received wisdom

This is what stories are meant to do.

Over hundreds of thousands of years we told each other stories full of lies that turned out to just be the empty spaces surrounding truths that were too big to see. That we could only ever know by the shapes of the lies that fall around them. We poured lies all over the world and as a result, by accident, we saw what it all actually was and turned into human beings.

This trick still works.

skinny legs and all

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.



Over the last five years of drawing I’ve been hoping somethings would just sort of rise out of the effort.

Work in the pop-surrealist school tends to be filled with elements that carry the weight of meaning without revealing any. Instead of the specific foods on Da Vinci’s Last Supper table, we have four little girls having tea with animals on their heads and a bird’s nest of babies in Mark Ryden’s Allegory of the Four Elements. The symbols emerge from the artist’s subconscious, and often are not explicable, but they work. They sit as though meaningful.

I’ve wanted to grow a set of visual icons that can layer my own work, but I’ve never thought of that as something I could deliberately invent. I’ve been drawing for five years in the hope that some might emerge, the substance of which might even be opaque to me. Some of these are appearing now.

It’s my birthday, so a good time to pause and review the time just past…

Here are the best of 2011:







Here is the set of promising in-progress pieces for 2012:

curled up


rough blue






And here are two things finished on commission from earlier this year:



It’s been a really good year for this so far. There should be another show before it is out.

That was Wednesday. For some reason the best of these I do is with this specific model.

It was a good session. I got this out of it:

And the main piece with her is really shaping up. To give you the lead in, the first time I showed it to you it looked like this:

After Wednesday it looks like this:

Soon it will be something else.

I took the day off work Wednesday because I was starting to crack. I needed the sleep, and the space, and to draw. All three were accomplished.


Tonight’s work. Let me walk through my process.

When working with a model, I’ll generally schedule a 4 hour session. Starting with very quick poses, like a minute or two minutes, I draw over and over quick scribbles to get a sense of shapes and weight and movement. I call these things scribblesheets – they don’t look like much to anyone but me, but I find bits in them.


Then I’ll move on to five or ten minute poses and use botches of watercolor with ink to do slightly more realized sketches. These also are not usually for public consumption, but they help me start to get a sense of features, the unique quirks of presence in bodies. These I call splattersketches.


Finally, I’ll turn to full pastel drawings. These are generally done in a sequence of 20 minute poses, often doing 20 minutes, and taking a break, then going back to the same pose. Sometimes I’ll alternate and do two or three different poses, and thread them so the model doesn’t cramp up keeping the exact same position over and over. It can take multiple days of sittings to get these to come together. Here is the very rough beginning of one of these. This is about a half hour’s attack.


The first picture in the post is another one from tonight, a little further along, probably a bit more than an hour or so of work.

So that’s the way it works. By late summer I should have another set of 6 or so finished pieces.