Kouyasidia Village Project: Portrait Drawings

I've been making some time in the early mornings to work on some new art, and have been focusing recently on portraits using graphite and charcoal. Two recent works were based upon my travels to the Faranah region of Guinea, West Africa, to a village near Kissidougou.

I'm offering a short run of museum-quality prints of these pieces, with a portion of the proceeds going to Stands for Schools — a non-profit organization from New Hampshire that supports the people of Kouyasidia, Guinea, by providing aid for projects for which the people of the village have expressed a need.

Click either of the images below to order a museum quality print of the artwork. Both are 11x14 and printed on premium archival matte-finish paper, and come with an attractive Arctic White mat and mounted on foam core, ready for framing.

The original artwork is currently also for sale. Please contact me directly for inquiries.

Thanks for visiting!

May 24 / Sayon Camara & Landaya / Bristol NH

On Saturday, May 24, I'll be back performing with Sayon Camara and Landaya for the grand re-opening celebration at the Back Room at the Mill in Bristol NH.

This annual springtime performance has become a big favorite amongst the local crowd, and space is limited! Don't miss this intimate performance with Dave, Sayon and the crew as we perform traditional West African music from Guinea, West Africa.

Tickets are available here: http://thebackroom.ticketleap.com/landaya/ 

More info about Sayon and Landaya here: http://landaya.com

  • Saturday, May 24, 2014
  • 7:30pm – 9:30pm
  • Back Room at the Mill (map)
Sayon Camara in Guinea, West Africa • photo by Dave Kobrenski

Sayon Camara in Guinea, West Africa • photo by Dave Kobrenski

Landaya with Sayon Camara / Woodstock VT

Landaya with Sayon Camara / Woodstock VT

New work: "Nereid Galatea" (pencil and mixed media)

Been working on a lot of practice drawings lately, experimenting with different styles and techniques, and constantly trying to refine my drawing skills. Here's one that I particularly liked:

"Nereid Galatea", 2014 pencil and mixed media on paper

The addition of text in the background of a drawing is a design element I've always liked (the notes in the sidelines of the sketchbooks of da Vinci, for example). The poem in the background here is taken from Virgil, Eclogue VII:

Nerine Galatea, thymo mihi dulcior Hyblae,
candidior cycnis, hedera formosior alba,
cum primum pasti repetent praesepia tauri,
si qua tui Corydonis habet te cura, uenito.

Galatea, child of Nereus, sweeter to me than Hybla’s thyme, whiter than the swan, lovelier than pale ivy, as soon as the bulls come back from pasture to the stalls, if you have any love for your Corydon, come to me!

March 27: Stories and Music / Portsmouth NH Library

On March 27, 2014 at 7pm, I'll be at the Portsmouth NH Public Library talking about my travels in West Africa, the music and instruments of Guinea, and my new book, Djoliba Crossing. I'll be playing some music as well, demonstrating West African instruments like the Fulani flute, the djembekamale n'goni, and more.

Come by and say hello, ask some questions, and join in the fun! At the end, I'll be doing a book signing, and will have hardcover/softcover books, some CDs, and artwork & posters for sale.

Hope to see you there!

  • Thursday, March 27, 2014
  • 7:00pm – 8:00pm
  • Portsmouth Public Library (map)

Art for the people! Museum-quality art prints starting at under $50 bucks

I'm pleased to announce that the majority of my most popular paintings are now available for purchase as museum-quality art prints, in a variety of different sizes. Prints start at under $50 bucks!

Each print is meticulously reproduced to match exactly the original artwork, and can be printed on either of the following:

  • acid-free watercolor paper — giving the prints the same feel and texture as the original art. I recommend matting and/or framing the print upon arrival (includes a 1" white border around the image to allow for matting/framing);
  • stretched canvas — the art is printed directly to acid-free matte finish canvas, with gallery wrap (stretched on 1.5" thick wooden stretcher bars with black sides). The canvas comes “ready to hang” with pre-attached hanging wire, mounting hooks, and nails.

Visit the "Gallery" page to start adding to your personal art collection at your home or office!

Commodify or Die: What's the Cost of Keeping the Arts?

I’m fortunate to be connected with some inspiring and hard-working artists and musicians that happen to also be impassioned and eloquent thinkers, speakers, and writers. One of those guys is Dr. Jonathan Lorentz, a talented jazz musician I’ve had the privilege to work with on some music projects. He’s currently the Executive Director of New Hampshire Jazz Presents, and will be presenting at the 2014 Transition Economics assembly in St. Louis this coming May 2014. 

The Transition Economics assembly is billed as an “intellectual jam session” that will “assemble some of the world’s most brilliant minds on what to do about economics, governance, education, and culture in a moment when our traditional institutions cease to be up to the challenge.” They’re asking some big questions, and I’m glad that Dr. Lorentz will be taking part, as I’ve had the opportunity to talk with him about some of these issues — in particular, we've spent long hours discussing the state of the arts, and current support for it (both in terms of public interest and actual financial support).

Lorentz is a savvy guy who draws from great personal experience when it comes to the topic of making a go of artistic and musical ventures in the current economic climate. He's been on the scene as a working musician, performer, and promoter long enough to have seen how the changing social and economic environment has affected the ability of independent artists to produce original art and music as a viable means of making a living. The diminishing role in America today of art as an experience — going out to see live original music, an independent theatre production, or a gallery showing of new original art, for example — is felt by artists who struggle to have their unique voices heard above the roar of more easily commodified big-business entertainment that can be piped right into our living rooms.

Like many of us on the “front lines” of creating culture in our communities, for Lorentz, the issue of discussing what it’s like surviving as a working musician with real life bills and an education to pay off isn’t just theoretical. You try making a living as an original musician — even a highly trained, ultra-talented one like Jon, who holds a PhD in jazz studies — in a place like New Hampshire, and you’ll see that the shit gets real pretty fast. There just isn't a whole lot of decent work, and wages for working musicians have actually decreased over the last decade. It's a direct correlation to what we as a society deem to be valuable: it's amazing how many people won't pay a $3 cover charge for good, original music in a local bar or club. Eventually, the opportunity to have the experience of that live music vanishes from the community as a result of dwindling support, but many people won't look up from their television long enough to notice that it's gone.

Dr. Lorentz recently wrote an article that was published on the Transition Economics web site, titled “Decide Now If You Want The Arts in the Next Economy” — it’s a hard look at the economic realities that many (most?) working artists and musicians face today, and its worth a read. He discusses in detail the viability of new, original art in an economic system that pumps out commodified, recycled entertainment for the masses, and he proposes some ideas and solutions for individuals and communities seriously interested in ensuring that art as an experience has a continuing role in the economy.

The problem, as Lorentz (and anyone out there making original art) knows from personal experience, is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for original artists and musicians to survive and compete in a social environment that favors “super-sized entertainment options” and that profits by continuously repackaging what’s familiar and known for re-consumption by the mass public. Our society today, he argues, "no longer seeks to be engaged with new sounds, images, stories and experiences." Digital entertainment, social media, and big-budget Hollywood films “fills the hole where the arts used to be.”

The result, Lorentz states, is that for most artists, producing original art is no longer viable as a vocation. “It’s just not a thing, meaning it’s not a trend, or commodity,” writes Lorentz. The problem is amplified when coupled with a higher education system that charges biggo-bucks training would-be artists and musicians for careers that largely do not exist anymore, leaving young and talented creatives with enormous debts and worthless degrees. Artists must decide whether they can commodify their work and talents in such a way that they can compete, or whether they must resign themselves to “art-as-hobby” and find other ways to support their endeavors — and individuals and communities alike must decide whether the arts are something they value enough to support with more than just words.

In the debate over art as commodity vs. art as experience, the simple fact remains: Somebody has to support art for it to continue to exist in our communities, and to flourish as a part of our culture. The question is, who? Society today (and as Jon argues, specifically a society rooted in meritocracy) often replies that artists are on their own. Works of art that cannot easily be commodified — even though they may have great cultural and intellectual value to society — simply do not get the support they need to remain viable, and so they go away.

The fact that so many working, original artists struggle to get by is indeed a great social dilemma, as Jon makes clear — and at the heart of the issue, I believe, is the notion that many of us in society have simply lost the capacity to understand, appreciate, and therefore recognize the great social and human value of the arts. We’ve forgotten that it’s something we care about and need, in the same way that we’ve forgotten that caring for the environment is essential to our long-term survival. In both cases, the majority of the population may not remember until they are sick and dying (physically and/or spiritually). Some will remember sooner, and there are those who never forgot.

This problem of the lack of support for the arts lies, of course, with our society’s values — or more accurately, the notion that we as a society have all-too-readily handed over the responsibility of value-placing to entities and systems that are incapable of measuring anything’s value in terms other than dollars and cents. By and large, we have allowed ourselves to be conditioned to be consumers of those things whose values can be measured in dollars — leaving to wither in anonymity those things that have great aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual value but otherwise are not easily turned into commodities. As a result, much of society now only knows how to consume those things that are fed to us by money-making mass media machines, and it is not any great surprise that funding for the arts has dwindled, and that most people don’t believe it to be up to them to chip in to support the arts in their own communities. We have forgotten that the arts are a social service essential for healthy, vibrant communities. For many, the arts are just not important enough to be supported as a civic duty.

The paradox of this whole conundrum, I feel, is this: it is the artists of the world who, if anyone, can inspire us to be freed from the constraints of a materialistic, short-sighted society of our own making and reclaim the vibrancy of our communities. Despite that it is unpaid work, it is the creators of original art who have the unique ability and vision to teach us to see for ourselves again, and remind us of those sublime qualities of existence that have been collectively forgotten, and that cannot be bought or sold. In endeavoring to create art as experience, the artist seeks to deliver the intangible, and the intangible can never be commodified — and therein lies the complication of placing a dollar value on it. 

For many artists, the lack of support for the arts in our current economy is indeed the death knell for their vision of creating original art, and perhaps the world will never know of their unique vision and their unrealized potential. Others will find a way to keep the lamp of their creative vision lit through the stormiest of weather. In their drive to tirelessly perfect the means with which to communicate their unique vision, many artists simply accept the terms of poverty. Amidst great suffering oft comes great art — perhaps it is the price the gods extract for it. But more likely that's just shifting blame: a society that recognizes the inherent social value of its art and culture will support it, period, and be healthier for it in ways that cannot be counted in dollars.

Someday, we may collectively remember that the arts are as important to the overall well-being of a society as are healthcare and sanitation, roads and public safety...and as such should be provided for and fostered in the same way. It’s a world I hope I get to see. In the meantime, I am happy that folks like Dr. Lorentz are discussing these issues, and continuing their work...as artists and as inspirations to their communities.

Dave Kobrenski, March 2014

Check out Jon Lorentz's current work at www.jonathanlorentz.com

(Join the conversation! Leave your comments below)

The $15 Portrait Drawing Challenge & Experiment

The challenge is on! March 9 — March 23, 2014. Read on...

Portrait Drawing Order Form
from 15.00
Artwork Delivery:
Number of people in drawing:
Add To Cart

The concept: As an artist, I'm always trying to improve my skills by creating new work whenever possible. When life and work become busy, and the bills must get paid, at times it is difficult to find the time to work on large pieces! During these times, I try to hone my skills by studying light and form, experimenting with lines and shading, and attempting to achieve a level of expression and emotion through even the simplest, rawest form: the pencil drawing.

The challenge: the dilemma of any working artist is how to balance the need to earn a living with the time required to devote to creating new work. My goal is to create as many portrait drawings as I can in the next two weeks (March 9 — March 23, 2014)

The experiment: I'm offering simple, expressive portrait drawings to the public for a limited time for an insanely cheap price, as a means of pushing myself to improve my skills. 

The way it works: you send me a good quality photo of yourself (or a loved one), and I create an expressive and high-quality pencil drawing for you. Since the goal of this is for me to continue to strive towards new levels of quality in my work, you're gonna get a nice piece of artwork (I don't send it until I'm completely happy with it, no matter how long it takes me).

The benefit for you: you get a signed original piece of custom artwork for wicked cheap. Starting at just $15 bucks! Holy smokes, that's cheap!

The benefit for me: I get the opportunity to continue to hone my skills as an artist, and hopefully pay off a few bills while I'm at it.

Note: after placing your order, I will contact you to arrange for getting a photo from you. Photos can be sent to me by email to "davekobrenski at me dot com".

Tips on choosing a photo: the best photos from which to base a drawing have good lighting and plenty of contrast. Photos that are shot with a flash or are in bright sunlight tend to be washed out and are not good choices. The higher the resolution (image size), the better. Typically anything above 1500 pixels on it shortest side will do.

If you have any questions or need help choosing a good photo, I can help!

Price List:

1 person in drawing, digital file only: $15
2 people in drawing, digital file only: $25
3 people in drawing, digital file only: $35

1 person in drawing, digital file + original artwork: $30
2 people in drawing, digital file + original artwork: $40
3 people in drawing, digital file + original artwork: $50

1 person in drawing, digital file + original artwork in black mat: $45
2 people in drawing, digital file + original artwork in black mat: $55
3 people in drawing, digital file + original artwork in black mat: $65

Sundiata: an epic tale of a West African hero

This past winter, I returned to Guinea, West Africa to resume my studies of the tambin, the traditional wooden flute of the Fulani and Malinké people (also knows as the Fulani flute, or Fula flute). With my longtime teacher and friend Lancine Conde, we spent many hours each day playing through his remarkably extensive repertoire of music. One of my favorites was the song that accompanies the story of Sundiata — the most famous of all Mandinka rulers, and the founder of the Mali Empire. 

Before I departed from Guinea, Lancine and I sat down with a single microphone between us in his house in Conakry, and made recordings of ten duo-flute pieces, in one take. Below is our take on the song “Sundiata”. Enjoy! (and please visit Lancine's website here, and support him by buying his solo CD!) 

About Sundiata

Sundiata Keita (also spelled Sunjata or sometimes Sundjata) is a hero of the Mandinka people of West Africa, and is celebrated as the founder of the Mali Empire in the 13th century. The famous Epic of Sundiata is an epic poem that is told/sung by the griots that tells the tale of his life and rise to power and founding of the Mali Empire.

About the Flutes

The flutes in the recording are wooden flutes from West Africa known as tambin (and commonly referred to as Fula or Fulani flutes). They are three-hole transverse (side-blown) flutes that are capable of 2 ½ octaves and can be played in a very expressive fashion, often with singing into the flute while playing it.

Tambin (flutes) from Guinea, West Africa. 

Tambin (flutes) from Guinea, West Africa.