The above illustration is by Ken Avidor.
This post is the first in a series of profiles on creative people I admire. I hope their work will inspire you along your own creative path, regardless of how different that path might be.
Ken Avidor is a Minneapolis-based cartoonist, illustrator, and journal keeper extraordinaire. I met Ken and his also fabulously talented wife Roberta—more on her another day—when I was involved in the Minnesota Journal Project 2000.
Even before that meeting, however, I had seen Ken's cartoon strip Roadkill Bill. This hapless main character is just trying to be green, and sane, in a car-driven world (no pun intended)—something that Ken practices in his own life as an avid bicyclist. His interest in bicycle culture spawned another blog, Bicyclopolis.
Besides all the artistic talent wrapped up in Ken, he also a very thoughtful political mind. He is one of the contributors to the Dump Bachmann blog.
Ken is an engaged citizen who takes his citizenship very seriously. He stays informed, he educates himself and his friends about the issues, he attends meetings. Ken is involved in the world as observer, commentator, and participant. Issues matter to him because he sees how the resolution of issues make a difference in how we all live our lives.
I also have to say, sometimes you meet people in life who have overlapping interests and Ken and I also share an avid interest in parasites and disease. I don't know how his interest in these topics started (for me it was surely my birth in the tropics), but I am glad of a friend with whom I can exchange information sources.
Another common interest Ken and I share is visual journaling. He likes to tell people that my friend Linda and I (both coordinators of the Minnesota Journal Project 2000) bullied him into combining his visual journal in to one book, and ceasing work on loose-leaf sheets. Well, I don't think we really bullied him. We are both just such fans of his work we simply didn't want to see any of it lost.
Ken's approach to visual journaling is as instructive as it is inspiring. He captures moments of his life in running commentary like a graphic novel, complete with interesting image composition, page layout, and handwritten lettering (including conversation bubbles). I have often heard him bemoan the fact that mundane moments predominate in his journal because that's when he has the time to sketch. I disagree. Drawings of the cat walking down the drive after some house incident, or sketches of his two daughters practicing their music, or portraits of politicians at public meetings are not mundane moments. I think such things are the incidents of life which show us the wonderful detail of the fabric of life. Seeing a sketch of his mother standing at the deli counter ordering food just makes me smile (above image; note the "take-a-number" dispenser). Ken's journal pages are filled with sketches of signage such as gas station signs and prices. Because of the way companies morph and merge Ken's journal pages will provide a history of the cost of living and the corporate players; just two of the many small details he includes in his journals. These details of life are the details I can't get enough of in journals from past times: what books or movies someone read and watched, what foods they ate and what they spent on those commodities. Over time this is profound stuff, a truly observed life.
"In art and journaling," Ken says, "I'm documenting what I feel other people are not seeing."
I believe that is the job of the artist; the job Ken is working at daily.
We are here now. We need to capture our experience of the here and now. I hope that Ken's work will inspire you to do that. If you do meet him in person, ask to see his journal. As he says, "My life is an open book."
NOTE: Ken will be participating in the 24-hour Comics Day at MCBA. I posted about this yesterday. Get the latest info at24-hour Comics Day Blog. People can just drop by for this event and see all the artists working away!