Entries Tagged as 'Art'

Archetype

This drawing is of my niece and goddaughter Riley, my sister’s child, it was for her birthday (I had promised to do a picture of her after her christening earlier this year). Although I guess you could say it was more for my sister than my niece, but that’s OK.

I get the feeling that drawing kids’ portraits would be a lot more lucrative than sports subjects. Not everyone’s a fan of sports; hopefully every parent is a fan of their kids. And people will spend silly money when it comes to stuff like that, just because.

The problem is that I have no desire to do it. I mean, I did in this particular case, obviously, but if it were somebody else’s kid I’d have had to drink a 12-pack of Miller Lite before I even tried to start the damn thing, just to drown the self-loathing. And I have no idea why; it’s not as if athletes are a more credible genre. One could say the above piece is a “truer” work of art, in that I took the source photograph myself, as opposed to using one from the pages of a magazine or downloaded off the internet. Larry Bird is not hanging in the Guggenheim or MoMA.

I’ve given the matter some thought. Sports are a big part of my life, but I’m a serious movie buff, too, and other than a Clint Eastwood/Josey Wales drawing I’ve done, I don’t do any work featuring movie stars. I think I feel like there’s a legitimacy involved with drawing athletes because it’s the human form. I spent a good chunk of time in high school and college doing figure drawings, and what I do now is an extension of that. It’s something I can respect.

But in digging a little deeper, I had a minor epiphany: I think it’s because I’m in a state of arrested development, and drawing pictures of sports stars is a thinly-veiled cover to drawing superheroes. The first art I ever took note of was from comic books. As a child I sharpened my drawing skills via endless sketches of Superman, Spider-man and The Hulk. And while I never really got into comic books themselves (I’m not a sci-fi or fantasy geek, and too many comic book narratives skew in that direction), I’ve always held a fascination with the idea of the superhero. More from a literary side of things, how they owe a debt to Greek mythology or Beowulf or Jekyll and Hyde.

Extrapolate this interest out to observing real-life specimens in peak physical condition, performing feats of wonder while wearing boldly-colored uniforms, and the comparison seems rather apt.

My son is a huge superhero geek now, no small thanks to my influence, which is great, since I get to live vicariously and credibly through him. (“Uh, I’m buying the Iron Man DVD on the day of its release for my son.”) He also watches quite a bit of sports with me, mostly because he has an inquisitive mind and wants to know what it’s all about, although he’s a TV junkie who would watch C-SPAN if it meant keeping the set on. Sometimes when I’m trying to explain a certain sporting situation I try to couch it in terms of superheroes so he can understand it better. And then the lightbulb went off in my head.

I showed him two clips from The Natural: the clock-shattering scene at Wrigley and the final home run. The intersection of sports and myth, of man and superman. Roy Hobbs and his magical bat Wonderboy.  Arthur and Excalibur. Thor and Mjolnir. Green Lantern and his power ring.

When Hobbs sent his home run ball arching into the light stand, setting off a shower of sparks, my son leaped off the couch, jumping up and down just as if Roy was wearing a cape and saving the girl. And it was great to see him and feel that same thrill again myself, improbably so, having seen that home run dozens of times before.

I was around ten years old when I switched from drawing superheroes to drawing baseball players. I’ve never really looked back. But it’s dawned on me that on some level I’m just redirecting; in drawing these pictures, I’m just choosing a more socially acceptable alternative to sketches of grown men (or mutants) in spandex. But it’s still the same thing. They are the same stories being played out since man began to put paintings on cave walls. The weight they hold is ingrained in us, just like a dog that circles to tamp down nonexistent grass before it lies down to sleep.

And this picture…

…tells me far more about ourselves than one of a smiling baby.

Raison d’Être

I was flipping through Sports Illustrated a few weeks ago when I came across this photo:

And I thought to myself, That’s a pretty cool picture. I’d like to draw that. Which is usually how it goes. Now I’m not an Ohio State fan or anything, I just like the composition: the boldness of the red jersey, the contrast between light and shadow, the intensity in Laurinaitis’s face. So I scanned it and filed it away for some day when I actually get motivated to draw it, a day that will probably never come. I’ve got tons of scans just like this, all waiting for their day in the sun.

What ultimately might get me to do this picture (or any of the others I’ve got waiting) is if I think there’s someone who would appreciate a drawing/painting of it, hopefully on two levels: because they’re a fan of the subject matter (in this case, Ohio State/Laurinaitis), and because they have some appreciation of art, however small or unexplored. If I know of someone like that, I’ll create the picture and then give it away to that person for free, usually as a surprise. It’s a win-win… I had an excuse to do the picture (I simply need to work on my art more, so any reason helps, plus I enjoy the process), and they get something they’ll hopefully enjoy. And if it’s really appreciated, so much the better. To me, that’s the juice. Although it goes without saying that if I lived anywhere near Columbus, Ohio, I’d charge $1,000 for the piece (I’m only slightly kidding). Geography plays into these things.

I posted about seeing this picture and the thought process behind why I draw things on Sons of Sam Horn, and a fellow member who is an Ohio State alumnus posted this in response (it happened to be the week after tOSU’s loss to USC) :

“Saturday was one of the worst regular season losses for the Buckeyes in a long time. I didn’t get to see a lot of the game because I was at a wedding up in Vermont. If it wasn’t for said wedding, I probably would have tried to get to the game as I have a bunch of friends/relatives in SoCal and I’ve been meaning to get out there to visit my last living grandparent, my father’s mother.

As luck would have it, there was a TV in this “study” area on the way to the bathrooms from the reception hall. I was rather worried about this because the place where the wedding was being held (The Equinox) didn’t seem like the type of place to have some random TV somewhere. I looked in a few of the bars in the hotel before the reception and didn’t find one. I heard about the TV when the groom (a very good friend of mine from high school) approached the table and said, “Hey man, I have two pieces of good news for you. There’s a TV in the study and the Buckeyes are winning 3-0.” I got up, grabbed my beer, gave him a big hug and went to check out the game.

I only watched a little bit. I’d check the score from time to time, but it didn’t look like it was going to be the Buckeyes’ night. 35 unanswered USC points later, my buddy goes, “See, I saved you from heading out to LA to see that craptastic game.” (He read about how I’d be in LA if it wasn’t for the wedding in my blog). As you may or may not know, a loss in college football pretty much eliminates you from national championship contention. This is especially true for the 2008 Buckeyes because of their less than stellar showings in the past two national championship games.

The nice part about the placement of the TV was that it really was directly in the path to the bathroom from the reception room. The good part about this was that I could still be social while at the same time, check out some of the game. It was also a nice reminder to head back into the reception and not spend too much time out there when I started seeing the same people or hearing comments like “You’re still out here?” It also provided some laughs when I would curse at the TV as some of the snowbirds from the wedding would walk by.

Since Saturday, I’ve been feeling really bummed about the game. I was so bummed that on Sunday, I went from predicting a Patriots win over the Jets to fearing that the Jets would romp the Pats. It would have fit right in with Liverpool’s win over United and USC’s complete demolition of the Buckeyes. Thankfully, the Pats pulled it out in (IMHO) one of Belichick’s best regular season wins during his tenure in New England. I think it was Steve Young on the ESPN pre-game show saying something like “The Pats won’t score 10 points today” that really set me off pre-game.

Anyhoo, the Pats lifted my spirits about sports in general but it wasn’t until I saw the picture above that my Buckeye pride was rekindled. I love the picture. It is of a senior, who put off making millions to come back to take one more crack at trying to win that elusive national championship. I love his number (for obvious local reasons) and the big fat swoosh on the front of his jersey. I’ve always loved when they wear the scarlet jerseys and the contrast of the gray helmets which is as familiar as fall Saturdays in the ‘Shoe. It’s a great picture. Thanks for posting it.”

This is what art can do for us.
 

“I Can Do Anything. I’m the Chief of Police.”

Because life can always be boiled down to Jaws quotes.

As anyone who’s read some of my previous posts knows, I rarely let an allegedly finished piece stay finished. There’s usually some aspect of it that nags at me until I return to the table and re-work it, and sometimes I can fix it and other times I can’t. Prior to last night, the most recent example of this phenomenon was with the Paul Pierce drawing I did in August. I had to battle to even come up with an approximation of his face, and once having claimed that moral victory, I went back to the well rather than play it safe and leave it alone. I think it ended up working out for the most part, yet it’s never a sure thing, this revisitation process. But I tell myself I wouldn’t be what I am if I didn’t have that inner eye that felt the need to improve things… I have to be my own worst critic.

So of course I wasn’t finished with the Ted Williams picture I “finished” the other night, either. What didn’t I like about it? I thought the hat was kind of messed up. The visor seemed too large and the angle at which it sat on his head seemed wrong. The thing is, I scrutinized the source photo many times and determined that the proportions were correct (it wasn’t like I was overtly screwing it up, which does happen), it’s just that it wasn’t working out as drawn on the page. And in the past, I’ve often been too slavish to the source material, assuming that my goal was to achieve the highest degree of verisimilitude as possible.

But lately, primarily because I’ve been drawing so much, I’ve built up a sufficent trust in my own eye and in knowing what works and what doesn’t. Which brings me to our man in blue from Amity (which, as you know, means friendship).

There’s a scene in Jaws where Hooper and Brody are drinking wine and lamenting over the fact that the shark is still at large, but the only way to prove that is by doing an autopsy on a recently caught tiger shark, the results of which should yield definitive proof (e.g. human body parts that either are or aren’t present in the shark’s slow-reacting digestive tract).

Brody says, “So let’s have another drink and cut that sonofabitch open.”

Brody’s wife responds, “Can you do that, Martin?”

Brody drunkenly slurs, “I can do anything. I’m the Chief of Police.”

There was a time when I’d doggedly stick with trying to make the cap in the Williams drawing appear as it did in the source photo because that was the goal. Right? Well, who made that rule? I can make the cap look like how I think it needs to look to make the drawing work. Of course I have jurisdiction over that.

I can do anything. I’m the Chief of Police.

It’s kind of sad that it’s taken this long to assume that mantle over my artistic process, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.

The kicker is that in this case, I doubt anyone can tell the difference between the version with what I felt was a screwed-up cap and the version where I just drew what I thought looked “right”. But that’s OK. I can tell, and even if there really is no difference (and there might not be), there is when it comes to my peace of mind over the drawing. Which is what matters most. I am, after all, the Chief of Police.

As an aside, I was working on the changes to this drawing during the Sox game last night. I started once they fell behind, 7-0: knowing I wasn’t going to turn the TV off or stop watching the game (despite the score), I figured I could at least divert my attention from the train wreck while paradoxically keeping an eye on it. I paused briefly when Papi hit his home run, and then stopped altogether once Drew hit his.

Superstition will not hold sway for Game 6. This piece is finished, believe it or not. Part of me wishes it weren’t, just so I could work on it again on Saturday night to conjure up the necessary gold dust, but that would be pushing it. I think the Red Sox are now also the Chief of Police, anyway. They won’t need it.

Phantom Limb

This is all gonna make sense in the end.

The above picture is of 1961 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, Syracuse Orangeman running back and leukemia victim who died at the age of 23. The piece was done on commission for a friend who went to Syracuse, which she was going to give as a gift to a friend of hers who was also an SU alum.

This sort of thing is exactly the type of piece that I do, and while I prefer action shots to portraits, the source picture was this gorgeous black-and-white photograph that lent itself very well to charcoal. Add to that the significance of the event (Davis hoisting the Heisman the night he had won it, first African-American recipient in the trophy’s history, died less than two years later), I was more than happy to draw it.

And, of course, I went to Syracuse myself. For three semesters, anyway.

My thoughts about college run all over the map. In a vacuum I think it’s a tremendous experience that every 18-year old kid should be required to go through, but once you start taking cost into account and what the return on that investment will be, it starts to get dicey. Throw in the fact that it’s sold as a bill of goods vis-à-vis future employment, yet at least half of the kids enrolled at any one time are going to end up doing the same type of job whether they went to college or not (and that’s presuming they even finish, which a good portion won’t), and the whole concept strikes me as a big fat fucking shakedown. And I say this as a recruiter working in an employment office, one who looks at resumes on a daily basis and interviews candidates to try to determine if they’re qualified for the job I’m trying to fill, so I have to be able to discern this type of stuff.

College should be required for the life lessons alone. It instills independence, it encourages critical thinking, it fosters responsibility and accountability, and in most cases it exposes the student to a far more culturally diverse landscape than their high school or hometown ever provided. College can also knock you on your ass, but it’s important to get your ass stomped once in a while.

What it does not do is guarantee you a job, any job (let alone one in your chosen field of study), nor can it possibly justify its cost. Those are realities. And if so, then at least 50% of the kids going to college have no business being there. I went to Syracuse for three semesters in 1989 and 1990, and at that time it cost $25,000 a year, and I was an art major, of all things. If I had actually been a diligent student who applied myself and lasted all four years, my parents and I would have been $100K in the hole, and for what? Maybe I’d have been a better person for having had that much time at college to explore my art, but a $100K is a steep price to be a starving artist. Jesus, even if you’re going to major in Finance or Accounting that’s a tough effing pill to swallow, except these days the pill costs $200,000. Most would be better served by using their first year’s tuition as a down payment on a house and the next three years of tuition towards the mortgage, all the while working at real job, gaining that much more experience (as well as equity) in the process.

Of course, we live in a world where college degrees are required for most white-collar jobs, so there’s that. But frankly, if you’re just going to college to play the paper chase and that’s it, you might as well go to a state school.

On the other hand, would I have paid $100K to magically have the experiences I missed out on by dropping out of college early? In a heartbeat, presuming I had that kind of cash to spend. I did go back and finish ten years later, at a different school and under a different major, and while I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment in doing so (and ultimately got more out of it at my advanced age than I ever would have in my late teens/early 20s), I felt like I was marked in some deeply weird way just the same. And in the end, even after getting the degree, I still feel like I never really exorcised that ghost. For eight years, from the time I left Syracuse to the time I enrolled at Framingham State, I walked around under the acrid grey clouds of a nuclear winter, hidden from the eyes of God, wandering somewhere east of Eden with a whistling hole in my soul that refused to close. So even now, with my whole education dilemma miraculously rectified, I still have dreams where I somehow fell short.

Amputees imagine pain in limbs that no longer exist. I look at my leg, which had been symbolically shorn off at the thigh in the metaphysical car crash that was leaving Syracuse, and despite the limb that magically sprouted from that stump upon graduating from Framingham, I still wake up clutching at the perceived empty space. Despite the flesh and bone so clearly there. Persistence of memory, or simply haunted.

The car crash was my fault, by the way. All my fault. But I don’t think there was much I could’ve done about it. And as I alluded to, even if I had avoided it, I’m not sure the alternative would have been better for me. Given this knowledge, from both my time as a student and as a recruiter who hires college grads and experienced workers, I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do when it comes to my own kids and their college plans. I may not have to worry… with some kids you never do. They’ll get their good grades and do everything they’re supposed to do and generally take care of themselves. I’ll endorse whatever choices that kid makes.

But the kid who seems like they might have one foot planted in another world, some dimension where rules and expectations and laws of gravity are like a foreign language that everyone else can speak but the kid? I don’t know what to do about that kid. That kid is fucked. And I hope I’d be able to step in and guide him or her somehow, but I doubt I could have been guided at that age. Maybe I could pull it off, having gone through what I have, but it would require making some really important decisions, birthed via an ugly and bloody process. There would be casualties, and with no guarantees that the right path was chosen in the first place.

May my children grow up to be accountants, or left-handed fireballers out of the pen.

Chimera

OK, there a couple of significant things about this recently completed drawing:

1. It wasn’t commissioned, nor was it drawn for any express purpose other than I felt like doing a picture of Willie Mays. Prior to last night, that scenario hadn’t happened in a long time.

2. As such, it represents a subtle shift to creating the sort of art that ultimately might say something a little more than, “Hi, I’m a picture of Willie Mays.” Not much more, mind you, but it won’t be strictly representational, like the stuff I do now. Because what I’ve envisioned doing for a considerable amount of time is creating an entire collection or series of ballplayer drawings, comprised mostly of those who played in the ’50s and ’60s, and sort of trying to make a statement about who they were in the baseball pantheon and how we view them. Especially compared to stars from the ’70s and on. In fact, I’d like to do one series of guys like Mays, Aaron, Mantle, Clemente, etc. and then do another of their future peers from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, players who may stack up statistically but just don’t hold that same allure. And I imagine the two series will be starkly different on a visual basis, and to really understand the ultimate statement you’d have to see both collections one right after the other, or simultaneously. It’s important to note that I’m critical of myself for this bias towards older players and I think the tendency needs to be deconstructed, and whatever art results from this idea would examine that.

And what would I find? I don’t know, frankly, but I have some guesses. It’s the kind of thing that would be honed through the work itself. I’ve always found it interesting why I’ve romanticized ballplayers from the ’50s and ’60s (not just from a fan’s basis but from an artist’s as well). The blousy uniforms were far more interesting and the black-and-white photography captured these really great contrasts between light and shadow. On the other hand, try drawing a picture of Nolan Ryan from 1980:

Unless you’re Andy Warhol, what’s the point?

But, you know, that kind of is the point. Especially if I have these motivations that spur me to draw players from one era as opposed to the other, even though I’m a fan of all great players across all eras. There’s a reason why I’m hung up on it, and it’s something that possibly can be explored through my art. The idea that I can do this intrigues me. Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas rival Ruth and Williams in terms of sheer numbers, even when adjusted for the much livelier offense of the past 20 years. But Bonds has so much baggage and Thomas is looked at as being a beneficiary baseball’s offensive surge that it’s blasphemy to compare them to such greats. Where’s the romance in drawing Bonds and Thomas? It would end up seeming more of a political statement.

OK, but what about the players just before them? George Brett, Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith, Carlton Fisk? Great players in their own right, free of steroid allegations and juiced-ball theories, but sexy? Not really.

So yeah, there’s something there, and in drawing these players I’d otherwise feel no particular motivation to draw, I might find something out and end up saying something in the process.

There was an interesting debate yesterday on the Sons of Sam Horn website regarding emotional attachment to players that was disproportionate to their actual skill. What started the argument was one poster professing his love for Jerry Adair, and it devolved into a old vs. young/observation vs. stats shouting match, with predictable responses from both sides.

Now, Jerry Adair is no Willie Mays, obviously. But Jerry Adair isn’t even Dave Roberts, a bit player who managed to take advantage of a singular opportunity and impacted Sox history in a very profound way. But the argument isn’t even about Jerry Adair, really. It’s about old vs. new, and in that argument, old always gets the deferential respect and new always pales in comparison. And despite my not being alive during the ’50s or ’60s and never having seen Mays and Aaron play, to me they’re gods worthy of artistic paean, while Alex Rodriguez is a robotic douchebag and Ken Griffey, Jr is a broken down could-have-been (despite having more than 600 home runs and a Hall of Fame career). Categorizations that are unfair and diminish their place in baseball history, at the very least. I know this. Yet I still find myself wanting to draw a picture of Billy freaking Williams instead of Chipper Jones, who’s at least a contemporary of mine.

So we’ll see if anything comes of this. I’m probably going to give this Mays piece away (I’d like to to paint the pieces in this proposed collection, and this one’s in charcoal), so it’s not like the process is underway,  but the scope of the project is starting to come into focus. I think it could be interesting, at least for me, anyway.

Edit: Or it could be a big steaming pile of bullshit. One never knows, one never knows.

“A Whaaaat?”

Just an update on my earlier post regarding my difficulties with the Paul Pierce drawing I was trying (and failing) to do.

I was able to finish it last night, and I’m happy with it for the most part. I still think it could look more like him, but I’m willing to concede that part of that may be due to the facial expression he’s making. It’s not like it’s his typical face, so in trying to capture that emotion while having it still look like him (in the way that he appears in my mind’s eye), I probably stacked the deck against myself. At least in terms of my own comfort level. I think it resembles him just enough for me to feel comfortable declaring the piece finished and allowing it to be auctioned off, but that “just comfortable enough” feeling, when it’s been present, always constitutes an uneasy peace that I’ve made with myself (as opposed to, say this Ortiz drawing, about which I never had a moment’s doubt).

Here’s the finished piece:

Regardless of the perceived lack of resemblance to Pierce, I like what’s going on in the piece. It has a more rushed/sketchy feeling than I usually render (I’m often guilty of trying to be too fine, usually at the expense of the work). It probably came out that way because after drawing four or five iterations of his face, trying to get it right, and finally settling on a version I could actually live with, I hastily dashed out the rest of the drawing just to get away from the glacial pace I had set.

Anyway, it’s up for auction now, with a bid of $300 on it so far. So between this and the Ortiz piece I donated, I’m responsible for almost $1000 going to fight ALS. As I said in my post regarding the Ortiz drawing, that’s money I’m in no position to contribute out of my own pocket, so to be able to do it this way has been rewarding. Plus, I caught a 3-ton shark in the process… or perhaps the better analogy would be that I caught a tiger shark (“A whaaat?”) in my search for a great white, but hey, I gotta be pretty happy under the circumstances.

I Never Drew a Manny

In his 7 1/2 years as a Red Sox, I never drew a picture of Manny. I’ve seen some great photos of him that would make a terrific drawing or painting, either due to the composition itself or the significance of the event depicted, but I never felt the emotional attachment to him as a person that is a requirement of any subject that I draw. Compounding matters is that Manny was such a polarizing figure that the market for any artwork of him was 50% less than that of someone like Ortiz or Pedro. A lot of fans just weren’t that into him.

I recognize his prodigious talent, I generally supported him through all the “Manny being Manny” antics because it wasn’t like we didn’t know what we were getting when he came to Boston, and I appreciate his role in the two World Series the Sox won during his tenure.

But his aloofness and mercurial ways ensured I’d never feel any sort of connection to him, unlike with Papi or Pedro or even Nomar. The way I feel about Manny is the way I imagine non-cat people feel about cats. Who can understand them? What’s the point?

So I am not saddened in the least by this trade. I do think the Sox will miss Manny’s bat, and if the Sox get to the postseason, I’m sure there will be a moment where I wish he was in the lineup, so in that sense I have a tinge of regret. But it’s only because I root for the Sox. I have no animosity toward Manny, but I feel like I never really “got” him, either, so seeing him go doesn’t disturb me one bit.

But the Sox do seem to have trouble with departures like these, and it makes it difficult when trying to choose a next art project to work on. It’s not like painting a portrait of the family patriarch; odds are that whoever you spend hours on trying to render in charcoal or paint is someday going to leave town in a very ugly manner, and all that time and effort seems like a silly waste (there are a few Clemenses I did that are floating around out there somewhere). I have no idea if the Nomar drawing I gave my brother-in-law back in 2000 still means anything to him, but if it doesn’t, I can’t say I blame him.

Oh, Nomar was a pain in the ass even more than Manny in some ways, but the difference between him and Manny is that I felt like Nomar genuinely cared about the team and the town, but he was an OCD type of guy who wasn’t built to articualte his feelings (and made things worse when he tried), and ultimately he couldn’t deal with the fishbowl that was Boston. All of which I can understand, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I still think of him as someone who was in just completely over his head in terms of what was expected of him as a baseball hero in this town and all that came with that, and as such, I feel some sincere sympathy for him. I think he felt like if he played hard and people just left him alone, things would work out and all would be OK. But he suffered through some nagging injuries and then suddenly there were some rancorous and public negotiations leading up to his contract year, and I think he was out of his element when it came to balancing such matters. And then he was gone.

But I’m glad I drew the picture of him, for several reasons. Still am. I don’t think ill of Nomar.

Manny? Manny was a scuba diver from Jupiter. I can’t even pretend to know what the hell was going on in his head, so I just sat back and watched. And it was entertaining, but in an oddly detached way. And when I think of drawing a picture of him, I just kind of shrug and think, “Why?” It’d be like trying to paint someone wearing a blank mask.

“He’s a Smart Big Fish, He’s Gone Under the Boat.”

This moment was the first time Quint realized that he might have met his match, and you can tell that part of him relishes it. After God knows how many years of shark fishing, here was a target that wasn’t playing by the rules, and maybe Quint was going to find out just how good of a shark hunter he really was.

Later, when the shark surfaces, finally showing itself to its pursuers as it leisurely passes by the Orca, Hooper cries out, “That’s a twenty footer!”, to which Quint quietly replies, “Twenty-five. Three tons of him.” You can hear the respect in his voice. 

My twenty-five foot, three ton shark is Paul Pierce.

I’ve been attempting to do a charcoal drawing of him holding his Finals MVP trophy for the ALS auction sponsored by the Sons of Sam Horn, the same auction for which I’ve already drawn the David Ortiz portrait that I blogged about a few posts ago.

I can usually bang out a charcoal piece in a couple of hours, and this one was going well, until I got to Pierce’s face. I just can’t nail his face. I’ve drawn it and erased it three separate times, and I’ve hit a wall. It’s never happened before. With each attempt I attacked it in a different state of mind (whether by choice or coincidence: slightly buzzed, pretty damned drunk, and stone cold sober). Didn’t matter. Snake eyes.

I’m pretty determined to finish it now, not only for the auction’s sake but just to prove to myself I can’t be beaten, but it’s a foreign feeling, and not an entirely unpleasant one. Given the safe and unoriginal nature of the artwork I make, it’s easy to get complacent and then bored (which is deadly), so it’s nice to actually feel challenged for once, tasting the blood in my mouth from the stiff jab that somehow slipped between my upraised gloves.

After the third failed attempt to get Pierce’s face right, I clicked off the lamp above my drawing table, looking at the piece and the chewed-up vacant space between Pierce’s neck and his World Champions cap, and thought approvingly, “He’s a smart big fish, he’s gone under the boat.”

I shall return to the table soon, harpoon in hand. Or knowing me and my creative process, Harpoon IPA in hand. Either way, I look forward to it.

It’s Just Strokes on Paper

I was thinking about the post I wrote the other day regarding my Ortiz drawing that’s up for auction and how I have trouble with the concept of pricing my work. I don’t want to get too much into it, because it’s a boring argument (the whole “eye of the beholder” thing), but I will say this:

About four years ago, when I was living in Maine, my basement flooded during a spring thaw. My studio was down there, and while most of the stuff that I was working on at that time was spared (sitting on easels or lying on my drafting table), my portfolio that held all my work from high school and my three semesters at Syracuse was on the floor, leaning up against a wall, and it got soaked. Once the basement was pumped out, I started to gingerly go through some of those pieces until I realized that they was no saving any of them, and I picked up the portfolio, took it out to the garage, and chucked it in a trash barrel.

I didn’t feel anything regarding the situation. It wasn’t that I was numb or in shock, I just felt like, “Oh well, no sense in keeping this stuff around.” I don’t think I had ever placed any value on it beforehand, sentimental or otherwise, the pieces had just sat there in an unopened portfolio for close to fifteen years, so what’s the loss? If I had cared, I would have hung some of the stuff, right?

Yes and no. A lot of the pieces were of the quick sketch variety, not necessarily the kind of things you’d put on a wall. Others were more experimental and held more value as living lessons than as decoration, but not enough for me to have ever looked at them since leaving school. And last but not least, a great number of the pieces were nudes that I had drawn during some studio classes at SU, and unfortunately for me (and everyone else in those classes, I suppose), SU seemed to corner the late ’80s/early ’90s market on morbidly obese models. Such a cruel joke: you tell a college-aged kid he’s going to draw a live nude and then a manatee comes waddling in. So that’s not the kind of stuff you want to linger over, either.

My basic point is that none of the stuff held any value as finished art. But they were worth holding onto as biographical pieces or historical documents. To track progress. To get a sense of place and time. To show to my kids some day.

But I felt no pangs as I threw the portfolio away. I’ve never hoarded my art, I’ve almost always given it away to someone else. I’ve cared far more about the process than the final result, so it wasn’t like having your CD collection wiped out. Which is why it now feels weird to sell anything I do. I’m sure this struggle isn’t unique, but it would be different if I had a storage room full of my work that I preciously guarded; it would feel right to tell someone that the drawing they want is going to cost 200 bucks. But if I bat no eye nor shed no tear when my entire portfolio from my formative years is swept asunder by the wrath of God, if I blithely give away whatever new work I create again and again, then how can I place a monetary value on it? It’s not that it’s priceless, no, quite the opposite… I’ve always seen it as disposable. So how can I sell it to someone and keep a straight face?

But.

I feel that if I’m going to charge people for art, a price really can’t be put on it. At least not one that would facilitate a piece being actually sold, anyway. I have no problem giving art away for free, because that’s my choice, but if you ask me to assign a cost value to it, it’s going to be far greater than a few hundred bucks. That’s in a vacuum; obviously the market dictates the price, but in terms of the amount of myself that goes into each piece, it’s going to cost a lot, more than anyone would probably willing to pay. But that’s not the way it works. So you grit your teeth and set a price and then whine about it on a blog.

There’s the Why, and Then There’s the How Much

auction for Curt’s Pitch for ALS organized by the Sons of Sam Horn website in the memory of John Hoyt.

It’s on the block until August 10th at 8:00PM, so far the highest bid is $550 (as of 7/17 at 10:45AM), which is nice. Until now, the highest amount of money I’ve ever sold a piece for is $200. Of course, that $550 isn’t a true reflection of the buyer’s valuation of the piece as art, because the bid is inflated due to the charitable nature of the auction. But that hardly matters, because what it essentially amounts to is that it’s the equivalent of me writing a $550 check to this cause, something I’m not actually able to do at this point. So I was able to utilize my talents to benefit a noble cause in a way that far exceeds my own financial capacity, and it feels really good to be able to do that. If the buyer ends up actually digging the piece, so much the better.

I’ll be doing a second drawing for the auction as well. There’s a possibility that the combined sale prices of both pieces will exceed $1000. It’s kind of mind-blowing, and I genuinely feel much better about this sort of transaction than if I were selling the pieces for profit at a lower price. I’m still really uncomfortable about charging money for my artwork, primarily because I’m usually selling pieces to friends and acquaintances, so it just feels awkward  to me. In all seriousness I know I’m undercharging for my art (which is borne out by the fact that I have steady work and future buyers on tap), but it’s hard because art is subjective and what’s worth $200 to one person is worth $550 to another and worth 75 cents to yet a third. Ideally I’d create a piece on my own and set a price I thought was fair based on the amount of work I put into it, and some stranger would agree and then buy it from me. Doesn’t really work that way, at least for 99.9% of the artists out there.

 In the meantime, participating in stuff like this is a really rewarding consolation prize.

We Choose to Do These Things Not Because They Are Easy, but Because They Are Hard

Despite spending almost my entire life as an artist, including 6 years of art classes in junior high/high school and 3 semesters in college, I’ve rarely painted anything. I was always a pencil/charcoal/pen-and-ink guy. And when I did paint, it was usually because I had to as part of a school assigment and it was usually watercolor, but not in the way that watercolor was meant to be used (I was guilty of flat and even color application with no exploitation of the inherent characterisitics of the medium). I might as well have been utilizing poster paint.

I can’t say why I avoided it so much. Comfort level was definitely a big part of it. There’s a greater sense of control using a pencil or a pen as opposed to paint and a brush, and for a not-terribly diverse artist like me, it’s very easy to avoid delving into that whole medium. And once you start avoiding something, it’s that much easier to keep avoiding it. Which is a shame, really, since painting comprises the vast majority of what the average person considers art.

So flash forward to late 2006, and I still hadn’t tried to paint anything. But it was nagging at me; it was kind of like playing golf but picking up your ball after your drive and moving on to the next hole because you’d never chipped or putted before. Well, then you haven’t played golf.

Compounding matters was that not only had I never seriously painted anything before, but I also had no knowledge of the required materials, be they paint, brushes or canvas. I had assumed I’d be using oil paints, but after doing some research I found out that acrylics are much lower maintenance, although they lack the richness and blendability of oils. I live in an apartment with two small kids and no studio space, so ease of cleanup and no worries about toxic fumes rank high on my list of priorites, thus oils were out. So I picked up a bunch of tubes of student-grade acrylics, some brushes, and a few pre-stretched canvases from the local art store. Being paralyzed by not knowing which brand of brushes to buy or what type of canvases to get was a potential problem, but then I realized that the only reason I know what kind of charcoal I like or what kind of paper works best for which drawing is because I learned it through doing. So I just said, “Screw it,” and bought nicer brushes and cheaper canvases. Because in my limited experience I know that a good brush can make all the difference, and I’d be using them again and again, whereas any canvases I bought were going to be wasted on my learning curve. The undertaking was more important than the result.

So I painted the Pedro picture above, not having any idea of what I was doing. I think it shows, but on the other hand, it will always mean something to me because it represents doing something simply because it was there to be attempted. And I enjoyed it, and the felt the urge to do more. So I’ve expanded my repertoire.

Of course, for all of that, I didn’t attempt another painting until 10 months later, but just one piece removed from my Alan Shepard/Freedom 7 moment, I think you can see the differences in approach and brushwork. It’s not finished yet, but hopefully it will be soon (it’s a little out of focus because I killed the flash to lose the glare):

So there you go. All it takes is the decision to actually get started.

Here’s Your Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

This was the first piece I ever sold. It was in 2005, a couple of years into my marriage and my first child had just been born, and I figured that maybe it was time to try to parlay my talent into the dizzying riches that so often come to artists (especially untrained ones). It was a commissioned work, done through the Sons of Sam Horn website (a Red Sox discussion board), where I was a member. Since I gravitated toward sports subjects in my art, if there was going to be interest in that type of work, it would be shown by some of the members there.

I posted on the board about being available to do some artwork, and when an interested party responded, my first thought was, Uh oh. It was like asking a woman who was way out of your league on a date — to borrow from Sir Edmund Hillary, because she’s there — and to your surprise she said yes. The unexpected affirmative answer opens up a lot pitfalls that didn’t seem so important when you thought you were going to be shot down.

Luckily the process went smoothly. The prospective buyer wanted a drawing of Pedro Martinez, which was just fine with me, and I had plenty of source pictures to work from. We traded some emails until he decided which one he liked best. I had no idea how to price what I was doing, only that I didn’t want to charge too much because it felt was absurd to be asking for money for this in the first place. I ended up charging $100, which came to net of $70 after the matte and frame. The price seemed astronomical at the time to me, in an I-can’t-believe-I’m asking-for-this-kind of way, even though it broke down to an hourly rate of less than $10 when all was said and done. Not that you can price art by the hour.

Thankfully the buyer seemed very appreciative, so much so that I’ll gladly plug his own entrepreneurial endeavor, Maple Street Press, publishers of the Red Sox Annual, among other things.

So this drawing ushered me into the ranks of the professionals. I sold a couple of pieces after that to some other SoSHers, but between my wife and I having another child and moving from Maine back to Massachusetts, I didn’t pursue it as aggressively as I could have. Looking back, that was probably a good thing. Too much going on in other arenas.

This is a piece that I’m not happy with overall (you’ll sense a theme here). It just seems too fuzzy, I think. Part of that is inherent to the medium (color pastel) and part of that is the crappy digital camera I used to take the picture (it’s actually a still shot from a camcorder), and since the picture is all I have left of the work, it’s bound to taint my view. But still. However, I believe the buyer when he says he’s happy with the drawing (we still meet for beers on occasion), so that’s all I can ask for. It was an important step, this charging-money-for-art thing. Women and power were soon to follow.

Remember When Fast Eddie Heard Vince’s Break?

That’s what this Nomar drawing was to me.

If the Pedro drawing was A New Hope, as established in my prior post (which is the one below this one, not above, stupid blog format), then this was The Phantom Menace (presuming high school and college were The Hobbit, wrong universe but bear with me). We talked about it already, I’m just rehashing because the continuity is hard to follow. The act of drawing the Nomar picture, the spark that was struck, was the equivalent of Newman in a dive bar, shilling watered-down whiskey to bartenders and hearing that unmistakable snap from over his shoulder.

The funny thing is that while I was downright ecstatic when I finished this piece, I’ve since grown to dislike it more over the years, which is the reverse of what usually happens. With most of the art I create, I hate it from the get-go and over time I gradually come to terms with the fact that it might be OK after all. But it takes many years. If ever.

Mostly I don’t like the way his cap was rendered, there’s no gradation whatsoever. His face is a little muddy, too. And once I see something like that, that’s all I see.

But I embraced the artist in me once more because sometimes you simply need to do something you’re really good at. None of these pieces are groundbreaking, and I equate the ability to do them to a kind of autism — I can draw things as I see them — but that doesn’t mean it’s not a skill. In my case, most of the time it’s not even about the act of drawing or the piece itself, it’s just about sitting over a drafting table and feeling like you could do anything you wanted to and it would somehow work, that you were that goddamn good. The flash of intuition that tells you a certain stroke with a charcoal stick will look a certain way, even though you’ve never tried it, and you’re right. And you think, How did I know that? Circuitry that has existed in you since birth, since before that. In the womb. Mapped neurons inside a fetus no bigger than a pinhead. It’s alien in a way… I didn’t choose it, no more than I chose red hair or to be 5’10”. But I hope everyone has something like that in themselves, an instinct they can trust because it’s never been wrong. Mine is a purely impractical talent, but at least it feels like God smiled on me in some way, even if it’s a parlor trick.

I’m really not digging the Nomar piece these days. I think it shows very clearly that I hadn’t been near an inkwell in ten years, but I’m old enough now to take that into account. So I’m proud of it anyway. I remember that my brother-in-law hung it up in his house, and later that year I was there at a party, staying up most of the night drinking (as was usually the case at his and my sister’s parties), and after everyone had passed out or gone to bed I stood in front of this Nomar picture for a long time, nursing my beer and just looking at it. It was a symbol, you see. I heard the break.

This Is the Way the World Began

Sort of. In a Star Wars IV: A New Hope kind of way. In that A New Hope seemed like the beginning, but it turned out there were really three other movies before it, only we saw them 20 years later. “Prequels.”

But now that I think about it a little more, the Tiger Woods drawing is actually the beginning of a third trilogy in a series, not that Lucas has gotten around to making the Star Wars equivalent yet. The whole comparison a little tortured, I admit. But let’s run with it.

OK, so if that’s the case (which I think it is), then the first trilogy, chronologically speaking — Phantom Menace through Revenge of the Sith — would be the series of drawings I did for my groomsmen back in late 2001 through early 2002, pieces to be given as gifts at my wedding’s rehearsal dinner in the summer of ‘02. Although that’s not quite right, either. Maybe it would go back as far as the pen-and-ink Nomar drawing I did for my freshly-minted brother-in-law as a Christmas gift in 2000, in honor of his having joined the family that October.

Now that I think about it, yes, that’s it. The Nomar’s the one. Because prior to that I hadn’t really picked up so much as a pen, a charcoal stick or a paintbrush with a purpose since I left Syracuse in the winter of 1990. Ten years gone. Which would make my high school and aborted college years The Hobbit, if only I weren’t mixing epic sagas.

At any rate, my middle sister Michelle was the first of us to get married (fall of ‘00), and her husband Mike was a Sox fan (of course), so I thought drawing him a Nomar picture as a Christmas gift that year would be a cool thing to do. I never had any brothers, just two sisters, so the arrival of a fellow man into the family who was close to my own age was a profound and welcome change in my life. Despite not having drawn for almost a decade, it was something I wanted to do. And to my surprise, in the course of drawing this picture for him, I found myself enjoying the process. Like the cokehead who lays off the snow for an extended period of time, but comes back despite knowing better, I suppose. *I’ve never done cocaine, but my addiction to animal porn is probably not as relatable.

When Mike unwrapped his gift, I could tell he really appreciated it, but the kicker was that he didn’t know that I had drawn it. He just assumed it was some store-bought piece, until a few moments passed and he saw my signature. Which isn’t really a signature, just my initials and the last two digits of the year in which it was completed; I always got annoyed when artists had ostentatious signatures, drawing attention away from the piece. Digression aside, he liked the Nomar, and I liked that he liked it. So art wasn’t such a useless thing anymore.

I got engaged the following spring, and by that time I had already decided I was going to give my groomsmen some original artwork as gifts, which ended up taking around 6 months to complete (one month/piece for each man in the wedding party). It was a lot of work, but it was an important development for several reasons:
• That I even decided on such an undertaking after being “retired” for so long in the first place.
• I had to bust my ass and stay on schedule, because if I created five masterpieces but wasn’t able to start the sixth due to time running out, the whole concept was shot and I’d be screwed. “Hey, sorry Rob, you don’t get a drawing. I’ll get around to it after the honeymoon.” That I succeeded is all the more surprising because busting my ass and staying on schedule has never been a strong suit of mine in any walk of life, let alone when I was an art student in college, which was the last time I had to match that kind of artistic output.
• I enjoyed the process. A lot. Which is the most important, if I may state the obvious. Creating art (even unoriginal and derivative art such as mine) is an incredibly draining process, and there’s really no reward at the end of it, at least not for me, because I usually dislike the final product. It never ends up being what I saw in my head. So it’s a drag, which is why I buried it for ten years. That and the fact that I curse the skill to begin with, which has never been anything but impractical. I’d feel a lot more comfortable in my skin if I had been blessed with the discipline to study law or medicine, or if I had a nose for finance, or even to wake up without hitting the snooze button seven or eight times first.

But this is what I’ve got instead of those things, and Project Groomsmen worked, which was a refreshing development, given my track record.

Anyway, I think we were talking about the time continuum of the Star Wars universe. You know, it’s not as if I worship the Star Wars canon. Really. It’s just the most appropriate analogy. If six Godfathers or six X-Men had been made, I’d be trying to shoehorn them into this scenario, you can bet. Which is silly anyway, because I’ve already stated this art saga thing is really three separate chapters (chapter equaling trilogy, in this case), while the Star Wars series has only two. But it’s the closest thing. That’s all.

So which drawing is A New Hope, then, if not the Tiger Woods? The first Pedro I did. That was the first piece I actually sold (I really should be posting or linking to pictures of this stuff, by the way). But I’m not, because I want to address each one on its own merits. Which is strange, because I haven’t addressed the Tiger drawing, and that’s what this post is supposedly about.

I’ll get to it. In due time.