Fort America, Step-by-Step

Twelve years ago I made a diagrammatic-esque drawing called “An Island Unto Itself” that represented the USA as a small-minded, fortified and paranoid island during the years right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the country was in a jingoistic and nationalistic ferver under George W. Bush (click on images to enlarge):

Recently, with a new jingoistic and nationalistic era underway with Trump (not to mention mean-spirited, racist, bigoted and misogynist), I remembered the old drawing and felt the need to make a quick, angry version in my sketchbook to match my current mood:

This got me thinking about political art and what artists can do during times of oppression, regression and extreme political stress. Normally I don’t consider myself a political artist, but I’ve been feeling the need to do something in response to the disturbing zeitgeist of Trump’s America. Among other things, I decided I needed to make an updated version of that old drawing. Below are the steps I took:

Step 1:

I put down acrylic washes to delineate the basic structure. At this point it looks and feels very light and “watery.”

Step 2:

I trimmed/shaped the paper and outlined sections with a water-based fountain pen.

Step 3:

I needed a little chaos, as it was looking a tad tame, so I spritzed it with water (which made the pen lines run) and added some yellow-green washes to give a sense of vegetation.

Step 4:


Then it was time to build the fortifications, ramparts and walls, not to mention adding barbed wire, land mines and other militaristic details using fountain pen. As I drew these I was attempting to embody and channel the fear and anger of the people who support the notion of building a wall along the border with Mexico.

Step 5:

Next I attacked the piece with a Sharpie pen using quick, aggressive critical marks and symbols a la an angry and excessively critical athletic coach making diagrams for plays and drills. While I was doing this I imagined Trump sitting at his desk in the Oval Office after his minions have handed him a map of the vast, rich and diverse resources and communities that the country contains for his judgement and approval (or antagonism). His entitled response, of course, is to grab a pen and stab, attack, critique, cut and judge with ruthless and gleeful abandon.

Step 6:


Finally, using acrylic paint and white pencil, I added new layers around, over and between the “critical” Sharpie marks and the underlying fountain pen details. These layers and marks partly represent the resistance to Trump’s attacks, but they also attempt to convey (obviously in an abstract/symbolic manner) a sense of the extremely complex, nuanced and ongoing nature of the intense political, legal and moral battles and struggles of this moment.

Drawings for Airplanes Made on an Airplane

When I was visiting my sister down in San Diego we stayed for a night in a Marriott hotel, where I discovered a Marriott-branded pad and ballpoint pen provided for us in the room. I know many hotels do this kind of thing, but for some reason these simple objects felt like surprise gifts or tools delivered to me personally to play with from the corporate gods:

I enjoy the challenge of working within constraints that are chosen by some outside force or system not under my control, so I happily put aside my usual sketchpad and pens/pencils and took up this little “found” hotel art kit. A few days later, as I was walking through the San Diego airport something in the environment reminded of the seminal ambient album “Music for Airports” by Brian Eno. Once I was on the plane I decided I needed to get out my hotel art kit and make some “Drawings for Airplanes,” partly as an homage to Brian Eno, and partly as a talisman to insure safe passage through the air (I figured it couldn’t hurt to flatter the plane with honorary drawings).

Number one (on the airplane folding tray table):


Number two (also on the airplane folding tray table, but with cup of coffee):



Bigger, Longer, Bolder, Hotter — Fiery Arm #4!

Working on Fiery Arms #4 (Bigger=compensation?) in the studio. See the progression:

(Click on image to enlarge)


FA4 studio1 FA4 studio2 FA4 studio3 FA4 studio4 FA4 studio5 FA4 studio6 FA4 studio7 FA4 studio8 FA4 studio9 FA4 studio10 FA4 studio11

Performance Drawing at Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

In March I participated in a show called “BLUE” that was part of a series of family-friendly 3rd Friday Festival events at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. I did a collaborative performance drawing called “Pen-do-Chronology #8 (Santa Cruz Bluez, 3/20/15, 5-8:00 pm)” which relied on the participation of audience members to create:

Pen-do-8 1 Pen-do-8 2 Pen-do-8 3 Pen-do-8 4 Pen-do-8 5 Pen-do-8 6 Pen-do-8 7 Pen-do-8 8 Pen-do-8 9 Pen-do-8 10 Pen-do-8 11

Laser Cutting Burns

Laser cutting 1/2″ plywood for “Fiery Arm Sub-Prop” sculptures at Pagoda Arts in SF:


 Lasercut 1 Lasercut 5 Lasercut 4 Lasercut 3 Lasercut 2 Lasercut 6

Make art in the parking lot

I left my studio on a hot, sunny day to drop off some mail at the post office and decided to swing by Safeway to buy some band-aids. The day before I had accidentally stabbed my forefinger while trying to pry parts out of a piece of wood I had laser cut (the laser didn’t cut all the way through everywhere I needed it to, hence the need to pry). When I bandaged myself I noticed I was almost out of band-aids and decided, since I appear to be prone to this sort of thing, that I had better get more. So, got the band-aids from Safeway and then walked into the parking lot, navigating across the expanse of cement and cars while squinting and looking down because the sun was so bright (I had forgotten my glasses, which “self-tint” in the sun). As I walked I noticed the parking spot paint lines creating interesting geometric patterns and a nice circular pattern in the cement, which I had never paid attention to before. I left the parking lot and stopped dead in my tracts. I was thinking that I really liked those parking spot paint lines and that maybe I should go back and take pictures of them. But I’m not a “photographer” and I don’t have a “good” camera, so what do to? Does it matter if the image quality is good enough to print or if I have the right lens or whatever? Do I need to be a “photographer” and not a “drawer” or “painter” or “printmaker” or “dad”? Well… fuck it, I thought, I have a crappy iPhone camera and I can just go and do it and who cares? As in, just be spontaneous (remember that word, you tired, crabby old 41-year-old)? As in, just go ahead and make art from whatever you find. Right? I mean, why not?

Safeway Park Lines #1-12 (Homage to Mondrian)

14_6 14_7 14_8 14_9 14_10 14_11 14_12 14_13 14_14 14_15 14_16 14_17

Camo-Color Fiery Arm in progress…

In-progress studio shots of the new Camo-Color Fiery Arm drawing (click to enlarge):





FA-Camo-prog6  FA-Camo-prog4

Don’t Assume Everyone’s an Extremist

Don’t Assume Everyone’s an Extremist:

A Response to the Santa Barbara Shooting Massacre of 5/23/14:

I’m finding it rather uncomfortable—no, awful, actually—to be an artist in the middle of a project that’s essentially a humorous parody of extremist gun culture at the same time that a mass shooting has occurred in Santa Barbara. There’s nothing funny about this tragedy, obviously, and I feel horrible for the families and friends of the victims. There’s a video of a father of one of the victims decrying the N.R.A. and politicians while weeping that I just can’t watch right now because I know I would completely lose it. In this situation there’s little that I can say or do that would make people feel better or help anyone make sense of this terrible event.

The N.R.A. and Moms Demand Action and others will respond in predictable ways in order to bolster their respective positions on gun violence and the media will spin every gruesome angle for entertainment and increased audience share. Once again journalists, pundits and bloggers will ask “Why does this happen?” and “What can we do to prevent it?” and gun rights groups will insist more guns will make us all safer and gun control groups will insist that fewer guns are the answer. After about a week this will all die down, nothing will have been solved or changed, and those people in Santa Barbara will still be dead. In a month or two we’ll have another gun massacre somewhere in this country and the cycle will continue.

In the face of this cycle of violence and accompanying paralysis, what can you or I possibly do? What could possibly change the cycle or stop it from happening again and again? Well, I have a few thoughts, the first of which is simply “I don’t know.” Let’s all be honest and acknowledge, just to get the dialogue going, that none of us have all the answers at the moment. Not the N.R.A., not President Obama, not me or you or your neighbor or anybody on the blogosphere. We all just don’t know.

My second thought is “let’s step back and think about this together.” In other words, as with any problem in our lives, it can be helpful to carefully observe what’s actually happening (as opposed to our immediate gut reactions or strong feelings) and tease out all the complex and underlying factors that lead to a situation. Gun violence is a complicated, multifaceted societal problem that can’t be solved quickly or easily. I don’t think the extreme ideas being espoused, such as all of us having guns strapped to our hips a la the Wild West or melting down all guns into a big heap of metal are practical or desirable. Can we, as a society, step back from our entrenched and increasingly extremist positions in order to examine this problem with clear heads? When we start looking closely we see that the problem of gun violence includes questions about mental illness, poverty and education as well as the obvious issues of politics, law and second amendment rights.

My position in this debate over gun violence and gun control is that I’m against all extremist positions on all sides. I am for stepping back and taking a closer look at the problem, examining it from all sides, and encouraging rigorous and unbiased research into the complex factors involved (by the way, the N.R.A. has helped eliminate federal funding for research on gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). I’m also for everyone involved (including you and me) being a little more flexible in our thinking around this problem. Being a liberal artist and educator who lives in San Francisco and who doesn’t own a gun, my gut reaction is to immediately want to enact stringent new gun laws, especially on assault rifles and high capacity magazines, and to finally implement background checks at gun shows. But if you’re a conservative rancher from Texas, you probably have the opposite reaction, right? To me, that’s fine, that’s as it should be. The problem lies in how much we’re urged to dislike each other, to disrespect each other, and to assume those who don’t completely agree with our own positions are crazy, stupid or “bad guys.”

Let’s bring back the simple notions of moderation and compromise. Can we allow for the idea that because people disagree with us, it doesn’t mean they’re the enemy and that they necessarily must hold the most extreme views possible? For example, even though I support more gun control laws, I don’t want to take away everyone’s guns, I’m not out to get anyone, I’m not the boogey man—I’m just a guy with a family trying to live my life. I’m happy for my wife’s father-in-law to go wild boar hunting in Sonoma and for Boy Scouts to practice marksmanship on shooting ranges. I think there can be good reasons in specific circumstances to have guns and I’m open to learning about more. I’m hoping that there are gun owners who are open to discussing circumstances when guns are not appropriate and when some degree of gun control is sensible and desirable.

Can we have a thoughtful discussion about gun violence between disagreeing equals with respect? Are we willing to examine fact-based evidence, to listen to each other’s ideas and feelings, and possibly, in the end, to compromise? Is this possible? Honestly I don’t really know. It’s probably naïve or foolish to talk about this, but we’ve got to start somewhere, right? For the sake of the people in Santa Barbara, and Newtown, and Aurora, and Columbine, and on and on, let’s at least consider it—together.

Trevor Tubelle

San Francisco, 5/26/14








We want you–join FLAP!

FLAP (Fiery League of Arms Partnership) will begin recruiting soon

Fiery Arms-we want you


FLAP your arms!

The Fiery League of Arms Partnership (FLAP) is finally coming together! Coming soon (April/May) to…

Fiery Arm Production

Fiery Arm Props