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Sunday, December 07, 2014

You Get What You Need

In thinking about life and abundance recently, I realized something startling: Everything I ever wanted -- anything that was ever deeply meaningful to me -- has come my way over the course of my life. It didn't always come in the form I'd hoped for. I didn't get the blond kid I was sure I loved in 7th grade.

Nonetheless, the love arrived. Bushels of it.

There's a famous spiritual guru I like who speaks about the wrongheadedness of how we're taught to pray. Many people treat prayer as if it were a vending machine -- stopping by whenever they want something. Prayer is for asking, yes, he says, but it's really the language we use to communicate with the ongoing part of ourselves that's connected to The Big Out There. (My words, not his.)

This is true, but ... well, the vending machine has treated me well, too. My favorite story of this may be a repeat, but it goes like this. I was 36 weeks pregnant with my first child when one day I said aloud to my friend Julie, "I just can't take this anymore." Meaning, being pregnant.

I was so over it.

A few hours later, Katy was born, and I knew -- KNEW -- that I'd been heard. This has happened time and again.

That's all I have to say tonight. I'm a believer. I'm not always sure what's there, but something is -- or someone. And they are listening with love.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

I'm Sorry, Were You Saying Something?

--> Here is a question for you: How is your attention span? 
Pixels have shrunk my concentration to the size of a rude little pinhole. I have read enough (in my reading days, before I felt the need to force myself to shut down my smart phone) to understand the general brain mechanics of all this instant media gratification. 

But to understand it is not necessarily to grab hold of it. Sometimes, too often, I m rudely inattentive to the living beings around me because I cannot stop looking at my virtual world, waiting for the next thought to arrive over the transom, having been thunk by someone else. 

Purposeful slowing down helps.
Reading a books helps.
So does walking outside and leaving the phone inside.  It all takes me back to when I was kid, long before I ever thought to worry that one day something would come over me and try to hijack my brain.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

How to Live with a Dog

Want to see this larger? Click on the picture.
You will never find anyone more good-hearted than a dog person. Among these, you’ll also find the most well-meaning, unsolicited-advice-giving people on the planet.  And they have RULES – such rules!  I used to think the fastest way to rain hellfire on oneself was to admit formula-feeding one’s infant. Now I know it’s to confess to the “wrong” kind of dog training philosophy on Facebook. (Truth: Cesar Milan can divide a room of dog lovers like nobody's biz.)

With that said, I offer my advice about living with dogs.

A dog comes into your world with certain habits and proclivities, and over time begins to shape himself to his environment. He learns the vibe of household, and starts to notice routines. He trains you a bit. But you do most of the training by discovering what flavors of happiness persuade him to your idea of his most civilized best. You also find out what kind of discipline allows him to hear “no” so he can feel certainty about your rules.

The relationship gradually mellows like a nice red wine set out to breathe. But no one’s perfect. So you love each other. You overlook each other’s faults. (The dog has the bigger job there, you know.) Play and be joyful with your dog. Be ethical and kind in regard to your beast, and also be the grownup. 

Things will be just fine.  Or better.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

This little man ...

I met Hooper an and art and antiques store in Cleveland. He was so friendly, waddling up to greet me when I arried, and soft as a 6-month-old puppy, that I absolutely had to draw him. Hooper is actually 8. But he has a young spirit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Farm Animals and a Great Quote

Above are the farm animals. What a nice day I had.

Here's the quote, which has nothing to do with my day, except I read the quote today. But I just loved it so much I had to memorialize it here:

From James Parker, writing in the New York Times Book Review:
"From my fellow bakers, those yeasty intellectuals, I learned about industry and cohesion and the moral obligation to be cheerful. The last lesson was the most important, and extended out of the bakery and into life. If you’re depressed, maimed, crocked in some way, fair enough — let us know. But if not, then in the name of humanity stop moaning. Keep a lightness about you, a readiness. Preserve the digestions of your co-workers; spare them your mutterings and vibings. It’s highly nonliterary, but there we are: Be nice."

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Museum: Are You Doing It Wrong?

A concert took me to the Cleveland Museum of Art last Sunday. Work-related. An 11-year-old piano prodigy would be performing Haydn and Chopin and Rachmaninoff with skill that was several hundred times what I was able to master in like 11 years of piano lessons way back when.

But never mind. This is not about the freakish miracle of the prodigy. We will leave that for another time (though if it doesn't make you wonder about God, I don't just don't know about you).

Before the concert, I went to the museum early so I could draw a bit. I went immediately to the Buddhism space on the second floor -- drawn, I think, by the prospect of all those big statues and faces. There are wonderful watercolor book illustrations, too, but this (see above) is what I wanted.

There happened to be a bench where I could rest myself and cross my legs and splay my book and uncap my pen. And then I contemplated the head of the Boddhisattva for a while, as well as the woman who took her time really appreciating all the stuff in the case.

Most of us grow up learning that a museum is like a magazine -- something to flip through, to scan to completion. But if you have something like the Cleveland Museum of Art nearby, or even just a modest little place with a few interesting objects, the best thing you can do for yourself is visit often and spend a little time with just a Thing or Two. Get to know it. (Draw it if you like, or not -- if the guards don't yell at you to stop.)

In art school, they teach that the first layer of getting to know a piece of art is just to describe it to yourself as literally as possible. The terracotta godhead is massive, with flat, slanted eyes and a head dress that maybe looks like something a wealthy person might've worn, or maybe not. The left ear is broken off. The nose has crumbled away. The expression is serene. Et cetera.

If that's all you were to do, just contemplate what you see, you would bridge the gap between the person or persons who made the work way long ago and yourself, standing there with this object in 2014. It's not the magazine-flippage experience of the museum. For that, we have magazines.

For the sublime, we have this work of art.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A chicken

Two years ago when we went to the Jersey Shore we visited the little zoo nearby. Oddly, I remember best the chickens, as well as the fact that they had a snowy owl. Anyway, I shot a lot of reference photos of this bold rooster. He perched on a chain link fence and seemed to enjoy being admired. But then, don't we all?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Children's Book Conference Weekend

I thought you might enjoy seeing the page spread I created as a workshop "homework" assignment. We had to read text for a picture book, then illustrate one two-page spread (keeping in mind, of course, where the gutter will be and all that). The story is about two kids who love the library and find friendship in each other there. It's a real book-to-be by a writer who has not been revealed to us. 

I chose the part of the story that introduces the boy character, who wakes up surrounded by dinosaurs, which which he is obsessed. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Another illustrated recipe

You'll have to click to see the whole recipe -- a favorite from my mother's recipe box, and a staple of the 1960s housewife.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Happy Convocation

Today was Convocation at the college.

For those of you not immersed in academia, that's the official start to the new collegiate year. I like the idea of this tradition. I like the idea of our work lives broken up into chunks that coincide with the school year we knew as kids.

Convocation usually means listening to a number of speeches and the articulation of goals. I find it helps to concentrate if I draw, so I did that today. But I took notes, too, because our keynote speaker was worth hearing and I wanted to remember his hourlong history of the university/college tradition and culture.

Yes. Really.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bunnies on the Brain

It takes much longer than you might think to draw a properly cute bunny, and I need a couple for my next little project. My #dailydrawing got me part of the way. I sorta like this fellow:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Happy Friday in August

Alonzo has been on holiday as the summer has done its summery, unscheduled thing.

A new school year is right around the corner, but he and Roscoe are squeezing all the fun they can out of what's left of the sweetest season.

It is Thursday night as I post this, also known as Friday Eve. May your weekend be perfect.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Food for thought

So yes, you can really make this. It's a variation on a recipe I found years ago in one of those little booklets that they used to sell at the grocery story check-out line. I've improvised with it over the years.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


The modern world moves faster than I'm inclined to move. This is probably true for a lot of us, though not everyone. I see these people racking up lines and lines of tasks on their to-do list, writing them down, scuttling about, crossing them out, unable to sit still, unable to calm themselves if they're not actively pushing the boulder up the hill. And I admire them, even if I've only ever been able to approximate their energy.

The difference now, as I've gotten a little more, uh, seasoned, is that I no longer think my reptilian pace is necessarily wrong, or that the hamster wheel of constant activity is necessarily ideal. Deadlines are good, but so is breathing room.

The humble little sketchbook drawing here was something I worked on it bits over a few days as I did my best to put in my drawing time around some fair-to-middlin-sized life stress. There's something good about letting some air in between the work. It isn't a great drawing, but there are things that developed that I like -- things that wouldn't have happened if I'd tried to wrap it all up in one sitting, as I usually do.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Some Art and Words From the Land of the Gulls

First day at Stone Harbor. First drawing of the vacation.

Lylah and Katy encouraged me to resist the urge to add color.

I had an especially fun time watching gulls this year. Also, that cool crab shell was lots of fun to find a draw.

This was one of my favorite mornings. I visited The Wetlands Institute -- which, by the way, is not in the middle of the river, as it seems here. That's just the way I composed the page.

On our one  rainy day, we drove to Millville, NJ, site of Wheaton Arts and the Museum of American Glass.       

Midway through our week at the beach on the southern Jersey Shore the other day, Lylah asked me, "Is this where you think about your family the most?"

Yes. No. Maybe. Consistently, anyway.
I cannot say when first the Sandstroms landed at the summer idyll called Stone Harbor. My memory is clouded with an earlier vacation to Surf City, farther north, which happened during the summer that "Windy" by the Association was playing a lot on the radio. I was young enough to be reading a Bobbsey Twins book, which I believe just happened to be about the beach.

But I know Stone Harbor became a favorite spot for my parents, who took us there when we were kids and then again when everyone was growing up and starting to have their own kids. During that time, truth be told, the visits were marbled with obligation and with some difficult family dynamics. But they were good, too, because I can see my mother in her bathing suit and cheer, and even my dad in a somewhat more relaxed mood than usual.

So in addition to being perfect in the way an old-fashioned beach resort is, Stone Harbor also is to me like a silver bracelet spanning the decades. (I've always had a thing for charms.) I collect my summer beach memories and hang them on this one perfect chain.

One memory: On a breezy night in perhaps early August of 1985, I walked the beach with my brother Greg, who was four years older than me and, in our twenties, seemed to be finally becoming my friend. On our beach walk, he gave me some good brotherly advice about a boy. Well, a man, actually. Greg was clear-eyed and correct in warning me off, and I remember feeling comforted to have him looking out for me.

The next day I drove him to the Philadelphia airport so he could catch a flight somewhere for work.
Those were my last conversations with him -- on the beach, and in the car to the airport. By September he we was gone.

Memory two: Friday night, just two sultry days ago was I write this, Carlo, Katy, Lylah and I went to the southern tip of the island, where shorebirds nest and you can see Cape May in the distance. You have to walk a path through a thicket of shrubbery and sea grasses to get to this vantage point, and  on this night you also had to run a gantlet of little bugs of some sort. But we got to the head of the beach in time to see the orange ball of the setting sun stretching across the blade of land and bounce its light off the waves of the Atlantic.

Sand pipers and gulls scuttled and fished in the foam. We took a bunch of photos with Lylah's Nikon and our phone cameras and the light and the air seemed perfect, and everyone was glad I'd dragged them out there, and Lylah was happy that she'd finally gotten the photos she had tried to get all week.

Is Stone Harbor the place where I think most about my family? Yes, I guess it is the place where I think about them all in a joyful way. The constancy of the surf gives me comfort against the feeling of how fleeting it all is.

We drive 500 miles to dig our toes in the sand and catch a shallow little body-surfing wave under the watchful eyes of a new crop of life guards.  We drive 500 miles for ice cream at Springer's and to stare at the hermit crabs at the Five and Ten.

We drive and we drive and we drive, and then we get there just in time to snatch these moments of bliss wafting by in the salt air. We gather them to guard them, and to hang them on the chain.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Creaky joints

All energy and attention has gone to the Tri-C JazzFest for the last several weeks and I did almost no drawing or sketchbook work. Well, the rust settles in pretty quickly, my friends. 

The only way to work it out is to work it through. Do the rusty-joint work to get it out of your system. It's this way in everything: writing, exercise, painting. It's OK. Whatever you had comes back quickly enough and you move on to whatever you're going to have after more practice. Which now includes a talent for picking up after a dry spell. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Catching Up

Ari in June
I've been not so great at posting, but I thought I'd try to catch up a bit. Here's a little commission I did of baby Ari for father's day. He's a tremendously magnetic baby, son of my colleague Tammy. I wanted to capture his utter roundness and the wiseness of his expression. I think it worked.

My Hat, These Pants
This hipster dude was someone I saw at the Asian festival back in May, on a day that might've been 90 degrees with 110 percent humidity. Instead it was about 50 degrees and I had to buy a jacket. I just kind of loved hipster dude's confident, metrosexual authority.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Not in this picture: The couple I eavesdropped on while I was drawing this spread at the coffee shopt at Barnes & Noble today.

They sat over my left shoulder, huddled in intimate conversation. He seemed to be trying to explain some kind of longstanding failure. She sounded guardedly receptive. Theirs was a relationship that had clearly spanned time and bumps in the road. At one point he said, "I wasn't sure I'd ever see you again." Then there was lots of talk about money he'd be getting from an inheritance.

On and on it went. Eventually, someone pass their table. Hellos all around. The conversation switched on a dime from intimate to the sort of talk people do when they run into each other -- asking about aging parents and friends in common. A series of bad Jewish jokes ensued, told from what seemed to be the inside. (I hope so, anyway.)

After a time, the three walked out together. I wondered if the couple had said everything that needed to be said, or if the acquaintance had thrown them totally off track. I wondered whether the guy would ever get the money he said was coming to him, or if that had been a card he was playing with the hope of seeming more viable.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Inspiration from all over

Today's drawing was inspired by my friend Molly, mother of two kitties, who keeps getting signs from the universe that she has in fact had a baby. We've had a lot of fun with this, and suddenly it cried out for a little sketch.

So, congratulations, Molly! Oh, and congratulations on being an aunt! And a good friend to people who have children! Well done! ;-)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Oh, dear

I spent all night doing writing for my day job, but in the end I could not go to bed without at least going through the motions of a #dailydrawing. I scribbled something like this during a meeting yesterday, and then, er, refined it this evening. Perhaps Mother's Day had me in a mood.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Commence to draw

Katy graduated yesterday, sort of. (Minus the internship she has to do this summer.)
Nice ceremony, only about two hours long. But long enough to observe and draw.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Life drawing

I've drawn this angle before, though I think maybe the last time it was Pearl. There's so much detail in their faces, and it's so nice when they're out in slumber and don't mind the studying gaze.

Of course if you read the text, you'll probably figure out that I meant to say Roscoe was nudging my LEFT hand, not my right, fore a belly rub. It is a wondrous thing, to rub a dog's belly and draw his face at the same time. This is how I climb mountains. This is my idea of adventure.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Silly selfie

I put a challenge out to our illustrators group to do a self-portrait -- silly or otherwise. Figured I'd better play, too ...

Monday, May 05, 2014

Would an alligator use a canoe?

Only if he wanted to float with his non-swimming friends. The #substitutebunnies aren't big fans of swimming, of course.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Oh, hey! Look at the white background!

This might seem like a small thing, but I found the secret to turning off the thing that was turning all my white backgrounds gray.

So where before, this image would've looked extra yuck (I don't love the image itself, but it was my #dailydrawing sketch and all that), now it's just low-key yuck with a few decent elements.

That is all. Oh, except that of course as usual you can click on the image and make it bigger if you'd like to read.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Tomorrow's post today

Here's a little peek at tomorrow's #happyfriday #dailydrawing.

It's a compositional nod to a particular illustration by Leonard Filgate, originator of the "Rip Squeak" character, a print of which (above) I happen to own. The image was the art used for the poster of the L.A. Times book festival years back, and a framed version hung in the ladies room at Joseph-Beth Booksellers for a handful of years. I loved it. I love it still.

But that's another story.

Tonight when I was preparing my Happy Friday image, and didn't quite know what Alonzo felt like doing, I stared up at Rip Squeak and thought: Hmmmmn.

And there you go.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Just how daily IS this daily drawing?

The last several days have been full of finishing important illustration-related projects, and not so full of #dailydrawing. But this evening I got to study Cookie, Taylor's doggie, and it made me happy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Week's End

Every Friday, when I'm feeling kind of good that I have some unclaimed hours ahead, I also think about what it means to have spent another five days of my life. Hopefully, I've accomplished something -- nudged the ball forward a bit, done something decent and good and perhaps been kind in some way. But weekends are definitely a double-edged sword, I think. Yes, we made it to the end of the work week, but we also edged further along the great finite calendar. Hmmmn.

Then I go back to feeling like Alonzo and the #substitutebunnies here. Ahh, freedom.
Happy weekend.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Checking In

This year I've posted to the blog virtually every day, as a kind of record of my #dailydrawing commitment. The effort has been partly in support of my Alonzo book project and partly as a lark: let's see what happens when I promise to draw every day. The blog (and Facebook and Instagram) have helped me stay accountable but also motivated with the instant gratification that comes with "publishing." (It's still hard for me to equate blogging with actual publishing.) But sometimes I find myself tossing a picture here at the last minute just stay on the record, and skimping a bit on thoughtfulness.

So, a little thought: The #dailydrawing commitment -- made in haste at the turn of the year -- has been one of the best things I've done for a long time. I think it's improving my work. More importantly, it has made working for myself more pleasurable. I like comfortable routines. Drawing every day, and spending time daily in the "studio" (really just an office over the garage) has become something I look forward to because I'm less anxious about screwing up. When you do a lot of work, there's less pressure on each individual effort; you know you're coming back the next day anwyay.

I also have been thinking about illustrator Bobby Chiu of Imaginism Studios, who wrote this great little book The Perfect Bait, which talked about the practices of better, more successful illustration. He talks about always working with intention (and I suspect he would add, "Even if you're just doing a little sketch of terminally cute bears"). What do you want to do with this drawing? How do you want to challenge yourself here? This was a sea change for me, because when I started drawing more often it was for the pleasure of feeling the pen on the page and seeing what happened. That will take you a good distance, but it won't take you everywhere.

Drawing daily (or writing daily) tends to launch one's efforts into that more intentional space. Maybe we just get tired of trying to follow the muse and want to lead for a while.

Enough thoughtfulness now. So often it leads to overthinking. But I wanted you to know that I'm still here behind the machinery that lets me throw quick sketches on this space. I'm doing rewarding work, and I hope you are, too.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Easter hat

Cleveland lore reminds us that in decades past, an Easter parade took place around the lagoon at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and that the centerpiece of the event was ladies in festive hats.

It's too bad the hat tradition died. What's more festive than a hat with all kinds of fussy stuff?

And what's more fun to draw than a lady in a festive hat, as one of my favorite illustrators, Maira Kalman, has done famously on the cover of the New Yorker (more than once)? If you don't know Maira Kalman, please go immediately here.

So here's my Easter hat lady. I might yet do another before spring is gone.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Well, I'll tell ya. It's getting to be a bummer posting here and seeing the gray background all the time. Haven't found an answer online.

Anyway, here's the drawing of the day. I had fun. Hope you're having fun, too.