Don Craig AKA ZenDruid

Artyczar

Moderator
Messages
12,527
It's that fascinating time again where we get to know one of our own. You all know him as ZenDruid around here, but Don Craig has been making art for decades and has one of the most interesting backgrounds I have learned about yet! Please grab a cup of your favorite beverage and enjoy yourself while reading our exciting interview with him. We were extremely pleased with Don's detailed answers and getting to know more about him. Honored, in fact. It's having members like Don and the rest of you that make this community so extremely special. Thanks to Don and everyone who has participated, and all the unique members of this website. We appreciate you all more than you know!

And now for the interview...


1. Where do you hail from, and where do you live now?

I was born in Hawthorne, CA, which has been a suburban town in Los Angeles County. This was during WWII; we were called War Babies. While my father was off in a battle ground and prisoner of war camp in Europe, my mother and I lived with my grandparents in nearby Inglewood. He came home safely but wanted to escape to the wilds of northern California in a small town called Project City, a community built for men and women working on the Shasta Dam hydroelectric project. We lived there for six years, I loved it, wild hill country.

When the Korean War started in the early 50's, he was called back into the Army for active duty because he was an experienced combat infantry officer. We started moving, from Project City to the Presidio at Monterrey and then to Fort Ord and Atascadero - Then Fort Benning and Columbus, GA - Then back to Hawthorne. He went on to Korea, and when that cease fire was declared, he was reassigned to Okinawa. My Mother and I joined him there for one year. We lived on a military compound but were fairly close to the native Okinawan people. Nice people but still living a primitive existence then, subsistence farming and fishing. I was 12, that was a standout awakening year in my life.

I was what they call an "Army brat." Between the ages of 12-18 I spent three years in three different countries with three different languages - Okinawa, Germany, South Korea. I've been across the Pacific Ocean three times by ship, once by plane; across the North Atlantic once by ship, once by plane. I've lived in four corners of the United States. I know it sounds like bragging, but it was unusual circumstances for an American kid, thanks to the US government, and I would not have given that up for anything. We weren't rich, probably lower middle-class income by today's standards.

After Okinawa, my father was reassigned to an Army Reserve Center in Plattsburgh, NY. We were there for six years. For some reason, my parents thought I should be in a Catholic boys high school for six years: Mount Assumption Institute. I would have preferred the public high school where there were girls. Stunted my social development. In my senior year, my father was reassigned again to Germany. He went first and then my mother and I followed. I graduated there from Mannheim American High School.

That was in 1960 and the United States still had a universal military draft requirement for young men. I wanted to get that out of the way before college, and wanted to get away from my parents, so at age 17 I enlisted in the US Army for three years. That got me to Ft. Dix, NJ, for basic training - Ft. Gordon, GA, for Signal Corps school, and an overseas assignment to South Korea for 15 months. Coming back, I finished my enlistment at Ft. Bragg, NC. Despite what some may think of the military, those three years are among the best in my life.

Now I was ready for college and enrolled at Rider College, Lawrenceville, NJ, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Journalism. I met my wife Kathleen there. She was a Sociology major. I was into photography, and she modeled for me. We got married, still are.

Easel 010  A.jpg

Kathleen, pencil on 18x24 inch 65 pound drawing paper. Referenced from my photo.

After college, we both got jobs in Newark, and then Manhattan, but we didn't care much for that urban life. I came from all over the place, she from her grandfather's truck farm in Pennsylvania. We wanted the country. This Saranac/Plattsburgh area is one of the most beautiful areas I've seen in my travels, we moved here in 1972. We've changed homes a couple of times but now live in an 1870 small farmhouse in Saranac, which we bought in 1985. And here we are.

2. How did you start making art?

With a box of crayons, making a mural on the living room wall behind the sofa. I was maybe five. After the scolding, my parents got me some of those How To Draw books - horses, dogs, cartoons - and a sketch pad and pencils. This was in northern California, still primitive. My only cultural influences were AM radio, my parents 78 rpm record player, and a subscription to The Saturday Evening Post, a magazine featuring cover paintings by Norman Rockwell.

3. What media do you like to work in?

Right now, acrylic abstracts which I started two years ago. Also pencil drawing which I started again in January. And photography, a lifelong pursuit.

12-21-20 #1 Skull  009  small copy.jpg

Skull, acrylic on 10x12 inch plywood.

4. What style would you say your art is?

For painting I would say Abstract Impressionism, but that can vary. For drawing, loose sketching and cartooning. Photography covers my need for realism.

5. Who are your artistic influences, or what types of art have influenced your work?

Let's start with photography. My father was an amateur photographer. I watched him and at age eight he gave me a cheap 35mm camera. When he saw I was committed, he taught me the mechanics of photography and let me use his Rolleiflex and Kodak Retina cameras. That started a lifelong pursuit.

As a kid I was still casually drawing. Comic books were my inspiration. Besides the usual heroes, I liked Walt Disney animation - Walt Kelly and the Pogo series - George Herriman and Krazy Kat - Mad Magazine - later, Robert Crumb and Ralph Bakshi. Also, pin-up artists like Alberto Vargas and Boris Vallejo.

In high school, I discovered a book of French Impressionist painters in the local library. That was an eye opener for me, and I started searching for other art books. That led me to everything from Hieronymous Bosch to Picasso to pre-Columbian Mayan art.

Kokopelli and Aphrodite #8 May 10 2021  small.jpg

Aphrodite's Birthday Party, acrylics on 16x20 inch stretched canvas.

In my thirties, I enrolled in a couple of classes for life drawing and sculpture at the local state university college. The instruction was adequate but working with other beginning artists, real models and a hands-on sculpture studio gave me a real sense of joining the art world.

6. Do you have a philosophy about being an artist?


I want to create work that is mythic, primeval, tribal, atavistic. I want to create something new, at least in small ways. All art is derivative, of course, from what's passed before. I would like to do art - whether painting, drawing or photography - that is an image of something "other" than straight realism. Magic realism comes to mind. Hard to discuss a personal philosophy without sounding egoistic. :)

3d   1634586714395.jpeg

Flight, acrylic on 16x20 inch stretched canvas.

7. Do you have a particular process? Can you run us through it?

For photography, I still occasionally shoot film. I send it to a custom photo shop, Old School Photo Lab in New Hampshire (there are many others). They process the film and send me back negatives, a contact sheet and a digital CD copy of the pictures. Very reasonable.
For digital photography, I have several cameras from Nikon DSLR to a small Canon pocket camera that takes amazingly good pictures. These images I download from the camera to the pictures file on my desktop computer. I take these to my Adobe Photoshop 7 program and tweak them in regard to image size, cropping, brightness and contrast, color balance, etc. There are various tools to manipulate details or remove objects that "photo bomb" the background.

For paintings, I mainly use the bargain stretched canvases from Michaels, Hobby Lobby or Staples local stores. Against better advice, I'm still using household water-based wall primer like KILZ 2 - one coat for the back, two for the front. When laying it on, I use a dab of color to see where I'm going. Then I paint with various brushes, knives and old plastic credit cards that can be cut to shape. Once I'm satisfied with the painting, I will photograph or scan it depending on size. Download it and then I take it to Photoshop and do whatever tweaking I want. I do clean up what I consider important details, but I leave the rest alone. I consider that to be part of the creative process.

For drawings, I'm using various handheld sketch books that I can lay on a scanner. Bigger drawings get photographed. The same process as above is repeated.

There are photographers who will say the only "right" picture is one taken "straight out of the camera" with no digital manipulation. Well, the great photographer Ansel Adams made each one of his large black and white prints by hand, manipulated them with cropping, burning and dodging, and no two were exactly alike. That was his art.

Painters get concerns about their colors being correct in the photo/digital process and then sent from their computer to the billion computers downline. I say don't worry about it, it's beyond control. No two people see colors the same way. No two computers are calibrated the same way with the same screens. Certainly not smart phones. Do your best and let it go. I believe online art sales allow a grace period for returns should the buyer be color challenged.

8. Outside of art, what do you like to do?

Cooking. I've taken over the evening meals. My wife has arthritis and can't stand for long in the kitchen. I can and I like it. She's actually admitted that I can cook better than her. As a small child, and only child, I spent a lot of time following my mother and other women around the kitchen, especially when a cake was underway. Batter and icing would be available for licking up. I also like grocery shopping, I like to look at food, think about how to use food, and the store is like a large social gathering that doesn't require tedious conversation.

I also like playing guitar. I've been at it, hot and cold, since I was a teenager of course. I have four regular guitars: a vintage Hohner folk acoustic; a Yamaha acoustic/electric; a Gretsch electric/acoustic; and a Yamaha classical. Also, some 1, 2, and 3 string cigar box guitars I made. I play for my own amusement; I have about a dozen easy pieces that I practice for a few minutes every day.

I also write fiction and poetry occasionally. Poetry Soup is a forum I belong to. Check it out, I'm sure there are poets here. You won't find me, I use a pen name.

9. What is something that motivates you in life?

Sunrise, full moons, wind blowing in the trees. Here in Saranac, way northern New York, we're surrounded by a million acres of hardwood forest, lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. That's more to say what I'm grateful for. Forums like this, and a few others I belong to, inspire me to create. I'm finding late in life that creating art is something I'm supposed to do. Our social lives have changed dramatically in the past few years and we can find and select our new friends here and elsewhere.

Floers June 17 023  a  small.jpg

Digital flower photo, manipulated in Photoshop

10. If you could give advice to any artist at all, what would it be?

Do your own thing. Don't worry or listen too much to what others think. Constructive criticism is good, but in the end it's your choice and your show. Probably every artist you admire is someone who broke away from the herd and did something new and original. Practice every day for at least five minutes. Pick up that pencil or brush and make a few marks, and then go take a nap.

Lastly, do you have a website, and/or social media platforms you would like to promote?

I do have a website, Don Craig Photography at https://doncraigphotography.zenfolio.com/

I've got about 60 years of photography behind me. I have a few pictures I consider excellent, many more that are good, and many more so-so but I wanted a place to put them. It's actually a vanity website for me. Zenfolio has a marketing option for photographers, but I would prefer to deal with a buyer directly and I've posted my email address at the end of each portfolio. If any member here wants to use one of my photos for a reference, you have my permission. Share the finished work with us.

Don, thank you again for being August's spotlight artist. We are thrilled to have you participating. It means so much to us! ♥️
 
Last edited:
Thank you Ayin for this opportunity, it's a great honor. I thought I might get to do this someday, but there are so many other great artists here ahead of me.

Let me take a moment to address my goofy looking avatar. It reminds me of this guy:

1659358210754.jpeg


Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519, a great inspiration.

Thanks again to Ayin, Hannah, all the moderators and the other artists who have been kind and patient with me. :)
 
DonZen (that's your name now in my head :)). I enjoy all the art that I've seen of yours. You have such a marvelous sense of humor that I am really drawn too. I am particularly in love with Zorro and the Ghostman - add a few more to the series, and I think they should be published - just soooo good! Skull, Aphrodite's Birthday Part and Flight are fantastic !
 
DonZen (that's your name now in my head :)). I enjoy all the art that I've seen of yours. You have such a marvelous sense of humor that I am really drawn too. I am particularly in love with Zorro and the Ghostman - add a few more to the series, and I think they should be published - just soooo good! Skull, Aphrodite's Birthday Part and Flight are fantastic !
Thanks CaliAnn. :) I can only do Zorro and the Ghostman when a dumb idea occurs to me (they don't come as often as you might think). A real cartoonist has to do a panel every day weeks in advance. So they will make occasional appearances here. :)
:)
 
Great interview, Don! I'm so happy to have learned more about your photography background: should have guessed you were a fellow traveler.

This:
There are photographers who will say the only "right" picture is one taken "straight out of the camera" with no digital manipulation. Well, the great photographer Ansel Adams made each one of his large black and white prints by hand, manipulated them with cropping, burning and dodging, and no two were exactly alike. That was his art.
I said a "hoo-yay!" to, because of course, it's the human manipulation of the "straight out of the camera" that turns a frame into art. Right on, my brother!

I love your paintings, too, and agree with Donna that Zorro and the Ghostman are inspired. ❤️

I hope you tell us stories about those childhood pranks. ;) So glad you're here with us!
 
Great interview, Don! I'm so happy to have learned more about your photography background: should have guessed you were a fellow traveler.

This:

I said a "hoo-yay!" to, because of course, it's the human manipulation of the "straight out of the camera" that turns a frame into art. Right on, my brother!

I love your paintings, too, and agree with Donna that Zorro and the Ghostman are inspired. ❤️

I hope you tell us stories about those childhood pranks. ;) So glad you're here with us!
Thank you Terri, it is good to be here. This is one of the few forums I've been on where people support each other regardless of style.
Since I was a kid, I always found cameras to be cunning little machines that magically make pictures, still do. I like the way you take polaroids and make them into pictorial art, your processes are fascinating. I'd like to do something like that with my digital photos, still working that out in my head. Cheers ❤️
 
What an interesting interview, Zen aka Don; a fascinating backstory to your art! I admire your paintings and photographs and of course Zorro and the Ghostman. A while back you explained that sometimes you have a painting on the easel and only make occasional marks on it as you pass through and that stuck with me. A painting can evolve over time! It's little bits of wisdom like that that are very much appreciated. You did childhood pranks?! Do tell! :)
 
What an interesting interview, Zen aka Don; a fascinating backstory to your art! I admire your paintings and photographs and of course Zorro and the Ghostman. A while back you explained that sometimes you have a painting on the easel and only make occasional marks on it as you pass through and that stuck with me. A painting can evolve over time! It's little bits of wisdom like that that are very much appreciated. You did childhood pranks?! Do tell! :)
Thank you Donna! :) Ayin suggested I could go long so I did. I had some experiences that are common to military families but not well known to civilians. It got me around the world in my formative years. Pranks? Oh yes, we all did. Probably common among artists, I think. ;)
 
ZenDon: If you do decide to tell us about some of your pranks, please do start with the alcohol induced ones first 😆
Cali, l I don't want to give you new ideas for something you might not have thought of back in your girlish days. I'm sure this group of artists have many stories to tell after one of those wine-and-paint parties! :)
 
Don, I really enjoyed the interview and can now more fully appreciate your talents. The shading on Kathleen is excellent. The photos on your website are all gems, beautifully composed and shot (to my untrained eye). It also features a wonderful variety of subject matter. Interesting you went to Rider College, as I went to Rutgers Camden campus for undergrad. My birthplace is Burlington County, NJ, and I was raised in Marlton, near Cherry Hill. You are so talented that you are able to play music, do various forms of art, and write, compose poetry, and cook!

Thank you for the glimpse into your life and Ayin for the interview.
 
It's a fantastic interview, ZenDruid works various and all very beautiful, it's nice to admire your art and read about you.
Thank you for the kind words Joe, it's an inspiration for me to be part of this adventure with you and all others. :)
 
Don, I really enjoyed the interview and can now more fully appreciate your talents. The shading on Kathleen is excellent. The photos on your website are all gems, beautifully composed and shot (to my untrained eye). It also features a wonderful variety of subject matter. Interesting you went to Rider College, as I went to Rutgers Camden campus for undergrad. My birthplace is Burlington County, NJ, and I was raised in Marlton, near Cherry Hill. You are so talented that you are able to play music, do various forms of art, and write, compose poetry, and cook!

Thank you for the glimpse into your life and Ayin for the interview.
Thank you Joy! :) Small world, Kathleen was living in Burlington, me at Ft.Dix, while going to Rider before moving into apartments in Trenton. I'll bet there's more than a few people here who play music of some kind. My cooking is okay, a lot more palatable than my poetry. We all have the creative bug and probably apply it to a lot of things. :)
 
Last edited:
ZenDruid, thank you, your site is beautiful, I'm seeing it now, fantastic photos, many years ago I would have liked to try to learn a little to photograph but I have never learned, But it's art that I appreciate, If you don't mind then I would then try to draw your photos of animals sometimes I practice this and put the drawings in the forum post writing that they are your references.
 
Back
Top