Friday, July 3, 2015

Random Update: LeRage, Snakemeat + Triggers (oh my)

Two-day time-lapse of work-in-progress

Sneaking in a bonus Friday post here: been chipping away at the backlog and have emerged with a good half-year buffer zone of finished Nuggets cartoon panels all cued up + some pre-posts for the blog in draft stage. Feels good going in to another busy summer season - which paradoxically is when there will be another huge upswing in material generated as classroom demos. But the best is when the daily pressure is bled off enough to allow for the fruition of some other projects that have been simmering away on the proverbial back-burner for some time now. Perhaps a more apt metaphor would be that of a crock-pot instead, as I like to think that the time spent incubating such endeavors allows for the a better infusion of aesthetic favors after everything steeps inside of you for a spell. You know what they say about "sleeping on it" - same thing except it sometimes slumbers for months or even years. Hence the value in cultivating a sketchbook repository: the oft-cited "mental mulch-pile" of material. So as of late I've been opening up the horizons a bit more than usual, pushing the boundaries that are basically ruts by now, eroded by constant habit. The inspiration goes hand-in-glove ink-in-pen with constant exposure to the outstanding efforts of aspiring talents within the classroom: it definitely works both ways and as a creative catalyst the energy feeds off itself. Or to look at it another way, one can only see other folks having so much fun focusing their time + energy on longer works before finally saying to oneself "Hey - I wanna do that too!"

One of my subjects during our tenure in Maine, the current governor Paul LePage, recently made a comment to a group of youngsters at a leadership (wtf?) conference that he's like to shoot a particular editorial cartoonist. The son of the cartoonist, George Danby, also happened to be in the audience. The ensuing and appropriate responses recall Mark Twain's adage "Never pick a fight with people who but ink by the barrel," not to mention a looming threat of impeachment. I remember one afternoon while over lunch with an local editorial cartoonist, I jokingly offered to trade Sarah "Crosshairs" Palin for LePage, which he declined. Still a tough call. The Newspaper Guild Communications Workers of America has issued a statement condemning the governor's remarks:
The NewsGuild-CWA and our Maine local are sickened and appalled that any public official would make such a “joke” in any context. To do so at a time when the nation is mourning a mass shooting, and in a year that began with the murder of cartoonists and other journalists at the satirical “Charlie Hebdo” shows the worst possible judgment.
We call on Gov. LePage to make a swift and sincere apology to Mr. Danby and his son. Further, he owes an apology to all journalists for suggesting that violence is the solution to unfavorable news converage. Lastly, he should apologize to his state for once again embarrassing Maine on a national stage.
History suggests he won’t show appropriate regret. We welcome him to prove us wrong.

Meanwhile on the opposite coast, one of my friends from grad school days, Max Clotfelter (see Snake Meat here) migrated to Seattle (previous post w/action shot here), and has been having success ingratiating himself into the local creative community by fast becoming a staple feature in Intruder Comics (website here + Facebook page). Another random sign - posted above - came across my feed with the release of the annual Best of Seattle newspaper poll for the Seattle Weekly,  and to see his name on such a roster of talent is simply awesome. Still really hard to pick a favorite, and here's some linkage to peruse the pages of the other folks: David Lasky, Ellen Forney, Eroyn Franklin, Jim Woodring, Josh Simmons, Kelly Froh, Mattew Inman, Michael Heck, Michael Litven and Peter Bagge. While the merits of such ranking contests is debatable, they do serve to publicize the work of many artists whose work you might not otherwise come across, and along with the big names on this list there are some mighty impressive alternatives from up & coming talents. A big congrats to Max.

Lastly, via BoingBoing comes this dismaying encroachment on academic freedom that touches upon much of the course content that I teach in my own studio classes:
"Tara Shultz, 20, of Yucaipa, CA along with her parents and friends are protesting the inclusion of four award-winning graphic novels that are taught in an English class at Crafton Hills College because they feel they are too violent and pornographic to be read by college students. On Thursday they assembled outside the campus administration building to express their outrage. The four graphic novels are Fun Home by Alison Bechdel; Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1 by Brian Vaughan; The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman; and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi"
Fortunately the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is on it, and this escalating issue over "trigger warnings" ought to serve as a warning sign that the erosion of rights and consequent closing of minds is in itself far more obscene than any imagery from a cartoon or comic book.

After all that, in closing here's an action shot of Atticus the Omnipresent Editor, on the job in the studio & doing his part to ensure there's something ridiculous going on in my life at all times.

"I'm Here to Help"

Sunday, June 28, 2015


In all seriousness, tagging salmon - both here in Alaska and internationally - is a crucial resource by which to collect valuable date for scientific research. And the there's the popular tournaments too. All of which came to mind after witnessing another clueless kid in a department store wandering around with his tag raised. Just another day trolling the waters for ideas and inspiration.

This panel sat on the back burner for years before migrating its way from the sketchbook to Bristol, and then another couple more years before the pen + ink got hauled out for use as a demo on watercolor wash, and so finally it getting posted here. Mainly as an excuse to show a nice sample progression of flats to the finished original: 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Wild Arts Walk/Quick Draw 2015

   Bookending last weekend's post on the annual fundraising event for the Friends of Creamer’s Field, I was very pleased to be a participant for the most recent “Wild Arts Walk” and concurrent "Quick Draw." This is a benefit that supports many educational activities at one of our community’s special places. I manned a table and peddling wares alongside other painters, watercolorists, weavers + spinners, potters, carvers + craftspeople for the majority of the afternoon, excepting the hour off for the main event.
   Though I "failed" in not meeting a self-imposed goal of completing two pieces for the auction (falling just five minutes short on a second panel), I did mange to bang out a nice one that'll do double-duty as a Nuggets panel at some point later this summer. Plus what with all the incessant timed in-class exercises I subject my own students to, it's nice to show off a little by stepping up to the plate and demonstrate how it's done. The process is familiar as it's a habit to immediately start working on a new panel while the ink is drying on the last one, which sets up a nice system of swinging from vine to vine... pencil to ink to color stages are all different balls to juggle when in production mode. Not really all that different from the studio, aside from all the onlookers:

Top: Ticking clock under the tent: Bottom: The unadvertised "Feral Arts Walk" portion of the trail.

    Bonus in that it didn't rain - no lampreys either for that matter - though I did wind up with a massive case of sunstroke. Still, no complaints, especially given that over my history attending the event I've sat in everything from snow to storm. And there seemed to be a real good turnout of folks, especially lots of families with inquisitive youngsters eager to observe the process up close and personal. Plus there was a great turnout at the individual artist table scattered along the refuge trails, and I unloaded some original artwork along with some tshirts, signing some books, plus a handful of greeting cards still left in stock from the last xmas season.
   Mostly it was nice to connect with friends and fans for a wonderful opportunity to show support - extra awesomeness on the part of the volunteers who staffed the gig and helped everything run smooth, which is always a challenge when it comes to herding cats + artists alike. And as always, thanks for coming out and supporting the Refuge.

Ta-daa: more on these particular panels + process in upcoming posts

Friday, June 26, 2015

"Chokey the Bear"

The whole state of Alaska seems to be catching on fire this season, and the Interior is now starting to smolder (current local updates here). Smoke is rolling in, blanketing the hills with a haze and infusing the air with an acrid odor that makes me reach for aspirin + antacid a couple times a day. As opposed to reading the news, which is normally requires such medication only once a day. Another effect is the haggard irritation long-term exposure to such conditions can incite amongst my attitude, or that could be on account of any number of current events consuming the media, from Confederate flags, another damned mass shooting, stupid racism, and Bristol Palin.

When I drew + posted this editorial panel - now getting enough shares on social media to equate many tens of thousands of views - the BLM Alaska Interagency Coordination Center was reporting 255 now around three hundred wildfires statewide,  which has necessitated a general burn ban, a woodcutting ban, a fireworks ban, and open fire bans in all state + national parklands. Also banned: any incendiary thoughts or sparks of interest, and no flames of passion either.

Seriously though, it's getting to be a pretty scary situation with multiple villages are being evacuated with additional personnel being shipped in as resources are stretched pretty thin.

And it's comparatively early yet in the season, with long-range forecasts indicating a hot, dry summer ahead. This all harkens back to the first year of this blog: in August of 2009 when I was living in a cabin not far from one of the major blazes right outside of town, and the indelible memory of ash falling all around while sitting in the outhouse amidst a silent forest. All it took a couple nights ago was the thudding sound of a spotting helicopter making several passes close overhead for me to set about cataloging select items for the bug-out bags. That in turn prompted many long hours of cleaning up the computer desktop, indexing + archiving files on a couple backup external drives - a chore I hadn't done in about a year. And I promise to never, ever begrudge the Significant Otter her one, small luxury of the AC unit which makes for a much more tolerable cabin climate, while we all wait for rain.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

"Find Your Own Voice"

Way back in June of last year I participated in both the annual Wild Arts Walk and the Quick Draw challenge as a fundraiser for Friends of Creamer's Field, one of the non-profits I wholeheartedly support and love to help out when an opportunity like this presents itself. Here's a bit of the process behind the panel that I did + donated as a demo piece.

While timed drawing exercises (participating artists had one hour within which to execute their respective works) are good for tripping up an obsessive control freak, I still actually spent a coupla hours on the evening before the gig prepping up a panel. None of the flagged doodles in my sketchbook cued up for the next round of  public demos were simple enough compositions to pull off in an hour, so I relied on a doodle done in desperation while racking my brain for something appropriate to the setting.

Some Google Image Searches for "goose calls," a couple refresher sketches of Canada geese and an end to the oscillation between "use your own voice" versus "find your own voice" and my vision finally took flight. Okay, more like waddled about the field.

While the initial concept was funny in a sort of bittersweet sense, what with the spurned uptilting of a beak, the shift in tone really made it much more of an attractive piece expanding upon the deep, philosophical implications of the message (whichever way it's interpreted). Still better than "Honk if Yer Horny."
One of the peculiar things I've noticed over the years of drawing is that one I've drawn something I can recall it at any point afterwards. Drawing from life, like when using a model or doing a reference sketch, focuses attention on the subject matter in a way that is similar to intense studying, but engages much more than just the eyes. Factor in some muscle memory after a practice session and there's a perfect example of total recall when put under the spotlight for such an event as this.

This is probably ripping back the curtain of The Great & Terrible Oz of Cartooning, since all this preparatory work might disillusion some folks on the supposed spontaneity of the scene. I look at it more like warmup stretches a serious runner undertakes before a marathon. And above and beyond all that I wound up doing two virtually identical versions of the panel in the allotted timeframe. Besides the practical value of doing at least twice the work in hopes of bettering the odds that at least one will pan out in the public eye, it's nice to back yourself up in situations like this. Turns out this was particularly prudent as I ended up accidentally ripping one the two originals while attempting to cut the completed panel off the watercolor block... oops! Discerning eyes can make out the rip right underneath the "Nuggets" header in the upper left corner:

As it turned out the winning bidder, who got their name(s) inscribed on the finished piece, was the parents of an extremely attentive kid who watched at my table for nearly the entire whole hour. The Mom said he really wanted it hung in his room, but seeing as how it was destined as a dad's day gift, I gave 'em the penciled rough version posted above too. You'll just have to take my word for it that the finished version looked really good, much better than the one used for the Nuggets feature, but it's gone now, having mentally fledged and left the nest.
Next weekend I'll elaborate a bit more on the gig with an update after this year's event.

Photos: Helen Howard

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Opera Fairbanks: Run of the Valkyries 2015

Added some more works to the "Commercial" portfolio, one of which is this wonderfully weird imagery for one of my favorite clients, Opera Fairbanks, and their annual fundraiser "Run of the Valkyrie" event.

Probably owe some backstory on this particular main character, and maybe not a little on the other guy too. Never the less, as an illustration it certainly serves the purpose of piquing interest if not attracting attention. So meet the mighty "Schlepnir," distantly related to Sleipnir, the eight-legged steed of Odin. Rumpelstiltskin is a contemporary operette that will will be featured in the upcoming season, hence the barbarian tenor sporting an impressive beard. Observant folks can deconstruct the variation with the other reoccurring character, Hildy, which is loaded with subtle references to Nordic/Wagnerian mythology, and is tentatively slated for usage with another tangentially related campaign.

From a design standpoint, what's interesting about this year's poster/tshirt idea is how it further deviates - starting with last year's oval - from the stylistic norm of the circular logo I tend to favor. Going with a square one instead was a refreshing change of pace, oftentimes a crucial factor when constantly revisiting and revising a body of work produced for long-time clients. That and maybe getting a little weird with the concepts, which also goes a long way in maintaining creative flow.

And yep, the nuggets were approved by the editors (seen above in full-on pillage-mode), which goes to show you always trust your artistic instinct and ignore the inner editor. Excepting when it comes to Valkyrie Nuggets®™ - those will just have to wait.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Doodle: "Lampreys From Above"

Another installment of random doodles crossposted from The Book of Faces: the 'Banks recently made national news (CBS, CNN etc.) what with our horrific rain of vampire fish (incidentally also "mysterious + tasty") that fell from the sky, terrifying local residents. It's days like that which give serious pause to reconsider our tenuous tenure in the Interior.
One commenter (hat-tip Valerie) confessed that the only thing she hated even more than clowns were lampreys... which was entirely too good to pass up:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Edits: "Eyeroll" + "Sloughwatch"

Not sure if any other animals have been consistently observed in nature playing with their food. At least in the manner of my cats, who like all felines great & small, have a tendency to first torture their prey upon capture. Something I never forget when they act all cute and cuddly: not fooling anyone, nope. And this particular panel, along with another I'll cover later on in the post below, are categorized as "Edits" not on account of any content, but instead because of a self-imposed distancing with other, similarly-themed works by other folks.

Also I hesitated to run this panel (update: decided to relegate it to the compost heap) as a couple months after drawing it the theory of "multiple discovery" reared its little head (aka the hundredth cartoonist effect), which happens infrequently, but enough on social media that it becomes somewhat of a personal pet peeve. It's when an alternate variation on a theme which you came up with independently goes viral - or at least so within your own circle of friends - before yours is printed/uploaded. It happens on rare occasion, as it happened with this particular panel, which is now forever tainted/dead to me. And as it happened, yet another - and much better - take was posted by a cartoon compatriot in Alaska. Petty but still always a bit disheartening (aka "sensitive artist syndrome")... just means that next time you have to dig a little deeper while exhuming in the graveyard of ideas. Not like there's any shortage of 'em.

And just because it dovetail's quite nicely with this particular issue, here's another case-in-point, posted to further elucidate to students on the nature of hidden memory phenomenon - scientifically termed as "cryptomnesia." One of the feature gag cartoonists whose work I admire greatly, and spotlight in my comics course during the single-panel sessions, is Dave Coverly's "Speed Bump." This is one of the pieces that is in my slide-show which I've seen for so many years now I probably don't really pay much attention to them anymore:

This is perfect example of how one of the images I show to students during the related lecture became lodged in the brain, resurfacing many years later to manifest itself in a panel of my own, as seen below. In my opinion it's too close for comfort, like the "Eye Rolling" example above, and merited yanking from the pipeline. I think it's instructional to highlight these rare instances as it underscores the question if anything's truly original (I have been pecking away at another essay on that concept), and to what degree copyright inhibits along with ensuring protection of intellectual property. Now it's entirely a matter up for debate as to whether or not this example would constitute copying per say, and it probably doesn't quite rank as plagiarism, but it's Exhibit A in subconscious appropriation - or is it instead just inspiration? Either way it doesn't matter enough to stress over: just turn the page and simply draw another one, or a different take.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Aesthetic Appreciation

   This past semester I had the opportunity to take on a lecture course on Aesthetic Appreciation. It met only one night a week for three hours, and was a 200x level cross-listed under music, art and theater. Lamentably I gave comparatively short shrift to the areas outside of my expertise, and found myself constantly playing catch-up and behind the 8-ball for the semester. Typically I was prepping lectures anywhere from six to twelve hours a day or two in advance (sometimes more spread out over several days), compiling images and accompanying notes. It was a real challenge especially given only a few days prep time to create a syllabus (hat-tip to several faculty who let me adopt + adapt portions of theirs), and incorporating many topics and issues and accommodations on the fly. But in the end it injected some vitality in my own academic perspective, and at the very least cycled back into adapting some new and different approaches to my studio art courses. The dynamic of a required class is much different than the usual electives I instruct, and it was humbling - at times frustrating and discouraging - to attempt and reach across some institutionalized apathy and engage with some degree of relevancy, if not outright inspiration. In other words, the general populace can be a tough crowd to instill the importance of aesthetic appreciation as opposed to the demographics of your average art student (ie captive audience versus preaching to the choir).
Course Description & Goals: This course explores the fundamentals of aesthetic experience through observation, discussion, and analysis of the arts. Topics include the creative process, structure, cultural application and diversity, the role of the artist in society, popular movements and trends (both historical and contemporary), and arts integration. The goal of this course is for students to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the arts and their relation with other academic disciplines through exposure and investigation. Upon completion of the class students will have acquired critical perspective on the relationship between the arts and society, their community, and broaden their personal criteria for understanding and appreciating the arts.
Student Learning Outcomes: 
• Have a cursory understanding of the tools and materials used in some of the visual arts, film, theater and music.
• Have a basic understanding and introduction of the content and timing of current works and how they relate to their historical context.
• Improved ability to observe from sight and sound and critically reflect upon works.
• Build knowledge of the creative process across disciplines and how it applies to personal interests and fields.
• Learn pertinent vocabulary for the subjects so as to facilitate better discussion of the many facets and factors involved in creating art.
• Gain expanded perspective on how the arts are essential to human nature.
   I was instructed to not approach it as a traditional survey course (they can always take an art history class for that) nor did I opt to spend any time on demonstrating processes or assigning actual art work, reason being that they ought to be motivated to take a studio course at some point in the future after this class. Before the smorgasbord we covered the basics of critiquing, featuring the works of former students in my drawing classes as examples, utilizing assignments to highlight different factors and criteria used when assessing works of art (ex: line, value, composition, color etc.). After this foundation we extended our observations and informed opinions into a wide range of subjects such as iconography, caricature and figurative works, landscapes and environmental art, street art and graffiti, tattooing and body modification, to outsider art and postmodernism. The semester was kicked off by diving right into the Charlie Hebdo situation, and so didn't shy away from controversial subjects. Another example was attending the Fairbanks premier and question-and-answer session with the director of the documentary "Tracing Roots: A Weaver's Journey." The film was by Alaskan independent filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein on Ketchican-based Master Haida Weaver Delores Churchill, and was screened in conjunction with the 2015 Festival of Native Arts.
   This class was also used as an opportunity to spotlight local artists (like Bill Berry and Claire Fejes) and we attended many shows right in the UAF Fine Art department as there was a succession of exhibitions by MFA and BFA candidates alike throughout the semester. Bonus in a few very special after-hours field trips to the Alaska House Art Gallery and the Fairbanks Arts Association's Bear Gallery, and also a fascinating foray down into the UAF Rasmuson Library archives. I'm also indebted to some guest presenters, such as two editors from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that gave us an interesting perspective from those who continually review events and are at the center of cultural events in our community, if not in effect local arbiters of taste.
   Over the course of the semester students were required to attend and review five different exhibitions and five events, such as theater and symphony shows: they were given a calendar of community resources from which to pick any number of extracurricular productions and write up a minimum one-page reaction paper and/or complete a provided worksheet on description/analysis/interpretation/judgement. In conjunction with these there was also two 5-10 minute presentations (midterm + final) which correlated with a field of particular, personal interest. These tended to be the most insightful and educational classes where I got to learn something new: some examples were the aesthetic appreciation of everything from bodybuilding to ice sculptures, to kuspuks and comics.

   On that note I invite you to peruse at your leisure the accompanying blog which fielded discussion prompts and dovetailed with related lectures - it was largely a free-range, hands-off/non-intrusive approach to hosting such a forum, so as to foment some open-ended commentary that might offer some an opportunity to present a different perspective on items covered in class.
Check it out: 200x.  

Friday, June 12, 2015

Doodles: "Triple Crown" + "Sensitive Plants"

Sneaking in a random Friday post: Recently I embarked on a more active posting of random doodles over on The Book of Faces, and this one from earlier in the week (re: the American Pharoah thingy) went absolutely viral as far as shares go... I figure many tens of thousands of folks got a real kick out of putting it in perspective. At least from our Northern point of view.

And speaking of north, now comes word of a foot of snow hitting areas in our neck of the woods. This after last week's brush with temperatures that delivered a death-blow to some of our herbs.