In this episode, I chat with my friend, Doug Gorney about the joy of making art. What I appreciate about Doug is his passion and warmth on the subject. I think you'll really enjoy hearing about Doug's creative journey.
Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay
Hello and welcome to the Creative Shoofly Podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about my creative process, and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art. Well, welcome back everyone to the Creative Shoofly. Today I have guest and a friend of mine, Doug Gorney. He is a brilliant artist. He's the founder and organizer of Sunset Sketchers, our local urban sketching group here in the neighborhood. And also a member of the B0ardside collective.
Doug welcome. I've been looking forward to have you on today.
Doug: Thanks, Thomas. Well I'm very excited to be here and to talk about creativity with you.
Thomas: Doug, can you start by telling us just a little bit about your background in the creative world? How did you get started?
Doug: Well, my career path is rather circuitous, but I was always interested in the creative arts. I spent most of my time in high school, in the art room or the art teacher's office, hanging out and doing art and taking as many art classes as I could.
I sort of majored in art in high school, as if there were such a thing. And then going on to college, I came back to art in my senior year, sort of minored in art and then got a lot of encouragement from a sculpture teacher who told me that this was really something that I should consider doing for a living. That I was, that I had some facility
And I was majoring in history, which is a springboard into many fields like unemployment. So I was open to suggestion and this seems like a sign. So I went on to art school from there. Once I graduated from UC Berkeley and really was going after another bachelor's degree because I didn't have the equivalent of a BFA that would have allowed me to get a master's degree.
And I didn't, also having been away from art and then just come back to it. I didn't really know what I was doing. So another a BFA program seemed appropriate. I started at, then California college of arts and crafts now, California college of the arts, and then transferred to the school of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I was for a year and a half.
And that was very interesting and seemed to be pretty promising. I was developing more of a sculptural style, sculptural language of my own. But life took a series of left turns as it will. And I didn't come back to art for another 30 years after that point. I didn't really even pick up a pencil during that whole time.
What I was doing for a lot of the time was, well, I've been practicing transcendental meditation since I was 13 years old. And this was a practice that was very fulfilling for me on an, on a very holistic level.
So I went in, I became a teacher of the TM program and was full time in the TM organization and teaching TM for a number of years. And then another sort of compass shift occurred.
And I while still enjoying the practice and enjoying teaching, I started to feel that I should be doing something more creative, something more personal. And so I came back to the Bay Area after traveling and living all over the continent and in the UK for awhile. So I came back to the Bay Area with a vague notion that I should be doing some creative stuff. And I was trying a bunch of things in music. I was with the stars agency here in San Francisco doing commercial acting and modeling
and voiceover. I was working with my brother, making a comedy CD. And also with some little success doing design.
But what really stuck at that point was writing. So I basically became a writer, primarily commercial copywriting, but with as much creative writing as I could.
But nothing that really seemed like that it was my life's direction. Now at a certain point around 2011, my father had a stroke. And he lived up in Napa. He and my stepmother lived alone and she was going to need some help, taking care of him as he recovered.
And so I moved up there to Napa and live there for a year and a half. During that time, you know, he was a very accomplished surgeon and really...
Thomas: your father was.
Doug: He was, yeah.
And an important figure in his profession and in bed here. He was quite reduced.
One thing though that he still could do and always had a facility for was art. He had a studio that he had put together in his home. And so he was doing art during the day. And to have something to do with him, I got a sketchbook and some pencils for the first time in almost 30 years started sketching with him.
And he enjoyed that. And I did too.
Thomas: Was he sketching or was he painting or what kind of art that was doing?
Doug: He was doing a little painting. His preferred medium actually was colored pencils. Yeah. He was quite, quite good with the colored pencils. Sometimes I thought he, he liked collecting the colored pencils more than actually using them. And actually he since passed on and I have inherited about 8,000 colored pencils and I don't really use them, but they're gorgeous anyway, so.
I found in sketching myself, sketching him in large part, and I'm so glad that I have those sketches, that I hadn't even in my time away from creating art and mind you, I really hadn't done anything in art at all.
I really don't. I think I did a single even doodle during this whole time, that I hadn't lost it. It was still there somehow. And if anything, it had gotten a little more mature. Somehow, it was as if in the back of my mind, somewhere in consciousness, I had been working on that neurophysical connection that creates a visual art.
And so I moved back to San Francisco. And then was really when I moved to the Sunset that, and, and I should say that I kept, I kept sketching a bit. I kept my sketchbook up having reestablish the practice, but it was when I moved to the Sunset in 2015 ish, I was so inspired by the light and space and forms of the Sunset, which even though I had grown up in San Francisco, was a new place to me. Really, the marine light and the Dolger homes. It all seemed very strange and foreign. I'd never, ever been out here. And so I really seem to inspire me to call me to, to sketch it, to render it
Thomas: I think you had written somewhere that you grew up in North Beach.
Doug: That's correct. Yeah. Telegraph Hill, really. I sometimes say North Beach just because it's more general and people might know it more and it seems maybe a little less elite. But it was really, it was really Telegraph Hill, that I, uh, that I grew up on. I was born, uh, technically I was born in the Mission in San Francisco, but that was just the hospital. But I for all intents purposes, I was born on Telegraph Hill. Grew up there until college really.
Thomas: A native San Franciscan.
Doug: And one of, one of like three or four total. But so anyway, I started really drawing the Sunset. It became my muse, seemed to call out to me to, to tell its story because San Francisco, of course is a, is a much storied place. And Lord knows we have many images of it and in art and music and movies and television and so forth.
But the part of San Francisco in which we live the Western part, the Sunset District, is often ignored and not even San Franciscans, such as myself know much about it.
And so, uh, it seemed to want another person to help, to help tell a story to, to paint its picture, so to speak. And and so that's become a thing for me. People started asking me to paint their houses. I do, I should say watercolor, by the way, is my primary medium, sometimes pen and ink fountain pen, but always watercolor.
So people started giving me commissions to uh, paint pictures of their houses here in the Sunset. And I've been doing that pretty much full time for the last three years. And that's that's been very fulfilling.
Thomas: That's fantastic. Can you tell me a little bit about, how the Sunset Sketchers started.
Doug: Sure. I started of course, I don't think anything, any of this, well, any of it, as far as my career goes would have been possible without the internet. Which was, you know, I'm of the pre-internet generation, I'm that old. And, uh, and so when I started to sketch the Sunset, I put my
stuff online on, Facebook and Instagram and Nextdoor and whatnot. And this not only got me a nice reception from homeowners, as I mentioned before, but from other artists, which was very important to me, who said this is very nice work and also would it be nice to sketch the Sunset together?
There are quite a few creative artists out here in these Western neighborhoods, but it's more, it's more quiet out here. It's more spread out. There are fewer gathering places, gathering points. I think there is a tendency to feel cutoff or at least not not have a community, a creative community out here.
And that's something I should say that we're we're doing more, not only with the Sunset Sketchers, but with the B0ardside collective, which you had mentioned, in which you and I are both part of. And so artists got in touch when I post something and say, wouldn't it be fun to, to have a sketching group.
So I coined the name, Sunset Skechers. It's not a real reach creatively to go with that one. And then uh, Tammy Tsark, who's another very talented Sunset artist, helped me and created a Facebook page to act as a gathering point and an announcement place for meetups.
And we started meeting a few artists and I had both full-time professional artists and also very talented um, part-time, I don't want to use the word hobbyist because it's such a value judgment to it. But, but artists who were professionals at other things but had an art background. And we have been meeting for about three years now.
And it's been growing quite a bit and we've met now all over the Sunset District, our five miles square area of Western San Francisco, but the beach as well as other adjacent parts of Western San Francisco.
And it's been a lot of fun.
Thomas: I've been utterly delighted to meet so many of the artists because you don't know until they sort of come out and you meet them and it's like, yeah, there are a lot of artists in the Sunset.
Doug: There really are. And another podcast from the west side of San Francisco, Outsidelands uh, which I've gotten a lot from, has had some episodes where they've talked more about the creative professionals and innovators who have come from, lived in, or grew up on or grown up on the west side.
And there really seems to be a tradition, here in the outside lands of, of thinking outside the box. I mean, we are, we are at a remove from the rest of San Francisco. And also if you look at it from a space where we moved a bit from the rest of the continent, we're really on the edge here.
Uh it's you know, next stop Japan. And there is a, there is a feeling of being, of being in some kind of liminal space that I think is a good, good, good place for artists to create. For us to be able to think creatively, to get in touch with our creative selves, without being distracted by the, the Hurlyburly activity of the central city.
Thomas: For my listeners who are not particularly familiar with San Francisco, We are on a peninsula.
We're surrounded on three sides, the west, north, and east side with water. But the center of the city is a set of Hills that are, that are almost a thousand feet high, so almost 300 meters high. And so the city is really divided, even though it's just a small, you know, seven mile by seven mile square place.
The, the city is divided in that way. And one of the unique aspects. Of being near the ocean is, is that we on the west side get a lot of fog, because the water's cold here and the east side of the city, which is only a few miles to the east, they have a lot more sunshine than we do out here.
Doug: It should be noted that the temperature, the ambient temperature can vary between one point in the city and another by as much as 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Uh, and that, and we are usually the low point, uh, and the hub of that, of that variance here in the Sunset District.
Thomas: So Doug, the creative Shoofly is about breaking through blocks and finding joy in the act of creating. So I'm wondering what, aspect of making your art brings you the most joy?
Doug: The, the notion of doing this full time, of being finally a full-time artist. Which I guess I was supposed to have done or was, was in the process of doing, 35 or so years ago. Um, The notion of actually doing that is so radical. That someone could indulge themselves in creativity and have as their means of income
being a creative artist, seems so radical and revolutionary. And almost I can, I can do this, I can get away with this, that, that in and of itself just doing it is joyful. It's almost a giddy sense of joy that, Hey look, I'm creating art, full time. People are paying me to do that. I'm paying my rent that way.
And I am an artist. So that is almost a, a radical declaration of creative independence that has a fierce joy, in and of its own. And of course there are many aspects to creating the art and some are more joyful than others. One thing that I am, dealing with these days is that my bread and butter, if you will. Which is, I do primarily portraits of people's houses, watercolor, and some of watercolor and pen and ink portraits of, of the distinctive architecture that we have out here in the Sunset District, for our homeowners. Which has been, it's such a gift to be able to do and has taught me so very much about the medium and about art in general.
In pursuing that as a vocation, and particularly in creating as realistic or representational, an image as I can of someone's home, someone who has entrusted me to render an image of their much loved home. So that, that has been a great. Discipline. And, and it provides me with profound satisfaction when I can do that.
But there is also artist inside of me that is interested perhaps in exploring other spaces. An artists that was doing that sort of exploratory training and research if you will, in art school. But then there was this kind of arrested development, as I was doing other very important things to develop me as a human.
I had really left art and now that I've returned to it, there are things that I want to find out things that I don't even know what they are yet. But I want to see what lies out there, what I might do, what I might find inside me. So I have been taking more time of late, each day, trying to carve out some time from my mornings, similar to the, to the process you have mentioned in your podcast that you have been going through,
to do stuff that's just for me, mostly going out, just getting myself out of my studio slash bedroom, which has been really important, just for, you know, breathing fresh air, and getting out and sketching the world from life. And doing it in a way that is not for any audience, not even thinking of, sharing it with anyone, and just trying stuff.
Getting into the sandbox
Doug: Exactly. Getting into the sandbox and playing, just trying stuff, getting messy, pushing myself to the point of making mistakes and through making mistakes. So that has been a tremendously joyful addition to my art practice. And that's what's currently providing me the most joy. In that process too,
it's a little bit like a visual morning pages, you know, the Artist's Way talk about, talks about the importance of doing your four morning pages of writing. Right when you wake up just don't don't edit, don't direct it. Just let it go. Just write whatever's on your mind, whatever comes out. So it's kind of that, but in a visual sense. And that has, that has opened the door to some very other interesting lines that seem to be coming out of more abstract work and some collage now.
And I'm really excited by it. And I can see it going somewhere as more finished and possibly when it was marketable line of art.
Thomas: When you start your morning and you you're going out into the sandbox that metaphorical sandbox, do you have any, any mantras or any rituals or anything that you tell yourself when you go out there?
Doug: I not sure. The, the act of, I would just say that the act of doing it, of actually doing it, not just thinking about, well, I really should do something like that as you really should take some time for myself to the act of actually getting up, putting on my, my little day pack with all of my, paper and watercolors, then my drawing kit in it and getting out of the house, putting on shoes, getting out of the house.
That is, um, that is quite again a radical act and also a little bit of a ritual. The more I do it and the more I do it at the same time, the more that in and of itself becomes a very, very important ritual. And beyond that, I think that's the main thing and I'm, so I'm really, so, amazed still, or maybe amazed is putting it a bit strongly, but so surprised to find myself
out of the house, in the morning, just by myself, sketching, what I want and doing what I want. That I'm, I'm still so suffused with, the surprise and the excitement of, of the possibility inherent in that act. I'd suppose that's the main thing at this point. That's kind of the, the only thing I can even think about is wow, I'm out here. Yeah. The, I should say too, that the Sunset Skechers has provided that too. We do it every weekend. But that's, that's of course just one day during the week. And also being the organizer, which is not an onerous task at all. It's really a great, it's very gratifying to create a space and a place for
artists to come out and sketch together from life. Many, many of these artists being my friends now. Um, But there's still there's some organizational tasks involved in all this. So you, you can't just completely lose yourself in it for as long as you want, as I can with this personal artist journey that I take each morning.
Thomas: That makes me think of another aspect of being in a place where we have so many artists that live around us and have so many different talents. And that is one of collaboration. We also have the B0ardside collective, which is a highly collaborative venture.
You know, I know for myself that almost all of the art that I practice is done solo, is done on my own. But there is something that is just so exhilarating when you collaborate on a project. And I'm wondering what your thoughts on that is.
Doug: I absolutely agree. It's a very different, a very different kind of thing. It's the joy of, of teamwork and cooperation first. And even more primarily, the aspect of human fellowship, which is something that you can really miss well at. So many of us have missed around the world during this pandemic.
But also which one can really miss as a, as a creative artist in this society. And particularly where we're doing so much of our stuff online. And I have to say with regard to the pandemic that my life didn't actually change very much at all during the pandemic, because I, you know, I tend to, I get up and I
go to work on the commission I'm working on at my desk. And then I may, give myself a treat and go out for lunch and see someone on the sidewalk when I'm doing that. I'm not a lonely person, but, it, it can be a little bit isolating, I should say, professionally. So the B0ardside and the Sunset Sketchers have been great opportunities to have fellowship with fellow creatives.
Thomas: One of the things that, um,
Thomas: that I noticed during the pandemic is how, how well and how strongly we pull together as the Sunset Sketchers. As an example, we, we figured out how to sketch together on Zoom. And the B0ardside as well is, you know, we were staying in touch and we were collaborating on things, even though we weren't necessarily meeting.
And so feel that in some ways our collaborations became even a little bit stronger just because by, you know, because we needed to.
Doug: I agree. I agree. I think that, as you say, figuring out those other channels of collaboration really strengthened the way that, that we work together in the, in the work that we've done. And it has also shown particularly in the case of the Sunset Sketchers, how strong of a desire there is for people to create together.
Um, And I should just say that. that's there's always a feeling that San Francisco, the rest of the world kind of ignores you, won't come to you, so you have to do something yourself.
But we, in that self-sufficiency, we were the only group who was when there wasn't a lockdown who was actually meeting. We found a way to meet together, wearing masks and being appropriately distanced and so forth. And we, we still are as of this recording. We're still the only sketching group in Northern California that I know of that is doing in-person sketching meetups. So that's been wonderful, but I wanted it to come back to, to one thing that we had been talking about. Before, um, about the B0ardside collective. And one of the ways in which it has been wonderful is in this area of collaboration that you were speaking, that we were talking about it a little bit earlier.
It is uh, a truly collaborative effort. The B0ardside is two things, primarily. First of all, it's a physical space. Um, It's in the back of a residence, near the beach. And the owner of the house, our friend Thorston Sideboard has really wanted to turn it into a space for the arts, for visual art exhibits, and also for concerts,
readings and other creative events. And we have worked together very well to make that happen. We've had a few shows now. We're actually having another show. So the 19th and 20th, (June 2021w) the Art of Entropy, the artist Bianca Nandzik who goes by the name of Entropy. A wonderful multimedia installation, and in curating and, and mounting these exhibits, it's really an all hands, situation where everybody plays a role and contributes and thinks together about the best way to
put these things on. And then on the day of and it's always wonderful and festive, and we have bands music, and the neighbors are cranking up their bubble machines. But everybody is collaborating to really make a creative event happen. The other primary function of B0ardside collective is the zine that we put out, which is called oddly enough B0ardside. And that is something that all of us contribute to, all of us collectively edit.
Thorsten I should say does the lion's share of the design and layout and so forth, but we've all written things and created art to go into the zine, created the covers for it. So it's a very cooperative and very fulfilling effort and something that it's by its nature
probably wouldn't happen if we were doing it individually. It's very existence, to say nothing of its nature is due to the fact that we are a collective and they were that we're working collaboratively.
Thomas: One thing that's so exciting to me is just the great variety of art styles and types and talents. I mean, we have visual artists, we have sculptors, we have people who use code, uh, mute, create music, do writing. I mean, it, it, it really covers almost everything you can think of, uh, in, in terms of, uh, what you can do creatively.
It's, it's pretty amazing.
Doug: I just, uh, and this is just a, maybe a sidebar to the story, but in thinking about how we work as a collective, beyond fulfilling the specific tasks that we've set out for ourselves, or the the purview of our organization. It's also, something that I think has paid off as far as acting as a resource for us to use in our individual medium, media, mediums. I'm thinking just as one example of a project I was working on, a commission that I had for someone. They had a house with a beautiful view of the western avenues and the ocean beyond. With a beautiful 180 degree sweep from Bohemian Grove to the south, to Marin county, to the north and the Marin Headlands.
And they want to be to capture the whole thing, that view, but in a way that would let them remember because they were about to move, let them remember their beautiful living room. So I was wrestling with how to do this. Because if you sort of stood in the middle of the living room, of course you would see the windows, but you couldn't really get
the view in any way that would, register. So, this was, this was just kind of bouncing around in my head. One of the wonderful things about the B0ardside is that, upcoming show or not, we always have a weekly meeting to discuss. There's always something to discuss.
It's just nice to have that as a, as a creative get together that you can have during the week. And I, I brought this up, I just sort of floated this idea and Thorston Sideboard, who I'd mentioned to you earlier is a very talented comics, artists, comic book artists.
Thomas: And graphic novels,
Doug: Yeah, exactly. And so he thought about my visual problem from his perspective, and he came back with a great solution, which was very much comics centered. And he said, well, just do it panel by panel,
just like we do in the comics. And each panel will be one window. And you could look at the window and sort of center the window frame within the frame of the, of that comics panel, if you will, and if there are four windows, then you do four panels and each one is a slice of the view.
And, that made a lot of sense. And that's exactly what I did. It worked out pretty well and the client was delighted, but I just liked so much that it was that kind of collaborative, creative thinking that really drew upon the strength of a collective I've always wanted.
I must say since my, since my younger days of being so fascinated by the Dada artists and Fluxus and various of the other Europeans, slightly anarchic, very sort of beyond modernist movements that were going on that really created the visual art of the 20th century.
I wanted to be part of a collective that just seemed like the greatest, the greatest thing. And now I am, and it's, very fulfilling.
Thomas: It's very emergent, right? There's just so much that can, can come out of, of being in a collective.
Thomas: I want to end with this question. I'm wondering, what you are most looking forward to, or what's exciting you, in terms of art.
Doug: Well it's interesting you should ask that. Because coming back to earlier in my conversation, I had mentioned this new style or this new line of work that seems to be coming out of its own accord, more expressionist, more abstract, more, more out of the box.
And that really has me very excited. Because it is more personal. Because I don't know where it's going. And that sense of the unexpected and the sense of taking a journey. You never know exactly what you'll find on your journey. That's kind of why you're taking your journey.
And also this art is driven very much and in a way that's, that's more unlike the, the more detailed, precise representative work that I do. It's driven by the very inchoate, very expressive, and emotional, I might say. And sometimes messy creativity that's inside. So
certain of the work that I'm doing now starts with me just putting my pen on the page and then an automatic process takes over, in which the pen just really, it's going to sound very woo woo, but the pen just moves to really of its own accord, um,
Thomas: The art is using you as an instrument
Doug: Well, yeah.
Thomas: to create itself.
Doug: Now that that is an interesting thing right there, you said, and I, I feel, that idea of writ large is really almost what's governed my whole career as an artist, if you will. But it's a very pure distillation now where I'm coming up with things that are drawing themselves.
Sometimes I'm just looking at my arm moving. It's okay. Are we done yet? No, we're not done. We have to keep going. Okay. Now. No. All right. And then that that part of it finishes and I may use a bit more of my, my intellect slash super ego individualized personality, my conscious self to make some decisions about what should be done to take it to a next level, make it more presentable by adding watercolor within some of the fields of squiggly lines.
But that all is, is very exciting and it feels very integrating. It feels like a journey on which I'm just beginning and I don't know where it will go and where it will take my art, but it has me and I, I keep returning to this because I've been, I've been talking to people about it, how excited I am, and it's kind of scary, and what does this mean for my career, et cetera.
But it's very exciting and it's exciting I think, now that I'm talking to you. I think it's exciting mostly because it gets to the core of the creative process. It's just sort of pure unfiltered unmitigated, uh, Uh, on adulterated creativity
happening. And that's, uh, a really interesting process.
So who knows where it will go, but it sure is exciting.
Thomas: well, Doug, this has been a wonderful conversation. I just want to acknowledge how, I mean, I'm, I'm feeling excited just by you telling me that. By telling me how you're feeling about it and what, what comes up for you. So, so thank you.
Doug: Well, thank you, Thomas. And I, I, I've not only enjoyed working with you and as a part of the board side collective and as a fellow Sunset Sketcher, but also so enjoyed seeing your creativity expressed itself in the completely Sui generis work that you are doing, with your, uh, particularly well with everything you do, your wide and very creativity. I particularly, uh, enjoy the, the way that you're able to wed your
background is, a technologically, adept person and a maker, with your, with your creative vision and come up with some really singular creations. So, and, and also, uh, now I'm really spreading it on thick, but I've really, really, really been enjoying your podcast. Particularly what you
are saying about creativity and so much of it resonates with the processes that I've been going through and as well it's, and I've listened to a lot of podcasts.
I mean, working by myself all day, I can listen to a lot of podcasts as I scribble away and yours is exceptionally well produced and thoughtful. And, it's always a pleasure to listen to.
Thomas: Well, thank you, Doug. I really appreciate that. I am so excited for the near future, you know, with B0ardside and with things opening up again, I'm really excited for what's going to happen.
Doug: well, thank you, Thomas. Thank you for the opportunity to, to talk. It's been a lot of fun.
After my conversation with Doug, I realized that I'd forgotten to ask how people can view his art or ask for a commission. You can visit his website at gorney.studio. That's G O R N E Y.studio. His email is [email protected]. You can also see his art on his Instagram @outeravenuesart.
Doug mentioned both the Sunset Sketchers and B0ardside. You can find the sunset Sketchers on Facebook. Just search for sunset Sketchers in the search bar, the board side has a website.
It's theb0ardside.com. Except that it's spelled this way… T H E B the number zero A R D S I D E.com. And as always, I will have all the links mentioned in this podcast at the top of the show notes. Once again, I'd like to thank you for listening to this podcast.
I really appreciate that you take the time to listen. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Doug and I hope there was something in our conversation that will help spark your creativity. And I would love to get any feedback that you have. You can email me at [email protected].
I hope you'll join me for the next episode of Creative Shoofly. Until then, stay safe and stay creative.
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