The Eiffel Tower

While in Paris for the Prix Canson 2013, Chris and I took a few extra days to go draw around Paris. One of our nicest days was spent relaxing in the shade of the gardens around the Eiffel Tower. The Tower is so perfectly Parisian, like all of the wrought iron balconies from the buildings of Paris decided to get together and make a building of their own.

I love having a park around the Tower. It would be nice if 34th St in Manhattan were a gorgeous planted promenade in front of the Empire State Building, built so we could all laze around and marvel at it.

We stayed there the whole day, watching the the color shift across the Tower as the sun drifted closer to the horizon and sank behind the trees.

Prix Canson 2013

I just returned from a wonderful trip to Paris as one of 39 nominees for the international competition, Le Prix Canson. The Prix is sponsored by Canson, a leading paper company since 1557, to promote emerging artists working with paper.

I was honored to be nominated as the artist for Canson USA, and thrilled to be able to be in Paris for the awards ceremony and exhibition at the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris. A big thank you to Robert Toth and Giulia Giovanelli and everyone at Canson for the nomination and all of the arrangements.

Chris and I arriving for the reception at the Petit Palais. Photo by Mom (not pictured).
My drawing, above, from my reportage of a zelij tile workshop in Fes, Morocco, was part of the exhibit.

Although I didn't win the prize, the winner was Zimbabwean artist Virginia Chihota, it was wonderful to be able to enjoy the beautiful reception in the courtyard at night, and see my work on the wall in the museum. The Petit Palais is one of the most beautiful buildings I've seen in Paris. Designed for the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris, it is in the Art Nouveau style with (somewhat) toned-down and elegant decoration compared to a lot of Parisian grandeur.

In the days around the event, Chris and I took some time to relax and draw in the Tuileries Gardens, near the Louvre.

We sipped fresh-squeezed orange juice and café crème while watching the Parisians and tourists lounge languidly under the dappled shade of the square-cropped chestnut trees. Ahh Paris!

The girl at the table next to us puffed lazily on her cigarette, scrawled dramatically into her notebook, and personified perhaps dozens of French artist stereotypes at once. My hunch is that she was an American college student studying abroad.

It was a wonderful experience, and so magical to be in Paris in June. Every single iris was in bloom! Stay tuned for more drawings from the rest of my trip!

Spring in Mystic Seaport

Two weekends ago, I was able to return to Mystic Seaport with Dalvero Academy to take advantage of the spring weather. It was so nice to wander around the seaport and simply enjoy the beauty of it.

The river rippled under the groaning weight of the tall-ships, and parted as candy-colored sailboats slipped through the waves. Men and women bellowed work songs as they climbed into the rigging and hoisted the sails.

Boats tied to the piers creaked and swayed against the dock.

The work on the last wooden whaleship in the world, The Charles W. Morgan, nears completion as workers hammered and slathered the outside hull with paint before returning her to the water in July.

The salty air fluttered through the branches, tinkling the newly sprouted leaves like wind chimes, and washing away the winter chill.

Indoor Drawing

Seeing as Spring still hasn't come to New York, I've been getting my drawing fix indoors at Grand Central and Rockefeller Center these past couple weeks.

Both spots are always good for people watching.

You can always see interesting people and dynamics if you just sit and watch.

Whether it's people together... themselves....

  ...or moving in a crowd,

there is always something new to see.

Morocco: Return to Fes

After the Sahara, we returned to Fes for a couple days and then headed back to New York. Morocco is an amazing place, but not always an easy one. It's exhausting and magical at the same time.

There aren't a lot of places in the world where you can make a drawing like the one above: There is a man riding side-saddle on a mule, who is stepping daintily over the cobblestones of a precariously narrow medieval street perched on a steep hillside, while a man in the distance twirls silk into thread down the long winding streets, as the sun begins to set, turning the whole street to gold.

I certainly can't wait to go back.

Morocco: The Desert

Our final excursion out of Fes was to the Sahara near the border with Algeria. From Fes, it was a 9 hour drive to the dunes through some of the most amazing landscapes I've ever seen. We passed through Mediterranean rolling hills, an Atlas cedar forest, a French ski village, a whirling dust storm, one of the world's largest oases, and a high desert plateau surrounded by soaring peaks that were about to receive their first snow of the year.

We arrived at our hotel after a long drive across a desolate black plateau in the middle of a sand storm. We could barely see 5 feet on either side of the car, and even then it was only parched black earth. Our hosts came out to help us scramble inside as the blowing sand proceeded to wedge itself into every mouth, eye, ear, and otherwise.


After a tasty meal, our hosts treated us to some Berber drumming and we turned in for the night as the sandstorm blew on.

We awoke to a serene breeze through the window, and the wall of blowing black sand outside had settled to reveal endless golden dunes only 20 feet away. We ate a quick breakfast and went out to start our journey.

We met our two camels, one brown was brown and wooly and the other beige with a nose ring. Of course we named them after our brown and beige cats at home, Bert and Pica (We eagerly asked the camel drivers if they already had names, he answered "No. They are camels.").

The back view of Chris on the camel in front of me.

 After a long, beautiful camel ride through the martian landscape (through which the blustering wind and camel jostling made drawing close to impossible), we settled into our Berber campsite for the night, hoping to see the amazing starry skies you can only see when you're miles from civilization.

Pica the camel.

Naturally, as the sun was going down, the storm clouds were rolling in. As we were lying in our tent, trying to sleep through the booming thunder, we began to feel the pitter-patter of rain drops on our faces. The carpet/bamboo roof of our tent was not exactly waterproof, and as the frequency of the drops began to increase, we scrambled our things together and ran into the main tent where we huddled with a nice Australian family under the more substantial roof. We were treated to a torrential downpour in the middle of the Sahara desert as the deluge of water poured into the tent on all sides of our little mattresses in the center.

We didn't end up seeing any stars at all, but I feel like a rainstorm in the Sahara is just as unique of an experience, and we can see the stars the next time. Plus the sunrise the next morning made all the rain worth it, as the dunes that had been faded and shifting yesterday became crisp, solid, and vibrant after the rain.

Morocco: The Iron Worker

When we returned to Fes, Chris and I went out into the souks and happened upon a tiny, unusual shop on one of the many alleys of craftsmen. The man, dressed in black and grey with salt & pepper hair, was making black iron work with silver wire hammered into intricate designs. The iron-worker was such a sweet man, and a real artist. We found out later that the technique is one called Damasquine, and is a Moroccan version of a Syrian craft that originally used gold wire in much more formal Islamic designs. This man, while he created the more formal Moroccan style work as well, had walls of beautiful and whimsical animals that he had drawn himself. They felt like little Picasso drawings made out of iron and silver.

After picking out all of our Christmas gifts for the year, we asked if we could stay and draw him while he worked. We were able to see him create one animal from, from start to finish, in his tiny 5x5 shop.

He began by sawing the iron into the shape of a fish.

He then scored the iron and polished it with a jade-tipped utensil.

Then he heated the iron in a burner and it came out hot and jet black.

Then, using a tiny hammer, he hammered the silver wire into a design, like drawing.

 Once he finished, he polished it again with the jade, and gave it to us as a gift. It was so wonderful to see someone so passionate about what he was doing. His father had done Damasquine in gold, and he was the 5th generation of Damasquine workers in his family. He is the only one to practice the craft in Fes (although a dozen or so others do in the nearby city of Meknes), and he said that while his children enjoy drawing, they didn't like the hard manual labor that goes with creating the iron work, so he may be the last.

Morocco: The Blue City

We took a short trip from Fez, through the Rif mountains to the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen. The small town lies perched on a hillside in a valley surrounded by soaring, jagged peaks.

Since the 1930's, the walls of Chefchaouen's medina have been washed with blue pigment (possibly as a result of Jewish immigrants fleeing Europe). Thick layers of every color of blue imaginable coat the walls and streets of the city.

Because of the sheer cliffs of the Riff mountains, the city is connected by a web of incredibly steep stone staircases, which surprise you with bizarre, twisting, otherworldly views.

Some streets have so many colors at once that they feel like an abstract mosaic instead of a real city.

 Down one long staircase at the edge of the city, you find the Ras el-Maa river trickling down the stone steps into the valley. Here the women do their laundry on huge concrete beds in the river, in some of the most beautiful surroundings you can imagine. I couldn't help but want to draw, even though I felt a little intrusive drawing people just doing their laundry. My broken French was enough to get us through most of Morocco, but here on the eastern coast, they only speak Spanish and Arabic. Not knowing a word of Spanish, I mimed my way into asking whether or not it was okay for me to draw them.


Initially they seemed wary, so I contented myself with just drawing the scenery and leaving the women out. The old woman of the group came over and sat next to me while I drew for a while, and smiled as I struggled to ask her questions. Eventually, I successfully gestured my question, and she consented to let me draw them. They went on with their business, laughing and singing together over the sound of the trickling stream and the soft breeze rustling through the hillsides of morning glories.

As I was drawing the teenage girl above, she seemed bashful because she was in her laundry clothes, and the old woman laughed and started asking me something in Spanish. I couldn't understand a word she was saying, or why the girl suddenly started blushing and laughing until I heard the word "matrimonio" pop out. Once I realized she was asking me, jokingly, if I was planning to marry her after such a tender drawing, I blushed and instinctively blurted out "No!". We all burst out laughing, and my cheeks turned more and more red as I frantically tried to make a more diplomatic decline of the offer (I don't think she took it personally).

The view out of our room at Casa La Palma

Our wonderful hosts, Ana and Carlos, at the beautiful bed and breakfast Casa La Palma were originally from Spain (only a couple hours away), and fell in love with Chefchaouen and moved there. With the incredible beauty, the calm, soothing air, and slow, trickling way of life, it's definitely a difficult city to leave.

Obama Inauguration 2013: Potential

"I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting."

 -President Barack Obama
in his acceptance of the Presidency, 2012

Last week, during a class with Dalvero Academy in Washington DC, we were fortunate enough to witness the rehearsal for President Obama's second inauguration. The capitol disappeared behind a sheet of fog as patriotic music beamed over thousands of empty chairs, waiting for an audience.

I listened from the nearby Bartholdi Garden under the branches of a pomegranate tree, thinking about the idea of potential. Inside this little fruit are dozens of seeds, bursting with potential. Each one could grow into a tree and bear it's own fruit. Today those thousands of chairs were full of people, each full of their own seeds of hope and the potential for unlimited possibilities.

With each new inauguration, there is more than just a change (or continuation) of leadership. There is the birth of thousands of new ideas and possibilities. People can hope for change whether it's now or in 4 years when another president will bring the potential for change.

So here's to 4 more years of hope, change and possibilities!

Morocco: The Tanneries

In Fes, one of the main attractions are the leather tanneries. Here, in the oldest leather tannery in the world, they produce leather using the same methods that were used nine centuries ago. After climbing the stairs, we emerged on a balcony overlooking sprawling rooftops perforated with giant vats of foul-smelling mixtures and vegetable dyes. The tour guides often give their groups sprigs of mint to hold in front of their noses to combat the smell (caused in part by large vats of acidic pigeon excrement and the raw hides themselves). Men worked in and in between the vats, scraping, cleaning, dying, and drying the mountains of animal hides.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I'm a few days late, but I found this drawing and it felt like a good first post of the New Year. Pine trees are symbolic of strength in adversity, fertility, creativity, regeneration, and good luck. All good hopes for 2013!

I drew this at Kissena Park in Queens during the nice warm summer, and now that the holiday season is over, the weather is officially allowed to skip straight ahead to spring.

Morocco: Tile Workshop

While in the city of Fes, we had the wonderful opportunity to tour and draw at the Moroccan architectural decoration workshop of Arabesque (Moresque). While at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I noticed the brand name in the videos of the construction of the new, very beautiful Moroccan court in their Islamic Art wing. I contacted Arabesque, the creators of the court, and they welcomed us to come and draw in their workshop for a day.

The factory was in the Ville Nouvelle, the modern city outside the medieval medina. It was a sprawling three floor establishment, with the dozen or so zellij tile workers huddled together in one small dusty corner on the first floor.

 The other floors housed incredible in-progress display rooms that were created using modern designs and techniques as well as replicating each individual period of Islamic decoration with perfect attention to detail. The colors, glazes, patterns, and shapes were created using the original period-specific methods. The detail, precision, and beauty were incredible to see. All of the carved plaster, stained glass, intricately painted wood, and zellij tile were all created by the master craftsmen there.


I spent most of my day watching the workers on the first floor, listening to the repetitive tinkling of the chisels on tile. The incredible amount of work involved in creating just one tiny tile is awe-inspiring when you consider the scope of an entire wall. Each shape must be traced out onto the tile in a white paste, and then every extra piece chiseled away to perfection. The glazed ceramic tiles are held against a cinder-block and tapped precisely and delicately with a surprisingly hefty chisel until it has been chipped into the specific shape to fit into the overall design.

Each man had a specific task. One would draw the design onto a tile; some would chisel the raw tiles into large squares;

 some chiseled the squares into smaller pieces; 

 some chiseled them into even more intricate pieces;


some stopped to sharpen their chisels;

some stenciled designs on tiles and chiseled away scrolling pieces of a larger pattern;

and all together they worked like pieces of a machine to create beautiful, mind-boggling work.

It was a wonderful experience to be able to spend the day there, and to see the whole process. Many thanks to Adil M. Naji, the President and CEO of Moresque/Arabesque, for agreeing to have us come and for his wonderful hospitality, and to all of the craftsmen for their warmth, kindness and willingness to let me impose on their work.

Morocco: Children

While we were in Marrakech there were a few times when kids would come by and watch us draw. One little boy found us near the Koutoubia, and helped make the drawing above. He even drew our portraits! I'm the monkey, and Chris is the one next to the cube with the big ears.

The next week, after coming back from Essaouira, we saw him again and he sat down to draw with me. Chris gave him a sheet of paper, and soon more and more kids crowded around. Chris gave them each a sheet of paper, and they were so excited to draw and play around with my pastels.

Last week, Dalvero Academy had an open house, and many of the artists brought their kids to draw as well. Looking around, it was amazing to see how much their drawings looked like the Moroccan kids' drawings. The same set up, but minus the minaret or a Moroccan flag in the background. It is the same joy, love, and play that kids have no matter where they are born.

My thoughts are with those children and parents in Newtown, Connecticut this week. I grew up in the neighborhood where the Columbine tragedy happened in 1999, and I can still only imagine what the community there is going through. My hope is that the children from that school who survived will still find the same joy, love, and play, and will find a way to heal and still be kids.

Morocco: Jemaa el-Fna and the Halqa

 As we headed back to Marrakech, there was one more thing I wanted to find. I had read books about the storytellers of Marrakech, and how this thousand year old tradition was not too slowly fading away. These men turn storytelling into a public art, with a catalog of hundreds of tales to choose from, stored away in their minds, each one shifting and growing depending on their audience. In 2006 it is said that there were less than a dozen storytellers left in Marrakech, and they often getting older with no apprentices. In Marrakech, their stage is The Big Square, Jemaa el-Fna. Here western tourists and Moroccan tourists alike come to see this flurry of energy full of hissing cobras and snake charmers, horse-drawn carriages, apes on chain leashes, water-sellers in flamboyant costumes, and pushy throngs of women doing henna tattoos.


At night, the square transforms. As the sun sets behind the Koutoubia minaret, the center of the square unfolds into a series of temporary restaurants with loud auctioneers competing for the attention of the hoards of tourists and locals that flock there at night. Where snake charmers sat before, musicians and performers take their place, and I was hoping, maybe a storyteller.

Smoke from the open flames of the grills fills the air.

We searched all over the square for several nights, behind every orange juice stand and date seller, and on every hidden corner we could find, but we couldn't find a single storyteller. Perhaps we weren't looking for the right things to find them, or perhaps they weren't there that night. What we did find, though, was the lifeblood of the storyteller, the halqa. A halqa is the circle of people that forms around the storyteller (or halaiqi) and other performers.

After standing on the edge of a circle of people surrounding some musicians and drawing, they eventually pulled us into the center. Although I couldn't understand the stories he was telling, or the words to the music, I began to feel a part of the halqa. They laughed at my portraits of them, and gave Chris and I some Berber whiskey (mint tea).

We may not have been able to find one of the storytellers, but the feeling of the halqa is one I won't forget. It's a spontaneous connection with people, and you can feel the energy of it and how it feeds both the performers and the audience.

Morocco: On the bus

The bus rides between cities often showed as much about the country as the cities themselves. Groves of olive trees stretched for miles across endless landscapes as men rode by the roadside on donkeys (or in trucks full of donkeys).

While waiting in one of the bus depots with a gaggle of European and Moroccan tourists, we fell in love with a tiny stray kitten (of which Morocco has no shortage) who we named Bertouche (after his American cat uncle Bert). He wandered around the cafe outside mewing and squeaking for food (we gave him some chicken on our way out) and then nestled into a flower pot for a nap.

Morocco: The Fishing Port

After a few days in Marrakech, Chris and I took a short trip to the seaside town of Essaouira. Swirling with seagulls, the beautiful 18th century is famous for its ramparts upon which Orson Welles shot his "Othello". The city, with its French, English, and Italian built architecture, feels both very European, Moroccan, and African all at once. The people felt more conservative than in Marrakech, in both dress and attitude towards the swarms of tourists trying to take their picture.

Usually I have not encountered the same resistance from people towards drawing as I have seen towards photography. With drawing, you are in a more vulnerable position since you have to wait and finish, so it feels less predatory and more reciprocal to me than photography. But in Essaouira, the people in general felt very hostile towards it, and one man was furious and ripped up the drawing I had done of him.

The only place this was not true, was in the fishing docks where everyone was very friendly, and interested in what I was doing. As an international port, the center of the city is the fishing dock where fishermen go out in bright blue fishing boats all through the day and bring back their fresh catches to sell on the docks and into the medina.

Early in the morning, the men prepare their boats and repair their nets to go out to sea.

Men wait as the fishermen bring in the latest catch.
Men and women along the docks wait to sell fish, rays, sharks, eels, lobsters, crabs, and any other type of sea creature you can think of.

Also at the fishing docks is the shipyard where a dozen ships are put up on dry-dock for repairs.

After drawing so long at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, it was wonderful to be able to see a completely different type of shipyard.  Here the men were repairing a sardine boat, with ribs exposed.

Animation Screening with African Film Festival Inc.

My animation "Roots" was screened last night at Maysles Cinema in a program put together by African Film Festival Inc. and the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute as a part of their fall film series "Untold Stories From Africa & The Diaspora".

Based on the history of the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan, this animated short explores the ritual of coffins and burial as an unbreakable connection between the Africans brought to America as slaves and those who stayed behind in West Africa.

Very exciting to see it presented for the first time!

Morocco: The Red City

Our trip began with Marrakech, The Red City. Surrounded by African desert and thick red walls, Marrakech was more foreign even in the approach from the airport than I had been expecting. Because Morocco is so diverse and so close to Europe, I had begun to think before leaving that it would be more like a trip to a European country than an African one, but Marrakech quickly shattered that idea.

In a country as foreign as Morocco, it can often be difficult to break down the barrier between tourist and local: you don't want to be seen as another tourist, and they don't want to be seen as an exotic native. Being blonde and white makes me visible to every salesman from halfway across Morocco, so every person on the street is competing to try to sell something by the time I get there. It's often an overwhelming experience, and one that made us shut down a few times just from the stress of finding a restaurant.

I think that drawing on location often offers a unique experience to be able to interact with people in a different way. Because you are doing something new and exiting, people often drop their usual tourist routine and both groups let down their guard a little. While wandering around in the medina, Chris and I came upon a neighborhood that was completely residential, with not a tourist in sight, but still bustling with people. The walls of the quarter had been freshly washed with "Marrakech Red", and bright red and green flags hung from every building.

As we started to draw, people would smile as they passed, which was very reassuring in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Soon a gaggle of kids began to crowd around us, hopping up to see the drawings and asking to have each one of their portraits drawn. Some men and women came by to peek as well, and one man even shooed some of the kids away to help when he thought they were getting too boisterous. It is one of my fondest memories from Morocco because when you can engage with people on a personal level, where the differences aren't so great, it makes you feel more at home.

We stayed and drew there until sundown, under the latticed roof of the tiny maze-like alleyways, watching people and mopeds pass by, and kittens scamper down the dusty streets and across the rooftops.