Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory

I found a quote on my Good Earth tea tag:  “Life isn’t about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.”  It didn’t say exactly how.  Nevertheless, I pasted it on the front page of my latest journal. 
My journal is my constant companion and often it props me up when I’m sagging with fatigue.  Little quotes like that keep me going.  Since I sometimes write and draw in my journal at coffee shops or in the park, I often get comments from people who pass by.  They often say some variation of I wish I had time and the talent to draw. 
I try to tell them you don’t have to have talent (I don’t), but you need to make time.  Everyone claims to be busy, and I don’t doubt that.  I’ve been recommending Danny Gregory’s book Everyday Matters since it was published in 2003, because it’s a compelling illustrated memoir, and it’s also a story about how to make time for art in your life.  How to create yourself by observing the world around you, drawing what you see, and writing about it. 
Now I have another Danny Gregory book to recommend:  Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to Be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are (Chronicle Books, 2015).
He says:  “Art will make your life richer and more fun and better, and cooler, and less stressed…Art stops time.  When you draw or paint what’s around you, you see it for what it is. Instead of living in a virtual world, as we do most of the time these days, you will be present in the real one.  Instead of focusing on all the things whirring in your head, you will be able to stop, clear your mind, take a deep breath, and just be.  You don’t need a mantra or guru.  Or an app.  Just a pen.”

I’ve always kept a journal, but not every day and often I got rid of my journals.  When I started purposefully doodling, adding a visual element to my journals, it made me treasure my journals more.  It also took away the fear of despoiling a beautiful blank book.  Once I started drawing, doing some calligraphy and colorful front pages in the journal, I wanted to work in it, and I wanted to go back and see what I’d drawn and written.  It’s not great work, but it’s mine.  A celebration of the ups and downs of my life.  It helped me through the years when I had a mystery neurological disorder – drawing pictures of the spine, drawing a network of nerves in a simple gingerbread type figure, doing self portraits – it took the sting out of life.  It made me appreciate the details. It made me grateful for what is around me.
Art Before Breakfast is a playful and accessible book.  It stops time – and it makes you aware of all the time you do have.  We make time for all sorts of things in life.  If we elevate our own creative needs to the level of say, washing the dishes, then we create the time we need.  Keeping a little book to draw and write in close by makes it easy to take the few minutes you need to create and center yourself.
If you think you’re too busy to make art, then by all means, make art.

First, redefine what you think of as art.  It’s within you, truly.

This is not a typical book that emphasizes a certain technique or mastery, it’s a book that gives you permission to ignore all rules and just play:

Don’t let your brain stop you from drawing.

As for making time, develop an art addiction and take art breaks just like smokers make time for smoke breaks (and if you smoke, take your journal with you

When you were a child, you drew with abandon.  Find a kid to teach you abandon again.  Tell your story in your own unique and beautiful way
If you’re afraid to draw a picture, practice calligraphy and writing in cursive.  Develop your own font.
Gregory has written and edited several books to encourage the artist in us all.  In the book An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers, How Books, 2008, he says, “Illustrated journaling has transformed my life and given me the clearest form of identity I’ve ever had.”
Can an art journal really do that?  Everyday Matters was a memoir that told how it happened.  In that book, he encourages illustrated journaling but also tells the story of how he came to accept his life after his beloved wife became paraplegic  after a subway accident.  The story unfolds in the drawings and his writings.  
In it, he explains there is ALWAYS something to draw
Years later, his illustrated journals kept him afloat while grieving for the loss of his wife in the stunning and profound A Kiss Before You Go, which I reviewed here and I encourage you to read.  It helped me understand more about grief and how to honor it. 
If you haven’t started drawing or keeping a journal, I urge you to read Art Before Breakfast.  It’s an invitation to make your world more vivid, playful and beautiful.  The instructions will lead you to judge yourself less harshly and celebrate your unique style and story. 
I’m much more likely to draw the empty plate after I’ve eaten
Writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau said, “After the writer’s death, reading his journal is like receiving a long letter.”  There are so many of my ancestors I would have loved to get a letter from.  Don’t let your life slip by, or wind up being a pristine blank book.  Encourage yourself and start to draw.  Create yourself.  Let Art Before Breakfast nourish the urge to leave your mark in the world, if not for your heirs, then for yourself.  It’s a gift you can give yourself that will reveal the treasure all around you.
You can find out more about Danny Gregory at  He’s got lots of encouraging articles and has a presence on both Facebook and Twitter.  Get to know his work, then get drawing.  
Thanks for visiting my blog.  If you’d like, leave a comment.

I’m linking this post to Paint Party Friday.  Click the link and find a whole list of artist who are living creatively and have made art a part of their lives.  

A sequel, some links and lots of perspective

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I’ve got a little hodge podge of reviews and links for you today:

Nita and friends
First, let me introduce my guest book reviewer for today. Juanita Laush is my 89 year old neighbor in the Bridge Meadows Community, a community in North Portland, Oregon, set up to serve the needs of families adopting 3 or more children out of the foster care system.  We are both part of the elder housing and serve as sort of surrogate grandparents and mentors for the 25 children that live here. 
Juanita is a vibrant member of our community and an inspiration to us all.  She is a poet and writer who has served with the Willamette Writers organization.  She has been a community activist and supporter of the arts all her life. 
I asked her to review this book because of her poetic nature but also because I believe literature written for young people can resonate with all ages.  One of the things we have discovered among our elders here is that the puzzles of childhood are still fresh in everyone’s minds and heart.  I think reading about children helps us revisit our young selves and gives great opportunity for growth, even as we enter our twilight years.  Both Juanita and I loved Summer of the Mariposasby Guadalupe Garcia McCall. 
I was resistant to the idea of a novel told in poetry, but found under the mesquite immediately compelling.  It is lyrical but plotted and unfolds like a great story.  The depth of feeling expressed is subtle and rooted in love of family.  Even as Lupita’s mother gets increasingly sick and the inevitable takes place, there is a place for hope and for family unity in this lovely story.
Here, then,  is Juanita’s review of under the mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. 
Mesquite:  a sturdy tree or shrub with sweet bean like pods, sharp thorns and extraordinarily long roots, native to the southwestern United State and northern Mexico.”
          From the beginning of Guadalupe Garcia McCalls’s book under the mesquite, (2011, Lee & Low Books) I wanted to join her.  The poetry of McCall’s writing about 15 year-old Lupita let me word by word.  Imagine, an entire novel composed in poetry!  The weight of her words flowed lightly like the laughing waters of the Rio Grande near her Texas home.
          I stopped expecting paragraphs and fell into the rhythm of her simple poetry.  Her big family with its mix of Spanish and English languages, cultures, and food recalls for me the memories of the smells of warm tortillas and simmering pinto beans.  The account of the morning murmur of conversations from the kitchen startles me with sensations of the summers I spent in Mesquite, New Mexico, which began in my 15thyear.
          There was a tall cottonwood tree a short walk from my father’s small adobe house on the outskirts of the tiny town.  While the children of his new family napped, I escaped the heat under the shade of the tree.
          Lupita’s story as eldest of seven children, tells of responsibilities heaped upon her by her mother’s illness, compelling her to put her dreams on hold.  She and the tiny twig of mesquite grow together until she finds comfort in the shade of its branches as she pours her feelings into a notebook there.  The writing reveals her curiosity, her mother’s wisdom and love.
          Lupita juggles her life between two countries and cultures on the border between northern Mexico and southern Texas.  When loneliness for their Mexican familia compels, her family visits relatives in Mexico.
          under the mesquite speaks to all ages and especially to immigrants courageous enough to seek better lives in another place.  A great book for teens and parents to read and share.
          –Juanita Laush
Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to the American Public Radio show On Being with Krista Tippet.  I hadn’t listened to it for a long time, so I’m really glad I have good friends looking out for me.  This last show was on a storyteller and writer I’d never heard of, Kevin Kling, and I immediately became enchanted with him and his way of telling and creating stories.  

“The Losses and Laughter We Grow Into

Kevin Kling is part funny guy, part poet and playwright, part wise man. Born with a disabled left arm, he lost the use of his right one after a motorcycle accident nearly killed him. He shares his special angle on life’s humor and its ruptures — and why we turn loss into story.”

I don’t want to sound melodramatic here, but I think this interview and listening to his stories changed the way I think about my own stories.  
I have long taught and practiced the art of “change your story, change your life.”  In retelling my own story to myself, I have come to appreciate the value of having a disability and growing up in a fractured family.  Still, I often get bogged down in my need to tell stories with light at their center, and my need to report the facts, which are more like dark matter, bleak suck-holes that silence me.
Last week I put aside a bleak story I was trying to lighten, and tried not to think about it. But then this interview came into my life and I’m once again encouraged about my own dark matter and the whole concept of not having to fix it, only to tell a story that lets me sleep at night. 
Deep thoughts are here in this interview, as well as the humor that helps us cope with what we lose and how we change, grow and resurrect ourselves.  I actually am a bit alarmed that I never heard of the guy before, but I do believe a proper mentor comes along when you can see him or her most clearly and maybe that’s why I heard of him now.  I’ve got his books on hold at the library and look forward to learning more from this fascinating and joyful man.
Let me know what you think.  Listen here:
Also, I want to mention Danny Gregory’s blog again.  I reviewed his book A Kiss Before You Go some weeks ago on this blog, and talked about how his books helped me create new ways of interpreting life.  His new anthology “An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration From the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers,” is a total delight and gives a lot of insight into how we can make art a part of our everyday life, even if we are only traveling through our own small neighborhoods, even if we don’t draw so well.  Of course, this book goes wonderful exotic places and we get the pleasure of seeing those places interpreted by a variety of talented artists.  From tightly rendered representations to scribbly and washy impressions, this book makes one want to put aside the camera, slow down, and really look at what we’re seeing.  His blog is featuring interviews with contributors to the book, plus posts from his own travel adventures.  Be sure to scroll through the blog and find the wealth of inspiration that he has posted.  
Then go out and draw something!  Everybody had to start somewhere and nobody ever really masters drawing. Have fun with it!  It’s your life — make your mark.
a sloppy but fun journal entry inspired by an artist in Gregory’s book an Illustrated Life,

Book Review: A Kiss Before You Go

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I can’t remember how I stumbled upon Danny Gregory’s book Everyday Matters.  It was around 2005, I was about 45.  I had just separated from my husband, my kids were grown.  I was living off disability in a room I rented from my best friend.  I was floundering around with my identity and searching for meaning in my life and desperately looking for inspiration.
Everyday Matterswas a simple, beautiful gift.  It’s essentially a guide to keeping an illustrated journal, and why that’s important, why everyday of your life matters and is worth recording.  It was an unusual kind of book for me because it emphasized drawing over writing.  It was filled images and reflections on the mundane and the sublime.  It was a record of healing, but there wasn’t some great transformation into an idealized picture of robust life.  Instead it showed life with its scars and pockmarks and all its homely color..
Of Everyday Matters, Gregory said:  “Two years before I started drawing, my wife was run over by a subway train. Sounds really terrible, I know. But, well, this book is about how art and New York City saved my life.”  His beloved wife, Patti, recovered, but had paraplegia and had to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life.  Gregory began to draw and keep a journal of their transition into their new life.  In learning to draw, he learned to see more vividly.  In learning to see more vividly, he reclaimed his sense of wonder.  And then he shared it.
Everyday Mattersimmediately went on my antidepressant book shelf, as well as my inspiration shelf.  I was tenuously starting to keep journals again but they were clogged with confusion, pain and exhaustion.  After reading Everyday Matters, I let myself be distracted from my inner turmoil by objects around the house, by plants and faces.  I let a life long habit of doodling become an obsession.  If I felt myself spiraling into self destructive writing, I drew instead.  I did lots of terrible little drawings.  And I enjoyed it.
I blame Danny Gregory for turning my compulsion to keep a journal into an addiction.  I gave copies of his book to many friends.  He then published The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission To Be The Artist You Truly Are and An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers, both of which I revisit on a regular basis to keep my creative juices flowing.  I love his advice on better living through bad drawings.  His books are especially helpful after you see work that especially blows you away and you feel like a fraud for scribbling inanely on paper.  Gregory re-opens your eyes to your own unique vision and potential.
His latest book, published only a few months ago, is called A Kiss Before You Go: an Illustrated Memoir of Love and Loss.  This is the journal of his first year after his beloved Patti died.  It was a sudden death, the result of a fall.  It’s a poignant and unflinching look at grief.  

He said, “Patti and I shared so much over the twenty-four years we were together: her paraplegia, raising our son, lots of adventure, laughs, and love. When she died in a horrible accident, I had to face a completely new life and approach it day by day.  A Kiss Before You Go is an illustrated record of our years together and my first year alone. It covers sad events but ultimately it’s a book about loving and living, about beauty in its many shades.”

This is one of the most honest and immediate books on the grieving process I’ve read. There is almost an imperative in society to get over it but this journal instead honors the loss and is honest about the painful process of getting one’s balance back.  There is uplift, but there is a profound respect for the way grief reshapes us and hones our perspective. 
The illustrations are stunning.  As in his other books, the story is handwritten.  Gregory often uses a dip pen and the entries are published as they are written.  The written words are art.  There is a haunting page where he is writing in white ink on a blue background about the day of Patti’s death.  The nib of the pen seems to have split halfway through the entry, or is he retracing every word.  The letters and words seem to be falling apart, or like they have ghosts.  The entry ends with “Nothing seems real.”   
He paints an interpretation of Hokusai’s classic  the Great Wave with a hand form reaching out of the water in the undertow.  It’s a powerful rendering of the way grief comes in waves and “flattens” you.   
The drawings of his son and their dogs crackle with love and energy.
But this book doesn’t flatten you.  The honesty of it is refreshing and the beauty of life is evident on every page.   
Gregory addresses the ambivalence we have when spirits seem to visit us in dreams and in strange coincidences. There are funny moments, like when he spends time with a friend who has devolved into a sort of caveman without the company of women.  “I better watch it.”  And when he gets advice from a friend who tells him the universe is waiting to see what he will make of this, and Gregory’s response is, “Why can’t the universe just leave me the fuck alone?”
The book itself is well bound and opens flat so you can enjoy the two page spreads.  I always look at books without their jackets because I like to see how they are bound and I’m always hoping for a surprise.  This one has a lovely watercolor blue cover and a white ink drawing of kissing figurines.  And the back of the paper cover has a collage of pictures of Patti. It underscores how she lived fully and celebrated each day.
People like to think you get over loss, but I don’t think you do.  I think, instead you learn to grieve properly, to let grief have its place in the rhythm of your life.  This book invites you to feel loss in all its color and awkwardness.  The gift of grief is how it imbues everything around us with memory and magic. 
A year after Patti’s death, Gregory draws a beautiful tulip emerging from dark speckled earth.  He has had a terrible time keeping up her garden.  He writes, “P: The bulbs you planted are coming up again. I can’t always remember to water them but someone’s making it rain a lot instead.  Is it you?”
A Kiss Before You Go by Danny Gregory is published by Chronicle Books and is widely available.   Here is a wonderful trailer he did  for it that gives you a sense of what a work of art it is.

Danny Gregory’s website is  There is a link to his blog and he is a very accessible writer and artist who encourages us all to be creative everyday, because our lives and our losses matter.