Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Now that I finished Ghetto Cowboy, and have wrapped one of my remaining two portrait gigs, the other being moments away from send off, I find myself deep in the midst of a freestyle frenzy. Paint. Tunnel Vision. Late billowy night swirl. Cad Red Medium on my carpet.
Aliz Crimson on my keyboard.
Canvases. Boards. Wood.
"...turning the children orange..."
I have been listening to (watching, actually. But only corner of the eye. Corner of the eye.) seasons of 30 Rock while I paint the hell out of anything white in my house. Anyway, Jack is the best auditory entertainment on Netflix streaming, lately.
I am hooked in to a new body of work. Creating a pile of canvases. Turning the night into a long, timeless blur, interrupted only occasionally by brief, online chess, and visits to the fridge. D'oh.
I started this show over a year ago. A series of snowboard/ski/mountain paintings. Ink. Acrylic. It was postponed because of the Haiti book, of which I am so happy. But, for the moment, it is all about the art show.
Speaking of which... what am I doing on the computer?
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Like arrows from the bow, I cannot hold anything more than a shadow, a warm feeling, memories of what I was listening to while painting it. I can only wave like the parent of a new college student, knowing they have just been rendered powerless in the future of their baby. And so, like parents, I have to trust that I pulled the bow back as hard and steady as I could, aimed true, and gave it my soul's best efforts. Then, I have to forgive my inadequacies and let go.
So, for Ghetto Cowboy art, and for you, Clay, fly free. Free of me. Free.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
I am nearing the last lap and this is a good time to think about how I am feeling about the project so far. One of the things I like to do is to assess how happy I am with the style at that point in time. Did I do it just because that is what I did for my last book? DO I still like this style? Am I wishing I could be looser? Tighter? More graphic? More painterly? If so, I need to find a way to bring some of that into the next project. And there is really no better way to do that than to just have a session and paint the hell out of a bunch of canvases and boards. Try stuff out. Play around. Try to tell the same story several ways. See which piece rises to the top.
As a nice mental break from book work throughout the days and nights, I set my illustrations on the counters in my studio and take quick little dips into the water of exploration. While working on some portraits and other jobs, I try out new directions and techniques. Who knows. Maybe some will turn out. If not, they can spend a few months or years in the closet. The important thing is to keep myself from getting stiff joints, artistically. I want to always be learning and in the process of finding out how to do it. The search is the destination. Otherwise, it is like a spoiled kid on the day after Christmas. No drive, no life. No goal, no soul.
Back to work. See you when it's finished.
Monday, November 08, 2010
For those of you who are not aware of Jesse and his amazing story, go check it out: Life Rolls On is dedicated to improving the quality of life for young people affected by spinal cord injury and utilizes action sports as a platform to inspire infinite possibilities despite paralysis.
I have a special affinity for Jesse and this organization.
On Valentine's Day, in 1996, I was working as a land surveyor in Kitsap County, Washington, and my drunk boss cut down a tree while I was busy clearing brush with a chainsaw. We were not supposed to cut trees down because this was private property, but he was rushing it and did not care. And, he was already several beers into the morning. I did not see the tree coming. Thank God I was squarely standing, with my head down, and shoulders locked, as I cut with the saw. All I experienced was a sudden CRACK as if from a gigantic baseball bat, square on the top of the head and straight through me, and then blackness.
I woke trying to climb out of the dirt I had been compressed into, my eyes not working at all. My chainsaw was still running, I could hear it somewhere next to me. I spit out blood and bits of teeth. When I started to see again, through the blur and stars, I saw my boss running toward me from down our survey line, face white as a ghost. Then I looked at the tree that had hit me squarely on the head. It was about a hundred and twenty feel tall, an alder that was straight as an arrow and tapered to about seven inches in diameter at the tip. I took my chainsaw and cut the section that had hit my head, took out my sharpie and signed the chunk of tree. Then I sat back down in the dirt, lit a cigar, and tried to collect my thoughts. Breathing was sharply painful and my brain was not working well at all. I did not know where I was, why I was there, or what to do about it, but I did know that I was hurting from deep inside. The crack down the top of my head, where the tree met the little rivet in my Star Wars baseball cap was not painful at all. It was numb. The pain came from the middle of me, somehow. I had been compressed straight down and was sure something big was broken.
The boss tried to talk to me but one look from me silenced him. Eventually I stood up and began walking the mile back to the truck. He started to suggest we finish our line and get to the next quarter corner, but I told him to take me to the ER immediately.
When I got to the hospital, and finally got into the room, a bunch of cops and firemen came in to see my head, having been told about the guy who took a tree to the head.
It was obvious that the trainee running the x-ray machine was doing a very bad job, so when I was released with a note saying, "Jesse can return to work in two days" I ripped it up and immediately called an orthopedic surgeon who had worked on my knees, and was someone who I trusted. After getting a full MRI from him and heading back to my little cabin in the woods, he called that night with an urgent tone and told me to return to Kirkland first thing in the morning. He told me, "don't lift a thing... don't even pick up the milk out of the fridge! It could kill you!"
This was valuable news to have, though not as shocking as it might have been. Perhaps it would have been even better had I gotten this earlier that afternoon. Before the physical therapist who I had been assigned from the ER had decided to give me a deep tissue massage. It was so excruciating, I told him to please stop now. Then I just got up and told him he was done massaging me. Had he know he was massaging four broken and crushed vertebrae, I think he would have had a heart attack.
When I did get to the surgeon's office the next morning, he showed me why he had freaked out. He showed me the x-rays that the shaky trainee had taken at the ER which were so poor you could not see any detail clearly, and then he showed me his x-rays and MRI. There were crushed and fractured vertebrae and there in the center of my spinal cord, a tear that was filled with fluid, called a syrinx. Most of the tendons connecting the ribs to the spine had been torn and many internal organs had been bruised. I had chipped teeth and a whopper of a concussion, one that left me a brain with lobes that are a little more separated than most(aka. Boxer's Brain), and one that was unable to focus or finish simple sentences for months. (Not to mention the debilitating PTSD I suffered for years as a result of the incident.) And, to top it off, I was also one and a half inches shorter. No lie. Before the accident, I was 6'2.5" After, and still, I am 6'1.
The docs all said that I was lucky to be alive. Lucky to be walking. They said I was lucky, but that I may not be able to do anything active like soccer or surfing, again. It was at those words that I began to get a sense of the severity of my predicament. The idea of not being able to surf again filled me with sorrow. To taste such a thing, to experience the force of a wave ushering you into its flow, and then to have it taken away...
Well for all my pain and trouble, I count myself lucky! So lucky and so blessed. My spinal injury never worsened to the point of paralysis. I am playing soccer and surfing. I may have a long term problem of intractable pain that flares up weekly, as well as a marked change in my mental function, but it is nothing compared to losing the use of my legs or arms. And, so when I see people who have suffered such a great loss to their body I feel a combination of compassion and guilt. Why did I get lucky? Why aren't I in the chair? I have no answer for that. Nobody does. But dwelling on the question does nobody any good, and so instead, I want to pass along the inspiration I find from individuals who not only face their disability, but break through and live rich and amazing lives, in spite of the handicap that would shut most of us down completely.
Watch the video of Jesse surfing again, will you? Put yourself on his board. Put yourself in his life. If you, like me, are overwhelmed by the bittersweetness of life, find a way to support Life Rolls On, whether financially or by getting the word out.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
We Give Books has an extraordinary program in place that allows even those with no means to donate in any other way, to help send books to kids who can not afford them. It is a way of letting kids take part in something that helps them feel like they are actually contributing to this, because they are.
Go to WeGiveBooks.org and each time someone reads a free online version of Hope for Haiti or other children's books, Pearson Foundation will give an actual copy of a book to kids in Haiti.
Go check it out and let your kids take part in building a better world!
Monday, October 11, 2010
October 12, 2010
To the reader,
Nine months ago, I sat at my easel with my head buried in my hands. I had no idea what to do. I felt helpless, hopeless.
January 12, 2010. A powerful earthquake leveled one of the world’s poorest and most unstable cities. Instead of the typical devastation one might expect from a quake this size, destruction and chaos maxed out at levels truly unimaginable. 230,000 people dead with many more than that horribly injured. The government sat fatally crippled and powerless. Orphaned children wandered through the rubble, night and day. So many bodies overwhelmed the morgue that they lay piled in the streets for weeks. I cannot think of a more precise depiction of hell.
My agent, Rubin Pfeffer, knowing how affected I was from the news of the earthquake, sent me one photo and one question. And it was the spark that lit the fuse. "What would your reaction be if it were a book?" After that, I never looked back. I spent every waking hour writing, editing, sketching, and painting. All in all, Hope for Haiti was written, illustrated, printed, and published, in less than nine months.
At the time, the global media reaction to the earthquake was swift, inspiring a wave of humanitarian support. While this was both unprecedented and unexpected, the longevity of such a movement was questionable. There‘s a reason it is called The News. Nobody remembers last week, let alone last year. And, sadly, much of the money donated to Haiti ended up in banks’ long term parking. While these companies are profiting from the interest they are earning on donated funds, the Haitians continue suffering. Today, more than1 million refugees still live in flimsy tents and improvised shelters in Port au Prince, not to mention those living in the semi permanent slums. Food and clean water are still in demand, and everyday items are painfully expensive.
This is why I wanted to create this book. Because, as I sat at my easel and thought about the future of Haiti, I was sure of only one thing: We will forget.
Movies, TV, Internet, anything and everything that comes across the airwaves will fade away, replaced with the next big thing, or more often, the next lame distraction. But, books… In an age of impermanence, this at least is timeless. I want to put a book on the shelf of our collective future in hopes that we might not forget this event, nor our connection with the people who endured it.
When I traveled to Haiti, I prepared myself for emotional trauma. But that is not what I left with. While the destitution is pronounced, the sense I walked away with beyond anything else? Hope. I met so many positive, intelligent, creative, ambitious kids who have all the potential in the world, if given the right tools. If anyone can forge a new Haiti, these are the ones to do it. Helping them find ways of not only surviving but thriving, turning Haiti from an exporter of only refugees, to an exporter of all kinds of produce, music, art, literature, and anything else that might benefit the nation and its people.
This is not about a simple handout, pity, a lecture from a well off country on how to do things "right", or anything else that diminishes the culture and qualities of Haiti. Instead, we come together in support of those in our human family who bear more burden than the rest, and shoulder the weight together.
Thank you for supporting this book and the efforts behind it, including We Give Books, and my publisher, Putnam/Penguin, who, through books sales, is giving a generous donation to Save the Children’s Haiti Earthquake - Children in Emergency Fund.
P.S. You can order online through sites like the ones below, or you can order personalized, signed copies directly from me. Click here to order directly from me.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Saturday, October 02, 2010
Once I am finally good to go on the drawings, which are now dozens of layers of redrawn and rescanned bits, all compiled to make the finished and approved final sketch, I have to redraw that sucker yet again. It is dangerous because as I project my sketch on to the larger sized illustration board, I am tempted to hurry and thus destroy all the drawing work I have spent months on. See, the gesso on the illustration board helps the paint not suck immediately into the fibers, but it also virtually prevents any erasing from happening once a pencil line is laid down. It sucks.
Once I get the pencil on the board, I spend hours finessing the line until I am confident I have not turned a cute girl into an ogre, a little boy into an old man, or a horse into a thestral. That is when the paint comes out. First, I lay a wash of ivory black down over the entire piece. I use a big, soft watercolor brush and a tiny spray bottle. That way I am getting this cool, water splotched effect for background texture. much of that will be visible beneath future layers of paint. And, if it is cool enough at this level, I plan ways to keep as much of it as I can. That quick, free brushwork ends up giving the entire painting a sense of carefree playful brushstrokes being the foundation. And then, I do my best not to ruin it with tight, fidgetty work over the top of that layer. But, in the case of faces, that is a very tough task. Because, of course, the face has got to look just so otherwise it is not the same person. You can't have a character who looks different in each piece. So, there is where the fussy brushwork comes in. Some places like eyes, are particularly susceptible to attracting way more layers than anything else on the page. Gotta watch out for that. The highest goal now is to get it right in as few brushstrokes as possible, to preserve the freedom of the underpainting, and to avoid slowing the viewers' eyes down with areas that have been overworked.
When my under-painting is dry, I start chipping away , one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I start in factory style, with just white. I go through each place that needs pure white and lay it down, move to the next painting, lay it down, move on. Repeat the process with the dark gray or black. Repeat with mid tones. And on and on into the night.
It is here that I bring out so many of the details that never showed up in the sketches. For this project, since the fact that it is in a notoriously impoverished ghetto in north Philly, I had to aide in the comprehension of this very tangible element visually. So I add the bullet holes, the cracks in the sidewalk, the boarded up front doors, the graffiti, the cops, the people on the corner, etc. Sometimes I add little hidden bits into signs or graffiti. In this one below, I named the bodega Mariah's, and in honor of my sweet wife who makes it possible for me to work like this. She blocks for me. She aides me with impromptu model shoots, or random odd objects that I suddenly require. I have used her arm or hand or shoe too many times to count. "Honey, can you hold these reigns for me?"
As I dive into this portion of a project, I always have a few ways of keeping sane. One way is audio books. Another is streaming Netflix documentaries. I am listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (again) and watching, or rather, listening, to all kind of stuff. I watched this flick on the Donkey Kong champion. It was actually a cool movie. Eighties power.
And last night I watched, Crips and Bloods: Made in America. That was surprisingly good. It was not a quick and cheesy dance through gangland set to an NWA soundtrack, but spent half the film talking about the creation of these gangs by way of LA's strictly enforced color lines, the longstanding legacy of police brutality and injustice against black Americans, the FBI's assassination and imprisonment of every black political organization in LA in the 70's, and the introduction of cocaine en masse into the ghettos. Nice work there, CIA. You the hardest gangsta out there, ever! You isolate a population you have always hated and throw in the gasoline and matches and watch them do your work for you. Kill off the political potential of generation after generation.
Moment to cool down..... ah. Ok. Here is a horse. Nice horsey.
Check back soon. I will post more progress and go off on other rants. Baby steps. One after another.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
the last days of a Southside Shorty
by G. Neri
art by Randy DuBurke
Powerfully drawing you deep into the emotional turmoil of the events surrounding the real life story of Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, G. Neri is a master of HOOK and SUBSTANCE. To simply call this book a cautionary tale would be criminal. This book is like the streets. There is no master key to check your answers against. Like the streets, you draw your own conclusions. And, like the streets, the cautions are painted on the walls right in front of you.
Neri is less an author and more of a wizard, stirring his cauldron of words into a tonic that once drunk, sucks the you into that world completely. Even after closing the last page of the book, you remain deep in the realm of, in this case, south side Chicago in 1994. Yummy haunts you. Yummy's face appears when you look at your kids, playing in their safe, crime free neighborhood. Yummy calls to you from beyond the grave with not answers, but more questions.
A confident writer can pen a book that asks more questions than it answers, yet still satisfies to the core. And this is one of those books. There is no shortage of commentary on this event, but Neri only uses those various voices as fuel for the readers' own conclusions. And, in this day and age of nonstop bombardment of opinions coming from parents, teachers, media sources, politicians, everywhere.... it must be nice for a kid to pick up a book that truly honors their ability to draw conclusions using their own mental capacity. In short, Neri trusts the kids that will pick up his book. And that is an honorable trait in an author.
The use of this book's narrator is effective because you are not getting the answers from Yummy himself. You, like observers at the time, are on the outside peering in. The voices of all the neighborhood folks, the reporters, the cops, the gangsters, everybody, create a texture of noise that ebs and flows through the story.
Visually, the book is gorgeous. Even at first glance, the jacket will tell you that this is going to be a treat. Production on this book is nice and in the days of cutbacks from big publishers, Lee and Low Books has shown, once again, that they are willing to drop some extra coin to get a fine book into your hands.
The artistic storytelling of this book is very well paced, exciting, inviting, haunting, and heartbreaking. DuBurke portrays the hood in '94 with wonderful details. The use of long shadows that serve as both background for text and for directing flow, is affective. My favorite pieces are those with that dramatic shadowing. The light becomes a character in the book, one that alters how we view the characters, especially Yummy. Depending on the light, this boy can be a teddy bear hugging pup, or a cold blooded killa.
Graphic novels are hot. Will continue to be hot. But, what many of these books are lacking is what Hollywood has clearly abandoned...good storytelling, not gimmicks. Form is nothing without function. Style is meaningless without content. What makes a book great at heart is the same thing that makes a great movie, tv show, webisode, ballad, comic, and graphic novel. When it has a powerful story delivered skillfully so that the reader/viewer is affected by what they have consumed, then it does not matter what format the delivery system is. In this case, had Neri made this into his initially intended screenplay, it could have been amazing. But, I am very happy he ended up going the graphic novel route. Looks great. Format works well as a vehicle for this story. And, because there is a significant deficit of urban books for urban kids, particularly in graphic novels, I bet there will be quite the waiting list for this one at many libraries!
4 Stars. Two thumbs up. This book is sick! Go buy one for yourself and one for your local library!
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Waking in Washington, as the summer slides into fall, even though the rain and cold have been here for a while already, is like a sigh, a deep breath, and telling yourself, "You can do this. Just get up and make the most of it." Sounds kinda harsh, I admit, but life beneath the cold, gray blanket can be discouraging. Especially in the winter months, which, if you live here you know are between October and July. Still, there is a beautiful peace in living up here. Water and mountains and clean air. Crime is rare and schools are progressive.
I am happy to be home, and I will spend my time beneath the cold, gray blanket dreaming of Caribbean mornings and will appreciate the sun that much more the next time I see it.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Saturday, September 11, 2010
My intention today is to leave my country of comfort and familiarity, in order to do the following:
- learn not teach
- listen not talk
- understand not convince
- build up not tear down
- give not take
- bless and be blessed
Honor the fallen (of both this historic date, as well as all who have fallen as a result) today by lifting up the opposite spirit of those who acted in violence, hatred, bitterness, aggression, ignorance, arrogance, and intolerance. I wish for my country more learning, more listening, more understanding, more building up, more giving, more blessing.
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
I am flying to Haiti this month. I will be traveling with a friend from World Viision up into the rural areas NE of Port au Prince, as well as spending a few days in the city with my friend, Bryn Mooser, of Artists for Peace and Justice. I am very excited.
One of my primary purposes in this trip is to connect with kids, educators, and child service folks. I want to learn from them and listen to their stories so that when I am doing my school and library visits around the US this year, I will be able to convey the Haitians' own words to the kids and teachers here.
I will be working with Pearson Foundation in bringing this interaction to educators and students in the states. Click here for more info on Pearson Foundation.
My hope is to make connections so that for the anniversary of the earthquake, I can come back to Haiti and do live Skype classroom visits between classes in Haiti and classes in the states. (Please email me, teachers or administrators, if you are interested. I am looking for select classes to do this with.)
I am also very excited because some good friends have chipped in money with me to buy soccer equipment that I will be hauling down there. To join them, click here. It is not about being able to afford huge cash donations, but more about the act of joining hands together to share each others' burdens, celebrate each others' victories, and be united in the small things.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Friday, August 06, 2010
Thanks to Susan Kochan, editor for this book, and Cecilia Yung, art director, we have a visual treat to share with you. Here are photos of the printing of the book. When I come to your school or library, I can share the entire process more specifically, but for now, take a look at a simple run through of the printing process.
This printing is done using a four color process. My original art is scanned on a big drum scanner that gets a very high resolution file of the art. Then the printer separates the file into the four colors, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. CMYK. (As opposed to the RGB, or Red, Green, Blue, that you find on your monitor. We can get into a delightful conversation about the difference between the two types of color during a workshop sometime. But for now, suffice to say that the printed page is usually done with the CMYK process.)
Then "plates" are created that will be the point of contact between the inks and the paper. They are fastened onto a roller where the paper will pass by and collect the four colors from each plate.
Here we have the Cyan plate:
and the Magenta plate:
and the Yellow plate:
and the Black plate:
Ink is distributed to the specific plate:
The paper is fed into the press, and the fun begins. These machines crank a lot of paper, very quickly. The rolls weigh more than my car:
Each page in the book has been run through each of the four color inks, until the combination of these inks create the full color image you see on the paper:
The covers go through a wrapping machine that wraps the printed cover over the hard surface underneath. The endpapers are also glued to the cover board:The pages are folded, the bindings are stitched:
Some really cool stuff goes on in there... (maybe that is where they give it the coating of awesomeness, I am not sure.)
And as the copies begin flying from the end of the press, the spectacular art director of the book is there, in person, to ensure the color exactly matches that of the artwork. Bless her heart:
I have been on press a few times and it is a nerve wracking thing. You feel like you have to hurry up with your color correcting because the press is roaring away, and people are all standing around kind of quietly willing you to decide already, and bins are filling by the second with printed paper. My art director, Cecilia Yung, thankfully, is not the type to get intimidated. She kept at it until the skin tones were rich, the shadows full, and the whites sparkling. Here she is with the press supervisor, color correcting:
Cecilia really knows her stuff. She has overseen and directed some of the best picture books in print. Here she is employing a secret trick of the trade. She checks color upside down. That way the person trying to match colors is not distracted by the subject matter, or the familiarity with the piece that comes from months of working with the images. Also, you can notice mistakes or questionable elements very quickly upside down. (Or in the mirror.) Try it out sometime if you are wondering what to do to finish off your piece of art. You may notice you still have work to do if you take a peek upside down.
Once the art director gives her thumbs up, the press steams ahead until the books are printed:
I would love to give a big thank you to Putnam (Penguin) for the rush printing on this project. They made it possible for the book to come out much faster than most books ever do, and ensured its message and purpose would be effective in its timeliness. The book, in fact, is something of a miracle baby. Usually picture books take up to two years, pen to product. But this book will be complete, from first spark of idea to finished book, in less than nine months.
Thanks to Rubin Pfeffer, my admirable agent and friend. When I told him I was the fastest painter in the west, he told me I may just have to prove that someday. After we signed Hope for Haiti, he reminded me that this was that very time. Right around two months later, the entire book was painted, cover and all.
Thanks to Cecilia Yung for her eagle eye for color and the way she carefully birthed this book into existence, from written word, to final product. And, a special thanks to Susan Kochan, for her editing acumen, her out of the box thinking, and her trigger finger camera skills in documenting this part of the process of Hope for Haiti.
October, here we come.
Thursday, August 05, 2010
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
THE GALLERY SHOW
Thursday, July 22, 2010
|Jerry Garcia - Ripple .mp3|
|Found at bee mp3 search engine|
I found this link and must share it. Artists for Peace and Justice is an organization that is on the ground in Haiti, doing great work to help the lives of Haitians.