Ken O’Connell, “Chinese Garden in March” (left) and “Villa Lante in Bagnaia”

If you’ve never been to the Duck Store’s annual Tools of the Trade show, here’s a quick orientation video: 

That’s about what it’s like when the Creative Duck slaps “25% off” signs on everything and unleashes a horde of creatives into its winding corridors. Someday I’ll produce a little action movie re-enacting my Copic marker duel with an orc– I mean, artist.

The downside to all of this is that people often rush past, bowl over or nearly impale the awesome local artists stationed at tables throughout the store. When I found Ken O’Connell, he was tucked in a stronghold on the main floor, sketchbooks stacked around him like a great battlement.


Ken O’Connell, “Venice”

I first encountered O’Connell’s sketchbook art at his DIVA show last year. He’s a UO professor emeritus and a professional sketchbooker, which is a job that involves (1) European travels, (2) a million fancy art pens and (3) pastry eating. Dream.

O’Connell patiently answered my incessant questions about his drawing habits, all borne from my own recent sketchbook obsession. My notebooks usually end up being akin to angsty teen diaries, while his are filled with intricate architecture and quirky characters he encounters during his travels. I wanted to know how much his emotional state affects his work.


Ken O’Connell, “Saturday Market”

He flipped through his books and found some drawings that he colored with airbrush pens. There was a little airplane docking at the San Francisco airport lost in a puddle of melancholy blue, and two views of a Saturday Market performer highlighted with bright tones of robin’s egg and mandarin.

“People kept telling (American master photographer) Alfred Stieglitz that he made all of his portrait subjects look like him- stern and serious,” said O’Connell. “So he decided to photograph clouds. You can’t change the weather, right? But his pictures of clouds ended up looking just as stern and serious.”

It was an interesting meditation on how feelings influence an artist’s work. It’s easy to get swept up in the romanticism of Europe– did O’Connell don a pair of rosy glasses to sketch Venice? How might a jaded Venetian teenager portray his town differently?

At the end of our conversation, O’Connell and I exchanged cards… and I found out that he happens to be the PRESIDENT (of North American distribution) OF COPIC MARKER, which has headquarters in Eugene. Let me tell you, these are the highest quality markers in the world. For real.

Trying not to mention my recent duel using his product, I humbly begged for a tour. Oh, it’s coming folks. It’s coming.


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