Happy Holidays

I've been resisting a holiday post, not because I don't love the holidays, but I resent the Christmas creep that has holiday music playing in October. The best thing about the holidays are that they are a special day or two, or *maybe* a week. Not a special month, or help me!, two months. The thing that makes something special, by definition, is that it is not incessant. Not to be a grinch. Here are the angels.

They are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Christmas tree. A visit to the tree is a staple of the holiday for me. This year, I went to meet up with my Dalverian friends who make it an annual tradition. You can see some other takes on the tree here, here, and here. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

Goodbye, Fall!

It's December all of a sudden, and as the cold deepens, it's time to say goodbye to my favorite season, fall. I love everything about fall: the light, the leaves changing, the brisk weather. Even though I'm (so many!) years out of school, it still signals a fresh start to me. I know that's supposed to be spring, but to me fall is the time to start new projects in new notebooks, make new friends, new beginnings. This fall, I was able to get up to Connecticut to enjoy the changing leaves.

I like that last one, but as it often happens, I liked the thumbnail better:

The Road

As some of you may know, I'm an avid reader. Sometimes as an exercise (and because doing book covers would be the dream job), I put together a book cover for a book that I really enjoyed. I read Cormac McCarthy's _The Road_ about a year ago, and was struck by McCarthy's barren, ash-colored landscape. I couldn't picture any images from this book in color—only charcoal or graphite—the simplest, barest tools for this story set in the aftermath of the apocalypse.

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.

J'Adore Paris!

I just got back from a drawing trip in the City of Light (I say "just," but I guess it's been a couple of weeks already). I've started to look at the drawings I made there and thought this one would make a perfect introduction. It expresses the way I feel in Paris — not a self-portrait, but a kind of portrait of my feeling when I'm there, sitting in the Tuileries or drifting down the street.

Shakespeare in the Park: Richard III

Sunday night, I had another drawing outing with friends to see the New York Classical Theatre's production of Richard III. This event had many things to recommend itself to us, chief among them that it's free (!), that it's outside in gorgeous Central Park, and that it's Shakespeare. As a New Yorker, summer to me means Shakespeare in the Park, but I'm tired of the Public Theater's productions at the Delacorte Theater, where you wait in that giant line to see the latest Hollywood defector try their hand at mangling the Bard (here's lookin' at you, Julia Stiles. But I don't mean you, Jamey Sheridan! You, I totally heart). Last time, I got in line at 3 am (yes, in the morning!) only to *not* get a ticket! Outrageous! I shook my fist at Joe Papp and said never again! The NYCT's production is outdoors for reals, as in, no amphitheater, no seats, no concessions, no line to wait in. There are no biggie stars, but I like that better, 'cause then, in my mind, that actor can completely be villainous King Richard III. The actors are good (and are good at projecting), and for fun, the action and the audience picks up and moves every 10 minutes or so. It can be a little distracting, but it can also be a little fun.

It was a mild, balmy June late afternoon, and you could barely hear the car horns of Central Park West, when Richard made his power-grab.

I, that am rudely stamped, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them -
Why I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.

The Queen and Buckingham making up, though not for real, and not for long.

Richard slaughters pretty much his entire family, but comes off with the big prize.

And he'd have gotten away with it, if it weren't for those pesky ghosts. And Richmond.

Matmos and So Percussion at (Le) Poisson Rouge

I went with some friends to hear Matmos and So Percussion play a show at (Le) Poisson Rouge this week. Lichens opened for them. I've never heard of him, but he played an interesting set consisting of only one song. Although perhaps when a song passes the ten minute mark, you make some allowances. It was just one guy, whom the interweb tells me is named Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. I'd like to tell you more about how he made music, but all I can say is that it seemed to come from a box with a lot of wires coming out, which he would manipulate to different effects. And his incredible voice. It was an ambient swirl of sound with his otherworldly vocals on top. His visuals were extra trippy too, with brightly colored shapes dripping into each other.

I've seen So Percussion a couple of times (see my earlier post about them here), but never Matmos. While waiting for them to come on, my friends and I discussed the cactus sitting on a stool. It seemed to be wired up, but just how would it be "played" or "percussed?" Our only answer: very carefully.

So Percussion did not disappoint. They did indeed "play" the cactus, coming out one at a time, and gathering around it, plucking the spines in playful counterpoint. The cactus is a good example of the unexpectedness and the humor that I've come to associate with So Percussion. They seem like pretty quiet guys. They don't do a lot of stage theatrics and hardly any talking, but they always provide some surprises and a lot of their humor comes through in the music.

So Percussion moves around a bit onstage, but the duo who are Matmos pretty much stay put behind tables. From where I was standing, I had a hard time seeing them. Now that I've been introduced to their music, I'd love to hear more. Matmos makes music out of everything from pouring water to samples of heart murmurs. And it's not just an exercise in musical idiosyncrasy, they actually make it tuneful and exciting to listen to. They also seem like the Gilbert and George of the experimental music world and how can you not like that? Also, I read that Drew Daniel teaches at my alma mater, Johns Hopkins! Charm City, indeed. Despite my obstructed view, I managed one drawing of MC Schmidt as he told a ridiculously funny story.

Fashion Figure Drawing

It's been a couple of months since I came at you with some figure drawing. I found a couple of drawings I did this past spring with one of my favorite models, Kika, wearing one of my favorite dresses: a fringed LBD (little black dress, for those fashion-challenged among you). She puts on a bob wig and because it's roughly the same haircut that I have, I almost feel like I'm drawing myself. Except thinner, more glamorous, and way more limber. Plus the attitude. I tried to capture that attitude (a little cute, a little sexy, a little f-you) in these two.

Look and Listen Festival

This past weekend, I went the Look and Listen Festival to see and hear! The stated mission of the festival is to allow audiences to "simultaneously experience a stimulating visual environment for new music and a vibrant aural context for contemporary visual art. " That sounds about perfect for me, since everything I experience wants to come out of my hands as drawings. It was a varied program and first up was So Percussion, a group I had heard back in March at Carnegie Hall (You can see some of my iphone drawings of that performance in my friend Julia's blog) playing a piece by John Cage called "but what about the sound of crumpling paper." I could only see a couple members of the group, but here is Jason Treuting scribbling on paper during the piece.

The inspiration for the colors and shapes that surround him came from the paintings in the gallery by Beatrice Mandelman. They seemed to go perfectly with Cage's composition, with their playful and surprising swoops and blocks of color. The piece had a lot of quiet spaces, punctuated by the sounds of scribbling, or crumpling paper (for instance) and it's true what I wrote at the bottom of the drawing that sometimes I was afraid to make a mark because I felt shy about the sound it would make.
Between musical pieces, journalist Lara Pellegrini interviewed the gallery owner, Gary Snyder, who gave us some background on Beatrice Mandelman. I loved the paintings, and if you're in the neighborhood (26th and 8th Ave), you should definitely check it out.

Next, Phyllis Chen played three pieces on the toy piano, and if you think that sounds cutesy, then just check out the drawing I made of her while she played:

"Intense!" is what I wrote there on the side, and she and the pieces she played definitely are. While you might think the sound of the toy piano is sweet and tinkly, Chen's approach is more like an attack and she really fights that sweetness to create some surprising and stirring music. She debuted a piece by Karlheinz Essl, here where she reaches into the piano to stir the strings. A microphone inside the piano fed the sound into a computer which gave it back as an echo, a reverberation, a memory?

Here's the composer, Karlheinz Essl as he was being interviewed about the piece.

The choral group Meridionalis gave their debut performance. Their focus is ecclesiastical music from the colonial period of Latin America. Hopefully the drawing gives you an idea; it was just beautiful. They were all holding their music books, but I loved how gracefully they all held their hands. I think it was the sublime music directing their body language.

Later in the evening, the conductor of the ensemble, Sebastian Zubieta, was interviewed. Every sentence was accompanied by a flowing gesture, as if he were still conducting.

After the intermission, Jason Treuting of So Percussion played a piece called "The King of Denmark" which was one of the quietest pieces of the night. The program notes tell me that the composer, Morton Feldman, wrote it to only employ the performer's hands, fingers or arms as opposed to sticks or mallets. And the delicate gestures of the musician's hands were what I noticed most of all in this piece, which is why it's mostly hands.

And cropped and cleaned up to emphasize the hands.

The only drawing I didn't get to finish was for one of my favorite pieces of the night, So Percussion playing "an imaginary city," composed by Jason Treuting (below, during his interview) as a site specific work for the train stations of Brattleboro and Bellows Falls, VT. The piece was perfect, but I could wish it longer so I'd have time to finish the drawing!


When I was a kid, the thing I loved most in the world was the idea of unicorns. The hope that somewhere out there in the world, was a creature so shy, so sensitive, so beautiful that she never let herself be seen was appealing beyond anything. Like a horse, but a million times better! When my father took me to see the movie The Last Unicorn, I was in seventh heaven! I read the book not too long ago and found it a bit different as an adult, but the first sentence did take me back to that place: "The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone." Just for fun, I designed a book cover showing the unicorn alone in her lilac wood. I couldn't even wait to add type, I just had to share!

And here's a close up of that lonely unicorn.

"We shape our tools. And then our tools shape us."

That's from Marshall McLuhan, my man for saying things that make my brain go fizzy. I thought it was an appropriate title for the theme of today's post: tools! The things we make are always a wonder to me. Giant buildings and bridges, huge interstates, our creations cover (too much of?) the Earth. How did we make them? How did we go from these soft, pink, fairly useless creatures to Masters of the Universe? Our machines and tools explain a lot about that, and how we think, and then how our thinking is shaped in turn (thanks Marshall!).

I did two of these. Somehow when I finish a drawing, I want to draw the same thing again, but different.

And here's the man with the hammer!

Fairy Mural

This past week I did a private commission, a nursery mural. Painting on the walls feels so forbidden and fun! The client wanted fairies, butterflies and dragonflies, as well as mushrooms and flowers and animals, and I was happy to oblige her. As a big fan of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, and other classic fairy tale illustrators, I've been drawing fairies and elves since I was a kid, so this was kind of the dream job!
Since the mural was to include so many elements, I started out with a pretty detailed thumbnail

as well as a color sketch

By the end of day one:

Day two:

Day three:

And by day four, it was done!

A few details:

It was rewarding to see my client get teary-eyed looking at it!