Happy Bloomsday!

Years ago, I sat in the archives of The New York Public Library and drew a picture of Vladimir Nabokov’s copy of ULYSSES. When they brought it out to me it had so much life to it, it seemed to glow. Every single page was heavily annotated and marked up in mostly red pen that the book was soft like a pillow. As you can see, Nabokov had even written the date of Bloomsday on the cover in pencil. It was a wonderful object to spend time with and to look at. It was a wonderful object to draw.

Happy Bloomsday!

Some Recent Thrilling Sightings

Here’s a sketchbook spread of some recent thrilling bird sightings. Actually, since drawing the list, my birding has gotten even MORE thrilling. It’s my first migration season and it’s absolutely incredible out there. Birds! The best anti-depressant I have found!

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Sketchbook Spread

Happy post Thanksgiving to all! I hope those who observed this American tradition had a good one. I heard that it was the 95th anniversary of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and instead of watching it, I decide to draw floats from its earliest years. I swear I could have drawn pages and pages of these amazing incarnations of “upside down puppets” as the original creator Tony Sarg thought of them.
Can you believe that they never brought back this Pinocchio again?? Amazingly, there is some footage of this painful looking schnoz floating down Broadway. You can view it here & here.

I don’t think I’ve watched this televised event for 30 years, but if I had a time machine would watch the parades from the 20’s and 30’s in a heartbeat! In the meantime, I’ll just keep drawing them.

Favorite Birds of New York

The bird spreads just keep on coming! Here’s a selection of my favorite birds I’ve seen in New York. This doesn’t include a heap of others I’ve seen and love like the Red Wing Blackbirds, The American Bittern–or was it a Green Heron? (The jury is still out!).

The Great Blue Heron panel is maybe my favorite panel I’ve done in awhile. Secret back story: I suffered a running injury this winter and still have not recovered, so my morning exercise and nature observing habits have been completely sidelined–which has been a challenge to say the least. Last month I started driving out each morning to an estuary near by to do some birding and writing on the memoir I’m working on. It turned out to be the perfect anecdote for both my work and heart. I’ve had some amazing encounters with great blue herons there. One morning I drove in and there were three just standing along the road. As I slowly approached them, they each took off slowly one by one. It took my breath away to watch these loping and enormous creatures–looking part dinosaur, part old monk in sweeping gray robes– fly above the green reeds. In these times when so much is on the screen and self curated, nature feels like something open and refreshingly disarming. I need to get back to working on the memoir, but this playful “hobby” of drawing birding lists has been deeply nourishing!

Vacation Birding Spreads

We traveled to California to see family and I did some birding and drawing while there. The top spread was birds I actually saw, while the bottom spread was inspired by all the Acorn Woodpeckers that were teaming in the backyard of my in-laws’ house. Woodpeckers are among my favorite birds by far and it was astounding to sit on their back deck and see an entire community of these striking woodpeckers nesting, calling and flying from tree to tree. I lost count at 15 one evening!

The trip home was hellish with canceled flights and motel rooms and panic and stress galore. It was nice to half listen to a movie and finish the woodpecker spread on the final flight back to New York when I was too tired to read or do much else.

Lately, my diary comics have been filled with nature and bird sightings, which is making me wonder if a bird themed issue of Paper Pencil Life might be a good idea. As I write this down, I worry about how boring this sounds, but the great thing about having your own comic series is that you can do whatever the heck you want! As it is, this has been such a pleasure to do–a way to be and see as I make my way in this world.

My World


In the dustbin of “Least Important News Items” comes this latest bulletin: I just finished this drawing for my “about” image for my web site. I’ve always loved drawings like this that illustrators and cartoonists do of themselves to somehow capture their world.  This was fun to make because I liked thinking of all the influences and interests that my comic work is made from which includes art and writing, but also memories and basic life stuff. I actually have that rug with the turned up corners in my studio. Gus isn’t usually so happy reading comics under my feet, but he does love some Calvin and Hobbes (as do I). Gye Smiley comics in the lower right hand corner was the comic book series I made as a kid. The portrait on the left is my grandfather. I drink lots of water out of that water bottle. The drawing taped to the lamp on the right is a picture Gus drew of me.

(You get the idea.)

It feels like an accurate depiction of how I do my work–balancing the needs of my home life with everything else. None of it is very organized and yet it somehow amounts to something.

Now back to more important things…



The Two Margarets


When I teach comics I talk a lot about drawing as a practice of trust.  The more you draw, the more you learn to trust your instincts and your sense of being able to render.  In the beginning there is very little trust, so we try to control it, fearing our imperfections.  Often we reach to the eraser to help us feel more in control, but I think doing this actually slows the progress.  It’s like using training wheels to learn how to ride a bike.  You can’t know you are capable of balancing a two wheeler until you remove the little wheels that keep you upright.

I’ve always been “able to draw,” and loved to do it as a kid, so I continued beyond the years when a lot of my friends stopped.  Then it eventually became something else more complicated and while I had ability to draw, like most people I struggled to control how that ability showed itself.  As a result, my drawing was often stiff and calculating.  Through consistency and experience, there were times I grew in my abilities, but I still didn’t entirely TRUST them.  I see this in my drawings over the years–both the leaps and the rigid moments and I can pinpoint exactly when my drawing suddenly just…felt better.

I have had the pleasure of illustrating Margaret Cho not once, but TWICE for books.  As she is one of my favorite comedians, this has been a sublime opportunity.  I recently posted the two portraits, 6 years apart in creation, on Tumblr and was immediately struck by the differences in quality.  They are both fine portraits, expressed to their own unique ends, but I couldn’t help but see a marked growth in the second.

A16I can remember feeling like the first one for my book Great Gals was a PUSH for me artistically.  I had so far relied on images of people that had straightforward, somewhat static expressions for the portraits I had done in the past, but I loved this photo of Cho laughing.  I thought it expressed something true of her essence and energy, both as a comedian and as a personality. I can remember drawing it and literally holding my breath, thinking about it deliberately as something of a challenge.  When I was done I liked it.  I was relieved that it came off and I was so pleased with it, I put it on the cover.

margaret cho.jpegLast fall Zest Books approached me to make 35 portraits of feminists on a tight deadline.  I got them all done in a little less than 6 weeks. The challenge for this job was simply how to get these drawings done in time, not in whether or not I could render their faces accurately.  As a result, I think the second drawing of Cho is just more fluid, more confident.  All the portraits are.  I wasn’t worried about it–I trusted my abilities enough to get it done.

Looking at these two drawings I see my development in trusting my lines and it suddenly occurred to me what had happened between the two drawings:


The practice of making comics regularly has pushed me as an artist.  Any consistent discipline does, but the practice of making comics have asked me to draw things I NEVER would have.  They have asked me to draw things like CARS and buildings and environments–things I actively AVOIDED drawing in the past.  As I learned that there is NOTHING you can’t make a comic about, I have also learned there is NOTHING I can’t draw if I put my pen to it.  I am not saying that I make perfect drawings, I just trust myself more to rise up to the challenge. Essentially that’s all self-confidence is: a sense of trust that we are at the core basically okay. Comics have given me a sense of trust that YEARS of drawing never did.  What a gift!

Like I said, ANY regular practice will help with getting better, but if you’ve been curious about comics PLEASE JOIN ME for the next session of Writing & Drawing Comics that starts on Monday. I can help with that sense of trust perhaps you’ve been seeking.  It’s one of my favorite things to do–and it’s …(wait for it)…FUN.

If you don’t join us, let this be a note to just keep going. NOTHING is a better teacher than doing.  Keep going and know the work will always show you how to do it.