Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ribald Roundup: Edits

Here's a handful of errant panels that didn't even make it out of the pages of the sketchbook to the drawing board, much less to the official submission stage. Not so much issues with insecurity and lack of self-confidence (which may or may not be a learned behavior for many artists from de/formative dating rituals in highschool), but just prudently knowing full well in advance you'll get rejected. Join me below the fold for the risqué, ribald and rude.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Secret Life of a Cartoonist

Here it is... the unedited truth in all its sordid glory. Truly a day-in-the-life exposé that isn't afraid of pulling back the curtain on what really goes on behind the scenes. This dovetails with many a previous essay (mostly listed in "Top Posts" linkage on the right-hand column), but it makes for a perfect bookend to one topic in particular: "Workflow." At bare minimum I strive to spend at least an hour each day writing, then drawing, one hour of walking, and an hour of reading. Good luck with that, as it's an impossible goal most of the time, and a relative luxury most folks can't indulge in with regards to the choices one has to make with personal priorities.
Now excuse me, hafta go deal with some stuff.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Blind Date"

The first of two posts that feature works that were actually drawn a few years ago, and were published the year after that (hence the 2014 date on the copyright fine-print). Typically there will be a handful of panels that, even after getting finished, sit in the pipeline on pause acting as emergency backups in case I ever need a filler on short notice. This as opposed to the bank of ideas kept incubating in the piles of sketchbooks in the studio - these particular panels are all ready to run, and the content is that of something which is independent of any topical factors like what time of the year it happens to be in the real world outside. Normally I observe broad zones of influence as per the seasons, in that it wouldn't make sense to run snowshoe gags in June (sometimes - though if the occasion happened it wouldn't be funny at all). But these backup panels are prudent artistic insurance which I've had to utilize on occasion when the logistical juggling fails, ie I drop the ball(s) and get caught up short on deadline. Fortunately not very often, but I still am in awe sometimes of cartoonists that manage a daily feature and have to herd cats on hundreds and hundreds of pieces. 

A noteworthy critique of this piece was that I had forgotten to shade in the moose's glass of wine. ot true: it was entirely intentional, as everybody knows a wolf would want a red, and thus moose tend to chardonnays. Hence there not being a bottle on the table, as they would also buy by the glass. Silly. Besides which, they can't read either, but hey.

And yeah, this was a sketch I had done before sketching it out in my sketchbook. Sketchy.
I have enough dietary issue trying to juggle the finicky needs of the cats in my cabin, to say nothing of preparing meals for the human in my life. Above + beyond the literal matter of taste, it's another analogous situation to making art that will be served, if not consumed, by a wide range of different people.

Finally, the question was asked of me earlier... so here is my answer. And a good thing it wasn't a hot date.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Opera Fairbanks: Run of the Valkyries 2016

That time of the season when I come up with something new and fun for a favorite repeat client: Opera Fairbanks' annual "Run of the Valkyries" fundraiser. This made the ninth consecutive year I've been honored to create a whimsical poster + tshirt design, and as usual, I turned to the previous body of work (culled from the "Commercial" works on-line portfolio) to start doodling up some concepts in that vein of material. The challenge is to keep it fresh but familiar, and I figured a bear needed to finally have its turn as the model.

When it rains it pours: I was deluged with freelance gigs right in the middle of a really busy time, so another challenge besides fighting off not just physical fatigue, but also "repetitive logo syndrome." Nine years is a long time to cultivate a cohesive, signature body of work, so a problem is how to keep coming up with something new, yet still keep it looking like it's yours. I started with the concept of having a salmon run ("RUN" HA!) but bailed on the inevitable complexity so it was mothballed until it could be potentially rolled over into next year's design (nothing like having work in the mental bank). The core idea was retained from the above-posted initial sketch.

Then the next stage was penciling in tentative details like the dates and such, to be proofed at this point before committing to inks. To be sure though, what with the digital phase at the end of the process there's always additional opportunity to edit and tweak components of the design. But I still much prefer having as much of the elements as possible out on the proverbial table when starting to experiment.

Imagine my dawning horror over realizing that I'd been essentially plagiarizing myself - maybe that assessment's bit harsh, more like just playing a broken record in my head and repeating myself artistically. More like falling into a predictable rut of my own making, or just simply creative laziness under pressure, which can happen when one is absolutely overwhelmed with stress. Mainly I was struck with the fact that there would be two races (see earlier Parkie-Pine post) within weeks of each other and both running equal marketing efforts that featured my work: stylistic similarities aside (which is an asset, since they are commissioning work that's recognizably mine) the designs were just too close for comfort. The solution was to push through and explore what for me is a new departure, specifically from my instinctual circular template. The above sequence of screen-grabs highlights the continual reworkings I go through, sometimes even after investing significant time to arrive at a variation on a theme that will ultimately be discarded. Not all that different from the original series that resulted from sitting down with blank sheets of paper and pencil, just with a different tool.

I actually started moving in this "squarish" direction last year and was pleased with the subtle break from tradition, and also really dug the stark contrast between the bold black against a more organic outline of the character. Adding the floating cascade of cartoon notes was the trademark touch, and the final draft got an enthusiastic approval. Then it was time to work up concurrent variations using the core design for both the full-color poster and the tshirt.

Above is an example of what the deign would look like as printed using a single-color and utilizing the color of the tshirt as an element, in this case white ink on a tan background. The process usually calls for something known in the industry as a "reversal," which is markedly different aesthetic than just simply using a light-coloed ink with the original line art (ie instead of printing as black, every line would print as white, which results in it looking more like a weird negative). This one-color option is often a more attractive and economical route to go as well, as each additional color requires another separate ink and thus screen, which will begin to add cost to the total, overall price per unit.

For the full-color poster I oscillated between two extremes: crazy color versus simple blocks of boldness, so I kept pushing out and then pulling back (think kneading mental bread), playing both ends against each other in hopes of eventually arriving at a happy medium. The subtle bas-relief of the raised lettering added a spiffy embossed effect that further enhanced the contrasting aesthetic of a computerized, mechanical flavor against the funky flat colors + robust rounding of the bear.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

"Kittie Facts" + Bonus Atticus

Yeah... unapologetic about my instinct now when interacting with a couple other like-minded/feline-inclined fellow artists to whip out the iPad with all the new pictures. I've looked at enough baby pictures all my life it's time for some fair + balanced.

The Most Interesting Cat in the World sez: “I don’t always exhibit an interest in your art… but when I do, it’s when the ink is still wet.”

Soon... The insolence of the feline persuasion is a hallmark of the species, often to their detriment. This observation borne from the experience of having integrated households with both dogs and cats over the years.

Local feed store find: I’d really, really like to see someone “creating a calming effect” by putting one of these on a cat. Guessing that’s why they had to rely on an artist’s interpretation for the packaging. Or maybe it’s just an S&M thing (as in Squirrels & Mice).

Nom nom nom... RAWR

Speaking of muzzling and nuzzling, Atticus has developed a habit distinctly different from any other critter I've had: he can get quite insistent on grooming the goatee, which is of course no end of amusement during supposed quality snuggle-time.


Given the amount of time spent in the studio he has certainly begun to take his editorial duties seriously, and his input + perspective is at least endearing, if not always appreciated. Having an omnipresent overlord constantly monitoring the process makes for no small amount of pressure to perform. At least lay off all the dog cartoons and concentrate on a more fitting subject matter.

Add caption

Here we have a couple rare photographs of the elusive Couch Panther… known habitat includes tree branches above game paths in the forest where it stealthily lies in wait for… for unsuspec… mmm… zzz

The “new spot of the week” directly over my head on the couch… had no idea that snores come in orange... (painting by Ian Burcroff)

Saturday, June 11, 2016


   This commission was part of our local National Park Service headquarters to do some fun community events in recognition of the Centennial celebration, among them a 5k Family Fun Run. That's where I came in as someone tasked to create logo which would reflect all of those aspects: family-friendly, fun and in action.
   The first incarnation went through a dozen reworks with constant reviews from an ad hoc committee, meaning I held it up in front of random folks at the coffeeshop and asked them "what kind of animal is this?" The overwhelming majority of respondents answered "hedgehog?" followed by "... beaver?" and "feral rat?"  Boy was that ever humbling - and frustrating comsidering my assumption it would be relatively easy to knock out a simple porcupine - after all I'd done it before. After a few days it morphed into what I thought was the definitive variation, at least until I woke up the next morning after sending "the final" and realized with horror it looked even worse. Not to mention the aesthetic side-effect of incorporating the client's suggestion of including sneakers: adding an article of clothing to these sorts of cartoon critters quite often has the unintended result of making whatever animal it is look like IT'S NOT WEARING ANY PANTS. But with a rapid rework (sometimes the best solution is pure panic as a creative juice) and the knowledge that the end point design would have big words saying "Parkie-Pine" which would be of immeasurable help in identifying the creature in question. When in doubt, label it.

   As with all clients, there is considerable back-and-forth between myself and the designated point of contact - often there is a committee but I find it much saner and more effective to limit the working relationship with one person in charge. My process is also to present simple pencil sketches with the initial concept long before committing the time + energy to inking and digital tweaks. So the above image was a sample of both the agreed-upon line art + a bonus color test to help flesh out the character. Next was settling on the overall logo design, in particular the graphic elements, using a basic, nondescript font as a temporary placeholder until that particular phase of the project.

   My instinct, or personal preference is to work within the shape of a circle, but the idea was introduced to incorporate the National Park Service shield (arrowhead actually) as a part of the bounding shape. As it turned out this was a better solution as far as accommodating additional elements, but not without its own unique issues to consider. And since I'm afforded plenty of leeway when coming up with such logos I have no trouble whatsoever accepting outside suggestions - after all, that's the defining distinction between a commercial artist and a fine artist. I aim to serve the intentions of the client first & foremost, and part of my job is to execute their vision, not mine. It's only when the dreaded micromanagement occurs that it becomes tedious and counterproductive, which in such rare instances usually takes judicious setting of limits, even to the point of incurring additional fees.

   Now we round the bend and come into the home stretch as alternatives are in font selection are advanced for consideration. Again I find it appealing to my aesthetics to juxtapose an organic, hand-drawn element against the more mechanical, computer-set type. This phase goes hand-in-glove with constant shifting of the graphic elements so as to maintain a cohesive, unified look to the piece in its entirety. Balancing line weights and textual considerations for proper composition sometimes takes a lot of minute adjustments, as at this point everything is interconnected, and no part can be changed without it affecting the big picture as it were. Even in a comparatively simple layout it can give rise to a seemingly infinite amount of combinations which can be quite the artistic rabbit hole. This is also when it helps to remember the basics in maintaining a healthy, objective distance by taking breaks. A fresh look at the problem or even sleeping on it is more often than not the best solution - these things take time, and scheduling the calendar around such mental wrestling sessions is crucial.

   Also it becomes time to ensure the design is thoroughly cleaned up, which means vectoring, adjusting the threshold etc. and chasing down stray pixels. But at long last there's a finished line art version which is the template for the final manifestation and end-point product(s).

   In this case it was usage for both a tshirt and a full-color poster for printing. The tshirt, like the black + white core logo should ideally function as a one-color, which incorporates the background color of the garment as part of the design. This in turn means generating a reversal, shown above in the first panel which looks like a negative: when burned onto a screen everything you see as black will be printed as a colored ink, say for example, white ink, which you can see in the next swatch on a tan background. This is also by far the most economical option for a limited budget, as each additional ink color will add to the price-per-unit of the tshirt, even as seen in the last panel with a black ink and white ink variation.
   But lastly, there's no such limitations in the full-color version which will be used in fliers, poster and web-based promotion. So included on the final CD of image files are 300 + 72 dpi JPEGS along with 11x17" PDF and TIF formats. All that's missing now is photographs of posted fliers... and racers wearing it!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

"Shadow Love"

   I had originally doodled this concept out while attending a poetry reading at our local Arts Association on a scrap of paper. One of the young winners of the Alaska Statewide Poetry Contest got up to read her entry, and it was tangentially about a streetlight, which traveled in one ear and out the end of the pencil in the form of a random free-association. Not at all different than the usual MO of generating ideas as per the Jacob's Ladder theory.
   One reason I always enjoy going to readings is that they never fail to inspire, and like any artistic performance you'll always get something out of them, at least on some level. Off to the side with a sketchbook I might suspiciously resemble one of the herds of people whose attention span is diverted by their omnipresent mobile devise, but born from many years of experience I actually can paradoxically concentrate better what with "the feelers" out. This is also true while passively trolling the sea of conversations as they ebb and flow around me when camping out at the cafe, bookshop or bar: I'm actually taking notes, and for all practical purposes, this is no different than a cartoon dog underneath the table, just waiting for that morsel to drop.
   Another reason I went was to provide a sort of counterweight to also watching the latest comic book Hollywoodization (Superman Versus Batman movie) afterwards, in hopes of negating any loss of aesthetic credibility. Let's just say there's still a whole lot more on the "outstanding debt" side of the balance sheet.
   I wound up spontaneously giving the young poet the sketch, as a gesture of solidarity I suppose, or call it a tip from one artist to another. It's sometimes easy to let such pieces go knowing that once I've drawn it out once, it's effectively etched into memory (at least short-term, which is problematic these days) and can be easily retrieved and committed to the compost-heap of a journal that serves as the repository of all potential panels.
   Spent maybe a half-hour working it up again, foregoing the usual ballpoint pen rendering and opting instead to use the set of Copic markers that I pack around, on the offhand chance I know in advance that I'll be adding some wash for value. But then on a whim I used six different pencils, a range of #2, HB, B2, H4, mechanical and black leads, to get the range of value + texture.
   As always, whenever switching out tools of the trade and temporarily adopting another instrument, I reflect upon the many lessons I've given to students about that exact same technique and medium, and make mental notes on how to better incorporate salient points during the next demonstration. It's a constant presence for me as an educator, to monitor and re-evaluate the process in an objective manner, and critique the end results.

"Exhibit A" in why I tend to eat fast: the food takes up prime real-estate on the table.

   After scanning it I spent perhaps another half-hour tweaking a few key areas through the judicious usage of Photoshop (you can easily compare the difference between the two versions as posted here). Mostly pushing the range of value back, upping the contrast, and washing out the whites so as to subtly enhance the spotlight effect via highlights. Knowing that it'll be published on newsprint and thus adding another level of tone I anticipated it getting muted even more when it appears in print. I think it's a textbook case  of blending manual + digital, neither one overwhelming the other but acting in symbiotic harmony.
   Pardon the brief navel-gaze here, but one additional aspect of this particular panel that was different than the rest of the herd (at least the latest band to migrate through the studio), was the tremendous feeling of inner satisfaction at a job well done. As in, leaning back in the chair to look at the monitor and say to oneself "that's it." A rare enough moment when you know you've successfully accomplished something that really stands out from everything else recently created. This, as I've ruminated upon before, might pass with hindsight over time, or even completely fail as far as other folks "getting it." But here is an example of where I felt quite strongly that I couldn't care less about whether it's not obvious enough (briefly entertained a variety of possible captions, all of which were summarily trashed), and even readily admit it isn't supposed to be all that "funny" either. So I guess it's a hybrid of extremes: commercial art in the sense that it is a medium designed to quickly + clearly impart meaning through visual communication (for money natch), and fine art in that it represents the expression of an inner, personal statement.
   What am trying to say? Sometimes the fun is in deconstructing or psychoanalyzing well after the fact, studying the end result of instinctual, unfiltered creation. Rhetorical questions arise: is it about relationships? Forever doomed to unrequited love or on account of us being really, truly different species? But what's up with the Narcissus reference? Why does using animal characters allow for better understanding of human nature, and how much of it is it subconscious projection? Or is the metaphoric shadow itself only a simple reflection? Does the totemic owl represent true wisdom in a mythological sense? Am I asking you to please just look at me here, and understand it's not just a cartoon, but who I really am inside? Is this the juncture of wilderness and civilization, the crux of urban versus rural? Philosophically speaking, is this not an extension of the Allegory of the Cave? Are we flogging a dead horse moose here? And perhaps most importantly, where are the nuggets?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

"True Love" + One-Minute Play

Local performer, stage manager, musician, writer and poet extraordinaire Carey Seward recently used this classic panel of mine as inspiration for her “One Minute Play” at the the 3rd Annual Alaska One-Minute Play Festival. The event was hosted by Perseverance Theatre down in Anchorage at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts back in April. We crossed paths afterwards and she graciously sent me the script that she used, which I just adore - thanks!

Friday, June 3, 2016

CARTOON NORTH II: Sequential Art of Interior Alaska (opening tonite!)

Special Sneak Peak at the exhibition: a hardcore crew of volunteers thoroughly rocked the last day of intake/hanging... The gallery’s now like walking right into the freakin’ pages of an open comic book.

39 Artists + 188 works = over 250 panel/pages… this 1st Friday’s reception will feature ten tables of creators peddling their wares: soft opening extended to 12noon to beat the crowds!

Fairbanks Arts Association and Curator Jamie Smith present
Cartoon North 2016: Sequential Art of the Interior
The Bear Gallery, 3rd Floor Alaska Centennial Center for the Arts,
Pioneer Park (2300 Airport Rd.) 907 456-6485

Event Schedule

Friday, June 3rd 4-8pm: First Friday Opening Reception
Individual artist tables will have creator works for sale!

Saturday, June 4th 1-3pm: Intro to Comics + Cartoons
A look at some historical, classic and contemporary cartoons, with demonstrations in process and techniques by curator Jamie Smith, creator of the Nuggets feature in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Monday, June 6th, 7-8pm in the Blue Room: Juror's Lecture
An overview of some of the comics and cartooning events in the community, highlighting some of the creator’s works on display for the exhibition.

Sat, June 11th, 1-3pm: Intro to the Graphic Novel
With Greg Hill, former director of the Noel Wien library, and other special guests culled from the exhibitors. A great sampling of books of interest to educators, parents, literacy advocates and enthusiasts. Bring a book to share!

Saturday, June 18th 1-3pm: Open Cartoon Jam
Join some of the folks from the show for some fun, fast-paced group exercises in generating ideas for cartoons and comic strips. Pen and paper provided!

Saturday, June 25th 1-3pm: Minicomics
A hands-on workshop about “a common inexpensive way for those who want to make their own comics on a very small budget, with mostly informal means of distribution.” Explore alternative ways of producing these photocopied DIY comics!

Over the years I’ve been incredibly fortunate to host and participate in many cartoon and comics art-related events, like presentations, workshops, and residencies throughout our community. Along with having my own feature run in the local paper for decades, and teaching comics courses at the college level, it’s given me the unique opportunity to be exposed to countless aspiring and accomplished talents.

From single-panel gags and syndicated strips to webcomics, alternative to mainstream comic books, storyboards and character design to graphic novels and humorous illustration, the medium of sequential art is not only incredibly popular but has gained in critical recognition. Comics are now accepted as a legitimate and uniquely engaging interdisciplinary educational tool for both literacy and the visual arts, and are a growing presence in classrooms, galleries and bookstores. Contemporary comic art offers so many different styles and subject matter with tremendous, inclusive appeal to all ages and interests, attracting wide interest from diverse audiences.

Back in 2007 I juried the first Cartoon North invitational at The Annex Gallery: statewide in scale and covering historical pieces, it was an outstanding experience that was very well received. This show by contrast is narrower in scope, but comparatively deeper in content, and primarily showcases the outstanding work of alumni from my classes along with fellow professional practitioners of the craft in the Interior.

Thank you for taking the time to look at and read the pieces on display. Please feel free to avail yourself of the additional resources listed on the handout with contact information for many of the exhibitors. And remember to visit and support your local library and independent bookshops to check out even more comics!

Exhibitors Include:
Anna Bongiovanni
Brianna Reagan
Chaweinta Hale
Olen Seim
Lucas Elliott
Christopher Green
Maria Frantz
James Kelly
Hannah Foss
Jose F. Mojica
Tara Maricle
Shannon Waterbury
Ellen Million
Bethany Eisenman
Layla Lawlor
Anita Ashbaugh
Lucas Cheek
Alex Luebke
Dani Cash
Amy Huff
Ryan Pierce
Hannah Beck
Melanie Post
Shannon Hammond
Johnny Stickman
Jeanne Armstrong
Robin Feinman
Geo Yi
Mason Shoemaker
Heidi Collins
Conor Esslemont
Crieghton Beshears
Jack Kendall
Antonio Arenas
Ignatious Runfola
Norma Charlie-Runfola

Sunday, May 29, 2016

"Headphones" (Tunnel Vision)

Square wheel syndrome: I cleaned up the scan of the original pen + ink piece, prepped it for digital shading (cleanup, formatting and adding the masthead + copyright/credit bug), and before I could finish with the grayscale, wound up doing a wash for a public demo, and thought what the hell, nevermind the other one and consequently just went with the original version.

It's evidence I'm ever-so-slowly evolving to a different routine - especially since the concept also never made from random doodle phase to getting transcribed into the sketchbook, so just half the steps of the usual process.

This image (above) recently made the rounds on the intertubes, mostly as a criticism of contemporary culture and commentary on the all-too common scene of folks focused on their mobile devices and their disconnection with their surroundings and fellow humans. Arguably there is still a connection when engaged with people who aren't "there" in the physical sense, as social media platforms do afford interaction that otherwise might not occur, but what we're talking about in this instance is it being at the expense of others in ones immediate presence. Similarly I never saw much difference between meatspace or on the phone when it comes to tolerating conversation between others in the same room: regardless of the source it's at worst an annoyance, at best, perversely comforting as at times the white noise our society constantly generates can be its own paradoxical place of peace. At least that's my experience while camping out at cafes and focused in on the old sketchbook, ensconced in the warm, fuzzy buffer zone of background noise.

Image: unknown

As of a few weeks ago I deliberately downgraded from an iPhone to a simple flip-phone. It's really been quite the humbling exercise to see how wrapped up in the umbilical cord I'd gotten, and how hard it's been becoming untethered from the teat.
I think it's necessary to some degree to have these diversions and inner places, a safe space within which to retreat, since we as a species tend to live and work in such close proximity. The proverbial rats in a cage might last a bit longer before turning on each other if they were outfitted with personal Walkmans (I date myself - whatever mobile device works be it laptop, iPhone or book). Having a pencil and some scrap paper has saved me from enduring countless meetings, and I've always maintained that students immersed in their doodles are in fact fully cognizant and tuned into whatever I might be lecturing about.

That said, I had my first encounter with a compulsive texter in class that didn't make the connection between paying attention in a critique and the corollary of carrying on a conversation while someone else is trying to talk to you at the same time. Active versus passive listening is a distinction lost to many consumers of data. And that's the rub: as evidenced by snapshots of commuters in days of yore, not much has changed, just the medium of transmission... the media isn't the message.
 “Our modern family gathering, silent around the fire, each individual with his head buried in his favourite magazine, is the somewhat natural outcome of the banishment of colloquy from the school” – The Journal of Education, vol.29 1907 (via xkcd)

"A Ride on the Subway" 1946 Stanley Kubrick via

One's upbringing presumably plays into the perception of what's polite or not: being raised an only child by a reference librarian and a bookstore manager meant that it was perfectly acceptable, if not expected, to bring a book to the dinner table. That was in essence a time of coming together and sharing the commonality of a meal - part of the menu was a love of reading.