Running Bunny

at mile 4, i noticed the now-familiar pain start to creep up from the inside of my ankle on my left leg. steve, who had been checking on me every quarter-mile or so, simply said, “shit,” when i told him (he’s a poet). i tried to slow down. i tried to walk for a bit. but the pain intensified and, by mile 5.5 i had to stop. that was it. i wasn’t going to be finishing this half marathon today. this wasn’t a surprise. i had been limping through the streets of manhattan for the entire week after my last 5k and leading up to this event. i had a feeling that i would end up here (well, truth be told, i wasn’t sure i would end up here per se—not by the port-a-johns watching runners i had passed minutes before amble past me with looks of pity. but, in general). i knew i wouldn’t finish.

my injury isn’t severe. it isn’t structural. my injury is caused by poor mechanics and over-usage. again, none of this is surprising. either way, i’m not used to not finishing. that’s not what i do. i don’t quit. i don’t not finish.

but, last sunday, that is exactly what happened.

a very wise woman told me quite bluntly recently that i need to slow down. she’d noticed how i was constantly running from one place to the next, from one commitment to another, from one project to ten others. “what is it that you’re avoiding?” that was her question. her advice: slow down. give yourself time and space. sometimes, do nothing.

what this friend was seeing is not only a fundamental truth in my life on the whole, but also some pretty keen insight into the underlying issues of my work as an artist. all this running, all this jumping from one idea to the next, all of this going is not sustainable. at some point, your legs give out. at some point, your body won’t let you continue even if your mind is already visualizing the finish line. and, at some point, your creativity will short-circuit and leave you on the sidelines watching the rest of the runners float on by while you await rescue.

i’m going to take this sage advice and try to slow down. my physical therapist asked me this week when my next race would be. the competitive brain residing in my skull responded, “you tell me. when can i run again?” but, i’m realizing now that i’m already in the middle of another marathon. My Black Cloud. my bunny. this goal. this is the finish line on which i need to focus.

and so here i sit, looking across the cabin at my running shoes in the corner, thinking about an upcoming photo shoot at work, worrying about the myriad emotions floating like ghosts above my head, feeling guilty that there is still an hour of light left in the day and my puppies are not in the woods, wondering how the four loads of laundry sitting up in my room are going to end up folded. here i sit. and here i’m going to remain sitting. and, at least for tonight, i’m just going to draw.

poor mechanics

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sometimes, life surprises you.

you’re walking along, distracted and hurried, trying to do your best just to keep the train of your life on its tracks, when you notice something shiny and wonderful in the bushes. as you scurry from work to your car during a pouring rain, you look up for a split second to notice a cloud that bears an uncanny resemblance to your dog. or, sometimes, someone you’ve known for a while says something simple, and suddenly you see them in a whole new and spectacular light.

yeah, sometimes life surprises you.

i’ve been working on the book and sharing it with my writing group lately. one night, sitting around the table talking about our projects, my friend, Ed, gave me a brilliant idea (Ed’s kind of like that). he suggested that i start an Instagram account for the main character. he realized that building a following for the bunny would help when it comes time to see what i can do with the finished book. Ed’s a smart man. and, so, with that, @MyDailyBunny was born. each day, i post a picture—one picture—of the bunny. sometimes the bunny is being silly. sometimes the bunny is being sweet. it’s simple. it’s fun.

and, it’s kind of amazing.

immediately after i began, i noticed that i was getting to know the bunny. i’d already sketched this character a thousand times, but now i was realizing things about how the bunny moved. i learned in what ways the bunny would (and in what ways the bunny most certainly would not) react to things. i learned that the bunny is mostly innocent, but with some slightly mischievous tendencies. i learned that the bunny, in many ways, was me—except way cuter.

the other amazing thing that happened is that people started reacting to the bunny. i mean, i figured that my family and friends would like the bunny. i knew my mom would LOVE the bunny. and, i guess, i assumed that there would be some others who would appreciate the bunny’s quirky personality. but, truth be told, i never figured i would get the reaction that i have. hell, a few people have even been kind enough to tell me how the bunny brings a smile to their faces each day. and, with that kind of reaction, i’m starting to get just the slightest glimpse of the feeling i always imagined i could bring to others with my goofy, little doodles. to think that something i draw could make someone smile in the course of their day. well, shit. that’s what it’s all about.

so, the bunny lives. feel free to follow along on Instagram if you’d like @MyDailyBunny. because, you never do know what life has in store for you…and you never know what simple moment might change your life…

and, you never know what the bunny will do next.

photo 2

in one capacity or another, i have been a professional graphic designer for 16 years. in that time, i have only missed a deadline once—and that was due in large part to being so sick with a chronic illness that i ended up in the ER suffering from dehydration. so, i feel fairly confident in saying that i’m the kind of guy who hits my deadlines. i tell you this not to be self-congratulatory. ok. i tell you this not just to be self-congratulatory. no. the reason i bring up this point is because, having lived a life dictated so pervasively by deadlines, i’ve found that i am utterly impotent and unmotivated when there is none.

if you’ve been following this blog (and, i use the term “following” quite loosely here since it is quite difficult to play follow-the-leader with such a sedentary leader), you’ve realized how few and far between the posts have been. and, while the name of the blog is a bit of a clue to the fact that i was quite aware while setting out that this would occur, i assure you that i am trying very hard to find ways to correct my instincts toward sloth.

well, recently, i became a member of a writing group. my twin-sister-by-another-mister, nicci, graciously invited me to join this group and i jumped at the chance. the facts that i am not a writer and (clearly) know very little about grammar or punctuation didn’t give me even the slightest hesitation. admittedly, i saw it as an opportunity to meet talented, interesting people (it has not disappointed in the least in that category). i was also drawn to the prospect of having a set time each week for intelligent conversation and for reading new, engaging works (again, it has lived up to my wishes). what never really occurred to me as i was mindlessly accepting nic’s invitation was that i would have to…well…write.

and so, there i found myself at a table, surrounded by intelligent, talented people who—besides my buddy—knew very little to nothing about me. and, that’s when it hit me. not only was i supposed to be able to speak with some sort of knowledge about the work of others, i was going to have to actually present something to these people who actually knew correct sentence structure and which side of the quotation mark to put the periods and commas.

luckily for me, another thought quickly followed. so i politely asked the group if they would be open to me presenting a “different kind of storytelling.” they enthusiastically obliged. and, thus, a deadline was born. sure enough, i was back at it and working passionately on my book. while, in the past few months, even the slightest speed bumps (such as a stressful day at work or seasons one through three of Sherlock) would deter my greatest attempts at productivity, now i was working vigorously and with focus. a whirlwind business trip to miami that was given an unexpected detour through denver wasn’t even a match for the power of the deadline. waiting in uncomfortable airport furniture, i sketched away, creating a more detailed storyboard to present to the group. i figured out gestures to express the right emotions and i even developed a first attempt at the cover. just like that, i was working again.

it felt good.

and so, i met my deadline—another gold star to place in my scrapbook of achievement. and, more importantly, it got me moving again toward my goal. my book is taking shape and i like the shape it’s taking.

and, the best part is that my group is expecting to see the next round soon.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. deadlines.

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the artist's apprentice

the artist’s apprentice

recently, i heard some very good advice from the guys of goodfuckingdesignadvice.com that stuck with me. maybe it was the blunt, direct way that it was delivered. maybe it was the fact that i’m highly receptive to communications containing expletives. either way, it struck a chord and i’ve been carrying it around with me ever since.

“stop fucking talking…and start fucking doing.”

simple as that. and, so poignant when stepping back and taking a look at my life. i spend a lot of time talking. A LOT of time. but, how often am i able to follow through with action? how often are any of us able to do so?

i was doing a little painting this weekend (the front door to my cabin, not some sort of creative masterpiece) and listening to the TED Radio Hour on NPR. (blogger’s note #1: in case any of you were wondering if i am over 30 years old and/or living in vermont, please just refer back to that last sentence. ) the show this week was about success…how we define it, how we go about obtaining it, what are the characteristics of a “successful” person. and, it all got me thinking. we all have good ideas. sure, some of us more than others. but, generally speaking, we’ve all had moments of clarity and creative inspiration. what i’ve come to understand about people who are successful versus the rest of the masses, though, is that not all of us have the capacity to follow through. we don’t want to be bothered with the WORK of bringing our ideas to life. because, it IS a lot of work. we’re too often confronted with stories of idiots who stumble across some sort of brilliant idea and then wake up the next day with 8 million twitter followers and a reality show. what we forget, however, is that 99.9 times out of 100, the truly brilliant ideas (and products…and works of art…and breakthroughs in technology..and every other amazing accomplishment in this life) come to life through countless hours of very hard work and failure and setbacks and frustrations and struggles and fears and more hard work. very few people are willing to stare that reality in the face and walk towards it regardless. the rest of us like to believe the journey is complete once the idea is realized.

i fear that i may fall into that latter group.

but, i’m trying to work through it. if anyone has stuck with me from the beginning you may recall that one of the very reasons for creating this blog in the first place was to help me work through it all. not that it’s been a booming success, but i do hope we’re making some progress.

now, let’s be honest. i’m not going to stop talking. for one thing, i’m italian. for another, this is a blog. so, you know, it’s kind of hard to stop talking.

but, what i can do, is to start doing.

and so i did. on a recent trip out to california, i purchased a new sketch pad. and i began to map out the story for my black cloud book. now, this idea has no text (or any great idea for the title as of yet. suggestions are welcome), so i’m not trying to work both of those things out at the same time. which is good because—for anyone who has been following this blog at all—it’s very clear that focusing on one aspect alone is proving to be quite the arduous task. instead, i simply (blogger’s note #2: i use “simply” here more as a figure of speech and less as a reflection of the level of difficulty that formulating the storyline proved to be) had to piece together the narrative in my brain and then get it down on paper so that i wouldn’t forget.

blogger’s note #3: i tend to be forgetful. it is EXTREMELY important that i take down notes of my ideas. otherwise, they prove to be quite fleeting. on the aforementioned trip to california i was hiking with a friend while talking through the story and coming up with ideas for it with her. and, while i can’t recall half of the ideas that we came up with, i can remember that they were amazing.

and here it is. the new book idea. the basic concept is “ways to deal with your black cloud”. a rabbit is awoken one morning to find that a black cloud has settled over him. he tries every way he can think of to rid himself of this cloud until, finally, he finds one way that works. it’s not very involved. but, i think its beauty comes with its simplicity.

and…so…this is what i’ve been fucking doing:

the story, part 1

the story, part 1

the story, part 2

the story, part 2

bunny comes alive

bunny comes alive

inspiration, like most things in life, cannot be forced. that’s actually something that i think about quite a lot considering my chosen profession. i wake up every day. go to work. and for 9 hours (minus an hour lunch break, countless time spent playing Scrabble, and the inevitable zoned-out daydreams) i try to conjure creativity-on-demand. naturally, that doesn’t work. so i fall back on my “old bag of tricks” and tried-and-true design clichés to meet my deadlines and keep my brand managers content. [side note: don’t tell my brand managers about this]

but, what of true inspiration? how do you manufacture those genuine moments of epiphany and summon the inspired ideas that will drive the kind of work that keeps you doing that thing that you do?

well, the truth of the matter is that you can’t. it finds you when it wants to. the trick is, i guess, to be aware enough to recognize it when it does.

so here i am. working clumsily along on an idea that has seemingly always been a few degrees shy of inspired. i’ve hit roadblocks and snares and can never seem to find that one last morsel of energy to keep me entrenched the way i need to be. it’s not a bad idea. and i’m not ready to toss it aside completely. but, i’ve been playing this game long enough to know when the curveball just doesn’t have the right spin (so to speak).

but, then…

then it happens.

first, i find myself in an etching class with three brand new zinc plates and the vague idea that i’d like to do a triptych. nothing much more than that floating around in my brain. and, for some reason that i can’t quite explain, my mind wanders off to a new friend with an enthusiastic optimism that i haven’t quite encountered before. and then, there it is. an image of a little character dancing in the rain underneath a black cloud. a visual representation of the spirit that has found its way into my life.

to round out the triptych i decide to play with the concept of the black cloud and—almost subconsciously—i develop a series of prints that showcase three different ways that one might confront their black cloud. and, then i realize that a new book has just been born.

Black Clouds: A How-To Guide

Black Clouds: A How-To Guide

and, then, it happens again.

another new friend and i are talking and she tells me this wonderful story. it’s meant simply to illustrate an experience that we all carry with us from our childhoods where we hide away a part of ourselves because of the conceived notions of what is “appropriate” for our gender, our age, our being…and what is not. but, the story she tells brings with it the most fascinating visuals and the feelings expressed strike a very strong cord with me. so much so, that one day while sitting down to sketch out characters for the first idea, i’m compelled to draw this image from the story that she told. and, then i realize that another new book has just been born.

Fly Your Colors Proudly

Fly Your Colors Proudly

so here i am. motivated again. driven again. but this time in two directions at the same time. i tried for a while to decide which path to choose. i went back and forth for a while until i realized that the beautiful things is: i don’t have to choose. i can, in fact, take both paths simultaneously.

and, that’s exactly what i’m going to do. the following is a synopsis of the two ideas. i’ll begin to unfold them both as the inspiration comes and as i figure them out. so feel free to follow along…

1. Black Cloud (working title): a visual story with little to no text. our main character awakens to find a black cloud hanging over him. he tries a series of “techniques” to shake, hide from, or disperse his cloud until he realizes that letting go is the only way to summon the rainbow.

2. Untitled (so far): a serious of vignettes featuring children confronting a societal pressure to act in accordance to one predetermined “norm” or another. each vignette will be a single page or a spread, some with accompanying text. some without. the common theme throughout will be the courage of these characters to take ownership of their own identity in the face of pressures to conform. 

we shall see what becomes of these in time as i continue to drawdle on…

*thank you to my newfound friends for inspiring me and allowing me to take a piece of you to add to the soup that is my scattered mind…

i’m a good illustrator. i’m not trying to be humble when i say “good”, i’m being honest. i know great illustrators. it’s my job to hire them. but me? i’m a good illustrator.

i’ve been drawing all my life. in that time, i’ve figured out a few things here and there and i can make them work really well. and, as i near the completion of my fourth decade on this planet, i’ve mastered some techniques and have gotten quite comfortable with a handful of others. so, i tend to avoid stepping out of my comfort zone and learning something new. partly, it’s impatience. why take the time to stumble and fall when i can dance gracefully through another line drawing and crosshatch my way up and down the page? but, if i am being honest, i’d admit that mostly it’s fear. i’ve grown so accustomed to being able to transfer the pictures in my head onto paper in a way that will solicit positive reinforcement that the thought of having people see me struggle and bumble with a new skill is a bit, shall we say, “off-putting”?

but, then, a while back, my friend, Meg (she of infinite curiosity and inquisitive energy, but limited time and follow-through 🙂 ), emailed me a link to a beginner’s etching class at Burlington City Arts. after about 5 minutes of checking out the class and the instructor, i was hooked. the night worked (wednesday nights). the teacher was an artist who i already admired (Hilary Love Glass). and the possibilities were inspiring. so i registered.

and, well, what can i say? i’m thrilled that i did. here’s the thing, it’s drawingPLUS SCIENCE. it’s perfect for me!

basically, the technique is such: file and wash zinc plate > heat plate > apply hard ground to zinc plate > allow hard ground to dry > draw into hard ground > set zinc plate into acid bath for 12 minutes > set zinc plate into water > remove remaining hard ground > dry. at this point you can apply ink and print your plate. OR, if you want to apply an aquatint, you proceed as follows: apply hard ground to zinc plate in areas where you do not want a shadow > allow hard ground to dry > apply a very thin coat of spray paint to plate > set into acid bath for amount of time according to how dark you want your shadow to print > set zinc plate into water > dry > apply ink > print.

it’s a tedious process. and, for someone who is not used to being patient with his art, it’s a lesson in control. it’s also much more of an unforgiving process than i’m used to. but there’s another lesson in that. allow what Bob Ross used to call “happy accidents”. let go of some control. let the art be what the art will be. my prints aren’t perfect. in fact, they’re quite amateur. but, i’m learning the limitations of the format and the limitations of my patience. and, i have to say, i’ve grown pretty fond of the little scratches and smudges and smeared edges of my prints. and i love them all the more for it.

now, if only i could learn to do the same with myself. 🙂

attempt #1: RowBot ZomBee

attempt #1: RowBot ZomBee

attempt #2: Hidden Demons

attempt #2: Hidden Demons

Finals

Finals

RowBot ZomBee

RowBot ZomBee

Hidden Demons

Hidden Demons

teddy

something wasn’t quite right.

i could tell from the very beginning that something was missing from this project. i kept drawing and plugging away, but i knew that it wasn’t clicking. it wasn’t making me happy. i would work days on a drawing and, every time i’d step away and take a look, it was just lines and colors on a piece of paper.

i was boring myself.

you see, like most everyone else besides tv news pundits, ultra-conservative bloggers, and the kardashians (i kid…kind of), i’m rather multi-dimensional. there is the side of me that has always wanted to be a children’s book author and illustrator. i’ve often daydreamed about drawing happy, little books that amuse and inspire children. i’ve thought how fun it would be travel on a book tour, reading to groups of little kids and laughing with them as they pointed out the funny aspects of my drawings.

and, don’t get me wrong, i like that side of me. it’s what makes me compassionate. it’s what makes me care about the world i live in and want to do right by it. it’s what makes me tear up at particularly poignant maxwell house commercials during the holidays.

but, there’s this other side to me. the twisted side. the side that…well, that’s just not quite right.

that’s the side that gets a chuckle out of things like the schadenfreude song from Avenue Q. it’s the side of me that wants to grab a beer and do mushrooms with sarah silverman. and, it’s the part of me that realized what i needed to do to save my project.

so, i’m sort of starting over. well, not really. but, i’m approaching it from a whole new perspective. i’m adjusting it all to appeal to that other side of myself. i’ve realized that it will be much funnier with large, imposing, ferocious animals and a rougher, more chaotic approach to the backgrounds and secondary elements. if i can rework the story to showcase the boy’s innocence and truly ignorant assumptions that the animals are safely hidden around the house, then the mayhem and danger of the pictures will be a great, amusing contrast. and that will make the whole thing a lot more interesting.

or…well…at least it will be to me.

the transformation

the transformation

(hmm, little did i know at the time, but it’s looking like my april fool’s post was less of a joke than i intended.)

side note: so, i’ve started another blog. this one is just going to be a dumping ground for thoughts and stories and ideas that flood this little brain of mine. if you’re interested, click here & check it out. i’m calling it Effusive Behavior.

ok. here’s what happened: i bought a house. i moved into it. i began to settle in. i had two months of traveling (for work and otherwise). the holidays came. then the snow followed. 

as you can see, i had no choice but to abandon my project and this blog. it was beyond my control. there was nothing i could do.

ok. here’s what really happened: at first i was energized, enthusiastic, and excited for the sketches that were coming out of my idea. then, i began to transition into the actual drawings and my big, red balloon sprung a leak. all of the life and energy and fun that was flowing in my sketches just died. and with it, so did my momentum and love for the project. and, as i so often do in my life, i avoided the situation instead of facing it head on and figuring it out.

so, i’ve taken a few steps back. i’ve thought a lot about what happened between sketch and final. i’ve looked back at the drawings and figured out that my obsessiveness is making me fixate on realism in a way that is draining and tedious and—in the end—boring.

and something else happened. work sent me down to Bogota, Colombia for a week last month. it was an unexpected trip and i really had no idea what to expect. after all of the jokes about narcotics and my seemingly-inevitable abduction and subsequent inability to pay the ransom, i found a vibrant and interesting city. i learned that Bogota is a city known for it’s street art (some call it graffiti…but, if you saw some of these murals, you would be searching for other ways to refer to it as well). i met artists there. i heard a colombian bass player sing 80’s covers in a voice reminiscent of Tom Waits. i explored La Candelaria and was intrigued and intrigued by the details and the life of the neighborhood. i visited the Museo Botero and was amazed by his vision and his work.

and, i started to get it.

i understand now that i’m not ready to abandon this project. i just needed to start over (in a way). so that’s what i’m going to do. and, what better time to do it than during the start of a new year. my goals now do not include a deadline. instead, they are simply to have more fun, to be more adventurous, and to care less about perfection.

so, here we go again. if you’re coming along for the ride, then i thank you for your patience.

oh, and…speaking of new things in the new year. i will be starting another project up shortly. i’ve learned through this process that writing brings me joy. and, well, i’ve got these crazy ideas in my head…so i’m going to give them a home.

so, stay tuned. and, happy new year!

Image

…ok…so i didn’t work on my book…but, i did draw a little something tonight… 🙂

my little girl is quite the inspiration

i have learned in my years that sometimes the path on which your journey begins is not the one on which you will finish. it seems simple enough. but it took me decades to figure that one out.

my journey started out in a pretty straight line. i went to school. i did well. i stayed out of trouble and graduated with honors. i got a great job right out of college. at that job, i met the person i thought i would spend the rest of my life with. i married her. i moved to the place i had always dreamed of living. i bought a house…

and then, things got interesting.

the home that i helped to create disappeared and i bounced around for a while. there were twists and turns, dead ends and pit falls. i’ve had moments of clarity. i’ve had moments of despair. i’ve had moments of awesomeness. and…well…i’ve had moments that i’m not so proud of. some beautiful and amazing people came into my life. some of them stayed. some of them passed right on out again.

but, through it all, i’ve just kept on walking along.

and then—without even realizing that i was trying—i found my home again.

finally home

this past weekend i moved into my new house. i wasn’t necessarily looking to buy myself a home other than some daydreams and musings. but, from time to time, i would go look at a listing and think of what it would be like to settle down and have a place of my own once more. some of the houses i saw had potential. some ignited a little spark in me that i could do it. but, nothing was quite perfect.

then, the second i walked into this little log cabin tucked quietly into the woods in Bolton, Vermont, i just knew that i was finally home again. it felt like me. and, after that, it all happened very quickly (and with tons of paperwork, signatures and stress).

so, now, here i am.

i suppose i share this with you to say that—again—my project has been pushed to the wayside while other events occupy my time and energy. i realize now (as i’m sure you all do as well) that i won’t be finishing my book this year. but—even though this journey has meandered off, circled back and lost its way again—i’m not ready to abandon the experiment altogether either. just as life has been, this project, too, has been a journey. what started out on a straight and determined trajectory has since lost its bearings. but, as i get settled into my new surroundings, i’m constantly thinking about the boy and his safari. each new visual and line in my new place brings new insight and inspiration. i’m still not ready (or set up) to return to the book just yet, but very soon i am hoping to get back into it shortly.

and, then the book will find its way home again as well.

 

settling in

yeah…this feels about right.