You say you’re not creative?

October 28, 2009

Owen skull&crossbonesWhether I’m talking with people about my work in advertising, or the painting I do for my own pleasure, the conversation often reaches the same point. In one way or another, people will tell me that they’re not creative at all.

It would be really easy to get on my soapbox at this point and talk about how pretty much all of us start off as creative kids, drawing and writing imaginative stories. But somehow we often lose that “skill.” Whether it’s our educational system, or kids’ peer groups, a lot of kids don’t stick with it. And like anything, if you’re not doing it often, you get rusty and that rust leads to a further lack of confidence.

Dead crowWhoops, what am I doing way up here? I must step down.

Anyway, I firmly believe that is not just about imagination, it’s about seeing — really observing — what is around you all day, everyday. There’s a beauty that we just don’t see — or worse, we take it for granted.  To really see it, you need to give your eye practice. You need to see in compositional terms. And one great way to do that is just to take a lot of photographs.

Grace blurI do. On the right side are pictures I’ve taken of my kids (I do this a lot because, well, they’re my kids. But also because I tend to paint portraits, so I like to look at how light plays across faces.) The crow was just a bit of road kill that I saw riding my bike home from work one day. I think it was worth getting off my bike for. You don’t need any good reason to take pictures. Take lots of them.

Which leads me to something that Seattle photographer Chase Jarvis is doing.  He’s taken the expression “the best camera is the one that’s with you” and turned it into a great iPhone app (the best “camera” iPhone app in my opinion, and I’ve used a lot of them), a book, and a web-based photography community.

Here’s Chase explaining it himself. Read more on his blog post.

I couldn’t have said it better myself (though I tried).

Statistics, visualized

February 11, 2009

I wrote a recent post about a visualization of the rate at which Wal-Mart and Target stores have opened over the last several years.

Well, this is on a similar theme — bringing statistical information to life, visually.  Seattle photographer/artist Chris Jordan has an amazing series of works called “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait.”  In it, he brings to life America’s consumption habits (among other things) in a way that really stops you cold.

This shot from the exhibition shows two million plastic beverage bottles — the amount used in the united states every five minutes.


Can’t see the bottles?  Seriously, check out the images — including close-ups — at Chris Jordan’s site.

Thinking of Mom

August 1, 2008

Mom and Dad
I was on my bike this morning, riding to work.  I looked at my watch to make sure I was on pace to get to the ferry on time. And I noticed the date — August 1.

It was in this month, 10 years ago, that my mother passed away after a long battle with cancer. It was three months before my daughter, Grace, our first child, would be born.

There’s something great about being on a bike, going up and down hills, because it gives your mind time to roam. And my mind jumped from thinking of these past 10 years to a poem by Billy Collins.  It’s in his book, The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems.  It’s called The Lanyard and, for me, it is a wonderful expression of the conditions of love between a parent and a child.

The Lanyard

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past —
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift–not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

The painting above is one I did of my mother and father, Janet and Gordon Livengood, who I miss every day.

Pondering the legitimacy of graffiti, stickering and such …

May 10, 2008

I was out and about in the city this weekend with my kids, trying to give their mom a bit of a respite for Mother’s Day.  As we passed a large concrete wall, both of my kids started commenting on the “evil graffiti.”

They said this with a bit of mock horror and told me they learned it from one of their classmates. Now, undoubtedly, these classmates have been influenced by their parents who surely see the defacing of private/public property as the issue.

But my kids have also been to my office where various walls are adorned with the work of a handful of urban artists.  We love the energy it brings to the office.

But all of this got me thinking about where the line is for me.

Sure, there’s a lot of simple tagging that just says “I was here … and here … and here … and here … and here.”  That gets old for me.  But there are a lot of examples that I think are pretty amazing.

There was Keith Haring who, in the early 1980s, became know for drawing with white chalk on the black paper covering the unsold adspace in the subways of New York. Haring was fascinated with the idea of making art that was not elitist, but made and displayed in public for all to see and love (or not).haring

Another of my favorite artists is England’s Banksy. His works are full of social commentary and I’m fascinated with the way he uses stencils to create pieces that are at once both thought provoking and wonderful. Interestingly, nobody really knows who Banksy is in real life — though there is much speculation.  He chooses to remain anonymous because what he does is, at the core, still illegal. banksy flower2

Banksy has been a big influence on one of my other favorite urban artists, Shepard Fairey. While at Rhode Island School of Design, Fairey made a silkscreen from an old picture of Andre the Giant.  It was called “Andre the Giant has a Posse.”  Instead of spray painting, he created artwork that could easily be translated into posters and stickers so that people could easily be copied and replicated.  ObeyGiant

He refined the image over time and the result is that armies of young people ran off their own copies of this and plastered Obey Giant stickers and posters all over the country and beyond.  All of this has made Fairey a well-known and successful artist (both in fine art and commercial art).  obey-obamaAnd he’s so legitimate as a social commentator that when he created a poster in support of Barack Obama, it was enthusiastically embraced by his campaign.  In fact, it was a badge of honor.

So, stickers.  Shepard Fairey got famous with them. Snowboard brands and ski companies have built up their slope-cred by using this ultra-cheap advertising alternative.  When does the value of the message outweigh the defacing of private property (if, indeed, you see it as defacing)?  How about this example:


I saw these stickers one day while I was using a restroom at a business. It struck me as really smart in that it got me thinking about how much paper I was going to use just before I actually pulled the lever. It must work.  They claim that each of these stickers saves 100 pounds of paper.  That’s good, right? But do I have the right to put the 100 stickers I ordered off of their website and place them on paper towel dispensers as I encounter them? Is it OK because it makes people think a little more?  Or because there’s nothing really offensive about the stickers?  What do you think?  When does stickering become OK?  When is graffiti OK?  Tell me.

Art, Jeff Bezos, and social media

January 23, 2008

william powhida- everyone i've ever met from memory (that i can remember) detail
Yes, I will string these thoughts together.

There are few things more exciting for me than finding an artist whose work I have trouble putting out of my mind.  A friend told me about this Brooklyn-based artist, William Powhida, after seeing his work at the Platform Gallery in Seattle.  In particular, he had one drawing “Everyone I’ve Ever Met from Memory (that I can remember).  A detail of the drawing is above.  He’s also done series these visual lists of Enemies and Allies (The New York Enemies List, The New York Allies List, The Seattle Enemies List).  There’s plenty to like here.  I love the irony and the sense of humor.  While there’s definitely a big wink, there’s a commitment to living a life wide open, to getting on a soap box and telling the world what you think.  And then there’s just a certain documentarian view of life that is hard not to admire.

Which is what made me think of Jeff Bezos.  bezos_j2_210x313Years ago, when I was doing quite a bit of work with, I remember someone telling me the story that Jeff Bezos carries a camera with him at all times and takes at least one picture a day.  As I understood it, he started the practice as a way of documenting his life and the wild ride he was on with Amazon.
As it turns out, it sounds like Bezos hasn’t gotten much farther with his idea than shoeboxes in his closet, but the data’s there.  Maybe when Bezos is old and retired and decides that rockets aren’t all that cool, he’ll pull out those shoeboxes and start scrap-booking.

Which brings me to blogging and much about social media.  It’s the modern-day intersection of the scap-book, the journal and the soapbox.  Powhida turned his real-life social networks (and his opinions of them), into art.  Bezos has it all tucked away in a decidedly private and non-technologist way.  And more than ever, millions of us are choosing not more privacy, but to live our lives  with an unprecedented degree of openness.

I find that fascinating.

The human color-separator

November 14, 2007


Chuck Close is probably my favorite artist.  Without a doubt, his way of looking at things has influenced my own art more than any other artist.  In fact, when I look at his work, especially his more recent full-color paintings and some of his prints (like the scribble etching at left), it seems to me that his brain is simply wired in a very different way.  We rely on computers to scan images and separate colors — usually into 4-color process.  But Close does it intuitively, and instead of four colors, he’s picking apart many, many more colors and them putting them back together again.

Pace Prints just opened a new show of Chuck Close prints at their gallery on East 57th Street in New York.  When a new show opens with Close’s paintings, they are all sold before the show ever opens.  And at prices well into the seven figures, his work is selling to mostly museums and major collectors.  But this show is different.  Because they are fine art prints, the prices are simply in the mere four or five figures.  Check out the gallery of his prints (and prices).  I really think someday we’ll look back and say that — even at these prices — getting an original Close was a steal.