Thursday, September 29, 2011

A New Bagatelle

I began doing these silhouetted images several years ago, inspired by the cut-paper art of Hans Christian Andersen (the fairy tale guy). I did one for our family Christmas card that year. I did several small narrative series for the New Yorker. I kept revising and perfecting them and inventing new ones for my art directors there. They were never used. But the form continues to intrigue me. I think they'd make a wonderful endpaper or book cover. Or scarf or area rug or wallpaper or dress fabric. This one was painted for my wife's birthday. I have no idea what it means or what the vignettes are about. A story seems to emerge as I paint, and it's always better unrehearsed, like a Rorschach seen in the patterns of the foliage outside a window.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tristesse, Squared

I did this illustration over the weekend for Lucy Sisman and Tamara Glenny, my editors at To get myself in the right frame of mind for a Brazilian term I listened to Jobim and Luis Bonfa and Joao Gilberto for a bit and thought to myself that it was getting warmer in Brazil right now as it's getting colder here. Then we sat down and watched a Brazilian film ("The Year My Parents Went On Vacation", which I highly recommend.) The trick of illustrating an untranslatable word involves the same difficulty as translating it: it's complex or ineffable or, more often, a case of "you had to be there"; or it's all three. You'll understand the word "saudade" better after reading this month's Untranslatable column. The illustration is almost as helpful as a few hours listening to Jobim.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Balance of Justice

Premeditated killing is a terrible crime. When it's done by the state, and with the distinct possibility that the verdict being carried out is mistaken, it's a tragedy and a stain on our national character. That's apart from the life that was stolen from both individuals, the convicted man and the original victim of the crime. This drawing was one of several sketches I did for a New York Times assignment after the Norwegian massacre this past summer. It wasn't the one they used, but it came to mind again today, after the execution last night in Georgia. Two lives are weighed in such a crime. Norway responded to murder with peace and mourning. The state of Georgia and our Supreme Court responded to murder with another murder.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Camera Setting

This drawing appeared in last month's issue of The Believer, art directed by Jason Polan. I recently did a whole series of these arrangements of familiar objects. I began with the familiar place setting, plate center, tableware left and right, glass at one o'clock, etc. When I named this one "camera setting" I realized its double meaning. But there is no meaning to it. No reason behind it. The arrangement is arbitrary. We organize our lives and our belongings along similar lines, with familiar protocols, like items at our desks or dinner tables. Likewise our computer desktops, which are intangible and fugitive. Order reassures us the world is going to function even when it won't.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I did this illustration a few years ago for a magazine called 5280. That's the elevation of Denver. Over the years, as a skier and writer for Skiing magazine, I've eaten quite a few sandwiches in Denver and its environs. Mountain air makes a person hungry.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Still Life With Pliers

This sketchbook drawing was one of several that were published in Five Dials, a literary magazine from Hamish Hamilton in London. It's edited and art directed by Craig Taylor.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Two Views, One Building

Elaborate architecture has always fascinated me, but it can be intimidating to draw it. All those elements. All that arrangement of detail. It was the relationship of one detail to another that made the building stand up, in every sense, or fall down. Drawing quickly helped. Simplifying. Sometimes I begin at the ground, as if I'm obeying gravity. Sometimes I start in midair. Sometimes I abandon perspective and lay the building flat. Different approaches make it a new building every time. I did the image of the tower years ago working on a Williams Sonoma project that never reached the retail stage. The quick view of the Houses of Parliament was done for an insurance association magazine. I like reminding art directors how much more interesting a page looks with a drawing on it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Drawing About Work

First of all, this is not me. I haven't the muscle to model this kind of drawing. I did this drawing earlier in the week. Typically, I was working on Labor Day. (My European client celebrated labor day on the first of May the way the rest of the world does.) There's a bit of homage here to Ben Shahn, but also to Studs Terkel and Woody Guthrie and Springsteen and to the real working men and women all over, lifting and hauling things I don't have the muscles for. Work is why we get up in the morning.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

From Sunday's New York Times

For those of you who don't spend their Sunday relaxing with the New York Times, or in case you skip the Week in Review section to get to the Style section, here's the art I did Friday afternoon. The subject was The Return of Congress, and it had three topics up for debate, so the idea wasn't to illustrate any one of those topics but the return of the members. My idea was to show them herding back into the chamber. The horizontal format worked well for this. Initially I couldn't help but visualize elephants entering a circus with the trunk of each one holding the tail of the elephant in front, but this seemed too easy and too derisory. Better to show them entering in long frat-house conga lines, hands on shoulders, blindly following the guy in front of them. Although, to be fair, the teamwork on the right is more uniform and better drilled. The quick pencil does a good job of capturing the comic elements, I think.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Drawing for Labor Day 2011

(I'm observing Labor Day by working. I don't know how else to do it.)