Category Archives: Writing

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” – Dr. Seuss

Today is the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day. Part of me is sad that we have to dedicate a special day of the year to motivate our kids to read. But today is also Dr. Seuss’s birthday, so the other part of me encourages this celebration.

Dr. Seuss’s books have been an accessible entrée to reading for millions of children across multiple generations. I still remember my Dad teaching me to read Green Eggs & Ham. So if we have to choose a day to encourage our children to read, then we could not have picked a better one.

But why does Dr. Seuss continue to entertain us? It’s because he blended unique illustrations with wonderful stories, while using simple, yet poetic language. One could argue that the moral messages Dr. Seuss weaves into his stories resonate with us, particularly with children. But I wasn’t surprised that the unnamed character eventually tried green eggs and ham and liked them, or that the Grinch finally realized the Christmas spirit does not come from a store. The ends of those stories warmed my heart, but what I really wanted was a fox in a box, or one ride down Mount Crumpit. And how cool would it be to run your own circus? Through his unique art and captivating stories, Dr. Seuss ignites imaginations, and that’s why we love him.

Most parents will have read to their children before today, and will continue to do so afterwards. But while it’s Read Across America Day, let’s read to our kids, and let’s celebrate a brilliant artist who may just inspire the one who you are reading to.

P.S. Speaking of inspiration, Jason Seiler inspired my portrait of Dr. Seuss. Seiler, an artist who my friend at Adobe suggested I would like, is one of the most talented illustrators out there, and I encourage you to check out his website at www.jasonseiler.com. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Der Spiegel, Business Week, and many more titles. What I found unique about Jason is that he often paints using digital technology (using a Wacom Cintiq tablet and Photoshop). He uses traditional methods (i.e. lights over darks with an emphasis on values), but the technology allows him to speed up his process and easily make refinements to his work. I used Brushes Redux, an iPad app, to create this portrait of Dr. Seuss. Brushes Redux is not as powerful as Photoshop, but I enjoy painting digitally, and I’m going to continue to experiment with it.

In 2013, Jason created the cover art of Pope Francis for TIME’s Person of the Year issue. That’s a long way from drawing caricatures of his high school teachers. Congratulations on your success, Jason, and thanks for sharing your work with us.

Portrait Practice

MJF

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” – Stephen King

As you can tell from a few of my recent posts, I am in a portraiture phase.  I imagine most artists go through a period of wanting to draw the exact likeness of a human face.  All of our artistic paths start by drawing stick figures and smiley faces.  That might be the best time as an artist, as we draw and paint with reckless abandon.  We don’t care whether the eyes are in the correct proportion to the nose and mouth, or why hair is just so bloody hard to capture.  We just draw.

WT

But eventually, the urge for accuracy takes over.  This may be the point when artistic curses take hold.  We try to draw the shape of a head, and wonder why it looks more like an alien’s than a human’s.  We can’t understand why the nose is just so hard to place properly on the face.  And it certainly doesn’t help that artists like John Singer Sargent and Jonathan Yeo make it look so easy.

BART portrait

As Stephen King advises, to get better, we are left with only two methods, study and practice, with practice being the most important.  Included here is some of my recent practice.

Selfy

I once read that when you are learning to draw portraits, you shouldn’t practice drawing famous people, as others will know when you’ve messed up the resemblance.  Drawing unfamiliar faces is safer and will build your confidence.  There’s definitely not much room for error when drawing a self-portrait.  I asked my son whether the sketch above looked like me.  He said, “No.  Your neck is too skinny and your head looks like a balloon.”  Apparently, children also criticize with reckless abandon.

P.S. Stephen King suggests that would-be writers should read to become better at writing.  This would-be artist likes reading too.  So Stacie, please feel free to surprise me at Christmas with Jonathan Yeo’s new book, “The Many Faces of Jonathan Yeo.”

Conference Call Sketches

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My sister-in-law recently emailed me this Wall Street Journal article about Andy Silton, a retired money manager, who had a habit of drawing during meetings. During his 30 years in asset management, Andy filled 75 notebooks with his drawings. Andy now publishes a blog called Meditations on Money Management and he writes a bi-weekly column for the Raleigh News & Observer where he shares his knowledge of the investment industry along with a sketch or two from his notebooks. I also work in the investment industry, so I applaud Andy for successfully combining his knowledge of finance with his passion for drawing.

I have been busy at the office lately, so I haven’t done much drawing or painting. But I took a page out of Andy Silton’s playbook, and sketched during some conference calls at work. The first sketch is a study of Jonathan Yeo’s Damien 2012.

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The second sketch is of one of my sons.

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And the third sketch is of Robert Franklin Stroud, otherwise known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”

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I drew the last sketch this morning. I had an early morning conference call, but when I got to the office, I realized I had forgotten my keys at home. So I took the call from the Starbucks around the corner and drew the chair in front of me.

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P.S. Andy, all the best in your new career as an artist and writer.

Pen & Ink

B on blocks

I belong to a Facebook group called Sketching Workshop, where 150 sketchers from around the world post sketches and provide comments and critiques on each other’s work.  The purpose of the group is to share, and to learn.

Recently, a few of us collaborated to write a booklet called Pen & Ink: Drafting Techniques.  Each wrote a five to six page article on a topic of his or her choosing.  Since I’m not a formally trained artist, and I don’t have any particular advice on how to draw in pen and ink, I just wrote about two of my sketches, and the techniques I used to create them.

All of the contributors have benefited from the Sketching Workshop, and from other artists who share their work online.  So although it took some time and coordination to produce this booklet, we wanted to give back, and to make sure Pen & Ink was available for everyone to read.  So if you are interested, please click on the link below to download the PDF, and hopefully you’ll find something useful that helps you with your own sketches.  And feel free to share it with anyone else who you think might be interested.

Pen & Ink: Drafting Techniques (click on link to download)

P.S.  I enjoyed the process of creating this booklet as much as seeing the finished product.  Despite working with seven people from five countries who I have never met, this was the first collaborative project I have worked on where no one spoke on the phone, and no one called an unnecessary meeting.  Everyone trusted each other to do their part.  Thanks to all of my fellow sketchers for making Pen & Ink such a fun and valuable experience.

P.P.S.  The sketch above is of my son at his conference swim meet.  Although not included in Pen & Ink, I used the same techniques to create this sketch that I wrote about in my article.

Philip

SFMOMA sketch

Last weekend, I took my kids to SFMOMA for the first time.  After touring the museum, I asked them, “Which artwork did you like the best?”

My eldest was the first to respond, and he said, “The bull’s head” (referring to Damien Hirst’s Philip (The Twelve Disciples), a “ready-made” sculpture of a skinned bull’s head placed in a white framed case of formaldehyde, which sits on the floor in one of SFMOMA’s main rooms – see top left sketch above).

In high school, when I first heard that an artist had won critical acclaim for suspending a 14-foot dead shark in a transparent case filled with formaldehyde, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”  Since then, British artist, Damien Hirst, has become one of the (if not THE) most famous living artists in the world.

His paintings and sculptures are found in every major modern art museum.  His works fetch astronomical prices.  For example, in September 2008, Sotheby’s auctioned off a complete show of his artwork titled, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever.  At the end of the two-day auction, Hirst’s artwork sold for a total of £111 million ($198 million).  What’s ironic is that while Damien Hirst was filling his coffers, the rest of the world was losing theirs – the auction started the same day that Lehaman Brothers declared bankruptcy.  In his fantastic book, What Are You Looking At?: The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art, Will Gompertz wrote,

“The art world appeared to be oblivious to the seriousness of the situation, as pickled animals and brightly colored paintings sold for their estimated prices or above.”

Such is the cachet of Damien Hirst.

With works that include dead animals, pharmaceutical bottles stacked on shelves, and colored dots painted evenly over a white canvas, part of me thinks that Damien Hirst is just “taking the piss,” and that for every £1 million increase in his bank account, he has a little chuckle at our expense.

But after learning more about the ideas behind some of his paintings and sculptures, I gained a healthy respect for Hirst, who other famous contemporary artists say is in a league of his own.  And if a seven-year-old chooses Philip as his favorite, out of all of the other pieces in SFMOMA, then part of me thinks that Damien Hirst is a genius.

What do you think?

P.S. My youngest son chose Super Nova, by Takashi Murakami, which was predictable, as it is a 30-foot brightly colored painting of anime mushrooms.  My other son chose two drawings by Lebbeus Woods, all of which are incredible, and one of which I sketched above.

Sketchbook Journal

Briones

I sketch because I enjoy doing it, but I also draw because it helps my memory.  Sometimes the past feels like a blur.  When my kids were infants, I bought them each a baseball glove.  Now they are playing little league, and I wonder where the time went.

Pinewood cars

So at the beginning of this year, to offset the risk of fleeting memories, I started a sketchbook journal.  It’s like my other sketchbooks, where I draw different subjects, but this sketchbook is chronological, and is meant to preserve specific events in my life.  It’s not a diary, as I don’t mind if people flip through it.  It’s just an illustrated record of memorable moments.

OBrien

Most of my sketches are of good memories.  I haven’t sketched my boys fighting with each other, and I didn’t sketch the crack in my windshield that I noticed this morning.  Maybe eventually I will capture the bad with the good, but for now, I’m drawing what I want to remember.

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Included in this post is a sketch of the back of an airplane seat.  I can’t say that moment made me particularly happy, but I have been traveling a lot this year, and I thought that a scene from one of my flights was appropriate to include.

Gung Hay Fat Choy

I don’t know how many more of these sketches I will share on The Hipping Post, but I figured you might like to see some examples of my other experiment in sketching and writing.

P.S. To see more examples of unique sketchbook journals, check out Danny Gregory’s An Illustrated Life.  It’s fantastic.

Pocket Sketchbook, Part 2

In my post, “Don’t Forget,” I mentioned that my memory is not perfect.  There are times when I struggle to remember basic details of my past.  The entire first six months of my youngest son’s life is a good example.  Maybe it was because Stacie and I had a “divide and conquer” strategy where she took the young one, and I managed the two-year old twins, but if it wasn’t for the photos we took, I’m sure the mental images of my youngest son would be permanently lost in the nether regions of my hippocampus (with the exception of the day he was born – that day will be hard to forget).

A side benefit of having a sketchbook, is that it helps preserve memories.  I can remember almost everything about where I was when I look back at my sketches.  Even when I look at some of the drawings I did in high school, I can remember what table I was sitting at when I drew them.  Maybe drawing and writing trigger unique synaptic firings, but I am more aware of my surroundings and I have much clearer memories when I draw or write.

The other benefit of having a sketchbook, is that sketching gives me a closer connection to the subjects of my drawings.  When you try to artistically capture an image, it gets embedded a little deeper under your skin.  Photos also have this affect, but for me, drawing adds a personal bond beyond what I get when I take or look at a photograph.

Not all memories are good and some artists tackle painful or disturbing subjects.  I sketched two images of the destruction in Joplin, not because I thought they were uplifting, but because I wanted to remember what I saw, and I thought it was important that others also saw those images.  I had a great experience in Joplin, and those drawings created a meaningful connection for me.

But for the most part, I either draw things for practice, or I draw things that make me happy.  In this post are a few more drawings from my pocket sketchbook that preserve good memories and make me happy.

The drawing above is of my youngest son helping unload the dishwasher.  He needed a little help to get to the drawer and the cutlery on the counter, so he pulled over a chair and stood on it.  It was the morning, so he was still wearing his Batman “footie” pajamas.

This sketch is of the oldest of the twins, when he was a baby.  I didn’t capture his face exactly, but it was good practice.

Above is a sketch of the other twin’s baseball glove and cap.  You can see the photo I used for this sketch at the top of my post, “Why We’re Fans.”

This sketch is of my youngest son jumping in the sand at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.  The setting sun projected his shadow against the sea wall.  The cement in the wall is cracked and broken, so some of the rebar is exposed.  I also included some of the sea wall’s graffiti.