The Walking Wall.

28 May, 2019.

For several weeks it’s been my intention to visit the Nelson so I could see the “Walking Wall.” With absolutely no plans for Memorial Day, I also found myself lacking an excuse of any sort for not trekking south into the city.

The wall is a construct of stone that is slowly “walking” from east of the museum to the west. The masons are carrying one end of the wall, stone by stone, to the other end of the wall in a sort of leap frog manner. It’s already blocked, then crossed a road and is not meandering across the lawn of the museum.

Andy Goldsworthy, who collaborates with nature and time to create site-specific installations, will build Walking Wall in five successive sections at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in 2019. Over the course of nine months, Goldsworthy and his craftsmen will hand-build a wall that will “move” across the museum campus. 

I have long admired the constructs of Andy Goldsworthy. It’s remarkable to have him creating a work in our city and exciting to see so many people visiting and enjoying this artwork.

Today is the last day for working on this segment. They’ll be back mid-July to pick up where things have left off and continue the march across the museum grounds.

Uni-Ball Vision pen in a Stillman and Birn sketchbook.


27 May, 2019.

That last page. I’m nearly as stymied by it as I am by the first blank page of a sketchbook. Why do I seem to value those pages more than any others? Do I feel like those initial and final marks are some sort of indicator of ability? Are they, perhaps, a glaring indictment of everything that falls in between? Those pages are the first and last things anyone will see in each sketchbook. Perhaps I should make my first sketch in this next book somewhere randomly selected from the middle, then randomly select pages on which to draw from that point, ignoring completely the sequential nature of page one, page two, page three. The convenience of a date progression is, after all, a little bit meaningless: I already date most pages as they are completed.

For this next book I’m considering some approach in which each page is designed, each spread is thought through as I might if I were designing a book, a magazine. Then again, I’ve already been there, already been a publication designer, already recognized that in doing so the illustrations become decoration rather than the story.

Oh… and now I have to consider how to begin this next book. I wonder how the story thread continues from here?


Uni-Ball Vision pen in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Rain out

25 May, 2019.

Ballcaps? Check.

Two thirteen year old boys in the back seat? Check.

Rain gear? …uh…

At least the game got postponed before we got more than five minutes from the house. Everyone was disappointed to miss out on the first game of the Yankees/Royals series, but we get to try it all over again tonight and hope the forecast thunderstorms passes by to the south.

Instead of the baseball game, the two boys were treated to burgers at a local sports grill. As I pulled into the parking lot I thought, “uh oh.” The place was hopping. At the door we discovered quite a few others had the same idea: no ballgame? Let’s go eat!


Sketching people, as I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, is seldom an act of faithful documentation. Glancing to my left someone may catch my eye and a drawing begins. Looking to my right, there are others. Sometimes a person in a sketch is a compilation of two or three different people. Nearly always, a group or crowd of people are combinations of whomever I pick out from those around me. If a space looks awkward, I’ll add a person or a simplified silhouette of a group. For me, a sketch is less about faithful representation than it is about the act of “being there.”


Uni-Ball Vision pen in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.


23 May, 2019.

I saw her meandering through the grounds, this Madonna. She paused to shop at one of the flea market tables, shielded from the threatening rain by a wide beach umbrella. Her hair is what caught my attention, some brightly unnatural purple that gradated evenly into an intense Viridian hue, and I’d almost swear that the flyaway strands looked as though they were Cerulean Blue.

The sketch was quick – little more than a gesture – but as I tried to capture the tilt of head, the angle of forearms and gesture of hands, the bend of waist – I knew there was more to this sketch than an eyeful of imaginatively colored hair: The body language hinted at a classical pose… Madonna? Venus?

Uni-Ball Vision pen in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.


22 May, 2019.

Is it possible for the banjo player not to be your favorite member of the band?

Well, is it?

(I didn’t think so either.)

Uni-Ball Vision pen in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

A little morning music.

21 May, 2019.

Saturday morning, and a bluegrass band is joyfully plucking and singing, five guys who call themselves the Flyin Buzzards Bluegrass Band, the omitted “g” an intentional thing. They all hail from different counties in this corner of the Missouri/Arkansas Ozarks. Sporting matching caps, t-shirts, and red suspenders, they work their way through familiar old standards, along the way tossing in a few less well known tunes. Stage jokes feel refreshingly unrehearsed and they clearly enjoy playing together, jostling one another in good natured way.

A flat bed trailer serves as a stage, the better to quickly move each act in and out with as little fanfare as possible at the Reeds Spring Cajun Days festival. Aside from a crawdad boil and bowls of red beans and rice, there’s little to identify this festival as “Cajun” – in fact, there’s nothing at all to distinguish this festival from any other small town weekend festival. But it’s a good excuse for the hard working locals to have a good time. And that is reason enough to lounge around a folding table under a tent to enjoy this morning of gumbo, crawdads, and blue grass.

Uni-Ball Vision pen and watercolor in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

It’s a dog’s life, sometimes.

20 May, 2019.

What a life! It’s tough to be a dog, especially after getting dragged down to the lake house for two days of sun and cool breeze. Someone has to keep the patio warm, am I right? The sun deck on the boat dock clearly needs guarded from invading geese and turtles and the occasional innocent water snake. And what’s the deal with people? Indoors? Sleeping? All night? There is, after all, a magnificent full moon shimmering across the cove. What better time to bark? It’s a real dog’s life.

Sleepily sketched with a Uni-Ball Vision pen in a Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

Ride Night.

18 May, 2019.

It was “ride night.” Taco Tuesday. As the group pedaled out of downtown and into the West Bottoms, the weather was perfect and the skies were absolutely free of clouds of any kind.

Further west, Mother Nature was stirring, and even as we were cycling along on our merry way, conditions were changing on the horizon. We rode through the Bottoms and the West Side neighborhoods, eventually gasping our way up the long, steep climb to the Liberty Memorial, pausing for our traditional photo opp and then heading out once again toward the River Market. It’s one of our standard routes, and gets us back in time for sunset and tacos.

On this ride night, Mother Nature turned performance artist. Rain and thunderstorms loomed and the day ended with dramatic clouds stretching from top to bottom of the view from the downtown bluffs.

This view is what made me pause. I love Ride Night.

Watercolor in small Stillman and Birn sketchbook, 5.5 x 3.5 inches.

Don’t throw stones. Please.

17 May, 2019.

I woke a few days ago with an idea for a house, a product of that strange and gauzy place between wakefulness and sleep. For my entire career I’ve been a designer, illustrator, and teacher – but never an architect. I’m very interested in the character of architecture, but would be guessing about engineering or structural aspects. In all likelihood, any building I designed would probably collapse. 

So, it was unusual, to say the least, that I could picture this (not quite so) tiny house with such clarity. I can say with confidence that a couple of relevant things were on my mind in the preceding days though: For one thing, every time I see one of those stories about tiny houses on social media I can’t help but click on the link to read and see more. The concept just fascinates me – and while there’s no way I’d find myself attempting to squeeze my life into one of these shoe box sized domiciles, the whole academic exercise of designing the thing intrigues me. I’d also seen another article about similarly small houses offered on Amazon. For about $7500, a kit is delivered to your door. With luck and a friend one could (supposedly) have a building constructed in its entirety in a single day. (Clearly, there had to be some Rubbermaid-esque modularity to these buildings, but I liked what I saw in the photos – as had many others, apparently: They were immediately sold out.)

Be that as it may, I had this idea in my head and I felt a need to get it onto paper, so here it is.

Uni-Ball Vision pen on copy paper. I used a perspective grid to introduce the extreme wide angle view.

13 May, 2019.

If I’d ventured a guess, I’d certainly have said there was no way I’d order a thick slice of prime rib at this small town restaurant. I’m a snob about such things as meat, and I confess to a belief that the only place on earth that serves excellent cuts of beef is Kansas City. I’ve made the mistake of ordering what ultimately turned out to be some kind of prepackaged and microwaved slice of grey meat-like substance in the past and I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

But guess what? I wandered past a table and got a glimpse of a mouth watering slab, and my mind was changed. Dinner turned out to be a very happy surprise.

But the place was hopping. (Apparently the locals were much more aware of the fare than I had been.) And it took forever to get seated, to get served, and to get food on the table.

We chatted about our day, our week, and the coming weekend. And I studied the people around me.

One table over, several people chatted and enjoyed a meal that for us was only a name on the menu. We munched on bread, sipped drinks, and I made note of their character.

Uni-Ball Vision pen and watercolor wash in Stillman and Birn sketchbook.