Sketchbook
Jimi
posted: March 26, 2010
Here's another one just for fun. Jimi. I love Jimi above all others. A couple of weeks ago we had some dear friends visiting. We were sitting at the kitchen table having a good conversation with the usual insane spread that my wife always seems to conjure out of thin air. My friend Dennis was telling me a good story and suddenly in the background I hear "the Wind Cries Mary" on the radio. I continued smiling and nodding. After about 15 seconds Maria butts in - "Dennis, he's not listening anymore. Jimi Hendrix is on the radio". Busted. I had all sorts of distracting shenanigans going on in here until my wife came in and demanded that I paint all that crap out. As always she was right. Thanks Maria.   I used a popular photo by (I think) the late great Jim Marshall for this. RIP.
JD Salinger
posted: January 28, 2010
News that the reclusive author J.D. Salinger passed away sent me back through the years in several ways. This is a sketch from a a couple of years ago for a job that died a premature death. The writer was sent out to do a "Finding Salinger" story - a task at which he thankfully failed. I remember thinking that Mr. Salinger chose not to be a public figure, and how it was offensive that somebody was out to find him simply because there was no other news going on. In today's culture of everybody being famous on Youtube, twitter, blogs(!), and the internets in general, Salinger's one and out strategy is particularly refreshing. He said what he had to say, and that was it.

Twenty or so years ago my brother Kyle and I had a strange hobby. We had these great maps that showed every road - paved, dirt, abandoned. Some even cut through people's yards. We'd spend a weekend trying to figure out how to get from the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border all the way up to the US/Canada border using only dirt roads. We had a Suzuki Sidekick, a case of beer (Hey, we were in the woods) and a box full of heavy metal tapes. Often, we'd pass through Cornish, NH, Salinger's hometown, and a couple of times I imagined I spotted him ducking behind a tree or a rock. Of course, it wasn't him and it didn't matter. Those trips were like our little mountain version of Holden Caulfield's journey. But with a Metallica soundtrack and Budweiser.
Brown is the new purple
posted: January 20, 2010

This is what I love about politics. The election of Scott Brown to the US Senate last night was an upset for the ages. It’s right up there with the Red Sox’ victory over the Yankees in the ALCS in ’04,  Spinks beating Ali, and the US Olympic hockey team beating Russia in 1980. As pure political theater, it was as entertaining as anything I remember. Martha Coakley, the democratic candidate was pretty much considered the incumbent and the election itself was more ceremonial than anything. The republican candidate (just those words in Massachusetts brings a smug grin from most people around here) was treated the way an eight year old would be for attempting a magic trick at a family party – “That’s cute kid, very nice, now run along”.

 

As the campaign rolled along, we saw less and less of Coakley, which was okay because what we did see was a tight lipped, overly cautious, entitled politician who seemed to think that mixing it up with the electorate was a task that was beneath her. You almost expected to see her wearing latex gloves while out shaking hands with the people, and the way she showed her teeth was more grimace than smile. It takes a very special kind of politician to lose a 30 point lead to a republican in Massachusetts. Coakley seemed to be a great AG, but she belongs in politics about as much as I do. Talk about a charisma vacuum. It’s as though someone took Mike Dukakis, rolled him in with John Kerry, and then drained what little charm remained, if any.

 

On the other side you had Brown, driving from town to town in his battered pickup truck with 200,000 miles on it. He seemed to genuinely enjoy getting out and asking people for their vote. He’s as off the cuff and thrown together as Mitt Romney is shined and polished. While Brown was on television every day with his ads showing him in the family kitchen talking to you like a neighbor, Coakley was nowhere to be seen, only responding eventually with a barrage of negative ads.

 

As far as why Brown won, as always in politics, it’s as complicated as trying to design a flow chart on why someone falls in love. Lame lazy de facto incumbent meets eager, good looking refreshing challenger. A bad economy where the working people (those who are left) are asked to pay for someone else’s –war, bailout, healthcare, etc. We love an underdog in this country. But bottom line is that the country found out what we in Massachusetts have known for a long time. It’s the independents who rule this state. We elected Bill Weld and Mitt Romney not as republicans, but as a repudiation to an entrenched one party system. Same with Brown. We’re not a blue state, we’re not a red state, we’re a purple state.

 

After Brown’s rambling victory speech in which he seemed star struck at the idea of talking to the president, being onstage with Doug Flutie, and mentioning more than once that his daughter is available, I’ll bet that first twinge of buyer’s remorse may have flickered across many minds. There’s a big difference between politics and governance.

 

Ray Charles
posted: March 2, 2009
Here's something I've been poking away at between sketches, finals, phone calls and jam sessions with the kids. I've been trying to get my digital wotk to look less polished, while trying to polish up any traditional media work I do. I have dozens of half done pieces lying around and in files and it's fun to revisit them. It's also very productive to hit "delete" when the time comes.
Obamamania
posted: August 12, 2008
The final cover
It seems that most of the interesting projects that have flown through the studio this year come with the provision that I sign an oath of omerta until a grand public unveiling. The problem is that after years of doing this professionally, once a job is completed and delivered I’m on to the next and I seldom look back. So it was a nice surprise when my friend Mark Penta emailed me a photo of this book cover that I finished months ago.

Cherlynne Li art directed and just let me do my thing. I hope the book sells well in spite of that.
Sorta kinda finished sketch
Obama has two very different looks. When he's all serious and stuff, he looks much older than when he smiles. I am the opposite. When I smile my face folds itself into several dozen creases and I start to resemble a shrunken apple head. Remember those? I loved them. Anyway.
The arm is awkward because originally it was going to wrap around to the back cover. If we had decided to go in this direction I'd have resolved that problem. Really.
Some thumbnails. It's at this point when I think to myself that the client will change their mind and use a photo. After years of doing this I still get a little panic rush that helps the creativity along.
Such a nice young man.
George Carlin
posted: June 23, 2008
For better or worse I received a good part of my philosophical education through comedians when I was growing up.  In his early days, George Carlin was best known for his “7 dirty words” routine, which was quickly committed to memory by anyone who heard it. When I was a kid, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the date of any important historical event but those 7 words were instantly burned into my cerebral cortex.

I’m hoping they will be my last words.

In his later years Carlin evolved into more of an apocalyptic philosopher who still threw in a fart joke while ruminated on the absurdity of a loving, caring God. I think he referred to the Big Guy as “The invisible man in the sky who will damn you to eternal hell and flames to suffer forever if you break any of his rules….but he LOVES you”. Or something like that.
Carlin was also the narrator for the “Thomas the Train” tv show. I got a huge kick out of that when my kids used to watch it.

My brothers and I used to listen to a lot of comedy albums as kids. Looking back, the ones that stuck were, in particular order:

George Carlin – Class Clown
Richard Pryor – That N-‘s crazy
Steve Martin _Wild and Crazy Guy
Bill Cosby – Wonderfulness
Cheech and Chong – Big Bambu

Anyway, here’s to Carlin. I hope the invisible man in the sky has a spot for him.
There Will Be Mud
posted: February 26, 2008
I'm looking forward to tonight's debate. I've been fascinated at the way Hillary has melted down with each loss to Obama. It seems as though her campaign is throwing the different sides of her personality at us the way a bucket brigade would throw water on a barn fire. I smell futility.

It's also interesting to see how Barack Obama has gained a such a strong following by being a more focused personality, but much murkier policy maker than Hillary. They are two sides of the same coin. Change.

This was a cover for the Providence Phoenix - the Boston Phoenix' offspring. The Boston PHX was my first steady freelance gig. They're fun to work for because I can do pretty much what I want, and the dealines are pretty tight. The work I do for them tends to be more spontaneous than some of my more rendered stuff, and it straddles my cartoonist/illustrator personalities nicely.

For this kind of thing, I try not to look at any reference photos if I know the personalities well enough.
The way I saw it.
posted: October 11, 2007
Like many of you, I start the day with the biggest, strongest bucket of coffee I can rustle up. There's a Starbucks up the road and the drive up there is a pleasure. I go past the local farm where the change of season presents itself daily, I get to play “beat the crossing guard”, and that guy who stands in front of his house pacing and chain smoking all day never let’s me down (such dedication!) The early morning joggers, walkers, bikers, and exercisers of all stripes get me inspired to go out and chase them all down.

One of the things I snicker at every morning in a pompous, superior way is the "The Way I See It" campaign that 'Bucky's has printed on their cups. They're all inspirational-ish sayings that you would hear on Oprah if you weren't actually trying to make a living. This morning's was something about warning us not to turn into our enemies in the pursuit of justice. Good point, but I feel like a tool when I get my wisdom from overly sentimental tripe that’s printed on a coffee cup.

*reprinted from yesterday's edition.
Seeing what you believe, see?
posted: September 7, 2007
I started this as a doodle while I was on the phone. When I began, the proportions where "correct", but I didn't see Sean Penn in there, just his likeness.
After a drawing version of "Fight Club" ensued I finally whipped him into shape.
For a long time now I’ve wondered why I tend towards exaggeration. It’s not an intentional thing, but more a reflexive impulse to underline and emphasize the way I see things.

I’ve tried drawing over projected images a la Norman Rockwell (I used to call this “tracing”, but there’s more to it than that.)
I’ve tried grid drawing, and the drawing on the right side of the brain thing. To me, things never look quite right until I’ve thrown some elbows and pushed the subject around a bit until I get things my way.

I think I actually see in exaggeration. People look like this to me.

Lou Brooks put it best over on Zina Saunders great portrait of Joe Newton –“Same uncanny quality as the great comic book masters. By that I mean, if you begin to deconstruct their drawings, you can easily feel that it's drawn all wrong -- but really, it's oh so right! And moving anything in the drawing around causes it to start to collapse, because it is not a literal interpretation at all, but some weird delightful thing in the wiring between their eye and hand. They just see things incorrectly -- which is really 100% correct.

Jules Pfeiffer said something or other once (boy, do I gotta paraphrase here) about artists being able to paint the sky red because they already know it's blue... and them there NORMAL people GOTTA paint it blue, because otherwise, everybody will think they're stupid.”

I’ve been enjoying just plain drawing lately, and there are times when I’d love to say to an art director that we shouldn’t go past the sketch phase, because it won’t get any better, it’ll just be more “finished”.
Musical Memories
posted: August 16, 2007
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco
I don’t have a sense of smell. Never have. Sometimes this is good (I changed a lot of diapers when my children were small) and other times it leaves me feeling as though I’m missing a critical part of life. For me, that magical link between the olfactory and memory doesn’t exist. Remember the smell of cookies baking when you got home from grade school? I don’t. How about the smell of your newborn child’s skin? Not me. How about that first whiff of Spring in the air on a blustery March day? Nope. I’m told that smell and memory are lashed together like King Kong and the Empire State Building, or Ahab and Moby. You smell my drift.

For me, instead of smells being the exit ramp to Memory Lane, it’s music. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John brings me right back to a nasty bout of insomnia I had for a time when I was around ten years old. ”You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor puts me back on Nantucket with my mother during the summers when I was younger. I heard the song “DOA” by Bloodrock recently, and the hair on my arm stood up because that song was the soundtrack to a nightmare I had when I was very young. And yeah, there’s “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead that brings me right back to stage diving at the Channel in Boston and getting knocked out.

Every few years I reach the end of the musical cul de sac I’m strolling through and it’s difficult to make my way out. I usually try to just keep going straight and hack my way through the brush, forcing myself to listen to music I haven’t heard before. Or, more likely, I’ll try to appreciate a band that all the critics have proclaimed brilliant, but to me, seems anemic.

In 2002, Wilco was that band.

I bought Wilco’s album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” after reading all the glowing reviews and after a couple of listens I chalked it up to another case of record reviewers having themselves a little joke at our expense. Jeff Tweedy sounded like he had just woken up, the songs were disjointed, and it seemed like there had been a fistfight between the songwriter and the producer and the listening audience somehow got pulled into it and got it’s ass kicked.

In the summer of 2002 I decided to attend the Illustration Academy, which was run by Mark English (and featured, among others, Sterling Hundley) and his son John.  The drive from my house near Boston would take about 9 hours, so it’s natural that I only remembered to bring one CD. Of course, it was the CD I just described above, so I took it as a chance to make a music appreciation breakthrough on my way to a creative breakthrough. I listened to that damned disc for 9 hours straight, and by the time I got to Richmond, VA, it was starting to grow on me. Of course, when I got there, all ready for 3 uninterrupted weeks of self-improvement, the calls for jobs started flooding in. Good jobs, too. Not just the usual spots that you can toss off over night. So, after a week and a half, I finally gave up and headed for home.

By now, the Wilco disc had settled in nicely, I knew the words, was used to the idiosyncratic structure of the songs, and I thought the album was brilliant. Happily driving north on 95 on a bright sunny June day, I looked up the road and saw a car silently rolling over. “Huh, that’s funny, that car’s just turning over and over” I thought. As I approached, it seemed a little unreal. There were no crashing sounds, no dramatic camera angles, just a one shot 200 yard away view of a non descript car rolling over the median and then coming to a rest on the other side of the road.

By the time I pulled up, several trucks had stopped as well. The car’s roof was almost flattened, all the windows smashed and the woman who had been driving was staggering around mumbling something about needed to get her CD’s. The highway was strewn with debris from the car - cups, candy wrappers clothing,  CD’s, a sippie cup.

Hold on there, I thought. That’s what my kids drink from.

I asked the woman, who was now sitting on the road holding her bleeding forehead, “Are you alone”? She didn’t seem to speak English, but she pointed a shaking finger at the back of the car “CD!” the yelled, very anxiously. “CD”.

Shit. Seat? As in “child seat”?

I looked at the rear end of the car and it’s smashed in roof, and perused my fellow bystanders. They were all southern trucker types. Not one of them under 6’4”, 250 lbs. I felt like a sapling in a redwood forest. No way were they going to fit through that narrow assed slit that used to be a rear window. We were all on the same page though, and without discussion, decided that I was going in. One of the big guys had some sort of metal tool and cleared the remaining safety glass shards from the edges of the opening I’d go through with one sweep of his arm. I squeezed through and breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that all that was back there was the usual detritus that’s left of your possessions after you roll your car.

 I heard someone say “Fire” quietly ( I couldn’t smell smoke) beyond the cramped, wrinkled confines of the car, and started to maneuver my way around to get the hell out of there when I sensed movement. The passenger’s side front seat had been pushed back into the back seat. But there was a strange plastic thing between the two. It was vaguely familiar. “Hey”, I thought, “That looks like the bottom of our booster seat at home”.  I lifted up the front seat and there were these big brown eyes looking blankly up at me. I thought it was a doll at first. Then the eyes blinked. “Uh, there’s a kid back here” I said calmly. I tried to lift him up and out of the space, but he was buckled in pretty tight. “He’s strapped too tightly, I can’t get him loose” I called, and almost immediately a huge, tattooed, fleshy arm holding what looked like an even bigger knife came swinging in through the space, flailing blindly. “Hey, you’re gonna kill me!” I yelled. I took the knife and carefully cut the straps holding the little guy into his seat, then gently eased him out, praying he’d emerge from his little space all in one piece. After handing the boy out to the many waiting big strong arms, I squeezed my way back through the opening, vaguely aware that there was a smoke taste in my mouth and my eyes were stinging.

I stood on the road watching the men bring the boy over to his dazed, bleeding mother and looked at the thick black smoke billowing from under the crinkled hood of what used to be a car. I felt as though I had been watching these events unfold, as opposed to participating in them. As the first responders arrived, I kicked my way through the shattered glass and debris, back to my still running car with it’s driver side door ajar and the song “I am trying to break your heart” playing through the speakers on the other side of the highway, got in, and drove away into the bright June morning.

A quarter hour or so later, I noticed the steering wheel shaking, and thought, “Oh great, the damned car’s coming apart”. But then I realized the car was fine. It was me that was a little shaky. I called my wife and said to her, “I know it’s a cliché and all, but I just pulled a kid from a burning car”. She had kind of a “Oh, that’s nice” sort of reaction, which is just about right. It wasn’t a big dramatic thing, it was more a case of following events to their logical conclusion without a whole lot of debate.

So, when I hear Jeff Tweedy’s voice now, I think of burning cars, frightened children, and perfect June days.
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