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.