m wood pen

illustrator of books, cocktails, travel + more

it never occurred to me that i’d think this way.

we’ve already established that i draw for a living.  sometimes i’m commissioned by a client with a really specific idea, add a bit of art direction, a few rounds of edits, and voila: c’est fin!  other times, it’s all up to me to make stuff up that they love.  either way, it ends up with me driving to the post office box to happily pick up a check!

when i’m not tearing through someone else’s requests, i tend to just start to doodle.  i never know what it will be…whatever.  i’m suddenly immersed in a thought or a mood, and i start to sketch.

this happened to me recently and boy was i on a roll.  a super cool (about to be) client asked me if i’d ever designed for apparel or footwear.   no.  haven’t….yet.  but, i can, starting in five minutes!  a few emails zipped back and forth, and a deal was struck: give it a try, show me a few ideas.

three days later, 17 pots of coffee, 3 batches of nachos, some greek yogurt and honey, & a hard-boiled egg later, i sent over 75 concepts, patterns, & illustrations.  the fellow was floored, and after i hit the floor with a long nap, i was still itching to create some more. afflicted with what i’ve self-diagnosed as ‘pattern on the brain’, i was compelled to just keep going.  so i did.

it’s funny, i had the best time, and realized: i was working for myself.  sure, real work came across my desk during the two weeks of this pattern-affliction, which i did dutifully and happily.  but i felt this intense itch of missing my own stuff, i wanted to make more patterns! i loved each one more than the previous one, would sit back, squint my eyes (i’ve  done this and i have no idea why!) and just ooze in satisfaction.

this pattern that i’ve plugged into this post?  well, that’s my shirt.  i put it on with some baggy boy khakis, cinched tight, rolled up, a bit of leslie caron & gene kelly look goin’ on… usually on a sunday afternoon when i’m reading the new york times and making a tangy mediterranean pasta for dinner…cozy, with a hint of europe!

and the sardines?  this is funny.  most people nowadays hate these.  they just seem to be something that, over in our part of the world, are detestable, smelly, vile things crammed into a can: tails included!  i’ve always loved them, and lucked out with one of my three children being a big fan too.  my favorite part, growing up, was that cool little key that used to come wrapped up within the package.  do they still sell those?

so, about six or seven years ago, i decided to drive from here (near chicago) to california and back, with my three youngish children.  it seemed pretty easy to me, although found plenty of folks here looking terribly worried about the whole crazy idea.  what?  really, what was the big deal?  i went, with those trooper kids of mine (13, 11 and 8: omg!) acting as awesome navigators, snack servers, hotel reservation makers, and super fun companions. four days out, four days back.  a week hanging in l.a., what about this trip is not to love?

so, back to the sardines.  when we set off, my cute mom sent us with some car snacks.  two tins of sardines were a part of this bundle of ‘goodies’.  50% of the road trip participants rolled their eyes at this…noel and hallie made sure that the nasty sardines were shoved to the bottom of the picnic basket.

what a road trip: lincoln, vail, vegas on the fourth of july, dipping into arizona long enough to fill up on gas (yes, the reserve light was on), and to buy a bullet key chain for corey’s collection. then on los angeles fun, up highway 1 (don’t even get me started about that near-death experience), san francisco, lake tahoe, park city and cheyenne.   and how could we forget the exciting road stop skateboard crash which lead us to a darling little emergency room?

you know how excited you are when you’re setting off on a new adventure?  chills, thrills, sunny days and laughs-a-minute?  each moment the stuff of scrapbook memories?  well, we’d pretty much used up all of those by the time we left nebraska and hit western iowa.

the last day found us skidding along highway 80 through iowa being threatened by menacing, murderous semi-trucks in a violent rain.  had to get off the highway!  corey, who was 8, was my navigator.  i handed her the map and asked her to get me across iowa, from west to east, using only small roads.  too funny: she studied the map for a long, quiet, serious time, and then started rattling roads off to me.  tried as i might, i couldn’t seem to spot the streets she mentioned.  after about fifteen minutes, i leaned over to ask her to show me her route on the map.  she pointed to the northwest corner of the state, then down to the middle south section, then scurried over to dubuque.  aha!   i carefully explained that the roads on the ground would only touch if the lines on the map touched!

once that lesson was learned, we were on our way, and she got us pretty close to the great mississippi river, when midnight struck, my eyes were failing, and it was time to stop for our last night on the road.  long gone were the luxurious accommodations of park city, hollywood and big sur. beggars can’t be choosers, so we pulled into the closest thing we could find.

starving and checked in and in our jammies, the creepy motel offered no donuts or vending machines, not a fast food joint to be found!  while i casually dragged a large dresser across the room to prop up against the hotel door that didn’t lock, corey called out, “i found our dinner!”  we all looked over to see her triumphantly holding up two cans of sardines!

so, back to the patterns.  you know that feeling you get when you are reading a really good book?  you can’t wait to crawl into bed at the end of the day (or ignore work and just indulge in some mid-afternoon reading fest?) to just dive right back into that other place on those pages?  well, that’s how i felt.  i just never wanted to stop.

so, i tossed one of these new patterns of mine up on my fb profile the other day to see what my ‘focus group’ had to say.  i’m not really into hiring a marketing team for millions of dollars to test out my stuff.  fb does the trick.  my scientific method goes like this: if someone likes it, i feel pretty good.  if a few people like it, i start feeling really good.  when i get over ten comments, i know i’ve got a winner.  granted, the comments typically go way off topic, reaching back to some college gossip, or who saw last week’s episode of the office…but for me, the fact that my drawing at least inspired a group to ‘gather’ and have a conversation, proves that it’s made the cut.

last week’s pattern raised thirty comments!  a meandering bit of subjects, one came along that really hit me as a brilliant idea.  wallpaper.  really?  yes, wallpaper.

now, like most people my age, i grew up surrounded by walls papered in patterns, i know really well the smell and lumpy consistency of the goop known as wallpaper paste.  and, having lived in some old houses, i’m a pro at the horrid task of removing wallpaper.  it’s the worst!  and from the point of being able to make that commitment of looking at that same pattern over and over again?  there seems to be such a risk of getting tired of it!  (remind me to google ‘fear of commitment’ one of these days…)

so, here i am again, being totally surprised by life.

ever since i read that comment, i can’t stop staring at these patterns in a totally new way. sure, i’d already thought, well, obviously: this should be wrapping paper.  or gosh: this would be the coolest hoodie!  and even: i’d buy shoes that featured this design with some awesome bold leather trim.  of course: oh if only i could own a journal that had this as a cover!

but now, all i can think about is wallpaper.  wall after wall after wall, buckets and buckets of wallpaper paste, the pushing of those air bubbles off to the edges of each roll of delicious paper with a metal scraper as i line every square inch, room after room, maybe even a ceiling or two, with these pleasing, colorful little pictures of mine…sardines and all.

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