August 7, 2014

Book review: Everyday Matters by Danny Gregory

By Róisín Curé

There are some books that stand out in our minds for all the right reasons.
Danny Gregory's "Everyday Matters" is just such a book for me - for the very good reason that it changed my life completely.

The book was a birthday gift from my mother a couple of years ago, who insisted that I put it into my suitcase, elaborately wrapped and festooned with ribbons as is her wont, and bring it six and a half thousand miles from my home in Ireland, to Mauritius, where I was to spend the next six months. I was only there three weeks when my birthday fell and I opened the book-shaped package.

I was hooked from the very first page. Danny describes how he and his wife Patti, a pair of New Yorkers, were getting on with life, with busy jobs and a lovely little boy of about ten months. One day, Patti had a terrible accident on her way to work, following which she was permanently confined to a wheelchair. Their lives were altered forever, and they had to learn to adjust to a whole new way of living, and to try to make sense of it all.

Danny doesn't really talk much about Patti's experience of her injury (perhaps he figured that was her story to tell), but more about how he had to develop ways to cope with the new situation. He tries lots of things to take his mind off his troubles, but the one thing that really becomes a habit is drawing. Drawing any old thing - from his bathroom cabinet and its contents to stuff scattered all over the kitchen table, to the remains of a sandwich. He falls in love with drawing and slowly becomes used to drawing in public. Soon, drawing starts to feature very large in his life.

Even before I was halfway through the book, I had a blinding revelation. Why wasn't I sketching? I had been an "artist" all my life - I'll never be comfortable with that word - and art of all kinds had always featured large for me. I painted landscapes when I was commissioned, and I ran a small illustration business, and I illustrated picture books for children...but I didn't sketch. So I started to sketch, like Danny, anything around me. I was blown away by how good it felt, how natural it was and of course I was immediately addicted. Like Danny, I ventured away from the house and into the streets of Mauritius, eventually daring to draw in places I would never have imagined, like the main mosque in Port Louis, or surrounded by Hindu devotees at a holy lake, or by a million small boys on a beach.

Here's what Danny Gregory says about drawing:

"My drawings began as a way to count my blessings. To study, capture, catalog the things that, despite it all, make my life rich. First my immediate surroundings. The sun that falls on my notepad. Jack's new paintings on the fridge. The slow tumble of a dust bunny under the dining table. I try to feel these blessings, to become part of them and their source, whatever that is. And that communion, not these drawings, is the reason why I draw."

Danny writes with great honesty and simplicity about a time of personal tragedy. There is something about reading another's words when written in this way that is profoundly touching, and you feel honoured to be invited to share the writer's journey. He's funny, too, and all in all a great teacher. His drawings are so fresh and real  - wobbly lines and all - and serve his argument that it's less about result and more about process, very well (although I genuinely adore his drawing style). I still read his blog occasionally, and he has a great knack for communication, which comes across in this book. I recommend it in every class I teach, although I've yet to meet someone who has had a Damascan conversion as powerful as mine as a result of reading the book. That can only be because they haven't read it yet!

It was only about ten months after reading this book, and drawing more than I had in my entire life up to that point, that I discovered the global community of sketchers through Gabi Campanario's The Art of Urban Sketching, and my new passion entered the stratosphere. Anyone who follows what I do will know that I sketch wherever and whenever I can, and my output is enormous - I went from nought to sixty in the space of just a year. I will never forget the heady year that I discovered this book, and Gabi's the following Christmas (my mother again). That year sparkles in my memory, just like the year I that I fell in love for the last time - both marked the start of ongoing happiness.

Here's the evangelical bit: I have had more than fun, adventure and richness through sketching: I've achieved the peace of mind that I had sought all my life. There'll be other great books in my life - in fact, there's one on its way to me right now, that I can barely wait to get my hands on. But Everyday Matters by Danny Gregory was, and always will be, the book that kicked off my life as a sketcher, and gave me the start in sketching that has led me to a life that's richer than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams.

More of my work here.


Mark Leibowitz said...

A wonderful inspiring post. I'm too curious, what is the second life changing book that you're expecting?

Róisín Curé said...

Thanks Mark. I have every intention of devouring the new book and then going mental about it in public. It's the English translation of Felix Scheinberger's Urban Watercolor Sketching. I was enchanted by the flick-through on Amazon and bought it immediately.

Róisín Curé said...

But Mark, it won't be a life-changing book - no matter how good. It's like, you can't die twice.

jen said...

A lovely post. Thank you. I can really recommend Felix Scheinbergers book!I hope the english version is as beautiful as the original.

Capt Elaine Magliacane said...

Danny Gregory's 'Creative License' was my life changing book, 7 years ago…that and surviving cancer. I've been drawing every day since… wonky bad drawings that have magically gotten a little better, but I'm my number one audience and they make me happy and that is enough.

Stacye Leanza said...


Claudia said...

Great post!! I´d love to buy this book, but it´s not available here in Brazil... :(

Róisín Curé said...

Claudia did you try Amazon? Or maybe someone would send you a copy?

Veronica Lawlor said...

Lovely post about a wonderful book.