Urban sketching is a lot of things: fun, stimulating, useful, and an all-around creative workout, especially the more you add to it. I like a little salt and pepper to spice things up, and usually little to no hot sauce. I’m being silly but, yeah, I’m just saying here that I find I’m usually doing more than just urban sketching when I do it. Often, it’s part of a bigger project. Or, like in this example, I’m also crafting a little movie, which is a whole creative endeavor to itself. That said, it’s really part of the process to relax and become one with the subject, regardless of anything else going on in the background. This time around, I tackle one of Seattle’s most beloved landmarks, and one of the all-time great tourist attractions, The Fremont Troll!
He’s always there ready for a hug.
The Fremont Troll is in the spirit of the great roadside attractions and then some. Due to the fact of its scale, history, intention, and overall artistic merit, it all adds up to a very unusual yet significant local treasure.
The Fremont Troll is definitely a thing, if you didn’t realize that. There doesn’t appear to be a totally quiet time for the guy as there is always a steady stream of visitors. Like clockwork, whole families pile out of minivans in order to situate themselves to best advantage for a pose with the landmark. The Troll goes back to the hippy-dippy days of the ’70s, well, actually, late ’80s. It was decided that Fremont needed something else that would speak to the quirky counterculture vibe it had cultivated over the years. And so it began as an art competition in 1989 and so it was, the following year. All the way up to today. No matter what your political bent, or vibe, there seems to be something about this community effort that can resonate with people on just about any level.
Casey Neistat in his element, a camera in the Big Apple.
Here’s a deep dive into what led to my latest short film. This one is ostensibly about urban sketching. I’m going to share with you a few things about a workshop that I just completed led by all-time great YouTuber Casey Neistat thru a filmmaking class on the platform, Monthly. I’ve been wanting to level up my moviemaking and this really helped me appreciate the beauty of editing. I came to a deeper understanding of the artistry behind a finely executed work. Just like any other art form, you get back as much as you’re willing to put into the process. It takes time to make connections and to see what to cut out and what to add in.
Lady Yum, Macarons & Mischief
When I began this particular video, I never thought I would end up discovering Lady Yum, the best spot outside of Paris for macarons! But that is the case. When in Seattle, you’ll want to make time to stroll around the Amazon section of downtown and then make your way to the main Amazon building. At street level, you’ll find Lady Yum. And you can always order online since they’ll ship anywhere in the U.S. But I would never have discovered any of this if I hadn’t been open to the process. One of the great bits of advice from Casey Neistat is to continuously seek out “interestingness.” Seek out the best and then, once in the editing process, really dig deeper. Be efficient! Be quick! Don’t be redundant! Don’t be dull!
Casey Neistat in his studio.
I did learn a lot and I still have a lot to practice. Casey compared the filmmaking process to writing. For instance, you don’t need a magic pen in order to write. And that’s very true. You can make awesome videos just from using your smartphone. But, more to the point, the metaphor holds most true in regards to creating order out of chaos. Bit by bit, you mold various random elements into a compelling whole. It is fascinating to see Casey speak to his art in more and more refined details, from one module to the next. By the last segment, he admits that it was enlightening for him to articulate, to “intellectualize” for an audience, the stuff he’s been doing for the last twenty some years, since he was a free-spirited teenager. Add to that the fact that he actually shows you all the nuts and bolts by going out and creating two videos from scratch. Casey has a long history of scrambling to create the next compelling viral-worthy video. He can now pick and choose his projects. It’s just a lot of fun to see him back in the ring and fighting the good fit for artistic excellence and integrity.
The Amazon Spheres
You can “learn” the process but then you need to do it for yourself. In a friendly aside, Casey asks, “You have been taking notes, right?” Assuming that no one has probably bothered to do that. He gives everyone a cheerful nod, “I hope you take as much as you can of what you’ve remembered!” To the very end, at all times, Casey Neistat knows how important it is to engage, relate, and get to the point!
So, I set out to leave the confines of the studio and go outside and make some plein air painting. That led me to the Amazon section of downtown Seattle, specifically the Amazon Spheres, erected in 2018, the two formidable globes housing more than 40,000 plants from the cloud forest regions of over 30 countries. This is a habitat for Amazon employees to go to in order to recharge and remain inspired. It’s quite a sight and easily makes one think of any number of other iconic landmarks, from the Space Needle to the Eiffel Tower. The Spheres are not exactly meant for the general public. There was some limited access inside, two Saturdays out of the month, but that’s been paused. That said, most people would just be happy enough to view it from outside. I was content to complete my mission and then I lingered because I knew I had really just begun. Only much later did I sort of stumble upon Lady Yum and that finally provided a way to hook into something far more interesting with a crunchy goodness.
Artist Elise Engler is like all of us who love to document. It seems that we all want to have our say and tell not only our story but contribute to the bigger story. But only a few generations ago, the whole idea of self-expression, let alone self-portraits, was mostly in the artist’s domain. So, now everybody documents. A lot of it is ephemeral and only some of it has that everlasting quality, like the daily dispatches of news items collected in Engler’s book that chronicle the events of that infamous year, 2020. A Diary of the Plague Year: An Illustrated Chronicle of 2020 is out now. You can read my review here. And I invite you to my conversation with the artist.
Double Portrait of the Artist
It’s the persistent vision that wins out in the end. An artist engaging in a process for an extended amount of time is like mining for gold or anything else with a less than certain outcome. There will be trial and error efforts but a person with a certain mix of qualities, like sheer determination, will reach a breakthrough. Engler’s art is about keen observation from collecting data: everything in her apartment; or everything in a series of purses; or everything on every block of New York City’s Broadway! Each of these, and many more, have been subjects for Engler’s work.
Medical tents set up in Central Park in 2020 near the artist’s studio.
So, it is a pleasure to have a chance to chat with this artist. We have gone through so much in the recent past. It’s good to have an artist of this caliber to create this special record.
Highlight from The Cathedrals of Art (1942) by Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944)
A traditional question that I don’t always ask but had to in this case was to ask about influences. Engler’s choices, once I had time to consider, suggested to me a more earthy approach with Marsden Hartley; perhaps a spiritual connection with the Sienese School; expressive with Philip Guston; and whimsical with Florine Stettheimer. Well, I hope I got it right. Suffice it to say, Engler has a very emotive and energetic style.
I invite you to view the video interview. I also happen to have created a brief movie introduction so the interview begins right after that. In our interview, we cover all you would need to know before reading the book. We chat about the whole idea of documenting and the concept of a news junkie. As I suggest, documenting, as well as an interest in the news, is something we can all relate to. Elise Engler proves to be an exceptional participant, taking bits of data, giving them a sense of order, and finding something transcendent.
A Diary of the Plague Year: An Illustrated Chronicle of 2020 is available now.
I have always drawn and I’ve studied drawing in as many ways possible, all the way to university and lifelong learning. And what I’ve come away with is that drawing is a limitless source that just keeps on giving. Those of us who enjoy drawing understand each other. And one thing we all share in common is a dual nature of observer and participant. We’re the ones who like to linger while also able to quickly size up a situation. We take a lot notes, all sorts of notes. We want to share our findings. Sarah Nisbett is one of us and she’s collected a bunch of her field notes on drawing on the spot into, Drawn on the Way: A Guide to Capturing the Moment Through Live Sketching, published by The Quarto Group. If you like to draw, or want to learn how to draw, then this book is for you.
Paris/London: A First Look is an art book by Henry Chamberlain and Jennifer Daydreamer, published by Comics Grinder Productions. It is a tour of Paris and London through the eyes of two cartoonists. There are 24 drawings featured in this full color hardcover. You can buy it here.
Art by Henry Chamberlain
Henry and Jennifer set out to explore Europe together for the first time equipped with sketchbooks and eager to create art. This is their carnet de voyage to share with all those with a similar wanderlust.
Art by Jennifer Daydreamer
The idea for this book is simple: share one’s joie de vivre on a trip abroad. In this collection of drawings you’ll find a nice variety of subjects covered: culture, food, sightseeing, and the personal observations that you find in journal entries.
The Montparnasse neighborhood where we stayed for most of our visit to Paris.
What is it that compels someone to draw what they see? Well, that can be anyone for all sorts of reasons. One ideal scenario is when you’re completely out of your element. Say goodbye to the familiar routine. Set aside your regular obligations. Your only goal, really, is to be good to yourself. Of course, we can all do that right this minute right within our everyday life. But it never hurts to set out and explore something new, right? So, why not Paris? Why not London? Indeed!
Henry Chamberlain: “Sometimes, drawing in the rain is your best medicine.”
Let me give you a perfect example of how being out of the norm gives you that added boost. While Jennifer and I were visiting the Rodin Museum, it began to pour down rain like we hadn’t seen in a long time. It was nonstop and torrential. But we didn’t let that get in our way. In fact, I drew my portrait of Rodin’s Thinker while being pelted by rain. Would I have been so nonchalant about rain if I was trying to draw something in Seattle? Heck no, I would have just packed it up and walked away! But you draw from a special reserve inside you that is saved for moments like this. I told myself that I’d better concentrate and keep drawing since I didn’t know when I’d get this chance again! Sometimes, drawing in the rain is your best medicine. As it turned out, it all worked out rather well. The drawing I did was sealed with raindrops when I closed my sketchbook. The next time I opened it, I discovered that the ink had run onto the opposite page creating a perfect mirror image! Now, that sort of thing would not normally happen to me back in Seattle but I’m eager to be patient and see if it just might all the same. These trips abroad have a way of re-energizing you and giving you the added perspective you need once you’re back home.
Rules drawing by Jennifer Daydreamer
I’ll add a bit more here. I know that our trip did wonders for us. And we can’t wait to go back. This is our first book together. We have drawn mini-comics together but this is our first art book. I look forward to more collaborations and all sorts of other creative projects. And I look forward to visiting that venerable landmark in London, now one of our favorite places for a meal and a drink, Rules! Let me tell you about it. Established in 1798, Rules serves classic British food (especially game) in what we came to appreciate as, “Edwardian surrounds.” The restaurant is decorated primarily with an array of vintage artwork, especially old cartoons, which we really loved. For the more adventurous, after dinner, you can sneak up to the bar up two narrow flights of stairs. This is exactly where King Edward went to rendezvous with entertainer Lillie Langtry during the time of their affair. So, the place is a little dark, intimate, and filled with a sense of intrigue. It was perfect inspiration of Jennifer and she created one of her best drawings there. She gave it to the two bartenders that night. But I was quick to act and took a photo before it was on its way and added essential digital color once back in Seattle. Pretty cool, huh?
Around the Champs-Élysées
Alright, now that we’re quite settled in and I’m in a more chatty mood, I’ll continue along for some more. The photo above is another of many photos I took on the sly as we were briskly walking from one place to another. You wouldn’t know it but there’s a story here. We began our trip in London, then took the train to Paris, and ultimately took the train back to London. We found going through Heathtrow to be rather comforting. I recall Charles De Gaulle airport being very hectic from a trip many years ago. Anyway, the plan had been to have a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower from the table we’d reserved at Chez Francis. But, for some reason, we were having great difficulty finding Chez Francis! We just didn’t have it all together yet. Subsequently, on our way from some other event, we stumbled upon Chez Francis and finally had our dinner with a view. This is a goal of many a tourist and even the Chez Francis menu is dominated by the Eiffel Tower. Later on, the next day I think, Jennifer wanted to know how it was that we missed the Arc de Triomphe if we were already on the Champs-Élysées. Well, it was already getting late and pretty dark and it just wasn’t meant to be! But I managed to get the above photo which I still like very much. I’m looking forward to finding the movie that is advertised on that column. Looks like it’s probably a moody action thriller, doesn’t it? Yeah, leave it to the French to make great moody action thrillers.
Paris/London: A First Look is available at the Comics Grinder store.
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.
Oliver’s Upper Bar. Mayflower Park Hotel is gorgeous and charming!
I have much to say and little time. This is true in the big picture and in the current timeframe for all of us, right? Okay, right. Right on! So, let’s do here a recap of this whole 24-hour comics thing that I just did. I want to follow that up with a separate review of the wonderful place I stayed at, Mayflower Park Hotel. Then, full speed ahead with some full-on comics reviews including this year’s Best American Comics. Later on, I’ll have a surprise or two as the month unfolds and son on. Almighty then, first up, a movie that I put together: My 24-Hour Comics Stay: Mayflower Park Hotel in Seattle…
There’s a bunch of comics theory swimming in my head that I want to pour over into select spots such as this post. One thing: Comics are very weird and wonderful and, if you let process take over, you can achieve great things. I see comics in the same light as any serious fine art: there is room for the raw and the ragged, work that comes off as out of place; but, at the end of the day, it is up to the creator to suss out and to be honest. Does this work rise to the level of being “art,” if that is what you are seriously, and sincerely, aiming for? Some hipster sentiment might see things differently. Well, time will tell because sometimes it takes time for certain work to come into focus.
Emily, my sweet main character.
Drawing. Writing. Both are essential for the independent cartoonist who chooses to create a comic alone, as opposed to being part of a team. In the old tradition, the alt-comics creator is a lone wolf. Packing a bunch of lone wolves together can sometimes work but they then become a pack and that has its pluses and minuses. You can also just pack a whole room with people of varying degrees of talent or simply enthusiasm. That can be good. That’s what you usually call a “drink and draw” gathering. If you place it in a formal setting and have one lone wolf as leader, you might call that a workshop. Ultimately, that lone wolf would prefer to be left alone to grapple with word and image. Thus, we come full circle.
It’s important to pace myself, considering the material I want to get through in the days ahead, so I will wrap things up by simply thanking all my readers and just reiterate what I’ve said many times: whatever you do, keep a sense of humor.
As our story continues, we finally check in at Ballard Inn. For longtime residents, Ballard Inn is a landmark. Now, it is part of the ownership behind the brand new Hotel Ballard and the revamped Olympic Athletic Club. We made sure to enjoy our complimentary access to Olympic Athletic Club. And we dined at Hotel Ballard’s restaurant, Stoneburner.
The combination of all this hospitality was a thrill for the senses indeed.