There has been a lot of interest in our book, “The Oracles Fables”. If you weren’t able to get a copy, we’d be very happy to send one to you. Here’s how it works: go to PayPal and make a payment of $24.95 to my sign in (firstname.lastname@example.org). That covers postage and handling in the continental US. I’ll mail it straight out. I’m happy to deliver in the Omaha area if you want to save the postage
It has been a real honor to be asked to do the “caricature” art for the Salvation Army’s DJ’s Hero luncheon for the past five or six years.
In the process, I have been able to hear some amazing stories, and met some phenomenal people. Every speaker has faced amazing challenges, and it has been my challenge to tell their story in a visual.
This year’s speaker is perhaps the most dynamic.
Her name is Liz Murray, and the massive challenges she overcame to create a positive life for herself. To hit the highlights of her achievement is almost insulting, because it almost trivializes the daily hell that she and her family lived in New York City.
Her autobiographical book, “Breaking Night” details in frightening detail what it’s like to be a child of cocaine addicted parents, to be homeless, to be constantly hungry, to do whatever it takes to survive on the streets of the Bronx. She captures the sights, the sounds and the smells of her childhood with incredible clarity.
My personal view is that every high school student should read it.
As a result, the art this year is simpler and bolder than years past. Pictured by the portrait of Murray are the snapshot taken of her mother when she was a teenager, her father and the Narcotics Anonymous coin with the Serenity Prayer. Both mother and father died of AIDS, she age 41 and he age 60.
It was the snapshot of her mother and the NA coin that she kept with her constantly when she left the family apartment.
The art gets auctioned at the luncheon to go for scholarships, and I hope Liz gets a copy of the art as a reminder of her visit to Omaha.
We are very excited to announce the launch of our first children’s book, “The Oracles Fables”.
Inside the 32-page hardbound book you’ll find life lessons for children based on quotes from the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett.
The stories themselves are created in the spirit of Aesop’s Fables. Each tale illustrates all-too-human behavior by animal characters that face potentially life-changing situations.
The process of preparing the book has been fantastic, much because of the author.
My co-collaborator John Prescott is a very talented writer, and has shown himself to be more than equal to the task of writing creatively for children.
Our history working with John goes back to the Omaha Press Club Show. John wrote much of the script as well as songs for the annual fundraiser. My role was to merely sing the songs and learn my lines sometime before the paying audience arrived.
John is equally at home writing comedy, deadline news stories or speeches for four star generals. He is disciplined and thoughtful in his work and it shows. What made this process so inspiring is the creative energy that John has, and the speed it manifests itself.
In short, John is a pro.
The art took a little longer….
Anyone who knows my work will probably notice there aren’t any pen lines – a departure for me. All the art was done in watercolor and colored pencil with a little help from photoshop. It’s a more painterly approach, and it was a lot of fun building up the layers of color.
Backgrounds were inspired by real locations-some up in Lake Miltona, Minnesota, some here in the Omaha area, and others from Sarasota. Given a Nebraska winter, our next book should be set in Sarasota. The Ringlings had the right idea.
We’ll be organizing some book signings, and we will be on the floor at the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder’s meeting in early May. Please come over and say hello.
I never met Auntie Peg.
That’s a real pity, because I think we would have really gotten along well. She was my grandfather’s sister, so I guess that puts her into the realm of Great-Auntie Peg.
There are a lot of photos, and even some home movies of her from the 1920’s in the family collection. From what I could see she was a lot of fun.
She was also one of those lucky souls who inherited the art gene from her mother’s side.
I don’t know much about her life, other than the fact that she looked after her parents through their elder years. She never married, and she never had children.
There are two things I do know about her. One is that incredibly long, baggy shorts were called “Auntie Pegs” in my family. The other thing I know is that she was also an incredibly gifted artist.
She signed her work Margaret Kerr, and her most productive years were the 1940s. She worked almost exclusively in watercolor. I have found a few pen and ink drawings she did of flowers which she drew using an incredibly fine nib. Her lines look finer than human hair, and the finished art was about 2 inches square. It was amazingly fine pen work.
In contrast, her watercolors are pretty large, most 11×17 and larger. If there’s a theme that runs consistently through her watercolor work, it’s children and the beach, using a fairly muted color pallet. Her subjects were either her nephews, or neighborhood children from Montclair, New Jersey, Fall River, or Westport Harbor, Massachusetts.
You also won’t find any portrait work. Her children were not specific, or painted from the back. The faces could be that of any child, although I’m pretty sure one study is of my dad when he was about 10.
Since neither Dad nor Auntie Peg is around to quibble, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
My great-grandfather moved to the United States from a small town in Scotland, and his side of the family was made up of businessmen and industrialists. They were the beneficiaries of the mercantile society of the Industrial Revolution, taking advantage of the United Kingdom’s need for thread.
The Coats and Clarke brand was successful to the point that they asked a young cousin, Robert Kerr to set up a new company in Fall River, Massachusetts.
What does this have to do with art, you ask?
The answer lies with the gene pool of his wife, Janet Empsall Kerr.
The Empsall family was both artistic and musical, and that gene was passed along to a daughter and a son.
Their son was my grandfather, Robert Empsall Kerr, and he was an amazingly talented watercolorist, portraitist, woodworker and painter.
He made furniture for several years after the Kerr Thread Company was sold, and practiced his painting as more of a hobby than a business. We were fortunate to be left with many examples of his work, and my sisters and I hang them proudly in our homes.
The art gene seemed to skip a generation since my father was neither artistic nor handy (but what an amazing sining voice). In fact, we just about had the fire department on speed dial any time he either picked up a hammer or pulled out the ladder.
I never had the chance to see Grandad paint, nor talk to him about art. The truth is, we were too young to appreciate his gifts. Nevertheless, his work has been inspirational for me, and I have always wanted to think that he would be proud of my ability to be a creative, and to make a living at it.
People like to put people in slots. It’s a great way to create some order in your personal chaos, and quite frankly, it’s fun to put people in their place. In fact, most surnames come from just that kind of logic.
In old England, for example, you could have been the poor sod who made and repaired wooden wheels, so you’d be known in the village as “Ed the Cartwright”. You could have been the kid who was named after his father “Peter”, and be called Peterson.
You’re catching on, I can tell. You just know just about any title is OK, just so long as it isn’t “The Village Idiot”.
If you’re a branding guru, it’s a coup if your name becomes synonymous with what you do, but what happens if it’s just a part of what you do and who you are?
That’s my dilemma.
My years in college were spent being the angry young man, the crusader, the social critic, and my goal was to use my art is a social satirist or political cartoonist. That’s really all I wanted to.
Later on in my twenties, I started to really study and enjoy art in general, and I became aware of my forebears talents. The result was a conflicted artist with a dichotomy of interests. The cartooning scratched the political and silly itch. The portraiture and landscape art scratched the traditional art itch, and my goal is to get better at both every single day.
Both disciplines have now been acknowledged and are constantly being nourished, but here’s the rub: when I go into the village, I’m called, “Tom the Cartoonist”. It’s what working for a newspaper will do. They printed my cartoons and illustrations for many years. It’s also easier than “Tom, the multi-faceted, multi-disciplined artist”.
Here’s a better solution: call it what you will, as long as it isn’t “village idiot”.
Then we’ll call it good.
Life drawing is amazing, and an intense crash course that hones your observation and drafting skills.
For the uninitiated, it’s about a two to three hour session where you draw models who will pose for varying lengths of time.
Usually, you start a session with gesture poses, where a model will hold a position from anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute.
These quick poses force your eye to eliminate everything but the most important parts of the pose. Light and shade are virtually non-concepts at this stage. You’re just after the gesture. The beauty is that you can’t over think things and let your eye and hand take over.
Typically, you’ll follow with longer poses that can last up to a half hour, allowing the artist to really develop the subtle changes in light and texture. You’re really not tied down by and rules or conventions in these settings, you’re really just teaching yourself to view critically and make visual decisions for your own drawing.
Some go after drama in the angles and shapes they see, some are fascinated by the negative shapes, and some choose to do details of hands, feet or portraits. It’s up to you, the artist.
Another beauty of this exercise is that you’re not tied to any particular medium. Most of the people in life class work in pencil, charcoal or conté crayon, but there is nothing preventing an artist from using pastel, watercolor or even oils.
What is amazing after a session is comparing drawings. It serves to highlight how individual our visions are. In this setting, there is no right or wrong, it’s really an expression of what that artist sees and sets down on paper from their position in the room.
It’s their reality for that moment.
Life drawing is a really tremendous exercise that will help an artist’s drawing go to the next level.
A good friend just posted that he was going to be going to court to serve as the courtroom artist for the Adrian Peterson hearings.
It reminded me of some of the cases I have been asked to cover over the years, and for the uninitiated, it’s some of the most intense drawing you will ever do.
The intensity comes from the situation itself.
To start with, the concentration is intense. You have to observe and record likenesses from people who are continually in motion. You’re telling a story, so you have to compose a scene that brings all the important characters into the drawing to record the drama that unfolds before you.
Second, you’re under pressure to “make it good”. If you’re drawing in a life class, or in the relaxed atmosphere of your studio, you can take a drawing you don’t like and toss it in the bin. There are also those days you wish you had a “do over”, where your drawing just isn’t that good. You don’t have that luxury in a courtroom. Your work has to be accurate, and it has to be a good representation of what you saw. You’re not just trying to please yourself, you’re more than likely going to be drawing for the hundreds of thousands of people and newsroom editors who will be looking at your work.
The other issue facing a courtroom artist is the confined space you have in the public gallery. It’s not exactly ideal to have your drawing in your lap and all your supplies down by your feet.
The other issue at hand is the defendant-the “celebrity” who you have to include in your drawing. Depending on your seat in the courtroom, you may or may not have a good view of the defendant at the bench, unless the defendant is testifying, of course.
Most times the defendant doesn’t want to be drawn, and will consciously make an effort to look away from you.
Sometimes that’s a good thing-one defendant in a murder trial shot a glare at me that was frightening.
Of course, the opposite may also occur. In the first trial I ever covered, the defendant knew I was a courtroom artist, and he asked if he could pose for me before the actual trial started that morning. Amazing hubris.
The most difficult assignment had to be small claims court by far. Instead of sitting through sessions that can last hours, small court claims are usually handled in three to five minutes in front of the judge. In those cases you draw fast and hope for the best, making color notes to the side so you can color the art when you get back to the studio.
My friend Cedric Hohnstadt is about to cover a trial up in Minneapolis, and he’ll probably nail it. He’s great.