Friday Inspiration: Danny Gregory

The Art of Breakfast: a film about Danny Gregory from DannyGregory on Vimeo.

Being able to draw always seemed to me to be something mystical, reserved for the special few, when I came across Danny Gregory’s book ‘Everyday Matters‘ I was sucked in – it intersected two things that I was interested in teaching yourself to draw as an adult and living intentionally everyday. Since 2007, when I first came across the book, I’ve followed the ups and downs of Danny Gregory’s life through his blog and his books. His output shows that it is possible to have a very active publishing career while also balancing the demands of a family and busy career – Danny was a copywriter and creative director for an ad agency for a number of years.

Everyday Matters‘ was a reaction to the accident that Danny’s wife had on the New York Subway that left her paralysed from the waist down. It’s a sad story that concludes in his book ‘A Kiss Before you Go‘.

Since ‘A Kiss Before You Go‘, Danny has left his job at the ad agency and started ‘Sketchbook Skool‘ which looks like fun and lets him work with many of his friends, friends whose work he’d previously shared in his books of pages from their sketchbooks.

For more from Danny including his first feelings on receiving ‘A Kiss Before You Go, check out the videos below:

Jane LaFazio interviews Danny Gregory from DannyGregory on Vimeo.

Danny Gregory at VCU – part 1 from DannyGregory on Vimeo.

Danny Gregory at VCU – part 2 from DannyGregory on Vimeo.

Danny Gregory at VCU – part 3 from DannyGregory on Vimeo.

A Kiss Before You Go: First feelings from DannyGregory on Vimeo.

Friday Inspiration: Wendy Macnaughton

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I first came across Wendy Macnaughton’s work through her venn diagrams, such as the one above. I was sucked in by both the humor and her minimalist, colorful style. Once I started paying attention I recognized her work in lots of places – funny how that works isn’t it?

Macnaughton describes herself as a graphic journalist, a term that I’d never heard of before but it does make sense if you explore her work beyond the venn diagrams and other lettering work that she’s done. She tells the story of the people that she interacts with through her drawings, marrying these with snippets of conversations that she’s had with them and calling the result ‘Meanwhiles’. I was pleased to see that her earlier collection of ‘Meanwhiles’ from the San Francisco Public Library, one that I had unsuccessfully tried to get a hold of, was collected into her recent book ‘Meanwhile in San Francisco’. Well worth a look.

Watch Wendy talk about her work and see her drawing in the videos below.

Wendy MacNaughton: Listen to Strangers from 99U on Vimeo.

Becoming A First Class Noticer

I’ve been thinking about what it takes to ‘see pictures’. People will tell you that ‘pictures are all around us’ and yet I find that few are able to consistently find them. Why is that?

Personally I feel as though I go through my day with blinkers on, really only paying attention to the things that I need to pay attention to in the specific moment. The things on the periphery are ignored in an effort to get onto whatever is next as expediently as possible.

This is a sentiment that I found echoed in ‘Sketch‘ in which the author, France Belleville-Van Stone has this to say:

Most of us have acquired, with time, the capacity to “tune out” the things around us. This faculty to conveniently ignore the things that don’e “matter” allows us to live without being constantly bombarded with visual stimuli. We need to be able to drive or walk without being distracted by the slightest object in our field of vision.

As adults we have trained ourselves to disregard the landscape around us in order to keep a certain focus, that is, where are we going, how we are going to answer questions during an upcoming interview, how not to trip in those brand new heels so as to avoid public embarrassment.

Jay Maisel seems to have this problem of seeing licked licked. He always carries his camera with him and is always looking for, and finding, pictures. How does he do that? He seems to have retained a child like curiosity in everything around him.

For me this enhanced way of seeing is most easily achieved when I put myself in new situations, where things are strange or scary or strange and scary. It’s amazing to me how I seem to notice everything when I’m in potentially dangerous situations – balancing precariously on rocks in the ocean before dawn, walking along the beach when it’s so foggy I can hear but can’t see the breaking waves or walking through a forest in the near dark hoping that I’m still on the trail. In these circumstances I have a heightened sense of awareness, time slows down, and I can pay attention to an enormous amount of detail. Interestingly this sense of awareness persists, so that I find that I ‘see’ pictures when I’m on my way home in a way that I didn’t an hour or so earlier.

Have you experienced this sensation? How do you get into the ‘picture taking, seeing zone’?

Friday Inspiration: Jamie Wyeth

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One of the things that I often wonder about is ‘what does it take for the children of ‘successful’ parents to be successful in their own right?’ All too often the children of successful parents fail to step out of the shadows. Sometimes that’s by intent but I suspect more often that not it’s just that it doesn’t happen for those kids.

That clearly doesn’t seem to have been an issue for Jamie Wyeth, a third generation artist whose grandfather Newell Convers “N.C.” Wyeth and his father was Andrew Wyeth. Jamie seems to have had a somewhat unusual childhood having left school at 11 to be home schooled and to train as an artist under the guidance of his aunt Carolyn. I get the sense that while he may have had shown some talent as an artist early on that he’s really worked hard and received very open feedback on his work from one of the great american realist painters – his father. In the video below that shows him at work on ‘The Inferno’ (I couldn’t believe that was watercolors on cardboard) you hear Wyeth talk about painting being ‘drudgery’ at times but you keep working for those moments when it all comes together, a point that I have now heard many artists reiterate in their own way. The muses favor those that they find working!

Wyeth has a major retrospective exhibition going on at the MFA in Boston now until the end of the year. It looks like it would be fun to see since it pulls together all of the various aspects of Wyeth’s work in a way that hasn’t been done in a number of years. Check out the exhibition site here and hear Jamie Wyeth talking about his work below.

Friday Inspiration: Norman Ackroyd

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It is surprising to me that in the UK there is a TV series that answers the question “What Do Artists Do All Day?“. Perhaps we really are living in the era of the creative as Chase Jarvis tells us. Having blown the best part of a day watching these videos my favorite had to be the one that shows printmaker Norman Ackroyd producing one of his large scale prints. In reading about David Hockney I was fascinated to learn more about the etching process to prepare prints and to see a master in action, in the videos below, adds another level of understanding. It’s amazing to me that such delicate watercolors can be produced by working on a copper plate with the added level of complexity that the work on the plate has to be done in reverse. Ackroyd has his reference image set up in a mirror to facilitate this seeing in reverse.

I was struck by the nature of Ackroyd’s project – to make images of the outlying islands of the British Isles – and that he tracks where he’s been using push pins on a map of the british isles. This of course has parallels with the Atlantic Basin project of Thomas Joshua Cooper. His work references watercolors that he’s made on location which is quite an undertaking in itself. A collection of his watercolor sketches from the Shetland islands is available and this work will be the subject of an exhibition later in 2014.

Check out a day in the life of Norman Ackroyd in the videos below.

Friday Inspiration: J.M.W. Turner

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The image above was the first painting that I can really remember having paid any attention to. It was a figure in an encyclopedia of steam engines that I had when I was much younger and I didn’t get it at all. It took me a long time to realize that what I was looking at was a steam engine, a Great Western train crossing a viaduct, even though there was accompanying text that described the image. I didn’t get it at all. It didn’t look like a steam engine, a train or anything that I’d ever seen for that matter. That of course was the point. It wasn’t supposed to look like something it was an attempt to capture a mood, a sensation, a feeling. Looking at ‘Steam, Speed, Rain’ now I would say that Turner nailed it perfectly. At the time Turner made this painting in 1844 he would have been around 69, his position in the art community firmly established he was well positioned to push the boundaries of what was accepted as the norm. I suspect that many of the people at the time didn’t appreciate what he was trying to achieve and ridiculed him for his efforts. Even so, he pursued the development of this style of removing precise forms from his work leaving color and light to give a sense of the mood he was trying to evoke for the last two decades of his career.

Turner was one of the first artists to ensure that his work would be preserved following his death and so there is a rich archive of material from sketchbooks to watercolors and oils to study. I doubt how he got from the work that got him elected to the Royal Academy at the ripe old age of 26 to that of his later years will be clear from a study of the 40,000 or so works that he left behind.

This looks like a good year for Turner fans. There is an exhibition of his sea pictures ‘Turner and the Sea‘ now showing at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.

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Also there is a film ‘Mr Turner‘ due to be released later in the year that stars Timothy Spall who won the best actor award at the 2014 Cannes film festival for his depiction of Turner. Check out the trailer below:

 

Book Comment: Landscape Meditations

I find that I can learn as much from looking at books from other visual artists as I do from photographers. One such example is ‘Landscape Meditations’ by Elizabeth Mowry, that I found recently while browsing in a local bookstore. From the introduction I knew this was a book I would gain something from when I read:

‘when one uses an idea already expressed by others, it becomes unequivocally necessary to take the idea deeper, further or in a different direction to avoid finding oneself on an inevitably dead-ended plateau with unfulfilling work that echoes refrains from someone else’s songs.’

This and other ideas in the book are very much in line with my thoughts for what I’m trying to do with my photography, to have my personality come through in my work. How to get there is a struggle that involves working hard and intentionally. I feel as though Landscape Meditations provides some framework for the exploration for those things that catch our attention, the themes that run deep in our work.

The book begins with a brief historical survey of those artists that have worked in series before launching into the 10 chapters that form the bulk of the book. The general format for each chapter is an introduction, the work and finally a section titled ‘Thoughts: artist to artist’. I found myself reading the ‘Thoughts’ sections for all the chapters first and then going back and reading the chapter through.

Thoroughly enjoyed the book and is one that I’ll keep coming back to.