Archives: art in progress






These are five portraits from an evening with one of my regular collaborators.

That same night I also experimented a bit with some new drawing techniques. This first sketch is the normal pastel on paper:


And this one is pastel on canvas, with some amount of using a water-wet brush as a blending medium:


The chalk on canvas felt good to lay down. I’ll be experimenting with other liquid mediums in combination with pastel dust soon.


A hazard of not waiting for the perfect is that you sometimes end up with the good on inferior materials.

This started life as a series of four overlapping warm up sketches on a three foot piece of photo background paper. I’ve been cutting up this old roll of white background paper as it got too damaged and creased for its original purpose, but there are lots of stretches that are perfectly clean. To practice working larger (working large was the whole reason to start leasing an actual studio space to begin with) this paper has been pressed into duty.

By the time I realized I had something here that would be worth completing it was too late. So I’ll finish it on this and preserve it as best I can.

This one is likely to get much more elaborate, so there will be more updates.


You have to get out of your own way.

I do this when I’m frustrated. I take two different colored pastel sticks, hold them sideways, look at a subject and very quickly scrape away with both hands at the same time.

In my head I call this “rubbing one out” because I’m still 14 years old in there.

It’s actually amazing how well proportioned and recognizable these messes are. If I were trying deliberately, with only my right hand and a lot of concentration, it would likely take me over an hour to get the relationship between her arms, her body and the bottle correct.

By handicapping myself I make deliberation impossible. My conscious brain cannot control both hands at the same time in this activity. It can only sit there and watch as some crazed homunculus yanks on my radial nerves from deep in its midbrain oubliette.

That little creep sure can draw.

Sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, stress and sitting in a chair all day.

These are the opposites of the very few basic skills that should be mastered early in life, but somehow I didn’t. As a result, most of my creative efforts, requiring some amount of focused energy, just collapse into scribbles.

Take this picture.

orange green

It was intended as an attempt to get at some of what Kent Williams has got going so terrifically here:

Kent Williams

and sure, it needs more time, it was only an hour or so sitting, it’s pastel on paper not oil on linen, on and on. But mostly it’s me, exhausted.

I’ll be travelling over the next few days, so I’ll post more of these collapsed attempts over the next several days.

I am filled with love. I am slightly inebriated in a truck in the rain with colored compressed chalk. And I love you I love you.
Bill Cunningham

Another problem with emotion is how hard it is to use it while you are having it.

I had spent the afternoon in the studio alone, trying to find a flow, but failing. I had beer and rain and chalk. Working old pictures was futile. I was angry at them. Then some combination of the atmosphere, the beer, isolation, I don’t know, but the emotion swelled and I felt full. I wanted to make something with that. But how? I tried drawing, but ended up with a mess. A mess I won’t show you.

I’m skeptical of emotional artwork because it always seems to oversimplify itself. Faces in agony, hands reaching up, overwrought colors, or heavy darks. Melodrama becomes hard to avoid. I’m not immune to ending up with it:


but I see it as a failure.

Emotionless work is no better. I don’t have good examples because I usually destroy things that end up feeling calculated and dead, but maybe something like this:


obsessive detail to no emotional point. Lots of practical artwork falls in this category. The portfolios of kids trying to get into the gaming or special effects industries are full of it. Meticulously rendered objects or monsters with nothing inside them but cool posturing. I used to draw that kind of thing. I think of it as CGSociety art.

I started to actively hate it after a girlfriend once commented, as I was buying a collection that had a giant raging Minotaur on the cover, that it was my kind of art book. Looking through it after that, and seeing the other things I admired at the time, it really did all start seeming the same and there wasn’t much feeling in any of it. That malaise spreads out into the industries that employ it. Generic future. Generic past. Everyone’s spaceships and dinosaurs look exactly the same. And who cares?

Once in a while some unfinished thing I struggle with gets set aside, and then months later I look at it and realize I stopped because there was an emotion peaking through, and not knowing how to deal with it, I turn away.

orange hands


There are a lot of half finished pieces and the year is drawing to a close. I’m dithering around the edges of them, not sure how to bring it all home.

Looking for inspiration I was reading an old journal, Back in 1991, twenty one years ago, I wrote:

I was actually shaking after the phone call.

Are you old enough to remember this? The phone would have been a smooth plastic receiver tethered by a curly cord to a plastic box mounted on the wall. I would have been clicking the handset down onto a metal switchhook as I realized I was shaking. My ear would have been a little warm from having had the phone pressed to it. There would still have been a memory of the subsonic buzzing of the speaker diaphragm in the bones next to my right eye. My cheek would still have felt the brush of the microphone casing. My arm swinging down, being stopped, and letting go.

There once was more physicality in heartbreak.

These pieces need some of that. I don’t feel anything when I make them.

One of the things I love about my studio is the metal truck door. I love reaching up to grab the strap and hauling it down with my whole body. Slamming it into the baseplate. Toggling loose the iron hook lock and stomping it closed with my boot. Everything about it clangs.