True Detective

2016-08-19 True Detective comp

My latest obsession…True Detective (Season 1). The best of writing and acting, atmospheric cinematography, world view… gritty, dirty, hard-core, beautiful. Matthew McConaughey vs. Woody Harrelson. Bitter cynic meets optimistic asshole. Carcosa. The Yellow King. DB on the bayou.The things that break and heal are strongest. Nah. That’s me trying to make sense of something that’s bigger than that. Human instinct. The winning play.

I want to keep drawing this, digging deeper, figure out why it is fucking good…

Illustration: Charlie Bannon of Calumet K

2016-07-24 Charlie Bannon cap

This is an illustration of one of my favorite fictional characters, Charlie Bannon, the wily man-with-a-plan from Merwin and Webster’s Calumet K (1901). I’ve been trying to capture this guy for a while, and I think with this drawing, I’m getting close. Translating the shadows of my imagination onto paper is a struggle.

The novel, set in 1901 Chicago, pits Bannon against banking collusion and labor strikes to complete a grain elevator before the bumper wheat crop arrives on the rails. He arrives to find the job hopelessly behind schedule and the odds stacked against him. Bannon never slows down for a minute. Expert at pulling a win from disaster, he uses know-how, strategy and daring to get the job done. Watching this guy in action is thrilling. Give it a try.












Identity: 1 + 1

This Week in the Movies…

While reading Jeanine Basinger’s The Star Machine (2007), I’ve been inspired to watch some of the old movies she talks about, along with others that catch my attention. The two from Basinger I chose this week were Taxi! and Theodora Goes Wild. My sister and I watched Love and Friendship, and I added another Melvyn Douglas picture, plus  Greystoke–a favorite back in 1984 when it was released.

  • She Married Her Boss (1935)–Claudette Colbert, Melvyn Douglas
  • Theodora Goes Wild (1936)–Irene Dunn, Melvyn Douglas
  • Love and Friendship (2016)–Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Morffyd Clark
  • Taxi! (1932)–James Cagney, Loretta Young
  • Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984)–Christopher Lambert, Andie McDowell, Ralph Richardson

Greystoke held up pretty well across the intervening decades, though on the small screen it lacks some of the impact it had in the theater. Of all the films, this one most clearly asked questions of identity: Are we our genetic heritage? The accidents of our childhood? Christopher Lambert’s Lord Greystoke chooses to be the crossroads of nature and nurture. And God, the imagery is gorgeous. Including Chistopher Lambert. He carries the theme wordlessly: perfect as a wild creature and equally commanding in his bearing as a gentleman, his eyes always suggesting a searching intelligence.

Last week I saw Irene Dunne and Cary Grant in The Awful Truth and was looking for another of her pictures to watch. Since I’d just seen–and loved–Melvyn Douglas as the cranky all-work boss in She Married Her Boss, I decided to go with Dunne and Douglas in Theodora Goes Wild. It’s odd that I’ve been watching so many screwball comedies, because, constitutionally, I’m ill-equipped to enjoy them. As soon as the obvious pairing starts to get screwed up, my anxiety levels rise and refuse to budge till the final seconds of the film when everything ends well. This was less of a problem in Boss because Colbert was so obviously the master of the situation and it was only a matter of time till Douglas woke up to the fact. That was a fun film with a lot of comic moments, but the ending felt tacked on and abrupt and completely out of character for Douglas. Identity is at issue for this mismatched couple too: the secretary he prided himself on understanding, the woman who thought she had been married for love. I can only guess they’ll be even more confused with each other after the end, but at least they are laughing.

Theodora was another matter entirely. Both Douglas and Dunne take turns ruining each others lives, both instances of which I found hard on the nerves. Jake the Dog though was a bonus in Douglas’s turn at wrecking ball. I also wasn’t convinced that Douglas ever had feelings for Dunne–it was never in his eyes, his voice or his manner–but you could tell she’d gone soft on him long before she admitted it. Identity was rather the point of the secrets in the movie. The best question it asked was whether there was more truth in our quotidian lives or in our imaginations. My favorite bit along those lines is when Dunne first enters Douglas’s apartment to find it the perfect incarnation of a scene in her novel.

Love and Friendship is a Jane Austen adaptation, which I’m always most willing to see, especially one that, while leaving the 18th century dialogue intact, renders it as natural to f the story as the costumes and period sets. Lady Susan, played with glib indifference by Kate Beckinsale, is a piece of work that even a chess grand-master would be challenged to out-maneuver. The only matter of identity here is the issue of the plus-one: who shall one marry? Lady Susan does not believe in being the victim of birth or fortune. She’s a bracing tonic, though not exactly a role model.

Last of all is Taxi! Its’ the story of a pair of young lovers caught up in the taxi wars on 1930s New York. I’m not sure how much of it made sense, though may be historically true, but it’s an excuse for Cagney to exhibit his hair-trigger temper, dance a bit, crack wise and romance the girl. The girl is Loretta Young ad she’s not afraid to dish it back to Cagney. It’s exciting to watch the two of them in their scenes together–they spark like live wires at each other. Hot stuff for a sultry Sunday afternoon. I liked that they were secure enough in each other to really fight, no holds barred; they’re a couple, sure, but they are separate people with their own motivations and ways to work things out.

People Watch

2016-03-29 woman with phone 2016-04 sketches sm 2016-04 sketch sm 2016-04-13 man sm2016-04-04 sketch 2016-05-16 girl sm  2016-05-17 sm 2016-06-06 man sm  2016-06-10 striped 2016-06-06 shade sm

Time to catch up on my daily people watch and the sketches it produces. These ten drawings, the best of my lunch break efforts, cover several months. I like them because of their character and mood–several of these people aren’t even involved with their phones!–rather than because of their poses. It’s an ongoing challenge to see how much I can capture in just a minute or two while keeping a certain elegance or energy of line. I don’t succeed often, but there are moments…


Mr. Brown

big-combo-still2Mr. Brown

You ever watch a movie, read a book and realize you’re being set up to hate a character…except that you don’t, because to you, he’s the best thing going? It happened to me today. My first time viewing of the gorgeous film noir The Big Combo (1955) and Richard Conte’s wonderful “bad, bad man,” Mr. Brown. Oh, Mr. Brown! The ultimate cool customer, even his smirk is menacing. But exactly why do I like this scheming, murderous, double-crossing bastard? Maybe because he’s all in–whatever he wants, he goes for; he thinks ahead, planning for all contingencies; moves slow, in control; he’s proud and arrogant and doesn’t care a damn for your opinion of him, and he’s got the balls to say so. His business is impersonal and that’s why it works, but his downfall is that the women he loves, he actually loves, and love just don’t always work out so well. Oh, to be a bad, bad man…

Diamond, the only trouble with you is, you’d like to be me. You’d like to have my organization, my influence, my fix. You can’t, it’s impossible. You think it’s money. It’s not. It’s personality. You haven’t got it. You’re a cop. Slow. Steady. Intelligent. With a bad temper and a gun under your arm. With a big yen for a girl you can’t have. First is first and second is nobody.

I’ve seen it twice today–now it’s your turn. You can find a nice, crisp print here. You’re first in my book, Mr. Brown. I’ve got an instinct about these things…

Drawing Attention

2016-04 lady with glasses

It’s been a little while since my last post, but I’ve still been drawing, mainly the people I see on my lunch break, the ones paying more attention to their phones than the world around them. An artist’s dream. One of the frustrations of my daily drawings is that I only see people at a distance and can’t make very detailed studies, added to the fact that my subjects shift pose constantly and don’t stay very long. I really need a posed model, but until I can arrange for that, I make do without what is available. This lady was kind enough to be sufficiently engaged with her cell phone that she didn’t move and didn’t notice me looking at her. Thank you!

Cell Phones and Other Princely Domains

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I believe it may be my calling in life to draw people sitting alone in public places interacting only with their cell phones. At least, if not my calling, it’s what I do with my lunch hour. To each his own. Although, admittedly, there are a few laid back guys whose main occupation seems to be surveying their princely domains. My posture is better, but I guess I fall in with their lot…a watcher.

Why I’ve Decided to Stop Drawing Every Day

1980 summer pencilThree years ago, killing time on a lunch break, I got excited by a little sketch I made that seemed to have a touch of life in it, and I decided right there that I’d try to draw at least a little something every day. And I did. I was super-proud of myself because I’ve often declared the goal of a daily drawing practice, but couldn’t muster the discipline to maintain it.But this time it was easy.

For three years, anyway.

At the start, the sketches were very humble, and if I do anything like them now, I feel like I’m copping out. My standards have shifted. Also, at first, I was very excited to draw and to push my own limits and learn everything! But increasingly over time, it has felt like a chore. It shouldn’t feel that way on a regular basis, which must mean I’m doing it wrong. I’m pleased at the way I’ve regained skills almost to the high level I had in my early 20s, and I’m very afraid to lose that. The loss of skill and the shame of failing at daily drawing are thorns that have already begun to dig under the skin, but so be it. I can’t compete and I don’t want to. I’ll still draw, but only when I’m moved to make an image, to play with color and line, to discover pleasure in the skill. And if the result is worth sharing, you’ll find it here.