Thursday, August 15, 2013

Drawing a Circle of Life

I had my 20-year high school reunion last weekend. As you would imagine, it was quite interesting. Although (as with the 10th), the most interesting things were the unexpected things. I have an impeccable memory. Until about my 20’s, I didn’t really realize how vivid and sharp my memory was. Not just stuff that happened long ago, but also stuff that’s really obscure that normal people naturally forget. Knowing this (or quickly discovering it at the reunion), many of my fellow alumni came to me for “verification” of a number of things – chiefly among them, “What’s his/her name?” I think this talent for meticulous recall is due more to sentimentality than higher brain function. I remember people and experiences that meant something to me and I was quite fond of my former classmates – even the ones I didn’t particularly like. So, imagine my surprise when they were able to “one-up” me.

I’ve always been a “drawer.” I hated that term growing up because, to me, a “drawer” was something you put socks and underwear into, not “one who draws.” However, I’ve now come to recognize that as an accurate description. “Artist” is too broad and I’m not much of a “painter.” You could call me an “illustrator” and be correct, but I feel like what I really and truly do – and have always done – is draw. I’ve been drawing longer than I’ve known how to read and write. So, growing up, that’s what the kids with whom I shared my childhood knew me for.

Anyway, what surprised me about the reunion (and what I’m referring to by saying I was “one-upped”), was how many former classmates of mine – who had all but disappeared from my life and presumably forgotten about me entirely – still had drawings that I done back in the day. I’m sure, by my standards, they’re terrible and most likely depict whatever pop culture was prevalent at the time (like Freddy Krueger, Spuds McKenzie, or the California Raisins), but it was very touching to me that these people would hang onto things that I would have thrown away (and did) many years ago. That is probably the greatest compliment of my life and it was incredible how many of these people still had works of mine stashed away with other mementos that had survived years of growing up and moving on.

I think I have a pretty good idea why they did hang onto these drawings all this time, although I’m amazed their objective remained so steadfast as to carry over into adulthood: It wasn’t uncommon for my childhood peers to say, “You’re gonna be a famous artist someday. This’ll be worth a lotta money then.” This being some dorky drawing I just cranked out to amuse them. I was flattered by their confidence in me, but I also laughed every time they said it. Even in high school, friends insisted I draw in their yearbook rather than sign them. I obliged, so if I ever do become famous enough to where my early work is valuable, you’ll likely see a lot of Hood River Valley High School yearbooks from the early 90’s on eBay selling for exorbitant amounts.

After high school, I went to a college of art since that seemed like the obvious thing to do. I didn’t want to waste my time with classes that weren’t art-related. After I graduated, I went into advertising design (or “Art Direction” as it is known in the profession). Not much room for mainstream celebrity there. I never really aspired to be a famous artist, though. As a kid, I always wanted to draw for MAD magazine, but that was more because I loved the subject matter, not because it was widespread publication. The closest I came to something of that caliber was when I worked for Zthing – a viral marketing company that did animated shorts and games for downloading and forwarding and so on. We had over a million subscribers at our peak, so that meant whatever I wrote, drew, animated, and – in some cases – performed voice talent for, had a built-in audience. It even culminated into developing a pilot for an animated sketch-comedy program for Comedy Central (kind of a cartoon version of “Saturday Night Live”) called “Hot Monkey Sex.” The show didn’t get picked up and Zthing eventually lost its funding and closed its doors during the dot com crash in the early 21st century. I figured that was my shot at “fame,” artistically speaking. Of course, I was only about 27 at the time, so that’s a pretty cynical way of looking at it. It’s not like I’m aspiring to be a professional athlete. An artist (or “drawer,” as it were) doesn’t even need to be able to walk to produce good work.

So, here I am at my 20-year high school reunion and people are asking me the inevitable question “So, what’re you up to these days?” While I am clearly still not famous, I was very pleased to have something interesting to say (even if only interesting to me): I’ve been drawing pictures for a kids’ book that I’m very proud of and hope to self-publish if I can raise the money. Somewhat inadvertently, I’ve started a publishing company since my partner and I have several more picture books in mind (no less than five more, at the moment) and maybe even a few regular books (since both of us have written novels that may one day be fit for public consumption).

So, this book – entitled The Owl & The Wave – is the first step to, dare I say, greatness? It’s certainly great to me. At least, it feels great. It feels great to create again. To be drawing again like I did as a child, as a teenager, as a college student, and now am doing again as an adult (and should have been doing all along). We launched the kickstarter campaign yesterday and hit 15% of our funding for self-publishing The Owl & The Wave on the first day! I’m getting very excited and it’s hard for me to talk about (or even think about) anything else.

So, here I am taking the first steps of a renaissance. My own artistic renaissance – the future uncertain, but wonderfully optimistic. You can be a part of it, too. Yes, you. Go to and contribute to the cause before September 12th and you can get a signed copy of the book and even some original art of mine. Quite a bargain considering someday I’m gonna be famous (as several children born in the mid-70’s and raised in the Columbia Gorge have declared many times over). If this book does well, the next will do even better and so on and so forth. And then, when I go to my 30th high school reunion, everybody’ll say, “See? I knew it. Glad I hung onto those drawings of yours.”

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