Follow by Email

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An existential question

A week ago today, I was on the treadmill when I wisely got the idea that it might be fun to try to scoop up the dog's ball and throw it for her -- while the treadmill was moving. It will shock you to learn that I fell, tried to scramble to my feet, but lost a couple of layers of skin off my knees before managing to gain uprightitudeness.
The next day, I woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. Not such a surprise. I also developed a bit of a cough.
The day after that, Christmas Eve, I woke up with the cough and head congestion and a massive migraine and spent the day throwing up and writhing in fever.
The day after that, I no longer felt like I wanted to swallow a cyanide pill and end it all, but I still did not feel good. And the cough had deepened.
The day after that, I felt maybe yet a little less bad, but not good. And the cough had deepend.
The day after that I felt maybe a little less bad, but I could eat. Sort of.
The day after that is today. Today I am not yet well, but well enough to wonder: Did this all happen because I tried to pick up the dog's ball and throw it for her while I was on my treadmill?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Christmas Spirit Shall Not Be Denied

Every year, as the holiday season starts rolling, I wonder if this will be the year that I never am able to muster the Christmas spirit. And every year, the spirit kicks in -- sooner or later.

I wasn't that jazzed about the prospect of attending last Saturday's Cleveland Jazz Orchestra Christmas concert, to tell the truth, mostly because I find that I have waning patience for sitting and watching musicians. Music is the stuff of life, of course; it's the sitting in a cramped theater seat, just watching ... nothing ... in particular. I wish they'd show cartoons or something.

Anyway, this year the confluence of having my sketchbook and pen in hand and listening to an especially inspired musical program cheered me and brought on the spirit. Oh, and by the way, that's a pretty good likeness (if I say so) of band leader Sean Jones. You can check him out in a photo on this page, if you're interested.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pearl and Lily

Up the street lives a small and sausagey American bulldog/beagle mix named Lily. Her upbeat nature and charm would win over anyone, but she has particularly attracted the friendship of our Newfoundland, Pearl. They met two summers ago when Lily was outside with her humans, playing in a baby pool. Pearl joined in. As of today, it is impossible for us to walk past the house where Lily lives without Pearl tugging us toward her front door. Lily has been joined recently by a baby Rottweiler named Diesel who is too cute for words. But the bond is still between Pearl and Lily, who chase each other and body-check each other and roll around and just run. Lily sometimes grabs Pearlie's leash in her mouth and leads her in whatever direction she wants to go.

I do not lie or even exaggerate when I say that any moderately intuitive human can feel the love vibrating off these animals when they're together.

It is so perfect that all you can do is wait for something to interrupt the perfection - like news that Lily's humans will be looking to relocate to Washington, D.C. next year. It would be a good move for the humans involved, I'm sure. The dogs, not so much.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Shoe Heaven

OK, not the best sketch here, but still I must post it because I I want you to know (talk about your free publicity) about my new favorite shoes.

Now when I say "favorite shoes," I don't mean they're the most stylish. For that I must thank John Fluevog of Canada.

When I say "favorite shoes," what I mean is that my new clogs 1) have purple owls on them and, perhaps more importantly, 2) are the first shoes I've ever owned that I like wearing better than I like going barefooted. Think about it, ye barefooted gods and goddesses.

Yeah, well, anyway, here's where I got them. The company is called The Swanx, although the brand of clog is Sanita. The Swanx pays artists to hand-paint the clogs with wild and wonderful designs. If you were a complete nut, you could even have your pet's portrait painted on your clogs, though personally, as much as I love my pets, I draw the line at pet portraits on clothing. (Generic owlage is much better.)

They were 150 bucks, and well worth it. And incidentally, my clogs actually are a shiny black, but I didn't want to render them that way here for reasons too boring to go into.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sketchbook Cleveland: Public Square at Christmas

So for about six months, I've been doing this great gig for Ohio Authority, an online magazine dedicated to the culture of northeast Ohio. As many of you know, I'd do this sketching-the-city thing anyway, but I love the focus that I get by doing it for the site.

This month, Lylah and I retraced our steps, so to speak, from an outing several years ago, when we took in a big gulp of downtown Cleveland at the height of the holidays and sipped drinks in the beautiful lobby of what I still think of as "Stouffers's," but is really now the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel. On our way to the hotel, we found ourselves in the midst of these chubby little city birds, so common I don't even know what they are. One might or might not have been wearing a Santa hat. :)

Anyway, please visit Sketchbook Cleveland for a glimpse at the rest of our outing, and as usual -- thank you for stopping by. It means the world.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

More Self-Promo via School Library Journal

"HOLBROOK, Sara. Zombies! Evacuate the School! illus. by Karen Sandstrom. 56p. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. 2010. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-820-2. LC number unavailable.

Gr 3-6–With a breezy and comedic touch, Holbrook shines a light on school experiences, from academic pursuits to classroom rivalries to gym-class exploits. Humor reigns, and readers will identify with themes and emotions, such as panic in “It’s Today?” “Frantic/panic,/sinking/sorrow./The science test/is not tomorrow.” Many of the poems utilize an inner voice and encourage self-reflection. They are brief and accessible, and Holbrook sprinkles conversational, informal prompts throughout the book that encourage readers to create poetry about their own experiences. Sandstrom’s pen-and-ink illustrations provide additional humor. The simple design is attractive and the book will appeal to reluctant readers and those who are intimidated by poetry. Language-arts teachers will appreciate the writing prompts and may even consider using this book in poetry-writing units. Students who are encouraged to “write what you know” will be inspired by these selections.–Shawn Brommer, South Central Library System, Madison, WI"

Friday, December 10, 2010

A little holiday fun

This year we're changing up the Christmas card tradition in our household. One of my two talented daughters has replaced me as the card designer (she's a photo freak). It seems I would not go completely quietly, though, so I'm Zazzling a new sticker design for pasting to the outside of those envelopes that never like to stay closed anyway.

Observe: The ornament cat.

If you are not on our Christmas card list and would like to be, please send me your details. I still like getting Christmas cards. Ergo, I still like sending them.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Gooood Morning, Dear ...

Those of you who share space with a cat or two may relate to the sentiment here. Even if you haven't had this very experience, you see the potential, don't you?

None of my cats has ever brought a mouse in while I was still under the covers, though one of our dear departed kittehs arfed up a half-digested one on the bedspread. I liked Carlo's understated response. "That was rude."

Anyway, this is an illustration for the phrase "On Top of It" -- a school assignment.

Thanks to my anonymous model friend, who put curlers in her hair and got 'neath the covers for a photo shoot. I promised I'd change her appearance enough to keep her anonymous, but she knows who she is. And I am grateful for her time and friendship.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Bear's Alarm Goes Off Again

Dear Faithful Reader -
You will perhaps remember seeing this post back in May of this year. It was in my large Moleskine narrative sketchbook, and it pleased me. However, there is no "art" without an "r," and the "r" stands for "revision."
So here, by popular demand (or by no demand whatsoever, I can't remember) is a different take on my illustrated doo-dad known as Bear Wakes Up. I'm attaching the words down below so you can see what was hard to see last May.

In Summer, Bear lumbered
Clod-plodding around the woods
Tagging the foxes and
Hide-seeking with the rabbits and squirrels,
Who all found Bear fun and loud
When he counted backward,
And scary because he chuffed and bellowed
When he chased them
And sometimes they even saw his long white teeth,
Though he did not hurt anyone.
Except for that once, and it was an accident.

In Autumn, Bear taught
Them to stay far and clear as he readied himself
For the coming cold
By plucking at the berry bushes
And swallowing proud pawfuls of leaves and
A bug or two with a look on his face that said
And that was the thing with Bear.
One could just never be sure.

In Winter, Bear slumbered
Snore-rumbling inside the old tree
While the owls perched still on trembly limbs
And the rabbits and raccoons huddled
Nestwise and the foxes
Curled in their dens
And everyone wished for the hide-seeking summer,
Except Bear.
Who instead was dreaming of a beach vacation.

In Spring Bear stopped sleeping,
Growl-yawning awake,
Stretch-mumbling for the rest of them to hear
As they scampered and sniffed the fine forest air
And watched for you-know-who
To stumble out and join them,
Which he finally,
F-I-N-A-L-L-Y did.
Clap-happy they cheered their fearsome friend,
Who looked a little snarly at their greeting,
But who really meant no harm.

Most of the time.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Request Permission to be Strange, Sir!"


Permission to be strange is what you get in art school. One more reason to love it.
The above sketch is part of a storyboard I made for my avant-garde film class. This was primarily a film-watching class, but for our final project we were asked to create a story (in text, in storyboard form or on film) that represented some of the principles of the nonlinear narrative.

I thought briefly about reproducing the whole storyboard, but really -- it is SO odd, that it would just leave you scratching your head more vigorously than this single panel. There truly is no point in it.

That said, I love that school occasionally pushes me into strange territories. I'm so banal, really. So Wonder Bread. When I finally let go and reach for the weird, it gives me a little tingle in my temples. Of course, I suppose that could be stroke symptoms ...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cover of "And the Pursuit of Happiness" by Maira Kalman

I find the art and books of Maira Kalman delicious. And sweet. And winsome.

If she weren't so sweet and winsome and smart, I'd be forced to hate her for being able to think and draw whatever she likes for a living. But how can you not love a woman who decides that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is her new imaginary best friend -- shoving aside Jane Austen?

Kalman does just that in "And the Pursuit of Happiness," her nearly 500-page visual diary of a year spent thinking about -- well, about how great it is to be an American.

Her vibrant gouache illustrations have illuminated the covers of the New Yorker, children's books and her own 2007 volume, "The Principles of Uncertainty." She brings an inquisitive mind and a joyous hand to her work.

That's the beginning of my Plain Dealer review of Kalman's new book. Here's your invitation to read the rest!

The review, here, stays on for a while -- but not forever!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Everyone Contributes

Well, now, I wish you could see the actual sketchbook page here, because it's lovelier than what you're looking at. The scanner has a hard time with these thick books, so I had to tile the two pages together. But you get the idea. And more to the point, it was fun to draw the tree as I sat on my front porch while the turkey roasted. Beyond the tree was the bird feeder I filled this morning after a chubby squirrel emptied it. I thought he should have a self-indulgent meal, too, so I wanted there to be lots to eat besides the dessicated partial pumpkin that's still lingering on the grass. After I filled the feeder, actual birds showed up, too. All kinds of birds.

At Thanksgiving dinner tonight, we engaged in our usual tradition of naming our gratitudes. Then I threw something new at the table. I encourage you to try it at home. I asked everyone to name someone from their past or present -- dead or alive, in contact with or estranged from -- who had been the source of some pain, for whatever reason. YOU know those relationships, right? We've all had them. The ones that matter so much that after a while we either have to change something fundamental in the situation or go crazy?

So we all had to name that person, then talk about one thing they had contributed to our lives. One good thing. And it couldn't just be, "Ever since he/she's out of my life I feel like a new person!" Or, "Putting up with him/her proved to me I could do anything!"

No, it had to be a direct, positive contribution.
Two of us had no trouble naming the person and their contribution.
Two of us struggled mightily to name the contribution. In one case, two of us helped another person by pointing out something the difficult-person-in-the-past had done.

I'm not sure whether everyone agrees with me, but I found this to be a wistful and worthwhile discussion. I especially enjoyed hearing points of view from my children that I hadn't heard before.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Class Notes

Having fallen down on the job of playing in my sketchbook lately, and feeling some remorse about that, I decided to attempt to entertain you with class notes. Decorative class notes, but class notes just the same.

Last night was the final class (well, except for the Final) of our avant-garde film course. What a curious experience that has been. With a few sparkling exceptions, it's been a series of tedious experimental films -- followed by really interesting discussions about those films. And the teacher finds a way to pull in all kinds of Big Picture topics, particularly ideas about time and science.

So if you're wondering why there's a pink elephant on my page, it's just that avant-garde film class is the kind of class where it makes sense to draw an elephant on the page.

Monday, November 15, 2010

From Real back to Sir Real

I'm kind of digging this practice of starting a sketchbook page with something real and mundane, then adding something from imagination.
I did it earlier in the year right here.

Going back even farther, I did it here, too.

I like this technique for days when I'm just itching to make a sketchbook page, but I don't have a scene in mind, per se. Pick an object, get drawing, then add to it what seems to make sense. Or what seems to shake things up.
After I drew this, I imagined a story about a family that lives in a cookie jar. Stupid? Maybe. Weird? Goes without saying. But kinda fun, too.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hat Girls

For lots of art students, the creative process seems to begin at the level of their own skin. Some, especially the fashion and interior design types, try to pull it together and look spiffy.

The painters and illustrators and maybe the sculptors (I don't know many sculptors) work it differently. The goal isn't always self-flattery, it's almost about creating a character. I'm thinking right now of this skinny young man with a head full of piercing shrapnel, eye makeup and dreadlocks that seem like something off a creature from Middle Earth.

The other day I was sitting through an illustration-class critique and noticed that three of my more costume-leaning classmates were wearing knit hats. It was 50 degrees outside, probably 70 degrees in the room where we sat picking apart each other's work.

I stared at them and thought about how long it would take me to become overheated if I were wearing a knit hat indoors. Five minutes? Three?

Deep inside, I still think the ideal look is a crisp button-down shirt and Hollywood trousers. You might not know it from looking at me, but my fashion default is always set to self-flattery. This is a mainstream attitude, not an art-school attitude. These art-school kids are so used to being different that they now wear it like a second skin. It's as if they figured themselves out earlier than most of us. They knew their place, and it wasn't necessarily in a button-down world.

So, no, for any number of reasons, I can't do what my dyed-in-the-handspun-wool-from-the-second-hand-store classmates do. I wish I could. Their self-designing approach is a visual wake-up call in an otherwise blandalicious world.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November mystery

Uh, no Ma'am. I didn't do this to your pumpkin. I saw the guy, though. Look! I think he ran north! Maybe you should try to catch him in your car!

What, this? Well, y'know, I'm sure he left forensic evidence behind, so I thought I'd better investigate. But don't you worry yourself. Go on back to your coffee, and I promise -- If I find something, you'll be the firt to know.

Monday, November 08, 2010

I'm in LOVE and I want to tell the WHOLE WORLD!

Dear Moleskine -
How can I say this? It's not you, it's me.
Well, OK, it sort of is you. I mean, you've been great, with your slick, hardcovers. The bookmark sewn right in. The elastic privacy band.
Though, as you know, I've had some complaints over the years. I mean, the paper in your "sketch" version. Why the weird coating, Moley? Why? I never understood, though I tried to adapt.
Of course your watercolor version had nice, heavy paper for water media, and I want to thank you for that. Though, again: Why the panoramic binding? I mean, I appreciated that you listened and got rid of those stupid perforations in the page. (Heck, who pays $16 for a nicely bound journal only to tear stuff out of it?) But oh, how you deprived me of sensible two-page spreads with that crazy layout. I don't live in the desert, Moley. Sometimes I need a little balance.

But all of this is water over the bridge. Or under the dam. I'm never sure what's worse, come to think of it. I still love you. I always will. I'll never turn my back completely.

But you need to know: I have discovered the Fabriano sketchbook, and, well Moley -- GET THE SMELLING SALTS. It's like it used to be between you and me. Uh, only better. Because the Fab paper is divine.
No, really. I mean, look at how the watercolor laid down on the lady's sweater in that sketchpage there. I mean, LOOK AT IT, Moley. Oh, and my Fab has a bookmark, too.
Oh, and you know how much I paid for my Fab? Like, eight bucks. No extra charge for pretentiousness, I guess.

So, hey, it's been real. And we're still friends, I promise. But you're going to have to let me go and sow my oats with Fab, now. I have to be true to myself, Moley.

Kisses -

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Book People

It's been a long time since I've been in a room with a self-selecting group of Book People, but I was yesterday at the Buckeye Book Fair. This annual event celebrates the work of Ohio authors and illustrators and provides a great opportunity for shoppers to meet those authors/illustrators and buy their books.
So I tagged along yesterday with the veterans, Sara Holbrook and her partner in rhyme (and other things), Michael Salinger. They both have several books to their name.

So who are the book people who drove to Wooster, Ohio to buy and meet? Lots of teachers. Especially retired teachers. Many of them seemed cheerful and calm and like the kind of people you hoped your kid would have for English or math. (Often enough, they were buying books with their own money for their classrooms, I couldn't help but notice.)

But there were also home-schooler families, and beaming little kids, and farm families and bonneted Amish women and -- I also couldn't help but notice -- people with astounding hair. The woman with the pony tail up there on the right? That ponytail was all white-gray. She was 60 is she was day. But you could still see the 18-year-old girl she used to be.

The mustache I tried to capture there with just a hint of face? Well, I told Sara I thought it looked like the guy was wearing a shih tzu on his lip. My drawing does not do it justice, but in my defense I was trying not to stare. But the thing just went on and on.

Anyway, we signed lots of books, and had a couple of nice discussions (I met the wonderful illustrator Will Hillenbrand and a lovely Cuyahoga County librarian who gets to set up author visits) and just had lots of fun.

Plus, I got to hang out with the perfectly behaved HolbrookSalinger papillions, Susie and Lily.

Books and dogs.
Dogs and books

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The cool thing about Photoshop ...

The cool thing about Photoshop is that when you post a drawing that's done in marker after you have stupidly closed the sketchbook with ANOTHER, WET page on the other side, you can make it look to your unsuspecting audience as if you didn't really end up with unwanted color marring your otherwise almost-pristine page.

Yes you can.

The painful thing about this episode is that I had to work not to put any text on this page other than the date. Every ounce of me wanted to write in that white space. Really. But I knew I would regret it, because in the end I thought the plainness of it all was just perfect.


But do we like the chubby screwdrivers? Aren't they cute?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


I'm bummed out by so many things this morning I don't know where to start, but since this isn't a political blog I'll just say that it's too bad this page didn't match the sense of fun and adventure I had in making it.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

You REEEAAAALLY need to click on this picture to get the full effect.

Ivy crawls wildly on the brick of this building around East 60th Street and Carnegie in Cleveland. The neighborhood is pitted with abandoned businesses, broken windows, and empty fields. But every time I pass this building (which I believe is actually occupied, though it looks otherwise) I'm fascinated by the way nature takes over.

On a less thoughtful note: Every time I see a building like this, so VERY ivy covered, I have this urge to borrow the Jolly Green Giant's razor and shave it.

I cannot explain my mind. In truth, I probably shouldn't even try to express it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Yawnful Halloween

If tonight is like every other Halloween in recent history, the local youngfolk will be avoiding our street and trick-or-treating instead at places where the houses are a little closer together (and closer to the sidewalk). This is kind of sad.

But last week, I attended Spike and Christi's Halloween costume-making party, and I drew (and wrote) about it for Ohio Authority. You can check it out (and see the mask I made) right here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I like it!

After weeks of labor (you have no idea), here's the big reveal on my caricature of Kat -- Beatles lover and fellow George Harrison preferer (a mark of intellect).

We had the crit on this last week. Teeech seemed underwhelmed. I made a few improvements, and though he might still be underwhelmed, I myself am whelmed. I think Kat likes it, too.

Usually I don't post photos of what I draw, but I thought you might enjoy seeing what Kat really looked like, as well as what I did to make her more caricature-able.

Side note: I realized tonight, with some shame, that I am nicer to the print-center guy at a certain office-supply retailer because he reminds me distantly of Viggo Mortensen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I think icon, I think icon ...

We had a fun little project a few weeks back to design icons for a computer desktop. Pick a theme, any theme.
I've long been entranced by Alaskan iconography, and I despair that the actual Inuit would shudder at the cliche of all that I find charming.

I went "charming" anyway. These are done in Illustrator -- that Adobe program I have to re-teach myself every now and then. It's fun, once you get the hang of it. That is, once you stop swearing at it.

Incidentally, if you want to see some lovely children's-book illustrations on the topic of Arctic wonderfulness, stop in here and see Mama Do You Love Me?, a book that came out when my now-18-year-old daughter was a wee thing. Barbara Joose is the author; Barbara Lavallee is the illustrator.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Peek at "Zombies!"

Greetings, Earthlings -
I had a request to share some illustrations from "Zombies! Evacuate the School!", the new poetry book for kids by the excellent writer Sara Holbrook.

You would've had to be living under a rock -- or at least not paying attention to all my social media -- to have missed the fact that I drew the little guys for the book. Which is out now. And theoretically available at your local bookstore and online. (Boyds Mills Press is the publisher.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Owls Make Me Think

We were talking about hunting on the drive out to the raptor center today. Katy, her friend Taylor and me.
Taylor thought I'd be a knee-jerk anti-hunting person.
Here's my thought about that.

It's not that I think all wild animals live great lives. I see the exponential growth of the deer population in my urban/suburban neighborhood and I know these guys can't be living well.
It might be better for everyone if there were fewer of them, and if those destined to starve to death could meet a quick end instead.

What I don't understand is the human eagerness to kill something wild and alive. I'm suspicious of the urge to hunt when one's food needs are already taken care of. What makes a man -- or Sarah Palin -- want to grab a gun and end the life of something beautiful and free?

I don't know what that force is, but I tend to believe it should be resisted.

Monday, October 04, 2010


I had a lovely time last week visiting Cleveland Public Library's Special Collections department, which contains odd and interesting objects. Among them: chess sets, which have always fascinated me as objets d'art. I wrote and drew about it for Ohio Authority, and I insist -- absolutely insist -- that you visit that online magazine now. If you don't like Sketchbook Cleveland, you can always read about mixed drinks.

What more can we ask?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sometimes I Get Frustrated ... the difference between what I'd like to do as an artist and writer, and what my skills and brain seem to allow me to do.

Still, I'm having a lot of fun this year.

Last week we had three projects due. Do you know how often an art-school project is declared perfectly successful? Never, that's how often. Well, almost never. That's the nature of a beast I'm still trying to understand.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Hot Mess

Well, these little piggies were a hot mess, which is why they're in the bathtub -- and they are, alas, still a hot mess. Especially that one on the left holding what you were trying to figure out is a watering can. My excuse is that I'm still getting used to the wonders of gouache.

By the way, give yourself a cookie if you thought, "Those pigs look familiar. Indeed they do. I was inspired to draw them after coming across last year's epic watercolor, "Last Fling for the Bourgoise Pigdogs." You can see that one right here, and look closely at the art on the walls.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Me and My Shadows

Do a Google-images search on yourself and see who you come up with.
I happened upon this trick today while Google-image-searching someone else, and was amused to see who the other Karen Sandstroms are. What's strange about this is that, while we don't actually LOOK alike, there's something similar about us all, I think. Well, OK, for one thing we all have good chins. Then, too, there's a certain Caucasianness about us all. Perhaps we're all of "a certain age."

Yes, I'll agree. This is kinda the height of dig-age navel-gazing, and now I'm done with it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Through the wonder of, I stumbled upon this fantastic cabinetry company. If I built furniture, this is the kind of furniture I would like to build. That picture up there is actually the Little Black Dress cabinet. Ooh-la-lah.

The company is called Straight Line Designs. Think they were going for irony here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

People Like Books

It's true, right? We like to read. :D

Well, this is one of four pin-up style creatures I created as part of a class project that will eventually become a deck of cards. We had the class critique on all the images yesterday. Seems most of us still have quite a bit of work to complete. I would say this one needs very little, though some of my boy classmates want me to put a shirt on her. I guess that just goes to show you that people really DO think that a little peek of skin is sexier than stark nakedness.

So I'll put a shirt on her and I'll probably improve her face, which isn't working for me right now.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What's She Been Doing With Herself?

Click on the picture to get a closer look.

Homework. She has been doing homework.
Fortunately, she likes to draw.

In my fantasies, of course, I publish illustrations in the New Yorker. That's why I chose David Sedaris's recent hilarity about the horrible people (um, you and me) he encounters during his frequent air travels for this project.
The illustration published with the actual article was a little cartoon of an angry airplane. I tried to do something a little more elaborate but still, I hoped, amusing.

Tomorrow is our class critique. Some of you know what that means. It means this is the last time I will actually like what I did here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Try Something New

If my age were calculated like this --( Chrono Age - Time Spent Worrying And Being Afraid = New Current Age)-- I would be approximately 14 right now.

Now, when I say "worrying and being afraid," I'm calculating big, sort of rational concerns (like my daughter driving on an icy road at night), the tiny, dumb worries (like whether this necklace makes me look matronly) and everything in between.

Somewhere in the middle, you'll find yourself, I'm sure. You'll find me, too.

Take for instance my gouache hesitation.
For years, I've been comfortable with watercolor, but hesitated to try gouache -- which is, really, just a different kind of watercolor -- because I thought I might not like it. Then I'd have wasted money on a set of gouache paints that would just sit there.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to get an up-close-and-personal look at an original gouache painting by Maira Kalman, one of my favorite illustrators, who uses gouache to great effect. I couldn't stand it anymore. I WANTED THOSE COLORS!

Ahem. Here, then, is my first time out on the playground with gouache. I can see that we're going to be good friends. Moreever, I can see that my hesitation to try gouache has been, like pretty much all my fears, unfounded.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

In between reading about avant-garde film and planning my attack on a couple of illustration projects, I managed to get Lylah over for some personal groom and then -- da-da-DUMMM - her temporary license test. She passed on the first go, and managed to take the best driver's license picture I've ever seen.

The fun begins.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Johnny Kilbane

Johnny Kilbane was a featherweight boxing champ sprung from Cleveland's old Angle neighborhood. That's where they stored the Irish here in the days when being an Irish immigrant was a little like being a Mexican immigrant today.

Anyway, Johnny had quite the career. He was a world champ the year my mother was born -- 1923 -- and a couple years before that as well. After he hung up his gloves, he went into politics, and served in various local and state offices. If politics then were anything like politics now, it probably served him to have a good left jab at his disposal.

I found out about Johnny sniffing around the Encyclopedia of Cleveland history, which then prompted me to go on a drawing and snapshot tour of Cleveland's old Irishtown. You can read and see more soon at Ohio Authority, the great online guide to Northeast Ohio. OA publishes my series, Sketchbook Cleveland.

By the way, if you're near the radio around noon today, I'll be on with writers Michael Salinger, Erin O'Brien and Judith Mansour, talking about the Lantern Awards -- which are happening this Saturday at Playhouse Square.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Paying Attention

Jane Scott, long-heralded rock critic of the Plain Dealer, used to carry a point-and-shoot camera with her wherever she went. Thus, she had lots of snapshots of herself with famous musicians.
But even for those of us who don't hobnob with the Grateful Dead, this is a good idea. And photo technology has allowed for so much power to be packed into such small devices.

I have a great little Canon Powershot that goes with me in my purse -- along with my sketchbook, of course. And I always have my iPhone, which takes pretty darned nice photos for a phone. My phone goes everywhere, even on dog-walks. This has proved to be useful on several occasions, like when I scooped up the kitty who had been hit by a car; I could then call my daughter to come pick us up.

And I noticed, while out walking Pearlie this morning, that the early-day sunlight was casting interesting shadows. I have a school assignment involving the noticing and depiction of shadows. I'm not going to use this photo for my project, but I liked it well enough. It's a reminder that as long as I'm out walking the dog anyway, I can stop and notice things like shadows and other art projects that the natural world and the manmade world serve up all the time -- whether we notice them or not.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Mary Had a Little Coat

I'm reading a terrific new book called "Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat," and will review it, so stay tuned. It's kind of a long essay on the completely irrational and inconsistent relationships humans have animals.
This is something I think about a lot, because I live with animals, sometimes work with animals and, yes, still eat animals.

We all draw the lines in different places, of course. One of the lines I've drawn, clearly and easily as time has gone by, is at baby animals. Don't eat 'em. Don't wear 'em.

But I used to. I've eaten veal. And one of my favorite coats, before it wore out from years of wear, was made of lamb leather.
Now it strikes me so odd. I never would've felt comfortable wearing a fur coat, yet I wore lamb leather for a long time without a twinge of guilt.

Of course, my veggie/vegan friends are saying, "Oh, so it's not all right to kill baby animals to eat and wear, but it's OK to kill their parents?"
To which I say: Yes, I know. I am full of inconsistencies. And I am working on them.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Now that I'm back in school, the sketchbook collection grows by one. This is what a lot of artists mean when they talk about having a sketchbook: a place to work, to think out loud, to try ideas, fail, try again. It's an absolute necessity if you're on your way to creating a finished piece of art.

Most of what you see here at Pen in Hand is a different approach to sketchbooks, where the page is sort of thought out ahead of time. Attempts have been made to make each page (or most of them) intriguing or attractive. There IS a warts-and-all quality to any sketchbook, but the ones I use here have to meet a higher standard for interest, as one turns the pages.

My workhorse, on the other hand, is generally pretty ugly. And still, I thought you'd like to take a look. I might do that from time to time.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cute as a ...

On our peach tree photo shoot at Eddy Fruit Farm in Chesterland last weekend, Lylah and I were briefly distracted by this winsome creature. I dig how well my little Canon Powershot takes macro shots. It has made me realize that I need not bother with a costly new lens for my Rebel. I mean, heck -- you can almost see the bug smiling here, don't you think?

I was photographing peaches to help me a drawing project. Lylah was shooting peaches because she likes to take pictures.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Peaches and Adam

This is a terrible, terrible drawing of my CIA friend Adam, but my excuse is that I was usuing only our recent cup of coffee visit for reference. I just tossed him down there on the page -- sorry, Adam! -- so as to remember that in addition to picking peaches on Saturday I also had coffee with Adam.

One of the cool things about going back to college later in life is that you surprise yourself by making friends with people who aren't normally in your sphere of operation. Adam is a very cool person I'm glad I've gotten to know.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

When your firstborn goes off to college ...

First, you eat.
Then, if you're a certain kind of person, you write. Which is what I did here for the PD.

Note that if you are coming across the page in, like, October, the link will be long dead.
But if you're reading me today, well ... please read me today? Thank you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Where did they come from?

One day I run into a single red dice (die? I think that's correct but it's awkward) lying on the sidewalk. I yank on the dog's leash to get her to hold up. Shiny object: pick it up. Maybe it was meant for the trash, part of an old board game that hadn't mattered in a long time. There was something extra bright, extra brilliant about the red plastic shining on the gray sidewalk. It was as if leaving it there wasn't an option.

The raffle ticket was more hidden and less insistent for its drabness. Also, you have to admit: It was proabably a losing ticket. A trip or a set of golfballs or a bottle of wine not won, right? Stuffed in someone's pocket, maybe a pocket from which it fell one day while some other dog was being walked.

The key -- well, keys. There are two on the ring, I just didn't feel like drawing the second one. Now THAT was something important, right? Someone was really missing those keys. The thought almost allowed me to leave them there on the sidewalk, on the chance that someone might retrace his or her steps in an effort to find them. In the end, I couldn't leave them there because a story about their owner had already half-formed in my mind. They were lost by a woman in her thirties who moved in with her boyfriend and wasn't totally settled with the new arrangement. Maybe things were better before they moved in together. Now the dailiness of their relationship was introducing new tensions. She feels an ambivalence she didn't expect to feel. I will not go so far as to say that losing the keys was intentional, and in fact when she discovers she's lost them she's dreading telling him. He'd given her his extra keys, after all -- entrusted her -- and now, only weeks into their living together -- she must confess her irresponsibility. Well, anyone can do that, right? It's not even like losing something when they fall out of the pocket of a purse. It's more like a design flaw, where the purse is concerned.

But he won't understand; this is one of the things she has come to see about him, up close in this living-together arrangement. He only understands his own foibles.

She starts to wonder if maybe she can move out before having to admit that she's lost the keys.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sweet William

Meet William.
He's one of the children my daughter Kate spent her summer with at the Lighthouse Summer Day Camp in Cleveland. William is a virtually worldless little soul, but he loves words. He loves to be read to. Insists on it, really. The great mystery is to what degree William understands what he hears, and the conclusion is that it would be a mistake to underestimate his comprehension or intelligence.

I spent time with William and his friends for my bi-monthly feature in Ohio Authority, the new online magazine. Please visit. It's a cool site and a great place to be reminded of why Cleveland is an extraordinary city.