Visual sensemaking is a method to help you organize thoughts and plans by using simple content. It can be used in so many ways. If you happen to be artistically inclined, it can take you on some very interesting paths but it is there for anyone to use, whether you are an artist or not.
As you can read in my previous post, I am a big fan of Danny Gregory, his new book on creativity, and the online creative learning community of Sketchbook Skool. I believe Danny to be very sincere in his pursuit of making drawing in a sketchbook a “new normal” in anyone’s life. What he has to say is honest, direct, and spirited. So, with that in mind, I couldn’t resist doing an interview with him. I think you’ll enjoy it. I found Danny to be a delightful guest. I’ve done numerous interviews for well over a decade now, including best-selling novelists, award-winning screenwriters, and so on. Danny is someone who keeps reminding me to never forget that, at my core, I love being creative. We talk a lot about creativity in the interview and this “artist thing.” And, I have to admit, I don’t have a problem calling myself an artist because I am one. For Danny, he doesn’t care about labels as they can get in the way. I care about a label, especially as it applies to me. I guess I’m trying to say that I relate to what Danny is doing in my own way. Becoming an “artist” or maintaining being an artist is something that I’m proud of. Anyway, I’m sure that Danny has heard it all. In a nutshell, he’s the sort of person who doesn’t tolerate too much in the way of formality and wants you to go out and play! For goodness sake, go out and draw something already!
How to Draw Without Talent is the latest in Danny Gregory’s books on how to get into the creative habit. It is the first tie-in book with Sketchbook Skool that he co-founded with Koosje Koene. If this is all new to you, I know that you’re in for a big treat. Everyone can benefit from taking pencil to paper and drawing. And, if you are not a beginner but an established artist of one kind or another, Danny, Koosje, and the rest of SBS staff have an assortment of creative workouts that will entice you. It’s all about keeping one’s hand in game, right?
So, just click the video link and you can check out my interview with Danny Gregory. Upon listening to it a number of times as I put together the video, I found myself rediscovering all the care and charm to Danny’s approach. He’s a regular guy, no pretense about him, and he’d like to put a smile on your face byway of a sketchbook. Why not give it a try?
Visit Danny Gregory right here. Visit Sketchbook Skool right here. How to Draw Without Talent is published by North Light Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Danny Gregory portrait by Henry Chamberlain
I thought you might appreciate the above drawing my yours truly. I keep promising to add more of my own artwork to my posts. This is just a quick little portrait of Danny that I whipped up.
Do a web search and you’ll find numerous folks offering tips and inspiration on how to create art. Among your many options, you will find Danny Gregory. What sets him apart is a combination of amiable personality, common sense advice and guidance, and a certain tenacity that hooks you in. Danny Gregory is known for a number of inspirational books, including The Creative License and Art Before Breakfast. His latest book is How to Draw Without Talent, another useful and fun look at getting into an art habit. This title also happens to tie in with Sketchbook Skool, an educational and art community platform founded by Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene. How to Draw Without Talent is published by North Light Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Don’t let criticism inhibit you.
This is a book made up of one simple bit of guidance built upon another bit and so on. Before you know it, you are immersed in a book that is intended to be highly accessible and motivational. The idea is to get folks who are interested in pursuing art to go ahead and make the leap. There are a number of approaches and there’s plenty of room for various books and methods. What is appealing about Danny’s way of doing things is that he opts for a very straightforward narrative. He’s a regular guy appealing to regular folks. And isn’t that the majority of us readers? Danny wants to knock down anything that might get in the way of someone new to art. He invites readers to join in and emphasizes that no prior knowledge is required. In fact, as the title suggests, no prior talent is required either! That’s a good solid message: Don’t worry, be happy, and dive in.
It’s interesting that what Danny offers actually crosses over and will appeal to any background. You can be something of a seasoned artist and still get something out of what Danny has to offer. Much of what Danny is about is finding ways to keep your interest and engage you in a variety of exercises. If you like what you see in this book, then perhaps you’re ready to level up and take a Sketchbook Skool “kourse” where you follow along video instruction as well as have the opportunity to participate in the SkoolYard social network. The kourses are reasonably priced and you keep the videos to pursue at your own pace whenever you like or to complete right along with fellow students in real time. I’ve recently gotten involved with Sketchbook Skool and find its creative world to be quite useful and rewarding. That said, this new book proves to be an excellent place to start your own creative journey. You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.
Easy to follow exercises.
How to Draw Without Talent is a 128-page trade paperback, in full color, available as of November 26, 2019, published by Penguin Random House.
An emissary from the Queen of England (played by Alex Macqueen) has been tasked to persuade Fred Ballinger (played by Michael Caine) to come out of retirement and conduct his most popular work, “The Simple Songs,” one last time. Ballinger refuses due to personal reasons. He would much rather make music by manipulating a candy wrapper between his fingers. His skill and ability is still alive, albeit at a supernatural level, as we later see when he literally conducts a pasture full of cows. Well, he must have some pretty compelling personal reasons to refuse Her Majesty. And so begins writer/director Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth.”
Amid the backdrop of an otherworldly resort away from everything, we find a number of people, young and old, confronting or avoiding their lives. Fred Ballinger has made a friend there upon whom he relies for good company. This is the famed film director Mick Boyle (played by Harvey Keitel). If Ballinger is having difficulty with one pivotal time in his career, then Boyle is struggling to sustain his legend. He’s hired out and brought with him to stay at the resort, a coterie of young and hapless would-be writers to help him complete his next cinematic masterpiece. Instead, Boyle spends most of the time lecturing them on life. In one brilliant scene, he demonstrates the difference between youth and old age with a telescope. Look through it and things seem close, like in youth. Look through the other end, and things seem far away, like in old age. His staff can only nod and agree with him.
And then there’s Jimmy Tree (played by Paul Dano) who fears he will never live down his role as “Q” in a popular sci-fi television program. Dano seems to be playing a man at least twenty years older than himself and he’s great at it. This is the sort of thing that Peter Sellers would have done to perfection in his prime. Tree is sympathetic to Ballinger’s plight. In another spot on scene, Tree empathizes with Ballinger having to wear his most popular work like an Albatross around his neck. “A moment of frivolity can be dangerous,” responds Ballinger.
It’s not just growing old that is a bone of contention. Those who are in the midst of youth can also find it bewildering and frustrating too. One young and nubile masseuse in particular, (played by Luna Zimic Mijovic) steals the screen whenever she appears. Mijovic’s uninhibited sexuality is irresistible and mesmerizing. She has established an understanding with Ballinger which gives her some control, at least over someone else. In contrast to that character’s powerful but unsteady position is Madalina Diana Ghenea as Miss Universe. Apparently, she’s at the resort just for a little R & R. She is, no doubt, gorgeous and manages to project an elegance and intellect even while simply gliding nude into a pool. If she has any problems, it is in having to convince others that she is smart and far from vulnerable.
Madalina Diana Ghenea
The one person in the role of a bridge between the past and present is Ballinger’s daughter, Lena (played by Rachel Weisz). It is her unenviable position to have her life abruptly unravel when her husband runs off with another woman during her visit with her father. Her wayward husband, Julian (played by Ed Stoppard) happens to be the son of Harvey Keitel’s character, Boyle. In an amusing scene, Boyle and Ballinger not only interrogate Julian but also his new love, a pop star (Paloma Faith, playing herself!) Of course, Julian is a grown man and in no need of lecturing. Both Balliner and Boyle realize this but they welcome the distraction nonetheless.
Finally, there’s that special scene with Jane Fonda as Brenda Morel, who starred in Boyle’s best work. She lets Boyle have it by letting him know how far off the mark he’s gotten. In a film that evokes a Fellini sense of wonderment, this is an all-time great cameo.
“Youth” speaks to the common desire to be young forever, and fear of growing old, by seeing youth not as something fleeting but as something sempiternal. In old age, we can return to youth, if we’re open and brave to confronting our ambitions and missteps. To see each main character grapple with the folly and substance of youth makes for some of the most memorable moments you will find in contemporary cinema.
Editor’s Note: Above photo is by Julia E. Light. Find her work here.
I moved to Seattle many years ago and, while I still like to travel, I find it to make a good home base. It used to be thought that Seattle was, despite the media scrutiny, the best kept secret. I moved in 1993. Grunge was in full tilt, Microsoft was on the rise, and Starbucks and Amazon were well on their way. The gray skies were oddly reassuring. The mellow weather was a welcome relief from the humid burden of Houston. And, just like Elvis, I swaggered my way onto the scene. I painted. I drew. I photographed. I wrote. Little by little, it happened in Seattle.
Today, I continue to paint, draw, photograph, and write. And I blog.
Many years ago, I set out to create meaningful work. In the end, I wanted things to add up to something that could be called art. I never stopped believing. And I never will.
Over time, I developed a specific working method. I write in notebooks that eventually make their way onto a laptop and so on. I sketch in a sketchbook. I draw and photograph something every day. Over the years, along with prose and drawings, I have created a number of comics. One of my earliest creations was a full length comic book entitled, MAN (sic). The title alone cracked me up but the content wasn’t particularly humorous. It was a collection of stories, some based on dreams and some just poetic observations. I believe that was around 1996. It was fun and underground. It came and went.
Today, I have much to be grateful for and look forward to. I have created more than enough work in comics to easily fill more than one collection. For now, I have the book of collected work, A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories. At some point, it’s important to gather up one’s work, organize it, scrutinize it, and get it published one way or another. Only then, can you feel like you can move on to something else. And I am definitely working on that.
In the future, I want to show my art more, get more work published, and keep on writing. I consider posting to this blog a very important part of my writing. Some posts are only meant to be lighthearted and others run deeper. The activity of blogging is useful in so many ways. It’s one of those habits that I’m more than happy to continue to indulge indefinitely in one way or another.
Times will continue to change. Lives will continue to change. You do well to hold on to as much consistency as possible. Whether as a state of mind, or as an everyday ritual, it has happened, continues to happen, for me in Seattle.
Roy made himself comfortable by the fireplace. “You should get on with sharing your findings on those Earth Runners.”
“You’re right,” I said, “Now’s a particularly good time, don’t you think?”
“Well,” Roy nodded, “anytime is a good time. Now is a very good time. I’d add it to your burgeoning holiday gift coverage.”
“You’re right! No time to lose! I mean, considering how many people are still not aware of Earthing, tapping into the earth’s healthy energy. Thomas Jefferson’s regular morning routine was to dunk his feet in ice-cold water. He knew his feet were portals to jump-starting his mind and body. I can’t help but think that, if Jefferson tried on a pair of Earth Runners, he’d quickly pick up on the craftsmanship and design and would wholeheartedly approve! And when it comes to Earthing, Jefferson would have been a big fan too.”
From Meredith Clark’s “Residence,” a collection of poems:
The Inside pocket of his jacket.
Wool. The wind picked round
the owling boats. Found on the
wharf: a sheaf of black and white
landscapes, hand-tinted; flung in a
Meredith Clark enjoys working with small spaces, merging image to words, finding deeper meaning. In the above excerpt, we have an ambiguous image attached to a locale and to a poem. It is part of a collection of such arrangements on postcards creating a mysterious travelogue.
If you live in Seattle, you may have seen Meredith Clark at one of her street performances where she dutifully sits with a typewriter awaiting requests for a poem. That is one aspect of what she does and she finds these actions fascinating. She is always pleased to learn what the poem means to the recipient. She recounts one instance where the person had quite a palpable experience to the poem she wrote for him. It reminded him of something that was not literally in the poem but had managed to be drawn out nonetheless.
What resides between the said and the unsaid it what poetry can excavate.
Portrait of Meredith Clark during our conversation.
I met Meredith as a local coffee shop and we took the time to focus on the subject of creativity. What does it take to be creative? How can we all be creative? It was just a conversation with no expectations to find solutions.
For Meredith, creativity is a selective process, a matter of what to leave in and what to leave out. It was the study of photography that opened up the possibilities of writing. She had always seen herself as a writer but it wasn’t until graduate work that she truly saw how framing a subject for a photograph was analogous to the editing process in writing as well as finding a subject to write about in the first place. It is these considerations that have served her well ever since.
Conversation in a Café
So, you want to write but what do you write about? That’s where that photography analogy is so helpful. You concentrate on what is in the frame. You write about that. Well, not literally. But that’s what you can play off of. It frees you up. You are no longer attempting to write some stereotypical version of the Great American Novel. Instead, you’re getting to write in a deeper way. We chat about experimental writers that have helped pave the way to free up writers, going back to Donald Barthelme and his integrating words and images to the more recent trailblazing by Mark Z. Danielewski. Meredith recalls with delight a recent visit to Seattle by Danielewski. One member of the audience gleefully said that, since reading him, she feels she can now write anything!
Not everyone feels compelled to express themselves. Then you consider that we are not a nation, let alone a planet, of readers. Literacy rates are abysmal. The reading public is a relatively select group compared with everyone else. It’s a formidable minority with massive purchasing power but a minority all the same. Is it any surprise that most people are not in touch with their creative side? It is seen as a luxury, as something you shed away with childhood. It doesn’t have to be that way. In some respects, people like Meredith are role models even if she doesn’t seek that out.
We talk about how the internet has changed everything. That reminds Meredith of being a substitute teacher for a high school English class. She appreciated that the students were preparing for exams and suggested to them that they write out on paper an outline to help organize their thoughts. The class stared at her blankly. One student said that no one writes with a pen and paper anymore. What else do students not do anymore? Meredith believes that no one bothers to edit themselves anymore. “The internet,” she says, “takes away the ability to be deeply impressed by anything.”
You simply cannot appreciate one subject, while you have numerous others on a screen, in the same meaningful way when your attention isn’t compromised. And an image on a screen, of course, is never going to replace the real thing.
Those of us who are creative people are most sensitive to the pitfalls, distractions, and unforeseen factors that can derail a creative life. Meredith recalls an English professor relating his story of early success, being published in The Paris Review at age 18. It took him a decade to get over it, to recover his bearings and be able to write again. Just think of it, suddenly that aspiring writer has landed a major book deal, and he has no need for his day job. However, once he’s abruptly untethered himself from his routine, he finds he can’t write. No one said life would be easy, even when it seems to have done just that.
Meredith is at work on a memoir. You can find Meredith Clark’s “Residence” collection here. And you also read Meredith’s poem, “Land,” here.
Comics Grinder is a place for creativity and wellness. Comics Grinder is all about Creative Living! In that spirit, we present to you someone who is a great supporter of that mindset, Kathy J. and SHIFT: WHERE HEAD MEETS HEART.
Kathy J. is a good friend. She has provided some essential craniosacral therapy for me and has proven to be an inspiration, a fabulous morale booster. I am thrilled to have her as a backer of my recent Kickstarter campagin for my collection of comics, A NIGHT AT THE SORRENTO AND OTHER STORIES. That Kickstarter campaign was a success! Kathy chose as her reward, a video interview, which I am happy to share with you at Comics Grinder.
Yes, Comics Grinder is obviously more than one thing as it covers a wide range of topics, none the least being wellness and creativity. You can’t get very far without your health!
If you’re in the Seattle area, please do stop by and visit Kathy. She has got you covered regarding your health and beyond. Stop by and check out her site here.
The following provides news on Kathy’s latest workshop plus more: