May 18th, 2007

the above image was inspired by a member of the “wreck this journal” group on flickr who shared the wonderful technique of blowing a drop of ink across a page using a tube or straw, (in this case it was a bic pen tube). what’s brilliant about it is you never know what it will do, you have little control over that ink.
the resulting image sort of sums up my state of mind.
loose ends, loose ends, paperwork, interviews, one last one today, mailings, emails and more emails, taxes, illustration work.
these are the things my days have been about for the last few weeks.
i am winded and in need of some down time. some filling up. i think i’ve even forgot how to write, my brain is so full of other things. unimportant things. things that have nothing to do with survival or the earth.
i got my first copies of ‘wreck this journal’ this week. i am loving it even more than before and destroying my own copy in little bits every few hours. it is strange that i will not be here when it is released in a couple of weeks. not be around to see how the world receives it. but it is for a good reason.
on sunday we are off to spain and morocco (after months and months of waiting). no agenda. none. just to wander and eat and sleep wherever we end up. a bag on my back and some new foods in my belly. a bit of spanish wine. a guidebook with pages folded down, a few important words underlined. words in a language different than my own, like pension, pescaderia, playa. i will have my journal. an old paperback novel by graham greene, with pages buckled from being left out in the rain. maybe the herman hesse, though I’m trying to travel light this time. i always seem to find myself loaded down with books, wanted to bring my favourites as if they are friends coming on the journey with me. how could i leave them behind?
i have no idea who I will be when I return. travel always changes you and the new places fuse themselves into your being somehow affecting the way you see your life. but you can’t know how before you begin. just like the ink.
this would probably be a good time to share more words of herman hesse on the subject of wandering.
“Over this brave small road, the wind blows. Tree and bush are left behind, only stone and moss grow here. Nobody has anthing to look for here, nobody here owns anything, up here the farmer has neighter hay nor wood. But the distance beckons, longing awakens, and through rocks and swamp, snow, they have provided this good little road, which leads to other valleys, other houses, to other languages and other men…..
But I smile, and not only with my mouth. I smile with my soul, with my eyes, with my whole skin, and I offer these countrysides, whose fragrances drift up to me, different senses than those I had before, more delicate, more silent, more finely honed, better practiced, and more grateful. Everything belongs to me more than ever before, it speaks to me more richly and with hundreds of nuances. My yearning no longer paints dreamy colors across the veiled distances, my eyes are satisfied with what exists, because they have learned to see. The world has become lovelier than before.
The world has become lovlier. I am alone, and I don’t suffer from my lonliness. I don’t want life to be anything other than what it is. I am ready to let myself be baked in the sun till i am done. I am eager to ripen. I am ready to die. ready to be born again.
The wold has become lovelier.”
excerpted from Wandering by Herman Hesse

May 8th, 2007

turn your volume up for optimum experience.
animation by alex itin, text by herman melville, voice orson welles, and drums by john bonham. the pages are actually two copies of the pengiun addition. beautiful work. found at if:book.

May 4th, 2007

a batch of seed bombs drying in the sun. working with clay gives me the urge to partake in a primitive ritual of some kind. faces painted with red paste. dancing around a fire.
a morning walk revealed a small cropping of wild leeks. you can often smell them before you see them. I picked some to eat for lunch. foraging in the wild often involves using many senses. soon the sumac will be in bloom and I will make tea from the bright red fuzzy berries. i have a new woods to forage in which could yield some new things. i must pull out the euel gibbons. nature is always providing food if we choose to see it. you have to become a kind of detective, scanning the ground and sniffing out clues.
another quote from fukuoka, (this book full of great stuff):
“I believe that if one fathoms deeply one’s own neighborhood and the everyday world in which he lives, the greatest of worlds will be revealed.”
this is exactly what I am trying to get at with the guerilla art book/work. it involves fostering a deep connection with your city/town by getting down close to the ground and paying attention to all that goes on. observing it’s nature, noticing the patterns, and at times documenting them and sharing them with others. i am looking for ways to connect in a very direct way (and take ownership of) this place where i live. this connection is not limited to only the woods but to urban spaces as well. especially to urban spaces, as these are usually where we feel most disconnected.
this week I will be dropping many of these seed bombs on abandoned lots in my town. and from that moment on, everytime I go downtown and walk by these places and see wildflowers growing I will feel like they are a part of me, (instead of the usual feeling of sadness that comes from seeing places that are abused, laden with garbage and abandoned by the former inhabitants).
reading fukuoka i am learning that vegetables can grow very successfully in areas with weeds. that will be my next experiment. my thinking is that while i am not attempting to try and feed everyone in the city, I am demonstrating an idea. that it is possible and feasible to grow food everywhere. how strange to be walking and see a squash patch growing next to an abandoned industrial site.
who would have ever believed a hundred years ago that growing vegetables could become in itself a revolutionary act?

May 1st, 2007

while digging in the library once again i found another book i’ve been searching for, “the one-straw revolution” by masanobu fukuoka. it is one of these gems that sadly is out of print (though i did manage to find a used copy for $30 on amazon), but his ideas seem to me crucial and relevant to the world we are living in now. Mr. Fukuoka developed a method (or should i say “non method”) of “natural” farming. As the book describes it “farming as simply as possible within and in cooperation with the natural environment, rather than the modern approach of applying increasingly complex techniques to remake nature entirely for the benefit of human beings.” At some point he began using the term “do nothing”.
“My way was opposite. I was aiming at a pleasant natural way of farming which results in making the work easier instead of harder. “how about not doing this? How about not doing that?” –that was my way of thinking.”.
His methods advocate no machines, no prepared fertilizer, no plowing, no chemicals, non of the standard techniques employed in today’s modern agricultural world. And his farm would yield as much food as a modern farm of the same size, (but with much less effort). Masanobu believed and demonstrated that the land would provide rather easily if you did not upset the natural balance of things, effectively working with nature instead of trying to tame it or control it. He asked, “what is the natural pattern?”
It is important to note here that the Japanese language is much subtler than english, and the term “do-nothing” has no english equivalent. when he uses the term “do-nothing” it is not meant to be taken literally, there is in fact a certain amount of work to do on his farm, but that is to say much less work than would be involved using modern techniques. In this context I interpret “do-nothing” as “do-less” or “not controlling”.
So as I’m reading this book I am realizing that for the last few years this is the exact method I have been advocating and using myself with my approach to work. Without knowing it, I have been giving lectures based on a “do-nothing” approach to illustration and design, employing terms like “don’t promote”, “ignore your audience”, “fuck the money”. A recent interview I did goes into this a little more, (it’s not out yet). This is not to say I “do nothing” to promote my work, you do have to put things out in the world so that others can see and respond to them. But I do feel strongly that all of the techiniques, calculating, obsessing, entering contests, trying to get awards (annuals), wanting to be a rockstar in your field, trying to land “the” great job, trying to be like someone else who is successful, trying to target your portfolio, trying to be cool, and schmoozing, don’t actually help to move your career forward. If i look back over the course of my career so far, it is only when I stopped trying to do all of those things and focused on the work that the good stuff started to happen. only when I relinquished control to some extent and focused on the things that moved me did I start to attract some kind of success. And this method of “doing the opposite” of what I was taught required much less effort in the long run. (i think i wrote in the how article that instead of sending out hundreds of mailers, as the tell you to do in art school, i sent out a few here and there to places I really responded to.)
so i guess the questions that i learned to ask myself where, “what the hell makes me want to stay up all night so I can work on it, forgetting entirely about the fact that sleep exists as a possiblity?” “what makes you get up in the middle of the night to scribble something down?” “what is in my nature?” (NOT “what should go in my portfolio?”, “how do I target an audience?”, “how do i get more work?”) none of the artist’s whose work i respond try to ‘target an audience’.
What if we were to contemplate the opposite? What if we let the seeds grow on their own? Water them a bit if needed. leave the pruning shears behind.
“To the extent that people separate themselves from nature, they spin further and further from the center.”

April 28th, 2007

“While we dream and drift on the magic river the busy little men with their gargantuan appliances are hard at work, day and night, racing against the time when the people of America might possibly awake to discover something precious and irreplaceable about to be destroyed.”
[written while floating down the colorado river at glen canyon before it was drowned and destroyed.)
Wilderness, the word itself is music.
Wilderness, wilderness….We scarcely know what we mean by the term, though the sound of it draws all whose nerves and emotions have not yet been irreparably stunned, deadened, numbed by the caterwauling of commerce, the sweating scramble for profit and domination.
….But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need–if only we had the eyes to see. Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us–if only we were worthy of it.

if only indeed.

April 26th, 2007

1. my dog -one of the best things to ever come into my life, (still challenging at times), but man, he makes me laugh. he has begun burying his bone in the backyard and will proudly come to me with a nose covered in dirt every few hours.
2. my new lawn mower. it’s quiet, it’s green, it weighs 17 pounds, it’s non-polluting and it doesn’t ever give off toxic fumes.
3. biodegradable dog poo bags
4. seeds -i am planting them everywhere because they are cheap and practically effortless. this week I am also creating a large quantity of seed bombs to be handed out by my publisher at Bookexpo next month. how lucky i am to in part be playing with dirt and clay for a living.
5. rooibos tea -so good with milk and honey.
6. ed abbey -traipsing through the utah desert with him has made my life more full this week. this one is going on my shelf as one of my favourites that I will return to again and again, like May Sarton or Emily Carr.
7. Kiva -based on the concept of “microfinancing”, created by nobel prize winner Mohammed Yunus, kiva is a company that lets you connect with and loan money (interest free) to unique small businesses in the developing world. you can “sponsor a business” and help the world’s working poor make great strides towards economic independence. watch the 15 min. documentary here. having had people to help me during the course of my career, it feels so great that I can now do the same for others, in effect sharing my success. i am hooked.
8. worsted witch -any hesitation i had in sharing my political beliefs in the online world have fallen away after seeing the unabashedly direct and heartfelt offerings of Jasmin. i am humbled and excited everytime i visit.
9. reading about andalusia -where i will be in about a months time.
10. dinner at Defazio’s pizza in Troy NY -picture a cute little hole in the wall pizza joint with checkered table cloths, and an old fashioned italian deli next door. the owners are quite old now and eat dinner EVERY NIGHT in their own restaurant! it’s the sweetest thing ever, (there are only 8 tables and it is always packed). now picture homemade organic sauce, pizza crust, pesto, and pasta. You can even bring your own wine to have with dinner. I would eat there every night too if it was mine. I will try and take some photos of it for you.

April 25th, 2007

April 24th, 2007

found this quote in the library yesterday in a book about conceptual artists with a buddhist perspective. in it I read about artist Lee Ming Wei, whose work is based on issues of trust and the ‘art of living’, (art about daily life). this thread that runs through my own process these days. (if i told you about some of his work you would not believe me, so go read about it for yourself. okay, i’ll give you a hint, he is pregnant! yes, it’s true. read about it here.)
i have been conducting a little experiment of my own, though not nearly as daring. it involves designating large periods of non-computer time and documenting them in my journal. the results after two weeks with a couple of days off during each are rather startling. i hesitate to share them here with the knowledge that some of you may not like hearing them, as i am critiquing the very medium in which you are currently partaking, and quite possibly enjoying. the truth is, i enjoy it too, immensely. but lately i have started to see ways that it is taking from me more that it is giving, and this belief has been echoed by several web friends who have found it necessary to take an extended break from not just blogging but the internet.
the main issue, a common thread between many of us, is a disconnection with life in the real world. symptoms:
-diminished contact with friends and family (speaking in person or on the phone with them has dwindled or is non existent, social life greatly limited over time) this one seems to directly co-relate to an increase in ‘web friends’. while these relationships are also great, they are not the same as speaking on the phone or having lunch in a public place.
-diminished participation in/with nature
-zoned out feeling (disconnectedness)
-large portions of time in each day unaccounted for (productivity greatly affected in all areas of life, house cleaning, creativity, work, etc.)
Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire talks about the limitation of the machine, he is referring to any number of mechanical gadgets, and says that they tend to separate a human from their environment. while trying to write one evening he describes using a generator to produce light,
“I have cut myself off completely from the greater world which surrounds the man made shell. The desert and the night are pushed back–I can no longer participate in the them or observe; I have exchanged a great and unbounded world for a small comparatively meager one.”
If I am to be honest here, (which is always my goal), i will admit that this is what often results in using the computer, this cutting myself off from the world. How ironic that the premise of the medium is a network that connects us to other humans. but there is little to do with nature and the earth here, this is just one small aspect of the human species, (and not available to all).
before you get your back up over this (as I’m sure some of you will), i should explain that i am only seeking some kind of balance with it for myself. a return to moderation (as when I started). this weekend I went to a garden center and spent much of my time planting and covered in dirt. It felt so good to be outside again in the sun. I sit surrounded by pots of daisies, geraniums, lobeilia, basil and rosemary. my house is cleaner, i am reading more, and i feel more at peace than i have been for months. (the first hours are marred by a tense feeling, of needing to go do work, the urge to check email. after several hours this starts to fade and over the course of the day i feel myself becoming more present in the world.)
by the end of the weekend, going back to the computer feels uncomfortable. today i wish to pack a bag and wander aimlessly about. i have been watching the films of charles & rae eames again and feel the urge to try my hand at a film. nothing fancy, just documenting things in my environment.
in the words of duchamp, today “I am a lazy artist.”
and it’s the best thing in the world.

April 20th, 2007

The sun has come out and I feel almost as if it is something entirely new and foreign, something i need to explore further to understand it’s ways.
yesterday i painted a chalkboard on my wall. one dollar worth of paint has made my life infinitely better. i have always had chalkboards in my studio, but i love that this one is permanent, that you actually write on the walls, (i am contemplating doing the entire wall). i feel as though i am drawing on my house in the manner of simon, (do americans know about simon?). for years i have wanted to live in a house where all of the things in it were actually drawings. I always loved the sets in the stop animated Paddington Bear series from the 70′s, nothing is more beautiful than a three dimensional drawn version of the london subway in black ink, (complete with moving escalator).
my first inclination is to draw a door on my wall, some kind of portal to another world. or maybe a window. or a shelf with photos of my family.
this week i am reading the Death of Ivan Illych by tolstoy, (if you are canadian you may already know why i have chosen this.) Author Yann Martel (Life of Pi) announced in an article in the Globe and Mail this week that he decided that our prime minister needed more stillnes, and so every two weeks he is sending him a book to read. Upon hearing about this I laughed quite a bit. And then i thought let’s be honest, couldn’t we all use that? I’ve decided that I will read them all too, assuming I haven’t read them already.
(If you are one of the few left who hasn’t read Life of Pi I highly recommend it. I warn you, I was white knuckled through half of it, and one scene grossed me out more than any scene in any book i have read. i still can’t think about it too much.)
This weekend I read a book of letters from Edward Abbey. his process of writing books sounds similar to my own:
“I always write in a kind of blind stupor anyway, with only the dimmest awareness of what i’m trying to say or do. The shotgun method, i call it: write many, many books in all directions, without taking much aim, and maybe just maybe at least once–you’ll hit something. It worked for shakespeare. mark twain. who else?” ~Ed Abbey (fr. Postcards from Ed)

April 18th, 2007

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