Jase Casabella doesn’t just create art. He performs it.
The Santa Rosa artist and musician shares the creative process not only when he’s performing as part of his Delta blues-inspired/alternative band the Mayflies. He also sketches on stage while singers or bands rock out a few feet away.
His “live drawing” sessions have become so popular he’s booking future gigs right on the spot. Performers and audience members watch as he creates at least one sketch per song, sometimes producing 30 or even 40 sketches per show.
“What you’re getting is performance of art that’s the same as performing music,” said Casabella, 40.
He started out in the audience four years ago, sketch pad in hand, but before long moved on stage where the music and the energy propel his work.
“Sonoma County is really supportive,” Casabella said. “People seem to be really blown away by what I’m doing.”
He works from his easel, capturing in compressed charcoal the music, movements, gestures and antics of a broad variety of performers. He flips over page after page of newsprint as he finishes each sketch, some taking just a few minutes to complete.
“I’m really grateful people are seeing and admiring art as an instrument respected on stage,” Casabella said. “People weren’t really sure what it was or what it is.
“It’s weird how much it messes with people. They always ask, ‘How do you do that?’ and my answer is always, ‘Lots of practice, lots and lots of practice.’ ”
Although the art form might seem unique to those expecting just to see a band or singer on stage, live drawing is a longtime pursuit for Casabella.
Always a visual learner, he went through school with the challenges of an attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
He was in fifth grade before he learned to read, but used his artistic talents to take classroom notes.
Not every teacher was understanding of a kid who preferred to doodle during lessons.
“They treated it like it was a behavioral issue,” Casabella said. “I actually got in trouble for drawing as a kid. I got sent away from class.”
His artwork, he said, was a way to reinforce teachers’ lessons.
“It was my way to break down information in the simplest form. I could remember what was being said. It was my version of notetaking, my way to make sense of it,” he said.
By the time he was a student at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park, Casabella was taking art classes and winning ribbons for his oil paintings at the Sonoma County Fair.
His father, who had a career in the Navy, figured Casabella would benefit from enlisting in the military after high school. Father and son didn’t share the same vision.
At 17, Casabella ran away from home “because I knew that recruiter was coming.”
A guitarist and singer, he preferred to play in his punk band and “surf with my bros.” He wasn’t interested in the military or college, but his father pushed Casabella to at least consider art school.
Casabella was accepted to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where he discovered many of his teachers were well-known and highly regarded artists. A storyboard class, for one, was taught by comic book writer and artist Rick Remender, known for “Fear Agent” and “Tokyo Ghost,” among others.