Sunday, May 1, 2016


Ever get that gnawing feeling deep down inside? My take on the well-worn "psychiatrist couch" gag. Sometimes I think I need help, someone to talk to... but remember: it's just one day joke at a time. 

What with such a relatively complicated/detailed background, the process of preserving clarity in the composition was of concern. So various tricks of the trade are employed, like for example varying line weight (relative thickness/boldness of lines) to demarcate areas of different depth in the picture plane. Another technique is using a “broken line” in inking so as to help set foreground objects off against the cluttered backdrop, though this subtle method effectively vanishes with the application of shading. 

The value process works in successive waves of applying areas of tone: after establishing the values in the foreground objects, 1st lay down a neutral 50% tone, a really big, discreet area, then push back a couple layers of values, using polygonal lasso tool and working only on areas as opposed to individual shapes (objects). Since the details (individual objects) aren’t clearly delineated, more sketched, suggestive lines as opposed to closed areas which would be simple to click on and adjust shading relative to surrounding values (ie contrast), it’s easier to treat the panel in terms of areas. This in theory maintains an overall value to the entire composition., so as to facilitate easier an visual “reading” of the panel. Then pull out selected highlights, and finally drop in some gradients for finishing touches as detail work.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cartoonist Manifest Destiny (with Beaver)

In all these years of blogging, don't think I've ever managed to categorize a post under the dual labels of both "Teaching" and "Castor canadensis." The above image wasn't quite a demo in the usual sense, as I just did it in ten minutes off to the side on my own while the rest of the class was diligently toiling away on the same assignment, which I then gave away to the underpaid + unappreciated model. Back at the studio and a little bit of Photoshopping for a title... and now I have the cover to my memoir. And a literal illustration of of one of my favorite principles in action.

The exercise “Observation, Experience and Imagination” (previous posts here, here and here) in theory ties together everything we’ve been working on in the semester. Obviously the time constraint is an issue, but it’s supposed to be just a really quick in-class experiment meant to illustrate that at some fundamental level, everything we draw - or critique for that matter – will be principally predicated upon one of those three sources, or at least some of all three incorporated to varying degrees. Kinda like an equalizer shapes sound into a collective, overall result: individual history, training and expertise (experience); drawing from life (observation); and the wild card of creativity (imagination). An ever-evolving mix that is adapted differently for each scenario, subject matter and situation. It's one answer to the question "where do you get your ideas?" - from anywhere and anything, to everywhere and everything, from inside and outside. This is why it's crucial for an artists to always be working and have as many irons in the fire as possible: even when you don't have any ideas, there's always something to draw, sketch or doodle, and that simple act more often than not will in turn beget the Jacob's Ladder of inspiration.

Students sketch the model for 15 minutes (leaving room around the figure); then spend another 15 minutes adding - purely from memory - an environment/setting based on someplace we’ve previously drawn (symphony hall, library, art department studio study, hallways, library stacks, greenhouse, interior or exterior critique pieces etc.); another 15 minutes incorporating a couple elements out of their sketchbooks culled from the numerous outings we’ve done for reference sketches (emphasizing fore/mid/background); and a final 15 minutes tying the composition together using any medium (charcoal, marker etc.). It's the last inspirational mini-lecture the class hears from me until our final critique, and one of the very few grand summations that I hope everybody manages to take away at least something to remember. All of it, all of this, is just a jumping-off point. Every day in fact. Filed under "Works for me."

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Call it a cartoonists' cartoon, a meta commentary on the old-school comic books of yore. Sadly yet another example of targeting a relatively obscure demographic - that of folks who will not only remember the specific advertisement being referenced, but also who happen to be up on their Alaskan slang (possible Inupiaq pejorative for "arrogant person" derived from Russian "cossack"). Every once in a while I allow myself to put one out there that will most assuredly make nobody else smile but me. Unfortunately indulging in the luxury of such solipsism dooms a work of commercial art, which like any mass-market comedian must appeal to the lowest common denominator for success and popularity. Good thing neither one is my goal in life, but "getting even some day" is still within the realm of possibility with the bullies that are out there.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Fairbanks Sketchers V: Gulliver's Books

"The One That Got Away"

Our little group of local sketchers (see previous posts here, here and here) migrated over to one of my favorite community camping spots, where I'm often a fixture with my sketchbook in the cafe. Gulliver's Books has such a unique architectural presence, one you never really stop to notice unless you happen to be actively studying it's distinctive shape. Even details like how each individual bookshelf is ever-so-slightly canted back so the books sit an angle - nice touches like that which ordinarily would escape attention would it not for the focused observation involved in actively looking at a subject. Kinda like active listening, it's a matter of training not just the eye, but of stilling the mind enough to truly take note - it fosters a connection, engages you.

I was reminded of this phenomenon on account of recent marketing efforts with a new event, "Slow Art Day." Not to mention how many tourists we see here in Alaska (and elsewhere) that are so thoroughly immersed in their cameras, faithfully recording their visit to the degree that they're arguably not even really present, and hence must attempt in vain to relive the experience that they've paradoxically missed out on by being so obsessed with documenting it while it happens.

It was only around zero degrees outside but a stiff little breeze made for a chilly half-hour sketching up the exterior shot (had to bail out for several warm-ups back inside). Again, I'm technically not adhering to the strict manifesto of the official Urban Sketchers - since I prudently leave the pen + ink materials at home out of respect for the host business, I just complete the pencilwork on-site. In the spirit of the event though I try and complete the piece(s) within the same allotted timeframe, usually about an hour or so. However I am strictly working off observation - no reference photos of any kind, which in my opinion results in a much more spontaneous and raw impression than striving for realistic depiction. More and more these days I find myself being aesthetically critical of lifeless studies drawn from photographs. It's also nice to not have to worry about impressing anybody, students, clients or peers, and just sketch for the hell of it.

Here's a link to our Facebook page which will host any posts about upcoming venues + samples of work. There's also our Flickr page, and I've set up a my own personal Flickr page for my own work, in tangent with the usual Google+ webfolio for the sketches done while on our outings.

Urban Sketchers blog

Inked up the day’s sketches, an interior + exterior of the urban setting of the month… as usual, scored a couple books, one used (the Gaiman/Zulli title) and one new: after hunting down the Haida Manga one (“Red” by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas) - by first trying the ISBN, then by author, and eventually finding out the distributor carried it and finally ordering a copy - another employee found that they actually had a copy sitting right there on their shelves. One of the many reasons I love that store and folks who work there.

Bonus: Staffperson gave me a copy of the "Secret Harbor" minicomic from my Maine residency back in 2011 (made so as to have something non-Alaskan at my table for the MeCAF comic convention + a precursor to the “Bad Clams” collection)… someone tried to exchange it for credit , but unfortunately it hasn’t appreciated in value above & beyond the $1. Maybe if it was signed... buck-fifty?

The next meetup is Wednesday, April 27th from 5-7 at Arctic Lanes bowling alley: never having been there I'm looking forward to enjoying some beverages - here's hoping they serve Caucasians.

Friday, April 22, 2016

When Ravens Cry...

The time was 1984, the place was the historic Wescott Theatre in Syracuse, NY, and I was still a teenager, only a handful of months away from moving to Alaska. By myself in the back, I had the surreal experience of seeing hundreds and hundreds of silhouetted arms all held in the air, hands silently swaying in unison over the closing track of “Purple Rain.”
By then I had already worn out my copy of his “1999” album: the underlying foundation of respect and inspiration as an artist was his not just raw proficiency as a musician, but the fact that (aside from vocal support) all the tracks were written and performed by himself.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Sign Here" (aka "Paperwork")

Poop joke! Field-tested out in "the wild" (ie camping out at the cafe) to reaffirm that there's fortunately a sizable enough contingent of folks knowledgeable about the traditional terminology of animal crap to get the double entendre. Not to mention the veritable avalanche of paperwork that's currently cresting everything else in the studio, along with the usual bureaucratic and administrative hamster-maze we all have to scamper through as Responsible Adults.
If it's one thing that always reminds me that I'm a cartoonist, is that regardless of the workload - in fact, almost in direct proportional opposition to - I'll keep getting distracted by what's on the drawing board. And the more you do the more you want to do... it kickstarts a feedback cycle of creating: this panel begats that one, which in turn begats a bunch more until a cascading, fractal mess of ideas + accompanying sketches and the myriad of intermediate stages of completion all begin to blossom simultaneously. Not a bad place to be, or "problem" to have.

Teachable Moment®™: Even in a simple panel like this, the employment of basic linear perspective is a subtle yet crucial factor in promote pictoral depth in the picture plane. Reminds me of a common  exchange I have with beginning drawing students who need some additional input on assignments and critique pieces: I encourage them to shoot a quick pic of the piece in progress if they hit a speed bump, and with a few minutes of Photoshop I can usually bounce back some suggestions on correcting any problems. Now, does it matter that it's not mathematically precise in measurement? Not really, especially considering the task it's supposed to accomplish, namely that of successfully rendering the illusion of a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional sheet of paper. And if it works, the simple criteria carries over from classroom exercises and corresponding assignments (see here, here and here from the archives) all the way to a basic cartoon panel. In conjunction with demonstrations I think it really helps to see the principle not only in action but illustrated in an unassuming context such as this published panel for example.
Or failing that, it's a poop joke.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Bonus Guys Read

 Last weekend there was a special follow-up Guys Read party (see previous posts here from 2016 + 2015) out at the North Pole Library Branch, which, as per the usual routine, I set up a table at to do some demos.

“Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own”

I probably could roll most of this post over into the Castor canadensis category, what with the beaver-themed results.... managed to coax out a small colony of contributions to the ever-growing collection.

But the capstone of the afternoon's festivities was my efforts at the cupcake station... I'm seriously thinking now about throwing in the towel as a teaching artist and just embrace my inner pastry chef. All I can say to this year's state fair entrants in the culinary division is... look out, there's a new dam decorator in town.

Artwork: Colin See-Paynton

On a side-note, the only other time I'd visited the library was for last year's inaugural Comic Book Day as a participant, and this time I was early enough for setup to peruse the stacks and check out more of the building. To my complete surprise and everlasting joy, tucked away in a small study room was a framed set of wood engravings by one of the living masters of the craft, Colin See-Paynton, from the UK.
In 1972, See-Paynton moved to a remote farmhouse in Wales, on to which he built his studio. Entirely self-taught as an engraver, he began to make prints in 1980 and has since produced over 250 editions. Colin has brought a new vitality to one of the earliest forms of printmaking. Although his work is based on the meticulous observation of the natural world, his talent is to invent compositions which distil the ecological and behavioural relationships of the species and their habitats. He uses his knowledge and imagination to construct engravings of great complexity and refinement and has evolved something new by the patterning and layering of his images. - from the Brook Gallery
Previously I'd seen his illustrations in a couple books, but up close and personal was a revelation for this former printmaker - there's simply no comparison to being eye-to-eye with the actual originals. To simultaneously trigger awe at the pure craftsmanship in conjunction with astonishing portrayals of the magnificent species, is a rare experience. I'd definitely rank him on the same level of another favorite, C. F. Tunnicliffe, who I've managed to acquire a modest collection of titles from over the years. For a wonderful sampling of more astonishing works by See-Paynton, see this Pinterest board collection, and make the time to see the rest of the Gianni Collection if you're ever in that neck of the woods, as there are many other artists represented throughout the library.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

"The Seasonal Coat"

Another example of the mothballed floater panels that sometimes take years to get published as they are put on hold in limbo until the time is right (ie I need a quickie for filler), or eventually it gets trashed because it's so old my style and aesthetic has shifted so much it looks weird, or I no longer think it's remotely funny anymore. This happens a fairly surprising amount given the accumulation of files in my "Old/Reject" folder in the desktop archives. The subject matter depicted here is effectively "timeless" in that A) everybody is always doing laundry regardless of what time of the year it is, and B) animals are in a continual state of transition what with seasonal molts and general shedding.

This particular panel underwent a coupla tweaks in the transition from sketch to inked panel to finished (print) version. Ostensibly one of the reasons I like to doodle everything out beforehand is to work out any visual kinks in the composition (besides making sure I don't forget it by writing the idea down and biding time at the laundromat during cycles), but by no means does that translate into a masterpiece. Mistakes happen, all the time in fact. Any work of art entails that aspect of creativity in the process - meaning adaptation and incorporation of error.

One can really see the expansion from the initial panel border lines I plotted out at the start of the penciling: probably an additional inch of sprawl (on the bottom and right-hand side) was needed to accommodate the rest of the drawing. It illustrates the tenuous and constantly shifting balance between a nebulous idea of whatever it is in one's mind - the mental picture - and what comes out the end of the implement and what ultimately winds up on paper at the end. Or, more accurately, what winds up in the paper, as there's another transitional phase where digital editing can salvage something. More and more this is a solution of last resort as I still try best I can to maintain as little difference between the original and the published piece in the paper. A rule of thumb has long been the original is secondary to the printed version, and that's the only image that really matters.

But over the years I've personally been really impressed at the skill of many cartoonists that I've been able to observe as they physically make their comics: such consummate care + attention to detail, which is reflected in the raw state of the original. This isn't so much of a purist position, just pushing myself in little ways for constant improvement even though it might not ever be evident. Just part of the innate satisfaction in making stuff.

If you put your ear up to it you can hear the sound of the ocean

Saturday, April 9, 2016

New Blog!

After some thought, I've decided to change the direction of my life: from now on this will become a foodie blog. And so without further ado, here's my recipe for clams linguini, with accompanying photographs taken in my own kitchen:

First, get a big pot of water boiling on the stove. Dump in some olive oil too.

Friday, April 8, 2016

(Last) First Friday Review

   Actually I only managed to make one opening, so this'll be a short post. Usually try and make a good-faith effort to catch any student shows as a gesture of support, and I had no idea whatsoever about the work that was going to be on display at Sipping Streams Tea Company by two favorite up & coming talents in the UAF art department.
   Devante Owens and Tara Miracle have made previous appearances here and there on Ink & Snow on account of their stellar work in both my drawing classes and the Cartoon & Comic Arts course, but they've both rotated over into Printmaking, and true to their outstanding work ethic have been producing yet another body of work that reflects their consistent, high-caliber output, regardless of the medium.
   See/Like the teahouse's Facebook page here, and if you happen to be in our neck of the woods it's well worth the time and a cuppa badass tea to take in some awesome art sometime over the month of April.

   Last month I made part one of Brianna Regan's show at Alaska House Art Gallery (she had a second one which was good on account of how many pieces were sold). Besides having such a strong, continuing presence in the local scene with events like this (and on-line) she had some cards on a shelf that caught my eye.
   Not just for the obvious reasons, but also on account of some works by an old friend and peer from the department, Laura Hewitt. Who, as it happens, back in the beginning of the year also popped up on the internet with a piece on This Is Colossal, which was consequently reposted by a bunch of folks on the Book of Faces. What a kick in the virtual pants to see someone you know "make it big" as far as garnering attention from a major player on the web (here's hoping that exposure translates into sales as well).

   It's also super cool to share the same physical space + place with some of my favorite and respected fellow artists - mans a lot to be a part of the creative community. Check out Laura's Etsy site or visit the Alaska House Gallery in Fairbanks for more of her amazing works.

   Shout-out to BFA student Kristen Puckett in the UAF Art Department for an epic work of sequential-ish art that scored Juror's Choice at the current "Interior Artisans" exhibition up at the Bear Gallery: see some more process about the piece posted here.

Image: hat-tip Naomi

   Also a post-script of sorts here to note the migration of a long-time acquaintance in the comics community here in the Interior: Kevin Collins is up, up and awaaaay-ing and hanging up the cape as manager of The Comic Shop of Fairbanks. He's somewhat of a local hero of mine on that he's has been a long-time supporter of my teaching the comics course for well over a decade now, as well as his frequent donations for using comics as an important tool in literacy and encouraging kids to develop a lifelong love of reading. Under his management the Comic Shop been the host site for the 24 Hour Comics Day since 2007, and has long been a crucial part of the comics scene that has made Fairbanks the Alaskan epicenter of sequential art. His knowledge of the industry, championing the future of alternative + independent comics, and his support and encouragement of cartoonists like myself over the years is an indelible part of why we have such an awesome resource in our community. This was the only store in town where I could walk in and, without reservation, buy any recommended title he would put in my hands… so my bookshelves alone are testament to his influence and good taste. You will be missed – and good luck with the next adventure.

   And lastly a brief note commemorating the passage of Gloria Fisher, who was a long-time acquaintance and supporter of so many artists here and across the state for many, many years. Her gallery in Fairbanks, The Artworks, was the very first legitimate gallery I had works (woodcuts) displayed, she carried my books, and I did on-site demos and created custom cartoon cards, and it was also my go-to place for framing, advice and last-ditch desperate art supplies.