Archive for the ‘thinking out loud’ 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, December 1st, 2017

I recently was asked to draw and design some bookplates and postcards for Literati, which is a book club for kids. They send out curated collections of children’s books, and each of these has a theme. The theme I was asked to illustrate was “Heroes,” and I’m a Veterinarian from the Tinyville Town series is part of the collection of books.

Along with the artwork, I got to talk about my work and answer some questions via a short interview. Here’s a link to the interview, but I’m gonna copy/paste the whole thing below, for posterity. In the past, I felt I didn’t have much to say about why I make the books I make and what’s important to me in going about it. Lately though, maybe as my own kids are getting older (17 and 18) and maybe as we’re living in this age of Trump and the daily embarrassment and, well, horror, frankly, that goes along with that, I’m finding I’ve got words. Stay tuned for more.

In discussions on your early comics, Frederick & Eloise and Dear Julia, you’ve listed artists such as Edward Gorey, Jacques Tardi, and Jim Jarmusch as influences. What intrigued you about their work when you were working on your comics, and has their influence crept into your books for children at all?

I grew up in a time and place of The Love Boat, Chips, and Gilligan’s Island reruns. I knew I had a dark, or “weird” streak but in the suburbs of Houston in the 80s, I didn’t have a name for it or a place to put it. I first ran across Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies my first year of college, and that dark humor was a revelation. It was later, living in Paris, where Tardi and Jarmusch appeared in my world, and they were more about a mood and a different way of storytelling that I hadn’t seen to that point.

Over the last fifteen years of making kids’ books, I’ve kind of kept those influences in my pocket, I think. I haven’t had the opportunity to pull that stuff out for the books I’ve worked on yet. There are plenty of strains of that kind of thing in middle-grade, like Lemony Snicket of course. And some picture book artists seem to be able to get away with it too, especially the Europeans like Wolf Erlbruch (see Duck, Death and the Tulip to see what I mean). Sendak and Lobel among others were able to bring darker themes into their work as well, but today’s market seems to limit it somewhat.

These darker, “weird” stories are what naturally exists in my head, so hope to bring that world into my kids’ books at some point.

It’s cute, but it bites.

Are you still creating, or do you have plans to create, more comics or graphic novels for an older audience?

While I’ve been saying “yes” to this question since 1996, with no real results to speak of, I started writing something a comic last Spring that has potential. It’s about a guy who is dying. Probably not for kids.

Was it a challenge to move from writing comics for adults to picture books for young people?

Stories “for kids” aren’t what naturally comes out of my pen. I find that because of this, I over-compensate when I write, and end up oversimplifying and maybe not giving the potential younger audience enough credit. Thank god for editors.

The two book series I’ve written, Everything Goes and Tinyville Town, do a lot of things I want to do. But finding the voice of those books was more work than it maybe should have been.

Many of your books for children (in particular Everything Goes On Land and, of course, the Tinyville Town series) are based on cities, with a focus on the way citizens work together and keep their community running. You’ve been recognized for your attention to diversity in these fictional cities. Can you tell us a bit about why representation was important to you when creating these characters?

Because it’s what exists in real life. I can’t even think of a reason why a city or community wouldn’t be represented this way.

Your newest release, (This Is Not A Normal) Animal Book with author Julie Segal-Walters, just came out in October. What was the process/collaboration like between you and Julie on this hilarious book?

Well, nothing like the book would imply, of course. She wrote the manuscript in 2014, and I didn’t see it until six months later. She saw sketches now and then as I worked on the art, but there was no collaboration per se. This is the way picture books almost always work, by the way. The writer and artist rarely have any communication during the process. The book pretends otherwise, which is most of the joke. You’re right, it is hilarious and I had a great time making it.

Which artists or illustrators have had the most influence on your style and approach to your work for children?

This is always so hard to answer. There are so many ways to approach the question. I see work all the time that inspires me and makes me want to draw like that, or tell stories like that. I can’t leave a bookstore without seeing at least one book that depresses me because it’s so good and I wish I’d done it. A thousand illustrators have influenced a thousand of my drawings, and while there are probably a few giants that I tried to emulate as I developed my work, the last time I can actually remember actually sitting down and changing the way I draw a picture was when I rediscovered the singular Mexican printmaker José Posada a few years back. Would you see that influence in my current drawings? Well, I do, but I would doubt anyone else would.

The real answer here is probably Maurice Sendak. Not in any particular method or technique he used to draw pictures, but in his commitment to honesty in his way of writing about children, for children. Where the Wild Things Are came out in 1963, and Max’s emotions and imaginings in that book may have scared a bunch of parents and librarians back then, but kids knew it was the truth. This is totally aspirational for me. If I even get close to that in my own storytelling in my lifetime, I think I’ll be satisfied.

What is your favorite interaction you’ve had with a child about your work?

I was on a Tinyville Town deadline two New Year’s Eves ago while staying at a cabin in the Poconos with family, which included my sister-in-law and her three little kids. I had my computer set up on the big dining table every day, finishing up the drawings for Tinyville Town Gets to Work, and the kids were kind of warned to leave Uncle Brian alone so he could work. One morning, my at-the-time seven-year-old niece, Kate, who has all of my books and even several of my drawings hanging on her bedroom wall, came by and looked over my shoulder to see what I was doing. In the way that only Kate can, she incredulously announced to the house, “Uncle Brian’s not working! He’s just drawing pictures!”

What tips do you have for the young person who wants to create books?

A big part of the job that editors and agents do, is look for and find new work by new talent with new things to say. No matter how hard it seems to get through that door, keep writing, keep drawing, and keep knocking. They’re looking for you, too.

What’s next for you, in Tinyville Town and beyond?

I’m a Mail Carrier will be out in March, which is the next Tinyville Town book. And I’ll be illustrating four picture books in 2018, including one which is a Tinyville Town book, and one of which is a book I wrote about an astronaut who just wants to take a walk.

If you could split a pizza with one person you admire, living or dead, who would it be? (Bonus: What kind of pizza?)

Jim Henson. (Bonus: Any kind of pizza he wants.)

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.

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Go here and read this.

I think it’s important, and I’m in pretty good company I think.

Here’s the text:

We are tired of hearing the picture book is in trouble, and tired of pretending it is not. And so:


• Imitation, laziness, and timidity are poisoning a great art form.
• A picture book should be fresh, honest, piquant, and beautiful.
• Children’s books merit grown-up conversation.
• Grown-up conversation doesn’t mean asking kids to leave the room.
• We write for children, adults who read with children, and adults who simply enjoy children’s books–in that order.
• We should know our history.
• We must cease writing the same book again and again.
• We need a more robust criticism to keep us original.
• The line between author and illustrator is irrelevant.
• The line between moral and meaning is paramount.
• It is right that anything a child sees, feels, or thinks be our grist.
• Picture books are a form, not a genre.
• Good design fosters good reading.
• Picture books look best when their covers face outward.
• The tidy ending is often dishonest.
• Even books meant to put kids to sleep should give them strange dreams.


• The term “kid-friendly.”
• Convention as crutch.
• Glossy paper as default.
• The amnesiacs who treasure unruly classics while praising the bland today.


• Every day we make new children—let us also make new children’s books.

Signed: Mac Barnett, Brian Biggs, Sophie Blackall, Lisa Brown, Kevin Cornell, Carson Ellis, Isol, Laurie Keller, Jon Klassen, Matthew Myers, Tao Nyeu, Sean Qualls, Aaron Renier, Adam Rex, Christian Robinson, Jon Scieszka, Dan Santat, Lemony Snicket, Erin E. Stead, Philip C. Stead, Scott Teplin, Maria Van Lieshout

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Interesting piece in the New York Times today about the new Nissan van that is to replace the Ford Crown Victoria as the “official” New York taxicab over the next several years. The first time I visited New York in 1985, I was lucky enough to take a Checker Cab once or twice in the four weeks I was there. They were big and spacious and held a ton of luggage. By the time I moved there to go to college in 1987, I don’t recall ever seeing a Checker Cab. Rather, the Ford Crown Victoria — the same car the police department used for their cruisers — was pretty ubiquitous. While I was in school (design school mind you) I remember reading an article in a magazine about vehicles designed specifically as cabs. They were boxy and electric, and seemed much more appropriate as a vehicle that could get one around town while having more cargo room and taking up less space. When I loved lived in Paris I was surprised to find a large number of Mercedes taxis along with the Peugeots and Renaults. But it still seemed silly to have these sedans fitted with a meter and a sign on top pretending to be a variation on public transportation.
Over the last several years, as I visit NY often now, I’ve been seeing and riding in more and more Ford Escape hybrid SUV taxis. These made a lot more sense to me as taxis, what with the cargo space and the fuel-efficient engine. Now the Nissan NV200 has been chosen to take over, and by the end of the decade pretty much every cab in NY will be an electric minivan. Albeit one designed specifically for New York’s “peculiar” needs as Mayor Bloomberg put it.

While some seem to be lamenting the idea that a suburban minivan will be the new New York City taxi, I kind of feel that once the Checker Cab was replaced with the Crown Vic, whatever romance or ideal one had about the city cab was gone already. It was like riding around in Grandpa’s car. The Nissan, as goofy-looking as it is, makes more sense as a taxi. I espcially like the huge sun roof that will allow one to stare up at the skyscrapers as one goes from place to place. That’s my kind of taxi.

However, I will say right now that no matter how much sense these taxis make, and no matter how slick is the sunroof and how much gas will be saved, when I draw a taxi, my taxis will always be, more or less, a Checker. Everything Goes: On Land is full of taxis (comes out in September…) and as you can see it’s pretty clear that I derive the look and feel of these things in fact many of my cars taxi or not, from the look of the Checker.

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Something came along Facebook today and I thought I’d post it here. Fifteen artists whose influence will always stick. There are a lot of artists in my “inspirations” folder and on my bookshelves. These are in the permanent collection. For whatever reason, something about what they do or how they do it resonates no matter how many years go by.

Some of these are obvious, others less so. And they are in no particular order at all.

Edward Gorey
Jacques Tardi
Chris Ware
Seymour Chwast
Arnold Lobel
Richard Scarry
Walt Disney
Saul Steinberg
B. Kliban
George Tooker
Ben Shahn
Jorge Colombo
Robert Crumb
Bill Watterson
Maurice Sendak

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010


So I got my glasses on Monday. The more rounded pair is for stuff which is close to me, like my dog is right now staring me in the face. The more rectangular pair is for the stuff which is further away, like you are right now wherever you are. After two days of this, I’m not really excited. I mean, I know I look all smarter and stuff. And if you were choosing a math team, I’m suddenly a candidate. But the close-range glasses are kind of giving me a headache, and I find that when I’m drawing, for instance, I’m more comfortable not wearing them. Not more comfortable like on my head. But comfortable like my eyeballs are less weary. On the other hand, when I’m staring at the computer reading TMZ or funny cat videos, the rounder glasses are definitely pretty clear and make everything more better.
The distance pair on the other hand are the cat’s pajamas, and I can see stuff that I didn’t know I wasn’t seeing before.

This is weird.

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

So after months of squinting at the computer and noticing that everyone in the car is seeing the billboards and roadsigns ahead before me, I found out yesterday that I need glasses. As the doctor said, forty-two years of 20/20 isn’t bad. He’s right, I suppose. My eleven-year-old son got glasses a couple of months ago, and I’m sure that the way I draw, with my face about eight inches above the table, drawing tiny little 2-inch sketches has never helped anything.

The funny thing is that when it rains it pours. The optometrist said that, well, he said that I’m a pretty good candidate for bifocals but he’d rather “start me off” with just two pairs of glasses. One is for distances beyond ten feet and the other is for nearer vision, within ten feet. I’m not sure which, if either, will be my day-to-day glasses. I can think of plenty of situations where both would be nice.

It was really startling, when after fifteen minutes of reading the small type through those various lenses that optometrists use he turned the lenses to some setting that really blurred everything. He asked whether I could read the projected alphabet, and I could not. He then tells me that this is my natural vision, and the reason that I could read it when I started was that my eye-ball muscles (or whatever) are working overtime to focus on things. It’s why I’m often squinting and probably why I occasionally get headaches. Go figure!

So, then I had to pick out frames. Since picking out frames is somewhat like shopping, I called Sacha, who biked over to the office and helped. They should be ready in a week, and I shall post a photo. Until then, here’s an artist’s concept sketch.

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Many many years ago when I was obsessed with and serious about accordions, I met a filmmaker by the name of Robert Emmons. He was at the time planning to make a documentary about the Acme Accordion School in Westmont, NJ, where I was at the time taking lessons. About the time he started shooting this film I dropped out of Acme due to life getting in the way. Fast forward now about nine years, and I get an email from Robert.
The documentary about the accordion school didn’t get completed, but he’s been hard at work on other projects, completing two other full-length documentary films. Lately he’s been working on an interesting collection of shorter films, completing two a week for the last half year. He writes, “I set a goal to make two short documentary films a week based on randomly drawn words, they premiere every Wednesday and Sunday. At the end of six months, I’ll have 52 films. Today is my 50th, so only two to go!”

He wrote to me because I appear in the 49th film, which is footage from the aborted Acme documentary filmed in, I believe, late 2001. You can see the post about it here, and the film itself right here below. I make a small appearance at 1:33.

Now that’s cool and all. But take an hour or two and watch as many of Robert’s films in this project as you can. It’s really a terrific project. My favorite of the group so far is KALEIDESCOPE, which happens to be film #48. Robert’s got great taste in music as soundtrack as well, and since he spends some time writing about where the music for these films comes from, I can tell it’s important. As I watch these, I’m creating a not-insignificant list of musicians and bands to search for and get a hold of.

Years ago I was following a musician called Podington Bear who had a similar project going on, posting two or three songs every week for a year. And back when I was writing and drawing comics, I used to assign myself a page of writing — something complete with a beginning middle and end, not just a sentence or paragraph — every day. These kinds of exercises force one to get out of the claustrophobic and self-defeating need to make it perfect, and loosen up a bit. The results of these exercises are often not great, and never perfect, which is precisely the idea. However, they are usually inspired and the nature of the deadline is that one is forced to make decisions and stick with them, rather than hem and haw for months, never actually going anywhere.

Thanks for getting in touch, Robert.