Elephant in Nebraska

It's been too long since I posted here. I have been consumed with contract office jobs. Since March, I made my first large batch of greeting cards. I used poo poo paper, which consists partially of elephant dung. The paper was of inconsistent thickness, which proved challenging. 

During my slumber from internet activity, I tried to work more on developing a painterly style- using looser washes. I struggled with the shadows, but it is only after scanning it in that I see the sky looks spotty. Luckily I think my technique has improved since I did this painting. 

The themes of this sketch- a lonely western prairie, an out of place elephant and a modern wind farm in the distance makes me wonder about the place of progress and what we perceive as foreign. 

3D Turtle in a 2D World

I did this sketch while looking at a Geico ad that featured a sea turtle. I call it, "3D Turtle in a 2D World." The phrase reminds me of the line from the song, "I'm a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie World."

Thoughts on what everyday means, and travel sketching

Over December I travelled to see family and friends that live in the snowy Eastern and Midwestern part of the U.S. 

I did sketching when bored, which I am beginning to categorize now. I am realizing that categorization is a big part of art. Knowing where things are, how to present them, and when is a challenge. Recently I have worried about presenting sketches and "unfinished" work at all. Perhaps I should only present the "best" work. I think this is typical of most illustrators, but not of most comic artists like Lynda Barry. Many New Yorker cartoons are deceptively simplistic, a trait I admired even as a child.

Process is part of creation, and I think it is an important part. One of the reasons I never thought I could be an artist is that I only saw people's finished products. I assumed they only produced "perfect" pictures and words. Every masterpiece was once a shitty first draft... and that is what my blog represents. It is a window into every day life, not into the high register of portfolios and sales. 

The title of this sketch is "Party Swans." I wanted it to have a bad photocopy look, which from working in offices that run out of ink, gives me a certain sense of nostalgia. 

I am imagining the elder swans harassing the younger swan, telling her stories of yesteryear, telling her how it "is," and how it should be.

Zoo of obsolescence

A sketch. Mulling over the nature of work, learning new skills, and the fun of drawing dinos with human heads.


Winter Green in Seattle

Having lived in Toronto and the Midwestern United States, seeing green plants through the whole winter was novelty when I first moved to the Northwest. 

I collected some of these plants at Discovery Park in Seattle. Holly is one of my favorite plants to draw, I like the spiky leaves and the red berries. It doesn't grow in the snow covered areas I used to live in, I think it must be too cold for it there. I am also drawn to the symbolism of holly. Even many children know holly to be associated with Christmas and wreaths, but it was also important in pre-Christian Europe, perhaps as a symbol of truth, or protection. It's exact meaning is probably lost to the ages.

People here don't have the view of holly as I do. It is regarded as an invasive species, a disrupter of the natural ecosystem. I guess what you like depends on what you've seen, kind of like that old phrase, "where you stand depends on where you sit."

I plan for this to be a card. I felt that without some kind of animal or action the plants didn't hold enough power. By my signature I added my pet hedgehogs.

Fur friends

Some have fur and some do not...

I drew some pictures inspired by the book, Artist's Photo Reference WILDLIFE. The book was written by Bart Rulon, one of my teachers from the scientific illustration program. I am only starting to use it now, two years later. 

Some of the best advice I think I have gotten at SCBWI conferences was not in personal consults, but by approaching an art director after a presentation. I asked her how to begin drawing more loose. Though I have done gesture drawings, I find it hard to apply to my work. She told me to go to the zoo, which I try to do as often as I can. When I can't, I have started using Bart's book to do sketches. 

These were done fast while I had downtime at my job. The background is a regular sharpie marker, which is why it is a bit spotty. If I had used ink it would be cleaner. I actually love using office supplies in artwork. I wish highlighters didn't have such weird colors. As of now I have not been able to come up with a good illustration to do with highlighter pens. 

I think this would be a cool illustration for a graphic novel. What I really want to produce is something in between a graphic novel and a regular book....but it might be an uphill climb. 



Robots redact!

I think my post about robots misportrays the role of robots in our current time. Maybe it is better to say robots have remained popular, but robots in the 1950s tended toward machine behavior, while robots now tend towards human behavior. This is probably due to the advancement in computer technology, and the belief that we are approaching AI (or some would even say the singularity, when computers will overtake humans!!!!)

I think technology critics like Evegeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier make important (albiet not always correct) points about the dark sides of technology. I do worry that dependence on technology is curtailing the human ability to daydream and imagine, which in turn will stifle science and prevent us from ever developing AI robots.

I still prefer 1950s robots that are souped up computers to AI. What if the AI is unreasonable? So many people are unreasonable. They are swayed by poor arguments, shiny displays in stores, and appeals to authority. I think until we master philosophy and the ability to teach critical thinking, there is no hope of teaching computers something that we cannot teach ourselves.


Everything broken can be fixed if we work together

The rabbit children got in a fight after the mother brushed their fur!

Luckily they worked together to fix their crab/ monster toy. I wanted to celebrate the idea of fixing things, the value of thrift, and the importance of working together.


From an adult point of view I find the spirit of collaboration endearing and sad. There are many things in the adult world that are beyond repair. Peace in the Middle East, sustainable economic growth for all, and sound environmental policies are only a few of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that face the human species. 

Often times, people simply to do not want to work together, or do not know how. But maybe if children learned the value of cooperation when they were younger... and maybe if we all tried a little harder, we could make progress together. 

Then again, there is the Darwinian struggle for conquest, but some species survive through collaboration, and humans can be one of them!


I am working on drawing more robots. Robots are some of the creatures that continue to captivate me over the years. Growing up in the 1990s, I do not have many memories of robots from popular culture. 

People from my parents' generation were raised with the Space Race. I think people enjoyed robot motifs more back then.

My father continues to love science fiction to this day, and I have fond memories of science fiction book covers scattered through our house. Some of them featured robots.

The lacuna of robots today strikes me as ironic. It was my generation that first experienced computers as part of the home landscape. I can scarcely recall a time when my family did not have a computer.

I think the speed of technological change, and the increasing importance of technology in children's lives make robots an appealing theme for illustrations.

I have been trying to draw some robots with real mechanical parts. The robot below is based on the body of a short wave radio. The wheels draw inspiration from Model T cars.

Typically a short wave radio has three numbered frequency panels, two of which are designated for AM and FM stations. The last finds medium and high frequency stations that regular radios cannot pick up. 

Once I happened to meet a ham radio enthusiast in a parking lot. His car had all kinds of interesting antenna coming off of it. He told me that short wave radio continues to be important in disaster relief because satellite and internet communications can be easily destroyed by earthquakes, hurricanes or terrorists. 

Sturgeon wish you happy new year

In the Great Lakes Region of the U.S. and Canada, people go ice fishing. They build shacks on the ice and drill holes, then sit and wait for fish to bite!

Until recently I didn't know that sturgeon were one of the species fishermen caught there. I was familiar only with the Siberian sturgeon that are hunted for the popular and expensive black caviar. 

These ice houses used to fascinate me as a child, and I wondered how they knew when to get rid of them, and if any of them ever fell into the water with the spring melt.

Here are some sturgeon fish that have tricked the fishermen. One real fish is interested in the lure, but the sturgeon have also made a decoy that one of them maneuvers with a remote control.

Meanwhile, they celebrate new year in style.

The card is supposed to fold half way down so it is not initially clear that the sturgeon are celebrating.


Art Supplies

As the end of the year approaches, I take stock of things I need for the coming year. Here are a few erasers and a paintbrush that I bought from the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya in the International District of Seattle. 

Kinokuniya is the largest bookseller in Japan.   I wonder when, and if I will ever get to see a Kinokuniya bookstore in Japan. I love going to bookstores when I travel.


The most memorable bookstore I have visited is Biblio-Globus near Lubyanka Metro Station in Moscow, Russia. Biblio-Globus claims to be one of the largest bookstores in Europe. The metro station is located underneath Lubyanka Building where the KGB once had their headquarters, and where their successor, the FSB still has offices. 

Walking around the massive stacks of books in so many languages, it seemed Russian folklore, European history and spy movies all melded together. I wondered if spies might be among the book browsers, or if the spirit of a domovoi lurked in a forgotten corner. 



Practicing children

These are two sketches I did of children, never intended for anything...But one never knows..

To go further with it I would have to make more grass. I imagined the scene as Little Miss Muffet coming out of her book, along with the spider. The girl holding the cat could be a mother, but I imagined her as a teen sister.


Here a girl on time out imagines running away like a hobo. I think most children do imagine that once in awhile, regardless of how happy their life is. In the original sketch I drew a circus train going by out her window, along with unfinished homework and toys scattered on the floor. The picture was too busy so I cropped out the scene of her looking in the mirror, which was the most captivating part.

Happy Diwali

Diwali is celebrated in India, parts of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK (and anywhere else Indians now live). It is the festival of lights, and falls on the darkest night of the Hindu lunar month. 

Most of the decorations for Diwali are very bright. My drawing intentionally only uses three colors, to symbolize the darkness that surrounds the bright lights.

Interestingly, Hanukkah is also called the festival of lights. It too, celebrates the victory of improbable light over darkness. 


I have been experimenting with drawing one of my favorite creatures, spiders. One of the sad things about spiders is that humans don't really like them. I wonder how this would make the spiders feel.

Here a giant house spider has been kicked out of his home. He sits, while waiting for friends, who are also getting thrown out into the cold.

Black in white, white in black

"There is some good in all evil, and there is some evil in all good,"

This is the epilogue for the famous children's book Where the Red Fern Grows. As a child I thought this idea had something to do with the yin and yang sybmol, and actually, after reading about it in college, I think I was right.


I also think that opposites are inherently interesting and sometimes scary to us all. Even now, I feel a bit scared by this epilogue. It reminds me of magic- things are not what they seem.


I think I should have appreciated magic more as a kid, because in the adult world, where magic is scarce, things are dull.

Nutritious Neighbors

While walking in my neighborhood, someone left out a large plate of tomatoes and cucumbers with a free sign on them.

I decided to take some and paint them before I ate the vegetables. 

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I wish I had grown enough vegetables that I could give them away. I grew a few small yellow tomatoes, but they only produced a few edible specimens. 

I started with seeds for both large red tomatoes and small yellow tomatoes, but for some reason only the yellow ones survived to germination.


I am trying to practice drawing human heads more. I think it is important, at times, to use classical drawings for inspiration and to improve skill level. I am working on a series of human sketch drawings done from classical works. 

This is from the famous statue David, by Michelangelo. At this moment he is frowning, maybe worrying about killing Goliath. The amount of shadow in this small segment of the face communicates deep feelings despite the fact that it is just a sketch of a very small part of a large work, which I have never seen. 

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The troubled eye reminds me of Kierkegaard's famous philosophical book Fear and Trembling, which discusses Abraham's internal struggle about killing Issac. The book's focus on Abraham's thoughts and feelings is seen by some scholars as an ancestor to Sartre's existentialism, and a celebration of the value of each individual human. I think existentialist philosophy is important for children (albeit in an age appropriate format) because children are just beginning to understand what their relationship to the world is, and where their value to the world lies. Questioning the world around us should not be scary, but life affirming. Too often, smiling supermodels on tabloids in supermarkets make us all fearful of the imperfect lives we live. 

Mrs. Goldberg

A few weeks ago, the Kirkland Arts Center had an exhibit in their gallery about a fictional woman named Mrs. Goldberg. The multimedia exhibit was done by many artists, all imagining a curated life of an imaginary person. One piece showed Mrs. Goldberg's suitcase, another some jewelry made by her daughter. The exhibit played off of the carefully shown lives that we all lead on the internet, with social media. It also made me think of the curated lives that we lived before the internet, filled with dinner parties or house guests when our houses were at their cleanest.

I added some objects to Mrs. Goldberg's life below. I thought the first two seemed to portray her as young, but the impression that I got from the show was that she was older. So then I drew some books and made sure adult ones were added in. 

I am noticing that I called her Ms. Goldberg, while the exhibit called her Mrs. Goldberg. I wonder how that affects my view of her as a person. I wonder if Mrs. Goldberg would be angry to be called Ms., or if she went by Mrs. out of conciliation with the status quo. 

These are some of her dreams. They seem a bit scary. I hope they didn't give her nightmares.

To read more about the exhibit: