Rob Dunlavey
Just thinking
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!
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
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.
Christmas Greetings
The Christmas Story in a nutshell:
So God thinks we're dense and so she goes undercover to try to knock some sense into our collective noggins and what we do what? We build about a zillion churches and fight about who's on top! What a waste of time and resources! Shouldn't we be feeding folks and making them feel ok and stuff?
I think so.
Joyeux Noël  mes amis!
Maybe Santa will leave a sweet kitty under your tree this year…
for Doug Fraser, a tricked-out Mustang would be nice
Oops, time to get more eggnog!
an Elf town
yet another beautiful church
Peace on Earth good people!
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.
These drawings were commissioned by… no one!
In that hour between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. something has to gel. I create an environment out of some abstract drips and scrawls. Then I add a figure or two and you get some sort of drama going. Sometimes, even stasis is all the drama I can handle at 5:00 a.m. Sometimes the whole thing gets out of hand, searching for a solution and I paint it all out and start over.
But, I swear, I'll go to bed tonight happily anticipating the morning hours in a sleeping house when I work on myself and, myself and that mysterious thing called Art.
Hills are to climb. Nothing up here though!
Birdnappers! (Naturally, you were able to tell that I've been looking at Egyptian Art a lot lately.)
A common complaint: It's hard to find good help these days.
Up up! If it hurts it must be good for you…?
He was a real catch! …back in the day.
Sure Rob, tell us another story. A good one this time!
My 15
It's been entertaining and edifying to read others' lists of influences. I hope that my indulgent speculation kindles positive reflections in you and the knowledge that we stand on the shoulders of so many others. And, that they are not so different than us.
I grew up reading my older brothers' comic books and Mad Magazines. I watched afternoon monster and war movies. And I was always drawing and these things were my early influences. Art has been a talent. I always stood out in grammar school and high school. I was  a good student and tried all Art materials and styles. I hung out with smart kids and art kids. I was one of the art stars. It may have been my 18th birthday; my stepsister gave me this book (I don't know what possessed her but it has always been a a touchstone):
But I went to art school. I didn't study illustration at all and never considered it a future job. I think my education, in retrospect, was scattershot which might reflect the time: the late 70's and early 80's. I studied fine art: painting, printmaking, sculpture. Presumably, options and a lifestyle would flow from this preoccupation. I worked college jobs designing posters, ads and editorial cartoons for the student newspapers (I'd also done this in high school). I was inspired by Mort Drucker, Bill Mauldin, Thomas Oliphant, Ranan Lurie, Thomas Nast, Rembrandt etchings. One-color offset reproduction maybe with color overlays done in rubylith… this was my graphic universe.
I wondered if Milton Glaser rubbed down his own Letraset type. I was clueless about graphic design, illustration and fine art. What's sort of funny to me is that in addition to Artforum magazine and fine art coffee table books and monographs, I would prowl the university library and check out old Graphis Annuals too.
So, I feel like I've had several "careers" with their attendant influences; …any more than 15! And since it's been a week or so since Yuko issued the challenge, my list has blossomed out of control to where I feel like a cloud and I wonder where the influences end and the self becomes defined. And I wonder also, who's wagging whom? Which is the tail and which is the dog? Should I add things to my list that make me look sophisticated or add idols that confirm something that I've sought in myself? …See, I'm a mess …!
But I want to leave you a list. It seems very slippery however. Some are role models for me, Some are etched in my visual memory. Some influence in a negative sort of way--I go in the opposite direction. Some I simply love and are part of my ever-growing artistic bouquet. They illuminate values that go to the core of what it means to make Art: to be fearless, to be curious, to provoke and to soothe. Some influences are laborers in the same vineyard, just a little further ahead of where I am and where I hope to arrive someday:
  1. Ito Jakuchu: Japanese artist
  2. Kazumasa Nagai: Japanese graphic designer & illustrator
  3. Benjamin Chaud: French illustrator
  4. Milton Glaser
  5. Seymour Chwast
  6. Saul Steinberg
  7. André François: French illustrator, designer
  8. Tomi Ungerer
  9. Morris Graves: American painter
  10. Disney's Pinnochio: backgrounds painted by Gustav Tenggren
  11. Jean Dubuffet (and other examples of Art Brut and Outsider Art
  12. Etienne Delassert: editorial and children's book illustrator
  13. Leo Lionni: designer and children's book illustrator
  14. Joseph Beuys: German artist
  15. Honoré Daumier: French painter and editorial artist
  16. etc.
Thanks for reading this.
Morris Graves
Ito Jakuchu
Hokusai Manga
Saul Steinberg
Gustav Tenggren more
Kazumasa Nagai
Joseph Beuys
André François (obituary)
So many more great images…
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?
Happy New Year

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

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 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
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!
Happy Holidays
Best wishes to you. I hope you find a little magic in these days. Art helps that happen frequently.
Free Advice
My "free" calendar got hijacked the other day by websites that aggregate and trade links for free samples. I've received approximately 2000 (and climbing) friendly and inquisitive emails from all corners of the USA and farther afield. Just ordinary folks …folks looking for free stuff. I had to send them all away empty handed. Broke my heart.
Free is a big hassle. Be careful how you advertise in the new social media economy!
and now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…
The Bridge
"The Pleasant Street Bridge" Sept. 11, 2011 © Rob Dunlavey
I drew the Pleasant Street bridge again this morning. I've drawn it many times over the past two years. I'm sorry about the orange and red color of the drawing; it's just the pencil I used. It's a nice pencil and I was tired of using black or brown. It's not meant to be incendiary or lurid.
The river has been unseasonably high since hurricane season began.  However, like many of you, I was thinking about 9-11 this morning and I'm quite certain that our leaders have often put their own needs before the country's. It's understandable but not pardonable. Try to remember a little of the past ten years. Do a little play-by-play of the Then and Now and give it time to sink in. If I lived in Manhattan I might think differently but I find myself wondering if the cure is killing the patient.
Take a look at this. ["Weighing the wars: BU political science professor Neta Crawford counts up costs and consequences." The Boston Globe, Sept. 11, 2011] and this:  Costs of War website
Imagine what else we might do with that money …but I guess that's water under the bridge.

This posting is similar in tone to postings from my other blog: ROBSERVATIONS.
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!
for Eric
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…
just checking…
uh huh…

just as I thought!

Now what?

Tell the Missus? …or not?

Shhhh, bonne nuit!

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

Recent BD raves & the Crumb show
I was accosted at the Wellesley Library recently by the librarian in charge of the BD (bande dessinée) section. I've been working my way through the collection trying to educate myself on my tastes in graphic novels. We chatted and he begged me for suggestions for additions to the collection. I suggested Christoph Blain, Joann Sfarr and Gipi (all recommended to me by Leo Espinosa). The librarian thrust a Blacksad collection and, when he understood that I was focusing on European authors, he gave me Jacques Tardi's "It Was The War of The Trenches" to read. Below are a few scans.
To the left is a panel from "Isaac The Pirate" by Christoph Blain. Isaac is an aspiring marine painter who leaves his fiancée and Paris and ships out on what turns out to be a pirate ship. As you can imagine, he's the odd duck in the crew. The captain begrudges Isaac's independence (before fulling losing his own mind) and rages at the artist for not working. I guess you could find a lot of useful metaphors in the tale.
A page from the Blacksad collection. All translated from the Spanish and available from Dark Horse (or, if you're lucky, your local library).

I love all this rendered stuff. It's so different from the style I'm currently working in.

Taking anthropomorphism to a new level: "Blacksad", illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido, author: Juan Díaz Canales
Available from Dark Horse

I'm that guy… can't you feel it? The numb desperation that makes your mind only only on the insane task.

Hell… on Earth :-)

from "It Was The War of the Trenches" written & illustrated by Jacques Tardi.
I had to skim through this classic a few times because the horror of the imagery was too intense. Yup, I'm a serious wimp.

I love the storyboarding and cinema-feel. I imagine that I'm actually watching a movie and am somehow actively involved in the plot as it develops. But I'm very ill-informed about graphic novels and I don't see a lot of movies but I am in awe of this special art form that fuses draftsmanship, composition, drama, graphic wit and power, and the fourth dimension: Time. AND, the time it takes me to come up with sketches for a spot illustration, guys like Tardi have scoped out a whole sequence of war, mayhem, disaster and a resulting terrible truth.
I love the little boxes and how the artists work with them. Sometimes it's big and bold and other times the change is as subtle as a glance around a poker table as the cards get begrudgingly revealed. Blain's "Gus and His Gang" is full of these moments of exquisite timing and revealing hilarity:
from "Gus and His Gang" by Christoph Blain. This is a very complicated and hilarious send-up/love poem to Westerns.

In the midst of chain-reading these books, I found myself in Brunswick, Maine visiting colleges with my daughter. The Bowdoin College art museum has mounted an exhibit of Robert Crumb's "Book of Genesis" original drawings. Crumb is banal and profound at the same time as befits his stature. The 200+ drawings are arrayed around the small-ish gallery and you really must take the time to slowly follow the narrative. Submit. The enormity and uniqueness of his effort slowly sink in. Basically, and contrary to so many readers of scripture, he has actually read it and asked the basic questions an illustrator has to ask to do the job. Page after page, his unstinting hammering and cross-hatching mounts up from the big guy with the beard creating form out of chaos (another artistic metaphor!) to Joseph (who looks nothing like Donny Osmond) and Pharoah and Potipher's lovely wife. The show closes May 8th, 2011.
If you do get up there, you might look up fellow drawgerite Calef Brown. I spent a few hours with him talking poetry, his upcoming books, Art in general & blogging. What a nice guy!
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?

Design School

I just learned that ITC has posted all the back issues of Upper & lowercase on-line. I'm in a pensive mood today and it got me thinking about my design education (such as it is):
  • I got a subscription to U&Lc in 1974. My high school teacher must have seen some spark that I couldn't see until much, much later.
  • My step-sister gave me a copy of the first Milton Glaser book for my birthday that year.
  • Later, as an undergraduate art student, a friend turned me on to the Graphis annuals that were in the open stacks in Morris library at SIU. I naively wondered if Milton Glaser did his own Presstype
  • Later on, with a van still full of my MFA thesis sculpture show, I discovered Creation at Rizzoli.
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.
Field Trip Part 2: Picasso-Degas, MassMoCA, etc.
Part 1 of this report is here

I’d been hearing raves about the Picasso-Degas blockbuster at the Clark  (it closes Sept. 12) all summer and I was anxious to see it. Since I was solo on this trip, I was able to indulge my ruminative nature to the fullest as I wandered through the three floors of the exhibit. Overall, it is a very good show with wonderful and rare examples of each artist’s best work. The premise is that Picasso came to Paris eager to consume and was poised to capitalize on any art that interested him. That is the phenomenon of Picasso. Like the Beatles perhaps: right person, right place at the right time. And art and culture have never been the same.
left: Degas "dans la café L'Absinthe" (1875-76) right: Picasso "Portrait of Sebastià Junyer i Vidal, (1903) Which one do you prefer?
I got the feeling that Degas was a brilliant and exacting 19th century artist whose practice was laced with tantalizing threads for future artists to take up. But Picasso, hot on his heels,  was able to meet anything head on and then pirouette and make it his own. Picasso: a relentless ocean wave to Degas' friable sand that is always claimed by the waters. I wouldn’t go so far to characterize Picasso as a “force of Nature”, but he ushered in a new concept of the artist as more than celebrity at a moment in time when it became possible to imagine this evolution of the concept.
Where I think the exhibition’s reasoning waivers is with the many direct comparisons it makes between specific works by each artist. They really never met. Ever. They were however, products of a similar educational process. True, Picasso had a few Degas’ prints and he kept a photograph of Degas in his possession, but it cheapens Picasso to suggest that he had an explicit rivalry  with Degas. I think Picasso’s reasons for doing anything were much more complex than simple rivalry (although he did have rivals and he dealt with them). Rivalry and competition are important motivations but the actual practice of making art allows much more into the process. Unexpected things can happen and that is when one's artistic uniqueness is expressed and they begin to stand out from their mentors and peers.
Left: sketch by Rob Dunlavey
Right: Degas: Combing the Hair (La Coiffure), c. 1896 Oil on canvas, 114.3 x 146.7 cm The National Gallery, London

What might any of this have to do with illustration? First of all, there is the question of influence and the healthy relationship of different generations of artists. Illustration, by its conservative nature, is more aware of this perhaps. In illustration all approaches are valid if there's a place for it in the marketplace (that marketplace is an vigorous and amorphous entity nowadays). So we can stick with Degas and find many workopportunities. Or we can model ourselves after Picasso, consuming many things (think of the internet as a buffet) and in the process making sure to make a brand of ourselves.
These are interesting ideas and this was a fascinating show. It closes in a few days so if you're in the neighborhood, try to see it.
Across town is from the Clark is the Williams College Art Gallery. It has a deep and eclectic collection on display. College museums are wonderful; there is always something unique and unexpected; perhaps, even under-appreciated. I was enchanted by a few things. This large "Portrait of Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia" was made by Franz Pourbus the Younger in 1600. I love how her face is framed (as fruit on a platter!) by the starched lace collar. The rest of her garment is similarly massive, sculpted and impossibly exquisite.
Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia: what's in a name?!

Here's a bicycle rider from Benin. I'm trying to remember the caption that went with it. I think (and may be making all this up) that this figure comes from a tradition of statues that enable communication between kings, Gods, whatnot, and other people. If the sculpture was carved today, we'd see the same guy in a Porto-Novo internet café fixing the president's  facebook account. The reason I was interested in this sculpture is my current interest in bicycles and cars and other things that have wheels.
I was smitten with the work of a conteporary Chinese artist, Nie Ou. She was born in 1948 and had initial art training when her parents moved to Bejing. During the subsequent upheaval of the Cultural Revolution she was sent to a farming collective far away from the capital. She returned in 1978 and resumed studies and began her career as a painter. You can find out more here.
"One Rural Morning" by Nei Ou

"The Pleasures of Farming" by Nei Ou
I love the four donkeys visible on the left of the bottom panel.

Lastly, but really, it would require another blog entry (I'll spare both of us!) I stopped in at MassMOCA in North Adams. It's a huge old mill complex that has been turned into a gigantic venue for gigantic art installations --essentially. On the top few floors is a massive and massively popular installation of wall drawings of Sol Lewitt.
There is a bunch more, most of them more subtle than this one. I love staring at this close-up until the seizures begin ;-p

There was a retrospective of the mixed media sculptures of Petah Coyne. I'd never heard of her before but, on reflection, if you like William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens, Victorian funereal displays and taxidermy shops, you might warm up to it pretty quickly. I did. And on further reflection, I'm reminded a little bit of the work of Sam Weber and Yuko Shimuzu (currently on exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York), in it's powerful and theatrical examination of the human figure as a vehicle for for story telling. Although the human body is nowhere evident in Petah Coyne's work, she suggests it by scale, subject matter and her choice of materials. Those materials are quite suggestive!
  • "Eguchi's Ghost" made of wire rendered from an entire Airstream trailer
  • "Untitled # 1240 (Black Cloud)"  [pictured above] velvet, silk flowers, chains, taxidermy specimens (geese, ducks)
Other materials include nails and wire coated in black sand used in iron foundries, candle wax, trees, kitsch madonna statues and silk ribbons, a stuffed bobcat and many other evocative art supplies not available at your local store.
I could go on but I need to get some work done! Let me finish by saying that looking at all kinds of art is an artist's job. It enlarges and refocuses the spirit so we can bring our best, poetic selves to even the most well understood and mundane task.
sketchbook page. These were big abstract things made from wire and coated with black sand

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!
Ashes, Dust & Ephemera
There's a design company not far from my house. It's a kind of sleepy, well-tended place. I don't know who pays their bills nowadays; I think they used to do pretty well by annual reports for pharmaceutical companies. The other day I noticed a dumpster out back. Dumpsters always get my attention (a habit acquired back in art school). Maybe they were doing a remodel and it would be filled with demolition debris.
On closer inspection I saw that like so many people around here, the incessant rains had flooded their basement forcing them to toss out a small snapshot of the recent history of our beloved profession. Do you see yourself in any of these photos? The dumpster is filled with a jumble of old printers, a few G3 Macs, computer mice, dozens of sourcebooks, stacks of cd's and books with sleeves filled with application floppies. There were a few chairs and filing cabinets too. Actually, the filing cabinets were gone this morning. A metal filing cabinet that can dry out trumps a decade of obsolete (and expensive) Photoshop upgrades!
Right here, observe closely. I saw Photoshop 3.0 installation discs on floppies as well as cds. How many hundreds of times have you stared at those Adobe splash screens while the whales booted up? Thousands! Maybe I should send this whole dumpster to The Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies!
Adobe Type Manager… remember that? It's hard to keep up with it all. I still have books and boxes of application discs in all formats floating around. Archives too! In media I can no longer open. It's all just a little odd. I am the caretaker of all these senile little technologies. These cords with their unique ends but nothing corresponding to plug them into anymore. And then I feel guilty throwing the heavy sinewy cords with their brass and copper and silicon elements into the waste stream. And so, it piles up until Nature reclaims her own.
Aldus Freehand! It's downright Biblical (like Cain and Abel, the twins who fought). I think Adobe won that battle.
Bye bye!
James Yang stock art (from a SIS catalog I think)
Quilts of Gee's Bend, Paul Rand, Quicktime, Quark
Ideas, concepts, communication, and, yes hands, never get obsolete so I will try not be too depressed for too long with this display of the ephemeral heart of our enterprise.
How are you?
I'm good!
Urban Sprawl
Last week (or was it the week before?) I received a package from France. The contents, when fussed over, checked-in and curated lay scattered all over the studio floor like so many Christmas mornings led by children hopped up on too many sugar plums. Like all binges though this one had its attendant hangover. So this weekend when the sun came out I finally tidied up a bit and my mood (...le vin, la cuisine, l'art, mes nouveaux amis, mon cœur ... quoi d'autre ai-je laisser à Paris?) started to lift too. And lo! A city had sprung up!

I showed these sculptures in Paris in December (some photos here). The presentation was a little less jumbled! To keep transportation costs low, I designed everything so it could fit in a box or two. It was NICE to be reunited with my little creations.
Many thanks to the staff of the American Library in Paris and other friends for many thoughtful favors.

More of this sort of thing is posted on my flickr site.
2009 - 2010
Get this dang 2009 outa here!
Hmmm…? Well I guess this is an improvement. Too early to tell!
winter discontent
I took a walk this morning: my carriage.
I'm here almost every morning. It's just about 7:00 am.
I cross over the frigid river, shudder and think of the sadness of Inspector Javert on the Pont au Changes in Les Miserables.
the sunlight looks warm but isn't.
Normally on the winter solstice (yesterday actually) I'm smug knowing that even though winter has barely settled in, the days are getting longer. Take that! But this day I am pensive. Why? You say "So what?" I wonder that too. Of course there are personal reasons for some of it (but that's none of your business). And what does this have to do with art or illustration?

There's a decade coming to a close. It's a totally artificial concept but markers in this river of time give one pause:
  • Where were we in 2000? I just looked through some records: I made almost twice as much as I did in 2008. The decade's been a roller coaster ride with most of us growing and branching off into other markets and ventures as a burgeoning class of artists figure out how to slice the pie a little thinner so that more get something at least. Makes me wonder what the rate of home ownership is over time for the profession as a whole…
  • In 2000 I used Fed Ex. I rarely do that nowadays. Portfolios maybe.
  • Remember Alta Vista? Google was just two years out of the blocks and had just started serving primitive text ads along with its uncanny search results. Image searches didn't come on-line until July 2001.
  • Remember the Tech Bubble, 911, Donald Rumsfeld, Freedom Fries and low interest rates and the subsequent subprime collapse?
  • And it seems like so long ago that as a nation we held our breath from November 2008 to January 2009 just to hear Obama and Justice Stevens sort out the oath of office.
So where is illustration headed in this new decade? I'm probably the worst prognosticator. As editorial has shrunk and artists reps collapse and scratch their heads, my own personal need to make art has continued to explode. I need markets for it! I will thrive in the margins for a while perhaps. But something's gotta give. Some wonderful projects are beckoning and coming to life in my mind and in my hands right now. I can't wait to begin this new decade!
Let's cheer each other on and try to enjoy the ride. I fear there will be some very unwelcome bumps ahead though.

Studio Peek
The beginnings of a picture book dummy: Meet Phineas Foghorn, an impulsive cat.
clutter central
No ping pong table. No large collectors edition posters. No extensive library full of awards and expensive design compendiums. No first editions. No fancy guitars or expensive workstations. No swimming pool. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Things are jerry-rigged. I'd love to move out and move back in and fill up a dumpster but that would take a very long time. Kind of a swamp really. But it's home. And despite everything sour going on in the world and in the economy, this studio been good to me this past year. So here's to 2010 and to creative workspaces everywhere and their denizens. You know who you are. Be it a palace or a suitcase, a magic silicon wand or a can of spray paint, studios start in the mind and only then move out into the real world. But they start in your noggin --so now I'd better get back to work!

it works for me…
vertical and horizontal stackage. Everything in its place and a place for everything.
Annuals make good paperweights. This recent model on top of a late model Epson scanner.
inspiration: "The Poet" by Leo Espinosa & "The Seven Deadly Sins" by Posada
For all you night owls: above my cantankerous monitor, the equally cantankerous Sonnet 27 by Shakespeare.
Note the carefully cultivated fine coating of dust.
the amoeba says "Bonjour!"
Diderot et pigeon sur la tête!
I'm back and processing, processing, processing impressions and results of a long trip to Paris to attend the children's book fair, meet with publishers and show my work. And a hundred other things in-between. Besides many new contacts and just a taste of the city, I also have come home with two book projects for Bayard Jeunesse and Hélium éditions. The plane ride home was filled with thumbnails and to-do lists. More later.

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.
Time to get your feet wet!
An average American contemplating the state of the Union: Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the upcoming presidential inauguration.
While I'm thinking of it...
Look, a card from the president of Zimbabwe and his family
Perhaps you can spare a little change to the Red Cross to aid Zimbabweans.
The Red Cross International Relief Fund
The Zimbabwe Situation: current independent news on the crisis in Zimbabwe.
Snow Day
The view outside my windows a little while ago
A much anticipated winter storm has finally arrived here in Metrowest Boston. Fine-grained flakes are driving as commuters and school buses are driving out as hastily as they can. A year ago I got caught in a similar conjunction of storm-school closings-and job closings and a 40 minute drive from downtown turned into a 6 hour sleighride.
It's only appropriate that we pause for a moment to reflect on the birthday of Edward Redfield who was born on this day (Dec. 19th) in 1869. Redfield was an Impressionist painter who settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania after studing in Paris with the likes of Robert Henri and Wm. Merritt Chase. Long story short, Redfield's identity as an Impressionist type of painter and his sympathy for Ashcan School Social Realism led him to landscape painting of the Pennsylvania countryside in all manner of weather. He became quite famous for his winter landscapes. Here are a couple of examples:
"Late Afternoon (Delaware River)" Oil on canvas; 38 1/8 x 49 7/8 Woodmere Art Museum
"River Hills" Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY
unknown title
unknown title
The small fact I feel I need to bring to your attention is that many of Redfield's painting were done all prima, on site and in one session. So next time you glide by a half-frozen landscape painter perched on the side of a country road in front of a four by five foot blinding white canvas rectangle, paintbrushes and knives at the ready, offer to get him a  cup of coffee or something else that will keep his spirits up as he confronts, under trying circumstances, one of the supreme challenges and traditions of American art: painting what is directly in front of you the best and most honet way that you can.
Redfield was notoriously finicky about his work. He destroyed many canvases. It's said that not long after his wife died in 1948 he produced his final paintings and then stopped because he felt he was past his prime as the specialized painter he had become. He lived on for another 15-20 years and turned his attention to traditional Pennsylvania crafts: tole painting and rug hooking.
Arjuna, the shadow puppet warrior keeps bemused watch over my little corner while paints and ideas pile up in drifts on the floor.
Things are getting cluttered in this place. In my head too no doubt. But like an old sweater or a comfortable habit, the clutter keeps the boat sailing ever onward.
I have my priorities all mapped out and nothing is ever lost or overlooked.
The uninitiated may lose their sense of perspective in this dark corner. To the right is a window into the land of illustration. To the left, a glimpse of art. They're pretty similar.
Here's that painting. I think it's another "Annunciation" given that this is the season for that sort of thing. The only difference is that Joseph is looking on and knows that he will always be the odd man out.
While I'm on a Biblical theme, here's a painting from my sketchbook today. I call it "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt". Joseph is still playing catch-up.
fun stuff!
Veterans Day
Eventually, they come home and the war comes home too.
If you have the opportunity today, pay your respects to a veteran for their service and respect the sacrifices they have made.
War is an extraordinary and morally ambivalent activity. "Thou shalt not kill" yet we organize and justify killing on a massive scale time and again.Whether you view war as murder or self-defense, we are all partners in a large scale emotional dislocation that requires attention to the traumas soldiers accept and endure.
Two birds, one tree
It's a new day.
Despite the ever-present philosophical differences that define our civic life, the indisputable truth of our mutual dependence is as clear as always. Surely we will bask in the joy of this moment but we merely pause to refocus our vigor to enlarge and enhance the ideals that give us hope.
Ask your kids who to vote for!
I've never been an undecided voter. My first presidential election was back in 1974 (Muskie ran against Ford who gained office after Nixon's resignation in 1973). I wonder what an undecided voter looks like…
It must be exhausting jumping from ice floe to ice floe. Good luck Mr. Undecided Voter!
Political Physics
It's interesting that as the GOP Elephant tries to lighten his load, the heavier he gets.
Are there any coincidences in brand design?
You decide: separated at birth?
Crass coincidence or brilliant marketing?
BAWLS is a Guarana "Energy Drink" manufactured by Hobarama LLC in the USA. It is marketed to a select crowd: military personnel, paintball and BMX racing enthusiasts and video gamers. The distinctive bottle design was created by Flow Design from Detroit. The bottle features 122 raised bumps to make it easier to hold. Our laboratory staff confirms the useful and pleasing tactile properties of the design.
I found this particular empty bottle littered on the grass where I take my daily morning stroll. I was attracted to the color and the shape of the bottle. I thought my eleven year old daughter, who's more of a collector of these types of things than I, would like it. I did a double-take when I saw the brand name. I wondered if there was an appropriately named pink bottle for the ladies (the name of which I will leave to your imagination!). Barely stopping myself from completely careening down the gutter, I  studied the bottle further, turning it in my hand. It called to mind those vending machines in interstate highway men's rooms in various discrete locations that dispense sexual aids that "protect and enhance".
I'm happy that the life force is strong in our fighting men and women and I'm happy that BAWLS is there to encourage people to protect and enhance life with vigor. BAWLS is a caffeinated drink and a diuretic and may cause dehydration; please enjoy it responsibly.
for Barry
Hey buddy, can you spare 50 Billion?
The just issued 50 Billion note. Don't spend it all in one place! Some traders value 125 Billion Zimbabwe dollars at US $0.40.
A short profile of Gideon Gono, Zimbabwe's central-bank governor appeared in yesterday's  Wall Street Journal. I caught it via moneyweb and Gono is just one of the crazies sucking the blood out of Zimbabwe where up is down and vice versa.

"Of all the world's central bankers, Zimbabwe's gets the biggest -- or at least the longest -- salary. Mr. Gono won't say how much he earns exactly as head of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe but does claim to have "more digits" on his pay slip that any of his peers. He earns trillions of Zimbabwe dollars. It now takes more than 16 billion of these to buy a single U.S. dollar. U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke earns only six figures, $191,300."

The design of the bill has a certain expedient quality. Maybe the giraffes should be facing right (and running faster!)
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!
Memorial Day
Painting in Progress
A current effort. I was given this easel in high school and I've carted it around all this time. It's cheap but it makes it easier to keep multiple things going.
I imagine that there are many ways to go about a dedicated and disciplined painting regimen. For several years I desired and imagined getting back into painting. I had a show in 2005 and I treated it like a commission: I painted for the show. Tick-tock!
I'm doing a similar thing now in preparation for a show next December. It's a low-profile affair but it has given me the impetus to get off my rear end and move some of my sketchbook-centric art-making into more public and saleable formats.

I started out with all these odd plywood panels and a bunch of cans of left-over house paint. No sketching; just dive in and see what develops. So far, I've been pleased with the process: I've done about 25 paintings and the original set of graphic ideas is starting to branch out and get very nourishing.
This really horizontal canvas suggested a wolf or something, so there she is. I'm using some cut outs to figure out what's going on underneath. Maybe that's trash or broken glass. Lots of questions to ponder.
There are a ton of influences coming out as I finish them: Morris Graves, Jerome Snyder, Paul Klee, Bill Traylor… I'm sure you'll detect others. They started out just being geometric. Now there are animals and, probably, figures later on starting to get into situations in my compositions.
three early geometric ones
I think I've just completed this one. The forms, as they suggest themselves and are generated generally dictate what will happen next. In this case, the geometric kryptonite stuff was in place first. Will it be a mountain? A cave? Near the ocean? Even though it's very static, can I suggest movement? Maybe these fragile little birds can impede its progress long enough for it to come to a stop. I guess this is about sticking up for the little guy who's here one day and gone the next.

Stay tuned!
I've been obsessing over the fate of Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe this past week. For a little while I thought the transition would be relatively peaceful but that assessment seems overly optimistic now.
Mugabe is a small part of the overall problem but it's helpful to have someone with a memorable face to  graphically pillory.  Classic "tyrant" stuff. And those glasses! Is Libya's Gaddafi his fashion consultant?
I shouldn't  joke. Mugabe is a dangerous and deluded predator.
an idea for a film.
"Unknown Soldier" 03-25-08a
4000 and counting...
The hopelessly fragmented man observed: "Even in the most extreme experiences, far from our homes, we invested our experiences with meaning and love, loyalty and patriotism. Even when they ceased to have meaning OR value."
Dick Cheney (ink, 3/21/08)
It was nice of the Vice President to remind us the other day that he's still around. To this joyous news one might be excused for saying "So?"
KRYPTONITE, as you probably know, is an imaginary substance that has a negative influence over Superman's  powers. You can read up about it over at Wikipedia if you want. Lots of people seem to really care about the stuff. I've always thought of it as green but apparently, fertile minds in the industries that have licenses with the Superman franchise have created many hues which probably have different effects on the hero from Metropolis. I've been to this town near Paducah, Kentucky across the Ohio River from Southern Illinois where I went to college. There is a museum (which I haven't visited) with a 35' painted bronze statue of Superman out front. It's looks stunning.

Kryptonite is also the name I've given to a series of abstract doodles of late. Here are some sketches and also a few vectorized adaptations.
02-08-08a (ink, colored pencil, watercolor)
02-09-08a (Somehow, my daughter who was sketching with me at the time, and I got to talking about optimal living environments for hamsters. We do not own a hamster.)
02-08-08a_new-weather (This is based on that sketch above)
Sometimes, the content or quality of speech can have a negative effect on anyone's well-being (not just Clark Kent!).
Valentine's Day
Ellen likes cats
Julia loves owls (and J. K. Rowling)
The Valentine Mouse visits our house
Color Therapy
I've been hanging out at this morning and these are the palettes I saved as favorites. There's obviously a pattern: there's a warm, slightly toasted haze infiltrating the swatches and they all include some dominant but not too strident red. I could just stare at palettes all day. There's an addictive quality to it that I'm sure is well studied: the endorphin rush of color perceived. Some people probably see color before they see content or form. I believe that the web really has instigated a new way to experience color that wasn't available before.
What's tricky about this Colourlovers color is that it only exists through the glowing medium of my computer monitor. It doesn't have the same mesmerizing power when printed out or used as reference for a painting I'm embarking on. But those glowing colored bars are like gumdrops, chocolate, brandy, coffee, the interplay of woven colored threads: pure color at loose in the world.
In contrast to my color favorites today, the world outside my window looks somewhat like this:
from a photo of my favorite bit of nearby forest. Photoshop motion blur added.
It's Monday
My brain flits and jerks around in response to the images forming in front of me early in the day. Here are a few January doodles to start the new year.
Yes, I know there's a problem with my boat but we've come to an mutual understanding of the situation: I will continue to paddle if you promise not to sink. So far it's working.
Buddha is thinking about crossword puzzles.
Another Windshield Cowboy lost between the sky and the sand.
A Helpful Reminder
The Thanksgiving Fox reminds one and all to have a peaceful and an especially thankful day.
Six years out
In honor of those who actually lost something six years ago on this day, I urge you to forget Bin Laden temporarily and fix your sites on the monkeys in the White House with the gas can. They have ruined everything and it's getting worse.
Mmmmmm... !
xerox, collage, tempera, ink, etc., etc.
I love my job!  Drawing-Collage-Paint: a well-oiled studio with projects and possibilities everywhere I look.

And the Red Sox beat Tampa Bay 15-4 last night.

How are you doing today?
Arp's Bicycle
Hans Arp was known for incorporating quirky organic shapes into his artwork. The funky white-ish cloud shape was left over from my daughter's art experiments and I knew I could put it to use as a stencil.
Who here has an Epson printer? Just about everyone. I'm mostly satisfied with mine but it has a nasty habit of thinking its cartridges are out of ink when they aren't. Can you relate? Well, don't toss those half-spent cartridges away because they have lots of ink inside and ink means: Art Supplies!
The cyan blobs in this picture are what squirted out of the cartridge when I peeled off the forbidden stickers.  Very messy stuff that soaked through about five pages of the sketchbook and behaves strangely with the cheap paper. I wouldn't have it any other way though. Accidents like these are like moguls to a skier: go with the flow and get in a rhythm. Maybe you'll transcend what you thought were your limitations!
A Sleeping Nation Goes Off to War
Epson ink, ballpoint, gouache 8 1/2 x 11"
After a variety of artistic meanderings, this image arrived out of the welter of marks that were seeking some kind of justification. It goes in step with a book I've just finished reading: "The Greatest Story Ever Sold" by Frank Rich. This book catalogs, analyzes and lambastes the media and the Bush administration for the profound mess they have created in Iraq and by extension, the equally profound mess here in the "homeland". I've been against the war and Bush (both of them) from the very beginning. But after reading this book, I feel as if I was asleep during the whole run-up and subsequent execution of the war. And I fear about what is happening AT THIS MOMENT as we prepare for our own bit of democratic regime change.

The coming election becomes a popularity contest at our own peril. We have to drill deeper than who is "electable" and all that. Follow the money and look hard at the underlying philosophy of the candidates. Bush brought us Enron, Cheney, Rove and Wolfowitz.  What will the Democrats bring along with them??

It's time for the people to wake up and lead the nation in a way that restores a battered but resilient American ideal that has been sadly abused of late.
Dark Thing
ink, gouache, watercolor 71/2 x 6 1/2"
A slightly optimistic-looking yet dystopian cityscape from my sketchbook this morning and a dark rough mbira melody to go with it:
When I get it all together, I'll pour these ideas into animation of some sort. Please, cheer me on!
Letters from kids
If I ever need a few positive strokes, I pull out a few of these kinds of letters. They make me feel ten feet tall!
Bob Staake's inspiring story about how Michael, an autistic student,  wrote him  a fan letter, got me thinking about letters I received from a class of first graders years ago after I'd done a demonstration. The letter above is from Mary Elaine who I know recently graduated from college and now works at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Does she still remember me?? Hmmm...
Good Day Sunshine!
sketchbook Feb. 28, 2007 various inks, fabric paint, gouache.
Here is a happy face to brighten up your morning. Spring IS on it's way. The birds are starting to go nuts and there's a familiar scent in the air.
Time to wrap up those winter chores, peruse the seed catalogs and bask in the knowledge that is as old as time itself: fickle Spring is on its way!
Twilight in America?
End of the line for the Red, White and Blue?
Every morning I work in my sketchbook. It takes about a month or two to complete one. Part personal journal, part daily to-do list, sometimes sketching for work; the sketchbook has become a huge addictive habit. I can't recommend it highly enough. Everything else may be crashing around me but if I've done something decent in the sketchbook, I can hold my head high as Peter records my passing in his big book.

Anyway, this image started with some angular doodling that became clouds. I then added a line at the bottom and accepted the fact that it had become a landscape. On the page before this, I had drawn a disgruntled dragon so I continued the theme with a parade of depressed and tired dinosaurs dragging themselves across the blighted landscape.

I then painted the sky a raspy pink and wan yellow and started shading the clouds. How depressing should this thing be anyway? Then an angry thought came to me that the dinosaurs were actually America plodding off into the sunset. A sunset brought about by decades of backward political thinking, confused foreign policy and defensive thinking in general. I know this may be a leap and profoundly un-obvious and misguided on my part, but just imagine for a moment if America was known for her brilliant environmental policies and practices, globally helpful foreign policy, ennobling journalism and art and entertainment that actually celebrated the joy of life rather than  the live flaying of  human beings.

Yes, this is a very interesting time to be alive and I'm sure my kids and yours will basically be fine.  I'm basically an optimist. I just hope that a new intelligent consensus emerges from the waning days of the this fraudulent presidency.

Remember how nice we were to each other in the days after 9-11? I hope it doesn't take another event like that to get to nice.
Thoughts on the Afterlife
On the spiritual plane, two souls meet for the second time:
"Oh, I can see you're new here. I'm glad the wings fit you"
"They look nice. Wait, don't I know you?"
"Bob? It's been a long time."
"Over 40 years".

My father who was 96 years old passed away last night. It's a good thing: a long life, 8 children, many grandchildren, 2 wives, he saw a lot and was a pretty quiet guy. I just wanted to acknowledge it in one small way and this picture came out this morning.
"The Road to Unity goes through Diversity"
I wanted to do some little thing to acknowledge the Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday that we observe today.
Art Directors Club 86th Invitational poster art
poster illustration by N. Kox
There has been some heated discussion in the chat boards regarding the most recent Call for Entries poster for the Art Directors Club 86th competition. This discussion raises important issues on the variety  of opinions illustrators have about training and professionalism and how illustrators relate to fine art. Perhaps more importantly, it raises larger questions about any art's (specifically Outsider Art) relation to the market and how design and illustration feed off of that market. My presumption here, to be perfectly clear, is that Design and Illustration, are by nature reactionary: they find their life in response to someone else's demands. [Link to larger image of the ADC/Kox poster]
detail: "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (Hell) by Heironymous Bosch
I hope that at some point, the Art Directors Club might explain their thinking is choosing this image for their poster. I presume that they appreciate the topical and apocalyptic subject matter and the unschooled art technique. Both of these traits are in vogue so it's not surprising that they attempt to shock. We've come to expect as much.

Blurring the boundaries… or are we?
As Robert Zimmerman helpfully pointed out, the ADC selected a painting by Norbert Kox for the poster. Kox is an American outsider Christian religious painter. His original paintings are sought after by collectors. He has his own schtick and he's the real thing. So, is the ADC appropriating his good-bad art to emphasize their good-bad trendy image? Maybe an image by Heironymous Bosch would work or is that too acceptable?

Outsider art is in
Outsider art (graffiti, kids, religious iconography, stencil, comic book, pin-ups, Japanese cute, etc.) are part of a currently appropriate set of icons and mark-making strategies that is prevalent today. The emotional power of this style is seductive. It's ability to be opaque and ironic is useful for editorial and is  increasingly used in corporate adaptations.
Bill, the chimp, settling in to paint a picture. source: The Eureka Reporter
It is scary for trained artists to see unschooled and passionate "visionaries" getting all the acclaim. Perhaps it's just the swing of the pendulum. As professional image makes (as opposed to visionaries) we should be used to this sort of shift in taste. It's nothing new and by our very nature, we are probably incorporating elements of "what is currently fashionable" into our work in some small (or big) way. Personally, I find the poster to be mostly unimpressive. Appropriation of outsider art just doesn't shock or inspire. It's just another strategy that confirms the derivative and conservative nature of much cultural activity today.

What will you do?
I suggest the following: Make art that is as honest as possible that accurately acknowledges the forces that lead to its creation. All are legitimate. Reflect often on how lucky you are to be able make pictures on a daily and, hopefully obsessive, basis. Let the rest of the poseurs do what they may.
"Just Walking By"
Here's a little musical doodle I've been working on lately:

powered by ODEO Someday (hopefully soon) I'll get these soundtracks together with some characters and set a parallel, animated universe in motion (see below). Seems daunting but I tend to see my images in motion these days so something's gotta give! Hope you find it inspirational or at least interesting!
Halloween Heads
Around this time last year, my daughter and I were making cut paper doodles. We made a bunch of faces. Just fold the paper in half and start snipping snowflake style. There's always a nifty "Ah-Ha" when folded flat.

There's a cool dingbat font made by Apostrophe that was part of my mental soundtrack as we played with the bilateral facial symmetry. The font is called "Maskalin".
• Apostrophe interview
• Maskalin download (Apostrophic Lab)
• Maskalin download (Penguinfonts)
This is a partial view of the Maskalin font by Apostrophe.
angry picture
Pathetic isn't it?
An angry little picture:
As I see it, the G W Bush White House (and the corporatized) media have made a circus out of 9-11. We will not be able to think clearly (and grieve perhaps appropriately) until something is done about them.
By invading Iraq, we dishonored 9-11. I'm tired of black boxes; I want ballot boxes.
Goodbye Summer
After several days of late nights trying to catch up on work, family duty called: Casco, Maine, as I lay in a field of grass above a beautiful lake in Maine, out of my fatigue I sketched this happy and rather haunted man.
Even in the midst of Nature's beauty this summer, I frequently found myself juggling assignments and re-negotiating deadlines. This state of affairs was anticipated (right!) and continues unabated. Life is blurred as September makes her renewing presence felt.

I try to make resolutions to paint more, be a better illustrator, be a better businessman, cultivate the good habits while discouraging the bad ones. There are a ton of home improvement projects that were started in the optimistic light and heat of August and now languish in the rapidly creeping shadows of September. Can winter be far now? Will I get all the leaf piles gathered before the snow hits?

But today: It's a day for focused work and unbidden and ponderous musings. Life is on the march who knows where? How was your summer?
Geometric People
The geometric figuration thing for me kind of begins with this guy from last summer. I call him "The Iron Fireman". They are quick to do, one or two colors, explore positive-negative space, poster-like, could be stencilled
For lack of a better term, Geometric People:
I'm trying to make sense of this theme of mine. Maybe a Drawger gallery and some constructive feedback from some of you folks will help propel the series along to a satisfying new place. Here's a link to the images.

There are a lot of influences to be sure (let me know who/what I've left out!):
Mike Bartalos, GREEK POTTERY, Meso-American pottery/gold/textiles, Terry Allen, John Hersey, M.C. Escher, J. Otto Siebold, definitely Kuba cloth, naïve figurative quilt design (Harriet Powers), Jean Dubuffet, typography, those stacking toy block figures that I had as a kid… the list is endless. Maybe throw in a dash of Leo Espinosa to this short list.

So what are the priorites here?
1. figures are fun! stick a circle on a shape with a bump on it and you have a face:  "Kilroy was here". 2. action. I like the movement of things. This comes from the Greek vases and Kuba Cloth. 3. silhouettes are cool: that's the letterform stuff coming through. 4. simple bold humorous and kind of clunky. Definitely clunky!
This guy has one small problem!
Is this inspired or what!?
The silhouettes can be containers for anything I guess. This space for rent.

Last summer I started working in a Canson "sketchbook"  which has different colored signatures in it. I thought I would just do these kind of designs in it (there are a bunch in the gallery (Geometric People).  I put it down after a few weeks , the colored paper kept throwing me off. The images were primarily about shapes and space and color was/is secondary. Kind of stupid to make these distinctions but it really tripped me up for a while. And, yes, I do have better things to think about!
Just one last image: Here's an example of the ones on colored paper. You know, I should go Bartalos all the way and just do this series as cut paper. Then I'll shoot myself. My  marker will read "Here lies a Michael Bartalos wannabe".
May 4th
I swiped this image from the master himself! I'm sure Lou Darvas is rolling in his grave.
Hey! It's Hal Mayforth Day!
Hats off to you Hal!
The Juggling Act
I've been way too busy lately with a wide variety of projects that have snarled up life. All the chickens came home to roost. It's good but it's nuts. Many of the tasks just don't relate to my self-described trajectory or even pay. And as I work on one, the other pots start to boil over.  Hey, who's steering this train wreck anyway?!
A sequence of sketches for the talented animators to chew on.
Job #1: art director for a small on-line educational currriculum developer in San Francisco. They want me to jazz up their clunky middle school math product. It's an awkward fit because the engineering and content development workflows are entrenched in old Microsoft dominated technologies. It's interesting seeing my sketches interpreted by other artists. Some of the Flash programming is cool to see (as I know nothing about how it's done!). The basic process involves getting a handful of lengthy Word documents that spoell out the content for a particular subject (which is basic and arcane at the same time). I sketch, doodle, cajole and entertain, cut and paste, and run it up the flagpole. Then the team  has their say and off it goes to production and we cross our fingers and hope that something magical occurs so it feels like we're making actual progress!
Job #2: Illustrator and graphic consultant for a new TV commercial. I've detailed tantalizing tidbits in some other posts here. Both these jobs are on the West coast so those guys get busy just as I'm starting to turn into a pumpkin. Gotta rise to the occasion anyway!
The project includes a 12 page booklet, art for the cd itself and a traycard. Solomon is a Zimbabwean expatriate who plays the mbira (or thumb piano). It's grand stuff. I play a little.
Job #3: a good friend asked me (a long time ago) if I would design a cd for him. It's almost done. It's fun and clean but everyone else is howling for THEIR jobs!
sketch for Florida Realtor Magazine. Tracey Calvet, the art director, is a good person to work for!
Job #4, 5, 6, 7, 8…
The assorted other stuff (mostly two-bit editorial-type jobs):
• 3 monthly spots for an old client (but now I'm doing drawings of people doing exercises --whatever. They're nice and a bit of a charity case)
• a full page illustration for another magazine. They pay well. DUE today!
• three illustrations for Job #1 (DUE today!)
• some spots and design work for a member of the family
• strange work for a lame client who I generally avoid.
This is called paying the bills!
A tyranny of sketchbooks
"The Thinker" circa 1998
About ten years ago, my sketchbooks took over and became the focus of my creative life. It coincided with that other tyranny of creative life: very young children; but that's another story. Like alien spores germinating, I would find myself at 5:00 am (earlier nowadays), monk-like with a cup of coffee, slinking off to some quiet corner of the house. With a Bic pen I would write the date in a box in the upper left corner of the page…

• The stack of books is growing and…
• Paying work has exhibited troubling concerns of late…
What will become of me?

Stay tuned.
This was done yesterday. Simple but pretty much fun.
I picked up this old and resistant sketchbook. It's a spiral-bound deck of Canson colored papers (probably intended for scrapbookers). Anyway, I've been really resisting working in it and I'm trying to figure out why. I'll know soon.

Sometimes self-imposed "problems" need to cook a while before they yield to the familiar impulses that propel lines across a sheet of paper. I have to "soften" the prisoner up before he'll talk.
Promises, Promises!
I am clean shaven now!
I do hereby promise and faithfully swear to add content to this here blog as often as I possibly can.
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