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SKETCHBOOK: a creative tool and a way of life that celebrates design and drawing as vital ways to see and value culture, to discover ideas, and to envision a better world.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Art and Soul: The Johnny Cash Heritage Festival

My painting of the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home, commissioned by Rosanne Cash and her siblings for Dr. Ruth Hawkins.



Dyess, Arkansas.
It was, indeed, a glorious weekend, part academic symposium, part concert festival, part therapy group, part church service, part family reunion.  And somehow, through a circle of relationships Patti and I have been lucky enough to connect with over several years, it was an opportunity to share a gift in a deeply meaningful way.


A few months ago, I received an email from Grammy award winning singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, asking if I’d consider a commission to create a painting of her father Johnny Cash’s boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas—a New Deal resettlement colony where her dad was raised. 

Dr. Ruth Hawkins
The house and surrounding land had recently been restored and placed on the National Register of Historic Sites, and now served as a tribute to the family’s musical legacy and a living heritage laboratory, largely through the long and persistent efforts of Dr. Ruth Hawkins, Director of the Heritage Sites Program at Arkansas State University.   Ruth is also a special friend of ours,  a Hemingway scholar and author who Patti and I had traveled to Cuba with in 2014. The painting was to be a secret retirement gift for Ruth from Rosanne Cash and her siblings, and would be presented to her at the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival in Dyess in the fall.

A few weeks later, the painting was completed and sent to Rosanne’s manager, and Patti and I were invited to attend the presentation at the festival as special guests. At the festival, accompanied by friends and serious music fans Keith and Leta Jones of Little Rock, we heard fascinating and sometimes deeply moving presentations by cultural researchers, artists and filmmakers, all while keeping a very low profile so as not to ruin Ruth’s surprise.  Early on day one, I met Rosanne Cash face-to-face for the first time:


RC, looking incredulous: "I thought you were a kid!"
JR: "Excuse me?"
RC: "From your emails--I thought you were a kid!"
JR: "Rosanne, we're the same age."
RC: "Yes, I can see that..."
Patti: "Oh no, Rosanne, you look much better."






The 5-hour concert on Saturday, headlining Rosanne and Marty Stuart, was the climax of the festival, held in the cotton field next to the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home.  The mood was more like a family reunion than a festival concert--we all felt a deep sense of connection to the place and to each other.  After words and presentations by state and university dignitaries, Rosanne stood alone at the mic and called Ruth to the stage.  


Completely surprised, Ruth was momentarily speechless amid the applause as Rosanne praised her many years work in making the Boyhood Home and the Festival what they are today.  Then Rosanne called me to the stage to present Dr. Hawkins with the painting as the Cash family’s token of gratitude to her—another surprise.  It was a very beautiful, very emotional moment that I’ll never forget as Ruth took in the love from her friends and the crowd. 
JR, Dr. Ruth Carter and Rosanne Cash.

The ensuing 5 hours of joyful music, which included performances by multiple generations of the Cash family, sent hearts and spirits soaring.  For the final song, all the extended Cash family joined Rosanne and Marty Stuart on stage.  Aunt Joanne Cash Yates, Johnny’s sister, sang the opening line and verse of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” then the ensemble joined in.  I’ve never witnessed a more perfect tribute to family, legacy, connection to the land and common roots.

You can see a video of Rosanne's presentation of the painting here.

My deepest thanks to Rosanne Cash, Dr. Ruth Hawkins, Dr. Adam Long, Paula Miles and to Patti. Let’s do it again...



My on-location sketch of Rosanne Cash and her band on stage in a former cotton field, with her father's boyhood home at right.













Saturday, September 28, 2019

Jim's New Video Class!



Hi everyone!  I’m very happy and excited to let you know that my first new video class in 4 years will go live this Monday, September 30!  It’s on the Skillshare.com platform, and it’s called “Urban Sketching Essentials: Drawing People and Crowds Made Simple.”  It’s the first in an “Urban Sketching Essentials” series I’ll be rolling out over the next few months.  The idea is to video record the workshop lessons I’ve developed over the last few years, and to make them widely available to former workshop participants, potential workshop attendees, and to those who—for any number of reasons—can’t travel to a workshop. 

I’m wildly enthusiastic about this project, in part because Skillshare’s values align very well with mine.  They are a very reasonable subscription service, making these classes very affordable. They are a tribe of creatives, helping other creatives share their knowledge and expertise with the world.  The class lengths are designed for busy people, so that you can work through a lesson any time you have a few minutes.  And they have been tremendously helpful in encouraging and helping me through the process of learning to shoot and edit my own high quality videos, giving me another tool for teaching and creative expression.

This is a series of classes for all skill levels, veterans to beginners. It’s intended to diffuse any fears you may have about sketching, making it less intimidating, more accessible and more fun!

You can see the class introduction video (2 minutes) on YouTube here. Then head over to my Skillshare page and hit “Follow.”  You’ll be notified when the class goes live on Monday. If you're not already a member of Skillshare, your first two months are free while you check it out.
Thanks to you all!  I'm truly grateful for your support and encouragement. And a special shout out to my buddy Peggy Dean for her coaching and wisdom through this process. I hope to be seeing you on Skillshare soon!

Fantastic workshop day in San Gimignano, Italy!


Friday, August 16, 2019

A Video Tribute to our 2019 Tuscany Workshop

Click here for Dawid Lenart's beautiful video tribute to our 2019 workshop with Follow Your Senses in Tuscany--amazing landscapes, towns, food, culture, and capturing it all in lively travel sketches with our own styles and points of view!   Several of our travelers told us this was not just the best workshop experience they'd had, but the best travel experience, period.  I'd have to agree.  Karolina and Dawid Lenart have perfected a mix of offerings that mesh perfectly with my relaxed travel sketching curriculum; the result is transformative for mind, body and creative spirit.    Our 2020 Tuscany workshop is full, but our 2020 workshop in Provence still has a couple of spots open.  And we'll be announcing the 2021 dates for Tuscany and France in the coming weeks.  We'd love to have you join us.


Friday, August 9, 2019

NEXT SUMMER'S URBAN SKETCHING RETREAT!

Please check out this rare workshop opportunity in the U.S. for July 2020! The Madeline Island School of the Arts in Wisconsin is offering a 5-day Urban Sketching Summer Retreat that will feature Shari Blaukopf, Paul Heaston, Uma Kelkar and myself as faculty. Each participant will spend a full day with each instructor, all on a beautiful island setting, making this a very unique offering. Space is limited, please check it out and join us! Click here for details and registration!


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Sketching: A Cultural Bridge

Why do we do it?

For me, urban sketching is a compelling way to see and value culture.  Each sketch is like a puzzle piece offering a bit of evidence in a larger story of a place, town or region.  In the beginning, we often don't know what we're looking for.  Collectively, piece by piece, the sketches allow for understanding to emerge, and with understanding comes empathy.  See the world, document your unique impressions, share them, open new possibilities for cross cultural appreciation and understanding.

When I ask traveling sketchers how they are doing, the answer I hear often as not is, "Exhausted!"  This is not a gig for the fainthearted.  If you don't want to change the world, why bother?

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Near Nairobi, Kenya

Near Nairobi, Kenya
Havana, Cuba


With Cuban artists in Havana

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

Bho Hoong, Central Highlands, Vietnam

Bho Hoong, Central Highlands, Vietnam

Elder of the Co Tu ethnic group, Central Highlands, Vietnam  









Thursday, June 27, 2019

Draw One True Thing

This is a life-sized bronze of Ernest Hemingway that sits in the author's favorite corner of The Floridita bar in Havana, where he regularly held court with visiting writers, actors and other colorful characters.  The bronze was created by Cuban artist Jose Villa Soberon.  The sketch was for my "Hemingway's Cuba" exhibition at the Nobel Prize-winning author's home near Havana in 2015.

Writing about a recent journey, I kept reminding myself to keep the narrative along the lines of a traveler's personal journal, rather than yet another guidebook.  What did I see, what happened, what do I think about it?  That's all I can really speak to with any sense of authenticity.

Hemingway said, "All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know."

Interesting...the same could be said of sketching a place, person or any other subject. "Draw one true thing." That would help shortcut cliches and lazy stylistic ruts, perhaps, and encourage one to really look at something. What do you see?  It would also lead towards selecting media and tools that are best suited to capturing that one true thing.

Of course, there is no objective "truth" that isn't shaped, in part, by who is looking at it and the lifetime of experiences and baggage they bring to it.  If two artists are looking at exactly the same scene, and if they both seriously aim to say one true thing, their resulting images will almost certainly be very different, reflecting how their eye and mind shape the truth they see.

So, I'll apply that lens to the next sketch outing.  Draw one true thing.  Draw the truest picture that you know.  Is anything else really worth the time?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

By Popular Demand: Siesta Key Prints Available

My on-location sketch of Siesta Key Beach and one of its iconic lifeguard stands got several requests for prints. If you love Siesta Key like we do, or simply love a beach holiday, this (and an optional margarita) can transport you to your happy place. High quality prints are available on archival paper and on stretched canvas. You'll see coffee mugs, note cards and other items with the beach image as well. Here's the link.