This year our school district change the start times for all of our schools. Since I work at a middle school I don’t report to work till 9 AM. This means I have a lot of time in the morning. I was bemoaning the fact that by the time I get home we have dinner and finished with the kids activities it’s time for bed and then I felt like I’ve never had time to make art. So I made a decision this week to get up at five, eat my breakfast and do my Spiritual practice and then go into the studio, close the door, and get to work.
When you start out you have no idea what you’re going to do so you sit there at your drawing table staring at a blank piece of paper. The key is not to stare too long. The paper has the ability to hypnotize you and before you know it you’ve lost two hours. The key is to take control and start moving your pencil. Doesn’t matter what you do. The first things you do are gonna be terrible anyways. As long as You do them. Just work. And over time, you get work done. I’m drawing here a comic there, A sculpture, a puppet, it all just starts to happen.
if I’ve learned anything in art and then life it’s that you only fail when you stop. So I sit here with my cuppa coffee, pencil in hand. Trying not to fear.
What in the world happened? Today was a mixed bag at school some of the classes were super chill and laid-back and everybody worked. Some classes we’re like a caffeinated asylum. I understand I’m not complaining but it’s amazing how different two groups of the same age group can be. It might be the addition of one or two bad actors or it might be the time of day, what they ate for lunch, was there too much red dye Number five in the fruit rollup they had after their pizza. It’s such a weird thing. As a teacher all you can do is plan your lesson and hope for the best. And you better make sure that your heart is ready to love kids when they’re not at their‘s. Today we made small stapled sketchbooks so that this week we can focus on hand drawn lettering. I’m going to show kids how to create bubble letters of all kinds and how to change the look so that they can communicate with only letters. Eventually After they design 20 letterform styles they will pick their favorite and create an entire alphabet from it. I took the opportunity to decorate mine with gob and a hummingbird. I’m glad to be home and relaxing. I’m looking forward to a good day tomorrow.
It is hard to teach children how to be satisfied with the moment. Heck, it’s hard to teach that to myself. I have struggled for a number of years with the desire to pursue after lots of things. Success, fortune, you name it. But to be present in the moment enjoying what you do. That is a real gift. It is my spiritual beliefs that compelled me to let go of ambition and to seek peace in the daily doing of whatever I have in front of me to do. That doesn’t mean that you can’t try to write a book, act in a play, learn how to play the instrument, or any other creative venture. But if you think those things are going to make you fulfilled or deeply satisfied, I can only speak from my own experience that it has not. I believe that the creative process is connected to the creator himself and so when I make things it is a part of my spiritual practice. A drawing as a prayer if you will. Today I find myself wanting things deeper and a piece of paper. Perhaps the paper might possibly be a vehicle to those deeper conversations. I did this doesn’t make sense to anybody else. I am grateful for the little things in life; Family, food, sunshine, fresh air, and so on. Oh yeah, and the little hummingbirds that buzz by my head as they travel to the feeders on my front porch. I’m especially grateful for them. What’s it like for you? Do you ever feel frustrated with your creative process? Do you ever feel truly satisfied?
Holy crap! The first week of school is amazing! New kids, new lessons and lots of new excitement. But there’s also new routines, new bedtimes, and new exhaustion! We are beat but it is going to be a great. Right now what would be great is sleep. Good night.
Unfortunately, I’ve always been a worrier. I’m better now than when I was younger but I do come by it honestly. It’s amazing how much of life we worry about and it doesn’t come to pass. We punish ourselves with imaginary phantoms lurking behind every corner that don’t exist. As a teacher it is extremely important to control this. Teaching well is an incredibly taxing undertaking. It requires concentration, focus and clarity that gets lost in the clouds of anxiety. Prayer, meditation, and journaling have always been helpful in managing these feelings but sometimes they still come around. I wonder how this affects my colleagues. How did they manage? I know I can’t be the only one. Well, a good nights sleep seems necessary in times like this. Good night.
It’s not earth shattering to say that the world is vastly different post Covid then it was prior to. There’s so much confusion and division not to mention outright animosity towards people of differing viewpoints. The news floods us with a constant barrage of “those people are idiots “ or “the others are nazis.” We can’t just be humans who believe something different or have different opinions but still deserve love and respect.
As I sit in the morning or evening with my sketchbook I can feel my normalcy returning as I allow the world’s crazy in me flow out onto the page.
when I first started drawing in sketchbooks it was just a place to doodle and make pictures. When I got into high school and college it was a place to let my imagination explore new things and to plan for bigger projects. Danny Gregory talks about sketchbooks for some artists being the finished art piece in and of themselves which has been my experience.
I never thought however in those early years that it would actually be a great source of healing for my mental health. A place where I could vent and release stress and tension of life in a place where I could look back at the complexity and wonder of my own time on the planet. I hope my students will find it useful for them as they face so many more issues than we did as kids.
This is the first year in 17 years of teaching that my school district has changed the start time for school. Middle schools now begin at 9:20 AM and go till 4:45 PM. A lot of people have been complaining about it. I decided to take a different approach. I got up this morning at 5:30. I made breakfast and a pot of coffee and I took it with my sketchbook to my front patio. I plugged in the café lights above the brick patio sent down the iron furniture and listened to the sounds of crickets, tree frogs, and the awakening of birds.
This convergence of night and morning sounds was remarkable. I took another sip of coffee. I often listen to the Bible in the morning to help me get my mind focused on things that are bigger than me, things that are pure and Noble. This morning I listen to the psalms. I opened my sketchbook and began to write and draw.
After a while my wife joined me and we talked about the new year. She still in quarantine because of a coworker who got Covid. She herself tested negative for the virus but we sat with our coffee listening to the birds watching the neighborhood cats and talking about our students and the things we hoped for with the new school year. After a while I got up to take a shower and went to work two hours before my start time. It is the first time in memory that I went to school without feeling rushed. It was amazing. Not only did I create art, feed my soul, enjoy my family, but I showed up to work more centered person, a better version of myself. I no longer have to endure my class or my time spent teaching. It has become a blessing and the thing that gives me purpose. I’m grateful for that. As I am for morning times with coffee and a pen on paper.
Tomorrow is the first day of school. I am looking forward to meeting the new kids and renewing connections with returning students. Every kid (like the characters in the above picture, are unique. Sure there are similarities in personalities or archetypes but talk to them and their stories are rich and deep with joy and sadness, victories and insecurities. They come to the art room, some excited, some apprehensive, and some hostile. It’s my job to look past this and see the person inside that has the potential to be successful in class. I get to draw this out of them. Some days it works and some days I fail miserably but not for lack of trying.
I am excited this year to have my room set up, clean and organized and ready to go. I get to teach my all time favorite art form to kids. I teach them how to use the sketchbook. How to draw, paint, print write and tell the story of themselves. To see the world in new and interesting ways and to discover just how rich and wonderful their life is. What a great gig! This year is the first year since the COVID pandemic hit that I will have all of my students seated in class for five days a week. Some people during the pandemic were touting the benefits of online schooling. It may be fine for some kids but for the vast majority, it was terrible. Kids need to make connections. If you don’t connect with your kids, your will have a terrible time trying to get them to be excited about your subject. But if you can get them to feel, to know that you care about them then you can get them to “walk through fire” for you.
So here we are on 2021/22 eve. I am ready. I am excited, I am prepared and I can’t wait to get to know my students. I can’t wait to see how utterly brilliant they are.
When I started teaching at Cherokee Middle School, I was hired to teach graphic design. As time went on however I was given more and more freedom to teach whatever interested me. I’ve been doing this to one degree or another since I became a teacher. Back then (2005) I was told I could teach whatever but I stuck pretty close to the kinds of things I saw other teachers doing with my own “weirdo” spin put on them. But Cherokee was different. I have been trying for years to develop a classroom revolving around one main type of art. I thought it would be something like comics or zines but the answer was right in front of me. It was ALWAYS in front of me. I have loved sketchbooks forever. In them I can literally teach almost any 2-D media (ink, pencil, markers, watercolor, printmaking), but I can do it in such a way that removes the stigma that many kids have about art. It is not ART with a capitol A but art with a little a. It’s humble, fun, just goofing, playing and trying new stuff. (Don’t tell my students but this is how ART gets made.
Sometimes I feel really empowered when I draw in the sketchbook. Others however, I feel like I have forgotten altogether how to draw. It is usually when I haven’t drawn in a while and so I have to do something to kick the cobwebs off of the creative parts of my brain. This summer, I did very little drawing. We were busy with home projects and vacations to Alabama and my home town in New York. Summertime for teachers is great for this. So when I came back to the book I was a little shocked to see how hard it was to get the ball rolling. So I just started this nonsense strip stating the obvious. If you draw from observation, the subject matter Is easier to find. Just look around. But I spend most of my time drawing from my imagination. So I have to get the brain back in that mindset. So how do you do that? Read a good book. I read the novel “Conan the Buccaneer” and it got my brain bubbling with imagery. You can look at other artists work. This is tricky because I don’t want to copy them but it gets me back in that visual frame of mind. Also, music, poetry and coffee, all help me to loosen up and want to be creative. There is no magic cure. If you haven’t run in a long while, you don’t start with a half marathon. You start slow. Run / walk every other minute for a mile. And don’t forget to stretch. Now that school is starting I am back at the grind which means I have limited time to work on my work. I find that those limitations are often the very thing I need to motivate the daily drawing habit.