New Orleans, Understanding Illustration

vl-ninth_one_2014Today is Fat Tuesday, and New Orleans is full of partiers enjoying their last Carnival moments before the start of Lent tomorrow. But a few years back, when I visited the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, I was surprised and saddened to see how much re-building was still left to be done. Families living among ghost houses, or fields, in what were once thriving neighborhoods. I was inspired by the emotional resonance of the abandoned homes, and did a series of portraits of them – as I felt they were speaking eloquently about what had transpired in the neighborhood. And the residents have spoken, too. Fats Domino said, “I’m gonna wait it out. I don’t think I’ll ever leave the Ninth Ward.” (Robert Siegel, “Fats Domino, ‘Alive and Kickin’’ after Katrina,” All Things Considered, March 13, 2006, National Public Radio)

vl_ninth_two_2014Recently, filmmaker Spike Lee spoke at Pratt Institute, and he had some vehement things to say about gentrification, and the racial divide that often still exists in cities across America. The Ninth Ward is a traditionally African-American neighborhood, and an artistic center for jazz, that most American of music forms. It seems sad to me that the will to bring this neighborhood back is not stronger than it is. It’s a holding ground of our cultural heritage and yet it has been largely abandoned. I don’t pretend to know what the solution is, I know that geographically it is a terrible idea to rebuild, but then again, emotionally, how can you not rebuild a place that means so much to so many people? There are some projects going on now that help, but it’s a shame there aren’t more.

vl-cover-Understanding-Illustration  My reportage essay on the Ninth District of New Orleans is going to be featured in an upcoming book, Understanding Illustration, by Jo             Davies and Derek Brazell. The book focuses on the meaning and message of illustration, and features 36 other talented illustrators besides myself. I am gratified to be a part of this project, and I hope that the inclusion of my visual essay in the book may bring some attention to the Ninth Ward re-building that is going on.

You can see my original posts on this topic HERE, and HERE.

If you are in London tonight, March 4, you can attend the panel discussion about Understanding Illustration at the Gallery at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, that begins at 18.30.

Read more about the struggles of the Ninth Ward in this interesting essay by Juliette Landphair in the Journal of American History here.

 

Svetlana and the Delancey Five with Wycliffe Gordon

Last Monday night I went to the Backroom Bar, in the lower east side of Manhattan, to hear Svetlana and the Delancey Five perform with Wycliffe Gordon. Fellow artists Margaret Hurst, Julia Sverchuk, and my One Drawing A Day editor, Mary Ann Hall, were there drawing too. What a blast!
First of all, the Back Room is set up like an old speakeasy, with a password required for entry. It actually was a speakeasy during Prohibition, one of only two left in NYC. They serve alcohol in teacups, as they did in prohibition times, in case the cops raid the place. For those of you not from the US – prohibition was a misguided attempt by the US government to outlaw liquor of all kinds. It was repealed by the 21st amendment to the Constitution, so now all Americans over 21 can drink legally. (You’ll often see bars named the 21st Amendment in the US, now you know why…) Secondly, people were swing dancing and having a good time. Thirdly, the music was HOT…

Wycliffe Gordon was tremendous – singing and playing the trombone. He brought a definite New Orleans vibe to the evening, and performed a few Louis Armstrong classics, too. Fantastic energy and soul. And Svetlana and the Delancey Five were no small potatoes either – I had seen them play recently at the Vintage Train event, and they did NOT disappoint. Here is the sultry Svetlana belting one out – -

And here are some more drawings of musicians enjoying themselves playing, and folks kicking up their heels and having a good time:
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All in all, another fun evening in the Big Apple. Or was it the Big Easy? It was hard to tell.

You can see Julia’s drawings of the event HERE.

 

Lunar New Year Celebration

Saturday was the Chinese New Year parade in Flushing, Queens, home of one of the largest Chinese populations in the western hemisphere. “This is going to be good!” I thought, and hopped on the 7 train to do a few drawings. When I got out at the Main Street station expecting crowds, I thought I had missed it – even when I rounded the corner to where the barricades were set up, it was pretty sparse, not the mad tourist scene of the parade in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Which was kind of nice, actually, it felt like a very home town celebration. (Also, it was about 10 degrees fahrenheit, so maybe all the smart people stayed home, ha ha!)There were the requisite policemen of any New York City parade, a marching band, a few civic groups, and of course, the lions and dragons that are the highlight of any Chinese New Year festivities. But it seemed the most important part of this parade were the flyers that were handed out to all the bystanders. Ads in Chinese for everything you could imagine, join this religion, hire these lawyers, eat at these restaurants, consult these life coaches…on it went. A bonanza of junk mail wound it’s way up Main Street along with the revelers. Even ads for a hospital in the area. The infamous Ronald McDonald got in on the act too, you can see him at the left of the drawing below…
I think the funniest part of the parade was the group of high school students from Francis Lewis high school. Marching along in the midst of the overly-exuberant middle aged parade marchers, they moved silently in their puffy jackets, each with their heads bowed down low, enduring the excruciating pain of being forced by their parents to march in the parade. It was so funny to see them – you can catch a glimpse of a few of them in the midst of my drawing above. It was like they were on a death march.
I’m really not exaggerating that much!
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I love to watch the acrobatics of the people in the lion suits. They really get into dancing in those things! Reminded me of the performance in Grand Central of the Nick Cave horses last spring. Similar moves.
vl-flushing-parade-4The Chinese section of the parade ended with these women in flowy robes followed by other men and women walking within little boats that said “Happy New Year’ on them, and then a massive banner. I thought the parade was over, but then I heard some music and saw that the Korean section of the parade was beginning. I looked up and saw two giant Korean bobble-head figures dancing toward me, Wow. And behind them marched a small group of Korean veterans. I’m not sure if they fought in the Korean war and if so, did they fight with the Korean army or the American army? I guess in a way it’s irrelevant, they fought for their country and so now they were honored and marching in the parade.
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It’s interesting that the New Year’s parade in Flushing also includes Koreans and Korean-Americans. They celebrate the lunar New Year too, of course, and there are many Korean people living in Queens as well. It was so interesting to me to see the total change of graphics between the Chinese and the Korean sections of the parade. The Chinese part was all red and gold and decorative curves everywhere; the Korean section was all blues with large, angular shapes and over-sized details. Somewhat like the differences in their calligraphy.
The cutest part of the Korean section of the parade were the little boys doing their Taekwondo kicks up the block. Look out!! My favorite though, was one man who was the master of ceremonies of some kind, wearing a large teal robe, a tall black hat, a surgical mask, and a pair of 2014 glasses from January 1. Quite the get up, and he really seemed to enjoy wearing it all and twirling down Main Street.
You may also notice the planes flying overhead in my drawings – we were very close to JFK airport. All in all it was a very enjoyable morning, although I froze to death and dropped my pad into a snow bank more than one time. By the way, it’s the year of the horse. Kung Hei Fat Choi!

 

Superbowl Times Square

As those of you in the US know, yesterday was the Super Bowl, the biggest football game of the year. This year the game was held in Giants stadium in New Jersey, and to celebrate, NYC turned Times Square into a kind of NFL Superbowl playground. I know…what? It’s true. I decided to go check it out for myself. Coming out of the subway, I was greeted by the mounted police, above. The tourists were out in droves, taking pictures, and the New Yorkers were trying their best to avoid the scene. I heard a few of them grumbling as they got caught up in all the activity, or trapped behind a slow moving group of football fans.  Most New Yorkers tried to circumvent the area, and I heard more than on let out an expletive when they walked around the corner and realized they had forgotten about the NFL take-over of the plaza.
The highlight of the festivities seemed to be a huge toboggan ride that was set up on Broadway and 41st St. Can you believe? It was such a strange sight, like a waterfall of screaming tourists right in the middle of the ‘great white way’ (as Broadway has been called.) There are a lot of old-time New Yorkers (like myself) who like to talk  about the ‘Disneyfication’ of Times Square – well now I guess it’s complete! And with a football theme! Although I don’t really know what a huge icy toboggan ride has to do with football. There was a big goal post at the end of the ride, maybe the theory was that the riders symbolized the football? I don’t know,  judging by the amount of screaming and laughing going on, it was quite a hit.
I think the only thing more surreal than sliding screaming tourists on Broadway would be the score of yesterday’s game. Wow, who knew? That there would be more excitement at this theme park of football than at the game itself. ;)

 

NYC Polar Vortex

In case you haven’t seen the news from the United States, we are in the middle of a polar vortex. Now I’m not sure exactly what that means except I know it means it’s been damn cold! Temperatures in New York City have hovered at around 5 degrees fahrenheit (-15 celsius) and the when the wind blows it goes even lower.
The southeastern US is not prepared for this – yesterday two inches of snow fell in Atlanta Georgia and stopped up traffic for hours…like a 30 minute drive took 8 hours. Whoa.
I drew the couple above while riding on the E train tonight. Even underground in the subway, people are huddling for warmth. Let’s hope we get some soon!!

 

Drawings of Kika

Drawing from the model in the studio is my favorite way to spend  time. And it’s so wonderful to draw someone like Kika, a true performer who becomes many different people on the model stand. The last four days I had the opportunity to teach and draw with some wonderful artists in our Dalvero Academy advanced group. Below are some drawings of the always fabulous Kika, in her many forms…
vl_amazon_kikaAs an Amazon warrior (above) and a back view of a pink-ish 1920s flapper girl (below)

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vl_kika-pink-severeThe one above is a little fierce! And in the outfit below, she felt at times like an Italian operatic diva – -

vl_operatic_kikaOr perhaps a Wagnerian Valkyrie, as in the drawing below…

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Then she turned into a Pre-Raphaelite dream woman, below…

vl-kika-pre-rafaeliteAnd finally, a big pouf of pink with attitude!

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Like I said, I love to draw the model, especially one who invites you to take so many liberties as Kika does. Ready to head back to the studio for some more!

www.dalveroacademy.com

The Seth Myers Trio at Analogue

jazz-trio-11On the night before the night before Christmas, Julia Sverchuk and I were invited by Seth Myers to come to a new 8th St. lounge, Analogue, and see him perform with the Seth Myers Trio – consisting of himself, drummist Will Terrel, and guitarist Joe Cohn. Seth was especially looking forward to playing with Joe, his teacher and mentor. Julia and I decided to go, and it was wonderful! We listened to fantastic music, spent time among friends, and drew together in a nice Greenwich Village club that wasn’t dirty or loud, it was just perfect.

Can’t get much better than that, folks.

I absolutely love to draw musicians while they play – especially jazz musicians when they improvise – as their body language is so eloquent. Love the body language going on by Joe Cohn, below:

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Even if you didn’t hear the music, you can tell who is improvising and leading the trio by watching who has the most expressive body language. Fortunately Julia and I could hear the music, as they were wonderful. Seth gave us each two of his CDs, I’ve been listening to them since. Here are some more drawings of the evening:

jazz-trio-6jazz-trio-duetSeth and Joe often seemed to be conversing through the music – -

jazz-trio-movement–while Will seemed to be looking all around the club while he played, at the other two musicians and the audience. I wanted to capture that moving portrait, above left. Also wanted to capture the fingers flying, above right, Seth on the bass and Joe on the guitar.jazz-trio-1As Julia mentions in her post, after the set was over we had a conversation about the links between drawing and playing music. We talked about the moment that we love – the Greeks called it ‘kairos’ – the sublime moment where you forget everything, you are in total motion, and your body is only a vehicle for something else. More than what you’ve learned, and more than what you can explain in words. Ah yes, that fleeting moment of joy in art, in all its forms. That’s what brings it all together.

Thank you to Seth for the invitation to a sublime moment at Analogue. Check out Julia’s drawings from the same night on her blog, HERE. They are wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NYC Vintage Train 2013

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Spent a fantastic afternoon time-traveling with my friend Julia today – riding on the NYC vintage train! Once a year, the MTA brings out a train with old cars, from the 1930s, and runs a few special shuttles between 2nd Ave in Manhattan and Queens Plaza. (In Queens, obviously.) What fun! The train itself hasn’t changed that much (what’s up with that MTA?) but the really fun part is that people get all dressed up like it’s 1937 and come out to ride the subway. AND there are bands playing swing favorites and folks dancing the lindy on the subway platform! NYC at it’s finest…I loved it. Really got into drawing the lovely hats many of the women were wearing, too. One of the ladies was wearing a hat she designed and made herself – she turned out to be a professor of fashion at Parsons. Beautiful work, too, she gave me her card. (see it here)

vintage_train_2The lady on the right of the drawing above was wearing impossibly long green eyelashes. These people were listening to the music as the train swayed and rocked it’s way along 6th Ave. Some more drawings of the people, below…

vintage_train_3Guy on the right in this drawing wearing a full military uniform, with medals. Neither Julia or I could figure out what branch of the service it was from…my guess would be the army. I just loved seeing everyone in hats – why don’t we wear them more often, they’re so stylish?

vintage_train_4vintage_train_5The two drawings above are of Svetlana and the Delancey 5, one of the groups of musicians performing. Loved her veil, and the old-fashioned microphone was a fun touch. Julia is friends with Svetlana, and in fact ran into a few other Russian people she knows at this event. Julia told me that Russians like to dress up like this, what fun. I agree, and was sorry I wasn’t wearing one of my Grandmother’s hats for the occasion. I did however curl my hair and wear RED lipstick – very forties. :)

vintage_train_6The band serenaded us all the way to Queens Plaza and back. And on the platform of the 2nd Ave station – another party going on! With the Mud-Bucket Monkeys playing and people swing dancing all around. Great fun!

vintage_train_9and11vintage_train_8vintage_train_12I loved the big guy at the right of the drawing above. His dancing style was fabulous – simply shake a leg and twirl that girl around himself. She was moving like crazy all around him like a carousel – how great is that? It’s called STYLE, baby! ha ha

vintage_train_10And of course, there was the romantic slow ballads, and the romantic couples to dance to them. Although I guess anyone who dresses up to ride on a vintage subway on a cold snowy day in Manhattan must be a romantic. Just like my friend Julia – I’m so glad she invited me to come draw this with her, what a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Check out Julia Sverchuk’s blog HERE, to see the exciting drawings she made of the event. We had a great time together –  thanks Julia!

Travers Park

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Travers Park is the main meeting point of Jackson Heights. At 8 am on a Sunday morning, it’s buzzing with people exercising, chatting, dog walking, etc., etc. Also, the farmer’s market is setting up for the morning’s business. I went there this morning with Neil to do some drawing (need to practice, even in the cold!) and watch him exercise. While I was drawing, I met a little girl named Grace, about seven years old, who also likes to draw. She proceeded to sit next to me on the bench, and art direct me through the entire drawing you see above. “Did you get that man running? Did you get those dogs? Why don’t you draw that little boy with the basketball?” She was hysterical. And right on the money, too! She told me that she liked to draw good things to eat, like an ice cream sundae. I gave her a piece of paper and said, “let’s draw the park  together.”

travers-park-2-dec-2013I told Grace I was drawing Neil exercising (center, above) and asked her why didn’t she draw that? “He’s moving a lot,” she said, “so I’m just going to pick one pose and do that.” Let me tell you, Grace nailed it. I wish I had the presence of mind to take a picture of her finished drawing with my i-phone, because her illustration was way better than mine. She didn’t miss a thing!

travers-park-3-dec-2013After a while, Grace got tired of training me, and decided to show me how she trains the local dogs instead, using a stick with eaves on the end of it. I drew her with the dogs, above, and she came running over to see the result. “Did you get the dogs standing up, trying to get the leaves?” she asked. “I did it twice for you.” Ha ha, another creative director in the making! Hope to see her again in the park some time, I could use a few more pointers!

NYC Marathon

Yesterday was the first Sunday in November – in New York City that means it’s time for the marathon! 40,000 people run 24 miles through the five boroughs of New York – Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. Even though it was [VERY] cold, and Neil and I were out running errands, we stopped to watch the race for a little bit in Long Island City, a part of Queens that is right over the East River from Manhattan. And I made a few drawings. In the drawing above, you can see the tips of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building peaking over the elevated subway and low rise buildings of Long Island City as the runners go by. The man at the left was in the race and stopped to kiss his wife, who was cheering from the sidelines.

Another view of the race, this one from inside the Citibank building with the glass windows facing the street. It was Neil’s idea to draw from here, it was much warmer since I was sitting on the baseboard heat as I drew it. Note the water towers, classic New York icon, and 59th St. bridge in the way background. I love this vantage point, everything happening at once – the runners, the cheering onlookers, the 7 train rumbling by and the helicopters circling. New York City madness at it’s finest! Kudos to all the runners, I was very inspired. And after I made this drawing we went and had coffee and pastry in a nice warm cafe. ;)

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