The Conversation – Preliminary drawing

I am at a client meeting and stayed after to have a second cup of coffee. Drew a quick sketch in between writing notes.  

Will go home and finish the drawing, maybe write a short story to go along with it, who knows.

Headline Walking – Shame #1

Headline Walking - Shame #1


Monica the Brave

Many of you will remember Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern caught up in the 1998 Clinton impeachment scandal due to her affair with the President.  She recently gave a TED talk about public shaming, something she knows a lot about. It’s a fantastic lecture and she brings up what I think is a horrible aspect of contemporary life, even more harsh than when she was in the center of the storm, and that is public humiliation and shaming. 

Miles of Headlines

She had a number of great lines in the lecture and this quote was at the top of the list.  It perfectly updates the old quote about walking a mile in someone’s shoes to apply to our current world.  To really understand what the people most affected by public humiliation and shaming, think about living through the headlines and publicity they have to live through.

Compassion and Empathy

What she is asking for is to be compassionate and empathic in the cyber world as well as in the real world.  Now, it’s important to clarify one thing.  Feeling compassion for someone does not mean you are absolving them of guilt. Being empathic does not mean you don’t approve of some serious consequences for their actions or words.  Having both in your repertoire of responses simply means you treat that person as you would like yourself to be treated, with understanding.

Influence and Power

Here is her suggestion for action;

The theory of minority influence, proposed by social psychologist Serge Moscovici, says that even in small numbers, when there’s consistency over time, change can happen. In the online world, we can foster minority influence by becoming upstanders. To become an upstander means instead of bystander apathy, we can post a positive comment for someone or report a bullying situation. Trust me, compassionate comments help abate the negativity. We can also counteract the culture by supporting organizations that deal with these kinds of issues, like the Tyler Clementi Foundation in the U.S., In the U.K., there’s Anti-Bullying Pro, and in Australia, there’s Project Rockit.

We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression. We all want to be heard, but let’s acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention. The Internet is the superhighway for the id, but online, showing empathy to others benefits us all and helps create a safer and better world. We need to communicate online with compassion, consume news with compassion, and click with compassion. Just imagine walking a mile in someone else’s headline.

I agree with her.  I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions as well.

Ted Talk

Here is the video of her talk.

You can go to the written transcript from there if you prefer to read it.



Drawing and commentary by Marty Coleman

Quote by Monica Lewinsky, 1973 – , American author and activist.




Artists I Love – Ed Ruscha

“Good art should illicit a response of  ‘huh? Wow!’ not ‘Wow! Huh?'” –  Ed Ruscha


Whenever I travel I like to check in advance to see if there are any cool museums I should hit. I often am wanting to see the architecture as much as the art. In 2009 I hit the jackpot with the Denver Museum of Art. It’s an amazing structure that had amazing art inside.

One of the pieces there was this one, ‘Molten Polyester’ by Ed Ruscha. I hadn’t seen any of his work in decades, since I had been in graduate school.  I had no idea he was doing these larger pieces with epic mountains and words and it resparked my interest in his work.



Molton Polyester – 2005



As a Napkin Kin you know how much I like words and that almost every napkin is a combination of words and images.  Then it’s no surprise that one of my favorite artists over the years has been Ed Ruscha.  His use of words, sometimes laid over recognizable images and sometimes just on a gradient of color, have always been compelling and thought provoking to me.



Ed Ruscha by Dennis Hopper. 1964


Ferus Gallery

His first recognition as an artist came in the 60s when he had his first show at Ferus Gallery, a groundbreaking space in LA that championed a number of California artists, including Robert Irwin and Richard Diebenkorn, already in the ‘Artists I Love’ series.  



Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights, 1961


An interesting side note for those who think New York is and always has been the first city of art in America.  It was at the Ferus Gallery in 1962 that Andy Warhol had is very first solo art exhibition. It consisted of his Campbell Soup Cans and 5 of the paintings sold. They cost $100.00 each.  The gallery owner, Irving Blum, decided all the paintings should stay together and cancelled all 5 of the purchases.  Just imagine what they would be worth now if the collectors had been able to take possession of the paintings.




Ruscha was firmly in the grips of the new pop art aesthetic when he started.  He liked using the images of the world he saw, mundane and non-elitist, similar to Warhol, Johns and Lichtenstein.



Ed Ruscha – Standard Station, 1963


But he had a subversive side that pushed further than simple pop visualization.  He added an element that he said was based purely on his visual curiosity, as in, ‘I wonder what a standard station would like like if it were burning.’  And there is that innocent, gee whiz, element to it.  But there is no denying that culturally and socially he was making a statement.



Ed Ruscha – Burning Standard Station, 1965-1966


He took it even further when he depicted the new heart of art in Los Angeles, the LA County Museum of Art, opened just a year earlier, burning down. This wasn’t a generic gas station, this was biting the hand the fed him.  I remember this painting for two reasons. One, I was taken to the LACMA soon after it opened by my parents. Number two being it was right next door to the famous La Brea Tar Pits, home to long-deceased dinosaurs.



Ed Ruscha, Los Angeles County Museum On Fire – 1965-68


Liquid Words

In the late 60s Ruscha started doing paintings of liquid in the shape of words.



Lisp – 1968


Sometimes it would be water, but other times it would be a liquid connected to the word, as in ‘Ripe’.



Ripe – 1967


Adios written honey is another example. By having the ants stuck in the honey we know who the ‘adios’ is meant for. But it also allows us to abstract that idea out to larger situations that could include humans. It’s literal and metaphorical at the same time.



Adios – 1967


Unconventional Media

The painting of fruit juice or honey to look realistic is one thing, but taking non-art materials and actually using them as your art-making material was another step.  Ruscha, influenced by Duchamp’s readymades and other artists using found objects, started to do the same. One of his most interesting series in that vein is the gunpowder series.

It’s simple enough, he drew with gunpowder instead of graphite.  It looks the same in many ways but he liked something about it’s texture and how he could work with it. It was not lost on him however that simply using the word ‘gunpowder’ in his list of materials was part of the artwork and the meaning.



Quit – Gunpowder and colored pencil on paper – 1967



Self – Gunpowder on paper – 1967



Eye – Gunpowder on paper – 1970


No Words

He also started doing work with no words at all. 


Man Wife – 1987


Ruscha-Strong Healthy-1987

Strong Healthy – 1987

And what does he do when he uses no words? He leaves blank spaces where words would be then titles the pieces so that you believe the title fits into those spaces.



Eventually Ruscha started to incorporate whole sentences into his work. They were mundane and unremarkable in their reference to the everyday world but when disembodied from their usual context became rich in possible meanings.  As usual though, there wasn’t any one interpretation that was right or wrong.


Pay Nothing Until April 2003 by Edward Ruscha born 1937

Pay Nothing Until April, 2003




I Don’t Want No Retro Spective – 1979


Of course, as one might expect given Ruscha’s inclination towards word play and irony, this painting became the cover of a retrospective book on his art work. 



The Act of Letting A Person Into Your Home – 1983



In doing this piece I came across something about Ruscha I didn’t know; he was raised in Oklahoma, where I now live.  It actually has found it’s way into his work in many more ways than I realized. From his cross-country travels from Oklahoma to LA where he discovered his love for the landscape and the iconic gas stations along the way to the use of the words Tulsa and OK again and again in his work, Ruscha always remained connected to his roots.



Tulsa – 1967 – Gunpowder on paper



OK – 1990 – Lithography




Tulsa Slut – 2002 – Acrylic on canvas

This is from a series he did on palindromes, words or phrases that can be read the same forward or backward.



No Man’s Land – 1990 – Acrylic on canvas


Even when he doesn’t use words he is still often asking a question, ok?

Meaning and Questioning

One of the questions that gets asked about Ruscha’s work has to do with meaning. What is he trying to say, what does he mean?  I think the best way to understand Ruscha’s meaning is to replace the word ‘meaning’ with ‘question’ since he isn’t really much of an answerer or a propagandist. He reminds me of a visual Paul Simon. Simon’s lyrics often stop short of an clear storyline, instead they give pictures and hints about meaning.  Ruscha does the same thing and that’s why he is an artist I love.



In 2013 Ruscha was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.


This is not a exhaustive showing of his work or explanation of his place in contemporary art or art history. There are incredible resources to explore if you are interested in finding out more about his work and life. Here are just a few.


Ed Ruscha’s L.A.  – The New Yorker, July 1st, 2013

Ed Ruscha – Catalogue Raisonne

Ferus Gallery history – Archives of American Art

Road to Ruscha – a collaborative road trip from Oklahoma to LA


 More Artists I Love 

The entire ‘Artists I Love’ series can be found below or by clicking on the ‘Artist I love’ link at the top of the page.

Winter/Spring 2015

Summer/Fall 2014

Winter 2012/2013

Winter 2011/2012



The Curious Event – A Short Story




Chapter 1

Betsy heard it first as she was running her usual Saturday morning run. She had a long training run that morning and had decided to run through some lightly used trails that criss crossed open fields in the State Park behind her college.  Most of the students who ran stayed much closer to home, usually running around the campus perimeter on the sidewalk. But Betsy liked the freedom and open space of getting off the beaten path. It allowed her time to let her mind wander creatively, something she sorely needed on a regular basis at her school.

As the sound got louder she looked up and saw something streak across the sky. It hit the ground within 50 feet of her, creating a big indentation in the grass. Once it hit it stayed put, not rolling, not tipping over. She ran over to it, stopping a short distance away, expecting it might be hot. She held her hands out as she walked slowing towards it. She felt no heat so she continued until she was arms distance away.

It appeared to be made of rough, porous stone.  There were inscribed lines radiating out from its center and bright jewel-like lights in between the inscribed lines.  She touched the stone, then one of the lights. When she touched the light a quiet tone played. It sounded like it was coming from everywhere at once.  She touched another stone and a different tone, equally as quiet, played. She continued touching the lights, trying to hear how many different tones the object could play. She figured out that it played what seemed to be eight tones in one octave and the another eight tones exactly one octave higher.

She tried touching two lights at one time. When she did that the object played a chord. The two tones of the two lights and a third complementary tone. All the tones and the chords were incredibly beautiful to listen to. Like the clearest bell she had ever heard.

Betsy spent the next 3 hours playing the object. She found out she could make a tone repeat regularly if she held her finger on the light for 3 seconds.  She found if she quickly tapped a light twice it would play the light’s normal tone and a harmonic tone at the same time.  After about an hour she felt her cell phone vibrate in her pocket. She brought it out and found that her music player was notifying her that a new song had been downloaded.  She went to the player and found the song. It was untitled with no cover art, no information about it at all. She played the song and heard the object’s tones.  It was the sounds she had been playing. 

She put the phone away and went back to playing the object.  She learned more tricks and methods and came up with what she thought was a pretty cool composition.  After another hour her phone vibrated again and another song from the object had been downloaded. It was the composition she had just come up with.  She did this one more time, increasing the complexity and rhythm of the composition and one more time the object sent the music to her phone.

She realized it was getting late and that she had to get back to her Sorority for a big event that night.  She tried pushing the object, thinking she might be able to roll it to an out of the way place. That way maybe no one else would find it and she could continue to play it.  However, there was no moving the object. She would just have to hope it was still there when she came back.

Chapter Two

The event that night was a mixer with a fraternity from a neighboring school. The girls all went over to the frat in a bus.  Some of the girls had already started drinking at the sorority house and were tipsy by the time the party started.  The guys were all vying for attention by doing stupid party tricks or dangerous stunts out the windows and on the roof of the frat house while the girls oowed and awed.  

Betsy was bored with it all and decided to find a quiet room where she could listen to the songs she made with the object.  She walked into a 3rd story bedroom. Her head was down looking at her phone and she was just about to push play as she entered when she heard a grunting sound and looked up.  A young woman was on the bed being held down by a large burly young man. He had on the frats sweatshirt but his pants were down around his ankle.  The woman was topless, her bra in the man’s hand, which was also pinning her arm down on the bed. Her skirt was up around her waist.  The woman screamed, ‘Betsy, help me!”

Betsy dropped her phone and leaped towards the man. She tackled him and the two of them fell off the bed and onto the wood floor. Just as the man started to raise his fist to strike her Betsy heard the object’s music starting to play.  The man’s arm fell and his twisted, angry face lost all expression. He went limp and blank.

Betsy jumped off him and turned to look at her Sorority sister. It turned out to be Selena, one of the new girls, one she hadn’t really met except for at the rush party a few weeks earlier.  Betsy asked if she was ok, if he had raped her.  Selena said no, he hadn’t actually penetrated her yet but he was just about to.  Betsy quickly turned back toward the man, double checking to see if he had gotten up, but he hadn’t.  She picked up her phone, shut off the music and called 911.  The ambulance was there within 3 minutes, as were the police.  They all dealt with it as they should have; having a counselor available, taking her to the hospital, testing her, taking photos and arresting the man.

Chapter Three

The would-be rapist, a student named Bradford, eventually woke up from his stupor.  He contritely confessed to the police that he had attempted to rape Selena and that he would have if Betsy hadn’t stopped him. He said he didn’t remember anything after she tackled him except some weird music as he went down. He said he had no idea where the music came from and the police chalked it up to him being knocked out cold.  He was tried and convicted of attempted rape and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He would get off in 7 if he behaved himself.

Betsy was hailed a hero by Selena, her sorority and the entire school.  She got a call from Good Morning America to be interviewed about the incident and it became a national story.  Time magazine did an article on the everyday heros of America and she was #12 on the list.  A guy who saved puppies was right above her at #11.  She tried to explain that she had no idea why he went out like a light the way he did, but most people credited it on the blow to his head as he hit the floor.  It went well with the story of her being strong and fearless and there wasn’t much she could do about it.  She wanted to tell someone about the music playing a part in it but she knew it would make no sense.  But even if it had made sense it wouldn’t have mattered. The next time she tried to play the music it had all disappeared from her phone.

Because of all the attention and activities surrounding her saving Selena from being raped she didn’t get back to the field with the object in it for almost a week. When she did go back the object was gone.  There was an indentation in the ground, but that was it.

Chapter Four

Fourteen years later she had her second and final run in with violence. She was driving on the freeway, her two kids in car seats in the back when a truck cut her off in traffic and slammed on his breaks. She just barely avoided smashing into him. The man, red-faced and angry, got out of his car and stomped back to hers.  

She was scared to death but was able to roll up all the windows and lock the doors before he arrived. He started yelling obscenities at her, telling her she was a danger to society, that she should learn how to drive and that he was going to teach her a lesson. She turned to the front media console and pressed the emergency call button she had programmed. As she did this she took a quick look in her rear view mirror. She saw her 5 year old panic stricken, about to cry. But her 7 year old was calm, looking down and playing with the old cell phone her mother had given her as a play toy.  

As she got 911 on the line and told them what was happening the man violently busted in her side window with his elbow. She screamed as he reached in to grab her neck.  She grabbed his arm instead and pushed it towards the steering wheel. She pressed his hand against the wheel and Hit his elbow as hard as she could. She heard a sickening crack. He screamed in pain while at the same time bringing up his left hand. In his hand was a gun. He was in the act of aiming it at her face when she heard the music. It was the music of the object from so long ago.  The man went blank just as the rapist had. He dropped the gun and dropped to the ground.

She turned quickly around to see how her kids were. Her 7 year old looked up, smiled and said, “That’s my favorite song. I made it up myself.”

The End




Drawing and story by Marty Coleman



The Magnifying Grass


A Blade of Grass - Curiosity #1

This and all napkin drawings are for sale, original or print.  Please email me at to inquire.


One of my favorite characteristics in my daughters is their curiosity.  I love how they like to talk about anything and everything. I like how they are up for most any activity, even if it’s something they haven’t tried before.  I like how their attitude towards new people and places is enthusiastic and welcoming.  I like being that way as well. It’s a true positive in my mind.

Curiosity can lead to being easily distracted, it’s true. It also can lead to not having strong opinions about certain things because you are open to any number of directions. For example: 

Random person: “Marty, Do you want to go to the beach or the mountains?”

Me: “Well, both are cool, both have interesting things to do and experience, I would be happy either place.”


Random person: “Marty, Do you want to eat sushi or Greek?” 

Me: “Well, both are cool, both have interesting tastes, both would be an adventure so I would be happy eating either cuisine.”

See what I mean?  It can be negative in some situations.


But since I eventually have to choose I try to remember choosing one of those doesn’t mean I am not interested in the other one. I am just choosing one direction in the here and now. The future? who knows. Hopefully I will be able to go in the other direction in the future!

Are you curious? How does it affect you positively and negatively?  


Drawing and commentary by Marty Coleman

Quote by Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826, American politician, farmer, inventor