Good Morning

On the left is a page of my grandmother's writing.

On the left is a page of my grandmother's writing.

A friend of mine passed along an essay written by Kathryn Shulz, "When Things Go Missing," from The New Yorker. She writes about the concept of losing things; objects, experiences, memory, people, and uses the passing of her father as a way to describe "loss." While I was reading it, it reminded me of a blog post that I wrote years ago about my grandmother who lived with us for years, and who eventually passed away. Here it is again for you to read...
Sometimes as I'm walking to the studio very early in the morning I shut my eyes when I reach a part of the neighbourhood that's quiet and nobody's around. I just walk with my eyes closed. When the sun is rising, and the air thick with heat, I close my eyes and just walk for a few steps.
I did it this morning. 
I'm not sure why, but it's something that I did. 
This morning...
I passed the old asian woman who collects bottles from the trashcans near my studio. I see her each morning around the same time. She wheels a cart that's filled with bags of empty bottles, and I wonder how early she wakes up to begin her day's work. The past few times that I saw her I knew that she saw me too. Our eyes locked, and I could feel something pressing from inside my throat; they were words that wanted to come out,
"Jo san."
Which means, "good morning" in Cantonese. 
The problem is that I don't even know if she's even Chinese. And if she is, does she even speak Cantonese? Maybe she speaks Mandarin, or Toisan? But the words "Jo san" I believe is universal within Chinese dialects. 
The old woman reminds me of my grandmother who passed away when I was in high school. We were very close, and she helped raise me along with my aunt since I was about 3 or 4 years old. It's not that my parents weren't around, they were there - except that they had to work, both of them. My aunt came to live with us one day, and then my grandmother arrived soon after that. She was getting old and so my father being the eldest sibling, chose to take care of her.  It's typically what happens in Chinese households, the oldest son or daughter cares for their aging parents. Still, shortly after her arrival, it seemed more like my grandmother took care of me.
I don't recall the day, or month when she passed away, but I do remember the moment that it happened. She was already in the hospital having suffered a stroke before that. She couldn't speak, and was partially paralyzed. I got a call from my father one afternoon telling me that she died. 
My grandmother and I spent a lot of time together, and at a very young age, I had the privilege to witness at close range, the aging process. She arrived to Canada being able to stand and walk with a cane. But slowly, over the years her body began to break down because of arthritis, and so she needed the support of a wall, desk, or railing to help brace her while she moved. Eventually her body became so old that she spent most of her time in the bedroom, and because of her extreme immobility my father filled her room with everything she might need to keep her comfortable. A rice cooker, cookies and snacks, bread, hot water, tea, a television, papers and pencils, and magazines.  To pass the time, my grandmother and I played boardgames, where she sat and rolled the dice and then watched me move both her and my figurine across the board. We played Bingo, where I was both the announcer and the players, filling my card and hers with plastic chips. Sometimes we watched exercise programs on television and my grandmother, seated, would raise and lower her arms over and over again, and then kick her feet in and out, the way you might on the edge of a dock, or swimming pool. At lunch time, when I was in elementary school, I would go home to see her. I'd make lunch and then walk upstairs to her bedroom and sit on her bedside and eat. She usually sat in her armchair next to a broken Singer sewing machine that we used as a table. My family and I also taught her how to write her name and some numbers in English,
Chen Yut Sun
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
I combed my grandmother's hair sometimes, and clipped her nails; each time tracing my fingers along the crooked bones of her hands and feet.  

As her body began to break down even more in her old age, my father needed help caring for her, and so as a family, we all pitched in. She could no longer go to the bathroom on her own, and so my father taught us how to change her diaper. I understand how strange it would be for a boy who was barely a teenager to change their grandmother's diaper, but for me, and the rest of my family, it was very natural. At night time, one of us would go into her room to tuck her in, and give her a kiss. She would say in Toisan, lucky words and sentences.
"Grandmother loves you very much. Good luck. Good luck. Good luck. I wish you lots of good fortune. Good night."
The old woman is hunched over slightly, her layers of clothing spotted with dirt from her morning ritual. She wears a small hat, I assume to protect her from the sun, but I wonder if it's also to keep the wisps of stray hairs away from her face since the hat has barely a brim. I can see that the lines around her eyes and mouth are deep, and her nose is very slight. From a distance they read as two small dots near the center of her face. 
She approaches the corner of the street at the same moment that I do.
We stare at each other for a few seconds, and then I feel shy and look away. I continue to walk about half a block down the street and then I turn back to see her from behind still lifting bottles out of the trash and placing them into her cart. 


#weareorlando #keepkissing

When I was a boy, I would sometimes have thoughts about oblivion. I bet many people would never guess that a ten year old would even think about death in this way, but it’s true, there are some who do. I remember wondering if there could be a way for me to hold my breath so that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning, or if somehow I could stop going to school. But fortunately, and by the universe’s grace neither of those things happened, and I woke up the next day as if it was any other ordinary day, and then I was soon in class pretending everything was fine. This was the first time I started to weave a disguise around myself to hide those parts of me that I knew made others (including myself) uncomfortable. I’ve known I was gay since I was ten years old… I had an inkling before then, but I knew for certain at ten years old, and I’m sure that the other boys around me, although they couldn’t name it, knew that something was strange about me too, and so as some little boys might, they began to call me names and to beat me up. This went on for years, and although the physical abuse stopped, the verbal and mental abuse continued throughout high school. The pain and thoughts of oblivion continued as well, and as I continued to create this invisible armour around me, I wished that this armour could make me invisible too. And so, I started to change the way that I walked and talked and moved my body. I was told that I looked, sounded and behaved like a faggot, and so those words were enough to convince me to want to disappear even more. Eventually I started to cut and clip into myself with scissors, knives, and nail clippers, and I remember feeling during those moments, a kind of intense concentration that made me feel as though I was disappearing for a brief moment. The stings from the first cuts would eventually mask themselves by the stings of other cuts, and this went on for years. But this was over twenty years ago, a lifetime for some of those who were murdered in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday morning.

I went to the Orlando vigil in the West Village on Monday evening, and as I walked up the stairs from the subway onto street level, I was met by a mass of people who were there to show and share their love, solidarity, sympathy, empathy, anger, knowledge, and strength with each other. There were individuals who were screaming for the politicians and speakers to say the names of those who were murdered… and as the names and ages of those who were killed were finally said out loud, they felt like gun shots sounding off one by one.

I don’t want to wholly admit that this tragedy has pushed me to become conscious about being more overt about my sexual orientation in public, but it has made me think a lot about how much of my life has been wasted trying to hide it from the world. I know there are so many issues that are currently being unpacked and discussed (I’ve found myself signing yet another online gun control petition) but I also find it strengthening to read friends’ and strangers’ posts about the importance of being visible and standing proudly and firmly outside of the closet.

There’s a quote by Harvey Milk that I’ve kept very close to me. I honour the spirit of it, and him, but I also understand that not everyone can behave his words so outwardly. Still, as utopian sounding as it is, I feel it’s an important thought to share during this time.

“Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better” – Harvey Milk

The Healing Power of Words

I wanted to share this letter that I wrote several years ago to a former student of mine. I was reminded of it when I was giving a talk, last week, to the School of Visual Arts' MFA Illustration students. A portion of my presentation speaks about uncertainty, fear, and vulnerability. As someone who loves and is sensitive to words, the aforementioned terms summon up feelings of discomfort, and is oftentimes coupled with other words such as weakness, failure, and inadequacy. However, these words can also be empowering and so I use them as opportunities to help guide me through my own studio practice. These words help to move me beyond creatively, emotionally, and psychologically insofar as they remind me that when I feel stuck within my artistic process that staying in this room of doubt; spending time ruminating, investigating and working through creative problems can lead to unexpectedly illuminating results.


Dear -- ,

I'm in the midst of reading Keith Haring's Journals, and as you might guess, much of the topics he wrote about within the pages were more questions than answers, as journals might be. And in a profound way, I feel even more connected because the part that I'm reading now, are entries that he made during 1978-79, the time while he was, much like yourself, a student at SVA. I picked this book up because I oftentimes look to the past for answers. This is something that I've done since I was in my mid twenties. Part of me of wonders if it's my nostalgia that encourages me to access those past experiences for knowledge, or whether my doing so that has made me so nostalgic. In any event, this is how I've gone about shaping my process through not only my artistic practice, but also through life. I gain much strength through the words of others, and to use a phrase shared by my friend, the healing powers of words.

So to you, this is really a letter of encouragement because I wonder if where you sit now, in your career as a young artist, just about to graduate from art school, that the pressures of it, the expectations, the fear, the uncertainty are coming at you all at once; and so, it can be difficult to sift through what needs to be done at this moment versus what can be done during this time. What needs to be done is that you have to hold onto the strengths that you have as an artist, as an illustrator, and use that knowledge, and those tools to guide you forward; not as armour for the doubts and demons that will bombard you, but as tools to help you work through the challenges that artists have faced throughout history. The words of two or three of your mentors, although they are so valid, keep them on your brain, but don't feel as though you must assign so much power to their words that it leaves you blind and dizzy to your own work. Comments like these do come from a good place, and are made because they want for you to succeed, but sometimes shifting your work too quickly, and making rash alterations to address these creative or technical concerns about your work can be too large of a burden; these moves take time, and so, you must trust yourself, respect the process, and know that your attempts, although they might feel futile at the moment, will over time, and with much effort and pain, resolve itself into something that is beautiful, if you allow for it to happen.

I use the term art, illustration, and drawing interchangeably, and although it might offend some of the purist gods, it's what I've chosen to do because it gives me freedom and power to create, and to fail. For a long time, I was unhappy with the illustrations that I was making because the final products were not being recognized or validated in the way I that wanted for them to be. I remember negative comments about my work from others, that it was too derivative of someone else's work, and that technically it wasn't at a level that many in the industry would view as high enough, either conceptually, or aesthetically. Of course, I devoured these insecurities and consequently they became threats to my illustration work because the doubt that grew out of those words began to affect my own creative judgement. I could no longer tell - I could no longer see whether or not the illustrations I made were successful.
And so, for a couple years, I hid.
I hid from the Illustration industry.
And I did this because I was probably angry, and hurt, but most of all I needed to take some time to be alone to work through the creative challenges that I faced during those moments in my career.
But where I hid, where I found solace, was in a place where I would learn how to recognize the importance of process within my artistic practice. I enrolled in a summer fine art residency at SVA, and it changed my life because I was constantly placed within a space that challenged my creativity, my technique and my understanding about the intentions of my work. I had no clue back then how powerful this experience would be, and how it would profoundly affect the way that I would move through my career as an Illustrator. The ideas of success that were intact in my mind soon after I graduated, were attached to more tangible things, things that I could see - awards, certificates, being published, and money. And although all of this is very important to me, what I did not acknowledge back then was the importance of process; being engaged in the learning process that happens while I work, discovering new ways of working, and allowing the time for my efforts to flourish.

I've stopped at a page in Keith Haring's Journals where he wrote that, "An artist has an impossible ambition. It is a presupposition that he will fail." I think about this word a lot, fail, but I've learned to assign a more positive meaning to it. Failure to me is a necessary place that I will find myself in throughout the rest of my career. I don't view it as a prison or any kind of ultimate place, but view it more as transitional space; I use my time there to work through critical issues in the studio, and trust in the fact that I will eventually move out of it.

Wishing you good things,




Fairies In Wonderland

I'm straying away from posts inspired by memories and experiences today because I wanted to share some fun news. My new book and postcards, Fairies In Wonderland, published by HarperCollins will be released this March 8, 2016. It's a labour of love, and a project that I hope you will enjoy too. Click on the BOOK and POSTCARD links to the HarperCollins website for pre-orders and more info.

... okay... let me back track a bit... no, I haven't written stories about my process, but the images below are snidbits of the time that I spent working on this project... The drawing were almost entirely all hand-drawn onto 22 x 30" sheets of 140lb and 300lb Saunders Waterford Hot Press Watercolour paper, using Dr. PH Martin's Black Star Matte India Ink as recommended by my good friend Yuko Shimizu



I've been re-reading some of my former posts over the past seven or eight years and have been re-posting them onto my website. I really don't have a method to how or when I choose to do so, it's more instinctive. Reading some of my former thoughts is like going through a time capsule; some of what I've written still carries a kind of weight and meaning, and so I connect with those particular musings, but there are also other things related to my creative process - thoughts and ideas that I've written, which I no longer believe in for whatever reasons, and now they seem so faded that I barely remember even writing those words. The post below though, I find interesting because it's something that I want to begin to do again. It's about recommitting to one's studio practice.


Last night I watched a documentary called Fame High. The movie followed the lives of four students who attended the prestigious (performing) arts high school, Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA).  One of the students, a dancer named Grace Song, said near the end of the documentary about needing to commit to one’s art (and craft) everyday. This statement felt very profound to me because it encapsulated in a few words, much of what I’ve been trying to do over the past several years via my studio practice, but haven’t been able to articulate in such a succinct way.
Each morning I arrive to my studio very early, and begin my day. It’s quiet. I like the quietness. It allows me to center to myself so that I can move forward doing the tasks that I’ve assigned myself. It’s not always commercially related, but personal projects as well. I’ve wondered many times over the reasons why I continue to work on these self-initiated pieces instead of just taking the time off to do other things that I like such as going to the gym, exploring the city, and seeing friends; I mean, these personal projects of mine don’t result in any sort of tangible return, they don’t necessarily elevate my professional practice in an immediate way, there’s oftentimes no audience, nor do they inspire any kind of reward that would directly boost my career. For the most part, my personal projects allow me to manifest those ideas that I have floating around in my head; to give shape and form to my content. However, after watching the documentary I realized something new: that my decision to work, when there’s no work, to draw when nobody is telling me to draw, to sew when there is no reason for me to sew is because it encourages me to re-commit myself to my art and to my craft of making things.

To re-commit doesn’t mean that I’ve fallen out of love with what I’ve done and need to proclaim my reconnection to it, rather re-committing simply means that I continue to love what I do, and through this love helps me to see the importance and necessity of the work (which is oftentimes repetitive in nature) and the discipline that is required if I want to continue to make this (art) a long and fruitful part of life. I know how easily it can be to become lazy and bored of drawing. I know how easy it can be to feel like giving up, to find excuses to see the worthlessness in wanting to create something that will undoubtedly be judged by others (for better or for worse); and if it’s for the worse, then why bother? I understand how challenging it can be to stay motivated. But I realize that going into my studio each day, and leaving each night is a form of the commitment that I’ve made to the art that I create. I tell myself all the time, that talent can fade; that this talent can leave me if I refuse to nourish it – the creative process that I experience everyday is really a creative ritual of commitment that I choose to practice every time I step inside my studio.


The Taxi Driver

Two night’s ago I bought the book, “Giovanni’s Room,” by James Baldwin. I read it about fifteen years ago, when I was in my mid to late twenties. I loved it so much, but I’m not sure why. I remember the book was beautiful and sad, but more beautiful. I had just come out (as gay) during that time and this book was recommended by a good friend of mine from high school named Eric. He was, and still is, one of my closest friends. He lives in Japan now, but why I think I still feel very close to him is because the friendship happened during a time when life felt so breakable (…uncertainty about the future… I want to be an artist!... hormones surging... sex rising... sexuality revealing... money lacking... dark skin realizing... direction changing). Eric was one of the first people who I came out to because I trusted him. I guess he recommended this book to me because he felt that it could help me see that being gay was not so bad after all, and that hearing someone else’s story, even if it was from a fictional character, would make me feel less strange and less alone.
But this post isn’t about Eric, or James Baldwin, or “Giovanni’s Room.”

I’ve been rifling through my thoughts for a story I wanted to share; one that would be an earnest reflection of either my past year, or to mark the beginning of a new one.  Not only is it a new year, but it’ll soon be my birthday too. Around this time is when I become most nostalgic, most introverted, and most hopeful. I’m the type of person who spends more time than he should in the past, and an equal amount of time dreaming about the future, but this allows me the gift of time traveling in my thoughts to help inform the decisions I make in the present. I’m not someone who forgets quickly, nor am I someone who forgives easily (one of my flaws). But my being able to remember, and to hold onto the feelings that have aided in this remembrance have allowed me to sink profoundly deeper into my experiences, both positive and negative. And so, instead of listing some resolutions that I probably will never keep, I’ll instead share a story from my past, which talks about change and transformation in a roundabout way.

Ernst Hemingway wrote in “A Moveable Feast” about the importance of writing honestly… about writing “the one true sentence you know.” I’m not sure if I have a one true sentence. But I’ll try…
I’ve heard many times from various sources, that people don’t always remember the things you’ve said to them rather they remember how you made them feel.
A taxi driver gave me some sage advice years ago, of which now I’ve forgotten, but I remember how his words made me feel. I remember my surroundings, and that it was dark and quiet outside. I remember sitting in the backseat of the cab like a child listening to his father, uncle or grandparent tell a story about a life lesson he learned from a mistake he had made, or maybe it was a life lesson that was taught to him because of a risk that he took. Again, I can’t remember, but I do know that I felt safe, and at that point I felt change was coming.

The taxi driver drove me from Oshawa to my parent’s home in Scarborough. It was about an hour’s drive between the two cities. How I ended up there was that I met a person over the phone earlier that day and we decided to meet in a hotel he was staying in Oshawa. He was passing through because of work, and although he wasn’t even close to where I lived I decided to go anyway. This was before the ubiquity of the internet and the man4man’s and the’s, it was before the Tindr’s and the Grindr’s; speaking over the phone was the way that I connected with strangers and how I went on dates with other men. Although there were many ways of meeting men, having a conversation with an anonymous person – leaving voicemails, listening to messages, and scrolling through a list of spoken descriptions of them gave me a rise inside. I would imagine what these men looked like, and then decide from their voices and physical descriptions if I wanted to meet them, and vice versa. The telephone was the compass to help me move through this new gay life of mine. As a mid-twenty-something year old I’d felt in many ways that I was just starting to live my life, which can be both exciting and awkward because I was already an adult and had graduated from art college (even though I was living with my parents). However, being trapped in the hetero closet for so long didn’t only cut me off from being able to authentically connect with my environment and those around me, but it also made me feel cut off from parts of myself – those parts that I was shamed into believing were abnormal, and that I shouldn’t explore. So, in many ways, I went a bit crazy, and tried to feel life in every part of my body… in my viscera, in my cells, and so, exploring my sexuality with this level of expansiveness, and risk, made me feel whole.
He picked me up from a coffee shop. I don’t remember his name, the guy who I met in Oshawa, but I remember how I felt when I was there. I wasn’t afraid. I felt nervous. I was curious. I felt excited. I wanted to leave. I felt shy. I decided to stay. I felt uncomfortable. I decided to stay. I felt exposed. I decided to stay. I felt embarrassed.
I decided to stay.
We both sat on the couch at first, watching television - there was a music awards show playing. We spoke for quite a while - small talk mostly. Talking first. Watching television. Talking more. Watching television. Talking, and then touching.
I stayed with him in the hotel for what was probably a few short hours.
He dropped me off at the bus station near midnight and we waved goodbye, knowing that we would probably never see each other again. Unfortunately after he drove away I realized that the terminal was closed and I was left standing outside with no way of getting home. Living in Toronto, I was used to taxis, buses, subways that ran all night long. But here, in what seemed like was of a more rural part of Oshawa, the streets were very still. Fortunately, it was a mild summer evening, and having no other options I decided to walk along what looked like a main street, directionless. In the distance I saw a bus stop and even further, was a bus approaching. I ran towards it grateful for my ride home, but when I reached the bus stop, the bus drove past me. At that moment, two individuals walked by and I asked them if they knew anything about the (bus) schedule.
“I don’t know,” one of them said.

I think I responded by asking them if there was a main part of town I could walk towards where there might be a hotel (I had a debit card). They pointed towards a light coloured building and so I thanked them and began walking towards it. I don’t remember what I was thinking, or even feeling. Maybe I was in a light survival mode, where I was paying attention to only the most important clues or information that would help me get to where I needed to be. In the distance was the faint glow of headlights approaching. As the car came closer, I saw it was a taxi. I waved it down. The taxi stopped and the driver rolled down his window. I asked him if he could take me back to Toronto for fifty dollars (which was all the money that I had on me – this was before taxis accepted debit cards). I think the taxi driver could hear desperation in my voice.
He agreed.
I got in.
As we drove away, the taxi driver asked me what I was doing in Oshawa. I can’t remember what I said, but I know I lied to him, or maybe I withheld some truths, but it’s all semantics anyway, both lying and not revealing information in its entirety. I don’t think he believed my story. But he didn’t further question me either. I didn’t speak much, but the taxi driver did, again, like a sage, like a father, like an older brother, or an uncle.
I looked out of the window, but I don’t remember anything except that it was dark and quiet outside. I don’t remember his words, but I remember his voice. I remember feeling safe. I remember feeling grateful. I remember feeling older. I remember feeling worn. I remember feeling awake. I remember feeling changed.  

Why I Draw

The post below was written about five years ago. At that time I remember that I was living in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn... I had a studio in Bushwick... I was teaching an illustration course at the School of Visual Arts, in New York City, and I was also enrolled in a Creative Writing class at NYU. I don't recall exactly what prompted my wanting to write about my love of drawing except that I have, since I was a teenager, kept pages and pages of my thoughts, journal entries, diaries, whatever you want to call them. I wonder if I did this because growing up as a gay boy and then as a gay man (I didn't come out until I was twenty three years old) meant that I had to keep so much of myself hidden from the world for fear that if I revealed this part of me, then another part of my world would start to crumble and then disappear. And so writing, I believe, like drawing kept me safe because it allowed me to process things that I may not have been able to process out loud. I could share parts of myself that were squashed down inside of me, and I could, like drawing, harness a kind of energy and confidence inside of me that didn't always exist in my day-to-day life.
I wanted to share this post from 2010 because I still think it's relevant and it essentially captures where I am again within my creative process, in my career, and in my work as an artist and illustrator and designer.
Sometimes when I'm sitting in class and listening to my Fiction Writing Professor talk about the process of writing, my mind begins to drift; not in a way that I fail to hear what he's saying, but I start to align his words alongside my craft of drawing. I have a terrible time with labels, assigning and boxing things neatly (or not -) into some kind of space and then calling it a name. You'll notice that I switch between the words, art, and craft, and illustration, and design, and drawing in many of my posts -- and when I do, I think it's because I'm starting to see them more and more each time as being extremely similar to one another in a sense that they share so many of the same traits. Although there are many people who I'm sure can clinically delineate the difference between each of these disciplines, I'm beginning not to care so much anymore.
When I was 13 years old, I clearly remember saying out loud that I wanted to draw for a living. Back then, I had no clue what I was talking about because I didn't know anyone who made money from their drawings. When we moved to Canada, my father worked in a factory and my mother did data entry at her first and only job for decades. Drawing was not practical in their eyes, and as a result I could not foresee that it would take care of me.
There were moments when I thought that I would give up on drawing. In third year art college, I almost dropped out of school even before the semester began. I wanted to, I needed to move out of my parents home, and so I thought that I would stay working full time at a clothing factory in a suburb of Toronto to save up enough money for rent. Had I done so, I have no clue where I would be now, fortunately for my sake I snapped out of this delusion of mine, and with the help of my brother and sister, stayed in art college for the remaining years, and then moved out shortly after. During this time, I probably drew more feircely than ever because I guessed at that moment, that I had no other choice. In a way, I cast all of my hopes and frustrations into this particular discipline wanting so badly for it to lift me out of the place that I was in.
And so I drew.
I sometimes look at my drawings and wonder if are they good or if they are not. I understand that if the drawing has been commissioned by someone else, that there are reasons that make it successful; that in addition to the aesthetic component, that it needs to communicate an idea and have a concept, and satisfy a viewership. I know all of this, I believe it, and I teach this to my students: content is paramount. But when I distance myself from my work and really stare at it, surface and content together, the parts of it that are not so good begin to reveal themselves to me. I have always fantasized about being a great artist, like the ones whose books I keep on my shelf. They are the ones who are able to manage shape and line in such a way that make me feel that they have exclusivity to use them. The ones who employ colour with such beautiful ease, as though they were the ones who gave birth to such colours. But I know that for many of them, or at least, I tell myself, that I believe not all of this came easily for any of them. Not any of this came quickly either.
I recently opened up Charley Harper's book, the one that was put together by Todd Oldham, and it makes me feel good because the pictures in it reminded me - it reminds me of why I draw. The photos of Harper's work span his entire lifetime, showing images of drawing as the content. The way in which he relates colour to one another is magical and the restraint that he holds in his brush when rendering the details of the figures and objects convinces me that there is a reason and place for every mark that he puts down. And even though he is one of these artists who I have come to revere, I am learning to appreciate the work that he has done as just that, work that he has done. I try to remind myself now of the importance of the act of drawing, drawing for drawing sake, not drawing for money sake, nor for the sake of fame, or for the sake of trying to be like someone else. These things grow less important to me.
And so I draw.
I draw because I enjoy simply moving the paint around on the page, and stylus on the tablet. I enjoy mixing colours and arranging them next to each other to create patterns. I enjoy making marks on the pages and allowing them to twist and turn into something figurative or abstract. I draw because I have things that I want to say that I might not be able to express through words, through actions. I draw because when I do, the world around me falls away.

* This post was inspired by Joan Didion's essay, "Why I Write."


The Accident

Yesterday in the gym locker room a man fell down. I saw it happen from the moment he tripped (backwards), landing on the back of his head. The sound made my body scream. It all happened so fast and all of us who were there jumped towards him as he lay motionless on the ground; his eyes semi open, eyelids quivering, unblinking. Two of us ran upstairs towards the administrative desks, myself and a gym trainer, and the trainer being the faster one, sprinted past me shouting to his colleagues to call 911. It was a horrible accident that I had witnessed, and even today I haven’t been able to cast it from my mind.
I intended on writing something today, a short piece about gratitude since the year is closing out, but instead the accident kept reminding me of a story that my mother told me once about her train ride from Mozambique to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with my siblings who were babies and my grandfather (I wasn’t born yet). The train stopped part way through the trip, and she was escorted out, lead to an office nearby where she was stripped searched for God knows whatever reason. It was the 1970s and that part of Africa was experiencing so much political disturbance. Thankfully she wasn’t hurt and was lead back to the train to be with my siblings and grandfather.
I think about this story occasionally, not on purpose, but it comes to me like a whisper and then suddenly it vanishes. The thing is that I’ve held onto this story for a couple of days now and I’m not sure why. I wonder if things had gone differently when my mother got off the train, that my life today would have been different too… or, if I would even have been born. The story of the man falling in the locker room and my mother's train ride in East Africa are so disparate, so again, I can't find ways to link the two stories, but strangely I felt compelled to write about both of them within the same sitting.
I’m not a religious person but I prayed for the man at the moment of the accident. I prayed for him throughout the day, before I went to sleep last night, and then shortly before I wrote this. I’m not sure why because I don’t know him, but it was such a freak accident that I imagined it could have happened to anyone. I wonder if I’m so narcissistic to imagine that it could have happened to me as well.




A woman named Ruth stopped Mikee and my dog Shalby and I as we walked out of our apartment building. She was a tall and slender woman with grayish hair and warm caramel coloured skin. She wore an ordinary light weight winter jacket that fell just below her hips with dark pants underneath, and she stood stiffly, barely moving as if doing so would hurt. There was a softness and peacefulness about her face that made her appear as though she was smiling even if she wasn't. Part of the reason why I think Ruth stopped us was because Shalby was bouncing around on the sidewalk near her feet. Without bending over, Ruth lowered her head very slightly and then greeted her with a quiet,
"Hello. What’s your name?"
Then she looked up and introduced herself to us and said,
“Everyday I try to say hello to at least one new person."
We smiled.
“What new thing have you learned today?”
I was startled by her question and replied robotically,
"Today is beautiful."
I smiled to soften the stupidity of my response.
Ruth was quiet, and just stood still, staring at me. I think she was confused by my answer. To my defense, although I know what I said made absolutely no sense, I tend to blank out when I get startled, or nervous, and then I temporarily lose my words. This is New York City, and I have strangers saying things to me at all times, some of whom are serious to want to begin a conversation, whereas others are forwarding me a message from God (yes, I know my parents love me. I don’t need to tell them because I told them yesterday over the phone).
Then Mikee added,
“We learned about the importance of staying in the present.”
Ruth smiled at the both of us, said goodbye and then very slowly, walked away.

My Five Year Plan (B)

It’s barely 3:34 am and I’m already awake. I’ve had an infection in my gums these past several days from an ill-fitting crown, and so I’ve been prescribed an antibiotic that I’ve had to take every eight hours. I’ve been setting my alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to take it, but sometimes it’s hard to go back to sleep.

and so now I’m awake.

I’ve been intending on writing a five year plan for sometime now… more accurately to rewrite my existing one that I wrote a couple of years before my sabbatical, which ended this past September. Much of what I wrote was devoted to lifting my fashion and sewing practice to a level that would sustain itself by generating income. At the time I was making custom cut and sew T shirts, taking night and weekend classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York City,  to learn about sewing, draping, and pattern-making, as well as interning with a few fashion designers in hopes of incorporating my love of fashion into my illustration practice somehow. Although I enjoyed the process and felt it was creatively (and spiritually) nourishing, I soon realized that it would be tough to maintain because of lack of time and money. I wasn’t making a profit because the production costs were too high, which meant that if I decided to continue to produce them in the manner that I wanted to, then I would have to either hire people to help me make them, or spend more time making them myself, which would have meant taking time away from illustration (my main source of income)...

not a viable option.

So, over the past year I’ve been slowly letting it go of this project because continuing to work on it would have felt like a kind of financial blood-letting that would have clearly forced me to seek out other ways to fund it, or move back to Toronto to live with my parents.

...again, not a viable option.

When I initially wrote my five year plan I never believed that I would check off everything on the list. It was essentially the skeletal structure outlining the direction that I wanted to move towards within my career, plotting goals along the way, but understanding I could still adjust or pivot my direction. Life can feel so busy at times that I forget about my goals completely, and then only remember them months later during some quiet moment. In Paulo Coehlo’s “The Alchemist” the main character, Santiago, who is a shepherd, goes on a journey in search of treasure has that appeared in his dream. In one instance he’s robbed by a thief and is left penniless, but somehow finds his way into a crystal shop where he’s taken in and employed by the shop owner, and ends up staying there for much longer than he had intended to, almost forgetting about his original mission. By the time Santiago has come to, he has earned enough money to be on his way, but then has a moment where he wonders if he should even continue his journey at all because his life working in the crystal shop afforded him a comfortable life. I’ve been in similar situations in the past where I’ve stopped questioning why I was doing the things that I was doing, and just continued to do them because it felt easy and safe, but after a while I would arrive to point where I would begin to wonder about the things that I used to want to do before I went into autopilot. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful because easy and safe aren't bad things, but as a good friend once said to me, “It’s just part of my personality” to feel creatively restless. And so, I try to remember (and to stay on top of) the things that I want to accomplish from time to time, and if I switch into autopilot, then it's fine because it's probably what my body (and mind) needs at the moment, to seek respite from hyper-focusing on the goals I have set. I've chosen to writing them down instead of letting them linger inside of my head because my plans feel more concrete that way. One of my fears is to become Santiago stuck safely within the crystal shop; I'm not suggesting that this won't ever happen, but I do think that I'd like to preclude that particular scenario from happening in my life for as long as possible. I didn't move to New York and I didn't choose to pursue art and design for any other reason than because it nourishes my soul. Of course, I wanted to make a living at it, but I was convinced that before transferring to art college that I would instead pursue a degree in Business in order to work in a more stable profession after I graduated. And I did study business in University (only a couple classes with the intent on majoring in it the following year, but I soon dropped out). It didn't take long for me to realize how wrong that decision was for me, to pursue a profession I didn't connect with purely because I thought I would have a better chance of getting a job. Although I saw the value in doing so, I would have regretted my decision had I stayed in University instead of enrolling at the Ontario College of Art and Design, where I studied Illustration. Coming full circle, it’s clearer that my choice to pursue fashion design in a more serious way alongside illustration will not be happening, but I have no regrets having spent time and money trying. Sometimes the values, lessons, and rewards that I glean from a particular experience don't show up until later on.

And so now it’s time to change direction and move from Plan A to Plan B (I’m sure there's a Plan C and D and E and F in the horizon…)

I’ll continue to pursue fashion, but in a way that is much more aligned with my illustration practice. I will expand my designing of prints and textiles and will seek out ways to connect with specific designers in the industry who’s work I revere. I will approach larger fashion companies, as well as companies that exemplify strong connections to all types of surface design. Assuming that finances will allow for it, I’ll participate in trade shows such as Surtex, Primere Vision, and Print Source, which will lead to other sales and licensing opportunities for my work. I will also participate in some kind of paid collaboration (print + textile + illustration) with at least one well-known designer on his/her/their collection. As a short term task I will have created a portfolio of prints (at least 100 designs) for purchase and/or licensing that will continue to grow larger. In order to grow this, I will have hired (in perhaps in 3-5 years) individuals to create prints for me, whether inside of my studio, or on a freelance basis. I’m realizing that I can’t do everything on my own, and although I may start all of this on my own, if I want to continue to grow this component of my business and studio practice, then I need others to help support the functioning of it.

In reference to my own personal fashion related projects, these will continue; however, on a much smaller scale with an even more limited quantity. Making things is what I love to do, and so I will continue this pursuit more out of love, but being much more mindful of the finances that I allocate towards this part of my craft than in the past. Having said that, I will consider purchasing basic items such as T shirts and will print on them instead of having to cut and sew the T shirts from scratch. Doing so would reduce production costs by roughly half.

Moving alongside my fashion related pursuits, I will have created a new body of personal work. I'm not sure about the intention of it, whether it will be for gallery exhibition or on display somehow; however, one thing I have not done so far, and have always wanted to do, was to create a series of artwork that expressed a clear point of view, or was connected somehow by a theme or concept, similar to what some of my students might do within an Undergraduate or Graduate Illustration program. I also will illustrate 3 more books, one of which I will be written and illustrated myself. A few years ago I stumbled into book illustration, and although I never really saw it as a platform for my artwork, I grew to enjoy the process and the collaboration with my editors. Still, the advances for many artists and authors can be quite low; however, at this stage in my career I will be paid an advance amount that will allow for me to devote most of my time towards my book projects without having to stress-out about money. And lastly, my next goal will probably happen in about 5 - 7 years; I will have a book, monograph style, with my work in it. Although I would prefer to work with a publisher on it, I'm not averse to self-publishing.

I included this in my former 5 year plan... it’s a poem by Dorothy Parker. I still think it’s fitting… life’s short and fleeting, man. Peace. (5:45am)

Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)


Marcos x Starbucks

Here's my latest collaboration with Starbucks. It was dream assignment! Many thanks to Starbucks and especially Robyn G for making this happen. You can see the mural at 2 Grand Central Tower, on East 45th Street, east of Lexington in New York City.

Countdown to Ella


What a great way to start the new year! I just received my box of Ella books from the Viking Press. Our launch will be on January 22, 2015! So excited about this project which was written by Mallory Kasdan. If you know Eloise at the Plaza, then you meet Ella! This is a cheeky parody about a little girl who lives at The Local Hotel. Stay tuned for more info ❤

Marcos x Ella

I recently finished illustrating the Children's Ella, by author Mallory Kasdan, published by Viking Press. The 50+ page book will be published in January 2015. Many thanks to Jim and Leila from Viking Press, and to Mallory Kasdan for involving me in this absolutely fun project!


Mother's Day


Here's a blog post from  April 26, 2012 in celebration of Mother's Day.

When I was young I would stare into the mirror at myself and imagine what I would look like when I grew up. I was a chubby kid with a black bowl cut and soft effeminate features. My ear lobes were fleshy and hung down away from the sides of my face, like pieces of gum stuck to the edge of a desk.
“It is lucky,” my aunt would say. 
My ear lobes were a sign of luck.
I looked at the roundness of my face and judged it against the faces of the actors I saw on television. They had light skin with slim and chiseled features, deep set eyes shielded beneath a prominent brow; their rectangular faces framed by soft wavy brown hair. I tugged at certain parts of my face, and sucked in other areas to try to find these qualities within myself.
"Not so lucky at all," I would think.
My lips were too pink, my cheeks too portly, my eyes too bulging and creased at the corners. I would look down at my belly which stuck out past the waistline of my pants and pull my shoulders back, stretching the fabric up over this soft hump of mine.

Sometimes very early in the mornings, while the rest of the world was still asleep, I would climb up the stairs to meet my mother outside of the bathroom. It was barely 5:30am, the time she would get ready for work. She would stand with her back to me, flicking her wrists above her head, her comb teasing and scraping over and over until those black locks grew fuller and softer with each wrist snap. I don’t remember exactly what we spoke about, or if anything was said at all. I was just curious and mesmerized by her actions.

My mother is a simple woman. To some this may sound insulting. Who would want to be described as simple? To be simple means being obvious, plain, and boring. There is so much complexity within the world that we live in; so many choices and options available. So much advice on how to live,what to eat, how to look, what opinions we should have. We can become thin if we believe that we’re too thick. We can look strong, and even feel stronger, if we’re too skinny and weak.
We can become anyone.
So how could anyone be described as simple?
And how dare I use this word to describe someone - anyone, especially my mother?

I grew up in a very modest home, with modest parents, who raised modest children. When we moved to Canada all we had was each other, the help of our extended family who sponsored us to live there, the clothes on our back and whatever money we were permitted to carry away with us. My entire family was born in Mozambique, Africa: my parents, myself, and my older brother and sister. We left in the mid 1970s because the country was on the brink of civil war. Chaos at a political level trickled down to ordinary families. Our bank accounts were frozen. Police terrorized us in our home. Soon we found ourselves part of a mass exodus.  Many moved to Portugal and other parts of the world. My family was fortunate enough to be sponsored by my Aunt and Uncle. We traveled first to Lisbon, then to Toronto. All we had was what we could cram into a few suitcases. 


Photos from our time in Mozambique show my mother wearing thick-framed Nana Muskouri glasses that match her dark hair. Her hair is cut short, tapering towards a fine and delicate neck. She dresses in a sixties style American Bandstand shift that falls so softly against her slight body, accentuating the slimness of her shoulders, and the length and leanness of her form in a self-effacing way. Sometimes she is standing in front of a wall of flowers. Other times in a random city setting, with suggestions of a building behind her or off to the side. I imagine it’s my father who is taking the photos of her. There’s a kind of care about how the picture is delicately composed as if it’s been taken by someone who loves her dearly, who wants to show the rest of the world how beautiful she is.  There is no indication of impending war; there are no signs of trouble. These photos lay bare a playful side of my parents’ youth. My mother doesn’t talk much about her past very much. For as long as I have known her she has never remembered out loud, nor has she fondly reminisced about any past moments in her life when memories can blur softly into the next, and then the next, and then the next again.



I would sometimes crawl into the bathroom near my mother’s feet and sit beside the box of colored pencils and blushes and lipsticks that rested on the edge of the open cupboard underneath the sink, where she kept her makeup. I would examine each one, attentive to their opalescent brilliance mottled against each other on the floor and the insides of this box like romantic graffiti. The colored pencil tips mixing together to create new colors and new qualities.  Sometimes as I sharpened these pencils, I would study their iridescent shavings as they curled out and fell from the sharpener’s blade into my hands. They left traces of color along the edges of my fingers. My mother carefully lined her eyes with these pencils and I would watch fixated, wondering whether it hurt her to do this.


This morning ritual lasted forty-five minutes or so. In my mind, it was mother putting on her lipstick that was the denouement. With the process complete, she would stand before the mirror like a movie star bathed in Edward Hopper lighting. Her hair brushed into soft curls that kissed the tops of her shoulders. Her cheeks slightly blushed. Dressed in an almost sheer grey blouse marked with pretty floral shapes of color, tapered and tucked neatly into a narrow navy skirt, which grazed just above her knees. She left the house every morning looking this way; elegant in her simple and modest way. She went to a job that required her to enter numbers into a computer over and over again; a task that sounded deadening to me. I wondered if it felt the same to her as well.


American Illustration 33 Awards Annual

I just received news that 2 of my illustrations from the Kama Sutra were accepted into this year's American Illustration Awards Annual 33. Many thanks to the jurors for selecting my work, and to Gavin Morris, art director at Penguin Books, India for the wonderful collaboration.

I See You


Chris stood quietly in front of the mirror. The pain he'd felt only a short while before transformed into a dull heat that warmed his face and body. He had never looked at himself this closely before. Chris swept away his bangs that covered his right eye and placed it behind his ear.  He stared at the roundness of his face; his eyes tapered slightly upwards at the corners were red and puffy. His left brow made swollen by fists reminded him of when he used to pull on the skin of his eyebrows to make it protrude like the male actors he saw on television. His ears were large and fleshy, and stuck out a bit, but they weren't ugly.  According to his aunt, his ears were signs of good luck. He looked at his lips which were full, pink, and chapped, but now they were more brown than pink. The blood he had tasted earlier when he was struck in the face was dry now. 
He licked them.
They stung.
He never liked his lips.
"Fag Lips," kids called him.
But now staring more closely, he saw them differently. They were largish and matched the largish features of his face.  He looked at his shoulders which were slightly rounded and then at his hairless chest that barely rose out slightly and then softly sloped inwards near his sternum. He stared at his nipples which he always thought were pink, but now discovered were brown with tiny bumps. Lowering his gaze downwards past his stomach along the strands of hair that trailed towards his pelvis, this hair densely collected itself at the bottom; this hair was coarse, thick, and curly unlike the hair on his head, which was soft, thin and straight. His penis which looked like a deflated balloon sat near the center of this pubic hair nest. He paused for a moment and stared at it, blaming this body part for all of his sadness. He lowered his gaze, staring at his thighs which looked strong, but were now covered in scrapes and bruises, past his knees stopping at his feet.

He scanned his body.

His arms were thin, but he could see by the shadows cast from the light hitting them the musculature underneath. The cuts along the inside of his forearms were less visible now. Scraping against the pavement seemed to erase them. His hands were smallish and his fingers thin. Leigh called them lady fingers after the cookies they both liked to eat.

The above is an excerpt from a graphic novel that I'm writing and illustrating. I've kept quiet about it for some months now, but wanted to share some of what I've written because I'm nearly finished writing it. I have no experience in sequential art except for some of the very few random editorial commissions I've received throughout my career, and previous to that, a comic that I didn't quite finish drawing when I was 8 years old. Comics have been something that I've fallen in and out of love with since I was very young, for whatever reasons. I'm not sure why this has been the case, but at this point in my life it's something that I'm becoming very interested in. And sometimes wanting to do something creatively if it feels right, when it feels right, can be reason enough.
There is an obvious intimidation factor that carries with it. I'm a list-and-rules guy, so having no experience with comics is incredibly daunting insofar as my being unsure how to lay out the panels in a way that tells the story not only logically, but rhythmically as well. Still, it's a venture that I've chosen to explore. 

More Than

Illustration for PLANSPONSOR magazine

Illustration for PLANSPONSOR magazine

I’m almost forty years old, and whenever I feel less than, I call home.
I’ve been living in New York now for almost 9 years. 

How fast time has flown. 

I still remember the day I arrived, the moment I was on the highway entering Manhattan with only 2 suitcases. Although I did have more things, I shipped them to my good friend Yuko, who received them for me; they were 5 small boxes filled with books and (self) promotional postcards. 

My family and I moved to Canada when I was very young. We fled from Mozambique, Africa during the mid 1970s because of civil war. I have no memory of living there, but I imagine it was a beautiful place because Bob Dylan wrote a song about it,

“I like to spend some time in Mozambique
The sunny sky is aqua blue
And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek

And when it’s time for leaving Mozambique
Just say goodbye to sand and sea
You turn around to take a final peek
And you see why it’s so unique to be
Among the lovely people living free
Upon the beach of Mozambique.”
(Bob Dylan)

I don’t know when this song written, or what city in Mozambique Bob Dylan was writing about, but it must have been before the revolution because when we left, we never looked back. Most of my family’s possessions were taken from us, and when we finally arrived to Canada via Portugal, we had less than – much less than – almost nothing, if compared to what I have now.

When I was young, I used to be jealous of my friends. I remember going to their houses and seeing how much stuff they had. And then, when I went home, I was confused why we didn’t have those same things too.  I used to feel embarrassed about the house that I lived in, and the car that we didn’t own. I used to wish that things could be different; that we could have more than we did.

My mother and father would always acknowledge to my brother, sister and I, the things we didn’t have, but not in a forceful or negative way, rather they did it graciously because afterwards they would remind us about the importance of family, of having a home, and good health. As a child, I never engaged with these comments much – I didn’t understand, nor did I ever really appreciate their words. But nowadays, as I grow older I’m beginning to find meaning in them.

So much of my life has become wrapped around my career, my ego and my money; all the superficial things that make me feel important, that make me feel like a true New Yorker. Here, currency is currency, but so is knowledge, beauty, one’s social circle, awards, and one’s position in his/her industry. But when things don’t go as planned,  and when cracks begin to form, I call my parents; and then after a few minutes, my anxieties fall away. 

I called my parents today because I was feeling less than. At almost 40 years old, I still have financial woes, I have uncertainty about my career, and I continue to make what I feel are wrong decisions. I have a lot of questions to which I don’t know the answers, and so I call my family when these feelings arise not because I believe they can answer my questions, or solve my problems for me, but because I know they will remind me of our past, and bring into light those things in my life that will help me to feel more than.