Sunday, December 14, 2014

That's Life (Go Figure)

"That's Life," as in, Life Drawing this semester: I love figure drawing for the same reason I like to see and hear live music - it comes alive. It's like a free form jazz session, solo improvisation on paper. The whole art-is-a-verb-not-a-noun thing when you simply create just to see what happens, to experiment making marks, play with time and materials, like the side of a chunk of charcoal and graphite stick instead of a line with the point. Or ganging a sequence of gestures together in one composition. These shapes, the forms, the lines... you simply can't get anywhere else by any other means.

The intuitive process of trying to draw action and imply motion through reflexive, spontaneous action and motion on the part of the hand and eye of an artist. Experiencing the perceptual expansion of time when the poses shift from 30-second gestures into an entire, full minute, then doubling it again to a whopping TWO minutes leaves one feeling keenly attuned to all the innumerable and subtle motions that continually unfold around us.

Too often do I delve into the imagination and focus entirely on the page before me: the shift in energy that clicks into gear when lifting up one's gaze to instead tap into events and actions all around us isn't just a great drawing exercise, it's a dynamic connection to life itself. As in, "That's Life."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Porcupine Caribou" (Wheee!!!)

I just love it when something leaks out of the end of the pen for no other reason than to just simply draw something that's, well... cute. I mean, yeah, sure there's a joke in there somewhere too, but at the core just giving up a grin is what it's all about. So, cute.

The original idle doodle

On a deeper, psychological level I suppose there's also some degree of gallows-humor, as a reflexive reaction to thinking about such wild & wonderful places such as our National Wildlife Refuges in America, and the constant vigilance it takes to support and protect them against recurring threats from development. In other words, it's sometimes downright depressing, but there's always a well of activism (even anger and sorrow) to draw from that usually gets channeled into editorial panels. But every so often it's just too much to deal with anymore, and all that's left is to poke a dumb joke at it all.
Bur seriously, there's another side of the story: art can serve as a citizen's example of what these areas of stewardship can and do represent to the imagination. Serious or silly, these places and their inhabitants are symbols, cultural resources everyone can enjoy and employ, from across any medium of expression, be it from music to literature to the visual arts (and the occasional cartoon).

Big Questions: Go solo or follow the herd?

The motivation was an invitation to submit a piece for a show put on by the Fairbanks Alaska Public Lands Information Center (also visit their Facebook page here) and hosted by the Morris Thompson Center), The show dovetailed with a a multi-agency anniversary celebration + traveling exhibit "Voices Of The Wilderness" that was hanging all last month.

The gig, "Art From America's Wildest Refuge," specifically showcased one of the crown-jewels of public lands in Alaska: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It features the astonishing photography of Jeff Jones, whose jaw-dropping imagery captures the primal essence of being there like nobody else's I've ever seen.

Lastly, to a lesser degree the gag hinges on a pun on the Porcupine Caribou herd, poster-child for the Refuge, or at least one of the more charismatic megafauna for all the myriad issues infusing our protected public lands in Alaska. Everybody ought to do what they can, and maybe in a very small way imagery like this little fella will work it's way into somewhere different than the usual venues and normally targeted demographic and show how much special places like our Refuges can inspire.

Cute. All that from a porcupine no less.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Drawing to a Close

"I think the model needs a break"

   Another year, another semester, another set of relative successes and failures to file away. Really glad for all the support from friends, family and fans alike: it's humbling in perspective to realize the breadth and depth of connections shared with a community, both on-line and in person.

   Some days it’s super hard to keep it up, especially during those phases when everything you do doesn’t seem to work, and everything you try runs aground. It’s tough to remember to tell yourself that these are only setbacks: hitting speed-bumps doesn’t mean you pull over and shut the damn engine off and sulk. You should floor it and go even faster.

"Local Folks"

   To those ends I've been methodically culling the archives and colorizing works from over an eight-year span for an upcoming project where the gloves come off and I go all out on the funny business. Plus changing the masthead for the Nuggets feature so the fine-print reads "©2015" merits a look over the shoulder at the mounting mulch-pile of efforts done over a year's worth of ridiculous nonsense.
   Tomorrow's post is on one of my favorite pieces done in 2014, and Sunday's will be retrospective musings on one of the best classes ever.
   Stay "tooned."

15-minute demo from model

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Notes: On The Other Side Of The Table

By far and away my favorite perspective to have: that of someone peeking at the pages underway on the desk of a cartoonist. There are certain hallmarks, such as a comic book on the corner, perhaps a digital device, and along with the omnipresent pad of Bristol, usually a repository of all the implements and tools of the trade.

The fact that a group of students can and do sit in a room and – unless reminded – not take any breaks whatsoever, and be in the proverbial zone for hours and hours is a wonderful thing to be immersed into. In near-silence, without any music playing in the background, one can hear the cumulative noise of sketching with pencils, stippling and crosshatching with markers and drawing with dip-pens.

Occasionally there’s a good podcast to run from interviews or round tables between cartoonists about their work and creative process, and every once in awhile conversation breaks out about an industry-related topic or commentary on a current controversy. The value of alternative perspectives can be literally seen and appreciated as the ink begins to flow across the pages: the sound that a single mark can make in a simple comic is louder than any means in media, and has equal power to shape perception and move someone to action, to laugh, to think, to cry.

Exposure to different and new techniques and materials, experimenting with tried & true methods that have proven themselves for me personally and sharing a host of others in the industry and shoveling it all into a virtual compost-heap of possibilities, this is what it's all about. Giving the time + space to create and validating the medium as a legitimate means of artistic expression, fomenting creativity, and enabling individual styles to manifest themselves is an open-ended goal in the classroom, as it is in the studio. 

Planting seeds for others to hopefully harvest at leisure or will is indeed a rare privilege, both deeply humbling, constantly challenging and equally surprising, and is as inspirational to both aspiring and established talents, and incidentally works to expand upon a continually evolving sense of community. 

Class is never over.

Image: Tara Maricle

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Ruminate" + Coloring Fun!

Here’s a lazy Sunday project I did to accompany a blog post on a process panel, this time focusing on using washes. Just over a minute and a half vodcast that supplements this little essay, which was originally intended as a voice-over, but I just couldn’t bring myself to narrate over the backing track (one of many inspiring shorts available by Podington Bear). Not to mention I just talk too much, so take this write-up as the backstory before watching the video portion.

The particular cartoon for this demo was selected on the basis of it being a relatively simple composition: just enough elements present to arrange a nice, simple image with some minimal touches of linear perspective + slight foreshortening + overlapping so as to create more pictorial depth in the panel.

I sell folks original artwork of my cartoons all the time, but usually they’re just black & white line-art, so to add some value I try and treat the pen + ink pieces with some sort of wash after scanning it in (more often than not the print version is digitally shaded in Photoshop using grayscales – an aesthetic holdover from many years of using Zip-A-Tone/LetraTone to apply screen halftones).

Materials: I primarily use Derwent brand (or General’s) brand water-soluble pencils for grayscale: these come in various gradations ranging from Light/Medium/Dark and all sorts of different levels of hardness inbetween (4B etc.). An aside is that it’s vastly preferable to use these instead of the old-school method where one lines up a series of film canisters (dating myself here), or other small containers, which are filled with water and successive amounts of ink is diluted to achieve a gradation from dark to light. This is both time-consuming and a logistical hassle when doing public demos or working remotely from the studio in the sketchbook. For color I’ve been hooked on both Derwent Graphitint and Inktense pencils, and I typically use a cheap synthetic brush, mostly a Winsor & Newton #4 watercolor round (sometimes larger for big areas like backgrounds, and conversely smaller brushes for detailing).

It merits mention that technically the substrate I’m using (Bristol board, usually Strathmore 300/400 series: smooth) isn’t designed for usage with wet media. The trade-off is that watercolor paper tends to have a rougher surface texture that isn’t conducive to using a dip-pen nib to ink on. The main liability with using Bristol is the tendency to quickly reach a saturation point in conjunction with excessive scrubbing with the brush and the fibers start to fall apart and clump (which means it’s time to let it thoroughly dry before manually brushing off any random chunks), also large areas of wash will begin to buckle the paper. Taping the panel up on a backing board and/or ironing it can help, or most of the time I just let it go. A lot of these intangible factors go into creating the overall aesthetic of an original, up to and including the inherently looseness (ie sloppiness) of the medium and not staying inside the lines when coloring, little goof-ups with inking etc. – the end result is a piece that looks like it was handmade by a human. This as opposed to the look and feel of a digitally treated panel, which has more of a slick, mechanical finish to it.

Also it should go without saying that for the original drawing permanent India ink needs to be used lest you discover more wash than you envisioned, and usually this entails a prudent drying time which corresponds with the point of safe erasing of the underlying pencils. I also didn’t use any colorless masking fluid here, simply because I just didn’t care, I mean, I trusted in my degree of craftsmanship to stay in control.

It’s a constant juggling act to balance out dueling factors in how dark a wash goes down: how much was first put down when penciled out, and how much or how little water is loaded in the brush. Less water and more pigment will equal darker tone, and also the drying/rate of absorption into the paper fibers will play into the process. Sometimes just a little blush will do, or multiple passes layering in gradations, taking care to avoid the aforementioned waterlogging and subsequent buckling.

Also when shading in I maintain a consistent angle on the face of the tip of the pencil so as to better facilitate smooth, even application: this evenhanded burnishing motion avoids leaving heavier marks that are difficult to wash out later, and those marks also tend to break up the surface area with an unwanted texture if you’re going for a smooth gradation in tone.

Generally the first pass is for establishing a base tone: note here that I tend towards the lighter end as it’s a one-way process and so much safer to gradually build up a range of values in a series of passes after each successive application dries. Another technique when doing wet-on-wet is to have a swatch off to the side of whatever color you’re using and use that as a sort of palette with which to bring in a bit of more pigment for a darker tone. Use a rapid scrubbing motion with the brush to break up the initial pencil marks and then push around the color. Often it’s a race to blend in smooth transitions when there is an overlapping area where the wash has already soaked or set and a newer area of fresh area that meets it, like a Venn diagram.

Details of the colors used: First pass: moose = tan; antler = mountain grey; cloud/cup = fuchsia; bear = saddle brown; table = oak; chair backs = meadow; chairs = ivy; chair tops = apple; book = red w/tangerine spine; background = ocean blue + steel blue. Second pass: moose = bark; bear = autumn brown; table = madder brown; chairs = leaf green; antlers = storm grey; shadows = shadow.

One last step is with a sealant like a spray fixative, which seems to add the final touch insofar as literally glossing everything over. This is somewhat replicated to a small degree with boosting the vibrancy + contrast settings on the final scan in Photoshop. Tech notes: I used my lowly iPhone to shoot the hand-held footage, Photoshop CS4 and iMovie on the iMac (OSX 10) for editing and digital shading.

I was initially inspired to experiment with this short production after seeing the piece recently done by KTVF Channel 11 on our last 24 Hour Comics Day gig: the reporter wove together a lot of B-roll material and in one segment sped-up the frame-rate of me doing a sample demonstration piece, which I thought was pretty spiffy. There’s nothing more boring than watching paint dry, except maybe watching the paint being put on in the first place, or at least it’s a challenge to maintain interest after a few seconds. So this was an attempt to encapsulate and accelerate the process, and I hope it was amusing if not informative.

*Tip: When watching the YouTube video, the default resolution is pretty horrid-looking – so hit the little gear-cog under the screen and adjust the setting up to at least 480p.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Weekend Gig: Holiday Art Bazaar + 1st Fridays

Repeating + reposting the gig again from last year, as it was a really fun time in a great venue - and the only such seasonal event I'm doing this year. So far.

Along with ongoing public demos I'll be peddling the usual wares: shirts, books, and original artwork, along with a new quartet of xmas cards as well. Stop on by the Morris Thompson Center today from 5-8pm, or tomorrow, Saturday, from 10am-4pm.

Images: Heidi Morel, Jennifer Lent, Stephanie Rudig and Becky Anderson (clockwise from top left)

There will also be a whole herd of other excellent artisans on-site: Jennifer Lent, David Personius, Stephanie Rudig, Lara Poirrier, Heidi Morel, Jacob Harding, Katherine Helmuth, ELM Designs...

Images: Jamila Hla Shwe, Jacob Harding and Kathleen Patella

...Kathleen Patella, Becky Anderson, Jamila Hla Shwe and more… see more featured folks + samples posted at the Fairbanks Alaska Public Lands Information Center's Facebook page.

Images: Katherine Helmuth and David Personius

Oh but wait: there's a rash of First Friday openings: one not to miss is Teresa Shannon's "Repetition" at Keller Architects & Allied Arts... one of my personal favorites for local ceramics.

Image: Teresa Shannon

Two other friends are also having openings: Amy Reisland-Spear (Sitsoo's Studio) and Jan Sanders Stitt (Alaska Raven Studio) will respectively be at Bishop's Jewelry and Well Street Art Co.

Images: Amy Reisland-Spear + Jan Sanders Stitt

And if all that wasn't enough there's a couple other happenings too: The Tanana Valley Farmer's Market's seasonal bazaar, and don't miss an amazing collective of artists displaying their works at "One Night Stand" - the roster includes darleen masiak, Robby Mohatt, Iris Sutton, MaryBeth Michaels and many more... an incredible pantheon of local women artists.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Return of "Single Digits"

Last week saw the season ushered in properly with temperatures, and corresponding mood, begin their inexorable slide into darkness. Reposting this classic as complaining a sense of humor is indispensable defense against ecodepression, not that anything you do matters beyond simple endurance. It helps immeasurably that there is a trio of moose galumph around the cabin (cow with two yearlings) and the families of Red squirrels and Grey jays all keep up their cacophony, serving as a daily reminder that life goes on. Albeit just a bit slower now.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Okay: I totally got called out on this one, by a nerd state biologist who emailed me with the following correction:
"Technically, a seal is wearing a dry-suit; the seal’s skin is impermeable to water. Also, if a seal was truly equipped with a man-made wet-suit, it would serve to create another cold water layer against the skin because the seal’s internal warmth is naturally insulated by the blubber under its external integument."
Fortunately the general public is about as knowledgeable on such details as your average cartoonist (I hope). It was a good catch though. But seeing as how those are obviously Hawaiian Monk Seals, and hence in a much warmer climate. So the only thing actually wrong with the cartoon would be the errant ice floe. So nyeah. (Cough, cough)

Friday, November 28, 2014

Hiyo Diply Folks!

A friend (h/t Heather) tagged me that one of my panels found its way to a Diply post: always appreciate the visitors - and esp. a helpful hyperlink! That in particular is something exceptionally rare today to see when ripping off artists: full credit, as usually the signatures are cropped off or recaptioned etc. Even one of the other three cartoon panels posted in this Diply piece still had the original copyright included along with mine. But hey - here's another free idea to compliment the article... maybe add another "common fact you should probably know" to the list: copyright!

One might think a website with millions of hits a day and "one of the top 500 most-viewed websites in the world" could afford to maybe tip a wee bit, especially when using the creative content of others to further bolster its advertising revenue. There is a depressing amount of similar websites which don't actually appear to make anything themselves, just leech off the work of others.

These folks are owned by GoViral Inc. which in turn is owned by AOL, so maybe a cut from all the ads it's selling on the same page of "the fastest growing website in Internet history" could be doable. Swiping like this is on a much different scale than, say, making a photocopy from the newspaper to stick on the cubicle wall or a simple share on Facebook ... in fact, it's piracy. Yarrr!

That said, I suppose I shouldn't seem ungrateful for all the exposure, as I did notice my site traffic counter skyrocket what with the dozens of new, unique visits.
Okay, I exaggerate: twenty-three.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Post PopCon Post

What an absolute blast at last weekend's PopCon 2014 event in the Wood Center, especially surrounded by so much talent + enthusiasm for two days of good crowds and curious queries about comics. Nice little write-up in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner too - thanks to Kris Capps for the action shot above... already looking forward to next year.
In-between the demos I think I managed to get in a lot of marketing for both the cartooning classes at the Visual Art Academy and also promoting the UAF Summer Sessions Cartoon & Comic Arts course. And probably had a little bit too much fun...

I had the distinct pleasure to be bookended by Layla Lawlor sharing a table with Ellen Million to my right, and my neighbor on the left was Jose Mojica with his Jeff & Taylor work. Ryan Russell Pierce has his Ripped Art Studio, Alex Bates of Forge of Ice miniatures and Katie Tasky were also in-house, along with a random mix of other folks from the Comic Shop to Alternative Nachos. Special thanks to Johnny Stickman and Maria Frantz for helping table-sit while I wandered away. And lastly here is an excerpt from my favorite piece on display for the weekend: a spiffy image by Kelsey Gobrowski (see it in its full splendor at her DeviantArt page here).