Sunday, August 20, 2017

"Big Butterflies"

Man did I almost give up on this. Shelved it many, many times, as it was such a mess and wasn't quite ready to do a redraw. Somewhat salvaged it digitally, as can be seen by comparing & contrasting the two versions posted here. Can't find the damn doodle if there ever was one, but did manage to scan in the wash demo- most of it anyways. Enough so's you get the idea as far as how much wound up being tweaked: height of figures and angle of car, hat, net handle and mesh, verbage and balloon. When all was said & done, or drawn, the print variation I think wound up looking worse than the original. But you know what? What's important to me, especially little details in the craftsmanship, doesn't really matter when it comes down to the ultimate point of the picture. I've spent ten times the amount of time on a lavish illustration which eclipses the dumass gag, in fact, sometimes suffocates it.

Along with plug-ins, these are another facet of Interior lifestyle that don't cause residents to look twice at the vehicles with ginormous nets strapped to them, which heralds the onset of dipnetting season. Never been, probably never will, as the concept of combat fishing had about as much appeal to me as going to concerts and dealing with an overwhelming crush of humanity. That said, I will shove people out of the way at the seafood department at the grocery store when King crab goes on sale.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Hits Keep Comin'

Paused for a moment to examine the on-line reaction to this particular panel: sat back and watched it exponentially spread across this little virtual neck of the woods after posting it. Now I quite honestly still have no clue whatsoever as to exactly why certain cartoons take off the way that they do - there are any number of factors and random elements that go into it. Sometimes I miss the comparative void of ignorance when it was just printed in the paper - until a show or a book release I'd have nothing but comments from acquaintances to gauge the relative popularity of a panel. More on that point at the end of this post...

An example of trolling the subject of an editorial beyond my own limited sphere of influence

One fact that may or may not have bearing on the relative reach of a Facebook post is the actual time of uploading, which plenty of studies attempt to gauge what is the sweet spot to elicit the most views and/or shares. For me it's by 6am on Fridays (to catch folks at work) and Sundays (to catch weekend readers). Another qualifier here on my own comparatively limited circle, which pales next to the audience numbers of other folks and online entities who take marketing a lot more seriously than I do, and have a more mercenary approach to accumulating fans and cultivating a following. I'm quite happy enough lounging in my own neck of the virtual woods without cutting down all the trees to get a better view, an ironic effect of many who seek to increase their visibility.

Another note here in that I often counsel aspiring art students to separate themselves from their work by establishing an independent presence ie keep their personal page independent from that of their actual artwork, which at first seems to be a contradiction, but is a prudent business move.
Partitioning off the art from the creator means more bifurcation and effort, but there may come a point when the waters get muddied and you might wish for a firewall of sorts. For me it's way too late for that, it's all mixed up, and is an amalgamation of who + what I am. It's been a long, slow and organic growth of "friends" many, if not most of which I routinely forget or fail to recognize face-to-face in public. Once you get over 1k, it becomes virtually impossible to keep track, much less juggle all of the requisite interactions. Psychologists claim you only really have a few friends, with another fifteen or so in the next circle outward of this inner core. The numbers climb on social media, with other estimates ranging from an average of 155 to 130, which starts to illustrate the gap in perceived reality that is an insidious warping of what is "real." 

So for that first example cartoon posted up above , at that point of 112 shares, privacy settings allowed me to see only 32 profiles of the folks that shared the post, and of those, only 26 allowed me to see how many Friends they have - ie the potential field of exposure in terms of number of possible views by their friends in turn. That together with my own Friends and Followers = 20k (potential) viewers... multiply that by four (since again, I could only see roughly a quarter of the prospective "audience" based on shares) to get an approximate estimate of maaaaybe 80k Facebook (potential) viewers overall. Now add to that number a few hundred blog views, plus the readership of the Sunday News-Miner (12,500 in meatspace - I don't know their online edition subscriber numbers) makes an easy 90k, certainly within a six-figure reach on many other "successful" examples of relatively viral posts of mine in the recent past.

This was all done back-of-the-envelope about 24hours after posting, with the numbers still continuing to steadily tick upwards: well over triple that amount of shares as of writing this post. That certainly is far, far better than the average number of gallery viewers, or even newspaper readers. Which if that's your thing, is a potentially lucrative opportunity for monetizing or at the very least a significant investment in the ol' "exposure" to attract future clients.

Recently I woke up to check my stats and was astonished to see that unique pageviews to this blog had just crested the half a million point. Quite the revelation while sitting in an outhouse in the middle of Alaska. There's a somewhat symbiotic relationship at this point between The Book of Faces and Ink & Snow: crossposting a link to a corresponding blog post in comment thread whenever I upload a new panel to my page yields at best a boost of approx. fifty views, as it reminds folks there's still another whole side of my online activities. Or at least a different side of me than cats and foodie pics.

Excerpted from Spike Drew This: excellent overview of what we're looking at here

So far I've seen the most popular FB posts (usually cartoons) get 100-200 "likes" and 50-100 "shares" which are hand-in-glove with "likes" but are the real metric by which to crudely gauge popularity. It used to be I'd be thrilled beyond belief to have a couple dozen, now I'm fairly jaded unless it trips over, say, maybe fifty to a hundred. But remember, that's eliciting reaction (like/comment/share) at best of only maybe 20% at best of one's Friends. As an analogy, of the total attendees at any art show in a gallery, how many people actually take the time to leave a comment in the guest logbook that alway's on a pedistal somewhere? And of those that do, how many say anything above + beyond the requisite "great work" or "loved it" etc. Not to ever diminish the importance of even such cursory commentary, but it's a good example of the expected range and depth of input at such an event, and you rarely get feedback that requires genuine interaction beyond the superficial (again, still always a deeply appreciated vote of confidence).

Again with the sample panel posted at the top of this essay, at some point the "shares" might eclipse those of original "likes" and you know that it's truly spun out of orbit from your little world. Then every so often a whale - one of the huge content factories that do nothing but skim off the web and try to score views to garner ad revenue - picks it up and reposts it on their page, which in turn restarts the whole cascading effect again. However, as opposed to Facebook, and unlike Picasa, which has now unfortunately been put to sleep, there's no way now to check how many times people have viewed an individual photo/image in a Google+ album or the archive from the old portfolios, which is a real bummer as I'm presumably well over the 5-million total views mark going off 2015 stats. But oh well, this goes back to the days of old when all there was was endlessly putting stuff out here in print and having no real way of effectively gauging impact or reach. I frequently employ the metaphor of chumming the water... just keep ladling it overboard anyways.

BTW filtering your Friends list from public view is I guess a prudent thing to do, so as to minimize the attractiveness of yourself as potential troll-bait. This quickly becomes apparent every time I have a widely reposted panel, there's an inevitable number of fake Friend requests that follow. I see an awful lot of folks who get caught up with the recurring outbreaks of hacker activity: they're not "hacked" persay, just a cloned account by a scammer who will then target your Friends in turn. So it's important to do a quick check to see if they're already your Friend + who are your mutual/shared Friends, in conjunction with eyeballing their page to see if it's an obviously shallow puppet account. Here and here are some more tips on avoiding this inevitable circumstance.That is, unless you really believe that there really are lonely French models lounging around in lingerie pining for Alaskan cartoons.

In all seriousness though, I'll close with the most important observation of all: even after taking into account all of the disparate elements of online activity, what's really and truly the most important of all is what happens in the realm of reality. Take for example the series of recent gigs I had at the Ester Village Farmers + Crafts Market. Following the Wild Arts Walk event I had all of my crap still loaded up in the back of the Subaru, and took advantage of the opportunity to peddle wares right down the street from the cabin in my own local community. Didn't really sell a damn thing, but that wasn't really the point - these are the kind of public events where you never know who will come by for a visit or what will happen as a result of simply putting yourself out there. Even if it's hours spent being alone at the table it's a chance to get some work caught up in the sketchbook or talk with other friendly vendors. It's always humbling nomatter what direction it goes, busy or dead, and I'm always grateful regardless of how busy or dead it gets. The analogy is the same as with the internet, or one could easily extend it to the motivation behind creating the artwork to begin with.

Just keep making it, and just keep showing up.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


It looks to me as if I was actually looking at real caribou antlers for once. The almost abstracted ones in the doodle in turn gave me another idea that you'll see here sooner or later. At any rate, amazing things will happen if you slow down enough to really take a look at things.

The older I get the slower I drive. Or maybe it's just compounded by the usual age of the vehicles I drive. Either way I never seem to be in much of a hurry to get anywhere. We'll all get where we're going eventually.

Such sagacity unfortunately doesn't ever seem to extend into the head of the tailgaters who don't elicit much in the way of any road rage as a sense of pity - they certainly have crappier day than I do, or will, once they start riding my ass.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The "Man-Purse"

This old thing can be seen every so often in some of my pictures while working away in the "remote studio," as it's very rarely ever not by my side whenever I go anywhere. I occasionally raise eyebrows and even get flak for toting this thing around - but I guess if you're going to have personal baggage, then this would be the way to go. The Significant Otter bought it for me like almost fifteen years ago while she was earning an MFA in Montana. It was a commemorative bag for the 200-year anniversary of the Lewis + Clark expedition, and  has yet to show any sign of wear (not to mention, aside from repeat soakings & stainings, has yet to be washed either - it's seasoned like a good iron skillet by now). This after getting overstuffed and hauled all over the United States and up + down the state of Alaska - one rugged piece of luggage. I'm routinely asked just what the heck do I have in it, and as one can plainly see, only the barest essentials for cafe survival for any traveling artist are crammed in. One of these days I'll do a rendering of the toolbox used to conduct classroom demonstrations or public show & tells - now that thing's a total mess.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Refrigerator Lichen" (aka "Do Like Caribou Do")

Here I pushed myself to consciously and deliberately maintain a visual buffer zone between elements in the foreground and the surrounding clutter. Or, you can extend that as a metaphor for what happens while working away in the studio versus the constant, omnipresent waves of reality and accompanying responsibilities that lap against your attention hen trying to tap into creative endeavors.

That the workflow process is always broken (see also Top Post on the subject) makes it paradoxically easier to "work" ie doodle and sketch while out and about. Though to be sure, so does the lifelong skill at just ignoring shit. Anyways, I interrupt myself more than anybody else ever could, which means the brain tends to squirrel off in a billion different directions. That's an asset when it comes to inculcating the habit of daydreaming.

And on that note, here's a rare, behind the scenes glimpse at the palette + tools of the stay-at-home working artist.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Bonus Castor canadensis

Okay, okay... I know I swore off the Castor canadensis themed posts way back at the start of the year, but like how each + every little stick eventually adds up to a beaver dam that can stem the current of even the mightiest river, the pieces keep piling up.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


That's about the size of it...

I’ve often mulled here about the empathy I have with many art students, beginners in particular. Not because I get stressed over looming deadlines (though I do), or battle with the inner critic (that committee meets in my head frequently enough), struggle to find space in a hectic daily routine (all the time), or worry over whether or not it meets the target with the intended audience (still happens), and so on with a veritable laundry-list of speed-bumps + log-jams that conspire to impede the flow of creation.

No, sometimes it’s entirely a matter of wanting – needing – it to be the absolute best thing that you can ever possibly do because it means everything. When the making of an image is so personal and so significant and symbolic and has to represent so much more than anything you’ve ever done so far in your whole life. Heh, no pressure…

I frequently tell my classes that there are as many reasons why you make art as there are ways to make it. The motivations are always evolving, shifting, adapting to circumstance. Other times it is the rock that never changes despite the current – it is a touchstone of stability and a sanctuary to escape: this works for an observer as well.

This is one of the things you (ideally) confront so many times as an artist. I think if it ever gets to the point where one is so comfortable, confident and self-assured each and every time you sit down to draw, that if these feelings never surface, then you’ve probably effectively plateaued as an artist. There are certainly times I feel like I’m on autopilot, and/or marvel at the reflexive, unconscious aspect of whipping out image after image, and love when I get into that zone where it’s all about production.

"Put something silly in the world, That ain't been there before." - Shel Silverstein
What I mean here is when there’s an abstracted, conceptual THING you obsessively HAVE to birth into existence. Like an auto mechanic you lay out all the right tools for the job, like a chef in the kitchen you ready all the ingredients, like an athlete you do warm-ups and stretches: you’ve trained for this: all your experience and knowledge and skill comes into play, plus the excitement of the new, and the wonder of it all.

And it is ambiguous enough to accommodate multiple levels of meaning: which is who? Are those bubbles actually little underwater farts? Are they gnawing or hitching a ride? What’s up with the ring motif? Is there something esoteric going on here? (Like “seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another”?) Is this a transcendent statement on the infinite cycle of creation and destruction, the eternal waltz of life and death, as manifested with Castor canadensis? And what the hell is it with you and these dam beavers anyways?

Maybe you suspect or know full well it won’t ever be interpreted with anywhere near as much significance as you’ve infused it with, and that in fact it will be overlooked or even dismissed as just another one of your usual efforts. There will be no monetary gain, no prestige, there’s no competition, no critique, no grade. None of that matters, that’s not what’s important now. This is for something that is beyond any reason, it’s what you do, and it’s why you do it.

If, after all of this internalized gestalt, you still put pencil to paper, and spend hours sketching and refining and experimenting with the composition, if you still go through all the stages of facing down innumerable obstacles and accidents (link happy accidents) and surmounting any failure (shit happens), well then, there it is.

You sit back and look at it and think to yourself “Yeah, that’s it” … you did it. I mean, you’re not “done” – you’re never going to be done, hopefully. But it’s that moment when you stop paddling and just simply float: it’s peaceful, birdcalls fill the air, there’s a loon nearby, the sunset is beautiful, and she’s there too. It’s shucking off the backpack on top of the mountain and stretching out on the tundra to take in the view. It’s that first bite of the cheesecake that you baked last night, with some fresh-ground coffee and the Sunday paper.

Another obtuse blog post + some cryptic clues... astute readers will get the conflation: over half a century of singlehood sure as hell means I wouldn't ever offer advice as marriage counselor, but by the same token I have noticed over the years something about the relationship between art & life. Seems it's always back to the drawing board: sketch it out, pencil it in, ink it up, erase, prep, add shading, put some color in, and put it out there. Then make some more.

PS: Here's the official soundtrack for this piece (that took about twenty years to create)

Sunday, July 23, 2017


I recently had another person out of the blue tell me how much they really enjoyed a cartoon of mine – one that in fact was published over a month ago, and her and her husband loved it so much they clipped it out of the newspaper and stuck on their refrigerator. It’s things like that which really make me feel satisfied with my lot in life. I mean, might not ever accomplish anything significant but surely a lot of little things, like maybe laughs, accumulate enough merit in the long run.Also getting an atta-boy while out and about doodling at the usual haunts is just as good if not better than a “like” or share ‘cause it’s right there and it’s real.

The inspiration for this came from an outing with some Advanced Drawing students while on a field trip (to Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge). One of the subtle things, or lessons if you will, that I really hope is impressed upon them is just how endless the realm of possibilities are when it comes to getting ideas. Anywhere, at any time, anything at all can trip the line.

Sketching might seem to be a passive, idle activity, but you are simultaneously engaging and investing the experience with meaningful material from which to literally draw from.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Slough Coup

As part of our early season regimen training runs we explored some of Piledriver Slough: a nice quiet backwater stream that meanders alongside the Richardson Highway next to Eielson Air Force Base. Apart from a few curves that came closer to the road it was absolutely peacefully quiet, and especially given it was a holiday, nobody else was there (except for one small family with kids who noted on how we were “going the wrong way”). I was inspired by a friend who posted pictures of her family's excursion and it looked to be an easy enough warm-up for our continuing adventures boating about. Reaching online only revealed a couple entries on various forums, mostly fishing-related, but studying the Google satellite imagery gave us enough to go on. Afterwards I bought a topo map and have been able to plot more sorties for the summer.

The stream itself was quite deep + wide in areas, unfortunately thickly carpeted by the invasive aquatic weed Elodea which is currently wreaking havoc in many Interior waterways. Encouragingly enough there were a LOT of fingerlings and many instances of jumping fish, presumably trout and grayling. We were rewarded with a raucous Bald eagle (appropriate enough for Independence Day) and a surprise visit from a Belted kingfisher, along with many flotillas of ducklings too.

We only covered maybe a quarter of the slough: Word was that it would take a good twelve hours to float it in its entirety, but we opted instead to paddle upstream from our put-in and simply retrace the route after a few hours. The current was strong enough in a few spots over shallow stretches that it suspended us place and took some serious flailing about with the paddles to maintain forward momentum (and I only managed to capsize once). And there were several times after grounding to a halt on the stream-bed that we had to resign ourselves to wade for a few hundred feet dragging the canoes along to reach deeper water. There was also a spectacular and organic fireworks show courtesy of an afternoon thunderstorm that threatened us with some intense lightening but never came close enough to merit bailing out. Wound up sunburned, sore and smiling instead!

Afterwards I sketched a scene from memory, as I no longer have a point-and-shoot camera (and wasn't about to bring along an iPad or iPhone), and the image was pretty fresh in my mind after staring at it for half a day. And just like the actual experience, looking at the sketch brings me a momentary pause of peaceful reflection. Boating about recalls my experiences on the Ogeechee River during grad school, and our pair of one-person canoes is a prefect metaphor for us. Last year we left off our adventuring with an awesome all-day excursion around the Clearwater Lakes down by Delta Junction. Soon as we get back up and running (or in this case, floating) I'll post some more pics and panels inspired by this new angle on outdoor recreation.