[N.B. Yes, I'm planning on selling this one eventually. Please feel free to e-mail me if you're interested, Thanks!]
PHASE ONE OF THREE: THE UNDERCOAT. Sunday, August 30th.
A blank canvas (see above) that I finished doing the white acrylic undercoat for, earlier today. Four-foot-by-four foot. Titled "Marfa One", it's will be the first of The Marfa Series.
Now to get cracking on the pencil...
[UPDATE: Monday, 31st August, 24 hours later:]
PHASE TWO OF THREE: THE PENCIL.
Yesterday (Sunday) I cranked out the pencil. Took forever, but it was worth it. Besides some very small touch-ups at the end, I did it all in one session. No messing around.
I got myself in a mind-set that, although it's large and on canvas, it didn't intimidate me. I just treated that four-by-four-foot, two-dimensional surface like any other drawing, like any other page in my sketchbook. I didn't treat it like "ART!!!!". I just did my thing and got on with it; not a lot of fuss.
I think that's how I'll approach all my big pieces from now on...
PHASE THREE OF THREE: THE INK.
[Update: 24 hours later, Tuesday, September 1st, 2009.]
Made a good start yesterday on the inking. Hope to finish it by tonight etc.
This is always the hardest part of making a big drawing. The temptation to "rush it" gets more and more overwhelming, the closer you get to the finish line. But last-minute rushing can easily ruin it. Oh well, I've been here many times before, nothing I can't handle etc.
[Update: 24 hours later, Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009.]
Got up this morning at 4am and put the finishing touches on Marfa One.
[Close-up of desertmanhattan, in its early "pencil" phase, Autumn, 2008.]
I was thinking earlier today how I had made my reputation drawing very, very small cartoons [i.e. "drawn on the back of business cards"], and now here I am, with The Marfa Series, going in the opposite direction i.e. very, very big cartoons. Two sides of the same coin, perhaps...
Yes, I'm still calling them "Cartoons", even if the rest of the world will want to call them something else- "Paintings" or whatever. No matter where life takes me these days, I still consider myself first and foremost a cartoonist. Like I said over at Lateral Action, "I never liked calling myself an 'Artist'. I think History decides if you’re an artist or not, not yourself."
With the traditional cartoonist's business model looking increasingly untenable (And it was in trouble LONG before the Internet came along , believe me), I think it's a good time to ask the question, well, what is a cartoon, anyway?
Does the cartoon HAVE to be what it's always been? Or can it evolve into something else more interesting? Does the cartoon have to be figurative, or is abstract perfectly valid, as well? Does the cartoonist HAVE to have an editorial or humorous slant, or are there OTHER spheres of human existence worth exploring?
Greetings from Alpine, Texas. I left here two days ago, and flew to New York City from El Paso [a 220 mile drive to the airport], in order to sign the the Ignore Everybody prints.
Yes, it was actually cheaper and easier to fly up there and sign them, than to ship them down here. Go figure.
After a few hours signing them at the printer's, I rushed off the Island of Manhattan yesterday afternoon, to catch a flight back to El Paso via DFW.
I was in my bed at the hotel in El Paso by midnight. Slept like a log. This morning I went to buy some art supplies in downtown El Paso, had a bit of lunch at Rudy's, then drove 220 miles back home to Alpine.
A quick visit, to say the least. "Welcome To The Over-Extended Class" etc.
Among my purchases this morning was a big roll of canvas. The plan is to make a series of large, 48"x48" [4 foot-by-4 foot] canvases, i.e. exactly the same height, and one-half the width of desertmanhattan. The wee sketch above should give you an idea what I'm talking about.
I'm thinking of calling these "The Marfa Series", named after Marfa, the next town over from Alpine, 26 miles away. I drive there and back about three or four times a week; it's one of my favorite drives in the world. The drive inspired the idea for the the series in a SERIOUSLY big way.
Some will be cranked out in a couple of days. Some will take a lot longer, even a couple of months. I have no idea where this is taking me, other than I think I'll end up somewhere pretty interesting. Look for them for sale over on the gallery over the next few months or so, or feel free to e-mail me if you're looking to commission one. Thanks.
[A sketch from 2008....]
There you are, minding your own business, then suddenly you feel "The Call".
The call to do something totally insane and futile.
But you know you have to do it. You know that if you don't, a little part of you will be dead forever.
I've been feeling a wee bit like that recently. I've been feeling another "DesertManhattan" [large painting] calling my name.
"You must create me, Hugh. You simply must. I have to exist, end of story. You have no choice in the matter".
Last year I worked on a large, 18"x24" pencil & ink drawing called, "Fred 44".
It was a study for what went on to become my largest painting to date, "DesertManhattan".
My friend, Laura owns a really nice camera, so we decided to take another picture of it.
Voila! Hope you like...
That's "DesertManhattan" there in the background, with a new, much smaller painting I've just started...
Far West Texas is well-suited to a studio made of canvas walls. The light is magnificent...
I don't spend a lot of time in the studio- too busy with other projects- but when I am there, I feel both creative and serene. A hard combo to achieve, for most of us...
I started on DesertManahttan last September. I finally finished it earlier this evening, around midnight.
Yeah, it took a a long time to finish. Well, I was a busy fellow, after all, doing lots of other stuff.
I could have worked on it forever, however like the old art school adage goes, paintings are never finished; they are ended. It was time.
Thanks to everybody who followed me along on this project, encouraging me all the way. It's been quite a journey. Rock on.
[UPDATE: 12.10am, 23rd March. "DesertManhattan" is finished. Hurrah!]
DesertManhattan is nearly finished. Four x Eight foot worth of insanity. Months of work. Will be posting pictures soon.
My next painting will be half that size- 48" x 48" square... the sketch above should give you an idea. Again, the theme comes from a familiar place. Like I said when I first started on DesertManhattan:
I think being out here in Alpine, Texas, covered under a blanket of desert air and "Big Sky" brought about a wee change in me, at least in what I find interesting artistically. The "cartoons on the back of business cards" format came about in New York City, when living conditions, shall we say, were far more intense, crowded and cramped. Not to mention, I was ten years younger. Things change.There's a certain intensity to being out here in the desert. There was a certain intensity to living in New York. I'm trying to create objects that somehow capture both. Hence its name.
Yeah, I know, it's a silly, stupid, insane way to try to make a living, to try to spend a life. I've spent the last twenty years learning this the hard way. The damage is already done. Alea iacta est. Rock on.
[Close-up of "DesertManhattan". Click on image to enlarge etc.]
1. I started DesertManhattan in September [See initial post here]. I thought it would take me a couple of weeks. Now I'm thinking, if I get it done within six months, that'll be pretty good going.
2. I don't work on it that much. Maybe twice a week for a couple of hours. Usually I enter the studio when I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by other stuff. It serves as some sort of refuge for me, when I don't want the other stuff to matter, at least for a while.
3. I'm in no hurry to get it finished. Maybe I'll work on it for a couple of years. Maybe I'll never finish it, but just keep on working on it forever- like a blog, a work in progress, a never-ending story. Just an idea.
4. DesertManahattan is not a work of art. It's a cartoon. I'm not an artist. I'm a cartoonist. To me, the distinction is important.
5. I might sell DesertManahattan. I probably won't. At least, not yet.
6. I like the Build-it-slowly-but-obsessively approach. It's not the only way I like to work, but it certainly has its place.
["DesertManahattan". 4 x 8". Ink, Acrylic and Pencil on Canvas etc...]
That being said, I've still able to occasionally sneak into the studio and work on it some more- usually late at night, when I've been having trouble sleeping.
It's looking good. If I can get it done by March, I'll be happy. Rock on.
[Close-up of DesertManahattan. India Ink on Canvas... gorgeous. Click on image to enlarge etc.]
Mark Earls says the future of advertising is not in messages. Which means if you're currently in advertising, you'll be asking yourself, what IS the post-message future? At the moment, you get paid to craft messages. So what will you craft in their place?
Short answer: Social Gestures.
As I'm fond of repeating, Social Gestures beget Social Objects.
[40-second video, no audio.]
["DesertManhattan". India ink, pencil and acrylic on canvas. 4x8 ft. Click on image to enlarge etc.]
[Close-up view. Click on image to enlarge etc.]
The final ink layer is about half done, which by my reckoning makes the whole thing about 75% completed. Quite pleased with it, so far. Quite excited to have it finally finished, one of these days...
The last 25% of a large drawing is always the hardest. You're so anxious to get it over and done with, the temptation to take "shortcuts" gets harder and harder to resist. Starting a big painting is easy. Finishing one is a nightmare.
[Click on images to enlarge. Click to watch the video here.]
I started adding the acrylic last week. If you click on the top picture, you'll see I've just start applying the India Ink, towards the top. That was yesterday. If you click on the link above, I made a little 2-minute phonecam video explaining everything in greater detail.
This thing is going to take forever to finish. I'm not worried, there's no rush etc.
Last week the photographer, Debora Smail was in town, working on a travel assignment for a magazine. We hung out a bit; first we cracked open a few beers at Harry's Tinaja, then I took her her over to my studio and showed her DesertManhattan. Besides it being a lovely afternoon, full of interesting conversation, she took a lot of pictures. Here are some of them. Hope you like etc. Thanks, Debora!
[A rough idea of how I'm hoping "Desertmanhattan" will turn out, cannibalized from "Fred 44". 4x8 feet, pencil, acrylic and ink on canvas. Click on image to enlarge etc.]
My head is all over the place at the moment; I thought I should write down some of my thoughts, just to gain some clarity for myself:
1. I'll be damn glad to have the book out of the way. It's been a long, four-year road. I feel a combination of gloriously happy and elated, and utterly burned out from the whole thing.
2. While I was working on Desertmanhattan, the feeling that "This is what I ought to be doing; this what I was born to be doing," kept swelling up inside me. And you know what? This totally terrified me. What if I gave up everything to do this, and suddenly nobody cared? Suddenly nobody wanted to buy my work, and I ended up penniless and ruined?
3. Paintings don't scale. Even if I could sell the paintings for huge amounts of money [It seems a distinct possibility, after some of the back-channel conversations I've had with potential patrons of the enterprise], it would still mean working my butt off and making no more than an average, second-tier attorney. It doesn't always seem to add up.
4. The artist doesn't determine the price of the work. The re-sale value of a price determines the price of the work. If the perception exists that the work will be significantly more valuable in five or ten years, paintings are easy to sell. Without this perception, it's damned hard to sell a painting, even if the potential customer falls in love with it.
5. An artist is about as good example of a "Global Microbrand" as you can get. I have a few artist friends out here in West Texas. On one hand, they totally get the idea. On the other hand, it's an idea that seems to totally terrify them. It always struck me as funny how people want to be artists, yet they don't want to be marketers. To me that's like wanting to be a pro football player, yet not wanting to keep in shape. Nice work if you can get it.
6. "I don't need a gallery; I have a blog." I've been approached by a few gallery owners over the last couple of months about doing a show. So far the conversations have gone nowhere. So far I've yet to meet a gallery who can sell a painting better than my blog can. Gallerists talk a lot; they're not quite so fond of putting down financial guarantees in writing.
7. The artist I admire the most, in terms of taking the internet-enabled "global microbrand" idea and running with it, is my good friend, John T. Unger. Four years of blogging later, and he can't make his "Great Bowls of Fire" fast enough. Though a lot of the ideas he uses he first got from reading my blog, unlike me, he actually applied them and took them to the frickin' sky. Well done, John.
We've been talking a lot over the last couple of months about this new art phase of mine. His advice has been invaluable.
8. Just as I was thinking about all this selling-art-online stuff, one of my Twitter followers, @corkymc turns me onto the blog of a very talented, young Australian artist, Hazel Dooney. Though she was already considered very successful for an artist under the age of 30, two years ago she decided to pack in the gallery system and just do her "dialogue" with her audience directly online. She's got some strong views on the subject, which I approve of:
Inevitably, this leads to another question, also always the same: what's the role of the gallery in this environment? And, as always, I argue that it doesn't have one. Or as I put it in Art Is Moving: "It deserves to die. It's an anachronism that's outlived it's usefulness. I think there is still a role for individual curators or even 'show producers' but they need to work in a more individualised, specialist way within a networked 'virtual' paradigm ..."I'll be watching what she has to say in the future with great interest, to be sure.
To be more precise, I still see value in public exhibitions and installations but not produced, promoted or managed in the way they are today – the same way they have been for a hundred and fifty years – by dithering, technologically inept, socially aspirational and unadventurous commercial 'bricks and mortar' gallerists.
9. It took me a few years of blogging my cartoons, before I finally accepted the idea that my audience would always come mainly from reading my blog, and not from being published in the newspapers, magazines, books etc. Even though I have a book coming out in June, I still believe this is the case- just because I'm now an "author", doesn't mean the day-to-day reality has changed very much.
10. And now I'm realizing that if I want to sell paintings, I don't need a gallery, I can just do it all online. Nor do I need critical approval from the art establishment- the media, the curators and the critics. I can just do it all myself, if that's what I indeed do want. It's a great feeling, sure, but it's a new one. Taking its time to really sink in.
11. My paternal grandfather was a Scottish Highland "crofter". He lived on a "croft" i.e. a very small holding of land, where he raised sheep and grew potatoes. I used to spend my summers there as a boy. We were very close.
Crofting is a good life, but not a very financially rewarding one. It's very self-sufficient, though. The interesting thing for me looking back, is that crofters never did "just one thing". Every day they had something else going on. One day it might be sheep. The next it might be a job working on the roads for the local council. I knew one crofter who drove the mail van. Another who ran the local post office. They would do their jobs, but after work they'd still have their sheep, cows and potatoes to attend to.
As my dad is fond of reminding me, I seem to have inherited the crofting mentality. I DON'T like waking up in the morning and doing the same thing every day. I LIKE having all these different balls in the air- cartooning, painting, consulting, writing, marketing, blogging etc. Sure, part of me would like nothing better than just "retiring to the desert and making paintings", but another part of me likes all the running around in different directions. And all this running around DOES get tiring, I can tell you that. Sometimes I LOVE the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed. Other times I utterly despise it.
12. Something in me is changing. I came out to live in the West Texas desert for a reason. I'm just beginning to find out what that reason may be. Sometimes I can clearly see what the reason is; other times it proves more elusive.
13. It's a good life. It really is.
For the last couple of months, I've been talking about a return to large-format paintings.
Originally I was planning 6-by-6-foot canvases; I decided instead to opt for 4'x8'.
I finally have my studio set up, as pictured above. It's an outdoor studio, with cement floor, tin roof, and as shown here, canvas walls to keep the rain and dust out.
That's a 4x8' wooden board you see there, with two-by-fours framing it on the backside. I'm going to cover it with canvas and get painting on it, hopefully in the next couple of days, before I take off out of town on business at the end of the week.
In the foreground you see my acrylic painting materials- plus a ten-foot roll of canvas in the orange plastic bag.
It's going to be called "Desertmanhattan". "Fred 44" was a ink-on-paper study for it, so go here if you want to get an idea of what the final work will end up looking like.
It's called "Desertmanhattan", simply because I'm trying to create a piece that captures the vibe I get from both living out in the middle of nowhere, here in the West Texas desert, and the big-city vibe I get when I'm on my business travels. The desert is an extreme place; so is Manhattan; they both inform the work I'm doing now. My drawing style was formalized whilst I was living in Manhattan, so the title makes compete sense to me.
Yes, I intend to sell it when it's done. Yes, it'll be really expensive [I'm putting out feelers to potential buyers. If you're possibly thinking about becoming one of them, please feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll start a conversation, Thanks.] .
If it goes well, I'm not going to suddenly quit everything else and start cranking out Desertmanhattan's like an assembly line. I don't foresee ever doing more than 4-6 of these pieces a year. I don't foresee spending more than one week per month on them, either. I've got plenty other projects keeping me busy; plus it looks like the amount of traveling I'll be doing in the next year is going to increase quite a bit.
As for the marketing, well, of course I'll be using this blog and my Twitter feed to do the heavy lifting. Though my target market is not set in stone, I have a feeling the buyers for the large pieces will come out the prosperous end of the tech/VC/Silicon Valley/Web 2.0 community. They know me, they know my work, they know my value. Besides, the New York financial guys [a favorite target of the traditional art galleries] all seem to be losing their jobs at the moment.
And of course, "The Tao of Undersupply" will be seriously informing the marketing:
The biggest problem in the Western world is oversupply.In other words, it's better to under-supply the market, than to over-supply it.
For every mid-level managing job opening up, there's scores of people willing and able. For every company needing to hire an ad agency or design firm, there's dozens out there, willing and able. For every person wanting to buy a new car, there's tons of car makers and dealers out there. I could go on and on.
I could also go on about how many good people I know are caught in oversupplied markets, and how every day they wake up, feeling chilled to the bone with dread and unease. Advertising and media folk are classic examples.
So maybe the thing is to is get into "The Tao of Undersupply".
If only 100 people want to buy your widgets, then just make 90 widgets. If only 1000, make 900. If only 10 million, make 9 million. It isn't rocket science, but it takes discipline.
It also requires you to stop making the same stuff as other people. Doing that requires originality and invention.
Like it said in "How To Be Creative", don't try to stand out from the crowd, avoid crowds altogether. Again, it isn't rocket science.
"Desert" represents one side of me. "Manhattan" represents the other. We'll see where this goes. Rock on.