BeLoose Graphic Workshop

Sketching the News with Larry Roibal

Most people read their newspaper every morning and toss it into recycling. Larry Roibal uses it as his canvas.

The 47-year-old South Plainfield artist sketches portraits on his morning paper. The drawings are often of people in the news, sketched with ballpoint pen on the stories about them.

After years of doing the sketches for his own amusement, Roibal has begun posting them on his blog-- A Studio Diary.

We asked Roibal, a former Star-Ledger paper boy and loyal Ledger reader, about the intersection of art, newspapers and the internet.

Q: Lot of people doodle on their morning newspapers. What made you start a blog to post your drawings?

A:  Good drawing (something I always hope to achieve, but seldom do) is about observation. The more you practice it, the better you become, (at least that's the theory) hence I try to challenge myself to observe and draw every day.

But I was never very good about carrying a sketch book . . . and when I did, more often than not, I found myself sketching the backs of people to avoid being caught staring. So I started drawing subjects on the television or in the newspaper, on whatever was handy, paper napkins and newspapers mainly.

For years I was doing this and just throwing the drawings in the trash or the recycling bin. There is something liberating about drawing on something that's destine for the trash. There's no pressure to create art.

Using ball point pen without erasing or correcting is just another level of challenge for me; we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. I make my share of mistakes on these drawings, but tomorrow will bring a fresh supply of news and paper to inspire me. That was how I started drawing on the newspaper, but that was years before I started blogging.

When I updated my website this year, I decided to add a blog without giving any thought at the time as to what content I would put on it. I figured I would write about the daily goings on of my life as a freelance illustrator, but being that I spend most of my waking hours alone in my studio, my life isn't exactly a page turner. My other website already has my commissioned work on it, so what to blog?

I'm a news junkie; I read the paper every day and was enjoying these doodles . . . they're spontaneous and filled with errors but there is truth in them. Certainly there are many sites with far better drawings . . . but how long did the artist labor?

If you visit my blog by 9 a.m., you'll see that day's newspaper peaking out from under my sketch the way a hostage will hold a newspaper as proof of a certain place in time. Good or bad, this is what I doodled this morning. I like that.

Q: How do you decide what to draw each day?

A:  I try to stay informed by reading at least one newspaper every day and watching the cable channels. Sometimes I see a story the night before and I know what the doodle will be, but more often than not, I get up in the morning, find the Star-Ledger on my front lawn, and read through it before deciding on a subject to draw.

I love when friends and family get involved. If I see my Blackberry blinking before 7 a.m., it's probably my brother Dan texting me with a suggestion, complete with page number. I jokingly call him my content adviser.

Q: Why portraits?

A:  Besides the fact that faces interest me, drawing a face that most will recognize forces me to be more observant. If I drew landscapes, it would be hard for an observer to discern whether or not I accurately depicted a tree, cloud or hill.

Q: What happens to your drawings after you post them each day?

A: For years I was tossing them into the trash or recyling bin, but since I started to post them on my blog, I've been saving them in folders.

Q: Art is more than just a hobby for you. What's your background? What do you do for a living?

A: I earned a BFA from Parsons School of Design in New York and have studied at Parsons in Paris, The Art Students League and SVA. I've been a freelance illustrator for over 20 years, and my drawings and paintings have appeared on everything from book covers, and CD jackets to magazines and wine labels.

Q: Your site is an interesting mix of old media (newspaper and drawing) and new media (blogging). Has the internet changed the way you go about being an artist?

A:  I try not to let the blog enter too much into my thought process. I want the drawings to be an exercise for me. If I think too much about impressing someone, there's a danger that the blog would turn into a collection of pretty pictures. I also don't want it to be a distraction from my commissioned work and deadlines that I need to meet. As far as old media vs. new media . . . Some bloggers, armed with strong hit counts, have an over inflated view of their contribution to the public discourse and have developed an adversarial relationship with traditional media. I'm not in that camp.

I'm a full time illustrator. I don't have the time, nor the budget to track down a story. I have never filed a Freedom of Information request. I rely on traditional media to stay informed, not just as a blogger, but as a responsible citizen.

Some may have noticed the Star-Ledger's bylines peaking out from behind my daily doodles. My brother and I had a Star-Ledger paper route when we were boys. and I've been a subscriber and reader ever since.

I know that old media is going through some tough times right now and I am saddened by that. If we become a nation of citizens watching skateboarding pets on YouTube but never read a newspaper, how will our press stay commercially viable so that they can do the important work of informing us?

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Comment by Anab Roa on March 25, 2013 at 6:22pm

Wow!such a great idea :)

Comment by Brian Lin on January 16, 2012 at 12:31pm

Rena -

I'm not sure if he sells them or not. From what it sounds like, he just picks up the morning paper and sketches, archiving the ones he decides to keep.

Comment by Rena Feldman on January 10, 2012 at 10:35pm

These portraits are so intriguing! I would love to have couple. Does Mr. Roibal sell them?

BeLoose is a workshop where the experience will definitely change people's lives and increase their confidence beyond their expectation.

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