Monday, December 21, 2015

Burt and Kirk

An earlier post about Kirk Douglas elicited a comment/reminiscence about the kind of tangible power of sheer personality the actor had when encountered in person by one of us mere, non-screen legend mortals. It reminded me that I too had experienced that same dynamic, years ago, when I saw Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in a two-man play at the Marines Memorial Theater in San Francisco. 
The play was called "The Boys In Autumn", about an imagined reunion of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn some fifty years after their legendary adventures together. Suffice to say the play itself was a dark and ultimately disappointing misfire, but the presence on stage of the two iconic actors, now both in their 70s, was an incredible experience, especially in the relatively intimate (650 seats) Marines Memorial.
The lights went up to reveal a cabin on the left, and a path leading offstage coming from the right. It appears to be somewhere in the south - the bayou perhaps, with the sound of cicadas and birds in the background. Otherwise the stage is empty. And then Kirk Douglas walks onstage, and holy crap the wave of energy that emanated from him was palpable and undeniable. The audience exploded in a cascade of enthusiastic applause and cheers, a response that went on for easily two minutes, not kidding. Kirk Douglas stood there, in character as Tom Sawyer, looking round the set as if it was familiar but he hadn't seen it in years. He was smiling - in character - but I'll be damned if he wasn't also genuinely bowled over by the swirl of positive energy and adulation bouncing back at him from us in the audience. Eventually we settled down and let the play begin, with Douglas monologging about his memories of the place and some of what had transpired in the intervening years - actually much of what he said at this point is pretty fuzzy - I was getting theist of it but mostly I was still just marveling at the display of energy and movie star wattage we were all experiencing. Douglas goes on alone for about ten minutes or so, and then just inside the screen door of the cabin, Burt Lancaster appears, warily watching Douglas but not yet speaking. 
Again, you could feel the energy of the man, just standing there. Again, the applause and cheers, for an equal amount of time, as I recall, to what we greeted Douglas with. And he was just standing there! 
It was an astonishing experience, and in spite of the play itself being unsatisfying and unnecessarily lurid, we the audience stood on our feet and cheered and clapped for a good long time as the actors took their curtain calls, arms around each other's shoulders, seeming to bask in the audience's appreciation of being in such close proximity to big Hollywood stars and genuine forces of nature.

Friday, December 18, 2015

More Big City High Society

Since I neglected to post anything yesterday, here's a trio of High Society revelers from sketchbooks past!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Give a Weiner a cone and you've got a friend for life...

Get your minds outa the gutter people...
Wow that Weiner sure got big...

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

Dorothy Parker

There is no adequate way to quickly sum up Dorothy Parker - she was a poet, a writer (books, essays, screenplays) a satirist, a critic (for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker), a political activist, and an acknowledged wit. A member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table (along with Robert Benchley, Robert E. Sherwood, Alexander Woollcott, Harpo Marx, to name but a few of the notable members), she was the source of a wonderful library of quotes, filled with savage wit and deft wordplay. Instead of trying to hastily craft a set of biographical notes here, I'm going to take the lazy approach and just post a handful of her pithiest, most entertaining quotes:

When she was challenged to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence: "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think."

"The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue"

When she was told that the famously reticent President Calvin Coolidge had died, she responded, "How could they tell?"

"The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires."

"That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can't say 'No' in any of them"

"If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you"

"If all the girls attending [the Yale prom] were laid end to end, I wouldn't be at all surprised."

"I'm not a writer with a drinking problem, I'm a drinker with a writing problem."

This is just a drop in the quote bucket - there are so many more - feel free to post your favorite here or anywhere you have a social presence - the world should know about and remember her.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cheerful Retro Monsters

For no earthly reason: three little drawings of cheerful monster guys from the 50s.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Oona Chaplin "serious" drawing

Every so often I challenge myself to do a more "serious" drawing - not a caricature, not a stylized depiction of someone or something, not a cartoon. Every so often I think the results are okay. I was unaware of the actress Oona Chaplin (daughter of Geraldine, granddaughter of Charlie) until she showed up on Game of Thrones, and I thought she was not only a strong character presence in the massive ensemble, but she also had a great face for drawing. She played the character with a nice undercurrent of sadness and impending doom, as if she felt like she was never destined for a happy life. She should have R.S.V.P.'d "ignore" instead of "going" to that Red Wedding invitation...

Friday, December 11, 2015

Bonds. Good Bonds. Bond. Bad Bond.

My brother and I were having an e-conversation the other day about High Brow Art, Outsider Art, and the role of pop culture as a substitute for mythos. (It sounds a good deal more hoity toity than it actually was - with us its more like a "Nah uh", "Yah hunh", "Fraid not", "Fraid so" kind of conversation) And he referenced James Bond as a great example (and according to him, one of the very few bona fide ones) of a pop culture icon that has transcended pop culture and ascended to the higher plane of a kind of proto-myth.  
Of course, guys like us - from a particular generation - not sayin' we're old...but we guys, us guys, when choosing their "best Bond" tend to prefer Sean Connery - this guy...
...possibly because we hungrily devoured the original source material - Ian Fleming's dark and wonderfully nihilistic cold war chronicles of the super agent On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and at the time Connery brandished the right amount of suave, sardonic and brutal. A manly-man role model apropos of the post WWII Age of seemingly imminent mutual mass nuclear annihilation and the subterranean machinations of the shadowy government groups who spied on one another.
It didn't hurt that the first cinematic incarnations of Fleming's creation- the early Bond movies - were immensely entertaining - fast-paced, far fetched and full of black humor (or humour) and a visceral, creepy violence that established a particularly sticky kind of menace - memorably indelible. 
It also introduced that widest set of villains since Batman or Dick Tracy - evil industrialists or atomic mad scientists with metal hands. Bad guys who had imposing henchmen and a nasty wit of their own.
Sean Connery made James Bond his own, and in the process made him a character with "legs" - a potent cultural presence for half a century and still going.
When the character was re-cast for the fifth time (seventh if you count Barry Nelson and David Niven, but no one really does) and the essence of Bond and his role updated for the new millennium, the choice of Daniel Craig was inspired, and has proven wildly successful.
Craig also possesses both a brooding sense of purpose and an imposing physicality. He seems perfect as the necessary "Blunt instrument"the British government wields against terrorists and shadowy criminal/terrorist organizations the equals of their Cold War counterparts. 
Even though Pierce Brosnan wasn't a bad Bond, it has taken Daniel Craig to erase the queasy memories of twelve years of the progressively depressing slapstick cartoons that were the Bond movies with Roger Moore. 
The less said about that era the better.
Oh yeah, and if you're interested in the phenomenal contribution that the music had in making Bond a cultural icon, you may want to listen to this fascinating and entertaining audio documentary on composer John Barry, the man who wrote the Bond theme, and crafted the scores for at least twelve of the Bond movies:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Serious Abe Lincoln/Silly Abe Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln has always been one of my favorite subjects to draw - mostly because his face is just such a unique and powerful combination of structures - but also because there's such a vast catalog of clear and wonderful photos of his face. Drawing from Lincoln's face is also such a treat because there are so many ways you can go with it - certainly more sober or more irreverent. Here are a few of my own sketches/paintings of Lincoln, starting with a couple of more "serious" takes and then a few sillier versions.
An Abe portrait, from a scanned pencil sketch, painted in Photoshop...
Abe and Mary (initially inspired by an image of Laurel & Hardy)... also a pencil sketch into Photoshop... followed by three completely silly Lincoln sketchbook incarnations...

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Tex Ritter, what?

For no good reason other than that I came across these and remembered that I liked 'em, here's a drawing of cowboy star Tex Ritter! 
A natural born Texan, Ritter was a bona fide cowboy star in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Although he was most successful as an early country singer on the radio, he was able to capitalize on that fame and star in at least 50 "B" Westerns for Grand National, Monogram and eventually Universal Pictures. Tex was a "singing cowboy" in his movies - consequently during breaks in the ridin' robin' rustling' action of the narrative he would begin to warble, usually to the female romantic interest. He was able to translate his "B" movie stardom into charted hits, in the country category, singles like Yippee Ti Yi Yo (Git Along Little Dogie) and the theme from the "A" movie High Noon ("Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin')
Tex was also the father of three successful actors: the late great John Ritter of Three's Company and Bad Santa fame, as well as John's son (with actress Amy Yasbeck of Men In Tights fame) Jason of the TV shows Gravity Falls, Joan of Arcadia and Parenthood, and Tyler Ritter, who has guested in a number of TV shows.
Here's another (pen & ink) drawing of Tex along with fellow "B" western star "Wild" Bill Elliot.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Threefer Tuesday: Audrey Hepburn!

In the category of "Endlessly enjoyable to draw" here are a couple of Audrey Hepburns. 
Also fun to draw: Katherine Hepburn. But not for today.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Mondays suck - funny work animals may help...

I go to far too many meetings and reviews at work - so in order to attempt to capture all the (sometimes necessary) information and direction that percolates from the mouths of the attendees, I carry around a notebook. Of course a good deal of the meetings have little or nothing to do with me, so I will frequently drift off and begin to draw strange little non-sequiter scenes. Sometimes they involve imagining co-workers as animals. just because, you know, why not...
Here's are two of those.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Drawing from screen grabs

Drawing from old Hollywood publicity photos (I'm talking 30s & 40s old) from the Big Studios is always a great exercise, largely because the gorgeous black & white photography was so beautifully lit, so well crafted, that each image is a like a seminar in how to define the human form with lighting. The great photo portrait artists of the day like George Hurrell & Clarence Sinclair Bull created libraries of exquisite depictions of the royalty of old Hollywood that are admired and emulated still, and they're always fun to work from. Above is a drawing from a studio portrait of the character actor Edward Arnold (who frequently played evil industrialists in movies like Meet John Doe)
But with the various methods of streaming movie and TV content on computers and tablets (Watch TCM, HBO GO, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) it makes it incredibly easy to draw from screen grabs from all sorts of programs, old and new. The thing I like about drawing from screen grabs is that you get to draw from equally well-lit shots of the Stars - usually with more expressions than just their glamour pose faces - but also you get to see the faces of the character actors and extras, also well lit and also with interesting faces and expressions.

The guy above is a good example - I have no idea what the actor's name is, but he played a bit part as a forlorn coachman sitting outside in the rain waiting for Greta Garbo in one of her silent films The Mysterious Lady. Random shot, but still a great face to draw, with strong lighting and expression.
Here's another character actor, named Frederick Worlock, from a Clark Gable/Joan Crawford movie called Strange Cargo - this actor shows up in a number of movies from the 30s, and has a fairly memorable face and presence - because I've watched it overandoverandover again, I recognized him from The Sea Hawk.
You can obviously draw the stars too - here's a sketch of Clark Gable emoting, probably from Dancing Lady, another Joan Crawford vehicle.
And again, from one of Joan Crawford's 30s dramas, a too-quick sketch of her that doesn't do her justice but is still a decent study I think.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Messing around with Mr. Joker and ZBrush

Drafting off of yesterday's bevy of Batsketches, today is devoted to Batman's favorite arch-nemesis, the Joker.
Inspired (and tutored) by the estimable Mr. Dave Kertesz - - (who I am incredibly fortunate to be able to work with every day) I took advantage of a Price Reduction! earlier this year and picked up a copy of ZBrush to try my hand and cursor at some 3D sculpting. (Massive disclaimer: I would not even begin to compare my paltry efforts in this medium to the incredible work that Dave does, by the way - please take a trip over to his site if you'd like to see real Brush mastery. Not just with sculpting but with texturing and lighting - the entire package) After some initial poking about - more on that in later posts - I dug out a Joker sketch I had done and started loosely following it as a guide for sculpting.
I should mention at this point there were more than a few other Joker inspirations rattling around my head as well - namely the Joker I Grew Up With, that is, the original creepy stylized clown-face version of Bob Kane/Dick Sprang -
- and the lovely action figure version that came out a couple of years ago from the Brave And The Bold TV series -
- and then of course there's Greg Capullo's mega-scary version of late...

Anyhow, that all fueled the ZBrush experimentation that you see below:
This was the first version I tried - which took me much longer to do than I care to document - and which, due to either A. some hiccup in my file backup setup or B. user error (I'm gonna go out on a limb and choose B.) I subsequently lost. The image above is a screen grab.
Irked but undaunted, (Oh the cursing. You would have thought the fleet was in town.) I started again, and this was the result when I called it a day. Or three - I forget.
For an early foray into a new tool I was marginally satisfied and much self back-patting ensued, but then almost instantly I realized how much more time and practice and coaching and tutorials I will need to invest in to get the better results I'm aiming for. So I continue to work at it and will post more ZBrush forays in subsequent posts.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Silly little Batman drawings

Usually when I can't think of anything else to draw I default to Batman.
Batman has always been my comic book hero of choice, ever since I was a TV & comics-obsessed eight or nine year old. At that age, I was mesmerized by the subtle creepiness of Bob Kane and Dick Sprang's drawings of the characters - I 

I was transfixed by his origin story, especially the way this page portrayed it -
- and most compelling thing about it for me was the center panels, and the idea that someone could build themselves into the individual they wanted to be. Sure I liked the Superman "benevolent visitor from another planet"story, and (like everyone else I knew) hoped against hope that a radioactive spider would bite me (and that it wouldn't hurt too much or get all grotesquely swollen) or that a truck carrying a shipment of (again) radioactive waste would cross my path and spritz me with just enough of that glowing goo to super-empower me...but Batman made himself Batman - and that was the part of it that I could relate to. Okay sure it didn't hurt that he had inherited untold wealth and never had to hold a day job, but still, it was an inspiring concept - the "self-made" superhero -  that somehow stuck with me.
But that doesn't mean I take him too seriously. Because the character has in recent years had to shoulder so much cultural gravitas, he's fun to poke fun at. And relatively easy to draw in an off moment. 
These are a few of the goofy Batman sketches that have wormed their way out of my head over the years - or at least the ones I'm willing to share...


Thursday, December 03, 2015

High Society in the Big City - Excerpt

In an attempt to explain why I'm mildly obsessed with drawing from photos of folks who comprise the socio-economic-proto-cultural strata known as "High Society" - a small sampling seen below - here's an excerpt of an essay I wrote a few years ago about my adventures as a suburban paperboy. (I know, I'm as guilty as anyone of shying away from too much written substance - emitting the inward groan as a response to the idea of reading anything more than a paragraph when there are videos of cats attacking babies to watch. Cats. Attacking babies for goddsake!) But if you're a voracious consumer of the written word this shouldn't take up too much of your time - please enjoy, or just look at the pictures, that'd be fine too. 

      Growing up in a prosperous suburb of a major metropolitan center meant I didn’t get to live in the actual Big City but still benefited from some of the cultural table scraps. I was close enough geographically that the Big City’s ripples gently jarred my little suburban boat and defined my journey in ways that were subtle yet undeniable.
The city I lived in was San Jose, but since it still had one big boot mired in agriculture it wasn’t yet considered much of an urban reality - it was still considered a suburb of the nearby Big City, San Francisco. San Jose had a downtown of it’s own, with a courthouse and banks and various office buildings, but it still had the dusty patina of a farm town center. It was still the Santa Clara Valley, The Valley of Heart’s Delight, and the drowsy downtown was appropriately small and low key in scale. It would still be a couple of decades before it was affixed with the insidious Silicon Valley moniker.
San Jose had it’s own legitimate newspapers, the Mercury in the morning - which my parents read religiously - and the News in the afternoon, which nobody I knew personally would admit to reading. My family had always read a paper in the morning the way God intended, and that meant the News was never considered.
The real city, the Big City, San Francisco, also had two newspapers - there was the morning Chronicle and the afternoon Examiner. No one in my family beginning with my grandfather had ever considered the Examiner to be much of a newspaper. Even though my grandparents were horribly bigoted snobs, their disdain wasn’t based on the fact that Hearst papers had once been the voice of choice for vast roiling multitudes of “dirty immigrants”. Nor was their aversion to the paper based on some ancient intellectual or political grudge against old Mr. Hearst’s evil ways - it was the Examiner’s afternoon status that sunk it’s chances like the Maine in Havana harbor.
That left the Chronicle.
There were plenty of people in our burgeoning suburb who read the Big City Chronicle. The reason I knew this was because I was their morning Paperboy. I was the unseen agent who put their paper on the porch every day for two years, rain or shine, while they slept.
As anxious as I am to describe how I delivered the paper each morning, I must digress just long enough to explain my product a bit more. Any good businessman should know and believe in their product, and I was no exception.
I liked the Chronicle. It had the sleek heft of sophistication, compared to the corn fed girth of the Mercury. Before I delivered it I would only see it on the occasions when we visited the aforementioned Grandparents. They had money, and lived closer to the Big City then we did. Needless to say they had no use for the provincial rag from the farm colony we inhabited. When we’d go to visit them, usually on a Sunday, I’d always take a look at their Chronicle. I liked their gothic-type masthead, and the little eagle whose wings spread below the title. I liked the sans-serif no nonsense urgency of the headlines, and I liked the comics page.
Whereas the Mercury seemed to favor newer comics like Tumbleweeds and Broom Hilda, the Chronicle stuck with the old world stalwarts, like Dick Tracy and Little Orphan Annie. I liked Broom Hilda just fine, but there was something strange and historically compelling about Blondie and Prince Valiant and the weirdly noir Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. I doubt that I ever laid eyes on Steve Roper – to this day I wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a comics lineup - the adventures, which felt vaguely and belatedly WWII-related, always seemed to spin off and around the gruff, crewcut Mike Nomad. Mike Nomad was either a photojournalist or a soldier of fortune, I could never figure which, but I followed him daily for years, mildly addicted and trying to keep up with him.

The Chronicle was also full of Big City shenanigans, most of which had no direct bearing on my life, but to me it reeked of Big City excitement and Big City culture. Since the City had actual professional sports franchises, the paper had a good sports page, the whole section of which they printed on dyed green newsprint and called The Sporting Green. Other than the rather vague grass connection, I didn’t fully understand the point, but it seemed really sophisticated to me at the time. The Chronicle was big on dyeing sections of their paper. The Sunday Datebook section with all the arts and entertainment news was nicknamed the Pink Section because, decades before San Francisco was a haven for the gay population of the world, they actually dyed the newsprint pink.

The Chronicle was the paper of Herb Caen, Stanton Delaplane, and the Society page. The Society page fascinated me, with its flash photography frozen rictus shots of the Very Wealthy at their expensive parties. There was no earthly reason a preteen hetero kid in the suburbs should have any recognition of the names Pat Montandon or Wilkes Bashford or Charlotte Maillard, but I did, because I could never tear my eyes away from their pictures when they appeared in the Society page. Occasionally the women in the photos were actually pretty, as when there was some young debutante event, but even then the images shone with the glaze of the grotesque. There was always the slightest tinge of desperation in the eyes, a bit more whites above the pupils than you’d expect. Ready for their close-ups, all.

I didn’t know who they were or what they did apart form all the events they attended. Galas, endless Galas - The Opera, the Black and White Ball, the Symphony, the De Young Museum Benefits, and all the other Galas. I looked at their pictures with a blend of puzzlement and envy that was laced with a curiously generous helping of loathing. These people seemed so unnecessary, so useless to regular folks like me and mine; yet here they were with their toothy mugs in the paper every couple of days.
The Mercury had a Society page with occasional pictures too, but it was too dully civic-minded, too earnestly responsible to be interesting to me. They were always cutting the ribbon on some new shopping center or housing development or bowling alley. Even I could see it was usually somehow associated with commerce instead of The Arts, and that made it low and base in my eyes. The people in the pictures always looked like chunky hayseeds compared with the bony-sleek cultural Movers and Shakers in the Chronicle. The San Jose crowd was a bunch of goofy, preening amateurs - even I knew it - and I was slightly embarrassed for them and for San Jose in general.

I knew my parents read the San Jose Mercury because it had all the news that pertained to their San Jose lives. Unlike me they liked San Jose, and they liked reading the Mercury. But I also think my parents didn’t want to be reminded every day of their former swinging life in Baghdad By The Bay. They were suburban parents now. They went to church and had a mortgage and a station wagon. Gone were the days of cocktails at Ernies, or cocktails at the Tonga Room, or cocktails at the Top of the Mark. They still had cocktails every night of course, but now the only bar they closed every night was the one on my little brother’s crib.