Participatory Art!

As you know I am a big fan of sketching, and tire easily of the remark people make that they “can’t draw” – an almost meaningless thing society trains most people to think and say, with the result that they miss out on a most wonderful part of life. Sketching is a wonderful way of slowing down and really looking at the world around you and recording your impressions. If you can write you certainly can draw. It is a learned skill, and the most important part of it is learning to look*. But anyway, I was pleased to see this nice way of getting people of all ages involved in sketching for fun at the book festival! So I reached in and grabbed a photo for you.

artists_row_latfob_12th_april_2014 [...] Click to continue reading this post

Discovery Coincidence

chatter_sketch_arenaSome of you are wondering what I’m working on while on retreat. Well, actually there’s a nice coincidence here. I’m working on the graphic book that you may have heard me talk about a bit. “The Project” as I sometimes call it. I’ve been doing things on various aspects of it, such as reworking the description of it for various people to look at, writing new bits, and spending a bit of time pulling together various bits of the prototype story I used to start all of this back in 2010. The prototype bits have all of my experimentation and development of style and technique all over them, and so there are pages that needed a bit of rework (to say the least). So, on Monday, [...] Click to continue reading this post

Around Fifteen

While on a hiding retreat in another town or city, I like to seek out a local group that might be doing a “drop in and draw” session. You show up, pay your money, and there’s a safe environment (in a studio, a back room, upstairs of a pub, etc) for a model and artists to work on the wonderful business of capturing the human form in various media. I’m a reasonably private person so I like to keep the anonymity level reasonably high, but it does not only work. People are of course on the watch out to protect the group from perceived problems, so they ask questions. Others are just trying to make friends, and so they ask questions too. I just like to be polite and friendly, share the odd joke or remark, but mostly keep my mouth shut and listen to the various small talk that breaks out during breaks. Most of all, I want to get on with the business of drawing.

sketches_17th_march_2014_smallI went to one on Monday. This time around it was sort of amusing to me at one point when one of the organisers of the group asked me why I’d come down from LA to their small seaside town drawing group and I said I was hiding. I could sense alarm immediately (I can imagine the pictures he might have had in his mind even before I said “hiding”) and so I then went further, by way of reassurance, and said something vague but standard about wanting to get out [...] Click to continue reading this post

LA Phil Rock Star!

When calling to mind the Los Angeles Philharmonic, everyone’s (and all the posters’) focus is on Gustavo Dudamel, (or, the Dude, as I call him), all unruly hair and visible enthusiasm and so forth, and that’s great. He’s an excellent conductor. However, one of the unsung (as far as I know*) visibly spectacular performers of the LA Philharmonic is the excellent principal viola player whose name I do not know [update: see below*] who puts on the most remarkable physical performance every time I go (and presumably those other times too). Actually, the violist who sits next to her is also remarkable, since she manages without being distracted by her neighbour to maintain a very upright and solid, firmly planted, legs wide stance, in part providing a canvas upon which the viola player I first mentioned can splash bright splashes of movement all over the place! la_phil_sketch_28th_February_2014_smallShe rocks, sways, jerks, and contorts (sometimes even during quiet slow bits)- doing the craziest things with her legs, head, and bow arm, and so much of the time looks like she is about to spectacularly fall off her chair and wipe out at least half the viola section! This is why her colleague right next to her is also remarkable, as she acts as this wonderful un-distractable “straight man” to the physical pyrotechnics helping make them all the more remarkable by contrast. Last night I tried to capture some of the energy of the hyper-energetic viola player in a quick sketch (during [...] Click to continue reading this post

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

Apparently it was Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day yesterday, so some might say I missed it. But as you know, I think that every day should be Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, so it is not too late! Have a look a website for it I found (here). What can you do? You don’t have to organise a huge event (although feel free to). It can all start small. Maybe for that next gift, consider (if you don’t already) buying your little girl (or someone else’s) a set of LEGO or an electronics kit (or other hands on building toys) instead of the (fill-in-the-blank-standard-girl-toy) everyone else is getting her. Go ahead and make it a pink kit, if you want, since that’s what society seems to want. Who cares what colour it is? Apart from buying, even just chatting a bit with a child about engineering in our lives, and all the people who can (and do) contribute to it would be a great thing to do.

Here’s a short film from our own Viterbi school of engineering:

[...] Click to continue reading this post

Unfinished Meditation

figure_27th_january_2014_1_smallAfter a long weekend of a two-day meeting of an American Physical Society committee (hosted in LA this time, so I did not have to travel far), I decided last night to go and do a drop-in-and-draw session at an art studio, to clear my mind.

The model was excellent, with a smashing hairdo and good body-awareness that made for interesting poses. I was in the mood to disappear and listen to Hendrix for three hours while focusing on the simple task of representing what was in front of me. So I did.

I’m horribly slow again. Lack of regular practice (on full figures), of course. The good news is that I have been able to hold on to some of the more important foundations that allow me to lay things out, and see forms and shapes. But it does mean that I don’t get to get to some of the finishing processes that I intuitively prepare for in the earlier parts of the drawing.

As you know from many posts of mine on the subject (see e.g. here and here) I actually like incomplete drawings where you can see a lot of the process [...] Click to continue reading this post

A Present

rose_animation_jan_2014My mum has been visiting for the holidays. For her recent birthday I decided that instead of making a birthday card from a photo of one the roses from my garden (as I usually do) I would make her a drawing/painting of one on a card instead. The paper of the card has a ridged texture and I imagined that this would be an interesting component of the final piece. Using a photo of one of my roses as reference on screen in front of me, I sketched onto the paper [...] Click to continue reading this post

Instruments of Torture

santa_monica_pier_27_12_2013_small copy

There is always a mixed set of emotions for me when I come to change notebooks. It means that I stop carrying around pages and pages of ideas, impressions, sketches, and other things from the last few months that I can accidentally stumble upon. Instead, I start a whole new blank book that does not connect back to anything. I must fill new pages (which I love doing) that will become those favourites I will look back on. So I always like to start off with a drawing that I’ll like to look back on. It helps set the tone for the pages to come in the many months. (See an earlier post about this matter here.)

Yesterday gave me a nice opportunity. I took my mum (who is visiting for a while) to the beach in Santa Monica and we walked together on the sand for a little while. I then sat on the sand and did a sketch while she continued walking and looking around. My focus was the Santa Monica pier, and I wanted to [...] Click to continue reading this post


thinkingHoliday time is upon us, and in this part of it, it is coming up on Christmas time. Really fast, it seems. The semester sort of petered out mid-week for me with the submission of the final grades for my graduate electromagnetism class (everybody did really well… fantastic group of students this year), and one last two hour committee meeting for another of those committees I can’t tell you about. I’ve found some time to think about some physics, and work on a new page for the book, among other things. There’s a panel [...] Click to continue reading this post

New Tool

magnify_toolActually, this new tool is pretty old school, and I love it! There are times when I want to have a change of venue while doing rather detailed work for The Project… perhaps go sit in a cafe for a change, instead of at the drawing desk. But when not at the drawing desk, I could not use the lovely large illuminated magnifying glass […] Click to continue reading this post


lunch_timeWell, since yesterday was all about eating here in the USA (Thanksgiving, in case you missed that), I thought I’d share a partially inked panel from The Project, of a meal in progress. I got a bit of quiet time to work on it this evening, while listening to Jimi Hendrix and then Freddie Hubbard. They helped a lot. It is at times like this I wonder what insanity has come over me […] Click to continue reading this post

Sunday Fruit

sunday_fruit_10_Nov_2013_smallSunday saw me spend a bit of relaxing time in the morning at a breakfast bar sketching a colourful pan of tomatoes, apples, and a yellow pepper. I spend ten minutes doing a quick pen and ink outline sketch of all the elements, which was fun and pleasingly simple enough.

But then I decided to lay on some colour and so pulled the sketch into Brushes on […] Click to continue reading this post

KRKD Downtown LA

It has been a long and tiring week so far and I decided that I needed to withdraw for a little while. So I left campus early and went on a wander downtown. My goal? It is the last day of the worldwide Big Draw month of October (but see below*) aimed at raising awareness of drawing (you may have seen events in your own town – maybe even participated in some), and I’ve been so busy I’ve not done much outdoor on-location drawing this month (not counting subway drawing) and so I thought that I’d get one in on the last day. My own little contribution to the local Big Draw LA, if you will.


Anyway, I considered doing some well-celebrated landmark like one so many of the splendid buildings available (Union Station, Central Library, Eastern Building, Walt Disney Concert Hall…), and as I walked I pointed myself in the direction of some of these, but just after I turned away from the library on Fifth, heading to Pershing square, I saw what I wanted to draw. If you stay on […] Click to continue reading this post

Seminar Done

seminar_over Managed to find a little time over the last few days to lay out, draw, and ink a page in The Project. It has been insanely busy for me, so this is a little bit of a triumph in stealing some time back. It’s actually the same seminar that you saw in earlier posts (here and here). Now it is over. It remains a tradition in our field to give a little round of applause after a talk, which I find rather nice and quaint. It was a pleasure to depict that.

It is a wider view of the room, which meant (aaaargh!) drawing even more faces and bodies than before. Then there’s the challenge of doing them in different states of attention, applauding, with different faces, bodies, states of dress, etc. When I come to paint it I’ll be wanting to pick colors that together communicate the right mood for the panel and for the whole page it is part of, and so forth. It can be daunting to do all those faces, bodies, shirts, feet, and […] Click to continue reading this post


ink_work_26th_september_2013_smallI realized just now that since I set a midterm exam on Monday for the graduate electromagnetism class, and since there’s only one midterm for the class, it really is… midterm. The semester is sort of half over already. And indeed, a glance at my calendar shows this to be more or less true. I’ve mixed feelings about this since on the one hand it is a busy and tiring semester and I’m glad to have it go by, but on the other hand… slow down life! What’s the rush!? Yes, I definitely keep wanting to make sure I stop to smell the flowers, or what’s the point?

The midterm itself (Monday, in class) was fun. Or at least, I found it fun to put together on the weekend. There were no complaints from the students, so I hope that means I got the balance about right. We shall see during class tomorrow, when [...] Click to continue reading this post

Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag (Kind Of)

brompton_small_bag(Riffing on two earlier posts.) So I’ve been doing a bit of metalwork. I decided to make some adjustments to the frame of one of my several bags that fit onto the Brompton’s front bag attachement, to use it as support for a small bag. The metalwork involved me simply sawing off the side extended aluminium bars and leaving only the central part of the support frame. You can just see it in the enlarged version (click). There are times when I do not want to have a large bag on the bike, or even medium sized. Usually, then I have the small bag on my shoulder across the chest, and that works well, but nothing beats riding with nothing on your back or shoulder. So this is my solution, and one of my leather handbags fits quite well (with the aid of a strap I made from parts bought in a hardware store, and two tiny bungees with hooks, that you can’t see) on to the neatly detachable frame. Happens to match the seat/saddle nicely, all complementing the British racing green colour.

A very elegant solution, also allowing me to keep the bag on the bike all the time, still easily doing the quick fold, and to stably tow it when fully folded too (using the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Unfinished Fun

figure_30th_september_2013_1_smallI must say that I had fun doing this drawing (click for larger view), and it was a long time coming. After returning from New York I decided that after a lot of tiring travel back and a long day of work the next day that I would keep the momentum from the plane drawings and go and relax and do a drop in and draw at a studio for a few hours.

It has been a long time since I’ve popped into a studio to draw a model and I am happy to say that I was not as frustrated in the end as I thought I might be due to lack of practice. (In fact, it is best to try to enjoy getting done what you can get done, and not get frustrated since that just makes things worse…) I was a bit slow, yes, but was happy that the processes of how I draw best came together readily, and by the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Passing the Time

ink_study_29th_september_2013_smallI’m going to admit something maybe a little naughty right now. One of the things I was most looking forward to about the whole New York trip was the plane ride so that I could spend time drawing. It has been a long and busy several weeks into the semester already and that means that I’ve been not getting as regular drawing practice in as I’d like. So the airline downtime (blogged about here and here) is actually rather a welcome activity since I can bring out the sketchbook and draw. I’ve been regularly requiring myself to work directly in ink, so this means no correction of mistakes as one goes along. To proceed in drawing, you incorporate poor decisions about lines you’ve made into the drawing if you can, and move on. It also means that you learn to look more closely and think a bit more about line choices, and what you’re trying to capture.

Anyway, this fellow was sitting on a hydrant on one of the streets bordering [...] Click to continue reading this post

Completed Seminar

institute_seminar__finished_smallWell, it is still in progress, as you can see from the picture, but my work on rendering it is completed, more or less. (One never stops tinkering at these things, but I’m going to move on.) This is the more refined version of the rough I showed you a couple of posts ago here. This panel is part of the opening splash page for this particular story of the graphic book project and so what you’re actually seeing is one of three tiny inserts on top of a larger establishing-shot kind of splash/bleed page. So the truth is that it’ll be so small on the page that almost nobody is likely to [...] Click to continue reading this post

Seminar in Progress

institute_seminar_smallI recently spent a bit of time (quite a bit of time) carefully reconstructing details of a certain Institute in Europe from memory (I visited some years ago) and some photos in order to set the opening scenes of one of the stories for the book project. (What sort of details? Things like what the layout of the rooms are, the style of the building, the number of radiators along the walls, types of windows and black boards, chairs, and so forth. I’m a tiny bit detail-oriented at times, you may have noticed.) I’ve been laying out the opening splash page and the inset panels have a seminar in progress. This was fun to draw. I started out with this view partially roughly constructed with pencil and then since it was small and fiddly, decided to pop it onto the ipad (legacy model) and finish and refine aspects of the drawing digitally.

I remain in two minds about sketching digitally like this. One the one hand, it does [...] Click to continue reading this post


TwentyWonder is tonight! Come along if you’re in the area. Some quotes from the site:

A mindblowing cultural mashup. One night only. Only in LA.

Art. Science. Music. Comedy. Food ‘n Drink. Weird Geeky Stuff. …and Roller Derby!

Feel the Love. All proceeds go to the Downs Syndrome Association of Los Angeles.

See you there?

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Face Time

You know those cross-country trips that nip from one coast to another for a day and then back? There are people who do that regularly for a living. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. I left LA on Monday to go to a meeting in DC, and returned on Tuesday night, and while nothing unpleasant happened en route (and the meeting at the DC office of the American Physical Society was good), it is really not something I’d make a habit of. I like to add a bit of time to see the place I’m visiting, and get a bit of a feel of the pulse before flying back. But there wasn’t time. I was in DC for a day and a half last November to visit another organization, and I did manage to get two hours to wander the mall and have sandwich in the cafe of the Smithsonian, but I’d have liked a bit more time back then too. Anyway…

I did, however, get some face time. On take off on the flight back I flipped through Hemispheres (United’s in flight magazine) to see if there were any more large faces airline_sketches_9th_july_2013to sketch. (You’ll recall several earlier posts about my liking to do this for practice [...] Click to continue reading this post


Yes, I found a bit of time to work on a page of the book. Here’s the development of a panel (click for larger view):


Indeed, the original rough sketch (done back during my Spring break retreat) shows that the panel was conceived a little differently. But then I decided to have a page with more fully rendered backgrounds, and so shifted the view in most of the panels [...] Click to continue reading this post

Colour and Culture

colour_scribblesI spotted* this lovely post from a year ago about colour, culture, and language that I thought I’d share. What does the map of colour and colour names look like as you move from culture to culture. And are there universal aspects to it, or is it pretty random?

I find this a fascinating topic, and so was delighted to see this post, which addresses a lot of the questions. (You’ll find links there to an episode of Radiolab that was on a similar topic. I recommend that too.) Coincidentally, two pages before the part of my notebook where I’m doing a computation right now is a [...] Click to continue reading this post

Mount Lee from Mount Hollywood

mount_lee_from_mount_hollywood_smallWhile in Griffith park yesterday evening I looked West when near the top of a rise and saw one of the great sights you can get at this time of year. The stretch of the Santa Monica mountain range coming in from the West shrouded in the mists rolling in from the West. The mist hides a lot of detail and leaves you with just simple layers of shade, almost monochromatic. It was quite beautiful. (Sadly, a lot of people who like to reach for the usual negative cliches about the city assume the mist is smog, but it [...] Click to continue reading this post

Messing About on the LA River

memorial_day_la_river_2013_smallMemorial Day was fun. There was a gathering at a friend’s house down near the LA River. At some point in the afternoon lots of people went down to the river banks to look at the lovely scene there, with people fishing, cycling, and kayaking (and other sort of boats) along some stretches. This is not at all what people expect of the LA River, so it was good (once again) to see a different reality shine through the standard images. Focusing on being good company, I only started [...] Click to continue reading this post

Sketchy Look

magazine_sketch_18th_May_2013On Saturday I decided to have a bit of simple relaxation at home, and sit on the patio with my notepad and some pencils and draw a likeness. I’d not done any practice from images for a while, and frankly my pencil work was very rusty and needed a workout.

So I dug out this month’s issue of a sewing magazine that I subscribe to (what?! well, it’s a long story… let’s move on) that happens to sometimes have interestingly lit and well reproduced photos of faces and sketched for a while.

It was fun (even with the slightly flawed outcome). (Click for a larger view.)

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

How is that Supposed to Work, Exactly? (Part II)

Well, since some of you are curious about how the page might look in final form, given the (nicer than normal) rough I showed you a little while ago, I thought I’d show you. page_sample_inked(For those of you not following, this is part of the graphic science book project I’m slowly working on. More here.)

I got carried away and decided to properly pencil out the whole page and ink it fully, and then I painted the same panel as before. Now you can see more carefully rendered faces according to the design I chose for these characters, and you can also see the backgrounds of the setting a bit more. It is another real location, a very well known place in Europe. (Actually, I spent some days doing research online to try to reconstruct the details of the interior from tourist photographs, and reconstructed [...] Click to continue reading this post

Changeover Time

start_scribbleIt’s that time again. I finish a notebook and start a new one. A new book is begun with writing my name and contact information in the front part, in case it gets lost, and an old one is ended with mixed feelings, and that ending is often a bit drawn out. Notebooks go around with me nearly everywhere, and have pieces of me in them in one shape or another, and so it is hard to stop carrying one and start a new one. I’ve got bits of computations, shopping lists, partial thoughts about projects, design sketches, doodles, snippets of silent conversations between me and another person at a concert or talk (writing it down is often less distracting to neighbours than a whisper), scribbled phone numbers, film, book or cd reminders, and of course lots of practice sketches and doodles on trains, planes, and in automobiles, done almost on a daily basis, sketches done in (and sometimes of) an event, or of a interesting place or structure. (You’ve seen some of them here on the blog.) Almost everything has a date written on the page, or on a page nearby, which is hugely valuable.

changeoverIt’s a combination of notebook, journal, playground for ideas, and more. It is a joy to just open it up and flip through it and see so much of the last few months of my life and thought spread out in ink and pencil (and sometimes watercolour). Sometimes I hit on a particularly successful or interesting (or both) drawing that I love to open up and look at from time to time. You can search the blog under “sketches” for things that were in previous books. For example, a few of my favourites from this book are: Sketch of C. Tyler during her talk, sketch during a committee meeting, airline sketch of a national treasure, other airline sketches, a nice grab of a face from the subway, another airline sketch.

All of that now gets put on a shelf, since the pages have run out. It is bitter-sweet, as I also like the analogue, finite nature of the whole business. It has a lot of life written [...] Click to continue reading this post

How is that Supposed to Work, Exactly?

page_sample_good_roughsWell, yes, I’ve been a bit busy and so posting has been slow over the last week. But I am still alive, and here I am with a sample of one of the several things I was doing. It is some work on the graphic book project. (You’ll be happy that I am sparing you details of tedious committees, faculty meetings, confusing snippets of physics, incomplete musings and computations, etc…)

As mentioned recently, I’ve been doing thumbnails and rough page layouts on one of the stories, and that has been useful for editing and rewriting. I went further and improved an earlier story that I’d written that had mostly been drawn already, and so that encouraged me to do slightly tighter page layouts so as to fit them more closely to the story as it was already drawn, for a smoother final read. I’ll need to find [...] Click to continue reading this post


Well, I am coming to the end of the week of hiding away in this undisclosed coastal town, and I can report that it was very good for me. I managed to get enough immersion to work hard on one of the stories for The Project, and this morning I read it through (I actually broke it into two stories) and turned out to be not too bad so far. Hurrah! Reading it next to the completed rough visuals really helps. I wish I’d had time to work on more stories, but that’s for another time. I’m just thankful to have had the time to have a good focus on one.

figures_20th_march_2013_smallWednesday I went back to that studio I visited on Monday as they were having another drop in and draw session and I felt it would be a nice end-of-long-work-day relaxation to go again. The model was actually rather excellent, and I wish my speed was a bit better to catch some of her faster 2 minute poses since she had a great [...] Click to continue reading this post

Lunch and Work

Productive day yesterday, more or less. Yesterday’s lunch break (in my undisclosed coastal town) saw me take a pack lunch over to the beach, for a bit of reading while I sat in a change of scenery. I’d brought the bike, and so it was nice to be able to pack up some things I might need, like a beach towel, a portable seat (just in case…. I did not use it in the end…), my notebooks, and some reading materials on the ipad (I was reading a bit of Paradise Lost, in fact), and carry it in the bike basket. (Actually I did use the portable seat… but not for sitting. I used it as a stand for the camera that took the shot above right.)

What am I doing on The Project? I’m mapping out and editing one of the stories. It has turned into quite a long one with lots of complexity, relatively, speaking. This means that I need to be careful about designing the layout on the page, and actually try to get a good sense of how everything fits so that I pace things properly, and page things out in the right way. So I am thumbnailing carefully, going beyond simple thumbnails and doing a first pass rough of the page. It slows the writing down, but will save a lot of time later on. Also, when I turn myself back into the penciller/inker and come to draw all the pages carefully, my job will be much easier, and quicker, as I’ll have the directions in the written script and the page layout sketch to guide me. I’ll be able to focus more on being the artist and less the writer at that stage. See the right for a laid out page.

Actually, using the brushes application on the ipad has been very valuable for this. I’ve not used it much in recent times, and so it was fun to rediscover it. I’ve been using [...] Click to continue reading this post