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…