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Month: June 2018

What Becomes

What Becomes

One of the peculiar things about making art is the weirdly vast pool of raw stuff we turn into finished things. It isn’t tangible or visible, but all of the substance—that is, everything that isn’t the material components of the work like paper, canvas, pigment, wood, stone, fabric—exists in a big lake inside our heads ready to be, literally, tapped.

I mean, sometimes it feels more like a shallow pond than a lake, but I try to think of it more like our inability to always get the tide coming our way is a problem of weather—like fog or storms—obscuring our view and sense of the scale.

Like any other ocean or body of water, it changes, expands, gets choppy or calm, brackish, sweet, muddy, or, when we’re lucky, crystal clear.

Here’s the weird thing: none of us knows where it comes from. It’s all of our experience and knowledge and feelings. Somehow that becomes something new in the world just by our channeling the waters.

Losing It

Losing It

I’m despairing a bit over the U.S. executive administration’s immigration scorching the earth with zero tolerance. The piece above is a reaction. A more physical response will happen at the next march. I didn’t know when I started that it would also serve as an early catharsis to a missing post.

I wrote a fair bit on the new Carters (Jay-Z & Beyoncé) video a couple days ago. I was sure I’d hit the “Publish” button, but somehow it’s mostly gone, except for a brief opening in the Drafts folder. I discovered this as I set up for today’s post.

It’s a given that things you do will occasionally disappear or get lost. This is especially true of digital work. We are all at the mercy of the random electron gods.

Whether benevolent or vengeful, if your thing is condemned to oblivion, there is nothing to do but keep moving. This seems a good point to mention putting your feelings into your work. Musicians have an easier time with this, in my opinion. But whatever your medium, work that connects is work that translates and engenders feelings. You can use this.

The next time you create your stuff, you can channel your anger and frustration. This isn’t just the only revenge against the random electron gods, it’s an easy motivator. But even if you haven’t lost a piece, any moment of trauma or high emotion can be applied and channeled into your work. You can gain some relief in making. And then, beyond that, you have another thing coming into being. Another pseudo-child springs forth to comfort you in loss or despair. You can more easily take action afterward.

Important Things

Important Things

I write a lot about our work, and ways to get started on your art things. Those are primary components of our lives as artists. But just as vital is our relation to others. We don’t create for the universe. We create to connect, to describe the human condition, to explore deep mysteries within ourselves, to craft meaning.

We aren’t just islands apart from each other. We share responsibility for what being human means. There is no objective goal or blueprint to follow. We create it every moment, days to weeks to years. Therefore, our generosity of spirit and kindness elevate our own humanity.

The least among us, the children, the marginalized, and the vulnerable are important to who we are. For one thing, all of us have been all of those things at some point in our lives. Some of us quickly move past those states, and some remain.

I hope it will always seem worth it to remember my way isn’t the right way, just mine. I hope I keep wanting to help my fellow humans, to stay open to possibility, to keep reaching out to those who remain open to teaching back. People can disappoint individually. I still believe in us together.

Stay Playful

Stay Playful

There’s a component of kids making art that isn’t always connected to adults doing it. We often see art making as work. Children just see it as play. Or, probably more accurately, they don’t think about it as anything, they just feel like creating stuff and do it.

It’s so easy to get in our own way, worrying about our skills or motivation. We fear the reception of the finished thing won’t be good. All that gets in the way. This is another case where focusing on process or praxis can help. You start something because you need to, and damn the finished thing that happens somewhere over there, beyond us, outside where we can see.

Once again, we may have a map: an outline, a sketch, a chord chart. But the path can always deviate, and you may or may not end up where you planned. It doesn’t matter. The hardest part is starting—the premise of Wonder Boys aside—and getting into kid mode might help you do it.

Laser Like

Laser Like

As you focus on process over end result, it’s good to remember to have an end in mind. You need a point on the map to head to, even if you change it midway through.

Lots of projects never gets done because there’s no specific point to shine the red dot of our attention on. Focus is good, and it helps get lots of things done. What’s less discussed is that you can always shift that focus.

Life is crazy sometimes. You never know what random chance will bring. It’s good to be able to seize opportunities when they present themselves. Sometimes that means starting over. But if the thing you’ve been working hard at isn’t coming together, move the dot, refocus, finish the thing now. Naturally, you can’t just do this for every whim. But sometimes you were wrong about what the work meant or what was important about it.



I’ve been looking at drawings by children. I’ve tried to remember how it felt to be 5 or 7 years old and make things on paper with abandon. Kids have less of the fear of starting and end product than adults do, and we could do better about remembering how they make stuff.

We could also do better at trying to capture their pretty natural facility with flow, the zen-like state of mind where everything melts away but the work. It’s a kind of reality oblivion, where you become—in a sense— godlike, in that you’re creating a self-contained universe.

That means nothing to kids, of course. They just feel the urge to make something and head off to do it. That’s dangerous in construction or engineering, but for art? It’s a boon.

Only Us

Only Us

I don’t usually share GIFs here, but this one of a gorilla using sign language to talk to zoo visitors is almost relevant.

In the same way that animal societies are rudimentary, even though often complex, while human ones are orders of magnitude more specific and consciously deliberate, creative purpose and execution are likewise.

We sort of have a duty to keep making the (positive) things and putting them out into the world. It reinforces who we should be, who we want to be more than violence and self-aggrandizement.



Art can be our compulsion. It’s the thing we feel like we have to do or we’ll die. It can be our dream. It calls to us, but despite a deep longing, we can’t quite get to it.

Those are two extremes, and there’s plenty of middle. In the end, we have art to help us bring meaning to the world. We use it as a way to connect with each other and the strangeness of life.

It is, therefore, a refuge. Art is a journey and a destination, too. But even exploring the darkness, it compels and comforts.

Wherever you are on the scale, its refuge opens equally, evenly, invitingly.

Pencil Shootout!

Pencil Shootout!

I’ve been looking for a good pencil for journals and notebooks recently. I read a few praises and criticisms of the Blackwing reinterpretations, so when I was at a local art supply store that happened to have them, I picked several up to try.

I wish the reality matched the exciting headline. Imagine literally blasting graphite from a thin cedar wand and watching lesser instruments explode in aromatic burst of shavings.

But I still had fun, and here’s what I decided.

All graphite leads were 2B. The control was one of the beat up Pentel P205s with Pentel lead I’ve used since settling on it as my pencil of choice in art school. I liked that I could quickly rotate to a sharp edge any time, without ever taking time to sharpen or feel the weight change. I’d have preferred a bit more of it, but that’s just the compromise I had to make.

I don’t intend to make this a long post, the results are pretty straightforward.

My faithful plastic pal has a decent thin to thick transition, but it isn’t the best at grading smoothly.

The Blackwing Pearl was an immediate delight. Very smooth with a lovely zero-to-black gradient.

Prismacolor has gone a bit waxy recently, but it’s still a good drawing pencil. Writing, not so much, it’s way too mushy.

The General Pencil Co. Kimberly is sold as a drawing pencil, but it was great to write with, too. It doesn’t mush out or snap off easily, even with as gorilla-like a touch as I have. Celebrated comics artist Michael Kaluta calls it the “chop it out of the page” approach. The Kimberly was the best compromise between writing and drawing facility.

The Staedtler Mars Lumograph black is tightly precise, which is something I’d prize for linework, but isn’t my favorite for shading. Also, it didn’t flow as well as I wanted when writing.

So, I settled on the Blackwing Pearl and the General Kimberly. I did a short “long point” test (below) to check ease of writing and duration of the point.

After that, a short text sample.

Interestingly, I found when I tried to press more lightly the Blackwing worked a lot better. But it still wasn’t as consistent as the General. The only thing is, that eraser is really handy, and I have to use it a bunch. I’m not sure the eraserless Kimberly is a good fit for what I want.

And, hey, that’s pretty much it. I’ll get back to you about which one keeps me picking it up after a few weeks.



It’s not just for deprivation anymore.

But because I spent most of my writing time today working on the next one—lots of photos—and recording the podcast, I ran out.

But I was excited to see this summary and grid of photos from the opening of Art Basel’s annual show in Switzerland. There’s always stuff I like amidst the swirl.