Monday, December 31, 2012

In Conclusion...

2012 has presented new challenges and pointed me in new directions. I'm greatly looking forward to seeing what 2013 brings.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Well, I'm not very good at this whole blogging without a schedule thing, am I?  This is what I wrote, but failed to post yesterday...

I have mentioned before that I'd like to do a children's picture book, but that I didn't feel confident in my ability to put together a story.  While driving, last night, I may have proved myself wrong.

As I drove, I was remembering that when I was a little boy, I liked to make things out of construction paper.  I don't remember exactly what I would make, just that I enjoyed doing it.  I further remembered that it made me sad to throw the unused scraps away.  It felt unfair to use some of the paper, and to not use other parts.  The scraps would never get to be anything.  They'd never become art.  Not a picture.  Not a background.  Nothing.  I couldn't bear it.  So I saved them in a plastic bag, and hoped that I would get to use them again sometime.

I don't remember if I used them or not, but I remember feeling like I couldn't take their chance to become something away.  I can't exactly describe how this becomes a story yet, but I know it is one.  I also can't yet show the pictures that came to mind for this concept, but I'm excited to make them.

Stay tuned to see what happens.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

More Drawings From Sketchbooks: Christmas

I took a short break this week for the holidays, but I'm back now...and I'm sure BOTH of my readers are clamoring to hear what I have to say next.

I can't help but point out that it's that time of year again.  The Holidays.  Christmas.  Ho ho ho.  I love Christmas.  Mostly it has to do with how much I love colored lights, but I like the rest of it too.  I have to admit though, that for a few years in the not so distant past, I wasn't very keen on Christmas.  I just didn't care.  I tried to.  I tried to remind myself of all that is means as a Christian holiday and as a cultural event.  Peace on Earth.  Goodwill toward man.  I was fully aware of all the important parts of Christmas, but I still couldn't really feel it deep down inside the way I used to.

I think part of that came from a realization that I made while drawing the above drawing.  It felt like each passing year just meant another loss, and that each holiday meant another empty chair.  I think I spent time comparing the present to the past, and keeping a tally sheet.  I used to have X, but now I don't - so it's not the same.

But such is life.  How many things can we look at, know that we've lost something, and lessen the meaning of that thing.  We could do that regarding most things.  But we shouldn't.  We have today.  And Christmas in the now - thats worth celebrating.  I spend enough days thinking about yesterday and then painting it out to know that today is the most important thing we have.  

So during this holiday season, look around, drink it all in, and hold it close.  For it is all we have.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Simply Done Well

The hardest thing to teach high school kids, especially high school artists - with them being in a hurry about EVERYTHING - is to simply take the time to do something well.    I had a really hard time communicating that to my beginning photography students this semester.  The notion that one has to put the time in to develop the skills necessary to really excel at something is a tough concept to fully absorb.  I know I definitely forget it sometimes.  I constantly have to remind myself that to do something well, I have to commit to it.  That means giving it time and consideration.  If I can't even do that, how do expect my students to do it?

Some kids have that built into them though.  They want to do their best every time, because that's how they're wired.  I had a student this semester who turned in a really, really nice print to me today.  We've been focusing primarily on making good prints lately, which this is.  Its balanced.  The composition works without overcrowding any one element.  The tones and contrast are good.  It's exposed correctly, both in terms of shooting and enlarging.  It's just a good print.

But - and here's the part that made a student work blog-worthy (which is something that I haven't done before, and am a little scared I will embarrass said student) - this isn't just a good print, it's good art.  

A little back story...this print is part of a final project of the semester that is about content.  In this project the students are asked to develop and communicate an idea that would be better shown than explained.  I like this project because I like hearing what it is that my students have to say.  A large portion of high school art, they're not ready for this.  They need to learn the how, or they need to gain more confidence, or they just aren't sure what they "have to say" yet, so when they start to show what they think, and communicate it, there's nothing more exciting for me.  Disclaimer:  Please understand that I try to contain myself in front of the kids.  I don't want them thinking I'm easily excitable. That could lead to chaos.  Bedlam.  Fun.  The art room is no place for fun.

Untitled Print, 2012
Josie Flynn

This print really struck me though - maybe because so much of my own work addresses some of the same ideas.  It immediately spoke to me of nostalgia and moving forward - of things that have been, that no longer are.  It's so simple.  It speaks of the changing seasons, but not just the seasons outside - it also speaks of the seasons of life.  The swing is still, abandoned.  Summer is gone.  Play time is over.  And yet, there is something inviting in the trees that call us to wander past them - away from the tire and toward a new adventure.

Art should be this simple.  It shouldn't be so contrived conceptually that you have to read extensive texts on Postmodernism to understand the artist's intention.  It should just speak and be beautiful, and leave the viewer with a funny little "Hmm.  I hadn't thought of it that way" feeling.

Thanks for the reminder Josie.

More Drawings from Sketchbooks: Identity

Sketchbook Drawing #11, 2012
Pencil on Paper
No blog yesterday!  Ugh.  Snow storm.  Loss of power, etc.  Moving on...this is what I started, that I'll now finish:

This drawing makes me think about identity, which is a funny thing.  At once the word itself can totally contradict itself.  To identify with something connects you with others who have also identified with said thing.  To explore one's own identity, and be an individual is in opposition to that, or maybe further connection to it.  I'm not sure.  I have no advanced physiological training, and have no expert information to add to this topic, I just find it interesting.

What we choose to build our identity out of is funny.  I see a lot of it in my students.  Here at school kids make choices about how they want to represent themselves.  Some guys want to be camo wearing big truck drivers.  Others want to throw on some Ray-Bans, jam out to Cudi and become baby hipsters.  They're identifying with certain groups, and including themselves in that.  They're saying, "Okay world.  I'd like you to know the following things about me based on some choices that I'm going to make.  Please expect the following."

And we all do it.  I'm not sure we fully realize that we do, but we do.  I suppose it comes back to safety in numbers.  Nobody want to do something as hard as life alone.  We want to feel like we belong with someone.  We want to do life together.

Nothing wrong with that. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Photographer Sally Mann is a fearless artist. She's an example to everyone who creates about what it means to make something without fear of retribution. Her creativity is pure and untainted. She once said:
Candy Cigarette, 1989
Sally Mann
We are spinning a story of what it is to grow up. It’s a complicated story and sometimes we try to take on the grand themes: anger, love, death, sensuality and beauty. Without fear and without shame.
Such a beautiful way to describe this strange urge that we artists have to prove that this little walk we all take through life is something that matters.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More Drawings from Sketchbooks: Technology

Sketchbook Drawing #9
Pencil on Paper
I'm a little bit of a technology nerd, and I like to draw technological elements.  Technology related shapes are interesting - antennae and screens and buttons and switches.  That's the stuff that imagination was made of when I was a kid.  I also respond to the connotation that such images create.  They have a straight line to the sci-fi part of our imagination.  Such images allow us to hold onto that notion of a future that existed when we were children - back when the ideal that meant things were going to get better was still in place.  Before global climate change and massive oil spills and rising sea levels we had flying cars and rocket ships and robot friends.  The sci-fi of that generation represented unbridled potential.  That sort of connection to technology is something that I'm not quite ready to let go of.  I still believe in potential.  I still believe that humanities good qualities will win out against all the stupid ones.  Someday NOVA will be more important than Jersey Shore.  Right?  Dead God I hope so.

Sketchbook Drawing #10
Ink on Paper
I admit that I do address all of this with tongue planted firmly in cheek.  I know that technology can be an epic pain in the ass.  Why does the color printer connected to my image lab computers only work when it wants to?  Why does my phone spontaneously eject it's micro SD card?  Glitches.

But I still maintain that the world where a robot willingly brings coffee is a world worth hanging onto.  Now, don't get me wrong, I also fully acknowledge that a Terminator/Matrix style rise of the machines is still a possibility.  Every time I pass I wind farm (which I fully support), I get that suspicious War of the Worlds feeling.  

So don't trust that flying car or that robot friend too much.  Otherwise, you might end up a giant human Energizer battery hooked up to your alien overlord's laptop in an underground pod.  

I'm really not okay, am I?  Wait...don't answer that.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Time I Went to Bob's House, Part Two

The Captiva Studio
Image ©Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
As I've mentioned before, I work in Maine during the summer.  I was running errands the day that Mr. Rauschenberg's assistant called because I was leaving the state for two months the next day.  When she told me that he'd extended an invitation for me to come down, I was blown away.  I had to review in my own head.  Who's assistant?  Rauschenberg's.  Robert Rauschenberg's.  Okay.  Wants me to do what?  Come to his home/studio.  What?  When?  As soon as possible.  Was this really happening?  Yes.  Yes it was.

So I went.  Well...what else was I going to do?  Not go?!  Yeah.  Right.  I made the necessary arrangements to arrive in Maine later, and headed for Florida.  Everyone drives to Maine from Illinois, via Florida.  It's a common occurrence.

I'll share what I wrote down about that day, clear back in 2004, so as to not leave out anything:
It's not that the experience of going to Bob Rauschenberg's studio didn't feel real, it's just that if felt unlike anything else had until then.  I was swimming in realization and awe.  I came to understand so much, was as impressed as I'd ever been.  I tried to have very low expectations during this whole adventure.  When the letter was sent, I didn't really expect to hear anything.  When I heard something, I didn't really expect to go to Florida.  When I went to Florida, I didn't expect anyone to be warm and welcoming.   
When they were warm and welcoming, I chucked all remaining expectations, and just went with it.  Lauren Getford called my cell phone as we (my friend Nathan tagged along) passed an orange grove somewhere in Central Florida.  It wasn't until then that it became real.   
As we drove out to Captiva, I was a nervous wreck.  It was a hot day.  It rained a little.  It felt as though it took forever to get to his place.  When I got there, at Untitled Press, I was completely impressed with all that I saw.  The color white saturates all memories I have of the experience.  I went to the wrong door before someone came out and led me into the lower studio.  It was large...probably 60' x 100', with many work areas.  There were sinks, metal tables (fabricated in house - they were massive), printing areas, etc.  The lower studio was "where all the 'messy work' happen(ed)."  Along the back wall were racks.  They went all across the studio.  They held tens of thousands of silk screens.  Probably ever Rauschenberg image from the past 50 years.  Mr. Getford said that the archivists wouldn't let them throw any of them away, so they kept them there - though by the way they talked there was a warehouse in New York that housed most of the work.  After seeing the "messy" studio, we jumped onto the freight elevator and went up to the other studio - the purpose of which seemed to be higher than simple art-making.  It was where everything came together.  The space itself was awe inspiring.  It was a tall, pristinely white room flooded with Florida sun (though highly air conditioned.)   it was the kind of room that made art look better.  There was a lot of workspace upstairs too.  A paint rack (loaded with giant jars of Golden acrylics).  A TV.  The outer edge of the room housed offices, a kitchen, a lounge, and a print archive.  On one of the big tables was a large pile of images - "his palette," they called it.  Light bulbs, The Statue of Liberty, and a lot of other photographic material made up a huge pile that had all been printed onto a special transfer paper.  Most of the work that Bob had been doing lately was photo-transfer collages composed on a high quality paper that had been laminated (with Golden acrylic medium) onto sheets of aluminum.  All this time, and he's still finding ways to use pieces of the world.
The tour continued as we walked out onto the grounds, by the pool, and out to "The Fish House," which is original to the property and often used as a guest space.  Most recently David Byrne had been writing there.  For a long time, we stood on the deck of that space talking, by the bay, in the warm day.  At some point in the conversation I came to a pretty important conclusion regarding process.  During the studio tour, Mr. Getford had talked a lot about rial and error, which struck me.  How an artist of such stature can still, after 60 years into his career, be struggling with many of the same issues as the rest of us.  We're just guys who make art.  It blew my mind.  I felt so connected to Rauschenberg, and to all artists.  
When we left, after touring a bit more, I didn't want to.  I wanted to stay.  But i didn't get to.
So the big question...what about Bob?  What did he say?  What was he like?  Well, I didn't actually get to meet him.  I know.  I drove to Florida for nothing, right!?  Hardly.  That trip was one of the most fundamentally clarifying events in my artistic career.  Mr. Rauschenberg had planned to meet with us, but was feeling under the weather, and was taken to the doctor.  He had suffered a stroke a few months prior to that, and they didn't want to be too careful.  But it was wonderful to be there.  Mr. Rauschenberg's staff was amazing - insightful, helpful, and accommodating.

Since his passing, I've often wondered what happened to Untitled Press, the staff, and allof the wonderful that I saw there that day.  After doing some research, I've learned that the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation has launched a residency program on the grounds.  So even though Bob isn't making work there anymore, art still calls that paradise home.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Time I Went to Bob's House, Part One

Robert Rauschenberg
I recently picked up a deeply discounted copy of the book to the left at my local Blick outlet.  It's the catalogue from the first posthumous retrospective of Robert Rauschenberg's work.  Curated by Larry Gagosian (who wrote a really nice forward in the book), this marks the new relationship between the Rauschenberg estate and The Gagosian Gallery, which for those of you who don't know the NYC art world, is a powerhouse.  I don't know how the ins and outs of how Pace Wildenstein (who also represented Rauschenberg in his life) lost out on this opportunity to Gagosian, but the collection of works is beautifully put together, so I'm not really worried about it.  If you love Rauschenberg, or art, I suggest checking the book out.  Here's the description from the publisher: 
An essential volume on the work of Robert Rauschenberg, this relevatory selection of rarely seen masterworks is curated in collaboration with the artist's estate and includes an extensive chronology. In a career of nearly sixty years, Robert Rauschenberg changed the course of art history, art making, and viewers' experience of art. An artist of protean creativity, he transformed the mediums of sculpture, painting, prints, and photography. He elevated seemingly casual, everyday images and embraced discarded and found materials, reintroducing content to art after decades when abstraction held sway. This book covers the full span of the artist's career, from 1950 to 2007, focusing on key works from the collection of the artist's estate, including many that have not been shown since they were first made and exhibited more than thirty years ago, as well as masterpieces that have recently been seen in museum exhibitions. Texts by James Lawrence and John Richardson are accompanied by more than sixty color plates and over fifty black-and-white historical photographs. Also featured is an extensive chronology by Susan Davidson detailing the artist's life and career that will become a fundamental reference for students of Rauschenberg's influential oeuvre.
The book, like the show it represents, is stunning - beautifully designed.  I need to mention though that I was taken aback by the tone.  This book prompted me to really think about Bob Rauschenberg in the way that most people look at artists, as someone who is long departed - as someone who existed as part a history that is over.  The idea that Rauschenberg (who if you haven't figured it, is probably my favorite artist...ever) has crossed into the realm of Van Gogh and Picasso and Warhol hadn't fully occurred to me.  Even though I'd known of, and been saddened by, his passing, I hadn't fully absorbed that he is part of history now.

In the tiniest of ways, I was part of that history.  In the early spring of 2004, I wrote a letter to Mr. Rauschenberg.  I had been talking to my students about the idea that artistically, we have a lineage.  I had mentioned that my college painting professor Ken Hoffman had studied under Richard Diebenkorn at The San Francisco Art Institute, which led to a discussion about the ripple effect that artists can have on one another.  That led to more talk about who our artistic influences are and how.  My students were curious who some of my artistic influences were, and I I told them that Rauschenberg was one of my biggest influences.  They asked if he was live.  I stated that he was.  They asked why I didn't know him, if I liked him so much.  Know him?  This is Robert Rauschenberg.  This is one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century.  After Picasso, he did more to advance painting as an art form than anyone...ever!  He helped pave the way for Pop Art, and all but single-handedly (sorry Twombly, Johns, etc.) concluded Abstract Expressionism!  

So why didn't I know him?  I considered the following points: He's a human being.  I'm a human being.  He's an artist.  I'm an artist.  He likes to talk.  I like to talk.  I quickly convinced myself he and I were going to be best friends.  But back to the letter - I wrote a letter telling him I'd like to meet him, and have a conversation if I could.  Months went by, but I didn't hear anything.  I assumed he was too busy to worry about me and moved on.

Until...early June.  I was running errands when my phone rang.  It was an assitant of Mr. Rauschenberg's and she told me that he greatly enjoyed my letter and was wondering if I'd be interesting in coming down to Florida for a visit.

Interested?  I was speechless.  And I was traveling to Maine the next day.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I ♥ Prismacolors

Seriously.  I love them.  They are indisputably the world's greatest colored pencils and there are a lot of reasons to love them.  There are so many colors!  Not just regular colors either, but rich, creamy colors.  And where else does one find total blendabilty.  And do I even have to mention the colorless blender?!  That's right people, there is such a thing as a clear colored pencil!  Oh Prismacolor.

Don't get me wrong...I love most art supplies, but my 20 year love affair with Prismacolors has been special.  I remember the day the I first picked up my high school art teacher's set and tried it out.  What?!  Colored pencil can be rich and smooth?!  It can be more than the scratchy half-assed thing that comes from the school supply aisle at Wal-mart?  It was like divine light shined down.  And Prismacolor and I have been going strong ever since.

Remember back when they were owned by Berol?  And then how Sanford and then Rubbermaid bought it all up and made Prismacolor and Sharpie the flagship brands?  Remember all that?  Well I do, because that is just how big of a geek I am.  I know the corporate history of my colored pencils.  That's totally normal.

Now if you'll excuse me, the new Blick and Nasco catalogs came this week, and I have to go check and see if there are new colors.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

More Drawings from Sketchbooks

Sketchbook Drawing #6
Pencil on Paper
I have no idea what the first drawing from a sketchbook that I'll post today means.  There's a sad toaster.  The glasses are floating above it.  I feel like the glasses are as much of a presence as the toaster is.  Like they themselves have an identity and a personality  - even though I didn't give them a face.  The toaster looks as though he could be the brave little toaster's wimpy cousin.  I'm aware of The Brave Little Toaster, but I've never seen it, so I guess we'll chalk that up to a coincidence.  I guess it'd be hard not to make a connection like that, as there are not a lot of humanoid toasters to choose from.

Sketchbook Drawing #7
Pencil on Paper
The second drawing...that's where my bread is buttered.  I like drawing emotions, especially where people are concerned.  The simplified style that I've adopted allows me to not over complicate.  I draw this way because doing less with more is appealing, so I let two dots and a kidney bean shape can become the world's most forlorn expression.  Keeping the style simple provides an opportunity to represent these archetypal human qualities without it all becoming heavy handed or hard to take.  The worrier with the wringing hands can be laughed at and allowed to go about his day.  The overly confident smug expression of the one who has no foresight is entertaining because we know that guys like that will get what is coming to them in due time.

Sketchbook Drawing #8
Pencil on Paper

And who doesn't like making baked goods have faces.  I mean why not?  And aren't those minimal little smiles exactly what you expect from silly, happy, vacant little muffins. Only the surprised one seems to understand what the bird and dog already know - that the muffins are food, and no matter how much they want to float around and pretend that they're not going to be eaten, they are.  Cause they're food.  And you eat food.  Take that muffins.  

That's a prime example of how I can't stop these allegorical life lessons from spilling out.  I doodle.  It seems like nothing.  Next thing I know I see a lesson about self-imposed importance being contrasted with the concept of destiny vs. free will.  I WAS JUST DRAWING MUFFINS!  Did I mean to represent that?  No.  Did it happen anyway?  I don't know.  Maybe it's just my overactive imagination leading me to find a narrative where there isn't one.

Either way - I hope those muffins get what's coming to them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Blackbird

Blackbird as Darkness, from a Studies of Animals
as Christian Symbols, 2001
6" x 7", Pencil on Paper
I find birds fascinating, particularly blackbirds.  I've used blackbirds as subject matter many times.  I find them mysterious and knowing.  They carry the burden.  They know the secrets.

Blackbirds have long been used as symbolic representations in a variety of cultures.  They have represented luck, magic, lunar phases, death, transformation, spiritual knowing, and trickery - to name a few. In ancient forms of alchemy the blackbird represented the higher knowing. Some Native American cultures believed blackbirds to be the bringers of light.

I think I respond to them for all of those reasons.  They know something.  And we don't know what it is.  Regarding art, I'm always drawn to that type of ambiguity.  Sally Mann, in her genius, said on season one of Art 21, "If it doesn't have ambiguity, don't bother."  I couldn't agree with that assertion more.  The notion that we, as artists, have to spell it all out is absurd and insulting.  People should be allowed to find their answers in time.  They should be allowed to wonder.  They should be allowed to miss the point all together.  As the artist, we sort of have to forget them.

Forgetting your viewer is hard to do when art making - mostly because you want what you're trying to say to be heard.  But to forget them is ultimately to respect them because forgetting them eliminates our urge to pander to them, our urge to control them.  If we really want our art to speak to them, we're far better off just pretending like they're not there.

Monday, December 10, 2012

More Drawings from Sketchbooks

 I like my sketchbook drawings because they're honest.  Don't get me wrong - I don't always understand them, but there is no pretense or contrivance about them.  They just are.  They don't seek to be more than they are, and they don't overreach.  It doesn't hurt that I'm a huge fan of line drawings.  Sometimes the gentle curve of a line can hold more meaning than something that has been worked and reworked.

I don't want to spend too much time breaking these down.  I'd rather just share these drawings and let them speak for themselves.  Enjoy.

Sketchbook Drawing #3 
Pencil on Paper
Sketchbook Drawing #4
Pencil on Paper

Sunday Inspiration 4: My Students

Oooh, I never published this last night.  Looks like it's another double blog Monday.  Well, worse things have happened.  I still have limbs.

My drama students in action.
I spend a lot of time with young people.  Teenagers.  Kids.  Meh.  You know "kids nowadays."  They don't listen.  They're impulsive.  They're needy.  They're self-contained.  They can't see other people's needs.  They think they're the first people to ever be young and that life is an experience unique to them.  They're a pain in the tuchus...and I love them.

My students are awesome.  To some degree, I feel about my students the way that most parents feel about their own kids.  I think they're great, and I don't see their faults.  No.  That's not it.  I spend half of my life trying to figure out how to tell a kid they're doing something dumb without making them cry.  It's more that I love them because of their ability to act in the face of their flaws.  These kids are a big old mess of hormones and pressure and ambition and sloth.  But they still charge ahead.  They still figure it out.  Which I guess is the same thing as saying that I love them for their humanity, which is newly developed and innocent.

To spend time with people who are closer to the beginning of their journey than I am is reassuring.  It allows me to consider my own journey, to remember the stage of my life when I still believed that everything was in front of me, and to reclaim some of what I might have left behind along the way.

My students also need me to be a certain version of myself.  By nature I am not organized or time efficient, but to make the things that need to happen for my students to succeed, I have to be those things.  They bring out the best in me.  Of course, they also frustrate me to no end, but this isn't called "Sunday Frustrations," so we'll chalk that up to a natural side effect of human development.

Going along with the idea that my students bring out the best in me, that trickles into my art too.  My kids not only want to see my work, they need that.  They need to see that the guy at the front of the room harping on them to put their all into a project does the same thing.  They need to know that I can put my money where my mouth is.  They need me to authenticate what I'm saying.

So on those days when I'm tired and cranky and I don't want to do anything but watch the most recent season of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix, it's good to know that someone out there needs me to keep painting.  Otherwise, I'd probably just lay there.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Drawings from Sketchbooks

I draw.  I put pen to paper.  I grate rough chalk across toothy paper.  I mark make.

And I love it.  I love the way it feels to let a line continuous curve until something new exists.  

This drawing is from a pocket sketchbook that I take along with me where ever I go.  It is the companion to the book that holds the Little Boxes list.  I think some of the best things I draw are the things that I don't force.  Some of these, I don't think about at all, and they are so much better for it - not having been beaten up and slapped around by my silly thought processes.  

Expect more drawings from sketchbooks to come.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Little Boxes 5: James & Kevin

James, 2005
Oil & Acrylic on Board, 4" x 4"
James is my best friend's nephew.  When he was a little boy I gave him art lessons.  I was in college becoming a teacher at that time and he was one of  the first kids that I identified as "my student."  Bright and inquisitive, James had more imagination than most of the kids I've known.  He loved Harry Potter, and the harlequin pattern comes from the inside of on of the books.  James also loves movies, and I've been to see some of the great fantasy and sci-fi epics with he and his aunt, who is another dear friend of mine.  Next week we're going to see The Hobbit.  Pretty excited about that.

Kevin, 2008
Acrylic & Collage on Board, 4" x 4"

Kevin is a friend of mine.  He is a grown man from the wild north that we know as Canada.  However, at heart, Kevin is an eight year old boy.  He hates spiders and he loves dinosaurs.  Once while visiting me when I lived in Chicago, he got me one of those injection molded souvenir toys at the Field Museum (home of Sue, the world's most complete t-rex skeleton.) It was a very crude red tyrannosaurus rex.  Another time, in a "thinking of you" moment, Kev sent me a letter wrapped in a Simpson's comic.  Kevin is one of my zombie, Star Wars, indie-music, pop-culture loving friends, so a communique without something from TV, movies, or music, would not have seemed right.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

art = communication

There are images that I've drawn on the board in my classroom more times than I care to count.  To the left is one of them.  And though I've taught the lesson associated with this image more times than I can count, I always like teaching it.  

I like it because It reminds me of something essential.  An artist's ability to communicate with the viewers of his work is not to be taken lightly.  We each have the opportunity to speak our own individual truths. When we really understand our respective artforms that way our art has undeniable power.

That's still only half the battle.  We are only part of the equation.  What?  What?  What?  Artists aren't the end-all-be-all where their art is concerned?!  No.  Contrary to much of what we may think, we do not control our work's entire existence.  We only speak.  Someone still has to come along and listen.  What we imply, must still lead to an inference from someone else.  And the fun part is that we have no control over what they will think.  Well, sure we can do the work in the best possible way to convince them to see what we want them to, but is out of our hands.

Though scary at first, this notion that the understanding of our work is out of our hands is liberating in a way.  It means that our work can live outside of us.  It means that what we put into the world can stand alone.  It has to.

So what about the work that isn't seen?  What about the talented craftsman who makes work only for the joy of creation and has no desire to show the work off.  Well...that would be like speaking what matters most to you to an empty room.

So I guess what I'm saying is, it's not art until somebody sees it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Self Portrait Series

Self Portrait 1: My Favorite Pencil, 2008
Oil on Board. 4" x 4"
A lot of the paintings that I've been working on are like the favorite pencil painting.  They are similar to The Little Boxes, but they're not about anyone.  They're either things I like, or things I am drawn to, or value, or want, find beautiful.  

Then it hit me.  they're still little boxes, they just contain pieces of me.  So I've tentatively started titling them "Self Portrait."  Ultimately, in a semi-autobiographical way, that's what they are.  

I'm imagining them all together, of various sizes all representing images unique to my situation.  I love it when a plan comes together.  I'm surprised it took me so long to see what they really are.  It seems like we sometimes have the hardest time recognizing the things that refer to ourselves.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Defining Art

I can only imagine the reactions that this post will get. I'm guessing my readers will fall into one of two categories.  1) Art people who are going to be like, "defining Art?  Really?  Like that topic hasn't been beaten to death by pretentious scholastic wannabes and overly ambitious college kids alike" or 2) Non art people who are like, "these people make art and they don't even know what it is?"  Both fair points.

I bring this topic up because I recently read another article where an art critic is desperately trying to redefine art for the purpose of redefining art.  Now, bear in mind that is essentially like saying, instead of baking the beautiful perfect chocolate chip cookies that we love, we are now going to replace the sugar with battery acid and instead of chocolate chips we will add Micro Machines.  Why would someone do that?  Because it's different and edgy and they live and die to be different and edgy.  How postmodern.  My message is this...

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Of course that doesn't mean I'm not in favor of progress and innovation.  It means I'm not in favor of progress and innovation for the sake of progress and innovation.  If you make strides toward new creative channels through your pursuit for truth and beauty, I praise you.  If you make it up so you can seem like you did, my message to you is clear: fuck off.

I teach this to my 8th graders and I refuse to accept any other definition of art:

It's not more complicated than that.  Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is selling something.

Sunday (or Monday) Inspiration 3: My Friends

One of my greatest sources of inspiration is my friends.  I know some wonderfully interesting people, and I have been so fortunate in those who have become my friends.  I think there is some sort of rule about how we're not supposed to compare our lives with other people, because it's not "healthy" or something?  Well I try not to do that, because I do acknowledge that my life is unique to me, but my friends do crazy, wonderful things.  They draw and paint and teach and dream with a power and a fervor that is deeply respectable.  When I see that, I don't want to be left out.  I want to create with power and fervor too.  So I do.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

More Wisdom from a Master

Concord, 1949
Oil & Masking Tape on Canvas
Barnett Newman
The semester winds to a close here at school, and everything is chaos.  Grading, project pick-up, last minute students trying to cram it all in.  In the midst of all that, I'm not the most articulate, so there won't be a very meaty blog post today.  

Last night, while I was running around doing errands, I asked myself what I really wanted my art to do.  As I thought about that, something that I once came across that Barnett Newman said crossed my mind.
I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality. 
I guess, in a nutshell, that's what I hope for my paintings too.  More on that later.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Artwork Inventory

Oil on Board, 6" x 6"
Sometimes I get an idea and I start a painting without ever really finishing it.  I have a lot of work going now and my goal between now and winter break is to get it all wrapped up.  So I thought to myself as I was driving home last night listening to the most recent Passion Pit album, "I need to make a list.  That will organize my brain, and help me accountable to boot!"  Okay, that might have been a paraphrase, as I don't usually incorporate the term 'to boot' into my thoughts.  

Anyway...when I got home, I did make that list.  I got a bit of a shock though when I looked it all over.  There was a lot more than I had expected.  I didn't know how many loose ends I'd left untied.  It's no wonder that my brain feels like a swarm of angry bees.

The list makes me feel better.  Probably because, I'm a list person.  A list makes it all seem possible, and the joy of crossing completed tasks off is something that is hard to beat.

Paintings that I have started, but not finished, but WILL finish, hopefully by the end of 2012, but if not by...NO, by the end of 2012 - I can do it! - include:

  • Chicago: Morning Commute (4') - all about the time I spent traveling from my apartment to my job at Chicago Children's Museum on Navy Pier, begun in 2004.
  • 8 black squares (4") - featuring an odd collection of monsters and candy, begun in 2010.
  • 4 tan squares (4") - with more monsters, begun in 2012.
  • Love & Cheeseburgers diptych (2' each) - a failed attempt to make fun of romance, begun in 2006.
  • A green square (18") - comparing the convention and the unconventional, begun in 2011.
  • A blue square (18") - nonobjective right now, but I could see some other subject matter popping up on the top layer, begun in 2011.
  • 4 small blue squares (6") - monochromatic, begun in 2010.
  • 18-24 Little Boxes (4") - tequila shots, and gingham, and Oreos.  Oh my.  All begun in 2012.
  • 4 small red squares (6") - pretty food, begun in 2010.
  • A pink square (2') - sparkling pink and mud puddles, begun in 2009.
  • 4 white squares (12") - with more monsters, begun this week.
  • 3 landscapes (2') - like The Gray Square, begun 2011-2012.
  • 2 QR code paintings (12") - with so many tiny squares, begun 2011.
  • Stupid Cupcake Girl (2') - with a flaming neon background, begun this week.
  • Just Love Me Boy (2') - in cool colors, begun this week.
  • A doughnut (6") - with pink icing (so more pretty food), begun in 2012.
  • A field of flowers (6") - blurry and colorful, begun in 2012.
Wow.  That's 56 - 62 paintings.  If you'll excuse me...I need to go paint.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Stupid Cupcake Girl

Stupid Cupcake Girl is a character that I've been doodling for years.  After the Little Kid Paintings from college (see archives for blog entries about that work), I couldn't stop these characters from coming.  They pop up on notes in meetings when I'm supposed to be paying attention.  They end up as doodles while I was on the phone.  Painting that body of work caused something to happen in my brain that left me programmed to create these strange little people - whether I wanted to or not.

I do enjoy drawing them though.  They're fun.  They're insightful.  They make me feel original, which is important to me, and they don't overreach.  They just are.  

Most of their appeal comes from the simple fact that they are uncomplicated.  They're basic.  Not just visually, but in terms of what they represent.  They're fundamental human traits personified.  They haven't been complicated by the rules of society or the expectations of the world at large.  They're impulsive.  They're rude.  They're unencumbered.  They are, at their very core, human.

Stupid Cupcake Girl Sketch, 2012
Ink on Paper, 2.5" x 3.5"
Though some of these characters are joyful and pure...some aren't.  Some are the darker side of human nature.  Stupid Cupcake Girl is like that.  She's mean and greedy.  She doesn't share.  She puts her own interests first.  She's judgmental.  She doesn't look for the best in people.  And she doesn't care.  She's fine being the way that she is.  She has no desire to be well behaved, well liked, or to be good.

Very soon there will be a finished 4' painting of Stupid Cupcake Girl.  I stopped myself from painting my little people for a long time because I wasn't sure how they fit into my overall body of work.  Peh!  Screw that.  I'm tired of trying to make it all make sense.  Let the art historians and the biographers figure out why I painted what I did.  I just want to paint.  Besides, I miss painting my characters, and though I don't have reason to paint them now, I want to.  And as I've mentioned before...wanting to paint something is reason enough to make it happen.

So stay tuned for a big, bright, candy-colored painting of the meanest little girl on the block.  She looks forward to showing you just how awesome she is.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Inside Creativity, Volume One

I admit it.  I'm creative.

I've spent most of my life making one thing or another.  I've also spent a great deal of time watching or helping other people make things.  Despite those efforts, I don't really feel like I have a full understanding of creativity.  When I paint, I sit toiling away - my brush and my mind working furiously to make something that will become more than paint and empty space.  Something with value.  Something with worth.  I understand that creativity is about seeing options.  It's about problem solving and considering multiple outcomes.  It's about following that process to an end result.  It's about ending up with a product. It's about making something.  I know that.
Anatomy of Gray, 2010
Ink on Paper, 9" x 12"

I also know that everyone is creative.  Now...don't argue with me.  I've read the reports and articles and studies and I know that creativity is a cognitive process that we're all capable of.  I've spent roughly 40,000 hours with kids teaching them to make things and I've seen creativity in action.  Not one of the hundreds of kids that I've taught has ever not been able to create.  That said - I also know that, like most genetically based traits, there is a great deal of variation from person to person, so it exists within varying degrees in people.  But it is there.  Every person makes something. We put into existence that which did not exist before.  Everyone does that.  We all make.  We compose sentences for e-mails and letters.  We make cookies and Easy Mac to fend off hunger.  We make handmade Christmas ornaments.  We carve wood into furniture.  We conjure up a symphonies.  We improv drum solos.  We write plays!  We make paintings!  We make wallets out of DUCT TAPE!  Oh...people aren't doing that anymore?  It's not the trendy reference that I'm looking for?  No?  I'm hip.  Really I am.  I mentioned Easy Mac.  The point I'm making is that we all know what it's like to make something out of nothing.  We all toil away.

I guess what scares me, is that I don't know why I create things.

A major contributing factor to this blog's existence is my need to understand the reasons behind my own creative processes.  I got to a point where I didn't understand my own need to create, and I felt like I had to perform a sort of dissection to see what made it work, and how to keep it going.  In the most selfish of ways, I wanted to explain how it happened so that I might see something in the process that would help me to better understand it.  It is an act of self preservation.

I know the basic reasons.  I like making things.  I'm good at making things.  I feel like my day wasn't wasted when I make things.  Largely, for me creativity has to do with communication.  Art is a language that I need to say all of the things that I don't know how to otherwise.  

But that is really only part of it.  There is more to be understood.  More to be discovered.  There is a reason, that I've yet to hit on, that makes me create things, and it feels bigger than I know how to express.  So I'll keep dissecting.  I'll keep examining the parts to see if the whole becomes apparent.

In the meantime, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Little Boxes 4: Mr. X. & Missy

X., 2010.
Acrylic on Board, 
4" x 4"
And now...another set of Little Boxes.

Mr. X was a college friend.  He taught me a great deal about what it means to be an artist.  He also was my first friend with something of an edge.  Don't get me wrong, my friends have always been rowdy hooligans, but he did it a less boys will be boys/small town way - thus the hitter pipe.  X. wasn't the first person I saw partake in recreational use of weed, but he was the first person I spent frequent time that I valued with who did. That edge made him someone that I found fascinating. There were things he did in a "who gives a fuck" sort of way, that shocked and surprised me.  The way he'd walk into art history class with a ceramic mug (that he made) full of rum or Guinness was beyond the pale.  He was a new friend with freedom and uncertainty, and he kept things interesting.  He was also ridiculously intelligent, and studious.  He always had old school comp. books that he wrote in, and this was 1996...way before that sort of retro chic business had caught on.

Missy, 2004
Acrylic & Encaustic on Board
.  4" x 4"
Missy was a girl I was once very close to, but because not every story needs to be retold, I'll just say that we were very close and that I cared for her very much.  Regarding the included subject matter of this painting, the foreground element refers to how she once sent me a lavender origami butterfly in a letter (yes, a real one - with stamps and such.)  The pattern in the background is from the walls of Keith Haring's Pop Shop in lower Manhattan, which we visited in 2000.

I continue to be a little surprised by the effect that these silly little paintings have on me.  I don't even allow myself to consider how they'll all be displayed when they show someday because I get too excited.  And one can't maintain that level of excitement for a decade plus without turning into a game show host.  So I bide my time.  It's good for me to learn to downshift and not a terrible idea that I learn patience.  Some things develop best slowly.

Tune in next week for more Little Boxes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Illustrating the Promised Land

Tripp Lake Camp Illustration, 2007.  Revised 2012.

I was hired to create this image in the spring of 2006.  I don't do a lot of commissioned illustration for marketing purposes, but I have a vested interest in this company, so I was eager to work on this project. 

I've worked at this camp in Maine since 1999.  It also happens to be one of my favorite places on Earth.  It's a summer camp - residential, for a full seven-week session.  We offer wonderful programs that encourage adventure and self discovery, creativity and emotional connectivity, growth and love.  Camp also happens to be in an area of Maine that is traditionally referred to as The Promised Land.

It was interesting to create what would become an iconic image for the organization.  Representing The Promised Land was daunting.  Normally, when I create an image, it is from something that I have previsualized that the rest of the world hasn't seen before.  The camp illustration isn't something of my own conjuring.  It is a known place, and it is known by many.  And those who know it hold it in high regard.  The expectations of that very specific type of realism were scary, but fear can be a powerful motivator.

To get it just right, I needed to familiarize myself even further with that place that I had come to love.  I walked the grounds.  I sketched details.  I communed.  I climbed on top of things.  I looked at things from different angles.  I studied.  That process was interestingly educational, and I was surprised how much more thoroughly I came to know camp.

That project nicely reminded me of something that I already knew, but had maybe let myself forget.  Preparation is important.  Doing the legwork changes the way you approach a project.  It greases up your mind, and readies you for what is to come.  It allows for alterations in the thought process and teaches the importance of taking steps.

Overall, I was pleased with how the camp map turned out.  It has since been printed on folders, posters, and made into a digital tour of camp on

As fate would have it, in 2011 I had the great privilege of being able to see camp from the vantage point that until then, I had only imagined.  I was art directing a photo/video shoot for additional promotional materials, and we went up in a helicopter.  

Up there, high above the promised land, I saw my camp drawing for real.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

10 Weird Subjects That I Want To Paint

First and foremost, apologies to BOTH of my readers for my blogging break over the Thanksgiving holiday.  I'd like to say I was so busy painting that I couldn't find my way to a computer, but that would be less than true.  I have recently started working on a couple more paintings.  We'll take a look at those when they're a little further along.

Sometimes while I'm painting, I think of other things to paint.  And sometimes, I think of things to paint that make complete and total sense because they fit together with my pre-existing ideas and help to illustrate some of my overall themes.  

Other times...not so much.

Sometimes, I just want to paint things without having much reason.  Maybe it's because I think that particular subject is beautiful, or maybe because it present a certain kind of technical challenge.  Who knows?

But here are 10 weird subjects that I want to paintt (even if I don't have a reason): 

1.  Russell Edgington kissing the Talbot jar of goo from True Blood.

2. Castle Greyskull from Masters of The Universe.

3. A Guinness.

4.  June Cleaver.

5.  An Oreo cookie.

6.  Raw meat.

7.  Barbie shoes.

8.  Anything with frosting.

9.  Kristin Wiig as Dooneese.

10.  Kevin Arnold & Winney Cooper's first kiss.

If there is anyone still out there, who thinks I'm totally well balanced, you may go now.