Friday, September 4, 2015


This image went viral on the Book of Faces as a commentary on Mount McKinley's nom de plume molting back to its original - and customary with the majority of locals - name, which will obviously ripple throughout the business community with unintended consequences.

Dovetailing with President Obama's visit to Alaska, the US Secretary of the Interior made it legit when she at last acted within her official capacity to restore - not rename - the title of North America's highest peak to its traditional, indigenous name of Denali.

Which of course touched off an avalanche of, uh, butte-hurt from the poutraged haters who all somehow overlook the fact that Alaskans - and their largely Republican legislative delegations - have been petitioning the federal government for a rename for forty years.

But it does give us another sneak peak at the delicate sensibilities on display, along with the usual culturally insensitive and privileged opinions (emphasis mine):
"You just don't go and do something like that," (Governor) Kasich said. "In Ohio, we felt it was appropriate. A guy saw that mountain when he was one of the first up there ... named it after the president."

In the meantime, life goes on and most folks have other, much more important issues to debate. Like will there not be enough snow again for this year's marquee mushing races, and who's the lead dog?

One (of many) indications that there's a deep bench of stupid in this election cycle's clown-car of candidates, was the serious consideration given to the idea of building a wall (patron Saint Ronnie would not be pleased) not just between us and Mexico, but between our northern neighbors. Alaska shares 1,538 miles of the US/Canadian border (total length 5,525 miles - the longest international border in the world), and is a constant threat to our national security on account of it being permeable to decent, cheap ale and rogue bands of migrating terrorist caribou (and their damned "anchor calves"). Bieber and Nickelback aside, there's the cultural contributions of Rush and k.d. lang I'll miss with any embargo.

But wait! Fear not, as for every action there is an immediate reaction (kinda like tipping over dominoes of dumbness), and with eye-rolling predictability another prospective presidential personage has stepped up in support of reigning in this egregious Federal overreach. We ought to be grateful that Denali's other translation - "Great One" - hasn't caught the attention of Trump's massif ego, as it already occasionally sports a legitimate toupée.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Mosquito Rain"

There's been an epic amount of precipitation hitting our neck of the woods as of late, including causing all sorts of calamity across the state. Behind the balm of soothing sounds from the constant rain while ensconced within the cabin, I always think of the usual sequence of ever-rotating conditions which we can be relatively grateful for not having to deal with. As in "at least it's not 98 degrees (above) anymore" or "well, at least it keeps the smoke down from the forest fires" ...or keeping the mosquitoes down.

I'll never, ever forget the first hike I took in Alaska, and how a noble excursion with the best of intentions (hiking in to the Kanuti NWR on foot from the haul road - a problematic proposition at best even for the seasoned trekker I would eventually transform into) became a disaster that scarred me for life. No really - not in any serious way, just the psychological terror that resulted from my first baptism by bugs. We bailed after less than five miles in and after two days of slogging across tundra and enduring the insane biomass of mosquitoes. I can always recall with clarity the surreal experience of laying inside the tent and listening to the muffled popcorn sound of thousands of them bouncing on the wall... staring at the mesh window at a coat of insects where every quarter inch of space had a probing proboscis seeking out the moist meat inside.  There was a slight breeze that kept the swarm just slightly in front of us while we slow-motion stampeded back to the vehicle, clogging up our eyes, noses and mouths.
These last couple images here of the preliminary panel scanned from the sketchbook (the one with the wash, up above) and then this one here down below of the initial doodle scrawled on a scrap of paper, are interesting because they both reveal so much of the process by which a panel evolves to it's published version. Stylistically I like the aesthetics of all three variations, especially the bare minimalism of this one:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Recap: Cartoon & Comic Arts 2015

   Just going to do one motherlode post here to try and encapsulate the UAF Summer Sessions Cartoon & Comic Arts course (see backposts under the topic index here) in it's entirety as much as possible. Fifteen folks enrolled this year - now in it's ninth - including four at the Advanced level - but by no means was that skill-set designation restricted to them alone, as the overwhelming majority of the "Beginners" displayed some truly amazing talent. Mainly what separates the two divisions is the scale + scope of the individual efforts with regards to their independent projects, in addition to the incorporation of color, and utilization of the web for self-promotional purposes. More on them later - but for now follow me below the fold for an overview of this session's activities and highlights...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

"Got It"

This panel was done as a demo for an inking section in a course in cartooning, not as a one-shot piece, but as an example for my students in how to pace out such a comparatively complex composition over several installments. In other words, as opposed to the usual MO of banging it out in one sitting, it took a few passes instead. This is crucial to avoid burning out, not just in a physical sense which is remedied by taking frequent breaks, but also equally as importantly for sparing oneself from the stressful side-effects of intense focused effort. So by doing random drive-by stints throughout the week, often in-between other works-in-progress: much as I really hate to put something aside and leave it alone, let it incubate a bit to get a fresh, objective perspective. As I've said many a time before, I'm at my most engaged as an artist when fully immersed in a zone of production where - similar to a juggler's act - multiple pieces are at varying stages of development, from conceptual, doodling, sketching, penciling, inking, scanning + cleanup, shading a variation for publication in the paper, and/or coloring - either digital or watercolor wash for the final, finished version.Not all that different from the usual approach taken by a lot of other visual artists, like painters managing multiple canvases.

So as you can easily see, it'd be fairly easy to get bogged down in details when that's all that there really is in this particular piece. Especially given the relative complexity of this panel, compared to the majority of others done for the Nuggets feature, value (ie shading lights + darks) would be a crucial component in successfully directing the viewer's eye to a focal point (the dead mosquito), which otherwise would be completely lost amidst the surrounding chaos. Varying the thickness of the line weight is always one option, but I instead went with successive waves of layering + cutting cast shadows for contrasting values so as to make certain elements either stand out, and/or blend in for balance. The plan was to emphasize darks in the corners of the panel eg the foreground elements to create a faintly suggestive sort of pinhole effect, in conjunction with utilizing a brush tool for hints of blush so as to impart volume on selected objects via subtle gradations of value + highlights. This alternating approach all came after blocking in the base percentages of the largest planes and areas at first (ex: 25% gray for the sky, 50% for the wall, 75% for the floor etc.), and then it was a matter of methodically shading in everything else relative to these underlying elements.

Then there was a series of stints where all I did was tweaking and touching up, and that's where spending time away can be almost as revealing as sitting and staring at a piece. The initial assessment when first reopening a piece is the closest you'll get to an objective appraisal, save from someone else weighing in with a critique. Believe it or not things like this can be intimidating to wade through: it makes one really appreciate the discipline and focus of Bosch for example, not to mention any number of other artist friends and acquaintances in my local community who cultivate similar works over truly long periods of time. Me, I suffer from an artistic type of ADD and quickly lose momentum if not interest when it gets to be too long of a creative commitment.

One could very well argue that the core of the cartoon (besides the underlying joke) is determined at the penciling stage, when plotting the logistics out is a matter of the greatest consideration, especially in light of what will follow afterwards over the evolution of the piece. That can be seen with the thumbnail breakdowns I resorted to long before even approaching the blank sheet of Bristol, even going so far as to separately list some of the elements out beforehand. Then once a map is effectively conceived and sketched out as sort of scaffolding, the meticulous and menial labor can begin.

Lastly - though first in the overall process, here's the initial doodle, a concept scrawled out while half-asleep on an envelope that was laying on the coffeetable within arm's reach of the sofa:

And as far as the real, er, ah... cat-alyst for the cartoon: it was the kitten, young Mr. Atticus, springing off my face while I was laying on the couch, whereupon he proceeded to track down, corner, and mercilessly kill a mosquito in the cabin. All the time while purring like away like mad, right up to and including when he was eating it.
Good kitty.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Animations: Shake It Off + Moving On + Shaun the Sheep

So I knew the name Taylor Swift as a result of constant inundation and incessant exposure via the contemporary celebrity vomitorium, but had not actually heard any of her music, nor particularly cared to.

And then this video was unleashed, which was not only so addictive I lost track of how many times I replayed it – even to the point of downloading it to watch in high-def (a serious commitment on dial-up). I even watched the original video to compare & contrast between the two versions, and am just flabbergasted there would ever even be a single second of doubt as to which is by far and away the better. Been a long time since I had so much aural and visual fun watching + listening to something, and there are many brief seconds of hilarity and wonder woven throughout the piece that make rewatching a pure joy. Let this be yet another lesson in resisting the "get off my lawn" syndrome and always staying open to new art. Swift has some serious cred to her name, and has chalked up a long line of legit accomplishments (with caveats).

Forty-nine “Animation 1” students at the University of Newcastle, Australia, were each given 52 frames (about 3 seconds each) of Taylor Swift’s video for “Shake It Off" to rotoscope — an animation technique where you trace over footage to draw and animate. In total, they produced 2,767 frames of hand-drawn rotoscoped footage to recreate the entire video, which apparently took about a month to complete. (Buzzfeed)
This compared to a complete opposite end of the spectrum of style + taste, and also a consummate example of balancing image & sound that bookends with Taylor’s video…

In the summer of 1987, my cousin Colin (brother from another mother) and next-door neighbor at the time, turned me on to an album that one of his friends had brought back from a visit to the UK. It was “Stutter,” the debut release from a Manchester, England band called James. The energy of the songs, which ran the gamut from dark, ambient angst to punchy powerful pop, and dovetailed with my own teenaged obsession with Split Enz (the only fan club I ever joined in my life was called "Frenz of the Enz"): I was hooked.

The wonderful wailing from vocalist Tim Booth meshed perfectly with clean, tight and driving rhythms that progressively built up to frenetic fulminations, outbreaks of mountainous sound mixed with lush, ethereal crooning and hypnotic hymnals. I followed them throughout the nineties, capped by the release of “Laid,” with seminal producer and another personal, lifelong muse of mine, Brian Eno, before flatlining in interest and losing track of them. I still regularly listen to an iTunes mix that samples classics and nostalgic favorites whenever I need a kick in the studio, or in the heart.

Recommended playlist: (#1) Fairground, (#2) Stripmining, Johnny Yen, So Many Ways, Black Hole, SometimesAre You Ready?, (#3) I Wanna Go Home, Dust Motes, Sound, Seven, One Of The Three, Gold Mother, Dream Thrum.

Fast-forward to 2014 and this video pinged on my animation radar, which is an enchanting and sublime marriage between both artist + band. Rarely is there such an aesthetic harmony from two mediums, as the MTV-style videos are for the most part are vacuous preening and are as devoid of meaning as they are musical skill. Not to put too fine of a felted tip on it, I cried my ass off after watching for the first time. Just a beautiful juxtaposition, interwoven with rich, textural details and poignant personality.

Moving On is the latest stop-motion video from BAFTA-nominated animator, writer, and director Ainslie Henderson. The clip was created as a music video for British rock band James and tells a story of life and death through characters depicted with yellow yarn. Sad, but wonderfully done. – This Is Colossal 
On his Tumblr page, Henderson describes his process: "What I do love about the unfolding of a stop motion project is going from the beginning - where all you can see is a forest of impossible, unquantifiable problems that you have to whittle away at, clinging to the little faith you can muster that it will work. Until, gradually, you find yourself at this stage, nearing the end, where all that remains is a last few problems, manageable ones that you feel pretty sure you can solve. Making a molehill out of a mountain." – Hotbox Studios  

“I'm on my way,
Soon be moving on my way,
Leave a little light on,
Leave a little light on.

One last little animation-related note: A wonderful but woefully under-appreciated release, "Shaun The Sheep," came to our local theater by Aadrman Animation studios. These are the same folks who brought to life the endearing characters of Wallace & Gromit, and also the seminal short "Creature Comforts" that was a huge influence on me personally when it originally first appeared in 1989. The new feature-length film is based off of a British television show, and one subtle but significant aesthetic component of it is that it is entirely without dialog. This may be one factor as to why it's received little to no critical reception - the other being the unending influx of hypercommercialized big studio releases that flood the market. The Significant Otter and I checked it out and were pleasantly surprised: paradoxically refreshing and really unusual since I normally can’t stand the “famous actor overdub” that effectively ruins most animated films with either over- or under-emoting. Well worth a viewing.

Friday, August 21, 2015


Been a while and yet I still find myself missing the Bird-Dog every so often. I had originally sketched this idea out way back when she was still around, and since then hadn't much heart to spend any time on it beyond the initial doodles. Then after a bit it just got sentenced to artistic limbo, languishing in the mental compost-heap along with every other "someday I gotta get around to that."

That changed when prepping for some material to do as demos for students, specifically the process on working up concepts into scripts, and from there into thumbnails, then onto penciled pages, then finally inks and color. Some folks do it differently, or variations on the theme, but for me I mostly shuttle back-and-forth between simultaneously plotting out the pages along with breaking down the text ie figuring out the pacing and the editing with the words in conjunction with the images.

I found myself showing up to the campus in the art department a few hours early every day for a week, ideally in hopes of getting everything else done early enough so that I could spend an hour here and there plugging away on this particular piece. Which meant folks usually caught me working away in the drawing studio right before and in-between classes, which is always a bonus opportunity to interact and illustrate certain aspects of the process. And, after all, it's hardly fair to ask students to endeavor on a similar assigned undertaking without meanwhile showing how it's done.

The daily discipline was also an excuse to set the stage for expanding into some even longer works, for example a four-page piece that I'll be showcasing here sooner than later. And from that to springboard my way into the compost-heap of back-burner projects, especially now that I've finally built up enough of a buffer-zone of material with the Nuggets feature that I have more than a few months of extra space + time to sustain another pass at bigger, longer pieces.

That and I've as of late been really aesthetically turned on by reading some mainstream comic books, in particular the inventive ways contemporary artists compose and arrange their panels within the pages. This in turn inspired me to just experiment a little and simply have some fun with a narrative that isn't particularly funny or all that serious either - more like a short story of sorts. Every so often I like to stray outside the boundary of the usual single-panel, or - rarer still - the strip format. And also it's sometimes enough just to do something for no other damn reason than you simply want to spend the time doing it because it's what you like to do.
Click on image to embiggen & enjoy (note: this and other works uploaded to the Picasa web-portfolio here). Hopefully a full-sized print will be up on display in the gallery for this fall semester's Fine Arts department faculty show up at UAF (Thursday, Sept. 3rd, opening TBA).

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Play that funky music: Saturday Night Fever out on the tundra... or, another way to look at campy camping.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Interlude: Creamer's Field

One of the distinct advantages with teaching a summer session course is the opportunity to get out of the department's drawing studio. The primary factor in its favor is ideal weather conditions, as one would face an insurrection attempting field sketching excursions at minus forty degrees. But seriously there are many benefits to emerging from the chrysalis of the classroom after an intense period of incubation and preparatory instruction: there comes a time to take it out and begin to integrate art with the real world, move it onto the street and into the woods and fields, at home and at work.
There are so many benefits, not the least of which is getting off the goddamned concrete floors of the institutional setting (murder on the feet after standing around for eight or more hours a day) and stretching the legs along with stretching the creative muscles. It's a chance to apply the basic, core principles that underlie every exercise, assignment and critique, and sketching from life moves the abstract into the realm of the actual, when the noun becomes a verb, when "art" becomes a prefix to "work." There's usually a few folks who, upon unloading from the van when we arrive at our destination, will say "what are we doing?" My stock reply is always the same: since it's ostensibly a drawing class, we will walk around and... draw stuff. Anything and everything. It's about getting The Big Picture - all on a sheet of 9x12" paper. Go!

There's a theory is that part of our job as artists is to literally draw attention to that which we no longer see anymore, having become anesthetized to the little details which are effectively rubbed away from our awareness by the pace of modern life. We are numbed by constant overexposure and as much as a walk in the woods will refresh the spirit and renew the senses, so too can the simple act of drawing be way to refocus and realign our purpose. As with life, it's more often than not the little things: look, and look again at that leaf, and the way it twists and turns, follow the contour line around the edge and see how the light also shapes the space it occupies. look closely, closer still, and really look at it. That blade of grass, and as your pencil connects your hand and eyes with that one little leaf you are connected in turn with the twig, branch and tree - even the roots reach out for you to stand upon with sketchbook in hand it's all connected. Representational art is just that: you re-present, and by the very same token you have to be present.

As our little posse moves throughout the refuge I am struck by the observation we are not unlike the animals that are busy gathering their fodder for the day. As artists we are also on the hunt, foraging for inspiration, gathering reference material to build another nest of sorts - as each drawing will hatch other ideas in turn.

"Are we done yet?" "Is this piece finished?" Class is never over, and you're never done with art.

That's not sweat blurring your vision - it's creative juice

Friday, August 14, 2015

UAF Summer Sessions 2015: Opening Reception

There will be an opening reception this evening (Friday, Aug. 14th) @ 5-8pm in the Fine Art Department’s gallery featuring works by students from the 2015 UAF Summer Sessions six-week courses in Drawing, Metalsmithing, Ceramics and Cartoon & Comic Arts.

There are some truly outstanding pieces on display that reflect the intensity of the classes - drop on by if you're in this neck of the woods.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


We have quite the veritable herd of these critters which have taken up residence around the cabin, and the consequent generations of offspring have proliferated throughout the surrounding forest. Much to our amusement and dismay at times.

This in turn gives rise to the ensuing turf wars between hordes of arboreal rodents, to the degree where most morning interludes (ie in the outhouse) are broken by an omnipresent, constant chattering. Add to the cacophony the neighboring fledgling ravens + equally impressive range of vocalizations from a family of Gray Jays = something reminiscent of a safari scenario. Only thing missing are the monkeys. Aside from the occasional great ape lumbering about throwing sticks.

This is to say nothing of the impact the escalating population has had upon our feeders. We pretty much capitulate to the inevitable, and simply surrender the seed with a heavy sigh.

All of which gives me serious pause to reconsider my recent change of heart when it comes to the domestication of my cats: with this latest addition to the furry family we've forsworn the freerange tradition in lieu of awareness about its effect upon local fauna - mainly the detrimental impact feral and even unleashed common household kittys can inflict on wild bird populations. 

Of course that would mean an end to the tail-thrashing displays and endlessly amusing antics of an animal trapped indoors, only a thin pane of glass separating them from an unsuspecting community.