Back in January, I decided that my new notebook needed a guardian spirit to watch over things. Emily Dickinson seemed right.
I felt like Emily D kept a good watch, so when I finished that notebook, I decided to continue the practice. I burned through 8 notebooks this year, so I had to pick 8 spirits…
For the next notebook, the collage artist Hannah Höch.
Then, since summer is a hateful season to me, I went with H.W. and Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood.
George Strait’s hat, swiped, again, from The New Yorker.
Walt Whitman, with my 2-year-old’s scribbles over his face.
A drawing of a robot by my 4-year-old.
Finally, for my last notebook of the year, here’s Jack Lemmon from The Apartment.
September 1, 2017
[Casa Santo Domingo, Antigua Guatemala.] It is a wonderful strange experience to drive into a place at dark, in the pouring rain, to try to piece together what the place is, but then see it in the full light of the morning…
September 2, 2017
A woman and her son watching the maccaws. Women carrying baskets on their heads. Men driving pickup trucks with the beds full of flowers. Boys carrying bouquets. Schoolgirls standing on the street corner and giggling and eating ice cream…
September 3, 2017
My horoscope told me “Visite la iglesia” so that’s just what I did: wandered the ruins at the San Francisco Inglesia, and threw in a prayer for good measure. Then I went for an avocado ice cream at La Tienda de Doña Gavi (The Store of Mrs. Gavi) and strolled around as the afternoon storm clouds filled the valley…
Reading some of composer Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians, I came across this piece of advice for composing, which I thought was spectacularly bad: “If you are starting out on a composition, begin by working everything out in your head. Do not try out a piece on your instrument until you have fully conceived it in your mind.”
This might be good advice for a musical genius, like Beethoven, Mozart, or Robert Schumann, but it runs counter to my own personal experience with art. Very few of my decent pieces have come from me thinking in my head, as in, thinking through a piece and then sitting down and executing it. In fact, I don’t know if that’s ever happened. Most of my good ideas have come from an exploration of specific materials, a kind of back and forth between eye and hand and head. These collages are good examples: I did not set out with any kind of purpose or ideas before I made them, merely some time, space, and materials.
I know some writers who claim to work out all their writing in their heads before hitting the paper, but 1) I suspect they’re liars 2) even if they do have it worked out, it’s in getting the words on paper and then editing those words that the ideas take on any kind of real form. As a young artist, I thought the ideas had to come first before you wrote, and now I think the opposite: You start working with your hands and the ideas come.
Better advice than Schumann’s might be from a newspaper clipping I saved called “How To Draw Blood” (you could cross out the last word), in which a worker at a free clinic started out by saying, “Develop intelligence in your fingers.” Her point was that every vein in every arm is different, and you not only have to think, you have to feel your way through a lot of medical procedures. The feeling is as important as the thinking.
Best not to overestimate the intelligence in your head: your fingers have a lot to teach it.
See also: Don’t Ask.
Kafka: “I have hardly anything in common with myself…”
Some fun: photocopy a drawing by an older kid, and have a younger kid color it.
My son Jules (2 1/2) recently discovered drawing and he loves music like his brother, Owen (he’ll be 5 next month), so I photocopied a drawing of an orchestra Owen made back in May, and Jules went to town on the photocopies with Slick Stix, Do-A-Dots, and some other markers.
They’re my new favorite drawings.
The threat of nuclear war has been with us for over 70 years, and dreading the end of the world is an ancient human activity, but recent headlines have put it all all top-of-mind again, petrifying many of us. (The upcoming solar eclipse isn’t putting me at ease, either.)
We all deal in different ways. For me, it’s drawing comics full of skulls — little memento mori that keep bubbling up from some dark vat of goo in my brain. I’ll keep drawing them as long as they keep visiting me.
The world may end. You’re right. But that’s not a reason to be scared. None of us know what will happen. Don’t spend time worrying about it. Make the most beautiful thing you can. Try to do that every day. That’s it. You know? What are you working for, posterity? We don’t know if there is any posterity.
Emphasis mine. More skulls on my Instagram.