I'm not sure why, but I'm feeling nostalgic and sappy today, so I'm treating you guys to a nostalgic and sappy post. Enjoy!

I've been drawing for a long time. The family story goes that I picked up a pencil as soon as my fingers would hold one and I never let it go. My artistic career began with drawing in the margins of church bulletins during the service.

Over that long road a lot of people have put their stamps on me and nudged me in one artistic direction or another, often without even meaning to, or knowing that they were.

One of my earliest memories is of my mom and I sitting on the steps of our home at the time. We had a magic pad, one of those children's toys with the little red stylus and the plastic sheet where you can draw and then "magically erase" the drawing and start over. I begged her to draw me a picture of Ultraman, (my geek obsessions started way back!). At the time I believe I was about 5 years old, but this memory is one the clearest that I have from this age. The picture that she drew looked absolutely nothing like my hero, I remember a big feathery plume on his helmet which was totally wrong, but somehow it didn't matter. The magic of the magic pad worked. I was enthralled by the whole process. My mom, of course, has been supportive in a million little ways, never questioning the fact that I planned to have a career in the arts even though her own background was far from that, and unflaggingly supporting everything I've ever tried, but there was something in that little drawing that I will always remember.

My grandmother, who was the other strong female influence in my life, had a different type of influence on me. When I was in kindergarten The Letter People were the current vogue in education and I remember getting work sheets that included step by step instructions for drawing them. I would lovingly follow these directions and make my mini-masterpiece portraits of the characters. I remember my grandmother seeing one of them and teaching me the "proper" way to fill in the drawing with the felt tip pen that I had used. The classic "color inside the lines" moment. I respectfully listened to her, as I always did, but in my head at the tender age of 5 or 6 I knew that she was wrong, there was just something that I preferred about my "messy" drawing. It simply looked better. My grandmother was also incredibly supportive of my career and would buy me drawing tools and sketchbooks and paper to fill my life. She also bought me a small portable typewriter when my obsession turned to creating my own version of The Marvel Handbook. Completely without knowing it however, she had taught me how to trust my own instincts and style, even when it's different from the people I love.

Once my education got underway I had a series of teachers who tugged my artistic life in one direction or another. In elementary school it was Ms. Kite, (who later became Mrs. Lake). I still remember the day that she explained high school electives to me, and made sure that I'd take art when I got there. For the first few years of high school Mrs. Blanton was my art teacher, to be succeeded later by Mrs. Cynthia Link. Mrs. Link became a huge influence on me, and is responsible for the drawing that started my life (another story for another time... but I can trace my whole life back to that event). She allowed me to sample an enormous range of styles and materials, and rarely enforced the class assignment but allowed me to do whatever I pleased as long as I was productive. She also fought with me to get an AP art class in my high school, and influenced my choices of university.

During high school I also came under the spell of another artistic influence thanks to Raymond Neal. Raymond was responsible for getting me into comic books, which have become a life-long obsession and altered not only how I look at art, but how I create it. I don't imagine that it's hard to see that influence on my style.

In college a whole succession of people helped advance me artistically. Rea Mingeva was my first college art professor and her influence is still very strong in my art. Looking back at my old sketch books the geometric quality visible in my current work started in her classes. Zdzislaw Sikora I have mentioned here before. His passion and verve was infectious and his teaching methods are something that I will certainly emulate if I ever end up teaching my own art classes. It is still one of my life goals to own one of his prints. Patrick McKay's wit and charm spilled freely into his work, and I still hear his voice whenever I pick up a paintbrush. Gil Ashby and I had enormous differences in the way we viewed art in general, but specifically my work. I always wonder what he would think of my subway sketches, as portraits were one of the places we butted heads most frequently.

These aren't even close to all of the people who have born influence on my artistic life, but they are the people I think of most often as I draw and paint. I owe all of them a debt of gratitude for the joy of art that they helped foster in me.

Subway Sketches Part CXV

Subway Sketches Part CXIV

Subway Sketches Part CXIII

Subway Sketches Part CXII

Yesterday I got to the station only to discover that I had somehow managed to leave the house without my trusty Papermate. Serendipity stepped in though and delivered a pen to me on the floor of the subway platform. It was a style that I have never used before, with a much finer point than my Papermate, but I like the color, and with some practice I think I could get used to the difference in the pen.

Into each Blog a Little Meme Must Fall

Tagged! Michael Nobbs has tagged me to participate in the Four Things Meme, so here goes:

Four Jobs I’ve Had

1. Hotel desk clerk
2. Comic book shop clerk
3. Animator/Animation cameraman
4. Waiter at a Chinese restaurant

Four Films I Can Watch Over And Over Again

1. The American President
2. Dragonslayer
3. Singles
4. Auntie Mame

Four places I've lived

1. New York, NY
2. Manchester, CT
3. Savannah, GA
4. Blacksburg, SC

Four TV shows I love
1. The Amazing Race
2. Project Runway
3. Lost
4. Supernatural

Four albums I love
1. Heartbreaker, by Ryan Adams
2. Graceland, by Paul Simon
3. Ten, by Pearl Jam
4. Somewhere Near Patterson, by Richard Shindell

Four places I've been on vacation

1. Prague, Czech Republic
2. Osaka, Japan
3. San Diego, CA
4. Boston, MA

Four of my favorite dishes

1. Chicken and dumplings
2. Pinto beans and cornbread
3. Pecan pie
4. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwhiches

Four websites I visit daily

1. Gothamist
2. Boing Boing
3. Newsarama
4. Towleroad

Four places I’d rather be right now

1. The Toucan Cafe in Savannah, GA having vegetable samosas and mushroom soup.
2. Uflecku Beer Hall in Prague
3. Any museum in Venice
4. Any museum in Paris

Four books I recommend
1. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
2. Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman
3. Calculating God, by Robert Sawyer
4. Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin

Four artists that have inspired me

(I'm keeping these contemporary)
1. Dave Mckean
2. Chris Ware
3. Frank Cho
4. William Stout

Four bloggers I’m tagging

Well... I never do that. I have no idea who's reading this, beyond a few faithful, so I'll leave it be. Trust me... the meme will go on!

Remember, Remember: A "V for Vendetta" Review

One of the great pleasures of my life is that Roommate K is in a professional position that often allows me advance access to and knowledge of pop culture projects that I greatly enjoy. Tonight I accompanied him to an advance screening of the movie V for Vendetta, which opens nation wide on March 17.

Remember March 17. It's an important date, for reasons I'll get to.

For those who are unfamiliar V is based on a comic book by the same name, written in the mid and late 80's by Alan Moore. The basic plot centers around a future version of England where a fascist regime has taken advantage of fear and uncertainty and taken over the government and lives of the British peoples. A terrorist known only as "V", who styles himself after the British folk hero Guy Fawkes, has risen to counter this fascist government. The comic (please note: SPOILERS at that link) is one of the greatest pieces of graphic storytelling in the history of the medium, and is often one of the books that comic readers give to non-comics readers as an example of the perfection that the medium can achieve. I had not read it until a few months ago, but it quickly became a favorite.

The movie was adapted to the screen by the Wachowski Bros. who gave us the Matrix Trilogy. When I read V for the first time I knew about the movie, and spent the reading wondering how certain elements would be adapted to the screen, and more importantly how certain elements would be accepted by the American public. Can we support a movie, for instance, where the main character is a terrorist who spends most of the movie plotting to blow up the British Parliament Building? No matter how evil the government that he is combatting, can we sympathize with someone acting in a manner that we ourselves have been victimized by? V also wears a mask throughout the entire story. Can a static image like that translate to a visual medium based on motion? Tonight all fears I had about this film were laid aside, but replaced with a whole new set of fears.

This is an amazing movie. While, not a 100% accurate adaptation the spirit of the graphic novel is firmly in place and well supported by the production. I'll admit to missing certain scenes, and some of the nuance of the comic, but every adaptation loses something, right? Thankfully this adaption also gains a few things. Alan Moore left the time period of the story vague, and open, and set the movie in a post apocalyptic London, damaged by nuclear war. The movie very firmly nails down the year of the story and links the changes in England not to global nuclear devastation but to something even scarier: The Iraq War. Only ever referred to as "The American's War" it is still very clear exactly which war they are referring to. The circumstances of the new British government are unchanged from the comic, but they ring in an eery light given the current political climate. The British people are told that their loss of liberties are for their own safety and protection. The wire taps, and secret surveillance done by the government is done to keep them safe. The manufactured news programs are there shield them from things they don't need to know and to keep them happy. The country survived the threats against it because they are blessed by God. The government has eliminated the threats to the British way of life including Muslims and homosexuals. Standing in unity and not questioning the prosperity given them in exchange for these small encroachments into their liberty is the best way to stay happy and peaceful.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

This is where the power of this movie lies: it manages to at once be a major Hollywood blockbuster style motion picture and subversive at the same time. The best testimony to this is that at several points I caught myself wondering whether or not the motion picture industry was allowed to do certain things. I was actually afraid for the stars and film makers worried that such a harsh criticism of government may not be received very well by the people being criticized. That was a scary thought for me, that a piece of art may be so subversive that it would not be allowed to be seen by the government. If you can view this movie without seeing the parallel and being scared by it you are either firmly planted in a red state mentality, or just blind. In the words of V: "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

Is it a perfect movie? No. The introduction of V at the beginning of the movie is a bit rough. He has some very complex lines that got totally lost partially because he is quoting poetry, and therefore speaking unnaturally, and partially because you can't see his mouth for the mask, and it takes a few minutes to adjust perceptions to just listening, instead of listening and watching. (That got much better very quickly, don't worry.) I also had some difficulties some technical points in the movie, for instance V has copies of his mask delivered to every household in England as part of his plot... who made these? How did he get them into the UK? There is also some murkiness plotwise in the last 20 minutes of the movie, but it was clearer on screen than it was in the comic, so maybe it wasn't SO bad. I also object to the reduction the "Voice of London" from a god-like radio voice to a blustering Morton Downy type.

These minor points are balanced by a lot of good stuff though. The movie is visually beautiful. They manage to use light and shadow and some very subtle head movements to make that mask come completely alive. The use of the color red is stunning, and often unexpected. The political commentary is smart, cutting, and dead on accurate. Can this be the future of America? Do we have a Guy Fawkes who can step up to the plate? As for whether or not Americans can cheer for a terrorist, remember that at one point there was a government that considered a lot of our founding fathers to be terrorists, a point that you are reminded of early on in the movie. This is an important movie. The voice of this movie is a voice that America needs to hear.

So remember March 17 and get to the theatre. You NEED to see this movie. I just hope that everyone who does need to see it gets out and does.

Subway Sketches Part CXI

A little something different. Normally I'd crop this sketch down to eliminate the sketch I had started on the left and was unable to finish, and probably finish off his coat and arms but there's something about the two together that I like. There's also something wonky about his left arm, (the one on our left that is). Didn't get the anatomy right there. Oh well... It's a look into my unedited sketchbook. Enjoy!

I Really Need Telepathy

I've been planning this post all day, and it was originally going to go along these lines:

Boys suck.

While I am still currently of that opinion, in thinking about it I have come to an even deeper conclusion:

People suck.

More specifically dealing with other people sucks. Every day we have hundred of interactions with the other members of our species. Some are on a totally impersonal level, the person who eats lunch at the next table. Some are on a deeply personal level, the person you lay in bed beside. The problem is that you can never know what the other person is thinking, or why they do the things they do.

Standing in line at a Salvation Army this afternoon I watched the cashier ring up $1600 of leather coats. I had met the man purchasing the coats earlier, as we both scoured the aisles for what we wanted. He was an assistant to the costume designer for a motion picture that was shooting in the city today, and he was buying wardrobe for the extras. It was only after the cashier had completely rung up his purchases that he informed her that he had to do several smaller purchases, as he couldn't turn in any single receipts over $400. What was he thinking? Why not bring that up at the beginning? Why not ask for intermittent totals? He wasn't on the phone, or otherwise distracted, he watched her total the coats. I'd love to have been able to get into his mind, or the mind of the cashier who had to void the sale, and start over, or the mind of the woman behind me, who was much more vocal about the displeasure that waiting was causing her.

After what felt like a highly successful date on Saturday I'm wondering what may be going through his head as well. Planner and I had more in common, and a better physical chemistry than anyone I've dated in a while, but here I sit with an unanswered email, and an unreturned phone call as my only souvenirs 5 days later. What is he thinking? Was I wrong about the chemistry? Was that kiss more about the beer than the emotion? Did his friends we bumped into not like me? is he just busy at work?

Every interaction we have with each other leaves questions like this on some level. Did they really like the gift? Was did he really have an appointment or was he just in a hurry to leave? Was the opinion they shared about your work genuine, or sugar coated? Why didn't they move when they clearly saw you trying to squeeze past with that large package?

The mystery of human interaction is... annoying.

And... oh yeah... BOYS SUCK.

Subway Sketches Part CIX

Subway Sketches Part CVIII

Subway Sketches Part CVII

Subway Sketches Part CVI

Subway Sketches Part CV

It's not often that I see someone else on the train sketching, but this young man was intently working on something with a fine point Sharpie. I tried to catch the odd way he held his right hand, which was what drew me to him in the first place. I'm not sure how successful I was though. The drawing just doesn't capture the absolute knot that he hand his fingers contorted into.

Snow Snow Snow Snow Snow

My internal weather geek is going crazy! The Blizzard of 2006 tore through the North East and has been called by many weather reporters a "Classic Nor'easter" and by some the "Perfect Storm." Meteorologists are raving about it's perfect organization, it even had an "eye" similar to a tropical storm. Sometime late last night the storm underwent bombogenesis (new weather geek word!) and more than tripled it's strength. When the storm was forecast yesterday we were expecting 6 to 8 inches, and as of 4 o'clock today we have 26.9 inches! The 24 hour snowfall record for NYC had previously been set in 1947 at 26.4 inches, but we now have a new record, obviously.

Now it's time for it all to go away. As I said before, I love snow for a few hours, but it's already beginning to turn gray and slushy on the sidewalks, so I'm through with it. Luckily it looks like the temperatures will be climbing back into the 50's later this week, so maybe it won't hang around for very long.

Subway Sketches Part CIV

Blizzard Watch

So far this year New York City has had one of the warmest, driest winters on record. We've had about 3 inches of snow in total, and there have been very few days where the temperature dipped below 30 degrees, and for the most part has been in the 40's and 50's, even getting as high as the 60's at times.

However we are currently under a Blizzard Watch. Beginning Saturday afternoon and continuing until mid afternoon on Sunday we are expecting to receive 6 to 12 inches of snow, with temperatures in the 30's and windchills in the teens.

I'm going to make a secret admission now. I tell everyone that I hate winter. That I hate being cold, I hate snow, I hate everything about it. But here's the thing: That's really only partially true.

I do hate being cold and I spent most of my life in a place where what we've been experiencing the past few months IS the average winter. It hardly ever got below 30 degrees, and even a few inches of snow crippled the city for days. So I've been programmed to believe that if it snows you stay home, and ride it out, not emerging again until it's "safe."

The problem is that I've been in the northeast for 5 years now, and I've developed an appreciation for snow, at least in the early stages. Those first few hours really are pretty, and it does magical things for the New York City landscape. It doesn't really begin to get ugly until a day or two later when it has all turned gray and slushy and refreezes on the sidewalks. That's when I really hate it.

In the end I have to admit that I'm looking forward to this weekend. I don't really need to go out in it, so I can sit in my room and watch it fall without having to really experience the messy side of things, and I get to see some snow finally.

My Future, Decided

As of today I am officially returning the to summer stock where I worked last year. This was a hard decision for me. I've spent the past few weeks looking for other summer work, to not much avail. I've had three other offers, all of which were laughable at best, one of which was downright insulting.

I've waffled a bit about whether or not I'm excited about returning. At times it seems like a really good idea, and the thought of a relatively peaceful summer in the woods makes me happy. On the down side I had been very excited by the idea that 7 or 8 of my favorites from last year were returning. Now most them are not. In fact only two for sure at this point, but possibly two more. I was particularly excited by the idea of these folk returning because I think that this particular theatre has a learning curve of sorts, and if we had all already been through the curve, then this season would be even smoother and better produced. Now I am faced with the prospect of an entirely new crew producing my sets. Somehow that seemed like less of an issue when I was new myself.

Regardless, how I will spend the three summer months of this year have been decided at this point. Back to the woods for me!

Parallel Tracks

Neil Gaiman wrote a novel about the London underground, centering around the London Tube system and the culture of homeless and forgotten people who inhabit a shadowy version of the city, existing between and underneath the sunlit and normal version of the city that we all know. It was called Neverwhere.

He hinted in the novel that every city has a shadow version of itself, and even gave a few details of the one in New York City, including the giant albino alligator that inhabits the depths.

Today I felt as if I had gotten a glimpse of that other world.

I was on the W headed towards Canal when another train passed us in the dark tunnel. I didn't pay very much attention to it until the train had fully passed and I got a look at the line indicator on the end of the car. There, shining in the dark was a blue circle emblazoned with a white "K." The blue was the same color as the current A, C, E line, the line I ride most often. the problem is that there is no K train. There hasn't been a K train since 1978 according to what I can find. You can see an old subway map here that shows the old K line, running from 57th street into East NY/Braodway in Brooklyn, combining portions of what is currently the B and J lines. the system was revamped in 1978 to simplify and eliminate several lines, and then again in 1980 bringing it closer to what we currently have.

But I prefer to think that in that magical shadow NY, (or in the parlance of Neverwhere, New York Below), the K train still runs and I caught a look at it today.

Subway Sketches Part CIII

I fell a little bit in love with this guy. He had a very wistful sort of sadness in his eyes, but there was a smile at the corner of his lips the whole train ride.

Subway Sketches Part CII

Subway Sketches Part CI


Tonight was the New York City Sketchcrawl. I'd spent a good portion of the morning at my desk at home doing a hyper-detailed line drawing of a circus tent for the new job, followed by a few hours of sewing a Colonial style frock coat for a dragon, (don't I have the coolest jobs EVAR?!).

After all that I wasn't really feeling the urge to get out and sketch, but I had had a great time at the last Sketchcrawl so I overrode my innate laziness and got onto the train. Danny had chosen the Rubin Museum of Art, a new museum in Chelsea devoted to Himalayan art and sculpture. The museum is a small but attractive place. Six floors of art arranged around a central spiral staircase, though only four floors are currently open while they install their next exhibit on the upper floors.

Himalayan art is something that I know very little about. One of the great travesties of the Western educational system is that in art history courses Eastern art is relegated to a chapter, or maybe two, in the middle of exhaustively huge books of Western art. And quite frankly in every art history course I've taken the professor has skipped that chapter. So sadly even those who are interested in art history are likely to miss out on 8,000 years of art from our neighbors on the other side of the world. When I visited Japan, and in the few museum exhibitions I've seen devoted to art from this region, I've been treated to a majestic array of devotional sculpture, tiny hyper-detailed paintings and scrolls, delicate watercolors and ink drawings, and architecture unlike anything else in the world. More people should make the effort to make themselves aware of Eastern art to get them selves acquainted with it.

Back to the Sketchcrawl.

I arrived a bit before 7, the prearranged time. The kindly desk clerk informed me that if I were to wait to the side for a few minutes, until 7 o'clock, then there would be no admissions charge to the museum. The lobby was already filling up with erstwhile sketchcrawlers. Jason, and Rick and family I had already met at the previous crawl, but I was also introduced to Edwin, Tom, Nancy, Rob, Christie and others. It was a good crowd of people, I'd estimate about 25, possibly 30 sketchers in all. Certainly enough to take over this small museum. After 7 came and went we scattered over the museum and started sketching in earnest.

Aside from the gorgeous art, the museum itself was quite interesting. On the ground floor is a very posh looking restaurant and bar, and the patrons of the bar can be seen meandering throughout the museum carrying along their beers and glasses of wine. The music from the bar, which included quite a few dance remixes of Nina Simone I noticed, wafted through the museum, and created an interesting counterpoint to the artwork. The docents were also very helpful, leading small groups of diners through the exhibition halls, giving very detailed talks about their favorite pieces. Each of the conversations I listened in on was about a different piece of work, and over the course of the night I got a brief education about the symbolism and iconography of this art, which was quite nice. Edwin, who had joined us on the crawl also worked for the museum and he and I talked extensively about the similarities between these paintings and Eastern icon paintings, as well as the history of some of my favorite pieces.

As a destination for a sketchcrawl I have mixed reviews of the museum. It was a nice size, intimate enough that we all felt connected to the other sketchers, but large enough that we could scatter around and find something interesting to draw without tripping on each other. Better in that regard than the Natural History Museum had been, where we all got scattered through the museum, and missed the chance to interact.

On the downside some of the exhibit rooms were quite dark and hard to draw in. A majority of the sculptures were also on the small side 12 inches tall or less, and in a few cases very tiny indeed, coming in at less than 3 inches. There was also a shortage of seating, which was tough on the back, trying to stand and sketch for four hours. Though, if there had been benches or chairs I probably would have been to far from the sculptures to see them clearly enough to draw anyway!

As I experienced on the previous crawl I had a very hard time choosing an appropriate drawing tool. I started out with an 08 Micron and after a few false starts got some satisfactory results out of a modified contour style of drawing. After that I decided to have a try with my trusty blue ballpoint. I did discover that I like the ballpoint much better on Moleskine paper than on the toothy sketchbook paper that I was using tonight. Finally, following Jason's lead, I tried my hand at a chisel point marker, designed for calligraphy writing. The marker that I had with me was just beginning to go dry though. Surprisingly I found that the shape of the marker, along with the slightly dry ink allowed for some very nice brushy lines that in the end look a bit like lithograph pencils. I was pretty happy with the drawings I did with it.

All in all a great night of sketching and socializing, and I can't wait to do it again!

Figs and Dates

I guess I should update everyone on dating as well.

I'm at a standstill here.

After what I considered successful dates with both The Artist, and The Architect both of those prospects have stalled. The Artist has been busy with friends and special events here in the city, so every request I've put in for a second date has been met with resistance. The Architect is busy as well, but with work. he was out of town for a good portion of the last few weeks. I emailed him earlier today to see about getting together this weekend. His reply, taken by me to be ironic and sarcastic, was that he'd planned on working but would give up his career plans for a date with me. Cute and romantic, right? Turns out after a few more emails that it was indeed sarcastic, but opposite of the way I had taken it. In which case it just seemed mean spirited and rude. I believe I'm done with that avenue of pursuit.

Unfortunately there's no one else in the wings at the moment, so I'm once again back at dating square one.

Work It!

In roughly a week the widest audience ever will be exposed to my work. Potentially millions of people will see the paintings that I spent most of last week holed up in my bedroom working on. It's an odd feeling really. One of the reasons that I decided not to work in illustration was that I missed having a direct connection to my audience, something that theatre is much better at providing. I'm obsessive about checking the visitor logs for this site, and I adore the comments that you guys leave for me. This particular job is an odd amalgam of scenic design and illustration, all the principles and practices of theatre, but the execution of illustration. So all these people will be looking at my work, and I'll never know who or what they think of it. The art director is happy with it, the client is happy with it, and I am happy with it, and that's the important part.

The next phase of this project will be an even further step away from me. While I will be providing the pencils and basic design of the piece, another artist will be coming in and creating vector art on top of that. Still, it's an incredibly exciting piece, exactly up my line of interest. I've had a great deal of fun researching and sketching, and I'm curious to see the final pieces.