Tag Archives: julan chu


Drawing by Saul Steinberg

Pianos are splendid. Here is a book that explains with brio how they came to be.

My friend Julan Chu, a gifted pianist, lent me a fine, shiny piano. It felt wrong to have it and not to play it, so I began to take lessons again last January.

Julan Chu -portrait by Julie Paschkis 2003

My lessons became virtual when the pandemic arrived, and they also became more important to me. The discipline of practicing scales and pieces has been an anchor (a metronome?) during these strange times.

In the book Dancing Hands, Margarita Engle tells the story of the pianist, composer and singer Teresa Carreño, who immigrated to the U.S.A. from Venezuela during the Civil War. This book tells the story of the power of music in light and dark times- like a piano it conveys a whole range of emotions. Click here for a link to the illustrator Rafael Lopez’s fantastic blog about how he illustrated the book.

Although I am practicing and playing through dark and cloudy times, you wouldn’t illustrate my attempts with vivid blossoms. My hands stumble and squawk more often than they dance.

Christoph Niemann

But it is interesting to try, and it is satisfying to see incremental change. Every once in a while I can make music.

Petr Vasilievich Miturich

When I am at the piano I need to let everything else go, which is difficult. I realize how fractured my attention has become. Practicing requires presence.

In May Christoph Niemann published a graphic essay in the New York Times about the solace of learning piano as an adult during the pandemic.  (Click HERE for a link.) He brilliantly illustrated the pain and the pleasure of the practice. Now he has turned that essay into a book: Pianoforte.

His illustrations are perfectly compressed ideas – succinct, funny, and true to my experiences.

He shows the frustrations …

the side benefits…

and the ephemeral pleasures.


I had to include actual music in this post!  Please click HERE for a link to Ballade No. 15 , composed by Teresa Carreño, played by Alexandra Oehler.

And here is a link to the website of my fantastic piano teacher, Carrie Kahler. She teaches young children as well as adults. Because the lessons are virtual you could sign up no matter where you live.

What has kept you going during the pandemic? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Thank you.


Space: The Final Frontier

Nature and I abhor a vacuum. I tend to fill up every bit of space with pattern and color.

But I am often drawn to art that has room to breathe in it, like this 1958 snowstorm by Selina Chonz. The space allows you to appreciate the patterns.

This next illustration was done by Lotte Schmiel in 1935. The background floats into the shapes; she allows your imagination to complete the edges of the objects.

As does Margaret (Chodos-Irvine) in this illustration for Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet Wong. Your eye creates the edge of the tee-shirts and also connects the shirts from stripe to stripe.

Lizbeth Zwerger is a master of space. Her composition pulls your eye around the painting. All of the space allows you to notice the grace and perfection of her lines.










For a while I was taking piano lessons. My friend and teacher, Julan Chu, told me that I needed to pay attention to the rests as well as to the notes. Lately I’ve been trying to leave some rest for the eyes in my paintings, at least some of the time. This image is from my book Apple Cake, coming next fall.

The images I’ve posted here all share the quality of spaciousness. There is also a secret sub-theme. Can you guess it?


P.S. For those of you in Seattle, there are some upcoming events I would like to tell you about. We have added an Events page to this blog where you can find out about the launch party for Mooshka and other exciting activities to come.