Being Changed for the Better, But at a Terrible Cost

KickStarterThankYouI want to offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone, known and unknown who generously contributed to my KickStarter project to help launch An Early Work Late in Life. I vastly exceeded my set fundraising goal, which is a very good thing, because I also vastly exceeded my original budget and cost estimates.

Lots and lots of fascinating images and information came in about Danny Allen’s life and artwork–and much of it came in after the book was fully designed and ready to go to press. All the new information was pertinent and valuable serving to further enhance my own understanding of Dan. Some spectacular art surfaced at the eleventh hour as well, and eventually a decision was made to add images to the addendum at the end of the book rather than tumbling the layout and design each time new things surfaced.

The new information and images led to more time working with my editor to find the proper way to incorporate these insights and stories into the existing narrative. That resulted in more time going into designing the book, and the number of pages and color plates increased. The end result was a $12,000 project morphed into a $22,000 project. But KickStarter more than absorbed the additional costs resulting in my being far less out-of-pocket for this project than I’d budgeted for in the first place. Funny how life works…

I recently had an email exchange with my lifelong friend, Leah Warnick, and our conversation drew-out feelings within me–to the point where one of my replies was nothing short of a personal breakthrough. Here is a response I wrote to Leah that was part of a larger conversation:

  • “For years I blamed myself for Danny’s death. I was angry at myself for being so self involved that I couldn’t see his pain and illness past my own ego and self centeredness. I’ve come to believe that what took place could never have happened any other way, because what happened is merely a fact–a shared history of loss that a lot of people still carry. Dan’s death was something that wasn’t averted, and can never be averted in hindsight. It can only be reflected on and learned from. But I’d rather be who I am today and know the hurt in my own heart than be the silly, shallow person I might have become if my life had not been gifted with loss and pain. My own troubles and heartaches have made me more aware of the struggles of other people. My own lessons are things I’ve tried to call on and impart to younger people–or to better understand the sick or the elderly. Dan’s death changed me for the better, but at a terrible cost.

As I reflect on this project (which even as I’m writing this, is on the press being prepared to be bound and shipped in order to be ready for the opening at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery) I’ve come to a decision: Should additional pertinent information about Danny Allen surface–or artwork that begs to be included, I will amend the book in a later edition if my finances allow.

Again, thank you to everyone who contributed art, photographs, stories, insights and funding. I hope the book meets your expectations and helps to promote a greater understanding of a young man who was lost and loved, but never forgotten.

– Bill Whiting

Simplicity Versus Detail on the One Year Anniversary of the Book

Danny Allen's photo-realistic painting acryllic painting of a Mandrill, painted on a scrap of discarded Masonite. It's about the side of a light-switch faceplate. Acrylic on board. Collection of the Allen family. It looks like it says 1971.

Danny Allen’s photo-realistic acrylic painting of a Mandrill, was done on a scrap of discarded Masonite found on a construction site. It’s about the size of a light-switch faceplate. Acrylic on board. Collection of the Allen family. It appears to be dated 1971.

My book is entering its final phase of production. I have written and mailed off mind-numbing checks from my mortgage account, all while I wait for the KickStarter page to close and payout. There are four more days left while the KickStarter page is still live and accepting pledges: The marked-up galleys have been modified and are winging their way down to me for a final once over with my editor. As a result, I’m taking stock of things–lots of things–not just Dan’s art and life, but my own as well. Dan’s book is now written, and I’ve done my very best.

When I first met Danny, I was attending college at RIT studying to become a painter and illustrator. I was awestricken by Danny’s natural ability. He was self-taught–unspoiled by formal education and it was humbling. His talent set my own course on a different path. Danny introduced me to the idea of striving for perfection. He also taught me to enjoy creating art, teaching me that the act of the work was the joy that went into it. Art instructors often forget to instill that in students–perhaps because they, themselves don’t realize the importance of balancing hard work with the sheer pleasure of working. After I met Dan, I stopped painting and drawing and began building scale models. I started to carve miniature furniture, partly because I loved doing it, and admittedly I wanted to do something different from Dan, so as to not invite comparison. I wanted to impress him and meet with his approval. Dan’s approval was incredibly important to me. It wasn’t until decades after he died, that I began to paint and draw again. Now I paint with a more “painterly” hand bearing in mind that I’m older and vision impaired. But while my eyesight was in acceptably good condition, Dan’s influence set me on a direction I cherish in retrospect.

These two chairs i've carved, side by sidetake up roughly the same amount of space as Dan's painting of the Mandrill above. Collection of WTW. The chair to the viewer's right is 1974, carved while Dan was still alive. The chair to the left is 1987, after I'd had two sets of eye surgery on each eye.

These two chairs I’ve carved, side by side take up roughly the same amount of space as Dan’s painting of The Mandrill pictured at the top of the page. In our own way, Dan and I were both miniaturists.  The chair to the viewer’s right is is a Chippendale, signed WTW and dated 1974–carved while Dan was still alive. The chair to the left is Sheraton, signed WTW and dated 1987–built well after I’d had two sets of retinal surgeries on both eyes. Collection of WTW.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dan did paintings on pieces of scrap Masonite he found on the street–cast into the trash with piles of rubbish left behind by workmen restoring old houses. His painting, The Mandrill is roughly the size of a light-switch faceplate. Who knows what those odd scraps were left over from. But one of those scraps is now in a museum collection (Sunny Ducks). I built my miniature furniture carved from scraps of cherry. Small artwork has a dynamic all it’s own. Dan and I were both miniaturists of a sort. Danny urged me to try and push my limits to carve tiny things that looked exactly like the full scale originals. Doing so became part of the challenge, and I listened, because anyone who could take scraps of Masonite and turn them into jewels was clearly way ahead of his time.

Dan taught me not to be lazy about my art, and to put everything I had into every project and enjoy it as a labor of love. One thing Danny could do (which is a natural talent I do not possess), was his ability to plant a brush loaded with ink, confidentially on a piece of paper, and make quick and subtle movements with his hands as if the brush would talk. Out of nowhere an image would appear. I call that an “Asian” hand. Not everyone can do artwork of that sort, but Dan could. He admired the arts of Asia, and it often came out in his own work. Not everyone can simply load a brush–smack it against a surface–drag the brush one way or another–and have a recognizable image emerge. Danny was uniquely gifted.

Today marks the one year anniversary since I began writing An Early Work Late in Life. A special thanks is in order to Sarah Gerin for igniting this project. So Thank you, Sarah.

While it may be cutting it awfully close, the book will hopefully be available in advance approximately three weeks from today exclusively at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery at 500 University Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607. Dan’s painting, Sunny Ducks will be featured in an exhibit at the MAG titled It Came From the Vault–opening to the general public, Sunday, March 17th, 2013.

Dan Allen, a very fluid ink sketch that only took moments, but it's not the sort of thing just anyone can do. 1973, collection of WTW.

Dan Allen, a fluid ink sketch that took only moments, but it’s not the sort of thing just any artist can do. 1973, collection of WTW.

Risk, Fiscal Realities & The One Year Anniversary

Speaking of 'risk' this is a quadtych series photograph by Stephen Plunkett of Danny Allen climbing up a waterfall in the nude - swimming upstream to the extreme

Speaking of ‘risk’ this is a quadtych series photograph by Stephen Plunkett of Danny Allen climbing up a waterfall in the nude—swimming upstream to the extreme. The images rotate to create a Rorschach effect, but my understanding is Dan is climbing upstream in all of them. When he reached the top, there was a sort of natural “infinity pool” where he rested. This image was located too late to be included in the book. Collection of Susan Plunkett.

I’m rapidly approaching the one year anniversary of the book project, although It seems like it was much longer ago. I’ve had an unusually busy year, writing a book, and completing quite a few major paintings of my own. I’ve restored an important historic dollhouse with a fascinating pedigree, and settled two lawsuits about which the less said, the better. Both suits were awarded in my favor, which is all that matters. The real question is: When do I sleep? I don’t. I never have, nor do I know how to be idle.

This Friday, February 22nd will be one year since I received Sarah Gerin’s email forwarded to me by Kathy Calderwood, prompting me to write An Early Work Late in Life. I wrote the book initially on a different blog site so Dan’s friends and family could comment and contribute in an open forum. But the book began more or less as a stream of consciousness outpouring of my own thoughts and memories which had been lodged in my heart and head for decades.

Now I’ve committed all that, plus what additional information I’ve learned to paper. I’ve spit-polished the words through a professional editor and made them beautiful through an excellent book designer. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I haven’t done any of this with anything less than a realistic eye on what I should expect by way of return. This has been a spiritual project seeking out long overdue closure—but financial gain will not be one of the rewards reaped. My KickStarter fundraising campaign will bring me about two thirds of the way toward paying the for the initial project costs. The remainder will need to be out of pocket. There will only be a printing of 500 first edition copies. – A little better than one week left before the funding time limit runs out.

When I did the math on projected total costs for editing, design work, printing and binding, baring those 500 copies in mind, if I sold them all at cost, without building in any profit for my own time and energy, the book would already be priced out of the market. I’m going to have to sell the book at well below cost, and eat the financial loss. It’s a good thing I did the KickStarter campaign, or this project would have sunk me.

A number of the copies will need to be “comped” to contributors, booksellers, agents, publishers and the like. In my own typical fashion, like everything I do, this will be an anesthetic triumph, and a financial failure. At least I remain consistent.


A printout of the book cover. With some minor tweaks, this is pretty much what the book will look like---front, back and spine.

A printout of the book cover. With some minor tweaks, this is pretty much what the book will look like—front, back and spine. I’m keeping the image small at this juncture.

I received the galleys for the book today…!!! I know what my weekend is going to be devoted to doing – looking for typos (something I’m famous for creating) and checking for changes. I met with my editor this afternoon and mapped out a strategy to attack this phase of the book in a way that will cause the least amount of crazy-making for the book designer.

The book looks incredible, and the quality of the images is wonderful. I still owe a balance to my editor, and will be facing invoices for design, printing, binding and distribution. As of today I still have 12 more days left on on KickStarter page to help defray my expenses, so don’t hold back if you’ve got any interest in contributing. Any amount is helpful.

So after allowing myself to relax this evening, I’m going galley-ho at checking for changes and modifications. I need to have some printed books in hand roughly one month from today if I want to have copies ready for the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery. Yikes….

My kitchen table work station. Ready to go. I'm still caging around preparing to dig in.

My kitchen table work station. Ready to go. I’m still caging around preparing to dig in.

A Two Week Stretch

A page of sketches, and sundry notes torn from one of Danny Allen's notebooks. Dan had written a note to Eva Weiss on this slip of paper, and it turned up in a box of her belongings.

A page of sketches, and sundry notes torn from one of Danny Allen’s notebooks. Dan had written a note to Eva Weiss on the flip side of this sheet of paper, and it turned up in a box of her belongings.

I have about two more weeks on my KickStarter fundraising page. I’m very excited with the response I’ve received, and the money I’ve raised thus far. That said, I still have time to acquire additional contributions to help defray printing and production costs.

The book itself is rounding the final stages of completion. I had a telephone conversation last night with designer, Katherine Denison where we checked the accuracy of captions accompanying the art and photographs. I’ve seen the initial digital galley, and it’s beautiful. It’s not just a page of type across from a captioned image. This is a book that’s being designed with esthetic consideration so as to blend the text with the images. The end result will be a layout that compliments and enhances both the words and images.

The paper galleys will be overnighted to me and my editor, Janet Benton sometime in the next couple of days—so we can both hunker-down and scour the text for any possible errors or typos not previously caught. However, no art additions or informational changes will be made at this point. I believe that once this book has been published more art and information will surface about Danny Allen. If I’m lucky enough to find the book has been well received, should new art and information surface that begs itself to be part of the project—then perhaps it might be worth looking into an amended second edition. But that’s getting a little ahead of myself.  An Early Work Late in Life will remain a work in progress until access to all possible material has reached a reasonable conclusion.

The flip side of a notebook page belonging to Eva Weiss. There are portions of a first draft of a poem which will appear in its entirety in the Poetic Addendum of Dan's writings at the end of the book.

The flip side of a notebook page belonging to Eva Weiss. Shown here are portions of the first draft of a poem which will appear in its entirety in the Poetic Addendum of Dan’s writings at the end of the book.

Exceeding Expectations

Danny Allen - Watercolor, 1972. Collection of WTW.

Please Be Seated – Danny Allen – Watercolor, 1972. Collection of WTW.

Well it seems that my KickStarter page has reached it’s set goal with 18 more days left as I write this. I quite literally jumped out of my chair when I got the news, I was however, wearing pants at the time. I’m now curious to see if the site will exceed the initial goal, as any additional money can be applied to further development and distribution costs.

I was bowled over to learn that the only way you can get a book into a major bookstore like Barnes and Noble, is to sign with a distributor. Book distributors have the market sewn-up and blocked from further competition. A book distributor takes 65% of your profit for licking a self-adhesive stamp and addressing a package. They claim to have slick salesmen who “pitch your book” but really it’s just another parasitical middleman industry. However, I will eventually have to submit to signing with one of them.

I’ll deal with that when the time comes. For now, I’m primarily concerned with getting the book completed, printed and shelf-ready. It’s going to be a beautiful book. It will only be available in paperback, as hardcover is not realistic or affordable.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to KickStarter, and to everyone who may still contribute in the next 18 days. My humble gratitude goes out to all of you. – Bill Whiting

It Takes a Lot to Shake Me

Danny Allen - What I'm calling a "ballpoint pen storm." Date unreadable ca.1974

Danny Allen – What I’m calling a “ballpoint pen storm.” Date unreadable ca.1974

After all these many years—nearly four decades to be exact—Danny Allen has visited my thoughts daily—frequently appearing in my dreams. I live with his art, and bearing that thought in mind, I learned more about how to create art from this singular and special, self-taught troubled genius than anything I carried away from any formal education in art school. At times I feel like Dan has never left my side but I’m not so foolish as to fail to recognize this as nothing more than a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

I never had a clear picture of the details of how Danny died because I didn’t want those details lodged in my mind. I’ve since learned that there was a witness on the Driving Park Bridge the day Dan took his life. A sole pedestrian saddled with the frantic responsibility of running to the nearest telephone before the age of cell phones to report what was already a fait au complet. That was an awesome responsibility for a perfect stranger to be left to contend with.

I spoke with a former newspaper reporter who’d worked for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and is now living in California decades after the fact. He remembered me, and I remembered him after we got talking. The reporter, Thom Akeman was Danny’s and my downstairs neighbor back in 1974, when all of us lived in a dilapidated old Victorian house converted into apartments off East Avenue in Rochester, New York.

Thom knew Danny and me as the eccentric hippie artists who lived in the attic apartment. Thom, as a reporter for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, was  assigned by the paper to cover police reports, and was on a first name basis with all the cops and morgue workers at the county coroners office.  When he heard there was a John Doe who’s next of kin had not yet been notified, but had been identified as living at 105 Merriman Street from papers in his pockets—Thom recognized that as his own building. He had a premonition as to who that person might be.

Thom was kind with me when he gave his account of the details of November 4th, 1974 but he didn’t insult my intelligence by glossing over the brutal reality of what had taken place. Back in 1974, Thom hadn’t realized I was out of town on business when Dan committed suicide. But he took it upon himself to identify Dan’s body. His word was good, because the coroner knew him so well. Thom was braced for such sights, with his job, it came with the territory. His hopes were that his experience could spare both me and Mr. and Mrs. Allen from having to witness what a body of a loved one looks like when a person has fallen over 200 feet onto the  jagged rock formations of a glacial gorge.

I thought I was strong, but I am not. I cried later that night until I was so sick I could barely take in air. I distilled that conversation down to two lines for the book, the essence of which I have not detailed in this post. In writing An Early Work Late in Life, it’s the things I never knew about Dan that have shaken me to the core. I now have a mental picture of Dan’s last moments that will be with me the rest of my life. Like everything Danny did, he executed this terrible act differently than anything that ever crossed my mind—on the rare occasions that I allowed myself to speculate about those awful details. I need to allow it all to sink in. The details I learned will find a place to settle in my mind, and I’ll contend with them. What choice do I have?

The Past is Taking on a Dusky, Golden Hue

Photo of fellow painter, Ramon Martinez (deceased) sitting at a table in Vermont with Danny Allen. Photo by Eva Weiss.

Photo of fellow painter, Ramon Martinez (deceased) sitting at a table in Vermont with Danny Allen. This is from a “notorious” trip to Vermont from before I met Danny.  Photo by Eva Weiss.

No, this photo wasn’t taken by Matthew Brady at the height of the Civil War. It’s Danny Allen sitting at a table with friend and fellow painter, Ramon Martinez (now deceased) in Vermont with a moose head looking on. You can see David Lortz’ leg in the background looking like Dan is springing an extra appendage.

this photo was discovered last night in a box in Susan Plunkett’s house in Rochester while my book designer, Katherine Denison was visiting. Also in the box were additional photos of Dan and a drawing he had done that Susan didn’t even know she owned. It’s brittle and damaged condition, but she’s going to take it in to be look at, scanned and access how to proceed from there in preserving it.

It seems at times as if Danny Allen is the one who’s orchestrating this entire project. Things are surfacing from out of nowhere. Friends are reconnecting and new friendships are being formed. I honestly believe something good will come from this book.

OH…!!! I nearly forgot to mention the most important thing of all. Katherine Denison has completed the galleys, and the book is breathtaking. It’s gorgeous. Her design is spot on, and I love it to pieces. She thinks there’s a way to add this newly found material without the entire design tumbling again. The book is designed in panels of four for printing purposes, and we easily have enough material for four more pages of images. I’m really excited.

Looking for the Lost Flower Child

Four Mood Photos of Danny Allen by Eva Weiss

Four Mood Photos of Danny Allen by Eva Weiss. These are crop-outs from larger photos.

Looking at Danny Allen, pensive, smiling or smoking, there’s a sadness in his face in spite of the whimsy of wearing a leopard headband with wilted mums tucked in at the top. Dan was forever doing things that made people laugh. But I think that secretly he nursed a continually nagging broken heart—and the camera would invariably betray that. I can relate. I’m guilty of the the same thing, so I’m wise to it in others. I could make Danny laugh until his sides hurt. It’s one of my many talents, but laughter isn’t happiness. Laughter, like tears are a release. Happiness is contentment, and that’s far more difficult to achieve. Danny had a totally tickled laugh that I can still see in my mind’s eye. He’d throw his head back with his mouth agape, so wide that his eyes were nearly closed, his ribs would shake and his Adam’s apple would bounce. Without transition, his expression would go distant. The moment was over, and he’d fall back into his art. Art was his business. He knew a lot about art but nothing about business; which makes two of us….

The page for An Early Work Late in Life is making progress. I’m working at keeping it moving along so as to earn revenue. I feel like Jerry Lewis in some sort of weird psychedelic, extraterrestrial telethon—or PBS hounding the living daylights out of people for money when all they really want to do is get on with watching the originally scheduled programing. The trick is to keep everyone from changing the channel. There’s a fine line between being productively persistent and being persistently annoying.

I’m not really good at asking for money, and neither was Dan. He’d often give his art away because money in his eyes seemed to cheapen it. But when someone offered to buy something, it was like a joyful affirmation, and that was different. Someone asking to buy a piece of art was/is like being told you’re loved.

The book galleys are due very soon, and I’m beside myself to see them. I already know I’m going to be delighted. I instinctively know that the designer (Katherine Denison of Denison Creative) is personally invested in this being a beautiful book. She knows too many of the people IN the book to do anything but bedazzle us all. Who knows, maybe the book will do well, and I’ll be able to put out an edition in hardcover with a dust jacket and everything. Stranger things have happened. But for now, I merely need to focus on reaching my Fundraising goal. So here comes the commercial. Be sure to watch the one minute video, the best part is how much I’m beginning to resemble the Travelocity lawn gnome. I’ll have to look into getting the hat to match.