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!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My what large markers you have

Compared to some of the other drawings I have posted so far, this one is pretty tame. I include it here because it was, at the time I drew it, an interesting exercise for me:

During the summer of 2004, I was commuting daily from my parents' house on Long Island into Manhattan, where I worked with a certain sandwich-eating individual. Two friends of mine from high school were commuting as well, and we used to take the train together. As it was 7am and we were all fresh college graduates used to staying up later than was probably good for us, we probably spent more time sleeping than talking, but this was actually fortunate for me. Not because I didn't want to talk to my friends, but because it allowed me to practice drawing them while they slept.

At the time, I was working very hard to change the way in which I approached drawing in general. For years up to that point, I had been drawing mostly in pencil. I put in a lot of practice and was very good at drawing from life (I'm saving some of my still life drawings for later posts), but over time I felt myself becoming too rigid. I also got used to taking a lot of time to get a drawing to where I wanted it to be - drawing a line, erasing it, drawing it again, etc. To challenge myself, I started drawing using only large, fat sharpie markers. This way, I couldn't erase - once I put a line down, I had to make it work - and I would have loosen up. The drawing above, of one of my sleeping friends, was made shortly after I started working this way, and was my first remotely successful attempt.

On another morning train-ride, I also started this drawing of a man sleeping with his scarf pulled over his eyes. It remains unfinished, so I can't justify creating an entire post out of it, but I include it here as another, perhaps more assured example of what I was trying to accomplish.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

'Scuse me, while I kiss this guy

I've always liked the way this drawing came out...

...but I honestly don't know where this guy came from.

I completed this drawing about a year after I'd graduated college, while sitting on my childhood bed in my parent's house on Long Island. When I started it, I had intended for the man to be kissing an angel in the upper left corner, but after drawing him I decided he was better off alone.

This brings up a few questions. Is the man reaching out to humanity in the absence of a higher power? Or, could he be trying to embrace the unseen divine, trusting faith to guide him? Is he making out with his imaginary friend? Whistling "Flight of the Bumblebee"? Is he, maybe, floating under water? Clearly he has not shaved in a few days, and I think we can all agree he needs a haircut. Where are his clothes? Is he depraved? Who would draw such a clothes-less, depraved individual?!

Questions abound and I, as the artist, have few answers. I can only say that I have a bad habit of overworking my drawings, and I was relieved that this one said everything it needed to say in as few lines as I could manage. I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Subway Sleeper

The New York City subway has inspired many of my drawings. Most have actually started on the subway as sketches of passengers or notes taken on overheard conversations. I've been hit (often literally) with some of my best ideas while riding the train to work in the morning. Even waiting on the platform can show you something interesting.

The drawing above is based on a man I saw napping on a subway platform bench. Unlike a park bench that is just one long strip of rear-state (!), most subway platform benches have thick, rigid arm-rests that divide them up into individual seats. The man's lower half was wedged into one such seat, and his upper half was curled over an armrest, his head and arms lolling to the side. It looked supremely uncomfortable, and yet he was napping like a champion, as all my annoying efforts to wake him proved fruitless (and NO he was not dead - I checked). Thanks to his accomplishment, I realized just how perfectly ill-suited to napping those benches are. I also realized that a person can sleep anywhere if he is either tired enough, or really, really good at sleeping.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Yeah, yeah, I love opera so sue me

I am unrepentant: I love opera. I have been to operas and I own opera recordings, my favorite of which is Guiseppi Verdi's Otello, with John Vickers and Tito Gobbi as Othello and Iago. I recommend this recording for anyone who thinks that opera is for sissies or snobby intellectuals (though it's a free country so they are welcome also). It has exciting orchestration, powerful singing, and subtle acting. John Vickers was sort of famous for singing Otello, but another role he was well known for is Canio in an opera called Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo. I have a dream of one day drawing up an illustrated, comics version of Pagliacci, because I find the story so interesting. Here is a drawing based on the opera's climactic scene:

The story of Pagliacci is pretty sordid. An actor and his wife work together in a theater troupe. They perform opposite each other as husband and wife clowns, in a comedy where she cheats on him and he plays the fool. Ironically, the actor's wife is cheating on him offstage as well, and the actor catches her just before their performance. He must then go onstage and play the role of the cuckolded husband that he has assumed in real life. The emotional strain is too much for him and, after some singing, he stabs his wife to death in front of everyone. Total bummer.

The murder scene is, hands down, the best part of the opera. At first, the audience applauds what they think is Canio's (the actor's) realistic performance. But then he pulls out a knife, and they sh*t themselves.

Here is an awesome clip of John Vickers singing that scene from a film version of the opera. Raina Kabaivanska, who plays his wife, is also great. One warning - if you are afraid of clowns, like my wife, you may not want to watch this.

Suffering for Your Art

Of the many drawings I have completed over the years, this is one of my favorites.

Great art is often the product of great suffering. Picasso's Guernica, Goya's The Executions of the Third of May, Dali's Lobster Telephone. I now submit to the pantheon of these immortal works the doodle pictured above, ChoiBurger's "Man Eating a Sandwich."

Shortly after graduating from college, I worked for a time in an office where I shared a desk with a gentleman who, I am sorry to say, had grandly disgusting eating habits. Each day at lunchtime, he would lumber to the sandwich-shop around the corner and return with a 12-inch italian hero and a 2-million ounce coke. Using the coke as a sort of sugary lubricant, he would literally cram the hero into his mouth one inch at a time, barely pausing to chew as mayonnaise and tomato seeds smeared his face and dribbled onto his shirtfront. With each bite, shreds of meat and bread would spray onto his desk as if he were pushing his lunch through a buzz-saw. It was disgusting to watch, but even more disgusting to hear. The snorts and slurps that oozed from this man as he inhaled his meal were an assault, worse than a punch in the face. Lip-smacking, tongue-clicking, saliva-slurping, teeth gnashing, burps and farts firing like gunshots from his massive frame - our desk became a combat zone where I dug trenches in binders and and ducked under paperwork to shield myself from my enemy's bombardment. By the end, I was reduced to a twitching, quivering mess.

Eventually, I found a way to move to another floor, and was able to leave the war-zone behind. But to this day, whenever I hear someone bite into a sandwich I jump behind the nearest piece of furniture for cover.

Without hesitation, I will agree that my suffering in this instance is nowhere on par with the unfortunate men in Goya's masterpiece, the tortured city rendered by Picasso, or the poor lobster shellacked onto Dali's receiver. But did I not endure the chomps of anguish and the gulps of humiliation to breath life into my own work? Dear, dear readers, I can assure you that in all the cubicles in all the offices in all the world, on those days, none suffered as I.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ben Franklin is ALIVE

Today's drawing is based on a man I saw on the subway.

The first thing you might think when looking at this drawing is, "The subway does not have wallpaper with Cheerio-ghosts on it!" And you would be wrong - a recent ordinance passed by the county of Manhattan states that all subway interiors are to be wallpapered with ghostly Cheerios wallpaper - however, you would be right in suggesting that I did not draw the wallpaper firsthand, as I was only on the subway for 16 minutes (in a car without air-conditioning, sweating profusely).

In all honesty, I did draw this man's face, hair, and the basic shape and creases of his shirt while on the train. And believe me when I say, that this man is none other than Ben Franklin himself. Really. He is alive, he is not dead as the history books have told us. He has been in hiding since his "death" in 1790, in the one place where he would not be noticed for being over 200 years old, because who isn't a weirdo in Manhattan? When I asked him what city we were in, he told me, "New Amsterdam," and the cat was, as the French say, out of the bag.*

Seriously though this dude really looked like Ben Franklin. After I finished sketching, I was honestly shocked. Distant relation???

* Ben Franklin would not have called New York New Amsterdam as according to WikiAnswers the city has been know as New York since 1674.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hello World, Behold My Brain

Hello world! I am starting this blog to share my many, many sketches and drawings. Some are from older sketchbooks, some from my current sketchbook. Others may be full, completed pieces, eventually - only time will tell!!!

I am not an artist by profession, though I have been drawing and painting since I was 6. The drawing included in this post is from that time. Just kidding, it is more recent than that.

I woke up one morning with a splitting headache. As the day wore on, I realized the only way I could ease it would be to actually remove my skull and give my brain some fresh air. If any of you have seen Steve Martin's "The Man With Two Brains," you will remember his (now widely used in the medical world) "screw-top" method for cranial surgery. Though I tried many times, ultimately I was not able to unscrew the top of my head to expose my brain. However, after knocking on my forehead with the back of a spoon, my skull bisected like a perfectly cracked egg, and I found the relief I so desperately sought. This is a 100% true story, as proven by the self portrait you see here.

More drawings to follow.