errand to get special ingredients for a cake they are making.
I told a friend this morning that I had stumbled into a "delirious detour" from the work represented in my previous post ("January"). This "detour" is a story that is gradually accumulating as I explore the misadventures of a pair of birds: Mrs. Owl and Mr. Tern.
Somehow, I believe the names were suggested by Adam McCauley in a facebook comment a couple of weeks ago. There have been a few other secret ingredients that propell the series but I just wanted to show it, in it's nascent form, to my colleagues and the wider world. Enjoy.
The cake they made but the bow is missing from the top. Where could it be?
Oh, there it is. Mrs. Owl has used it for a nest. I hope Aretha Franklin isn't mad!
While he stands guard, Mr. Tern listen to the stars which sing to him.
A nice small storm overtakes Mr. Tern in his little boat.
Later on, the pair were joined by a third. The bear was an old acquaintance and Mr. Tern spoke in animated terms about the positive qualities of the creature. Mrs. Owl appreciated the bear's soft fur and countenance but was worried that if he became playful, the boat might capsize.
Once on land, at an island they all agreed was worthy of exploration, they made quick progress in their survey of the island's riches. After a picnic, the bear ambled away and could be seen contentedly snoozing in the shade attended by a few irritated honey bees.
Gradually, a pleasant solitude overtook Mr. Tern and Mrs. Owl and they talked then and hardly noticed that the sun had set.
Mr. Tern flew for a long time in an attempt to measure the girth of the fantastic tree. Tiring inevitably, he folded his wings and tumbled to safety in an uncertain yet somehow welcoming place.
And one last dramatic image (there are more on flickr):
castles, cathedrals, churches, bicycles, birds, factories, ironwork, stars, etc.
In Sketchbookland: January's haul was good. I started doing these decorative architectural doodles and the torrent show no signs of abating. This grid of thumbnails is from my Sketchbook: January 2009 flickr set.
What's going on then? Dare I say, that doodling is one of the higher forms of artistic expression. These are, however, very ornate and disciplined doodles. I aim to create finished works of art in an ongoing flow utilizing limited graphic strategies to give the effort coherence yet invite variation. It's all direct and there is no sketching beforehand. I love solving mistakes in focus and execution. And I'm ALWAYS standing when I zoom past the finish line at the end of the day's run.
This has led to some glitches however. I've recently done a few illustrations for the New York Times. Richard Weigand, the art director, praised my sketchbooks and paintings and wanted to commission something. I did a couple versions of the illustration in my sketchbook attempting to bridge the divide between my personal working methods ("doodling") and my digital-centric editorial style. At the last minute, I realized that the personal "style" was dreadful and created a new piece on the spot that I knew would work. Richard agreed. Pretty insane having all these self-created hoops to negotiate.
In the meantime, I'm making pastries from unicycle wheels and cathedrals from string while listening to the phone ring.
accepted New York Times sketch (collage, paint)
the dreadful finish (first draft)
The better (and accepted) final. Is see hints of James O'Brien in this one. Don't you? The illustration was for an article about a woman re-reading letters sent to her by her grandfather in Texas. When I finished it, I saw the profile of my own father in the grandfather. My father passed away two years ago. Makes me smile. Hi Dad!
New Bike
This one's for Leo Espinosa
Like that bicycle, new art materials and their peculiar idiosyncracies fuel my creative process and usually keep me on my toes and generally happy. The recipe that is working lately is absorbant paper, crayons and a big sack of old Pantone markers bought at a yard sale a few years ago. These fun and decorative geometric baubles have emerged and found their way onto the paper.
Just having fun y'know?!
House in the forest (marker, gouache)
Catch of the Day
07-16-08a block printing ink, acrylic, ballpoint, collage
Some recent scans from Sketchbook Land!
07-15-08a "Kryptonite Clouds" block printing ink, ink, ballpoint pen
07-27-08a "Oh My" collage
07-27-08c "Striped Bikini & Hat" collage, latex
Recent Paintings
"Particular" latex on panel 15 x 17"
Here's a new gallery of recent paintings done since January 2008. They're on plywood panels or canvas and are generally painted with latex or acrylic paint. They started out very geometric and are slowly branching out to include animals and such. Not sure where they are headed (just the way I prefer it!) but each one is a small voyage of discovery for me. Many of them (and hopefully a lot more) will be included in an exhibit this December in Wellesley, MA. I'll be sharing the bill with fellow Bostonian and Drawgerite John S. Dykes.
Independence Day...
Welcome to a land teeming with a myriad of life forms and other serious inhabitants.
This recent series of sketchbook pages suggested an oblique (at best) and moderately sarcastic rumination on America,  July 4th, and the futility of War and the bottomless capacity to Forget what's actually going on. Whatever. In my defense, the sketches always came first and the narrative came second --if it came at all.
But all is not well: war and its excesses ravage some while others are left to wonder.
Now that that's over, we get to relax and horse around some. Hotcha!
Despite the National Pastime and the National Anthem, the natives are still mad as Hell. Some people just don't get Independence Day!
Creativity is...
ball point pen, latex paint
A thoughtful thought for the month of June from a new gallery of sketchbook effluvia:
"An artist could say that: Creativity is the hopeful flow of drawings [in which] formal visual elements are deployed in ways that beneficially stimulate new patterns of thinking"

So there you have it; it's all downhill from here!
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