Romeo and Juliet

I enjoyed working on my last Shakespeare book cover so much, I decided to keep on with another cover idea that I've been kicking around for a long time, but never completed: Romeo and Juliet.

I saw the play again this past summer in the park with my friend and fellow illustrator, Julia Sverchuk. She is a big supporter of the New York Classical Theatre, and always does a beautiful job drawing their performances on location. They put on the play outside in the park with characteristic verve. What struck me about the play was for all Romeo and Juliet talked about love, they BARELY KNEW EACH OTHER! And when I came home rolling my eyes about hormonal teenagers, Greg reminded me that it didn't matter. They were fated to fall in love, and fated to die (I hope I'm not spoiling it for you guys).

And when I read back into one of my medieval art books that in the setting of the play, I found that in 14th century Verona (and even in 16th century England, when it was written), the prevailing belief was that your destiny really was written in the stars (hence "star-crossed"). Nothing happened that wasn't fated already. So that's why Romeo and Juliet are tiny, tiny figures in my book cover, whose lives are lived out under the spinning, cosmic arbiters of their fates. They're also small to bring home how their lives are determined by the enmity of their families, who have divided Verona into two factions, and can only see in a limited palette of black and white. If Romeo and Juliet is not as much about the power of romantic love as much as fate, I think Shakespeare is making a case for civic unity as the foundation of any personal joy. The fomenters of disunity endanger their own loved ones in their feud, as the Capulets and Montagues learn to their heartbreak. 

Tiny, tiny pawns of fate.

Thinking about the type, I found this beautiful book of prints from woodcuts and engraved plates first published in 1601 in Nuremberg by Paul Franck. There are several alphabets in the book, each more swirly and mind-blowing than the last!

Look at this crazy, swirly type!

Look at this crazy, swirly type!

Their whorls and swirls reminded me of the witty wordplay (and perhaps swordplay) of Mercutio and even Romeo himself. I thought I could take these elaborate letterforms and soften them for a more hand drawn (and romantic) feeling, while keeping a (loose) reference to the Renaissance timeframe of the play's creation. The type allowed me to introduce some of that romance back into the cover since I suppose, against all reason, that we will continue to think (and market) Romeo and Juliet as "romantic!"

The Year of the Rooster

Happy Lunar New Year! When this website told me that the 2016 (the Year of the Monkey) was going to be the "wizard of the impossible" last year, little did I know how true that would turn out to be. I don't remember a year when every piece of conventional wisdom was turned on its head. This year, I am ready for the Rooster when it says "I am alert/ ready to take action" because that's exactly how I feel. "Never give up or in," the Rooster says.  If these first few days of the new administration are anything to go by, we have a long, hard road ahead of us in the next four years, and I, for one, am taking the Rooster's advice.

Dalvero Life Drawing Weekend

This past weekend, I attended a life drawing class at the Dalvero Academy. Life drawing is always a jolt to the system, but this weekend, we had the chance to work with three fantastic, very different models with different ways of moving, different energy, and different graphics. And, as always, Ronnie and Margaret kept us off-balance, forcing us to abandon our comfort zones to push into new territory.

One of my favorite exercises is to make some super fast thumbnails. It forces you to come up with designs on the fly, with the understanding that you want to make each one different from the last, and different from what you usually do.

While I'm drawing, I'm usually annoyed that I never get to "finish" the drawing. It's only looking at it later that it's as finished as it needs to be. It's a good lesson in trusting your instincts.

Here's another where I was bummed to not get to "finish," but now, I like that I chose to spend my short time on this piece to emphasize how Samir's hips sat on the model stand, and how he tucked one foot under the other. I (now) like the way the rest of him is only a hazy outline.

Erica treated us to some fashionable dresses and fashionable poses.

Edwin brought his guitar and gave us a beautiful performance. Why is he playing the guitar naked? Shhhhhh, don't question it.

I could've gotten up and gone around to the other side, but sometimes it's fun to see what you can make of the back view.

Journey of Transformation

I'm very proud to announce that my work is going to be in a show with that of other artists of the Dalvero Academy opening this Saturday November 21st at Mystic Seaport Museum. We spent a good portion of 2014 chasing the Charles W. Morgan on her historic 38th Voyage, and reportaging as much as we could of her stops at different ports of call along the coast of New England. I'm sharing here a study I made in preparation for the piece that is in the show, "Sea Change." The show, Journey of Transformation, will be on view through the winter, and into the spring of 2016. I do hope some of you get a chance to get up there to see it! You can see more sneak peaks and some thumbnails at the website for the show, and more of my work, and that of my fellow Dalverans on the school's instagram feed.

Cape Cod Sunset

I spent the holiday on Cape Cod and had a chance to get outside and do a little drawing since the weather was so mild. There's a nature preserve nearby, with some paths that are well-traveled by the locals.

There are also some beautiful views of the water. And of course, the sun was setting!

Here's to more and better in the new year!

Nick Cave's Heard NY Part 1

I went to Grand Central Terminal this morning to see Nick Cave's art/performance piece Heard NY. The first time I heard of him was back in 2011 when Mary Boone showed his Soundsuits in Chelsea. I clearly remember feeling that it was one of the highlights of the year for me. Every day this week, twice a day, his magical "heard" of horses are brought to life by Ailey students (of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) to parade, frolic, dance, and enchant the crowd of Grand Central Station commuters (and some New Yorkers in the know). There is a live harpist and drummer, and the effect of everything together is rousing.

I didn't get there early enough to beat the crowd–but drawing the crowd is part of the point! I only have a couple of drawings to share today, but I'll be posting at least a couple more once I have a chance to go back and finish them!

The horse suits waiting for the performers to imbue them with life. Even uninhabited, they project a lifelike presence, without being in the least tied to reality. That's what I love about art: how something can be completely untethered to reality, but feel so true. It's better than real!

The dancers becoming the "heard." Even though you see the transformation happen before your eyes—and you can see that it's as banal as tying on a skirt—it still seems magical once the suit is on.

Part 2 will be coming later in the week, as soon as I've been able to see the performance again. If you're in town, don't miss it! If you can't catch it, I'm posting a youtube video that will perhaps console you.

Gasworks Park

Last month, I took a trip with the Dalvero Academy to Seattle and San Francisco. I'm just starting to go through those drawings now, and I just knew the first thing I had to share was my favorite place in Seattle, Gasworks Park. As some of you may have seen in past posts (like here) I love drawing big, dirty machinery. Basically, if it's industrial, I love to draw it - bonus points if it's old. Gasworks Park is the site of a coal gasification plant that closed down in 1956. Then the city of Seattle bought it and said, "So what if tar still occasionally oozes from the ground? Let's make it a park!" And so they did, and it's awesome!

Frisbee-players and bike riders frolic amongst the hulking machinery of a past era. (Click on the drawing to see it larger)

They even built a kite-flying hill. I love Seattle!

I might post some other studies of Gasworks Park another time. In the meantime, check out my friends here and here to see some of their Seattle drawings!

A Year Ago: The Tuileries in Paris

I was thinking back to where I was a year ago - Paris! I realized as I was looking through at some old drawings, that I never posted any drawings from the Tuileries. I can't think how I overlooked one of my favorite parks in Paris. The proportions of the park's landscape are so perfect, you can't help but feel peaceful and relaxed when you're there. Besides being beautifully designed and landscaped, it's located right next to the Louvre. What excellent neighbors!

School for Husbands

A couple of weeks ago, I went with Julia and Kati to see New York Classical Theater's performance of Moliére's School for Husbands in Central Park. Now Shakespeare is the master—hey, I love Shakespeare—but I recently heard a lady on public radio saying that there are a lot of classic playwrights out there, and why should it be only Shakespeare in the New York free theater scene? And I think she's right! There are enough culture vultures here to support an expanded repertoire. So, it's a real treat to see New York Classical Theater do Aphra Behn (a *lady* playwright, thank you very much!) and Moliére. School for Husbands is on for another week, so be sure and see it if you're local!

And if you live in Portland, be sure and check out Atomic Arts' Trek in the Park, where they reenact a Star Trek episode! Those of us who won't be able to be there will have console ourselves with youtube videos. Sigh.

Roomful of Teeth with William Brittelle, Caleb Burhans and Merrill Garbus

Saturday night, I went to the Ecstatic Music Festival with my friend Julia to see the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth singing compositions by William Brittelle, Caleb Burhans, and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs. Roomful of Teeth filled the hall with throat singing, exhalations, yodeling, and more. This drawing was made over two of William Brittelle's compositions "High Done No Why To" and "Done No Why Say Do." Sometimes, their voices would hover in the air, melting all together into something striking and beautiful.

Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs joined Roomful of Teeth onstage for the second half on the concert to play several compositions. I've heard a song or two from tUnE-yArDs from the first album, but the concert converted me into a fan. Garbus has a warm stage presence, and even invited people to get up and dance if they felt like it.

And here's Caleb Burhans playing his super cool violin. At least I think it was a violin. He joined Roomful of Teeth and Merrill Garbus for a few songs. This one was very moving, as you can probably tell from the title "why must you leave me now, when you're so far away?"

Last but not least is a drawing of Garbus and the ladies of Roomful of Teeth performing one of my favorite pieces of the night. Garbus cited the music of West Africa as her inspiration, and dedicated the song to the women of West Africa. The sound of the drum, her ukulele, and the swooping, yodeling voices of the women combined to create something kind of magical and joyous.

Be sure to check out Julia's beautiful drawings and her write-up here and special big ups to Judd Greenstein, the curator of the festival, for the tickets. You can see my other drawings from the Ecstatic Music Festival here.

Carousel Dreams

Lately, I find myself thinking back to some of those unfinished projects from years ago. I feel like the time might be right to try to finish them for reals. One of those projects was this story about a little girl who falls asleep in the car on the long drive to the amusement park. She has a dream, heavily influenced by medieval tapestries (that's just the kind of girl she is), about a magical day at the park. She gets to meet the knights and spend time with the ladies. I envisioned it as an accordion book and this scene is right in the middle, so it's really one part of a looooong illustration, but it's also made to stand alone. They're taking a break to pick some wild flowers while the carousel horses fly in the sky above. I mentioned it was a dream, right?

So Percussion and Dan Deacon at the Ecstatic Music Festival

Thursday night I went to Merkin Concert Hall to hear So Percussion and Dan Deacon play the first concert in the Ecstatic Music Festival. I'd never heard Dan Deacon play, although I've been to several So Percussion shows (see here and here). Their shows have never failed to surprise and delight. Beginning when you walk in and see something unexpected on stage - a cactus, like last time I saw them - or in this case, a stand holding several two liter bottles of soda. Turns out, if you wire it up right, you can percuss just about anything. But more about that later. Jason Treuting was absent, but he gets a free pass because his wife had just given birth two hours before! Josh Quillen called him on his cell phone from the stage so that we could all sing happy birthday to little Elsie. Sweet!

The first drawing is actually a conflation of a couple of the first So Percussion pieces, from Imaginary City and Amid the Noise. The video screen behind the band was playing a clip of Jason Treuting's baby niece playing with an orange balloon, so of course, music was made with an orange balloon. Of course! And just for fun, several orange balloons were tossed out to the audience. In another selection, DJ Schmidt of Matmos was featured, playing various...objects? I'm no musician, but I'm pretty sure there was a kazoo or two. His is the face that looms large over the band.

If you are wondering how there are five people in this drawing with with only three members of So Percussion, Eric Rosenbaum was filling in and Greg McMurray was accompanying on guitar.

For Dan Deacon's piece, entitled Take a Deep Breath, he explained that we were all going to create the piece together. A guide was passed out for the audience consisting of twenty four instructions for the audience to follow. Deep breaths were taken. Also there was a lot of humming, oooing, aaaahing, clapping, shuffling, calling friends on cell phones and having them sing on speakerphone, and many many blood-curdling screams. It was rousing and fun, although perhaps a tad long? Still, when's the last time I helped create a musical piece in a concert hall, never? Everybody wins!

After intermission, we heard the collaborative piece by Dan Deacon and So Percussion. The piece is called (I kid you not) Ghostbuster Cook: The Origin of the Riddler. And it featured the soda bottles being percussed - finally! It's like Chekhov's gun - I'm all atwitter since the beginning of the show to see how they'll come into play. The bottles were wired up to Dan Deacon's rig to make some surprisingly beautiful sounds, at least when played by very talented people. And just when I thought the possibilities of the soda bottles had been exhausted, the bottoms of a few were pierced and the escaping liquid hit a plastic bin underneath to make a sound like rain. Using everyday mundane objects is the surprise. But the delight happens when that everyday thing makes a sound that is so unexpectedly beautiful, even sublime. And then, when the liquid ran out, I never listened to soda bubbles so long and attentively in my life. Surprise and delight.

Here's Dan Deacon making the magic happen with his magic machine.

And the percussive finale!

My friend Julia has posted her review and her amazing drawings of the show on her blog. Be sure to check them out here!

Balzac at Cimetière du Père Lachaise

I have it on good authority that Père Lachaise Cemetery was one of Balzac's favorite places. When he wasn't feverishly writing, or drinking gallons of black coffee, he wandered the quiet lanes of Pere Lachaise. So I thought when we visited, it would be appropriate to look him up. I can see why he liked it. The outer arrondissements aren't bustling, but the quiet in Pere Lachaise is of a different quality, like you've entered a parallel city. The sounds of Paris are muffled, the light is filtered through the tall trees to become diffuse and soft. A curtain has been pulled between you and the world outside.

Fittingly, his monument features La Comédie Humaine at its base, and a dedicated soul had left some roses there.


Montmartre is one of my favorite neighborhoods of Paris. Since it's on the outskirts of Paris, it managed to escape the attentions of Baron Haussman, the Robert Moses of the 19th century, responsible for the homogeneity of many arrondissements. Montmartre became the refuge of those possessing a more down at heels aesthetic than those of the buttoned up, if grand, boulevards. It still retains the pre-Napoleonic charm of winding, cobblestone streets with their rich, mismatched jumble of buildings that lean against each other in long-established camaraderie. It's a tiny neighborhood, but all the streets are so twisty and hilly with surprises (a vineyard!) around so many corners, that you can easily spend a whole day exploring it.

This is the parenthetically aforementioned vineyard. Sadly, it wasn't open the day I visited, so I had to draw it from behind the fence. It looked like a little Rackham cottage up on a hill. I think I might have to make it into a wine label at some point, though, to appease the literalist in me.

I didn't get to finish this drawing of Sacre Coeur, glowing in the light of the late afternoon, but maybe I like it better this way? It seems to slowly grow out of the cloudy page (or screen), and in a moment, the mist will obscure it again and it will just be a memory of Paris.

Also, you can check out my friend and fellow Dalverian Julia's drawings of Montmartre.

La Tour Eiffel

What could be more iconic than the Eiffel Tower? As a symbol, it's ideal: beautiful, instantly recognizable, unique. As an experience, it leaves a little something to be desired. The sheer number of the tourists make the lines to visit the top an hours-long ordeal. Add to that the aggressive souvenir hawkers and the even-more aggressive beggars ("Speak English?! Speak English?!"), and I can skip it, thanks. But I love to draw it. From afar, it looks elegant, so tall and clean-lined. Up close, it changes. Looking up the open middle, it somehow becomes squat and awkward. And there are all these curliques on the arches that seem out of place on this utilitarian, steel paean to clean-lined modernism. It turns out that the arches (and the attendant curlicues) were added afterward to assuage visitors' fears that the tower was going to come crashing down on their heads any second. They weren't part of Gustav Eiffel's original plan and are completely extraneous. They are fun to study, though.

But the surrounding parks are my preferred spot from which to contemplate Paris' most famous landmark, by the picnickers and playing children, and, of course, tourists tired from all those stairs.

Le Tour de France

The peloton finally made it to the last stretch of the Tour, the Champs Elysées, around four in the afternoon. They came tearing down the boulevard, made a turn right in front of the Arc de Triomphe, and then went right back up the boulevard. Eight times. It's lucky for me they came by eight times, because they go faaaast! I'd have been hard pressed to draw them if they only came by once. The gendarmes, of course, looked less than impressed.

One of the cool things about the spot I'd picked is that after the race, the bikers all came down to have their team picture in front of the Arc. Before they made their tired way back to the bus, they came over to the crowd to shake hands and sign autographs. Since I was standing in a very, ahem, vocal section of the crowd, several bikers came by to soak up some love, which was my chance to make a few portraits.

Alberto Contador was the overall winner, and the proud wearer of the coveted yellow jersey. He looked exhausted, but found a smile for the crowd.

This is Andy Charteau, the King of the Mountains, in his polka-dot jersey.

And here's Andy Schleck in the white jersey that signifies him as the best young rider. He was favored to win through much of the race, until his brother and racing partner Frank broke his collarbone and had to pull out. Without Frank on his team, pushing him, Andy just couldn't get it done. Here's an interview (it's in English, so just keep watching past the introduction) from the middle of the 2009 tour. The circumstances of their near-win and Frank's accident earned my sympathy, but their fraternal devotion and charm made me a fan. Better luck next year, guys!

And here's an interview with the ultimate team player and my favorite biker ever, Jens Voigt. Around the 1:27 mark, you can hear what he says to his body when he's in the middle of a race. Hysterical!

Waiting for le Tour

It's taken me a little while to get back into the blogging groove, but I am back with a couple of drawings from the Tour de France, or more specifically, the looooong wait for the Tour de France. My friend April and I staked out our spot by the Arc de Triomphe pretty early, around 8 am. The bikers don't actually get there until around 4, so most of the day was spent drawing the people who were waiting with us, a small crowd of people waiting by the barricades. We traded stories about how far we'd come to see the last laps of the Tour. Next post, I promise, there will be some bikers, but for now, this post is for all those dedicated fans whose enthusiasm isn't dimmed by long waits, dense crowds, or even doping accusations leveled at their favorites.

I'm not a huge sports fan, but I did enjoy getting to know the Tour fans. Their passion for the Tour was infectious, and even made me a little excited for the bikers. This was the littlest fan I saw that day. He was maybe three years old and was having a great time playing on the barricades and making friends.

Like my little friend there, we mainly had to amuse ourselves. Luckily, we had the gendarmes there, who must have some kind of attractiveness requirement. They were so happy to be drawn, they were practically preening. If only the NYPD looked this good! Go and see my friend April's hilarious write up and drawings!

This is the crowd as it got later in the day. More dense, definitely ready to see some bikers.