My son Alistair and I had fun one afternoon making a film, using one of his action figures:
Being playful is the best way to unlock creative flow. It’s summer time, and I thought of how I felt when I’d play when I was little. The way I felt when I was young glows inside still with every creative move I make, this initial childhood playfulness is at the heart of creative feeling. When I was little, I’d find every space and surface around (bay windows, odd corners, ledges outside, etc) that looked like they’d be great interior spaces for very small people to live in. I’d get some small furniture (or make some out of spools, caps from bottles, wooden blocks, spare Barbie accessories and other things) and set up a little world there on the ledge or in the corner or whatever space I found). This thought and memory made me want to play again the other day, so for the fun of it, I asked my youngest son to grab one of his action figures. I kept thinking of all those summer camp films I made with musician Jerry Zalnoski “Jerry Zee”, at Paideia Summer Camp in Atlanta, and how much we laughed making those films (they weren’t bad!). With this same giddiness, my son and I spent about an hour goofing around filming this. We plan to make lots more! P.S. The bed in this film was actually a book by Jane Smiley that I illustrated, THE GEORGES AND THE JEWELS, all covered up in cloth napkins.
I’ve been thinking of David and Goliath. David was small and young, Goliath a hulking Philistine machine of war. When Goliath insulted David by saying the Israelites were weak and their God was, too, David’s determination to stand up to Goliath was actually a determination to believe God would go through this battle with him. It is as if we see David as one with God at the moment he is resolved to go up against a taunting enemy, in every way a giant. David does not fear for even a moment that he’d be alone or in any way lose this battle. And as David was a young shepherd boy, not at all a warrior (and he didn’t even wear armor because it was too big for him), we are captivated by his courage, it is so improbable that David could win. David took down the mighty giant that would have crushed him between his fingers. The story of David is meant to give courage to the small and weak, so everyone will know that God helps the least of us, the weakest amongst us. I like that David was small and weak, but was a king in the making.
This is a page from my first published book, PUP IN SCHOOL (Crown Books for Young Readers). I created this book because when I was teaching at the wonderful Atrium School in Boston, I noticed that when I wanted to talk about ways we could get along better together in class, using animals rather than people in cartoon scenes went down much better. In a group meeting, if I drew “doggy children” having socially difficult situations, all the children were able to see the behaviors that needed modifying, and they enthusiastically offered all kinds of tips and opinions. But if I were to draw realistic looking children having a hard time getting along in class, the students gathered ’round the drawing board tended to keep quieter and not talk much. They didn’t feel safe enough emotionally to offer solutions to difficult social situations when realistic children were drawn in scenes of social difficulty. But the doggy children got them very involved and animated in discussing how to make these social miseries go away. The scene above is when Rodney Dog learns to try sharing as a way of making friends. (I probably should not have used real children’s names, always felt a bit bad about that). Anyway, I think we as adults are the same, because, who wants to have their faults (or behaviors they’re not aware of) held up as a bad example? Although, our culture seems to be producing a lot of shame-based television these days. The “learn by humiliation” or even just “subject yourself to humiliation” kind of shows are out there, and it reminds me of what the Romans were doing before Rome fell (watch people get killed by lions in the arena).
It interests me how our thoughts are like holograms in our minds, or movies, just a few actions away from becoming “real”. One decision can pull the holographic idea from mid air, into your hands. It’s that decision which drives the creative outcome in a way, because unless we act on our creative drive, the ideas remain in the air. Sometimes there are simple blocks which keep us from taking that one step forward into activating creative visions. Taking the first step to actualize the creative thought is fundamental to being a creator, and even then there are odd obstacles to overcome. One joke people make about becoming a published author (and it’s true) is how hard it is to go buy a big brown envelope to mail a manuscript to a publisher. That one thing, which could be fun to do (going to a store and buying a bunch of large, brown envelopes) becomes impossible for some reason! (Now, you don’t need to buy such an envelope I guess as everything is digital anyway). Whatever it is that blocks you from getting that creative idea into this dimension, and out of the ether, is important to remove. And after that, don’t let any obstacle great or small keep your ideas from coming to life.
Babies are no fools. They sense and see and feel exactly what is going on around them. They’re innocent, though, too, in that they are vulnerable and subject to our actions and choices. And, they’re learning how to deal with motor skills and how to handle all that sensory in-put. They’re amazing. I believe the ones coming through now are the ones who will both inherit all the choices made before them by everyone else who came to live on Planet Earth, and they’re also the ones to have the burden to fix it. But I think they’re more ready and more “knowing” than ever. These are incredible children. Recently, at the Westport Public Library, in the children’s section, where I was set up to draw with children, I came across two toddlers who stunned me. They were strong and bold, kind and sweet. They walked right up to a little easel and took up the charcoal. Instead of putting it directly into their mouths (which is what I had expected they might do), they began to draw, looking at me with big sparks in their eyes. They were not trying to get my approval so much as they were trying to show me how the truly “got” what it was I was doing. I was so impressed with their powerful personalities, I can’t stop thinking about them!
Dreamed of a pool in an interior space, right on the shore. An enormous surprise wave came, followed by another, with the sea crashing into the pool area. The second wave became a wall of water, and stayed that way (a clear wall made of water). Other waves came and went. Water walls rose and new enormously powerful waves arrived. Waves began to reach the stairway steps of this building. I ran up the stairs as I sensed ominous danger. Others decided to frolic in the waves, which I warned against.
My entire childhood, during school, I was secretly studying people visually, how they looked, how they moved, how light and shadow defined their features, what the space around them looked like. I pretended to go along with the teacher’s agenda, but the visual rapture of the human figure was where I beamed my true focus and attention. The first day in college, art college, was the best moment of my school life. It was a studio class that would last from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with a break for lunch. AND, we were talking about “negative space”—the art teacher was actually verbalizing aloud the exact secret I kept to myself all those years. She wanted us to explore and make art based on figures and objects and what the space between them was like. I was thrilled, I had finally arrived, I landed in my rightful place on earth. This study above was done in graduate school, in a life study session in the Chelsea area of NYC, where the School of Visual Arts buildings are located. I remember hearing the city sounds outside from this lofty studio, and I was in heaven. I was exactly where I wanted to be.
Automatic drawing, drawing in a trance-like stream 0f consciousness, is fun and surprising. My sketchbooks are full of such drawing meditations. You don’t know who will come visit you on the paper. I go with the feeling, the flow of the ink. Then I get to know these drawn characters, and myself, a little better.
At the start of summer, I was at Compo Beach and saw a nice elderly gentleman reading a book. His hat was floppy (I liked that about him). H got up and ran into the water for a dip, and sat back down to read. I wondered then who he was and imagined he was someone’s grandfather, maybe from England (the floppy hat reminded me of the “British beach cap”, a hanky tied at on all 4 corners and worn on top of the head). The fun thing about drawing people is wondering who they are. One glimpse of another’s life is enough to stir the imagination. This piece was also published in www.westportnow.com
This is a study of a child rider, one of the many I made before writing and illustrating A BLUE RIBBON FOR SUGAR. There is nothing more wonderful than studying the movements and linear grace of children, but drawing horses in motion is just as hypnotizing. I probably love no other occupation as much as drawing children with horses.