Sunday, August 18, 2019

"Sourdough Starter"

Add this particular panel to the list of ones that half-way into the process I wondered why the hell do I do this to myself, as in, details, details. Actually took a "break" from shading in the print version (as seen above with the "Nuggets" masthead) and watercolored in the wash version (posted below). This helps me literally visualize the value, and works both ways, since more often than not I treat the digitally shaded one as a "value study" (also frees up my inhibitions in case I mess up the original - the clean scan is already saved just in case).

There's some subtle differences between the two variations - enough that I internally debated whether or not to just bail on the digital shading and go with the watercolored one instead for the print version too. Close examination comparing + contrasting the two reveals some tweaking of lines, especially along the top row of cabinets: all the verticals were shifted along with the upper-right door adjusted. "Mistakes were made."

This one more than most really showcases the process by which I build up some of the comparatively more "complicated" compositions in a cartoon. By this I mean literally setting the stage first, before arranging the props and actors about the room. Drawing right through many of the objects - treating them as temporarily transparent until everything is seated and put properly in its place. This is at the polar opposite of what typically and functionally defines a "cartoon" - in theory it should be simple + fast. Oh well, that sure fell by the wayside.

This cartoon also incidentally exemplified the peculiar artistic trait of persevering past your private misgivings and doubts. As in, it took long enough that the inner critic had time to begin its monologue: this is stupid, who the fuck cares, why are you even bothering etc. Maybe that's the psychological aspect of how "art therapy" is supposed to work - the end result validates the struggle. Problem is, doing it daily, even hourly, can be a bit mentally and emotionally exhausting though, and it's debatable as to the ultimate benefits when compared to any number of other routines. You don't see such pole-vaulting over moose turds when making dinner for example, or doing the dishes, or cleaning the litterbox, or vacuuming etc. - all tasks accomplished in-between the various stages of this cartoon. Guess that's the balance.

Lastly, regular reader might remember the doodle for this panel making an appearance in the Artist In Residency for BLM in Eagle recap post way back in January of 2017 - over two years ago. Like some sourdoughs it just takes time for the fermentation to ripen enough for the dough to rise.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Out Standing in My Field

   So it's always a good sign I'm retreading material when I plug in a term on the Blogger search box (upper left corner of this page), like for instance "Creamer's Field," and get no end of backlinks. But every so often I do occasionally glean a new perspective on a topic or issue. One supposes that might account for the peculiar obsessive traits exemplified by artists. - the recurring chance to make things better. The commitment expressed when saying a work is "done" still doesn't mean a do-over isn't possible (especially when manipulating digital files from the archives) but it might be awkward retouching a piece when it's hanging on someone's wall. Somewhat similar to a chef cranking out their creations in a kitchen you just gotta get used to letting each piece go when it's time to serve it up for someone else's enjoyment and consumption.

   Not too long ago I remember being somewhat astonished at the display of crestfallen looks that appeared on a group of student's faces when I blithely quipped "... and if you mess up or don't like the direction your drawing is going, just trash it and start over on a new one." I realized then that my experience with (comparatively) rapid production has had the side-effect of inuring me to treating my work like it's something special. Sure, it's worth something, but as far as the effort invested in creating it, that's such a given that it doesn't really factor in to the value equation (unless in a freelance capacity under deadline - then there's always a clock ticking).

   So for me to summarily trash something even after wrestling with it for some time doesn't necessarily mean it's worth hanging onto. Any good writer will tell you not to fall in love with any particular turn of phrase or idea in the process of editing a good story. Similarly I have to laugh at the efforts of so many artists who go to ridiculous lengths to recreate something that they initially sketched out and wish to preserve the original spontaneity of the image through an elaborate system of photocopying and/or tracing over light-tables etc. I always just redraw it anew.

   All of this is to say when I led the annual flock of fledgling artists out to one of my favorite places to sketch I dismissed my own efforts at creating a field sketch with this one particular demo. This is both the time and the place where students in my drawing class get a chance to figuratively spread their wings and apply everything we've been practicing on back at the studio out in the real world. Observation skills are coupled with rendering ability and there is also an additional consideration on how to translate reference sketches into finished works, how to incorporate our "visual notes" dutifully recorded in sketchbooks while on our roster of field trips. And just like any other exercise I will always show how (not why - except for the Advanced folks grappling with the big existential questions) to do exactly what I'm asking to be done. And again, just like innumerable instances proving the point, I will frequently crash & burn right there in front of folks. I suppose that is the confronting the greatest fear of any artist who doesn't want to become essentially a performing artist - not just of failure in private. But I personally find it to be an important lesson - one well worth any fleeting public embarrassment: working through failure is of crucial importance. Not to mention this is another practical benefit, besides the practice, of making many, many pieces - it increases the odds that at least one will be a keeper.

   Now this piece in particular was, in my learned opinion, a total loss. At every step of the way past the initial (literal) field sketch I just seemed to keep botching it badly. I thought to myself "well, just add some watercolor,' then that became "well, how about some ink," then "maybe the computer can fix it." The pencil was fine, as it did showcase my frequently lectured-about principles of compositional arrangements of foreground/midground/background elements on the ground plane, and also the concept of visually sampling and then "remixing" these elements for a successful illustration. But the colors - ick. And so on. The final blow is the Photoshoppy filtery result posted up atop. There's always gonna be someone who it reaches though, as evidenced by the positive reaction from some folks - even those whose opinion I normally defer to. So this one's for them.

Indomitable inspiration: Diligently working though beset with disasters (the story of my life)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

"Middle Seat" + Bonus Airplane Doodles

After dealing with a couple trips back East, I have no end of new material relating to the pleasures of air travel. As a pretty big guy, I'm the dreaded worst-case scenario to see lumbering down the aisle headed right towards that coveted empty seat next to you.

One of the opportunities I take is to uncap a Sharpie and festoon all the complimentary in-flight publications with additional editorial illustrations. Vandalism, graffiti, or perhaps an unexpected bonus for the next occupant of that particular seat? Look below the fold to see the selection of sketches that have been sown to the wind this season... and one of the fun exercises for regular readers in the future will be remembering where upcoming ideas originally took flight from!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

"Mutual Friends"

This is such a common phenomenon: a few years go by between communicating with someone via social media versus actually meeting them in meatspace and not even recognizing them. Supposedly Facebook users have an average of only a couple hundred friends, and since I long ago decided to inextricably intertwine my personal online presence with my own product, warts & all, that means there's a sizable herd of us milling about the virtual tundra.

Here's a few clippings of source material: I wound up cannibalizing my own work to a certain extent in order to grab a quick couple elements so as to place the original inks scanned directly from the sketchbook into some sort of simple environment.

This sentiment of alienation within a crowd is hand-in-glove (or hoof, as the case may be) with an earlier now-classic panel, and is a metaphor for the awareness of deep dislocation that undermines society

Sunday, July 28, 2019


Here's just the tiniest bit of insight on an overlooked aspect of writing the gag - how even the simplest arrangements of words and letters, how subtlety a visually represented sound via spelling coupled with phonetic emphasis can shape the interpretation, the transmission of meaning. Usually brevity is crucial: when editing a caption the best rule of thumb is "less is more" - much the same as the drawing itself.

The first version of this was "A" - listed below with a sampling of the top picks. But, minor as it may be, "hell" is still a swear word for many a family-oriented publication, especially a small-town newspaper. So while most recent Associated Press guidelines permit it, but it's been explained to me that unless it refers to the literal place, there's just no way in, uh, Hell it'll run.

That began a brief exploration of various end-runs around the issue - I tried to find a way to not dilute the intensity of that feeling. It's a delicate balance for me: not too far into wasabi territory, but just enough bite to make for a bit of whoofing. I'm not much for eating pain, more of a poblano or Cholula kinda guy.

It eventually gets to the point where I'm "pole vaulting over a moose turd." For one thing, nobody really gives a shit okay? But I do. Indeed, these are the things that weigh a cartoonist down. Sometimes I even wake suddenly from sleep, drenched in sweat, shaking from the tension and pressure that keeps building up inside. But still, it's the little things.

So after kicking it over for a few days (always best to let stuff either incubate, or at the opposite end of things, maybe just breathe a like any good bottle of wine. Or for that matter, begin to bloom... like my custom mixes of cocktail sauce after overnighting with a hearty dose of horseradish blended in.

"Yaaas" has officially entered the dictionary, and so hopefully is within easy reach of many readers. Though it's a given that maybe half the readership isn't up on internet slang and so we're left with the only other possible interpretation: that the entire point of the strip is the emergence of the inner pinniped. That's what it all comes down to, and it ain't pretty folks. It even happened to me in Maine when I came across my first lobster roll and basket of fried clams.

Update: After consultation with my editor "hell" got a thumbs-up ("ubiquitous"), bu I still opted to run with the "YAAAS" so as to sort of bank my cuss-words, as another upcoming panel also contained the same bad language.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

"Redpoll Children"

This panel is half in sympathy for the overburdened parents who have to herd cats every day with their errant children. The other half is on account of all the times my dining has been hijacked by someone else's unruly, feral offspring, to which the parents are always oblivious too, having been presumably anesthetized after long-term exposure to such behavior. Now this is never a problem at family restaurants, my long-time favorite one of which was where I sketched out the stage for this scenario, which is surely familiar to anyone with a birdfeeder and a passing knowledge of Redpoll flash mobs (as of this writing we had a simply insane season up in our neck of the woods).

Sunday, July 7, 2019

"Beaver Tow"

Hey it's been a while since we've had a good, old-fashioned beaver gag, no? Okay, well at least that what I tell myself pretty much every time I sit back down at the drawing table.

This particular panel grew from a series of concept sketches done for a recurring client and their annual calendar. Even when an idea isn't used it's never wasted and can be incubated for additional inspiration, or at least recycled into a new funny.

At the time of drawing this variation, I had lost somewhere these original sketches (even forgetting they had already been posted as part of another thematically-related cartoon's process), and so had to re-create it from memory. Good thing it's like a steel trap, or at least in my case, an aluminum deadfall.

What's kinda funny in retrospect is not only how closely the rebooted version adhered to the first one, but how it subtly improved the composition by reversing the relative positions of the beaver and the log, making for a much improved (clearer) contrast in both scale + value. At least that's the theory I'm sticking to. It still needed some additional tweaking after inking: opening it up a little by deleting the the foreground element and leveling out the horizontal axis. It's the little things that, uh, gnaw at you.

And here's a bonus series of snapshots on the process (also shown in video here) I use when slapping some water-soluble pencils for a quick watercolor wash treatment on the original pen +ink piece. Clockwise from the bottom you can see the transition from initial application to a halfway point when it dries enough to add a second round to push the value a bit more. Then it gets sprayed with a fixative and added to the box of original artwork for sale at my annual retrospective gig (see 2016, 2017 and 2018).

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Brown-out: "Stately Migration"

As I am frequently fond of lecturing students in studio art course, there are as many reasons to draw as there are ways to make drawings. It's rarely for something by itself, there's usually an amalgamation, or combination of motivations, like how the levels on an old-school equalizer shapes sound on a stereo. For example you might be inspired by emotion, say, love or hate, you could want to change the world, influence how people think, impress someone, earn a passing grade, make some money, satisfy your ego, amuse yourself, or out of sheer boredom, as in why do you even really need a reason? And so on and so on. And not only can the reasons why change, over time or on the spot with a piece in particular, you may not even be aware at all, as was the case with this particular panel. It just simply appeared out the other end of the pen: no doodle, no rough, no thumbnail, just penciled then inked. The line art sat and incubated in the sketchbook without a caption as I chewed it over like a cartoon cud. After a few sessions of consciously attempting to solve the puzzle, again, just like the drawing, the words just came to me, and it all made perfect sense.

For the viewers at home keeping core, there's an interesting meta to the finished piece: I used to use a Photoshop palette that had an amusing range of pre-assigned labels to the swatches, all for browns. As in beaver brown (body + tail), moose brown, bear brown, walrus brown etc. Nowadays I just simply open up any number of published panels and swipe directly from there. But one of the challenges in retraining my eye to discern and utilize colors with watercolors is understanding all the different choices at hand - in particular again the browns. Here we have a total of eleven kinds in just the tails alone: russet brown, chestnut brown, autumn brown, cocoa, cool brown, tan, saddle brown, oak, and baked earth; then either bark or madder brown for the shadow. Then a few blues, a couple greens, some judiciously applied blobs of white-out and one slight digital modification in post-production with highlighting the ripples. And behold, we have before us now not just my personal favorite of the year, but arguably the pinnacle of my career as a cartoonist.  It's the most masterful use of the mediums, the simplest arrangement of elements, and the purest expression of everything about me as an artist.

Sunday, June 23, 2019


It's been extensively documented here many times before what provides the soundtracks and backing score to my work. Plus I go through phases, particularly with regards to classical music. I realize my tastes are fairly standard - the equivalent of my enthusiasm for prog-rock (ie Rush, Genesis, Yes).
But, really - I mean, just look at the damn cartoon. "It's Baaa-ch"? Seriously? After coming up with that, you think I really give a fuck what other people think about my taste in anything?

Mostly as a matter of default I've had a very long-running preference to orchestral Wagner, and then the occasional obsession with Mahler, and every so often Beethoven goes on heavy rotation ("Pastoral"/Symphony #6 - especially the first movement/ Allegro ma non troppo - holds a very special place in my heart).

Another go-to composer is Bach: the Brandenburg Concertos are the only cassette tapes I blast besides bluegrass in the burgundy Subaru station-wagon. Yeah, I know, what a badass. And of course, if the first thing you hear in the morning is the St. Matthew Passion, then the rest of the day will be filled with miracles, even if nothing else ever goes right with your life.

This year brought an unexpected surprise: for many months on end I was waking up - very early, say, 5am - and plugging into intense sessions of Mozart with the headphones. Try a shot of the first movements of both the Symphonie Concertante, followed by Symphony no. 25 in your coffee. I mean, hell, if it works for plants, than you should see how hard it kicks a barely sentient cartoonist in the creative ass. I have over ten hours on this one iTunes playlist, mostly concertos for the long haul, pacing out the passion at the drawing table.

Here's the watercolored version, which I was apprehensive about since such vast areas usually are a challenge to wash, so I wasn't particularly looking forward to ruining another original. Given the nature of the medium + material I'm not usually happy with the aesthetic results when it comes to such open spaces. But this was the last piece at the end of a very long day of finishing off several sets of stuff for sale, and instead of paralysis-through-analysis I just grabbed a brush and a handful of pencils and went at it. As oftentimes happens that was the correct approach and I lucked out on the choices of color, the blends worked out, and a last-minute command override decision on adding flakes improved on the piece. Enough so that it bumped off the initial digitally shaded one... oh well, no big loss in time "wasted" as such dry runs serve a purpose as value studies at least. And it's all good in the end, a rehearsal of sorts that works whether one is a prodigy like Mozart, composing by age five, or an epic capstone in the league of Beethoven's 9th... practice, practice, practice.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"Cache Me Outside"

Update: This one is sooo goddamned stupid I never even submitted it. Usually it's a good idea to stay outside the mainstream when it comes to topical material, especially one that's connected to current events and even more so if it's attached to the ephemeral and fleeting foibles from the world of Hollywood stars. Sometimes it's like a laboratory experiment where I watch what passes for fame and celebrity... it's a strange feeling like falling under the hypnotic spell of an entrancing mirage.

It's a sublime relief to read over the headlines of any gossip rag, like for example the PuffHo, and not recognize 90% of the names, or in the case of the Kardashians for example, really know anything at all as to why on earth anybody would. That's not being elitist, it's just a side-effect after not having or watching network tv now for decades. Whenever you accidentally catch something it's like you're an alien visiting some weird planet where what's actually important is ignored in favor of lies. It really puts things into their proper context: who honestly, really gives a flying fuck about the lives of these people? Why should anybody care?

That's entertainment

And yeah I know, bonus points on irony for all this coming from both a consumer and producer of entertainment that just takes other forms in mass media. I mean, who the hell reads comics, right?