Archive for the ‘art’ Category

He went down to the racks, where they cross Lorain . . .  8" X 8" color woodcut from A Pocket Full of Change. 2015.

He went down to the racks, where they cross Lorain . . . 8″ X 8″ color woodcut from A Pocket Full of Change. 2015.

When my kids were little, their teachers celebrated One Hundred day—the 100th day of school each year. They marked the little scholastic holiday by bringing in 100 of something—100 pennies, 100 beads, 100 paper clips, 100 origami cranes, 100 marbles, 100 cookies. The idea was to give the kids a connection to the abstract figure, to give them a visceral sense of what that order of magnitude was. It’s easy to lose track of what big numbers mean if you haven’t actually seen what they represent.

I dive deep into the numbers in the hours I spend standing at a printing press, making the pictures that fill my books. In my new project, a wood block and letterpress book called A Pocket Full of Change, there are 20 pictures made with no fewer than 100 wood blocks, plus 33 additional blocks of magnesium, linoleum, and brass tool, all registered into colorful scenes. The book comes out this week, Friday night at Tregoning and Company.

One block for the sky

One block for the sky

I’ve been printing this book for about 3 years, one block, one color at a time. Let’s just say I know what 100 is. I know what 1,000 is. Indeed, I know what 10,000 is. Printing all those blocks, plus the pages of text, I figure I’ve cranked the Vandercook proofing presses at Zygote Press and the Morgan Conservatory more than 18,000 times.

The words that occur to me as I make each picture is that they are “built,” or “constructed.” One block for the sky. One block for One block for the clouds. One block for the pavement. One block for the light shining down. It goes on like that, until the whole picture comes together. There’s a moment of suspense, printing the black block over the top of the whole thing, hoping everything is properly aligned.

One block for the pavement, another for the clouds . . .

One block for the pavement, another for the clouds . . .

It’s all been a drum roll leading up to this Friday, when we open the doors and I let people see the finished book for the first time: 20 pictures telling the story of a boy who goes out on his bicycle and puts all the money in his pocket on railroad tracks to be run over by trains.

Jake took his bike

and a pocket full of change

and he pedaled down the block

til he was out of shouting range.

Come out and see it, bring the kids, and be sure to say hello. I’ll be at the opening from 6 to 9 pm. Tregoning & Co. is at 1300 West 78th Street, in the 78th Street Studios art complex in Cleveland.

Here it is on Facebook. See you there!


One block for the sun shining down . . .

One block for the sun shining down . . .

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IMG_20141122_214232Sometimes you need a change of context to continue evolving: different scenery, ideas, tools, or language, or all of the above. I got a big dose of all that printing at the Grafikwerkstatt in Dresden, Germany. The result was two print projects unlike any I had ever undertaken before.  The Grafikwerkstatt lithographer Peter Stefan got to the crux of one key change when he noticed that I was printing the chaotic marks of a cutting board.

“These are marks from life,” he said. “Not about life, but made from life.”

That captured not only a critical aspect of this collection of poems, 2014-10-14 12.01.22Elementary Science, but also a moment of printmaking evolution for me: This is not a children’s book. The fine lines of my Exacto knife weren’t descriptive of anything, weren’t an illustration or any kind of picture, but graphic material made in the process of life: the lines of a cutting board, printed as the pale green background for a book about living and dying.

It took two presses to make this book: a Karl Krause relief press for the wood blocks, and a small hand press for the movable type.

I wrote the poems in Elementary Science years ago, in 2007–a memorial to a dear friend who died too soon. David Cornicelli passed away in 1999, 15 years ago this December. He remains a formative person in my life, and the lives of several friends. 2014-10-16 13.17.11

The poems are built upon the classical elements – Fire, Earth, Air, and Water– and deal with things that mattered to us. Anyone who knew David, and especially anyone who knew the two of us together, likely knows we spent a lot of time contemplating fires. Our friends also know that we once helped to recycle a stone barn and used the rocks to build a passive solar heated extension to a centuries-old manor house, Caer Llan, in Wales. Relevant to that, we shared an appreciation for labor, and the life of cities. Our closest friends knew that I learned to play music with him, 2014-10-16 13.09.06 and the best of times for us involved loud and shameless improvisation, mostly in basements and attics. And finally, that we shared an understanding of natural life cycles, especially watersheds. Riding on those ideas, these poems are about they way life consumes itself on the way to death: Fire, earth, air, water: fate and inevitability, the most glorious and saddest of truths.

David would have appreciated that this was printed during a residency in Germany. He would have appreciated many of the same things about the city of Dresden as me—its age, its history through the twentieth century, from the World Wars to the fall of Communism, to the resurgence and the confluence of cultures going on there now. IMG_20141021_144610

He’d also appreciate this: I made just 20 copies of this book, most of which I will give to our friends. One, though, I will metaphorically deliver to him in the same way his body returned to dust. One day when the time is right and the right friends are gathered, I’m going to pass this on to him by throwing one of the twenty copies into a fire. To David. Delivered by fire. Somewhere in Ohio.


























































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Dresden Palimpsesto

Dresden Palimpsesto

The narrow, cobbled streets of this 200 year-old neighborhood, Dresden’s  Neustadt, or New Town, are lined with 4-story buildings, and for block after block, the first six feet up from street level are covered with graffiti. Mercilessly, exuberantly, covered with painted words and graphics of all kinds: a generous dose of hip hop, inevitably. And the scrawl of grass-roots politiking: the polyglot voice of discontent, of young egos. And–soaring above the visual din, murals–monsters and skeletons and human figures, realistic and surreally distorted. Sometimes they reach 30 and 40 feet high.

Love, American Style

Love, American Style

Every one of these veins of street art is interesting in its own way. All together, they project pure energy. The urgency to make a mark, to take ownership, to communicate. Ideas about private property are especially provocative in this formerly communist place, long run-down, now percolating—boiling, it seems to me–with twin spirits of entrepreneurship and something US politics shies away from by comparison, the collective effort to build a better place.

Friday, October 3, is German Unity Day—a national holiday celebrating the official reunification of Germany 24 years ago. To my eyes and ears and all my senses, really, Dresden is defined by the energy of reunification, and rebuilding. Graffiti is just one of the release valves.

Just like home.

Just like home.

Consider the hip hop style pieces and tags. To an awful lot of people, and perhaps especially Americans, this is what graffiti is. But here it is just one particular brand, one specific thread in the rope. Viewed through the lens of east and west, of capitalism vs. communism or socialism, it’s a grass roots embrace of western culture, the flattery of imitation applied to that American street style, one of our most easily recognized cultural exports. Eye candy. It’s a bit like seeing McDonalds, or a Subway, both of which are present here, even if only a little. Hip hop style shows up as part of the chorus everywhere graffiti can be found–but it’s just one of the voices. In this context I appreciate it mostly as part of the palimpsesto–one layer in the whole, screaming chorus of color and activity.

In Dresden's so-called "Bermuda Triangle"--an intersection here young people gather every night--the flavor goes on and on.

In Dresden’s so-called “Bermuda Triangle”–an intersection here young people gather every night–the flavor goes on and on.

As far as individual marks go, I’m personally more intrigued by written messages painted around town, in at least three languages.

"It's hardt to see racism when you're."

“It’s hardt to see racism when you’re.”

I see plenty of English with the German, including many lines written by people painting in what seems (by its syntax) to be a second language. “It’s hardt [sic] to see racism when you’re,” for example. Indeed: When you are racist, it is difficult to see racism. And indeed, someone wrote in a correction to the spelling of “hard.”

The linguistic mix includes a bit of Spanish, some even with Mexican (not continental European) sympathies, such as the mark of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional, (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), of Chiapas. Remember Subcomandante Marcos?

EZLN, The Star of Humanity

EZLN, The Star of Humanity

Some of the same unwritten rules clearly apply to graffiti here as in the US, and everywhere I’ve looked for the writing on the wall.  The baroque neighborhood surrounding the Frauenkirche (The Church of Our Lady, its familiar domed version completed in 1743)  is immaculate. The Frauenkirche and the palatial Zwinger complex of museums have been rebuilt stone by stone since demolition by allied bombing in 1945. And everyone knows you don’t tag a church.

Dresden also has places as ruined as Cleveland’s storied “Fun Wall,” where writers paint with impunity, accumulating layer on layer of paint. Dresden has its direct parallel, not far from the Elbe River, about halfway between Neustadt and Blasewitz, an overgrown ruin of a building covered in hip hop pieces.  Whoever owns these walls seems to have no plans, except perhaps to sell when the right bidder comes along with a new construction project. Until then, it’s just canvas made of brick.

In the Neustadt, though, Graffiti is not only everywhere, but it is all over buildings that are actively being used. Not long ago, this neighborhood was losing people, except for squatters.  Now people, own these buildings, run businesses in their storefronts, and live in their apartments. Despite the objections, it seems to me the energy reflected in the graffiti is part of what has drawn people again. People like to be near creative energy. The artists, as we know in Cleveland, bring it.  Of course not everyone sees it that way. One landlord conceived a can’t beat-em-join-em kind of solution, painting the entire first floor of a building on Boemischer Strasse with black chalkboard paint. It’s covered in chalk graffiti. And of course, just above the chalkboard, someone sprayed a tag.

Chalk Fest

Chalk Fest

Once in a while, though, you turn a corner and see something that distinguishes itself: a work of art that’s neither graphic treatment of a made-up name, nor political branding, just images, figures, scenes along the street, available to everyone, all day, every day. Folks who have appreciated the Zoetic Walls project in Collinwood will appreciate such pieces.  It’s commonly said that street art loses something when it is done with permission, which some of these clearly have. I’d have to say that very much depends on the nature of the street art. When I roll around here on my bicycle, taking it all in, I just don’t care.2014-10-03 09.22.34

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Off Martin Lutherplatz

Off Martin Lutherplatz

2014-10-03 09.21.25

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

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My bikefor a month: The Checker Pig, in front of the Hotel Raskolnikoff.

My bike, for a month: The Checker Pig, in front of the Hotel Raskolnikoff. It’s the one on the right.

By the grace of Zygote Press, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Grafikwerkstatt, I find myself in Dresden. Located in the former GDR, along the Elbe river between Berlin and Prague, Dresden is a city of a little more than half a million people, thriving in Germany’s post-soviet reunification, with businesses filling the shops and enough government involvement to keep it all running beautifully—at least it seems that way to me. But I’m getting off track. I’ve got five weeks here to carve wood blocks, set type, and make prints. And right now I want to talk about the acquisition of a bicycle.

Dresden is a terrific cycling town. Bikes don’t quite rule the streets: that honor must go to the excellent municipal tram system. But there are an awful lot of bicycles rolling all over the place, and plenty of shops. You see people of all ages, and bicycles of all kinds. That phrase used by American bicycle advocates—”we’re not holding up traffic, we are traffic”—seems completely unnecessary here. No one honks at cyclists.

The day we arrived, jet lagged and exhausted after about 35 hours traveling (curse the layovers), we walked around the early 19th century Neustadt, or “new town.” This is the neighborhood left standing after the war, a tight cluster of 4-story buildings with first floor shops, lining narrow, cobbled streets, all run down during the Soviet era, but still standing, then taken over by young people, including lots of squatters and entrepreneurs. As we passed one of them on the day we arrived, a city official giving a tour pointed out a shop where I could buy a used bike and sell it back at the end of my stay. Sounds good. I figured a city bike or a mountain bike—something with slightly fat tires to manage the cobbled streets and tram tracks.

I’ll spare you the details of prices, of second hand shops, co-ops, and rental shops, of stores closed on Wednesdays, or in the middle of the afternoon, of which take credit cards and which would not.

The long and short of it is that after two days that included all of the above, I went—still bike-less– to hang an exhibit of my prints with three other resident artists—Ellen Price from the US, Anna Garberg from Sweden, an Nicolas Sphicas from Greece. The show is in an old firehouse converted to a gallery, the Alte Feuerwache Gallery, in a slightly swanky

The Alte Feuerwache Gallery, at Fidelio F. Finke Strasse Number 4, which the Endomondo sports tracker tells me is just under 5 miles from the Hotel Raskolnikoff.

The Alte Feuerwache Gallery, at Fidelio F. Finke Strasse Number 4, which the Endomondo sports tracker tells me is just under 5 miles from the Hotel Raskolnikoff.

neighborhood called Loschwitz. And as I described my adventures to the gallery manager Hans-Peter, he said “I’ve got a bike back in the shed. Why don’t you just take that?”

Sheds the world over have the same musty smell, and the same kind of chronologically layered organization. For a person who cares very much about bicycles to be confronted with that smell and that style of organization at the hand of a generous person attempting to help out a visiting artist, the situation is precarious, indeed. “What, exactly, might I get myself into behind that wooden door,” I said to myself. This could be absolutely any kind of bicycle, in any condition, I knew. But one doesn’t want to reject hospitality. One wants to move gracefully around a foreign city.

In fact there were two bikes back in the shed—a rickety old three speed, and a very hot, full suspension mountain bike outfitted with Shimano Deore components: The Checker Pig 6000. Full suspension is not my style, but with everything tight, lightweight, and built for high performance, I felt like a very lucky man. “It was left to us by a lawyer who was moving away,” said Hans-Peter. “Take it.” So I did.

We put some pressure in the tires. I adjusted the seat. And Dresden was open to me in a whole new way. The trams are magnificent, miraculous, even, to a Clevelander. But on a bicycle I am faster. I don’t have to wait, or to change lines, or to walk to and from stops. Today, a beautiful, sunny Saturday, I pedaled the excellent bicycle trail along the Elbe River, which goes to Berlin and beyond in one direction, to Prague and more in the other. I didn’t go quite that far. I rode about 40 kilometers round trip, dallying for beer in a town called Heidenau. I don’t really know my way around Dresden yet, beyond the gallery, the Grafikwerkstatt print shop, and the Neustadt, where we’re staying at the Raskolnikoff Hotel. I get lost sometimes, but it doesn’t matter. I find my way. It’s perfectly comfortable mingling with the cars and the tram. I’ve got a bike now, and I am traffic.

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One sheet of paper, one little letterpress book

It’s not magical: It’s just elegant. The single sheet book form is old-school simplicity. One sheet of paper printed on one side, cut and folded to make a little 8-page booklet with no glue or stitching.

It’s a great form to photocopy, or to make a PDF so that anyone anywhere can print it out and make their own, as the folks at Printeresting are doing with their Rum Riot Press exhibit. 

But all that elegance is made richer if you make the book with a letterpress machine.

And as it happens,  next month I’m teaching an introductory letterpress class at Zygote which will show you not only the basics of movable type and printing on the Vandercook Proofing Press, but also how to make these little books.


If you’re curious about letterpress, you should take this class. If you know a bit about letterpress and would like to see some innovation re: laying out forms in the press bed, you should take this class. You can sign up here.

We’ll use a custom chase, which simplifies what could be a complicated layout by giving you little windows in which to organize your words and pictures.

As you can imagine, this little booklet is a beautiful way to lay out a sentence you love, or a few lines of poetry, or a short comic, or whatever you can fit into 8 small pages. My plan for my class project this time is to lay out simple statement that gives this blog its name: A bicycle . . . is a gyroscope . . . that takes you places. Hope to see you at Zygote Press!



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Yeah, I’m down with OPB. Other People’s Blogs, that is.

I’m generally wary of compliments from people I don’t know, especially in the blog-o-sphere. So much of what so many bloggers have to say to each other feels more about self promotion than sincerity. But after a bit of clicking around, I’m proud to have been tapped by Portland print maker and blogger Drew Kail for the “One Lovely Blog” award.

There are two reasons: One is that Drew’s relief prints are teriffic, especially in the way they play with the transition of positive and negative, each taking turns carrying the information of an image. That’s the stuff of print-making. My own work is significantly dependent on color, and I truly admire folks like Dru (and like my friend Claudio Orso) who do it all in black and white. So thanks Drew: even though we’ve never met, and I hadn’t run across your work before, it means something to me to hear from someone with your skill.

The other reason: I clicked through the list of fifteen blogs Dru follows–the listing of which is part of passing on the word of “one lovely blog”–, and they are generally teriffic–relevant to art and fine writing. He clearly had found stuff that makes sense, and which coheres.

As that particular requirement to forward a list of blogs might lead you to believe, the “One Lovely Blog”  award is indeed built for promotion. The rules:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link.

2. Name 7 random things about yourself.

3. Pass the recognition to 15 blogs you enjoy and let them know.

I’ve already taken care of that first rule, and I hope the mandate doesn’t undercut the sincerity of my gratitude. It’s not just checking off an item on a to-do list to say “thanks” in this case.

As for that second rule:

1) I’ve just returned from a long weekend of bicycle camping on Kelly’s Island with my lovely wife and two kids.

2) I’m searching for a good set of Maillard 700 high flange hubs and a few other select parts to help me complete the restoration of my old Peugeot racing bike, which I sold more than 25 years ago and recently (at least two owners down the line) bought back

3) I’ve been about 2/3 finished tuck pointing the front of my 102 year-old house for about 10 years.

4) The first fish I ever caught was a 10″ small mouth bass. I caught it with a line tied to a clothespin, sitting in a rowboat with my uncle and grandfather.

5) I never had pets as a kid.

6) I’m constantly trying to figure out what to do next.

7) I invented the Water Moose Portable Sprinkler Park, which converts a fire hydrant into a water wonderland. Behold:

That final requirement of the Lovely Blog Award–posting links to fifteen blogs a person follows and admires– is no small thing. You’ve got to work to be able to comply with this rules. You can’t be one of those bloggers who’s all about “me.” You’ve got to follow other people who have something to say. Following 15 blogs isn’t as time consuming as following 15 newspapers, but it does take a bit of prowling.

Fortunately, we only go back to the blogs we like. The blogs that I pay attention to generally fall into three categories: They have to do with bicycles, art (especially printmaking), and urban-ism, especially in Cleveland. So  Here’s my list.


Old Ten Speed Gallery is exactly that, a portrait gallery of old bikes from the era when they used to call them “ten-speeds.”

The blog at Momentum (a cycling magazine). Momentum is an asset when you ride a bike. When we ride bikes, we guard our momentum like diamonds. That’s why so many of us run red lights.

Bikesnobnyc:  How he maintains his daily pace of snobbery is a marvel.

Urbanvelo. Years ago, when I fell in love with bikes, it was a sporting, recreational thing. These days, people ride bikes in the city, and it’s largely about transportation, style, and culture. The blog at Urban Velo steadily grazes on cycling news around the internet and comes up with plenty of images, video, and cultural notes, in addition to the product reviews which do not interest me at all. They picked up the story of my old French bike once.


Some bloggers are good at simply showing you what they’ve been up to. It’s a kind of conversational fluency that Hooksmith has in abundance. Plus, it’s great to find other people worldwide who deal with the peculiarities of obsolete printing equipment, such as Vandercook presses.

Speaking of Vandercook presses, the Vanderblog has great information about maintaining them, troubleshooting, presses for sale, etc.

Printmaker Alex Gillies keeps a diary of his wood block adventures in a blog called Against The Wood Grain. He’s got a great style, and he’s happy to take on projects with unconventional printing surfaces, such as a solid body guitar, or a skate deck.

Letterpress printer Larry Thompson blogs about the the kind of thing letterpress printers deal with as they use and restore old equipment. His Greyweathers Press seems to have produced several beautiful books, setting –among other things–great examples of English poetry in editions worthy of the words. Take for example this edition of William Wordsworth’s Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey. 

Woodblock printer Matt Brown tracks his adventures on the Ooloo Press blog. He does color wood block prints, as I do, with different blocks for each color, but his are a bit more nuanced, and he practices Japanese Hanga tradition, instead of using a letterpress.

Karen Sandstrom’s blog Pen In Hand is about drawing, and much more than that. It’s about going into a second career, becoming an artist. After a first career writing about the arts at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, she went back to school–to art school, no less–and launched a second career as an illustrator. So you know, if you’ve worked at newspapers all your life and are wondering what to do next now that the industry is in the tank, this is frequently inspiring. And nice to look at, too.

It’s almost like cheating to plug printeresting under circumstances like this: It’s a steadily robust gush of great print material related to printed matter of all kinds. Broadly read. Fueled by half a dozen regular contributors.  And they’ve got this great how-to zine project going on–for Printeresting’s Rum Riot Press exhibit, they’ve asked a dozen artists to make simple how-to zines in that cool, single sheet book format. Check it out!

Heavy Metal Press Co.’s blog is essentially promotion for that shop, but the photo documentation of the jobs they take on shows they are truly ambitious and have serious capacity to register, deeply emboss, and other feats that make letterpress printing look luxurious, and they are not afraid of a complex job.



The blog 100 days in Cleveland ended with the publication of a calendar (which has the same name as the blog) and a book (called New To Cleveland: A Guide to (re)Discovering the City) with writer Justin Glanville. Even though the hundred days are up, it’s still worth a look back at illustrator Julia Kuo’s affectionate renderings of the everyday details of the city.

Rustwire.com is Angie Schmidt’s blog about rust belt cities admires the innovation and pans the stagnation that’s common in old industrial cities like Cleveland.  In this post, Cleveland City Hall’s Poverty of Ambition, she takes on Cleveland’s response to bicycle advocates who wish the city were moving faster to accommodate the more energy efficient mode of transport.

I met Erin O’Brien through an old newspaper job, where her column “Rainy Day Woman” held forth on subjects diverse as internet porn and a family recipe for a Hungarian cucumber salad.  Her Blog, The Erin O’Brien Owner’s Manual for Human Beings, is at least as diverse as that–a constant supply of domestic bliss and deep Cleveland culture, from the food to the way people talk.

If you care very much about cities, odds are you’ve run across James Howard Kunstler’s high energy sarcasm, either in his books or in his blog “clusterfuck nation.”  My first encounter with Kunstler was his book The Geography of Nowhere, which makes its way through the history and illogic of urban and suburban development in the US. It’s nowhere near as nice or hopeful as Jane Jacobs, even if he did follow up with a book called “Home from Nowhere.” But Kunstler is just plain fun to read, and the vast majority of the time, even if he’s not offering solutions, I find myself cheering him on. In addition to his main blog, you’ll also find his “eyesore of the month” there–a photographic celebration of just about all the crappy things we Americans have done to the American landscape.


Well there you have it.

What are you reading these days?

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I got a great deal on some particle board the other day.

A few months had gone by since I finished my last binge of a letterpress project, so I figured it was time to start working on a new one: another children’s book, printed with wood blocks and movable type.

Jacob and the Djembe Rocket is a classic odyssey, a trip to the stars and back. It’s the story of a boy at a drum circle who is surprised when, by the force of rhythm blasting out the back of his djembe rocket – he takes off into the sky and finds himself soaring above his town, eventually touring the constellations. Then, when he comes back and tells the drum circle beaters where he’s been, no one believes him—even though they saw it with their own eyes.

The print and the plate

One day Jacob was at the drum circle, pounding along with the big kids. The bonfire burned, and the air shook with sound, and except for the moon and stars, the sky was just about as dark as it gets.

Jacob had a new djembe. Just got it the other day. And so he came to play.” 

Along the way there are references to principles of physics, and to the classic children’s story Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. It’s mostly un-metered, but it falls into 12/8 time for a refrain of vocalized rhythm that ought to be fun to read with kids:

With four of eight blocks printed

Ba dukka ba dukka ba dukka ba TAH

Ba dukka ba dukka ba dukka ba TEK 

As this description makes clear, the story is already written, and in fact it has been complete except for tweaking a word here and there, for a couple of years. What I mean by ‘start working” on Jacob and the Djembe Rocket is to start making of the wood block pictures, and printing them. Which for me are one in the same process. The pictures don’t exist in any form until the blocks are carved and printed together.

The particle board isn’t for carving the pictures, but as a base for the carved block. They have to be the same height as Foundry type, which is a very precise nine hundred eighteen thousandths of an inch high. Most of my letterpressing friends probably know already that if if you glue some quarter-inch Shina to some five-eighths particle board, and add a couple sheets of paper beneath it on the press bed, that gets you pretty close. The Home Depot doesn’t carry five-eighths particle board, but Loews does.

“He knelt over the top of it, like on horseback, and he continued to pound out beats.”

It takes eight blocks to make this picture. I’m telling myself right now that most of these pictures will not be that complicated. Most will not have both glowing fires and moons. Still, this book will certainly take well over 100 blocks to make the pictures. I’m printing them one by one. Before I finish this post, I will have one picture complete, and a story ready to go, and this big stack of particle board and Shina plywood waiting for me to draw the rest. I’ll be at this for years.

And so it begins.

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