Student Spotlight John Cromer

Student Spotlight: John Cromer


In this week’s spotlight, we meet John Cromer, from Altadena, California.


Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: A typical day begins with me, trying to get my head together. When traffic has died down around here, I go for a bike ride for about an hour or two. After that, I have a list of 56 (the number constantly being revised) projects that are in various stages of completion. Most involve reading or study. Most of the time, when I read now, I make notes. Sometimes I add notes to The Box (that Jonathan Twingley told us about, via Bob Dylan). Many of the projects involve drawing. Ever since Brenda Swenson wrote about the “75-75” challenge, in early 2014 — do 75 drawings in 75 days, one a day, just ink, no color, no washes — I have been doing one drawing a day, in A5 books reserved for those daily drawings. Just last week I passed 1900, currently in book #23. I’ve since branched out into color and washes, though. I also maintain a fairly extensive correspondence via email with people around the country, as well as old-fashioned, snail-mail letters with others. And, of course, there are the usual chores and errands that life insists that I participate in.

John Cromer sketch

Q: How did your creative journey start?

A: There was a 60-year gestation period! I just retired, last year, from 30 years of computer programming in the astronomy department at Caltech, in Pasadena, and before that, 10 years as a programmer and a chemist in an environmental engineering consulting firm. I’ve always been a bit of a nerd, interested in math and science and not very interested in art, but I can remember, when I was young, being attracted to chemistry because of the wonderful colors (and the explosions, of course). I also remember being more attracted to the images and graphics that were produced from math, physics and chemistry than I was in what it all meant and how useful they could be! And as long as I can remember, I’ve doodled on notepads during meetings, in my logbooks and on engineering pads when I’m trying to figure things out. I’m one of those kind of people who can’t think very well without pen and paper at hand. And, I’ve always (well, since about 1976) kept “logbooks” and they are also full of doodles and images in addition to the text. In science, you learn to write down everything!

John Cromer drawing art

Then I turned 60, and the artist, lying dormant in me all those decades, began to break out of its shell. Somehow, I discovered The Illustrated Life, Danny’s compilation of the sketchbook practices of artists and illustrators which was an eye opener. Then, I bought The Creative License. About eight months after my 60th birthday, at the suggestion of an artist friend, I signed up for a beginner’s drawing class at the Armory Art Center in Pasadena. About eight months after that, I became a charter member of Sketchbook Skool, when the very first “Beginning” klass started in April of 2014. And, what a trip it’s been ever since. I feel like Sketchbook Skool and I have been learning and growing together for the last five years.

Q: What has your creative practice taught you?

A: That you can teach an old dog new tricks! Drawing has opened my eyes to seeing the world in ways that I never even dreamed about. It’s actually difficult to explain, not to anyone who draws, but to “normal” people, who think drawing is something only children do. It’s taught me that the Universe is stranger and more mysterious than we are even capable of imagining.

John Cromer artwork

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to a brand new artist or someone who’s just recently joined SBS, what would it be?

A: Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep moving. Keep creating, no matter what it is. Do not worry about control. For example, draw with a brush taped to the end of a 3-foot stick. Draw portraits of your friends with string dipped in ink. Draw portraits of your friends, with Q-tips taped to the ends of all of your fingers and dipped in ten different colors of ink or watercolor! LOSE CONTROL! And in your artistic journey, you might not quite realize where you’re going but that doesn’t matter; you will be delighted by the surprises that bubble up out of your creations. And, remember this quote from Rebecca Solnit, “the grounds for hope are in the shadows, in the people who are inventing the world while no one looks, who themselves don’t know yet whether they will have any effect.”

4 mins

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