Glorious Volumes

George Asdel's art and poetry create a beautiful existence

The community has one more weekend to check out George Asdel’s open studio. This is the first year of many that his recent works – drawings, original paintings, prints, books of poems and drawings, and greeting cards – will be under a pop-up canopy at a fellow artist’s house. He normally holds Open Studios at his studio where he raises Monarch butterflies. His wife Kathie, a marriage and family therapist, is known to bring delicious cookies that she makes with hand-made acorn flour, but she’s been under the weather, so Asdel placed a handful of acorns on his table, thinking about his dear wife. Asdel is an artist of many talents, and his work is certainly a worthy stop on the Open Studios tour, but his way of being, as an artist, writer, lover of the environment, and devoted husband, father and grandpa makes people just want to simply be around him – maybe some of that peaceful nature and humorous disposition might rub off like a sunny streak of pastel crayon. Asdel just might be one of the most delightful humans around these parts.  
He was saying his three local grandchildren and his daughter might show up. His daughter, Christina, is an artist too. Currently he has only one Monarch butterfly at home due to the steep decline in Monarch butterfly populations in California. He said he’s saving the cocooned fellow for his grandchildren. 
“Well, I’ve been a drawer and a painter all my life,” said Asdel, “but this poetry thing is new. Well, 12 years. Is that new?” he laughs. “It’s new for me!”
Asdel’s resume is as colorful and unexpected as one of his poems. In addition to his writing and artwork, Asdel has been a puppeteer and a puppet show writer, performing currently at the Atascadero library and other local libraries. He’s been writing puppet scripts for years. One of the lines of his accomplishments is that he founded the Charles Paddock Zoo Puppet Players, and his business card bio he illustrates himself sitting on a tree branch between two adoring alligators, one holding Asdel lovingly inside his arm as the artist draws in his trusty black sketchbook. Asdel’s puppet shows are the real deal, equipped with a sound system, lights, an impressive set, a couple of his very enthusiastic puppeteer friends, and the white-bearded man who has mastered the art of telling a story.
The approachable artist laughs a quiet little laugh with almost any conversation, while introducing visitors to his booth to everyone around. His artist friends — their family. You need to see Deborah’s studio and her bathtub, he suggests of the artist he shares Open Studios with, and her horses, and her “Drip Tree” art. He is likable and gentle, like a museum guide, full of information, sweet as ever, great with kids, and incredibly caring about the condition of the planet and its inhabitants. 
He was pointing out his new book of poetry, “Blackbirds on Thursdays.” Asdel often writes poems to accompany his drawings and paintings. The idea for the book came from his weekly routine: Monday/Mammals, Tuesdays/Bugs, Wednesdays/Reptiles and amphibians, Thursday/Birds, Friday/Fish, Saturday/Flowers, and Sundays/Still Lives and “all sorts of stuff.”
Asdel has written, “Reading to Alligators” as well, another book of drawings and poems, and he would like to write a book for each one of his designated art days. 
“I have big hopes here,” he said. Though Asdel is low-key about his accomplishments, his poems have won awards and have been published in poetry journals. He said he was honored that the San Luis Obispo County Poet Laureate invited him to read one of his haikus at an event. He will downplay any accolade. 
“They liked it although rhyming poems are not really cool, so…” Asdel laughed. He uses rhyming schemes in about half of his poems. He enjoys rhyming. “I even write rap too, That’s W-R-A-P,” Asdel said, half-joking, checking his pockets. “I don’t think I have a wrap with me,” he said, though he thought he might have the one he recently wrote about the publisher of his book, whose name inspired him to write a poem. So instead, Asdel recited part of it from memory, “Ben Lawless: the name makes mortals quake. Ben Lawless: the name makes mountains shake. Rumor went round he was coming to town–anything loose you'd better tie down,” Asdel began, then laughed and said, “It goes on for four minutes.”
On the walls of Asdel’s Open Studio exhibit were some interesting abstract art pieces, a collection called, “Accidental Images & Poems,” — very different from his drawings and painting. He said it was a break from his illustrative work. He squirts black gesso from a catsup bottle at the canvas, whips up “legs and things” to make hidden animals and dancers, then fills in the shapes the next day with grays at the edges and brighter colors in the center. One was named “Earth Bound.” Some of the series had poems that went with them. “I was just having fun,” Asdel said.
Asdel’s other walls were paintings of dogs, flowers, landscapes and mammals, and on the table were categories of greeting cards, like a card catalog of the many subjects that grab Asdel’s attention. Some were whimsical: a self-portrait of Asdel eying the face of a big fish with a tercet reading, “...HE SAID HE WOULD GRANT ME ONE WISH/ I TOLD HIM I DIDN’T BELIEVE IN A MAGIC FISH/ AND I WISHED HE WOULD JUST GO AWAY –AND HE DID.” Other pieces were funny, like a drawing of a big black cat frowning down on a little mouse who is, in turn, looking up at the cat and holding a picket sign reading, “THINK VEGETARIAN.” And then there’s Asdel’s “Environmental, pretty heavyweight stuff” like a tiny hummingbird in a small amount of white background facing an almost completely painted, growing form of black paint. Asdel’s poem accompanying the painting is entitled, “What’s that Black Stuff?” and describes wildlife vanishing from threat of burning fossil fuels. “I’m a conservative,” declared Asdel, but he’s referring to conserving the environment. 
Asdel is an archivist’s dream. He draws everyday into little black classic sketchbooks where he draws by format: the Monday Mammals, Tuesday Bugs and so on. He has a shelf of 39 of them in his studio now. His sketchbooks are fascinating, like a secret museum, filled with intricate, exploratory Pigma Micron pen drawings on every page, upwards of 20,000 black and white illustrations, mixed in with poetry, samplings of Asdel’s tantalizing thoughts within a day – often nature-based – often involving alligators and birds, and are quite frequently environmentally-concerned. “The Earth is a dog/He wrote in his blog/I’m sick of all the fleas/They live on the fur/And the pests prefer/to drill as they please/The dog is warming…” one of his poems goes along.
“About 28 years ago I guess I bought a little book like this because it fit in my pocket, so I said, well, that’s cool, so I filled it up with drawings – just stuff. So then I bought another book. And another book, and pretty soon I had like 10 or 15 and I said, ‘there’s something going on here,’” Asdel said, holding up book #39. Inside each crease is a penciled in date for each and every hand-framed drawing. 
He is a producer of art and writing, and we are talking many pieces – volumes, and glorious volumes. One doubts he ever encounters a writer’s block or an artist’s funk. The sketchbooks are evidence of this. He needs to constantly draw and pen his thoughts to the books in order to net his many-winged ideas. He saves the caps from his micron pens in a drawer. He said they are from all the years of doing what he does, perhaps a bit like a mother saving her children’s school photos. 
Asdel was born in Santa Ana in 1942, and grew up in Monterey Park. He said he was the class artist: if the teacher needed a background or an illustration for anything, Asdel was the kid to do the job. In high school he became a student art director for musicals. He studied art at California State Fullerton, and majored in art and education at California State Los Angeles. 
He’s had many careers over the years: he taught fourth grade for about six years in L.A., Newfoundland, Canada, and a one-room school near Julian. He managed a camp for kids and worked as a substitute teacher. 
“That’s a whole other story!” Asdel will say when asked about so many interesting twists and turns in his life. 
Asdel said he is dyslexic, which made teaching a challenge as much as a joy, especially since it took him twice as long to read and write when the numbers and letters came up backward. Puppet shows and art were always bright additions to any classroom Asdel taught in, and his love for nature and animals came to play in his teaching as well. 
In the early 70s he and his wife Kathie taught art in the Hibbs Cove Art Center in Newfoundland, Canada. There they also opened an art gallery where Adsel sold scenes of fishing village life to collectors from around the world and the Provincial Government. Returning to California, the Asdels opened galleries in Pismo and Shell Beach.
Upon moving to Atascadero a couple decades ago, Asdel has become a fixture in the art community. At the Gallery at Marina Square in Morro Bay, where he has been showing for more than 12 years, Asdel will show you his art, and illustration, and poems, but he also knows a good deal about other artists, and he will generously show visitors around the many displays. For 14 years, George taught art to kids and adults at the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero. He has shown at galleries all over San Luis Obispo county and participates in many interesting projects like Arts Space chalk art projects with kids and illustrating numbers of books, including, “Survival Fiddle Tunes” by Sid Lewis and “The Baobob Tree,” by Robin Bohen. Locals may notice Asdel created the logo for the ECHO homeless shelter in Atascadero. 
George Asdel will be part of the Arts Obispo Open Studios studio one more weekend, on October 21 and 22 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 3420 Silla Road in Atascadero. He will be sharing a tour stop with “vibrant, vivid, vivacious” painter Deborah Kyle Hintergardt and President of the Atascadero Art Association, (at her home studio), and “animals, people and adobe” painter Penelope Monmonier.
You may reach Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected] for questions and/or feedback. 
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