Bonus post this weekend: me being featured on writer Jane Dougherty’s blog!
Surprised, Dear Reader? Not only did I manage a post a day, I actually managed a work-in-progress this week! Now, maybe you’re thinking ‘Sketch – that looks like your regular portraits?’ and indeed it does – and is – but this one is for a bigger project, and will go through some digital manipulation before it’s done.
This week – or rather the past day and a half – has been productive and hectic. I started working on the above-mentioned project on Wednesday evening before ten pm, and I finished this drawing friday morning at 3 am. In between I slept a total of 3 hours, and apart from a break to go to the grocery store and two meals I worked non-stop. Those nearly 30 hours resulted in the above A3 size portrait of Lindsey Stirling, digital art to go along with it, the Karl Lagerfeld portrait from yesterday, and some basic sketching on a project for a friend. It’s been a great day, but 40 hours of mostly work and little sleep takes it’s toll.
I fear the day I can quit my day job…
The biggest icon of fashion celebrated his birthday yesterday – the 81st, 79th or 76th depending on which story you believe. ‘Der Kaiser’ has always been notoriously vague about his exact age, even claiming that no one knows for sure. Although official records state 1933 as his birth year I for one is willing to give him the benefit of doubt and tentatively believe his claim from last year, when he said he was born in 1935.
There are several uncertainties about his early life, but how he got his start in the fashion industry is well established. At an age somewhere between 14 and 19 he moved to Paris, by himself, and in 1955 he won a coat designing competition. This got him hired as assistant and later apprentice to the legendary Pierre Balmain. He spent nearly thirty years jumping between different fashion houses, learning and designing haute couture collections, and even costumes for theatre.
In 1981 he was persuaded to join Chanel and two years later he took over as their chief designer, earning him international fame and setting him on the path to become the well-known icon he is today. Over the years he has had countless side projects, working with Diesel, H&M, Orrefors, Coca Cola and Steiff, to name but a few. In my opinion, he has done some of his best work at Chanel, but he also shines brightly under his own label. Apart from his career in fashion design Karl Lagerfeld is also an accomplished photographer, designer, illustrator, director and publisher. To quote the man himself: “What I really like is what I’ve never done before.”
I can’t remember when Lagerfeld first appeared on my radar, but I must’ve been fairly young. It seems to me as if his influence has been constant throughout my life, and perhaps it has. I have always been influenced by his sense of style, combining the traditional with the modern and edgy, and I can say with absolute certainty that my personal style would have been quite different if it weren’t for him. However, his influence reaches well beyond clothes and fashion. Karl Lagerfeld has carefully crafted a myth and persona, becoming his own personal brand and enhancing it even further with numerous memorable quotes. He does his own thing, even if it’s controversial, and rarely makes excuses for himself. When he received critique for his weight after an offhand comment that he made clothes for thin people, he matter-of-factly lost over 40 kilos in 13 months.
The portrait is white pencil and white sketching crayon on black paper, size A4. It is the first time ever I attempt a ‘reverse’ portrait, drawing in the light areas instead of the dark, and while I would have preferred a more evenly covering white I’m still happy with the end result.
He is certainly his own man – self-made, eccentric and noticeable – rising above himself and the mundane to become an icon, a brand and a legend in his own time – something only a handful of people have managed in this day and age. To me, he is an excellent example of what hard work, dedication and vision can achieve.
Happy birthday, Karl.
“Other people have left the room, but rarely has the room been left so empty. “
―Frank Menser, on the death of Robin Williams
I never had any plans of creating this portrait – it had never occurred to me that Robin Williams may have been part in shaping who I am. Silly me.
My first memory of him is from the sitcom Mork & Mindy. I must’ve been around 9 when I saw it and it definitely left an impact. To this day I can remember scenes from several episodes, storylines, and a surprising amount of detail from the show even though I haven’t seen it in at least 25 years. Possibly more. After that he appeared in several movies I found entertaining but not remarkable – Popeye, Moscow on the Hudson, Baron Münchausen. It wasn’t until I saw him in Good Morning, Vietnam that I really started to appreciate him, I think. As I grew older, and I saw Dead Poets Society – an amazing film that remains one of my favorite movies – The World According to Garp, The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting, Hamlet, Insomnia, One Hour Photo, etc, etc and I realized that his genius shone brightest in his serious moments.
The news of his death reached me at a time when I was more vulnerable than usual, but it still surprised me how affected I was by it. As the news spread across the internet I was left in awe of how many people felt so strongly about him, and I think nothing sums up the loss as beautifully as the quote at the top of this post – words uttered by a friend of a friend. Without a doubt he was one of our most beloved actors and comedians.
Robin Williams was an expert at portraying haunted, wounded men – no doubt because he was one himself. He was fairly open about his struggle with addiction and depression. I chose to portray him this way – in contemplation, with the Red Knight behind him – because he urged us to remember both the good and the bad when a person dies, to not mythologize them. He fought against his inner demons all his life, bringing joy and happiness to so many people. In the end he may have lost the fight, but he fought well and he fought hard. That’s the way I want to remember him – as a man who stood up against his dark knight, persevering and rising to greatness in spite of it.
Mr Williams, your table is ready.
48 years ago today, Martina Schiff was born in the small town of Sharon, Kansas.
She grew up with music all around her, listening to country albums after school and performing with her family in their band ‘The Schiffters’. In 1988 she married John McBride and the two moved to Nashville to pursue careers in country music. John, a sound technician, became the concert production manager for Garth Brooks and Martina went on tour with her husband.
Her professional career began while she was selling t-shirts on tour with Garth. The country star was sufficiently impressed with her that he offered her the position as his supporting act if she could get a record deal. Martina recorded her demo with the help of her husband, put the tape in a purple envelope and sent it off to RCA records – boldly marking it as ‘requested material’ to ensure she would be heard. It worked like a charm. Martina signed with RCA and released her debut album ‘The Time Has Come’ in 1992, following up with a more modern sound on ‘The Way That I Am’ the year after. That’s when I first encountered her music.
In late October of that year I was sitting on the floor in front of the TV – an angsty soon-to-be unemployed 18-year old with no real direction in life – lazily channel surfing to pass the time. I flipped to CMT Europe just as the video for ‘My Baby Loves Me‘ began, heard the opening chords, and suddenly Martina’s larger-than-life, impossibly blue eyes filled the screen. I was transfixed. The very next day I went out to buy her record. A few weeks later I sat on a bus in Stockholm, looking out the window and my eyes fell on a concert poster. As fate would have it Martina was the opening act on Garth Brooks’ upcoming world tour, and they were coming to Sweden! I had not heard of Garth Brooks at the time, so I bought a ticket solely to see Martina.
On April 23rd 1994, five months after first hearing her, I sat in the middle of the 4th row and saw her perform live – it was a wonderful show, and besides playing songs from her albums she did an absolutely beautiful rendition of Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’. That summer – 20 years ago now – I joined her fan club (member number 828), and I have been a devoted fan and fan club member ever since, watching her career develop from up-and-comer to established country super star. Sadly, I have only been able to see her live twice more, and so far I have only met her once (at the Merritt Mountainfest of 2002).
Over the years she has released ten studio albums, one live album, and three compilations – and she has appeared as a guest on many more records, and she has performed with a number of great artists and won many awards. Martina has always been aware of social issues – many of her albums have included songs and videos raising awareness about everything from drunk driving to domestic violence to breast cancer, and she has been active with a number of charities and fund raising auctions. I really admire that quality of not shying away from uncomfortable issues, speaking out about difficult things through her music and her fame. I won’t go into further detail about her life and career here though, Dear Reader – that information is easily available elsewhere on the internet for those of you who are interested.
The decision of how to portray her here was a very difficult one, and it has taken me weeks of thinking and considering different approaches. In the end I chose to depict her as she was when I first discovered her, twenty years ago, and to just keep it simple and clean. The original is A4 size, charcoal crayon on paper.
Martina McBride has without a doubt been one of the most important artists I’ve listened to in my life, and I can safely say that I would not be who I am today if I hadn’t discovered her music when I did. So on that note:
Happy Birthday, Martina – I hope I get to follow your career for another twenty years!
Neil Gaiman was born in Portchester in Hampshire and grew up in West Sussex, raised in both the Jewish faith and in the Church of Scientology (while parts of his family are still involved with the Church of Scientology, Neil has said he is not a Scientologist). He discovered his love for books at an early age, alphabetized all the books on his bookshelf, and has described himself as a “feral child who was raised in libraries”. Journalism, a vocation he chose for the purpose of learning the publishing business from inside, was his ticket to a writing career. His first two published novels were biographies, on Duran Duran and Douglas Adams. The path to his current career in more fantastical fiction began with writing comics – a result of his admiration of and friendship with the legendary Alan Moore – and after writing Black Orchid for DC Comics he was asked to do his own take on the their old character The Sandman. The rest is history. It was a huge success, spreading far beyond the regular reach of a graphic novel, altering the playing field for graphic novels for ever.
Since then he has written several novels, short stories, and children’s books (he has reportedly said “I think I will always write children’s books. I love warping young minds.”) His works have turned him into a celebrity with something of a cult following, and he is certainly one of the most visible authors around – not only at book signings and talks but online as well, being a prolific blogger and tweeter who despite his fame and busy schedule manages to keep a surprisingly personal connection with his fans.
My first contact with Gaiman’s works was in the mid 90s, with The Sandman and my all-time favorite Death: The High Cost of Living. I was absolutely delighted with the way he drew inspiration from myth, religion and legend and wove it into a complex mythology of his own. I began hunting down more of his work, and it wasn’t long until I stumbled upon the novelization of Neverwhere. The idea of a society within society, solely occupied by outcasts and beings of myth, held great appeal for me. Ever since I was a child I have felt somewhat detached from normal life, and have always been drawn to stories with that concept of finding a secret world within the world – a recurring theme Neil Gaiman’s works. His characters often find themselves out of their depth, drawn into a world they had no idea existed; a world where the rules they have learned doesn’t quite apply anymore. He is a master at taking the mundane and everyday and give it a twist into the fantastical. American Gods and Stardust are other great examples of this, as are many of his short stories.
Gaiman’s works are an inspiration to me in many ways. He was the first to really show me that it is not only possible, but desirable, to combine myth and classic literature with modern ideas and present it in ways that are more accessible to the younger readers of today. Often, the stories he writes conjure up vivid images and concepts in my imagination completely unrelated to what I’m reading – often a simple, insignificant detail in his work triggers something in my mind that turns into a story seed. Lastly, he himself is an inspiration: Neil is a great example of someone who went their own way and transcended the ‘rules’ of publishing and genre fiction. I admire the way is able to span several niches in the field of literature, successfully jumping between young adult fiction, genre fiction, children’s books, comics and even television, film and radio. His commencement speech at the University of Arts class of 2012 is absolutely brilliant and very inspiring – I watch it whenever I find myself in a creative slump.
Oh, and I almost forgot – he has extra pockets in his jackets and coats. Just so you know.
Welcome to the first of what I hope to be a recurring theme here – the Portrait. In this series I intend to take someone I admire, or who have been an influence on my art or mind or personality, create a portrait of them and talk a bit about them and why I like them. First out:
Henry James Moody
Henry James “Hank” Moody was born in the Bronx but grew up in Levittown, New York. He moved to New York City as a young man to become an author, where his early works earned him something of a cult following. The gritty, dark realism of his novels and short stories was instantly compared to Charles Bukowski by critics and fans alike, but it wasn’t until the publication of his third novel – God Hates Us All – that he reached public acclaim.
The success of God Hates Us All earned him a movie deal and he and his family moved to California so he could work on the screenplay. Director Todd Carr turned the dark twisted tale of love and insanity into a mediocre romantic comedy (A Crazy Little Thing Called Love), and that may have been part of the reason why Hank didn’t write anything new for a long time – another contributing factor may have been the break-up with his long time girlfriend Karen Van Der Beek, the mother of Hank’s only child. After a short stint as a blogger for Hell-A Magazine he wrote the biography of music producer Lew Ashby, but there was not a page of fiction anywhere in sight.
Or so it appeared.
Scandal hit. It was revealed that Hank Moody was the real author behind Fucking & Punching – in more ways than one. As you may already know, the book told the tale of an illicit affair between then 16-year old Mia Lewis and a much older man: Hank Moody. The media revelled in the story and while the success of the book increased tenfold, Hank was charged with statutory rape.
After the conviction, his life just hasn’t seemed to get back on track. Despite having great success with his latest novel Californication a few years ago, his penchant for alcohol, drugs and women eventually saw Hank forced into rehab. He is out now, apparently only moderately sober and again, not writing…
So, you may ask: what redeeming qualities do I see and admire in a womanizing, alcoholic, non-prolific writer with a failed family life?
His writing, mainly. It is full of dark humour, self-loathing main characters, complicated relationships, drugs, sex and rock-‘n’roll – and it’s good. He has a voice that speaks to me, and God Hates Us All is among my favorites when it comes to modern literature. But more than that, he sees potential and goodness and joy even in the darkest corners of life – he’s acutely aware of the human condition in all its torrid perversity. I can relate.
As a person, Hank Moody certainly seems every bit as self-loathing and complicated as his main characters, but he seems to have a good heart. I follow his career closely, and he serves as a reminder to me that things could be worse: just because things are bad and you aren’t producing anything worthwhile, it doesn’t mean you should give up.
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”
About a week ago I had the sudden urge to draw the likeness of a very special woman. I sat down at my desk, brought up some photos of her on the computer, grabbed a pencil and started sketching.
I failed, miserably.
A few days ago, as I was heading home late on Saturday evening, the same urge returned, even more powerful – and this time I knew exactly what I had to do. I went home, took out my sketching crayons (which had been laying unused for nigh on a decade) and an A4 size paper, opened the photos again and picked one. Four hours of drawing and smudging and erasing later I stopped, looked down at my paper and saw this:
My first ever real attempt at a portrait, fueled entirely by the inspiration she gave me. In my opinion it doesn’t quite capture her as strongly as I wanted to, but it’s close.
I was thrilled and full of wonder – I posted the image to facebook, tagging the lovely lady in question, and received instant praise. Over the next few days I expected my eyes to start finding faults and grow to dislike what I had created, but it didn’t happen. So, today I decided to try again. With myself as the model.
Fully expecting to fail horribly, after 3 hours or so I decided to stop destroying what I had made and I held up the drawing.
I think I can actually do this now…