Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I am so inspired by the collections of words that Kahlil Gibran left on earth after he died. It hits me deep. Has since I ran into The Prophet. I fell in love with his words. When I stop to think about what artistic legacy means to me, I tend to remember the ideal set by Gibran. Sincere expression articulated with scholarly devotion and timeless wisdom. Words spoken not to teach, but to rejoice; not to guide, but to celebrate, and which also happen to teach and guide better than just about any books ever written. 

I want to celebrate the man with the words and the wisdom in my next body of work. Paint images of him, and also maybe some painting replicating his drawings and then improvising upon. That sounds like it would be cool to try. Any suggestions for other bodies of work? I saw one of my Malcolm X paintings recently and it made me want to get to work on a bunch of portraits of fascinating figures throughout our history.

We'll see how it goes.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Problem in the Process

The problem in the process may just be the secret to the magic in the outcome.

I fight against this feeling of failure as I labor away at paintings. Upon beginning any project, I immediately make mistakes that seem impossible to recover from. I deviate from my intention. I plunge from casual fun, laying down underpainting layers and washes with not a care in the world, into the icy waters of doubt. I look at this abomination that I have birthed, wondering what I was thinking. How did I stray so far from the easy answer that would have taken mere hours to complete as opposed to  weeks or months?

It seems wrong. It seems not worth the effort. It feels like a terrible mistake. At least when I was working as a surveyor, my worth as a person was not continually jeopardized. As an artist, I eat self doubt for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But, maybe this is exactly the way in which part of my very soul honest-to-goodness leaks out and bonds with the piece of artwork. And that is what brings the art out of the realm of decoration and into the realm of magic. Transcendence. Eternity. Perhaps this struggle, ugly and humiliating, is the only way to get there.

As long as I persist, I will end up intertwined with this art. I will find the solutions to the problems, and as imperfect as the outcome will surely be, it will be my solution and no one else's. I will have done my duty, and bled onto the canvas.

What we love most about great works (even if it is only subconsciously) is that we can feel the humanity of the artist or author or musician in the work that they present. We feel the pain and the part of themselves that was smeared across the pages in the process. And that, we relate to. That, we appreciate. The secret to success was certainly never in the correctness, the perfection, the accurateness of the piece. Never. The successes are found in the mistakes and the attempts to dig back out from them. The moments when the artist thinks there will be no escape this time. No good ending to this tale. All is lost. All is lost to the struggle. But that is exactly where it is all found.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Fresh Eyes

Soccer Fence, by Phil Bildner, illustrated by some punk I see in the mirror from time to time, is just about finished! All that remains is the cover art and then that baby can fly. A year ago I was having model shoots and working on rough sketches. It does not feel like time flew by, this time. It feels like a year. A very good year, but a long year, filled with hard work. It is too soon for me to be able to appreciate the art too much, being so close to it and all. But that will pass soon, once it is out of my daily life. And like other art projects, it will transform in my eyes as time passes. I found this out recently by looking at one piece, in particular, from I AND I, my book with Tony Medina about Bob Marley.

I found a statement embedded into the art that I never knew I was making until now. I do not recall intending this to happen, but years later, I was able to finally see what I had done in this piece. Fresh eyes.

When I was in Jamaica with my wifey, we were told about the Shame Plant, or Shame Old Lady plant (Mimosa pudica). In some cultures it is called a Shameful Plant, because it hides itself when touched. But according to one Jamaican man we spoke with, it is named this because when the slaves in days past would try to escape, they would pass by these plants which would then fold up, leaving a trail that was easy to follow. What a heartbreaking thought...nature itself turning traitor on you.

 I decided to include the Shame Plant in this image of a young Bob Marley. The similarity of the plant and his young hand, open and not folding in, were decisions that I guess I made at the time but now I can appreciate the deeper concepts more than I ever did then.

Here is a peek one of the final spreads from Soccer Fence.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Feat or Famine

I am nearing the finish line of this last year's worth of work for my next picture book. (Soccer Fence, by Phil Bildner, Putnam. I am stoked!)

-halfway finished glimpse at one of the new images from Soccer Fence

It has been a very good book to work on. Subject matter right out of my own life's passions and a process that is different from any book I've done before. I have some work to do still, for sure. But I am happy. Happy with the direction this body of work has taken. Happy looking back and seeing that I did not stop at good enough, but filled plenty of sketch books end to end with different takes until the elements were solid. And then again for good measure.

Happy also that once again I get to illustrate a book that matters to me. It is not just work, it is art. My life as an artist is based on passion and my desire to materialize beauty and truth and justice and so far, artwork has been my outlet. And if it is my only outlet, I am happy.

I am going to be speaking at the UW for a conference on diversity next month and as I reflect on my route to here and now, I go back and look at the beginning.

I had been rejected by an art director in San Diego who told me, while he loved some of the work I showed him, I needed to go back home and paint for five years and then, maybe, my stuff would be ready to go. And so I did. I painted hundreds of paintings and ended up selling most of those during that span of time. Some were good, others ended up underneath new paintings. That happened so often that my first few years' work is five times heavier than anything I do now.

I began painting images of Rastafari and of the music and culture that I loved but did not see around me. I did not choose Jamaica as a focal point of my subject matter because I thought it would make me rich. I painted every one of those paintings because that is where I had visited and that is what I wanted to see when I looked into that blank canvas. I painted those reggae artists because I was the house artist at The Bohemian during an amazing four year run of reggae in Seattle and I got to hang out with all of the artists who came through. I got to shoot photos as reference for the paintings and then hang the piece in the club where often it would be purchased before the nail was even in the wall, by some fan that had seen the artist perform the week before. It was a wicked run. Just a dream connection, while it lasted. 

Trodding Jah Road, 10'x4' acrylic on canvas (original is long gone, but prints are available)

When I dove in headfirst to my five year stretch of painting, I decided that if I kept going like I had, with no clear focal point or common subject matter, my work might not progress like it could. I intended to have a singular focus for that duration so that I could see myself evolve over time, since the subject would be similar and therefore the artistic changes would be more evident. It definitely worked. There were so many images, and sure enough, I can see that growth over time very clearly in that body of work.

When I realized it had been a little more than five years since I embarked, I didn't stop painting what I still loved, but I did make room for other groups of artwork. I had just been to Brazil with my lovely wifey and so I did a big show centered around Bahia, Brazil. As I painted for the show, I decided that since my subject matter was changing, I was ok to try out new styles and see if there was a pitch perfect voice to sing this song of Brazil in. And I found one that was distinctly different from my work centered on Jamaica.

And from there it was one passion, and then another. Surfing in the northwest is one of my deep loves and I have painted and sold many pieces from that collection, both originals, and giclée prints. It has been one of my most successful collections, financially.

With my illustration, it is a little trickier to pick and choose the subject matter since you get called from the publisher and are offered projects they think your style would work for. And, while the frequent famine seasons might yearn for some cheap book to illustrate for a quick buck, regardless of the content, I have been somehow kept "pure." So to speak. Every book I have been blessed with the duty of illustrating has been very meaningful to me, as an artist and an activist. I guess I've lucked out.

And while it may be a feat to work until 3 or 4 in the morning, get up to take the boys to school, fumble for coffee, and start the process over again, what is the alternative? Riding the tides of this feast or famine vocation can be so stressful and can surely take years off the clock. But, it can also be met with thankfulness and hope. Sometimes looking back helps. Even if I can't see the road ahead of me, I see the road behind me and I may as well keep on keepin on. After all, I love doing this.