Monday, December 27, 2010

The Mustachioed Man

This drawing has nothing to do with the holiday season, but I suppose if this man had a beard as bushy as his mustache, he would somewhat resemble Santa Claus:

Though I am prone to exaggeration, the man on which this drawing is based (I saw him on the subway) really did have a mustache as large as is depicted here. In fact, I may have even toned it down to more clearly define the overall shape of his face. This man also had intricate jowl-folds and forehead creases - great for sketching, though I was somewhat awed by the complexity of his facial landscape. Looking at this drawing now, I'm not sure I was truly able to do it justice.

I also experimented a bit with ink washes in this drawing, hence the gray tones. Some of it was successful, though in hindsight, I wish I had scanned unwashed version of this drawing as well, for comparison.

Not sure what I'm going to post next, but a new comic about married life in the Choi household will be coming soon - you heard it here first! Not that you would have heard it anywhere else, but first is still first.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Comics about comics on the night before the night before Christmas

Hello everyone. This is a comic about married life. It is also, in some sense, a comic about making a comic, but before you cringe I assure you that it is not about the "Artist's Struggle," unless this refers to the Artist's struggle to get his wife to watch a movie with him:

I shouldn't judge though - if anything, I'm worse than my wife when it comes to books. My wife and I both react to books as if they were black holes. Get too close to one (especially one we've already read), and we're drawn inexorably into their pull, never to be released. It doesn't matter what we had planned, we MUST finish that chapter or paragraph or 200-page section, we HAVE to reach that crucial plot point, resolve that suspenseful bit of foreshadowing. It's like a bad addiction. Hooked on phonics, if you will.

It's the night before the night before Christmas, folks. I hope you got all your shopping in :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hey Beard-o!

Hi everyone. My name is Noah ("Hi Noah"). I started growing a beard about a month ago. As most of you in this support group have probably experienced, once you have a beard it starts to change things.

People say I don't look the same and I didn't believe them...I had been convincing myself that really I was no different. But today I'm here to admit that I am different, I've changed. Now that I have beard...I...(imagine a few tears here)...sorry, this is hard for me to say...I LOOK LIKE MY DAD:

For some context, my Dad and I play ping-pong once a week, and are both quite serious about it. When I showed up last time with a full-on beard, the drama that erupted was not far from what I've illustrated above.

So yes, my dear readers, I'll come out and say it. I've grown a beard. If you see me on a regular basis, you know this already - it's hard to miss. But if you don't, then I will assure you in writing that it is truly spectacular.*

* by spectacular I mean it's...well, it's there.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

So Sumi (ah, puns)

Sadly, I have no comics this week (no time!), so I've posted some previously completed drawings. Back in September, at the cultural cornucopia that is the New York City Comic-Con, I had the great fortune of purchasing a large bottle of sumi ink. Prior to using sumi, I had used India ink for my various projects. What do I think of sumi, after a few uses?



Sumi ink is the roundhouse kick to India ink's passive-aggressive sigh. It gives a consistently dark line without my having to constantly reload my brush, it holds up better under an eraser, and it thins out nicely with just a little water. I might even go so far as to say that it has made me a more confident inker when it comes to my comics - the last two I posted here were done all in sumi, and I felt great about them. The drawings in this post are all from my early experiments with the ink, done a few weeks ago when I was still getting a feel for it.
The monster depicted above is called a Donestre, and is from medieval folklore. I read about it shortly before working on the drawings - it is a man with a lion's head that speaks all languages, and lulls foreign travelers into trusting it. It then eats them, leaving only their heads intact. Because it's still partially human, it is filled with remorse afterward, and mourns the heads.

On a less gruesome note, I also recently drew a fashion model from a subway ad. I filled in her hair entirely in sumi:

Next up: comics about beards, and how they foster manliness in the men who grow them.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Malleable Amalgams

No comics today. Instead, a sombre drawing, since the weather was a little rainy over the weekend.

Sometimes, uncooperative sitters can lead to some fun artwork. The individuals whose faces take center stage here were actually sketched on different days. The woman (the top face) was pensively reading a newspaper article when she suddenly leaped from her subway seat and dashed off the train. Cruel and discourteous, since I was in the middle of sketching her portrait! The gentleman (the bottom face) was not so rude - he sat contemplating his Kindle for a solid 10 minutes. Unfortunately, a woman wearing a puffy winter coat and carrying a large piece of luggage stepped right in front of him, thwarting my efforts for several stops. It wasn't until after she left that I was able to continue sketching, but by then I had arrived at my destination and had to leave the train. Why can't people be more considerate of the fact that I'm trying to work here?!

The scarves and branches came from a clothing catalogue. Lately I've been taking clippings from catalogues, newspapers, and magazines, and incorporating pieces of them into my drawings. It's a good way for me to practice drawing subjects other than faces on the train (though that will always be fun).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Prince of Purrrrrrrsia (ha ha ha yes it's clever)

Things always get so busy in December. Work gets crazy, my social calendar gets crazy, and I go crazy. So unfortunately, I only have one post this week for you all, rather than my customary two. "Well then," you say, "it had better be a good one." And so it is, my friends, so it is: another comic, about cats (or rather, this time, just one cat). Click to enlarge:

If you have cats, you know that eating is probably their favorite hobby, with sleeping a close second. My cat Robin (depicted above) is going on five, and as an adult he has matured into something of a gourmand. He loves canned tuna, but only packed in olive oil (and only, it seems, Tonno Tuna, a deliciously expensive brand). He'll bite into a tomato if we leave one on the counter, but only if it's ripe. Pasta, which his brother Solomon loves to steal, he will leave untouched, but put some grilled salmon on your plate and Robin will literally try to shoulder you out of the way to get at it. When he wants to eat, which is often minutes after he's inhaled a full portion of canned food, he will meow and head-butt me and my wife without stopping, for hours. Every time we even look in the direction of the pantry, he makes a mad dash for his food bowl - because the only reason we could possibly open the pantry door is to bring out a fresh bowl of kibble for his majesty.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Let the Work Speak

This is the first "real" cat comic I've ever posted here (the previous one was sort of more of a gag than a full-blown comic). I usually write up some sort of intro, but this time I will let "The Work" speak for itself. Click on it to enlarge:

The above page is actually part I of a multi-part saga involving my cat Robin and his lady love. Future chapters will arrive in future posts...because I haven't drawn them yet.

If you asked someone whether they liked at least one comic about cats, and they said no, there is a pretty good (i.e. 100%) chance they would be lying. To make a "no" even more egregious, the the potential list of cat-comics would include Calvin and Hobbes, which has a very large cat component (i.e. Hobbes).

Cats are perfect for comics because they are weird, introverted animals, and from what I can tell have pretty active inner lives. I am constantly wondering what goes through my cats' heads, and often supply my own monologues and dialogues for them. While this is no doubt bizarre, it often leads to funny stories like the one above.

Footnote about Chloe - she is a real cat, owned by a friend of mine and my wife's who moved to L.A. a little while ago. Sadly, Robin and Chloe never had any actual dates, but we did joke about it a few times, and I promised that I would find a way to work it into my cat comics. And so: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Redux

This Thanksgiving, I was given the fortunate opportunity to gorge myself on my mother's, mother-in-law's, and wife's cooking all in the same evening. This is the game I played:

I'm not usually one to brag, but I can say with near 100% certainty that you who are reading this did not eat as well as I did. Unless you were there...and some of you were!

There are, however, dangers in eating until your belt snaps. I have described the primary one in this comic I made over the holiday:

Be careful! You never know where the carnivorous aliens will be lurking, so don't give them an excuse to eat you!

The end of Thanksgiving always makes me a little sad, because I have in my family so many great cooks. I will now wax poetic, in honor of the food they so lovingly prepared. Deep breath...okay, here we go:

Sadly, Thanksgiving is over, and the desperate retooling of leftovers has begun. Uneaten drumsticks have been hacked into turkey salad sandwiches, and the warm pumpkin pie that graced the dessert table now turns up cold with our morning coffee. My lunch yesterday consisted of crumbling mashed potatoes and desiccated cranberry relish; old, tired, soldiering on to their final gastric destination. I blessed them on their journey through my lower intestine and, as I ate, recalled them as they were - the potatoes fluffy and moist, the relish juicy and tart. And as nostalgia's mellow sweetness bloomed on my palette, I thought, this is how we should remember our friends - in their prime.

Shedding a tear at this point, would, I think, be appropriate.

Later this week - a comic about cats! Stay tuned!!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Eat Your Vegetables!

I hope y'all like to eat vegetables, cause I've got a bunch of 'em for you:

I started this drawing to practice my crosshatching and shading, and I have to admit I was pretty pleased with the outcome. I've got a lot of good-looking veg here - long-stemmed mushrooms in the wide basket on the right, "regular stemmed" mushrooms in the little basket on the left, daikan radish above the regular 'shrooms, burdock root that is mostly hidden in the upper left, and finally, a pumpkin way at the bottom of the picture, almost completely out of sight (wait, is that a fruit? Anyone? A little help here...?).

I drew this based on a picture from a coupon sheet, which is why the items look a bit like they are floating. I grounded some of them by adding shadows, but tried not to overdo it, because when all is said and done I don't really mind a floating mushroom. This would actually make it easier to eat. And it would be a relief, in general, if food could just float up to my mouth rather than sit lazily on my plate, so that I have to reach down with a fork or something to get at it. It's like, I'm doing all the work in this relationship - I get the money, I go to the store, I buy you, I boil you or whatever, I put you on a plate, and you just stare up at me. You never say anything. BUT DINNER, YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO: float up there. A little floating, I think, is not too much to ask.

Think about it, readers - floating pizza? That you could just lean forward and start chomping? Why has nobody patented this?? You heard it here first; floating food is going to be the next game-changer. Bigger than Facebook.

Or I'm completely bonkers.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Fighties and Bities"

Many of you reading this blog may not be aware of the new phrase "fighties and bities" that has recently entered the cultural lexicon. This may be because 1) you do not live in my apartment or 2) you have never visited my apartment for an extended period of time. "Fighties and bities" refers to a higher state of consciousness only experienced by cats. It is characterized primarily by what is known in the vernacular as "biting" and in the high German as "fighting." I think it is best summed up by the following (very) short story:

Yes, sadly the unshaven, poorly dressed lout with glasses is meant to be me. Pathetic, I know. Especially in panel 6, where somehow my arms and torso do an impossible bend-y dance.

The middle section, with rolling eyes and ticking clocks, is not far from what happens when I scold my cats in real life. There is definitely comprehension. They respond to their names, and have a somewhat skeptical relationship with the word "no," but everything else seems to goes over their heads. For example, "Robin, NO! Do not eat my tuna fish!" probably sounds to them like "Robin, NO! blah blee blah blee blee bluh blah!" Robin hears his name, he hears "no," and he knows I'm telling him he did something he was not supposed to. But he is visibly clueless as to what that something could possibly be. Usually, I think the result is that my cats assume they're in fact innocent and that I'm just delusional, and so continue their bad behavior with clean, fuzzy little consciences.

If only they understood more English! I've tried to each them to spell, but, well you know how that goes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wood Knots

My wife is scared of the dark holes I drew behind this woman. She worries strange insects will come out of them and eat her (the woman in the picture, not my wife):

But I didn't really see the dark holes in such a sinister way. I guess I figured they were just wood-knots. Plus, the woman herself looks to be quite at peace - definitely not afraid of being eaten.

This is, of course, based on someone I saw on the subway. I got through about half her face while on the train, but had to fill in the rest afterward. Lately, I've been having some bad luck with my train-drawings. I'll start on a face, and will just begin to find my groove when the person gets up and leave the train or, even worse, some random airhead plants himself right in front of me! So I'll have to sit there like a chump with this person's gut in my face, while my drawing hangs around half-finished in my sketchbook. Very frustrating.

On the plus side, I'll have a comic for y'all this week, as promised in my previous post. It'll probably be up on...Thursday...Friday...something like that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Discipline: it's Tough

As promised, blog friends, here is an update with one of the short comics I recently dashed off. Literally dashed - where I would normally obsess over details and agonize over every line, I forced myself to put this down on paper as quickly as possible. From the initial joke to the final page, it took less than 10 minutes (a record for me). Hopefully it will all be legible when you click on the image!

I love comics, all kinds - superhero comics, indie comics, manga, webcomics, graphic novels. I even find myself drawn to those instructional comics they have on airplanes - whenever I'm in the air for more than three hours, they become suddenly compelling...those stoic faces, so calm in the face of their impending watery and/or fiery doom...What is that woman thinking as she slips on her own oxygen mask before helping her child? Do I see a frown, a furrowed brow, a small glimmer of guilt? Those instructional things are PACKED with drama if you are in the right mood (and by right place I mean hyperventilating from boredom).

I've made a few comics of my own, but I'm still an utter novice. I want to make more, but I cower under my bed whenever the time comes to actually sit down and map out a story, or even a short joke. To push myself, I've decided to draw up at least one short comic every week. I'm hoping that over time, the process will come to seem less daunting. You will, of course, see the results here, good or bad as they may be. Get ready, readers. It's on.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Choi De Vivre

A Sunday night. The laundry is spinning, the cats are napping, and I am blogging it up after a full day downtown. It was a good day, a day of comic-books and groceries, two of life's greatest pleasures. And it is with comics on the brain that I present you with two sketches, recently completed for a comic of my own (he admitted with trepidation). Hopefully it will not be long before the whole comic is finished, and I can post the fruits of my labor here:

The basic story is this: I want cereal and Robin, my cat, wants milk. Two opposing desires whose tension can only be released in a climax of milk-spattered violence.

These comics take me a long time to draw. This is mostly because my free time to draw anything is often limited to subway and bus rides, and it is a bit cumbersome to lug bristol board and my inking supplies (pens, brushes, ink bottles, etc) to these venues. I also get very tentative when drawing my own comics for some reason, and have actually begun forcing myself to dash off short one-pagers - no penciling, just inking, all in my sketchbook - so that these things don't feel so "momentous" to me when I put them on bristol. In fact, I'll be posting some of those this week! So stayed tuned, my friendly and patient readers. Your thirst for narrative art will be quenched soon enough.

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's The Little Things In Life

Today's post is all about little details.

There are times when there is no single person to be sketched on the bus or subway. In lean times like these, I have to scavenge for the bits and pieces: hands, shoes, bits of lips and noses. And the occasional tough guy punching himself in the face.

Something else I like to do when there are no ready faces to put on paper is record details from my surroundings. The drawing below was completed while I was riding a bus from Manhattan into New Jersey with my wife, to visit Mitsuwa Market, a Japanese shopping center about 20 minutes outside the city.

On my way, I saw the following:

Glass blocks
Windows in various brick walls
The Empire State building
A nose
A baseball diamond
Letters on billboards and the sides of trucks
Signs inside a tunnel
Traffic Lights
An electric transformer
A child who would not stop saying, "Oh my goodness." I think he may have never been out of the city until that day. For him, New Jersey seemed to be a land of many wonders ("Oh my goodness, trees!"). Ah, to be young.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Drawing with Restraint

When I draw, it is not always easy for me to exercise restraint. I've ruined so many sketches through excess - I love the process of filling in space so much that I smother my drawings with shadows, textures, and distracting backgrounds. Every once in a while, however, I manage to lift myself from iniquity, and a drawing escapes unharmed:

There is something so fluid about this drawing, that looking at it makes me want to work on a whole series of them. Sometimes, detail is necessary for a drawing to come together (is this true, or am I just making excuses for myself?), but it's nice when everything gets described in just a few lines.

Embarrassingly, I almost filled in this whole thing! I had my pen to the page, ready to start hatching, when my wife saw the debauchery in which I was about to indulge, and literally yanked the pen from my fingers. Which means that she is really the one responsible for this drawing! Ah! I am exposed as a fraud in an inferno of shame! How can I face you now, my dear readers, when you know my most damning secrets, have seen the skeletons stuffed in my closet! If only I could run, could hide from your judge-y eyes!!! Alas, it is not to be. Look upon me, dear readers, the sketch-book damned.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


From everyone here at the ChoiBurger Sketchbook (and by "everyone" I mean just me), HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

Here is a drawing of my cat Robin, celebrating the spookiness:

Have a fun holiday!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

If you've ever wondered what the Charles Bridge in Prague looks like from the bank of the Vltava river at 7am, here is your chance to find out:

The drawing above is actually a detail from a larger piece I recently finished, but I though it looked better than the piece as a whole, so I decided to post it first. Here is the entire piece:

As you can probably tell, my angles and perspective need work. Bricks grow where they should shrink, angles merge where they should diverge, and the primary blocks of light and shadow could be more clearly defined. My main problems stem from not plotting out the larger shapes of the composition before diving into the details. But don't judge me too harshly! This is the first full landscape (bridgescape?) I have drawn in maybe 10 years. It is also the first time I have tried working rigorously with crosshatching on a subject that was not a figure or face - possibly the first time in my life I tried drawing stone-work with any kind of realism.

However, I did learn an unbelievable amount by suffering through this piece. I have already begun planning another, based on a photograph I took of a church in Prague's Old Town Square. Hopefully, you will see my city-scapes improve over time!

In case you were wondering (and I know you were, dear readers, I know you were), my trip to Prague took place several years ago - about two years after I graduated college. I had amassed a trove of romantic notions about the city, gathered over the years from various sources: Isaac Singer's "The Golem," Kafka's "The Trial," Steven Sodderberg's indie gem "Kafka" (starring Jeremy Irons as Franz Kafka living out a dark, dare I say kafkaesque, adventure in the city of his birth). I decided to find out whether all my ideas about Prague had any basis in reality. I planned a vacation, and booked a flight and a room at a youth hostel.

The city did not disappoint. The architecture is almost psychedelic - a collision of periods and styles that, I felt, still retained a unique, cohesive character. There are lush gardens, spooky alcoves, incredible historic sites, fun experimental theater shows, puppeteers, and fantastic beers. In five days, I walked nearly every corner of the city, gorged myself on dumplings and goulash, I crossed the Charles Bridge just after sunrise, entered Prague Castle through a rarely used footpath, and visited Kafka's grave. In a moment of divinely inspired self-mockery, I even brought along a Kafka biography, "The Nightmare of Reason," by Ernst Pawel, which I finished before boarding the plane home. Truly, an unforgettable trip.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cats and Their Comics

Occasionally I will undertake projects of making comic strips about my two cats. I have about 7 complete so far, and I've been thinking that if I ever get to 15 or so I will post them on the internet, on a full-fledged website. For now, however, I'd like to just share some tidbits, in the way of studies I've made for one I complete not long ago:

This is a not-very-good characiture of my wife working on our taxes. The little guy to her left is our cat, Solomon. He is hungry. Normally, when Solomon is hungry, the following ensues:

There is really no bit of trouble he won't get himself up to when dinnertime draws near.

There's actually a tiny bit more work to be done on the finished version of this comic, but when it's complete, I will post it here for you all to see!

In other news, I'll be also posting a "serious" drawing I completed recently later this week. I decided that I needed to start working on landscapes, and so I attacked one in ink, with some success. This decision, in part, grew out of my cat comics. I realized that, while my subway doodles have given me a lot of experience drawing faces and figures, I am sorely lacking in the background department - furniture, trees, buildings, and general inanimate objects. As a result, there will be some more of those showing up over my next few posts, but not to worry, there will be drawings of people as well! Only they will include backgrounds more often, and not simply be floating this one:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Carry On, Brave Soul!

Oh snap, gentle readers. I've got a seriously fresh drawing for you all today:

I saw this man on the subway on a day when there were no faces to draw - everyone was buried in a book. I was about to put my sketchpad away, but then I thought to myself, there's always SOMETHING to be drawn - even hands or shoes are good practice. So I started drawing the wrinkles and folds in this gentleman's pants - specifically his crotch, because that area had the most folds. And the more folds I drew, the most interesting that crotch became - so interesting that an entire drawing grew out of it!

Now, did I enjoy staring at this man's "zone" for twenty minutes? Not very much. But these are hazards that, as an artist, I must face. Did Rembrant cringe from the cadaver's exposed tendons while painting "The Anatomy Lesson"? Did Michaelangelo blanch at chiseling "David"'s buoyant scrotum? These artists bravely looked the specter of bare anatomy in the face, without even a barrier of wrinkled slacks to protect them. Following their example, I was emboldened to do the same.

At any rate, this developed in stages. I got the man down on paper on the train, filled in the seats and the wall behind him at home, and then did the arm-rest and railing the next day. Finally, I completed the poster behind him just yesterday. I wasn't quite sure what to put in that space for some time, but after perusing many, many images of subway posters online, I settled for a Halls ad which appeared on the subway around this time last year. It showed a woman with all the signs of a cold (red nose, watery eyes) looking determinedly into the distance, with the caption, "Carry On, Brave Soul!" Somehow, this seemed appropriate.

What I have to work on now are my angles and perspective, which got a little wonky as I was drawing the subway door and the seat the man was sitting on. Practice practice practice practice practice practice practice...

You Know, Stiff Upper Lip and All That

I've started on a project of expanding my sketching repertoire. To this end, I took some old catalogues that were hanging around my apartment and cut some small pictures out of them, to sketch on the train. Here is one I completed just yesterday - hot off the presses, the pages literally smoking, from my sketchbook straight to this blog!

I thought the advice printed on these various items was pretty sound. They were a helpful reminder as I filled in every line of woodgrain in the copious background. Ah, how I suffered!

Though the lines of the cups and other items are a bit wobbly, I actually like the way it looks. Also keep in mind I drew almost every line of this while sitting inside a trundling subway car, so don't judge the steadiness of my hand by these lines alone!

I don't have much else to say about this drawing, but in case my brevity has left you feeling shortchanged, I will also post here a recent sketch I made of my cat. It was a rare moment when he was sleeping AND I had my sketchbook nearby. In his ritual thwarting of my plans (more on that in future posts), he woke up and padded away less than one minute after I started drawing. But at least I got this much:

There will be more drawings to come, some like this one, some completely different. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Awwwww ain't it cute?

At the time I drew this, fatherhood could not have been farther from my mind...or so I thought.

Around the time I made this drawing, I had picked up a book of Shel Silverstein cartoons. Most people know Shel Silverstein's work from his children's books. But fewer people know he was a cartoonist for Playboy and other publications, and produced several books of just his cartoons. They are exciting books - not just funny but also amazingly drawn. The range of characters and body types he used in those drawings made me realize just how limited the subject matter of my own cartooning was. Outside of the myriad life-drawings I had done, my range of cartooning subjects was pretty narrow: superheroes, samurai, superhero-samurai, and samurai-superheroes. I decided it was time to expand my repertoire, and the drawing above was one such attempt.

Why a father and son, you might ask. Was there some subconscious thing happening? As a recent college graduate, was I drawing a window into my own future, mulling over the adult responsibilities that surely lay in wait for me? Was I thinking about my father, perhaps nostalgic for the simpler times of my childhood? Which of these characters was I? Was I in fact both?? Stradding the divide between the carefree child, ghostly white as if to suggest the fading of a time long past, and the stalwart man, fully rendered but just waking up, only recently emerged from the chrysalis of university life, was I reflecting on the duality of my own consciousness?

To answer these questions, and show you just how deeply I think about these thinks, I will leave you with a sample page from one of my early, early college sketchbooks. I have no doubt that this will clue you in to a possible answer to the questions I've posed above. It will also give you a taste of the kind of things I was drawing before picking up that Shel Silverstein book, and taking my cartooning more seriously.

If you notice, I couldn't even spell Physics properly - that little "h" is obviously jury-rigged.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

ChoiBurger Sweepstakes

I did not see this young man on the subway:

I drew this based on a black and white photograph titled "Fire Hydrant," taken in 1967 by Leonard Freed. Below is a very small, and unfortunately sort of muted, jpg of the photo. There is a prize for you if you can guess which section I took my drawing from:

Did you guess? If your guess was the hydrant, you need glasses, or you're insulting my drawing. If your guess was the building in the background, I applaud your efforts at anthropomorphizing, but you may need psychological help and you are also insulting my drawing. If, however, your guess was the young man at the center of the photograph, his face scrunched with joy as the water jets toward him, you are the winner of the ChoiBurger Sketchbook sweepstakes! Your prize is a large, juicy ChoiBurger, with a side of succulent ChoiFries:

Victory never tasted better, am I right???

I decided to draw the young man's face from the photo above because I wanted to practice some "serious" crosshatching, as opposed to the free-form scrawl that I use in my more cartoony drawings. Drawing people on the subway is great for certain things. It has improved my speed and my ability to "see" the subject I am drawing more accurately - the shapes of faces, proportions, angles, etc. But there are times when I want more rigorous, structured practice, where I can take my time developing a drawing without worrying about my subject changing seats, or noticing me staring at him or her like a deranged person. This drawing was one of those times. My hopefully-not-short-lived sense of discipline was inspired by the New York Times blog Line By Line, by James McMullan - last week's lesson was all about crosshatching:

My final drawing isn't perfect (I think I overshaded a bit, AND the scanner sort of washed out some of the darkest areas), but I am proud of the results.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Yakkers, and My Place In Their World

You know you've seen these people before:

On the train, on the bus, sitting in front of you at the movies - people who just can't seem to shut their yaps. They're yapping about this, they're flapping about that, braying away louder than a fog horn. And the garbage flying out of their mouths is flat-out unbelievable. They're bragging about the their exclusive party, gushing over a movie you honestly though was terrible, or describing in excruciating detail their recent colonoscopy (I was once in line at a 7-11 when someone actually started talking about this. Needless to say I left my slurpy behind).

The thing is...and this is one of my deep, personal phobias...I know I've been that person. In the restaurant, at the comic-book store, waiting in line for a hot-dog in the park - it has been my inane babbling, not someone else's, that has poisoned the ears of countless people. Mercifully, I will never meet these people. But that does not make it okay! How many times have I heard myself say something and know, in the pit of my stomach, that just at that moment I definitely sounded like a complete idiot, enough of an idiot that my idiocy itself would be grounds for moral offense, that in this case a punch in the nose would be justified, possibly even welcomed. I suppose this is inevitable. I talk a lot, more than most people. Out of all the jokes I crack and statements I proclaim, there are bound to be some stinkers. It's simple probabilities, really. But the fact of this haunts me, and as much as I try to ignore it, it looms, inescapable, like death. Some day, I am going to die. And before that happens, I'm going to prove myself a serious ass.

Okay, I can't end this post on such a downer. Here is another drawing, that does not provoke such feelings of self-doubt. Ah, uplift!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coughing Up a Storm

This one was inspired by true events:
I was riding the train home from work, very late at night. There was a man, who might have been homeless but I will never really know, laying across three seats at the other end of the car, asleep. Suddenly, he burst out in a huge coughing fit. It lasted for nearly half a minute, as the man unleashed a full repertoire of respiratory statements: dry hacks, wet hocks, slimy wheezes, scratchy throat-clears, even a few curt gasps. It was like a monologue. And then, as abruptly as it began, it was over. I looked around. There were only three other people in the car, and they seemed just as stunned as I was. After the man had fallen back asleep and it was clear that he wasn't in any sort of serious trouble, I pulled out my pen and my sketchbook and started scratching away.

At the time, this drawing came together very quickly. It was partially based on the actual coughing man, and though I (obviously) took a lot of liberties, I've always been very happy with the result.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Should I Be Living in Fear?

This is a very large marker drawing I made of a sleeping man's face, on the A train, in winter:

It almost looks a little like Shepard Fairey's "Obey" portrait of Andre the Giant, but I swear I was not going for this! It just happened.

A question I sometimes ask myself is, am I taking advantage of someone by sketching him against his knowledge? What if one day, someone I've sketched reads this blog and recognizes him- or herself, and is frankly outraged that I would post the image against his or her will. This is assuming that my drawings are accurate enough renditions to be recognized, which is a tenuous assumption at best. But hypothetically, it could happen.

If the man I drew above were angry at my posting his likeness, I would be in a lot of trouble. He was a very large man. Like, Andre the Giant large. Grind-my-bones-to-make-his-bread large. His massive frame took up three subway seats, and when he stood up to get off the train he stooped to avoid hitting his head on the car's ceiling. He had hands like T-Bone steaks, and I swear I could see the taught striations of his colossal biceps even through his winter coat! No sir - short, reedy chump that I am, I would not stand any chance against him.

Fortunately, this has not been an issue so far. But if one day you hear about a helpless short dude being torn in half by a big angry dude on the streets of Manhattan, you'll know why the updates on this blog suddenly stop showing up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Self-Portraits: Subconscious or Self-conscious?

I've been working on some new drawings that will be done soon, that I'm very excited to share! Unfortunately, my favorite pen ran out of ink yesterday, and I have yet to pick up a new cartridge for it, so these new drawings will have to wait for a few days. Instead, I have here an old drawing that I would like to write about, a somewhat wacky and unintentional portrait of myself as a bald man:
When I was in middle school (not when I drew this, which was later), I worked on a project where I drew a self-portrait once a week for about two months. I was taking generously discounted drawing lessons from a family friend who was studying for her master's in art education, and to start me on drawing faces, she had me draw my own in a mirror. The first time I was asked to do this, my squeaky 11-year old inner monologue said, "piece of cake! I know my own face like the back of my hand!" How naive I was. My first attempt ended in tears (mine) and nausea (my teacher's), and even the irony of the "my hand" simile applied to my own face was lost on me.

Over time, my portraiture became less grotesque. I kept drawing myself in a mirror, and by high-school, I was able to complete some decent self-portraits (ones that didn't make people want to throw up). The flip-side of all this practice, however, was that every time I tried to draw someone else's face, it ended up looking like my own. I was like a narcissistic plastic surgeon, reshaping patients in my own image. I made short noses long, round chins square, wide foreheads narrow, and transformed even the most graceful female faces into troubling, mannish brutes. I had spent so much time looking at my own face that I could not see anyone else's.

Eventually, I was able to break this habit by sketching many, many different people on trains. But sometimes, when I'm not careful, I will relapse with a vengeance. In the drawing above, I was not trying to draw myself without hair - I was just imagining some strange character sitting in a diner booth. But it ended up looking like me!

I guess I'm just a narcissist after all.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Boiling Teapot of Doom

This teapot occupies a special place in my memory. A place...of despair:

My parents had this teapot probably since before I was born. I believe it had once belonged to my grandmother (who is still alive, by the way - Grandma, if you are reading this, feel free to post a comment and verify whether my theory about this teapot's origins is true!). I liked this teapot because, as you can see, it had a small ding in its spout. Since I assign a truly unhealthy amount of personality to inanimate objects, I always thought this ding was endearing, even cute - like a snaggle-toothed cat, or a little kid with a few lost baby-teeth. Even when the pot splashed scaling hot water onto my hand every time I made a cup of tea, I didn't mind, because the crooked spout seemed to be smiling at me apologetically whenever it happened.

Eventually, this teapot disappeared. Most likely, my parents, who I apparently did not inherit my animist mania from, tossed it in the trash when they realized they could buy a new teapot that didn't scald them every time they wanted a cup of Earl Grey. However, to this day its absence from my parents' kitchen stings me with guilt. I can all-to-easily imagine it sitting in a landfill somewhere, stoically smiling its crooked-spout smile as garbage men bury it in heaps of eggshells and broken TVs.* In my less mournful fantasies, a thoughtful garbage man salvages it and gives it a special place on the mantle in his home - maybe on top of a doily he has embroidered - bringing it out for occasional evenings of sipping hot chamomile in silent contemplation. Maybe he lives in Seaford or Wantaugh (both towns close to where I grew up on Long Island), and if I wanted I could track him down for tea-time with my old friend.

Before I start weeping, I am going to stop writing, go sit on my 100 year old sofa, and put on those socks I've had since kindergarten that I never threw away (or washed), because they look too much like Beagle puppies. See you at the movies!

* Note about my parents: despite my depressing day-dreams, they would have put the teapot in the recycling bin, not the trash. They are environmentally conscious.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Head Floats in Brooklyn (or Manhattan)

For some reason I had a hard time deciding what to post today. I settled on this one, which I hope y'all enjoy:

This drawing is based on a woman I saw (where else??) on the subway, as I was riding into work. Sketching on a crowded subway car is rough. It's impossible to do standing up, but even if I can find a seat, I'm often crushed between people with large bags or large coats or very large butts (though I should not criticize as I often have all three). As a result, it is usually difficult to sketch a whole person. However, since I would never post a drawing that I had not finished, this means that the reason this woman is not shown with arms or a torso is that she did not have them. She was only a floating head and shoulders, stuck to a floating box. Thinking back, I admit I'm a bit confused as to why I was not more alarmed by this at the time. But that's New York for you - there's always so much going on, someone doing something weird, shouting, dressing funny, being a floating head, that you just become inured to it. How was your day honey? Oh, okay I guess - went to work, had lunch, got some milk on the way home, ran into a floating head on the subway. How was your's?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Watch Out for Romance

I've been away for a bit. I went on vacation, spent time with family, and have returned with some new drawings to show. Today it's romance, baby:

This is a drawing of David Bowie kissing a faceless woman. Just kidding (or am I??).

I drew this several summers ago, while my wife (who was at that time my girlfriend) was away in Cypress researching ancient Cypriots. If you've never dated an archaeologist, let me tell you, it's an emotional roller-coaster. They travel to foreign, rural locales where they can only contact you by unreliable post, infrequent email, and the very occasional long-distance, two-minute phone call. They tell you stories about sleeping in sheds, being face-to-face with giant Wolf-Spiders (and Spider-Wolves), being shot at by farmers, outrunning boulders, walking across invisible bridges, and fighting off Nazis and sketchy graduate students. I never knew what kind of danger she was in, or whether she'd come back alive at all! At the time, drawing this picture did not help me miss her less. In fact, it kind of made me depressed. The next day, I tried another approach: I drew a lifelike portrait of her and made out with it. This also did not make me feel better, and in fact left me with several paper cuts.

The bottom line is, drawing will not make you feel better. But if you produce something nice, you can look back later and say, in a French accent, "Ah, look how I suffered. Such is ze life of a true artiste`, no?"

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An Iron Will

This drawing is from the "old days." And by "old days" I mean the early 1800's:

Ironing has never been one of my favorite activities. Sure, the results are nice, but the process is a chore - waiting for the iron to heat up, positioning the clothes, pressing here, pulling there. It's sort of like getting a physical - it's necessary, but from the start I'm really just waiting to put my pants back on.

I've mentioned the cathartic power of art with a capital "A" on this blog before. I said to myself, confront your discomfort, wield your pencil at the very object that offends you! As with previous attempts, it did not work. Drawing an iron and some wrinkly clothes did not make actually ironing my own wrinkly clothes any more enjoyable. Disappointment is my unfortunate destiny.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Layers Upon Layers Upon Layers

When I saw this image hit my blog page after uploading, I thought to myself, that is one nasty-looking face:

Even though I'm the one who drew it, I could never really tell whether it was supposed to be a man or a woman. Either way, he/she is not very good looking!

This drawing started as a thick Sharpie marker outline. The outline didn't come out as cleanly as I had hoped, and so I added some coarse cross-hatching, still using the Sharpie - you can just make it out on the face, if you tilt your screen toward you to lighten the image. Then I added finer cross-hatching, with a smaller pen. I still wasn't satisfied, so I added more fine cross-hatching. Then one more layer of fine cross-hatching, and finally, I tried a bit of cross-hatching. I basically worked this drawing to the brink of oblivion, and while it could probably have benefitted from a little restraint, I like how the layers of texture make the skin look sort of leathery. This is especially true of the face, where the marker and pen overlap the most. Coupled with the dark eyes and exposed teeth, it makes for a sinister portrait.

Around the time I was working on this drawing, I visited a flea market in Soho where I met a man selling "Shawnpie" markers. They looked like suspiciously like Sharpie markers, but he insisted they were of his own creation. His name was unfortunately not Shawn, but this did not stop him - he wasn't going to be outdone by the fat-cat marker-makers and their sinister corporatocracy. He had apparently taken matters into his own hands, and was hawking his personal product on the streets of New York.

Not-Shawn, if you're reading this, while I did not buy your wares that day, I was reminded by them of how much fun it can be to draw with big fat Sharpies. I almost gave up on this drawing, but your sales pitch inspired me to keep at it until it was finished. It is dedicated, in part, to you.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Expect the World: Two Drawings Today!

When I take the bus home from work at the end of my day, there are always tourists talking (sometimes shouting) in French or German, and I can't help but wonder what their expectations of the city as newcomers are like. If the bus is in the theater district, I assume they are something like this:

When I am a tourist, I inevitably tour with expectations - about the architecture, the natives, the food. I try to keep an open mind, but you can't help visiting a new place, especially if it is well-known, without carrying some preconceptions with you. The woman in the drawing above may simply be riding the bus through the theater district of Manhattan, but in her mind she is cruising through Streets of Enchantment (S.E.'s), avenues of Romance (A.R.'s), and boulevards of Mystery (B.M.'s). There's a handsome hipster (you can tell he's a hipster by his longish locks and rakish facial hair) out there in the throng, hipstering his way in to sweep her off her feet. Maybe he'll burst into song when he meets her, and take up her gloved hand in a dramatic, Broadway-style embrace. Or maybe she'll run away screaming from the naked, out of work actor who clumsily tried to seduce her on 45th street. In either case, it is possible that her expectations of Manhattan would actually be satisfied.

Sometimes it can be fun to make a drawing work by powering through my various screw-ups. The real woman on whom this drawing is based was not actually wearing a glove, but I mangled her hand so badly that I had to do something to cover it up. I also left an enormous blank space to her left, because her friend (to whom she was actually holding out her hand), got up and moved to another seat. Thus, the ghostly hipster was born, and suddenly this was all about fantasy and tourism, instead of just a sketch of some French people on the bus.

One last note about this drawing - maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but I think there is a marked difference between the woman (who I drew based on a real person) and the man (who I made up). The drawing of the woman is more immediate and lively. The drawing of the man has less spark, but his finer details - proportions, anatomy, particularly his hand - are cleaner and more consistent. What I would love to do is draw from memory with the same spontaneity with which I draw from life, and handle the details of my quick life sketches with the consistency as when I draw from memory. This is probably what every person who draws wants, and will also probably take me a lifetime to get right.

To be fair to myself, the woman in the above drawing was fidgeting a lot, so drawing her hands accurately would have been tough. Here are some "serious" (well, maybe dour) hand-drawings in pencil, to prove to y'all that I actually can do these things with some degree of accuracy (though they do have some anatomy/proportional problems). Enjoy!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I Guess I Was Depressed

This one is a bit bleak:

Normally I'm a happy, relaxed person. How could I not be? In the grand scheme of things, my life up to now has been downright peaches. But sometimes the universe takes a sh*t on you, as my preschool teacher used to say. I've had a few ups and downs, and this drawing was made during one of my downs. Was I brooding over an argument at the time I drew this? Had I just received bad news from home? Did they run out of ice-cream at the Stop N' Shop? I honestly cannot remember, but whatever happened, it was a moment of utter despair. Maybe I had a hangnail?

Friday, August 20, 2010


I know what you say to yourself after reading this blog. You finish a sentence, wipe away a tear of joy, and say, "That Noah, he seems like a pretty self-assured guy. I bet he would never be nervous is any situation." I appreciate your confidence in me, I really do. But unfortunately this impression I give of myself is a sham. My true state of mind is a bit more wobbly, closer to this:
This poor fellow is so nervous he is literally chewing his guts out. Stress has driven the hair from his head and the clothes from his body, and in his naked vulnerability he can do nothing more than worry himself into paralyzing anxiety. This is how I used to feel before going on dates, getting dressed in the morning, eating cheese, or participating in any activity that might involve making any decision, anywhere. Then, I made this drawing. Oh, the catharsis! I was cured! How incredible it is that Art with a capital "A" can be used for the betterment of the soul, for the fortification of the heart's resolve on that everlasting march toward wisdom! How else do we mount the peaks of adversity and dam the deluge of our fears if not sustained by the spiritual bounty that Beauty provides! To live free, to jettison our foul moods and ignorant anxieties from the hot air balloon of our existence! If only ART could lead the way!

Sadly, this feeling lasted only an hour. I am still afraid of cheese. I still shake before choosing shirts from my closet. Fortunately, I did overcome my fear of dates, and ate one yesterday.

One last observation about this drawing. You might be wondering about my decision to bowdlerize my own work by adding a leaf over this man's genitalia. There are two reasons. 1) I had to give him some small protection against whatever is making him so tense, and 2) I am a very demure person, and would not be able to stop giggling long enough to finish drawing the balls.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Courtesy and Professionalism

What can I say, this lady was just the greatest:

As I have mentioned before, much of my sketching is done on the subway. I've drawn a lot of people, and this woman was quite possibly the best subway model I have ever worked with. Asleep, cushioned by nothing by the palm of her hand, she sat through our entire train-ride like a stone. When I first spotted her, I started scratching away like a maniac, fearing at any moment she might shift or, even worse, wake up entirely, and I would lose the precarious, interesting pose into which she had slouched herself. But she did not move a muscle! And her courtesy and professionalism did not stop there. She had the foresight to show up wearing a dazzling array of textures - a plastic hat, a fur-trim coat, glasses, jeans, a barely-visible patch of cable-knit sweater. She was even able to, without a word of coaching from me, bend her arm terrifyingly in three places, which was just great because apparently that is the only way I am capable of drawing arms when I am on the subway!

What made drawing this person an even cooler experience than her three-jointed arm was the fact that I also happened to have on me a very thin-tipped pen - a 0.1 felt-tip marker, which I almost never use when I am drawing on the train. It allowed me to get a much finer cross-hatch than usual, and gave the drawing a richness missing from most of my quicker sketches. If only all my subway drawings could come out like this!