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Posts tagged "roger ebert"

Sep 02, 2014
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Roger Ebert’s sketchbook and thoughts on drawing

While I was watching Life Itself last night, I noticed two or three drawings in the mix of images, none of which were commented on.

Had I been reading his blog more carefully, I would’ve come across this blog post, “You Can Draw, and Probably Better Than I Can,” where he explains how he met a woman named Annette Goodheart in the early 1980s, who convinced him that all children can draw, it’s just that some of us stop:

The break in our childish innocence comes the first time we use an eraser. We draw a chin and think it looks nothing like a chin, and in frustration we erase it. That’s it. Our bond of trust with our artistic instinct has been severed. We will be erasing for the rest of our lives. I speak here not of great and accomplished artists, for whom I hold great awe, but for you and me, whose work, let’s face it, will not soon be given a gallery show.

It seems to me Annette said something like this: Begin with a proper sketch book. Draw in ink. Finish each drawing you begin, and keep every drawing you finish. No erasing, no ripping out a page, no covering a page with angry scribbles. What you draw is an invaluable and unique representation of how you saw at that moment in that place according to your abilities. That’s all we want. We already know what a dog really looks like.

When he was in London, Ebert bought a Daler sketchbook and a drawing pen across the street from the English National Opera.

I settled down in a nearby pub and began to sketch a glass, which is no more than an arrangement of ovals and lines. I continued to draw throughout the 1990s… I sketched mostly on vacation. I had the time. In Chicago there was always a deadline, someplace to be, a phone ringing. On vacation I found a cafe or a park bench, or was waiting for a concert to begin, or whatever.

He soon found out that the quality of his drawings didn’t matter at all — it was the mere fact that he drew them:

That was the thing no one told me about. By sitting somewhere and sketching something, I was forced to really look at it, again and again, and ask my mind to translate its essence through my fingers onto the paper. The subject of my drawing was fixed permanently in my memory. Oh, I “remember” places I’ve been and things I’ve seen. I could tell you about sitting in a pub on Kings’ Road and seeing a table of spike-haired kids starting a little fire in an ash tray with some lighter fluid. I could tell you, and you would be told, and that would be that. But in sketching it I preserved it. I had observed it.

I found this was a benefit that rendered the quality of my drawings irrelevant. Whether they were good or bad had nothing to do with their most valuable asset: They were a means of experiencing a place or a moment more deeply. The practice had another merit. It dropped me out of time. I would begin a sketch or watercolor and fall into a waking reverie. Words left my mind. A zone of concentration formed. I didn’t think a tree or a window. I didn’t think deliberately at all. My eyes saw and my fingers moved and the drawing happened. Conscious thought was what I had to escape, so I wouldn’t think, Wait! This doesn’t look anything like that tree! or I wish I knew how to draw a tree! I began to understand why Annette said finish every drawing you start. By abandoning perfectionism you liberate yourself to draw your way. And nobody else can draw the way you do.

As he wrote in a Facebook post, “An artist using a sketchbook always looks like a happy person.” 

Knowing Ebert himself drew means a lot to me, as the only direct contact I ever had with Ebert was this Facebook post where he praised one of my drawings.

He published a little paperback with some of his drawings (Two Weeks In Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook), but, unfortunately, it’s out of print. Luckily, you can read all of his thoughts on drawings and flip through some of his drawings on Flickr.

Filed under: Roger Ebert

Apr 20, 2013
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Roger Ebert, Life Itself

I bought this when it came out and couldn’t get past the first few chapters, which is a shame, because I was a devoted reader of Ebert’s blog. Here’s what I wrote in 2011:


  I’ve always thought that what makes Ebert such a brilliant blogger is that he’s doing it wrong—in the age of reblogs and retweets and “short is more,” he’s writing long, writing hard, writing deep. Using his blog as a real way to connect with people. “On the web, my real voice finds expression.” Man loses voice and finds his voice. “When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.” Blogging because you need to blog—because it’s a matter of existing, being heard, or not existing…not being heard. It’s almost as if Ebert had to become that living metaphor to show us how it’s supposed to be done.


After he died, I decided I had to go back to it and push myself through, and I’m glad I did. (Since there are so many chapters, and many of them began as blog posts, it’s definitely a book you should feel free to read non-linearly.)

While Ebert recalled his childhood, I kept thinking of Joe Brainard’s wonderful book, I Remember, which makes sense: they were born just a year apart.

My favorite chapters were about Steak ‘n Shake, walking around London, and Robert Mitchum, the fact of which makes me think of this quote by Ander Monson:


  We find ourselves not by turning inward toward what we imagine is inside us, but by the act of looking outward at the world. The self is nothing without what it looks at. On its own, it’s inert. Kick it. Poke it. It seems dead. But point it at something else…and it perks up. Thus a focus on our obsessions, however nerdy, creepy, lovely, allows the self to energy and live and blink a little in the bright light. In other words, the best way to write about ourselves is to write about something specific in the world.


A few passages I want to point out. The first, on the best writing tips he ever got:


  “One, don’t wait for inspiration, just start the damned thing. Two, once you begin, keep on until the end. How do you know how the story should begin until you find out where it’s going?” These rules saved me half a career’s worth of time and gained me a reputation as the fastest writer in town. I’m not faster. I spend less time not writing.


The second is a story that’s almost exactly the same as a story my dad told me about his dad:


  My father refused to let me watch him doing any electrical wiring. Here he told me, “Boy, I don’t want you to become an electrician. I was working in the English Building today, and I saw those fellows with their feet up on their desks, smoking their pipes and reading their books. That’s the job for you.”


The last, on death:


  My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. I am comforted by Richard Dawkins’s theory of memes. Those are mental units: thoughts, ideas, gestures, notions, songs, beliefs, rhymes, ideals, teachings, sayings, phrases, clichés that move from mind to mind as genes move from body to body. After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting, and telling too many jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many. They will all also eventually die, but so it goes.


Filed under: Roger Ebert, my reading year 2013

Roger Ebert, Life Itself

I bought this when it came out and couldn’t get past the first few chapters, which is a shame, because I was a devoted reader of Ebert’s blog. Here’s what I wrote in 2011:

I’ve always thought that what makes Ebert such a brilliant blogger is that he’s doing it wrong—in the age of reblogs and retweets and “short is more,” he’s writing long, writing hard, writing deep. Using his blog as a real way to connect with people. “On the web, my real voice finds expression.” Man loses voice and finds his voice. “When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.” Blogging because you need to blog—because it’s a matter of existing, being heard, or not existing…not being heard. It’s almost as if Ebert had to become that living metaphor to show us how it’s supposed to be done.

After he died, I decided I had to go back to it and push myself through, and I’m glad I did. (Since there are so many chapters, and many of them began as blog posts, it’s definitely a book you should feel free to read non-linearly.)

While Ebert recalled his childhood, I kept thinking of Joe Brainard’s wonderful book, I Remember, which makes sense: they were born just a year apart.

My favorite chapters were about Steak ‘n Shake, walking around London, and Robert Mitchum, the fact of which makes me think of this quote by Ander Monson:

We find ourselves not by turning inward toward what we imagine is inside us, but by the act of looking outward at the world. The self is nothing without what it looks at. On its own, it’s inert. Kick it. Poke it. It seems dead. But point it at something else…and it perks up. Thus a focus on our obsessions, however nerdy, creepy, lovely, allows the self to energy and live and blink a little in the bright light. In other words, the best way to write about ourselves is to write about something specific in the world.

A few passages I want to point out. The first, on the best writing tips he ever got:

“One, don’t wait for inspiration, just start the damned thing. Two, once you begin, keep on until the end. How do you know how the story should begin until you find out where it’s going?” These rules saved me half a career’s worth of time and gained me a reputation as the fastest writer in town. I’m not faster. I spend less time not writing.

The second is a story that’s almost exactly the same as a story my dad told me about his dad:

My father refused to let me watch him doing any electrical wiring. Here he told me, “Boy, I don’t want you to become an electrician. I was working in the English Building today, and I saw those fellows with their feet up on their desks, smoking their pipes and reading their books. That’s the job for you.”

The last, on death:

My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. I am comforted by Richard Dawkins’s theory of memes. Those are mental units: thoughts, ideas, gestures, notions, songs, beliefs, rhymes, ideals, teachings, sayings, phrases, clichés that move from mind to mind as genes move from body to body. After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting, and telling too many jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many. They will all also eventually die, but so it goes.

Filed under: Roger Ebert, my reading year 2013

Apr 04, 2013
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When I am writing, my problems become invisible, and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.

Jul 18, 2012
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She is the great fact of my life.
— Roger Ebert, on his wife, Chaz in his memoir, Life Itself

Sep 23, 2011
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May 19, 2011
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Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life’s experience, and those I consider a form of prayer. Not prayer “to” anyone or anything, but prayer “about” everyone and everything. I believe prayer that makes requests is pointless. What will be, will be. But I value the kind of prayer when you stand at the edge of the sea, or beneath a tree, or smell a flower, or love someone, or do a good thing. Those prayers validate existence and snatch it away from meaningless routine.
Roger Ebert on The Tree Of Life

(Source: alterdestiny.blogspot.com, via ayse)

Apr 24, 2011
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One of my favorite writers, Mr. Roger Ebert, shows some love to the doodles I drew while watching 45365!

One of my favorite writers, Mr. Roger Ebert, shows some love to the doodles I drew while watching 45365!

Apr 13, 2011
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On the web, my real voice finds expression.

Dec 02, 2010
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slaughterhouse90210:

“One has so many more opinions about what has gone wrong than about what is perfect.”  — Nick Hornby, 31 Songs

slaughterhouse90210:

“One has so many more opinions about what has gone wrong than about what is perfect.”
— Nick Hornby, 31 Songs

Jun 11, 2010
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When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.
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