18. Life with J.S. Bach


                                       Gas Pump

Life as a Kitchen Designer

One day my friend Rita told me Home Depot was hiring and that I should apply. I had no idea what Home Depot was. This was going to be their first venture in New York. When I told one of my 3D buddies that I was going to see about a job at HD, he told me that they designed kitchens for the public using a 3D software program. He told me to mention my 3D skills when I applied and I took his advice.

Home Depot hired me and taught me their kitchen design software 20/20. It was fairly simple and easy to learn. After adjusting to the transition from 3D hermit to 20/20 kitchen designer surrounded by lots of people, I became a worker bee.

It was fun designing kitchens and making new friends at Home Depot, but beneath it all I was sad and depressed. I had worked hard to build my studio along with my photography and illustration skills.  Now those things didn’t matter any more. I sold prints of my work here and there and I did get illustration jobs periodically, like the one above, but I felt fundamentally lost.

Gas Pump

First I will tell you the story of my Gas Pump illustration because it’s kind of cool. I was asked to do the cover of a trade publication called “Convenience Store News” and the art director told me she wanted a scene with an old gas pump. I researched gas pumps and found a picture of the one above and then built it in 3D. I thought a lamp by a roadside would provide the elements and mood my art director wanted. Then I added some dirt to illustrate the passage of time and some grass growing by the side of the pump to make the scene look more realistic. The cover illustration did not have the  house or the oil drum and signs. Those came later.

What prompted the house was a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where there was an exhibit of photographs by Walker Evans. He had taken a picture of an old store in the South and he also had pictures of road signs, like one from Route 66.  When I was 18 I  hitchhiked 5000 miles around the United States and had fond memories of Route 66.

After the magazine cover was published, I modified the  image for my portfolio. I added the house, signs, oil drum and tire to give the scene an abandoned look I had seen so often on the road.


Despite making images like the one above, I had it in my head that my days of making illustrations were over and I needed to focus on something else. The question was what?

My money situation was not great.  I almost never went to a movie or a restaurant and I avoided my friends because seeing them invariably meant spending.

If I had to withdraw, I decided I would do what I always wanted to do, so I started memorizing the lute music of J. S. Bach on guitar. It is some of the most beautiful music on the planet and, while hard to play, it is also a joy to play.

I had studied classical guitar for five years, but had sold my classical guitar and not played any of that music for a long time. Now, I picked up a copy of Bach’s Lute Works and took out the only guitar I had which had strings light enough to pluck with my right hand. It was my solid body electric Fender Stratocaster, with light gauge metal rock & roll strings. I sat on my bed with my back against the wall and measure by measure began memorizing  pieces I had listened to so often. The only problem was that the metal strings were chewing up my right hand fingers and finger nails.  I wouldn’t be able to sustain this, so I began looking for a new classical guitar. I knew I couldn’t buy one, but I looked anyway. It was soon apparent that I had no idea of what to look for, because it had been so long since I played a nylon string  guitar.

“I Just Sold Ten of Your Prints”

That’s what an art consultant I knew called to tell me.  I suddenly realized I might now have enough money to get an instrument I could play. A guitarist I knew put me in touch with John Lehmann-Haupt, a great classical guitar player, and with his help I found a very nice instrument.

Now I could really start to memorize. My cat, Pookie Bear, always a big music supporter, was usually right next to me. I began with Bach’s 4th Lute Suite, well aware that if I were taking lessons a teacher would never let me begin with the Lute Suites. They reqired too many technical skills.  I didn’t care. I just wanted to immerse myself in Bach. The pieces I composed after my mother died had forced me to improve my technique, consequently I was better equipped to take on this project. If I had started earlier my hands wouldn’t have been ready.

Other Motives

There was another reason I wanted to learn Bach. I wanted to give myself new musical ideas. I felt that if the muse ever returned and I were to compose music in the future, having Bach’s music in my head I would be a great resource to draw on. That said, playing Bach is its own reward.


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