Archive for the ‘not work’ Category

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

It’s been a weird couple of months. Back in December I broke my ankle while riding my bike, and if you know me at all you know that this is a big deal. Bikes are therapy. Getting out of the house and studio and into the woods, getting a little exercise, and getting out of my head for a bit. When the doctor told me it was broken and I’d be off the bike for ten-to-twelve weeks I nearly lost it.

Well, fast forward nine weeks, and we’re at the tail end of the long national nightmare. And I’m making some lemonade here. First, the weather. It’s been pretty bad since mid-December. I haven’t really missed much. I’m not one that worries much about weather, as I will go out and happily ride bikes in the worst of it. But I stay off the trails when they’re slushy and muddy, and I think they’ve been slushy and muddy since Christmas. Second, I’ve had something of a mini-creative renaissance the last two months. Work, real work, has been slow, and I’ve had the time to dig in on this super-hero picture book I’ve been working on all year and play with technique stuff. I’ve been so busy the last decade that most of the work I’ve done has been on tight deadlines and I haven’t been able to, or had the wherewithal to experiment much. I draw, scan, digital-color, done. But with this book I’ve been wanting to get away from the computer.

To that end, I’ve been re-learning how to paint and color and make things with pencils and ink and paper, and it’s been kind of great. Scary, but that’s what makes me realize how much I’ve been using the computer and photoshop as a crutch.

As part of the same line of thinking, Sacha and a few colleagues convinced me to start a second Instagram account focused on my illustrations and creative work. My original account is more of a day-to-day visual diary: dog photos, vacation pictures, Friday-night cocktails, and a lot of pictures of bikes. People actually complained. But mostly, I think, people just didn’t follow. Say someone sees my work somewhere and goes to instagram to see if I have an account. They find it and see ten pictures of bicycles and Negronis and Sacha and the dog punctuated by one drawing from a sketchbook, and they move on.

So, fine, I started a new account. This one dedicated to drawings, illustrations, books, making things. And so far so good. Knowing I have a hole to fill makes me work. After breaking my ankle, I worked from home for four weeks, and spent an hour or so every morning drawing for fun. Just stuff that was in my head. I know, it seems like this wold be a normal activity for me. But it wasn’t. Instead, I bicycled. Or read the internet. Or… worked. Remember, I’ve been busy for the last decade. Time to just screw around and draw wasn’t at the top of my to-do list. (This might be the subject of another post one day, but for years I had no interest in drawing for fun. If I wasn’t in the studio on deadline, I wanted to be doing something else. Riding bikes, for example. Or playing guitar. Or watching tv. Anything. So I’ve been coasting, creatively, and that’s bad. But let’s move on.

One of the interesting things about the new account is that the work it feeds to me to look at is different. Rather than bikes and bike things, I was finding new illustrators and artists. Really lovely stuff. Inspirational stuff. And I started drawing. Drawing drawing drawing.

Somewhere along the line I started drawing a lot of fish.

And then somewhere else I started thinking how cool it would be to have these fish be a thing. A thing that can be held and looked at and turned around. An object. How would I go about this? Wood. I’ll make it out of wood! How hard could that be? It was right before christmas that I watched a YouTube video about carving wood and ordered a few tools. The videos I was finding were all “whittling” and most had little gnomes and country-folk as their subject matter. But nevermind, the techniques were the same. I watched. And on January 16 I started carving.

That was fun! Something clicked. I made another one.

I painted them and made little stands for them.

Next, I wanted to try a different kind of wood. Basswood is fine, but it’s like using crayons when you know there are oil paints out there. My friend Kirk found a nice block of butternut at a lumberyard and gifted it to me with the request that he get a fish. So I cut a block and went to work on my third.

Butternut is more satisfying, but more difficult as well. Here, you can get a better idea of the size. It’s a little larger. The teeth/mouth were the tough end-grain of the block (lemons/lemonade) and I painted this one with acrylic, following a coat of linseed oil to protect the wood. Kirk named this fish “Beulah.”

Without question, this is incredibly satisfying. It’s exactly what I wanted when I started down this rabbit hole two months ago. My head is full of ideas. Different fish, birds, skulls, things that move… I even picked up a collection of old doll legs and arms off eBay, cause I have some ideas

Where is this gonna take me? Who knows. Who cares. Maybe I’ll sell some. Maybe I’ll just give them away to friends. I know I plan to give each of my siblings a fish, and make some birds for our Christmas tree this year. I’m feeling ambitious…

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

Scotland, a year ago today:

Michael and I had left the Isle of Arran the previous morning, waving goodbye to Dave and Kris and Stew after a week riding bikes, eating fish & chips and drinking whisky in Lamlash. We ferried from Lochranza to Claonaig, then headed north to Lochgilphead where we had a fastfood dinner. A few more miles up the road was Lochgair, where we stayed for the night in the AirBNB guest bedroom of Ian, a garrulous and amicable fellow who kept the wine flowing along with the stories of his life. I could have listened for hours, really, but I wanted to sleep. We’d ridden 58 miles that day, and knew we still had a long way to go. 

We had no idea.

The next morning began with breakfast laid out on the kitchen table with a note from Ian to help ourselves. So we did.

Mike and I then packed up, left a thank you, and double-checked our bags and bikes before locking Ian’s door. We were expecting about 70 miles, mostly around Loch Fyne, up and over the Rest & Be Thankful Pass, and down to Loch Lomond, which we would follow into the northern suburbs of Glasgow. We mounted up, rode about fifty meters up the A83, and then I heard it. Some kind of weird clicking in my pedal. “Hold on” I called up to Mike. “Something’s weird.” I pulled over onto the side of the road, still within easy view of Ian’s house, and pulled my foot off the pedal. In doing so, I also pulled the pedal off the bike. Even if you don’t ride bikes much, you probably know that this isn’t what is supposed to happen. The bearings that keep the pedal spinning on the spindle had completely disintegrated. These are Crank Brothers pedals, and I’ve been riding them for years, so I’m no stranger to pedal issues. This has happened to me and others on rides, but always within a few miles of the trailhead, to the point that one could stuff the pedal back on the spindle and awkwardly make it back to the starting point. But in this case, the starting point was 60 miles behind us.

It’s amazing how quickly one’s brain starts listing The Problems at hand, and possible Solutions. Obviously, I wasn’t going to be able to just deal and suffer on, like I might on a ride back home. Nor could I walk out of the woods, call for a lift, or do a quick roadside repair. Mike and I both knew what was at stake. We’d been looking forward to this day for a long time. However, if I’m gonna be stuck on the side of the road in a foreign country in the middle of a long-planned vacation that could now be ruined with a broken bike, Mike would be the guy with whom I’d want to be stuck with. It’s an inside joke, but I’m pretty certain I asked Mike if he could wander up and down the A83 for a few minutes, looking in people’s trash cans to see if anyone happened to throw away a perfectly good bike pedal. The chances would be better than you think that he’d find one.

Mike knows the old trope that the destination isn’t really the destination. The journey is the destination. And at that point, right then, that morning a year ago today, it was pretty much looking like our destination might change, and whatever the journey was to be, was different from what we thought. But it’s a lovely morning, we’re in Scotland, and worst case scenario Ian would be back from work in eight hours and the old hotel bar across the street had a good selection of Islay whiskys. Being stuck in Lochgair for a day or two wouldn’t be a terrible worst case scenario.

However, we still wanted to get where we were going, so Mike and I split duties. He looked at the bus routes, and I searched for the nearest bike shop. We weren’t far from one of the national bike routes that criss-cross Scotland (and I suppose the UK), so I figured some little town somewhere around must have something. The largest nearby town was Lochgilphead, where we’d had dinner the night before, and was eight miles behind us. I found the bike shop’s website (which seems to no longer exist), and while they didn’t list their inventory, the picture on the site showed a selection of Shimano things hanging on the wall, some of which were recognizable as pedals. At that point, I figured even plastic flat pedals for a kid’s bike would be good enough to get us through the next two days, wherein we’d be in Glasgow, where I could certainly find some proper clipless versions. I checked their hours — 9:00 am opening time. What time was it? 9:05. 

Mike and I decided on a plan: I’d ride back to the shop and get pedals, he’d ride on ahead to the town of Inveraray, 17 miles north, where we’d meet, probably around lunchtime. I could get back to Lochgilphead faster on my own and then make up time chasing him. What happens if I get to the bike shop and no pedals? Or worse, I don’t actually get to the bike shop? A year later, I don’t recall if we’d considered either of those options. I suppose I would have messaged him to ask what he’d learned about bus schedules. And he would have had a nice solo ride to Inveraray to remember years from now. Again, there really weren’t any terrible options. That was important to remember. The trip wasn’t going to be ruined. It was just going to be… different.

Let’s cut to the chase, literally. I arrived at the shop in the rain and found that somewhere along the way I’d lost the shell of the pedal completely and its was my shoe on the spindle at this point. Yes, the bike shop was open. Yes, the owner of the bike shop suggested that maybe I don’t ride Crank Brothers pedals any more. Yes, he sold me a pair of Shimano Deore pedals that felt like little anchors on my feet. I hate Shimano pedals, but I’ve never been happier to install a pair. I thanked the owner, noted the for sale sign on his shop window, and headed out of town, intending to make up time to the extent that maybe I could even catch Mike before Inveraray.


No such luck. I was several miles out when he messaged me that he’d found a cafe with a view and would wait. With this news, I peeled off the A83 at the town of Furnace, and took a gravel side road along the Loch and around Dun Leachainn. It was alternately sunny and rainy, and I was rapturous with joy and relief as I blasted through to Inveraray.

Took another unpaved detour at Furnace, to Inverary.

Mike and I had a delightful lunch in town, and met a pair of bikepackers from Finland who were wandering their way across Europe.

Cute town, good lunch. Met a couple of Finnish bikepackers who gave us some good advice. That’s one of them talking to Mike.
Inveraray. Cute town, good lunch.
Inveraray Castle and my Chumba Terlingua. Like a postcard.

They asked about our route, and suggests some changes. Mainly, take the small roads, stay off the big road. The plan for the afternoon was to head up to the top of Glen Croe where there is a lovely viewing area and a stone placed there in 1750 to commemorate the completion of the first road through this part of Scotland. We had some pretty serious climbing to do to get there, and taking the scenic route made this much more interesting. The steepest grade we saw was 19%, but it was so quiet and so beautiful that neither of us complained.

The Finns showed us a route that kept us off the main highway.
The hill was steep, but the road was incredibly satisfying.
No complaints..

We arrived with great fanfare at the top and we were rewarded for our work with a view down the Glen that pictures don’t do justice. For various reasons, Mike had mentally pinned the idea of this place into his brain, and arriving there with him was like accompanying a kid on Christmas morning. It marked 2/3 of our journey for the day, and it was literally downhill from here to the suburb of Balloch where we’d be staying that night.

Mike and I had been looking forward to this part of the trip for weeks. An old stone designates the pass with the words “rest and be thankful” on it. We did and we were. Then we were off.

Mike and I took turns heading down the old military road through the valley. The highway above us on the hillside was dense with cars and trucks, and in fact has since been closed for repairs, again, after a landslide in January. Aware that this descent was probably a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, I filmed it with the phone and GoPro.

It wasn’t lost on us that we still had 30 miles to go, even though it was mostly flat and mostly scenic along Loch Lomond.

Twenty miles along the lake to Balloch.

The stupid silly grins stayed on our faces throughout the afternoon and into the evening, until we finally arrived in Balloch at 8:30pm (still in bright sunlight), got dinner at a Fish & Chips joint called Yummy, and watched the Women’s World Cup match on the tv.

Twenty miles along the lake to Balloch.

The next morning we escaped Balloch with much less drama than it took to get there, taking the train into Glasgow and touring the city before Mike and I went separate ways.

Mike gave me a tour of the city.
Followed Mike around town. No better tour guide. But it was time for goodbyes as he was heading back to the USA while I was sticking around. Bye Mike!

He was leaving the next morning to return home to Philadelphia, and I was heading back to Arran, where I’d be joined by my wife, Sacha, and our friends Rob and Kevin for ten more days in Scotland before racing Grinduro on July 13 and heading home a few days later. 

Kevin, Rob and Sacha on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

A year later I’m still processing what that trip, that ride, and particular that day meant to me. 2020 has been a different kind of year and has forced thoughts inward rather than outward. I look forward to a little more outward soon. 

Here’s the ride on Strava. Cheers.

Friday, November 6th, 2015

I drew the cover for the first Tinyville Town book today, called “Gets to Work!” It’ll be published in about a year by Abrams/Appleseed. More info here as we go through time together.

Tinyville Town Timelapse from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.

Soundtrack by Dance Robot Dance

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Hey how ya doin? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Here are some interesting things I found today in “The Modern Home Physician, Illustrated” c.1942, which is a book I bought at a flea market years ago. I’m working on an illustration of robots and this stuff comes in handy. Sometime in the next couple of months I can post the how and why. (If you’ve been here a while, you might actually figure part of it out if you’re super-observant. If you do, drop me an email and you’ll get a prize.)





sitting positions

Also, if it interests you, I jumped on the late train and started doing that Instagram thing. If you’re already there, which you probably are, follow me

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

My gosh has it been since May that I last posted? Well shoot.

In all honesty it’s been a pretty slow summer, workwise. I completed the third Everything Goes picture book back in the Spring, the final two Everything Goes board books in July, a couple of other outstanding book projects that I’ve had hanging around (which I’ll post about later), and some non-book illustration work got done also in July. I have a huge series that the great Jon Scieszka is writing that I’ll be spending the next couple of years illustrating, but Jon isn’t done writing the first one yet so until then it’s kind of sllooowwww.

Nevertheless, the fun never stops. I was in Adamstown, PA two days ago at Renninger’s Flea Market. I love flea markets because I love to have strange and useless things, discarded by others, sitting around my home and studio. Mostly records, maps, little figurines, toys… This trip I went looking for ideas and inspiration. Somewhat related to the information in that first paragraph, I’ve been creatively a little slow this last several months, and I’m looking for things to get me excited about making images again. Everything Goes really took a lot out of me this last four years, and other than the Scieszka project, I really don’t know what I want to do next. I have a few picture book manuscripts that I’ve got at various levels of readiness, a list of “good ideas,” some thoughts on designing puzzles and toys but no idea what to do with them, and nothing that has my gears turning. I recently procured that gigantic Taschen book about Magic with posters and photos of magicians, and a little while ago I also got the smaller but similar Taschen Circus book as well. Both of these subjects are fascinating to me, and both of them are chock full of interesting things one can pursue as a person who makes images. Whether it be through screen-printing, collage-making, or my more standard ink-drawing, there’s stuff there.

So it kind of fell into place on Sunday when at one of the first booths i stopped at at Renninger’s, I found this terrific Columbia record set of 78s called, simply, “Circus.” It’s performed by the Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey band, and it’s nearly new condition even though it’s likely fifty years old. I am one of the few people I know who has a turntable and one of the fewer whose turntable plays 78s, so the asking price of $5 was a no-brainer. The cover art alone was worth that.

Columbia Circus

Columbia Circus

Columbia Circus

Columbia Circus

The next thing that caught my attention was a poster at another booth for a Shrine Circus that was apparently held from April 6 to April 11. I don’t know what year, but it wasn’t recently. I skipped this at first, thinking I didn’t want to go crazy with circus stuff. But not five minutes later I saw yet another circus poster that was as good as the first one. For the same reason, I passed on this one too, but once I found the second Circus music album soon after this, I knew I’d be back for the posters.

130827_circus finds_008

Shrine Circus poster, 28x11

Shrine Circus poster, 28×11

Mills Bros Circus 28x22

Mills Bros Circus 28×22

130827_circus finds_007

The second album is a more mundane 33 1/3 LP, but once again the cover art is what forced me to grab and go. I love this crazy clown. I don’t know who is Merle Evans, and the Everest label seems to be somewhat lost to obscurity. But like the Columbia collection, it’s in perfect condition, and did I say how much I like that clown?

Big Top album cover

Big Top album cover

Big Top album

Big Top album detail

Big Top reverse

Big Top reverse

So clowns. Elephants. Monkeys. Trapeze people. Not the Cirque de Soleil kind but the classic Ringling kind, and even better, the somewhat scary European kind. It’s fodder for the imagination.

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

In March 1985, I made one of the more pivotal decisions in my life, which was to attend a summer high school program at Parsons School of Design in New York City. I was sitting in my art class in high school, in Pasadena Texas, and up on the wall, above the chalkboard, was a poster depicting a huge apple*. The program was four weeks long and offered courses in Illustration, Communication Design, Fashion, Photography, Fine Arts, and probably other studies. When I told my mother, who had never been to NY and was from small town Arkansas that I wanted to do this, I don’t remember her having a nervous breakdown but now, 27 years later, and being a parent of two kids of my own, I’m sure she had one. Seventeen years old, four weeks in New York City.
Luckily, mom was pretty good at saying okay to crazy schemes and somehow the application got filled out, financial aid was applied for, and in late June of that summer I climbed on a plane at Houston Intercontinental Airport and headed off by myself to LaGuardia. I took with me my sister’s Pentax K1000 and several rolls of film. I knew nothing about photography, and knew less about f-stops. So it made sense that I ended up in NY with a fully manual SLR camera. Little did I know that in addition to the design stuff I learned, this four weeks turned me on to a lifelong love of taking pictures.
Upon arriving in NY, I stood at the taxi stand and tried to figure out what to do. I was standing there with a duffle bag and a portfolio case, and I suppose it was obvious that I was an art student because I heard a voice over my shoulder ask “are you going to Parsons?” Next to me stood the second most fashionable sophisticated-looking girl I’d ever met in my life (I’d meet many more of these boys and girls over the next few days). She’d also just got off a plane, was also attending the summer program, and apparently knew what to do because she got a cab, put us in it, and we headed off to Union Square, where Parsons had a dorm (there’s a restaurant there now called the Blue Water Grill, in case you know the area). We paid the cabbie (I felt like I was on a tv show) stepped out onto the street.
I looked to my left, down Union Square West and University Place, and for the rest of my life I’ll never forget seeing those two towers poking out between other downtown buildings. The next afternoon I went down and stood on the Union Square sidewalk and took a picture.

Union Square, 1985

A week later, on July 4, I went to the top.

The story of that full four weeks is a much longer story, but it goes without saying that it opened doors and showed me a path that I would otherwise never have known about. It should also go without saying that I made a beeline for both the Empire State Building and The World Trade Center, making my way to the top, and taking a lot of pictures. I just figured today would be a good day to post a few of these.

This view no longer exists. That's weird.

Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge (a view that no longer exists)

*I believe the reverse side of the poster had a huge orange, and focused on the programs offered at Otis/Parsons in Los Angeles (which is now just Otis).

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

A screen-grab rom the HarperCollins author search page. I hope no one gets us mixed up.

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

A couple of photos taken with the phone while walking the dog last week. Cold and sunny.



I’m often surprised how my telephone and $2 app software can create photos that feel more organic and analog than any expensive dSLR I own.

Friday, January 20th, 2012

This is pretty great, and I don’t care who the narrator really is.

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

I awoke this morning to news that Ronald Searle passed away yesterday. Back in college, around 1988-90, Ronald Searle traded blows with Edward Gorey for my affections. Searle represented the loose, luscious line work and bawdy observations that I was attracted to on one hand (but secretly so, since I was such a prude back then and Searle’s subject matter was often a little, how do you say, naughty), while Gorey represented a precise and obsessed drawing style, and the more macabre side of my sensitivities. Gorey eventually got the upper hand when I wrote and drew Frederick & Eloise, but even then, I had Searle’s book Ah Yes, I Remember it Well: Paris 1961 – 1975 with me while living on Place Pigalle in 1991 and referred to it often.
I haven’t thought about Searle in some time, and I have no idea what happened to that book. Other inspirations and influences have come and gone and you’d be hard-pressed to find that dripping quill-line ink and robust sensuousness in anything I’ve drawn in the last ten years. I think maybe I’ll go find a used copy of that book, or else his Paris Sketchbook, and live in the past for a few hours.