I was inside Husky Stadium today, returning my wife’s cap, hood, and gown, so that the University of Washington wouldn’t charge her any more than the minimum $100 rental fee. She graduated with a doctorate that took eight years to earn, an accomplishment in which I naturally take a deal of pride. Next, she’s on to her postdoc. And so, as I signed the ledger for the return that some silly, barely pubescent undergrad presented me, I told him, “Yes, she’s a PhD,” and the words rang out with smug superiority under those cavernous bleachers. Then, turning, I stepped face-first into a pole! One of those enormous steel I-beams. And down to the ground I went! Oh, I got up quickly enough, brushed myself off, and answered that, yes, yes, I was certainly fine, and even ran back to the car to show what a hurry I was in and show how spry I was. And I suppose there’s a moral there about pride and condescension, but my head is still spinning, so I can’t quite think of it right now. I’ll lie down and see if it hits me.
Last night Boris discovered that he was lousy… How can one get lousy in a beautiful place like this?… We might never have known each other so intimately, Boris and I, had it not been for the lice. —from Tropic of Cancer, 1961, by Henry Miller
Before reading that page 1 paragraph, I had never before connected lousy with lice (perhaps owing to a privileged life led lice-free) and indeed had never before connected lice with the singular louse. A big thank you to Mr. Miller for clearing things up.
I saw a friend of mine today, Mike Oneppo, who works at FiftyThree, which is the company that created the Paper app, which is by far the most intuitive illustration app I have worked with, and which is what I’m using now to illustrate our new posts in Hirschworth.
Paper and other illustrative tablet and phone apps have completely transformed the illustration marketplace—I think very much for the better—in part by increasing the accessibility of digital illustration and in part by giving artists new tools.
When I first started illustrating semi-professionally, I was a teenager doing work in watercolors for Field & Stream Magazine and the L.L. Bean Hiking and Backpacking Handbook. This was the in the mid and late 90s, and hand-drawn illustrations for pretty much any kind of publication save children’s books were becoming less and less fashionable. Fluency with Adobe Illustrator was increasingly vital to getting work. I tried to figure out Illustrator but found the program illogical and slow and the experience extremely frustrating. Now, plenty of people are wizards with Illustrator and it’s a powerful program, but it was never going to be a good fit for me and so I pretty much gave up on digital illustration (and stopped getting illustration work, too). It seemed like artists who knew Illustrator were in their own little protected kingdom, safe and secure with their esoteric know-how, commissions, and paychecks. This was a crazy thing to have thought and rather unfair. The point is that I was jealous of them. Very jealous because one of my sources of income had dried up and I was left feeling inept.
Then, sometime not too awfully long ago, when Mike had moved back to Seattle and we had both become fathers, he started telling me about this free app he was working on with a big team of people. I went home, started playing with it, and became completely hooked. Paper is a marvelous way to illustrate. The layout makes sense. The tools you use are direct mimics of the tools you use in real (non-digital) life (scissors, pens, pencils, brushes, etc.) and they behave with each other to rather elegant effect. Add to this that the app is ever evolving, getting more and more sophisticated and more and more powerful (for example, the resolution of the images created is higher now than when I first started working with the program, and the magnify feature is a thousand times better), and the overall experience is delightful. I started illustrating a children’s book (not yet done) and pretty soon got work doing a piece for an article in Bright Ideas Magazine. I haven’t yet used Paper with the Stylus Pencil they created, nor have I have tried it out an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil, but I hope to soon. In the meantime, the results I can create with just a finger on an iPad 2 will turn up right here, every week, with every new post. I hope you enjoy them.
Eight years ago, Jim Harrison generously offered to meet me on the Missouri River. At the time, I was an assistant editor at Field & Stream Magazine, and I was sitting in my cubicle in our New York office with a telephone to my ear. Mr. Harrison was at his winter home in Arizona, I believe. He was writing a piece for the magazine, and by luck I got the job of clearing up a detail in the story because our publication deadline was nearing and the senior editor in charge of that piece was out for the day. I have no idea any more what that particular detail was, but I will always remember hearing Mr. Harrison’s measured, gravelly voice on the telephone and his willingness to let the conversation turn to fly fishing in Montana and comparing some of our favorite spots.
We didn’t speak long, and I never spoke to him again. It’s the same old story—I got busy. Busy leaving New York and finding new work in Seattle, busy getting married, busy becoming a father. Calling up to say, “Hey, remember that five-minute phone conversation we had back in ’08…” starts to feel increasingly absurd. Surely it would have been absurd, too, though I don’t think he would have minded in the least and I even like to imagine that he happily would have made the trip if he was able. He left that kind of impression on me.
But I am writing all of this really just to say that I am extremely sad that he has passed. He has been one of the biggest influences on my own writing since I first read Legends of the Fall as a teenager and then went on to devour a good number of his books, spacing them apart a bit because I don’t like the idea of running out of them, my rationale somewhat akin to that of a kid trying to make his Halloween candy last (a habit I also apply to the novels of Raymond Chandler, Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf among others). I think now I will go back to his catalogue and indulge my sweet tooth. His books are wonderful treats.