A Week in Culture: Happy Menocal, Artist


The Culture Diaries



1 A.M. Go to bed with Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, a book about the work habits of famous artists, writers, philosophers, musicians, etc. Resolve to have a regimented, productive day tomorrow. All these people seem to subsist on coffee and alcohol and amphetamines. I feel like a toddler with my juice and crackers and noodles. 

7:45 A.M. Begin work on a little ad that’s due today for Stubbs & Wootton—fancy slippers made in Spain. It’s for a promotion they’re doing during the Ides of March. Someone at the company started the e-mail chain for the ad with the subject line “Eyes of March,” and I kinda want to do the visual about that. Decide instead to just paint Caesar, wearing the slippers, looking warily over his shoulder. I google “man sitting on column” because I want Caesar to be sitting on a crumbled stump of a column, and find this devil dog

My husband and I puzzle over where our two thousand terrible black umbrellas have gone, as now it’s raining and we have only one. He doesn’t bring it up this morning, but most times when we’re on the subject John likes to note that the pebbled plastic hook on the common street umbrella reminds him of that embalming tool they used in ancient Egypt to take your brain out through your nose.

10 A.M. My assistant Elizabeth comes over and packs up a bunch of boxes from my stationery line to ship to various customers. One box is going as a gift to my new doctor, Dr. Dubey, who accommodated me very quickly when I was sick last week. I haven’t had a general practitioner since childhood—it feels very Norman Rockwell—but now that I’ve switched to John’s swish insurance, it’s required. I decide to send Dr. Dubey cards with pheasants on them.

12:45 P.M. Meeting in Flatiron with a bride and her mother to approve wedding invitation proofs. Mutinous vibes at the printer. (Most of the work I do lately is for people who are getting married; I paint custom family crests. I started doing this for fun when my friends were getting married a couple years ago, and now it is my main source of income.)

2:30 P.M. Home again, painting a crest for a Florida couple. Revisions to Caesar drawing. Rain’s got me down. Listening to Kurt Vile. Watch this heartwarming Billy Joel thing

8 P.M. My friend Matt is in town from LA so a bunch of us have dinner. It’s so warm out and it’s stopped raining, everyone is radiant and funny. We eat at La Vara, hundreds of the tiniest shrimp. I feel like King Kong, shoveling dozens of souls onto my plate at a time, occasionally lifting one to eye level to observe it. Afterward, at a bar, it’s a girl’s birthday, and she is smoking Fantasias.



9 A.M. Watch a few Hannibal Buress videos; everyone at dinner last night was going wild about him. He seems sweet and square.

Look at my accountant’s Facebook page, but do not accept friend request. He used to have this Otto Dix painting as his profile pic, but he has switched it to a normal headshot. 

10 A.M. Work on a family crest for a couple getting married in Maine. The bride likes lilies and the color orange, so I look at some tiger lilies online. Daydream about a summer job I had as a teenager recording the colors of all the lilies in a field with a ballpoint pen on soft metal little signs, so that at the end of the summer when the owner of the field returned and the lilies had stopped blooming, he would know who was who. Get an e-mail from Alyssa at Schwartz & Sons, a design firm I admire, to collaborate on a project. Feelin’ good. Listening to Ducktails.

2:30 P.M. My mom comes over for some computer help. She repots my geraniums for me. The soil looks like crushed Oreos. 

4:30 P.M. Spanish for Beginners class at Idlewild Books. I’m half Cuban and embarrassingly never learned Spanish. My dad lives in Miami now, where my lack of fluency is even more pronounced, so I decided it’s time I learn. We talk about the nuevo papa (his name was announced earlier in the day), and how to count between a hundred and a million. Each of us clings to the few words we have retained. I like el mediodía, noon. My favorite classmate is Fred, a sixty-something Swiss guy who manages to smile continuously without looking like an idiot. There’s also a sweet brother-sister duo with a homeschooled vibe. 

On the subway begin Amy Sohn’s Motherland. Mean and flat, but I’ll stick with it for a bit—I like the milieu: yuppie Brooklyn couples. It feels sort of like Updike without the brilliance. 

8 P.M. Dinner with friends Claudia and Dan. Their apartment is cozy and unfussy and their table is in the middle of the space, at a diagonal. They cook Indian food and Dan makes margaritas. Dan tells us about this poet in Santiago, Chile, who was hired to name new buildings. He also tells us about a mother-daughter courtroom artist duo whom he met covering the Cannibal Cop trial. They both wear matching leather pants, butt-length blonde hair, and scarlet sweaters. I’d like to try my hand at courtroom sketching. I’d want to make them different, not that same hatched pastel on beige paper, but I suspect the reason they all look that way is that it’s the fastest way to cover ground, capture a range of skin tones, fabrics, wood paneling. I’d like to be the Leroy Neiman of courtroom sketches.

12 A.M. Watch a Cheers episode in bed. (The guys take Diane to the opera to show an interest in her passions, and they all fall asleep, including—slow pan across their slumped bodies in the opera box—Diane!) Must pause here for this great quote from Glenn Gould, also from the Currey book: “I don’t approve of people who watch television,” he said, “but I am one of them.”



9 A.M. Eggos, grapefruit juice and seltzer. Paint the lettering for a Philadelphia wedding invitation. Order Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women on Amazon. (Claudia talked it up last night—“Bridget Jones meets World War II.”)

11 A.M. Work on series of marine paintings for Jonathan Adler that are due tomorrow. Do a pair of manta rays that look too cartoonish, scrap them. Start a large octopus painting for a new project I’m excited about for Aerin Lauder. She is so pretty and fresh, she’s like a human gardenia. 

2:30 P.M. Elizabeth comes to pack and ship more stationery. Brings me a beautiful French datebook she contributed to and published. Taxes. E-mails. Draft a boilerplate apology e-mail for late responses to inquiries. 

6 P.M. Drink with an old friend at Whitehall. They make the bartenders at this place wear yellow roses clipped to their aprons with gigantic clothespins, like boutonnieres for a preschool prom. My friend Alex gives me an eyeglasses case embroidered with a tiger’s face on one side, and his tail on the other. I feel like it’s my birthday. 

More Daily Rituals on the subway. Fave so far is Dmitri Shostakovich, a kind of superhero: he led a busy, normal social life, but would slip away almost unnoticed—like in the middle of a pickup soccer game—compose at warp speed, and then return to what he was doing as if he never left.

8:15 P.M. Spaghetti at home with John, and back to painting sea creatures till two A.M. 



7 A.M. Paint more sea creature paintings and a few big snakes for J. Adler. The snakes are on melon-colored paper. As I’m getting dressed, I realize I don’t have a portfolio big enough to carry the new paintings, which are larger than usual, and the paper is too heavy to roll them. I find a flattened Fresh Direct box that will do the job, and spend the next ten minutes in sweaty construction. It looks outlandishly pathetic, so I decide to wrap the entire thing in butcher paper. The piece I cut is 6 inches too short, leaving an exposed midriff. More sweaty construction.

1:30 P.M. Meeting in Midtown at a big online fashion retailer about doing some illustrations for their site. I’m dressed as professionally/fashionably as possible, but the Fresh Direct box is under my arm, complicating turnstile entry and general mobility. Reminds me of Jill Clayburgh with the giant painting in the last scene of An Unmarried Woman. Anyway, this is exciting for me, as I have been wanting to get into fashion. Express a desire to be paid in CLOTHES. Visions of rolling up to my high school reunion in this.

4 P.M. Deliver paintings to Chris at Jonathan Adler. We go to the framer, an Indian woman, together, and she goes bananas over the paintings. But then when Chris and I are talking about how much they should be priced in the store, she gasps. “Much too high! That is very expensive for people to pay for this kind of art.” Burn.

7:30 P.M. John is introducing a screening of Tombstone at 92Y Tribeca. Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday is a god. Except that they paint him all grey and sweaty with makeup to demonstrate his tuberculosis. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way, that consumptives always looked rosy and beautiful, even on their deathbed? Maybe that’s just a thing from romantic books. I’m exhausted and slumping into the big grey cashmere sweater I’m wearing, which, according to family legend, my dad “stole from a nerd” in college.



10 A.M. In bed watching this sweet video about redbone hounds. If you have four minutes …

12 P.M. Painting in the kitchen. The Erik Satie playlist I found on Spotify devolves into a Muzak version of the Christmas song “Joy to the World,” just as we notice it’s snowing outside.

4 P.M. Watch the first episode of Top of the Lake, the new Jane Campion miniseries. The Holly Hunter character kinda reminds me of Steve Martin in Baby Mama.

8:30 P.M. Spring Breakers at Union Square. Too much repetition, not enough sunburns. But the clothes are so good. I love the look of a one-piece bathing suit with sweatpants over it. I’d love to see an evening dress based on that.



10 A.M. Walk to Walgreens, where I mistakenly buy gel toothpaste. Overhear two friends parting ways after a run-in: “You too, man. Make sure you wash that tub out real good afterward.”

2 P.M. Paint the Aerin Lauder octopus. (I ended up trashing the draft I made earlier in the week.) He looks wary, like everybody else I paint. Sketch a Yorkie named Annie. Take a walk, stumble into a comic book store. I’m usually not big on comic books—the aesthetic is too technical and murky and dark for me—but this Brazilian one blew me away: Temporama, by Clayton Jr. Each frame is a perfect painting, the colors are electric. 



Paint all day.

6:30 P.M. Head to the Pottery Studio. Returning to a pair of human lamps I started a few weeks ago and abandoned. The man’s head is too heavy for his neck and keeps tipping forward like he’s falling asleep, but I finish him and am pleased. One of the women in the studio, Donna, is a raspy, energetic little woman in her midfifties who is making a bust of her seven-year-old adopted Chinese daughter. She keeps asking Leah, a young Chinese woman, to verify her conceptions of Chinese anatomy: “So like, when you guys are born, your eyelashes grow into your eyeballs, yeah? Weird, right?” 

10:30 P.M. Come home and read a thing in Bazaar about Victoria Beckham’s busy daily routine. I like Bazaar just for that regular feature, twenty-four hours with a fashion designer, but they’re always the same. Wake up at five A.M., spritz of their namesake perfume, pressed juice, car to somewhere, busy busy, meetings meetings, approve sketches, fish, steamed vegetables, glass of wine. A terrific exception is Roberto Cavalli

11 P.M. Painting late again. Live chat online with a Time Warner Cable representative named “Kate.” She fixes our HBO Go. Wonder where she is and what she looks like.

Sex and the City season three blazing in the background. The patter is so comforting, sort of like music for me. “Meanwhile, downtown …” Had forgotten how terrific Kyle McLaughlin was as Trey, with his repressed “alrighties.” Alrighty.

Happy Menocal is an illustrator and fine artist living and working in Brooklyn.