Looking back, thinking forward…

This past year we sat often with heavy hearts, we stayed inside, we masked up, we connected in new ways, we watched and we listened, we cooked, we got tested, we marched, and we protested, we snuck outside, we played, we drew, we drove, and we biked, we figured some things out, and we still have a lot of figuring out to do, but together we did.

Below you can watch just over five minutes of my year; our year. The video is made from pocket clips, special bite-sized moments, quickly selected, and chopped. This year taught me that WE are the family, the love, the friendships, social connections, tiny interactions, and communities which WE create, that WE breathe life into, which WE foster, where WE come together, and together WE will, WE will, WE will. Happy New Year! 2021 Positive Change! 

11 Years Later, A Pleasant Surprise

A Pleasant Surprise Surf Film Art

11 years ago my friend Kyle Pahlow and I released our east coast surf film, A Pleasant Surprise, with premieres at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ, a prime time slot in the burgeoning New York Surf Film Festival, and a limited DVD release.

Since then it seems most everything has gone online, as if it was not already heading in that direction, and from time to time, when I reference the film I wish we could share it with more people (and the world). After some discussions and quite a bit of work earlier this year Kyle and I connected to make good on our intentions. A Pleasant Surprise, the little old 16mm New Jersey surf film, is now available to stream online via YouTube! Have a watch here and stream it right below!

Quarantine Masks

Amidst lockdown orders and the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic I found a silent and slow pace of life that was unusual. After a few anxious weeks I began to feel the need to create with this empty time and space and naturally I looked outward for inspiration. Initially it was $5 and $10 bundles of grocery store flowers. Something I often walked past became more and more beautiful and a welcome splash of life and color in the studio. Not long after jumping into some flower paintings I began to see face shields marketed by print vendors and my knee jerk reaction was to order some, for protection and experimentation.

As I worked on a side project the first mask, covered with hot wings, was a bi-product of work that I was already doing. Once the initial mask came to life I found great joy in the simple act and studio experimentation began to evolve naturally. Materials that I’ve kept available in my practice for years naturally found their way into these early masks. View them on instagram here.

T.B.D.C. in the Grunion

Back in January I organized the first Taco Bell Drawing Club here in Long Beach and since then we’ve met almost every week of this bizarre year. Sharing time weekly with other creatives in person, on Zoom, and most recently on the Bluff has been a bright spot in my week. Jesse Lopez of Grunion Gazette attended last week and captured the magic in this wonderful video above. You can see the full post here.

Turn a Bernie Bro into a Biden Supporter

It would have been hard to imagine our current state of affairs late last year as I began to seriously search for my 2020 candidate. As voters we have too often taken on the role of pundit and it seems every political conversation requires an electability chat. It’s awfully hard to talk issues, policies and ideas when you’re rushing to consider the sum of the parts, toss them in a labeled zip-lock and gather polling data to predict the big showdown!

I took steps towards supporting the ideas of Yang, Warren and Bernie and as we entered 2020 I decided it was important to commit and engage with the Bernie campaign. It was primary season, so rather than be concerned with who or what was electable I believed it was best to support policies I thought were right. Two days canvasing, small bi-weekly donations and attending events was a good start. On the brink of what would be the Coronavirus shutdown I found myself at a large, energized (Bernie attended) rally in Los Angeles.

Bernie Sanders rally in Los Angeles, California on March 1, 2020.

My experience was largely positive with the campaign, and while I did not consider myself a “Bernie Bro” I was warming up to some of the more progressive ideas and expanding my understanding through action. As things heated up for Bernie the rug was pulled out from under me (us) as Biden cleaned up in South Carolina and Bernie’s chances waned.

Anonymous collage by Alan Fletcher

As the shutdown and stay-at-home orders flipped the world on its side my focus shifted. The days melted not unlike my weeknight Klondike bars, a comforting new quarantine habit. After some weeks inside, while tidying up the house, I discovered some left over canvasing materials including two Bernie bumper stickers and I began to play. Always inspired by the brilliant Alan Fletcher, I sliced and re-arranged a bumper sticker. The 2006 film ‘The Secret’, based on the book of the same name, explored the idea that negative and “anti” energy in a political environment fosters more energy for the subject of the negativity. A bit New Age and privileged in this moment, yes, but with all the horrific news and negativity as of late I thought I’d be PRO something. Here I’m sharing a derivative work based on the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign bumper sticker. The idea is to be Pro-Biden while not abandoning support for progressive policy. While it certainly doesn’t look like a single presidential election will solve any of our problems, my hope is that we can start working on a better future with Biden. Get involved locally, put positivity first, and stand up against injustice!

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates
How-to: Turn Bernie Bro into Biden Supporter

Lockdown: Los Angeles

Watch Lockdown: Los Angeles, a short by cinematographer Dan Shetron. Dan has created an important document by capturing images and voices that will serve as stark reminders of the time we are living through. I was proud to contribute title design and assist with the naming, website and release of the film. Visit lockdownlosangeles.com or watch the film below.

In March 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide lockdown in California in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Residents were asked to shelter in place, and all non-essential businesses were shuttered. 
Now, as California faces its second outbreak and lockdown in July, we look back at the challenges we faced just four months ago. This visual portrait of Los Angeles is a reminder of what we’ve been through—and what we’re still up against. 


Grocery Store Flowers

Covid-19 grocery store trips were strange and dystopian immediately following lock-down orders and while empty shelfs and masked patrons sparked anxiety, the mediocre flower bunches at the store’s entry way brought color and life into my home and studio when I needed it most. Ralph’s bouquets even began inspiring quick doodles and evolved as I practiced and played during quiet days, eventually inspiring the larger 4′ x 4′ painting pictured below.

The Taco Bell Drawing Club

Two weeks ago, after learning that artist Jason Polan had passed away from cancer, I decided to host and attend my first Taco Bell Drawing Club. I had become a fan of Jason’s work after coming across his blog years ago. Jason had formed this club back in 2005 and since then has gathered with friends and fans in Taco Bell to draw. I first heard of this event through a friend who attended one in Malibu, California. I remember loving the idea and wanting to attend but over the years it never happened.

Jason’s friends and fans planned a couple memorial drawing clubs in New York and Los Angeles but the short notice and distance left me with two options, miss out as I had over the years or organize one of my own. The time was now. I took to social media to spread the word. A few minutes later I had put the idea out into the world and committed to a time and place (duh!), a Taco Bell in downtown Long Beach. The Long Beach Post picked up on the story (I had subtlety mentioned them in my post) and there was no turning back.

On Wednesday, the 29th of January, I sat down at a Taco Bell in Downtown Long Beach. Shortly after a stranger approached, sketchbook and pens in hand, and sat down. We began chatting and doodling. Shortly after another stranger walked through the doors, seemingly looking to draw. That night Stephanie and Monique and I drew for about an hour, chatted and walked away having participated in our first Taco Bell Drawing Club.

The following days I received a number of messages from others who were interested and so after discussing with my new friends we decided to take the momentum and plan another drawing club the following week. Taco Bell even took notice on social media and offered to send along some gift cards to sponsor our second meeting as a tribute to Jason!


A week later we were headed back to Taco Bell for another drawing club, with free tacos! This time around I arrived to find some early birds, armed with supplies and ready to draw! A steady stream of new and familiar faces walked through the door shortly after and we were growing! The second meeting was a huge success and I’m looking forward to the next!

Steve Hwang

If you’re interested in future events I started a small mailing list to keep people informed of future meetings! Sign up here.