Sunday, April 30, 2017

"Vet Visit' (aka Bearly Awake)

What with the return of the light we see an increased capacity for activity in most large animals of the arctic. Some would call it somnolence, but it's more properly akin to torpor. Whatever... I'll get off the couch eventually.

The penciled panel is another good example of how to methodically build up the layers while sketching out a scene. Put another way, it's a process of ttreating objects as though they are transparent, so as to better situate and align elements for compositional clarity with linear perspective.

And, as with most of my work, I simply have no idea where I get my inspiration. None whatsoever.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"AK Exfoliant"

Yeah, pretty much sums up my last attempt at skiing. Cross-country, mind you. Actually, come to think of it, I've managed the same on snowshoes. No wait - it's also possible just on foot... trust me.

One can only imagine the possibilities with hooking up with an external power source.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Editorial: "Men In Suits"

Every so often it dawns on me how much of the incredibly stupid or basically batshit insane news comes from men wearing suits. Can't provide any of my usual hyperlinks, because, especially as of late, there's just simply too much to document. Some folks are actually attempting to keep abreast of the tsunami of bullshit, but the rest of us seem locked in cycle of cynical call + response that invariably results in "outrage fatigue."

from: The Executive Coloring Book, 1961
from: The Executive Coloring Book, 1961

Sunday, April 16, 2017


What started out with the basic concept as the doodle posted above - ballpoint pen + watercolor wash in the sketchbook - eventually evolved into a much more involved piece. Basic issues of simple respect aside, there was no way I would even contemplate properly tackling such a complex cultural design without any formal training in formline.

The resultant panel wound up as a collaboration with another artist friend, Abel Ryan (previously featured here before), who created the custom beaver blanket + hat designs for the final version.

One can't help but be continually impressed at the quality of work that is constantly being created within the UAF Fine Art department's Native Arts studio. Also I've been really inspired by a recent purchase of an amazing graphic novel "Red" by Haida-Manga artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas (video here).

Once Abel emailed me the penciled-out imagery, I pasted it in to see how it would look: AWEsome.
Bonus trivia in the detail of a view from his hometown of Metlakatla that I snuck in from photo-reference. Mainly just so I could say Metla-CAT-la.

After receiving a surprise packet in the mail of the hard-copy finished designs, I then set about scanning them for final placement. The inherent awesomeness of the design in turn necessitated an expansion of the real-estate, as in making the blanket bigger so as to accommodate more of the art.

Started the whole thing way back in March, with another another bout of output in August; finished it all up in December; ran in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner the following January Update: April. There's always a batch of similar concepts in varying stages of completion that clutter up my studio and brain. It's never so much a stressful pressure as it is just a nice buffer zone knowing there's always ideas floating around just waiting to get paid attention to. And no shortage of inspiration either - thanks Abel!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Opera Fairbanks: Run of the Valkyries 2017

Going off of last year’s concept sketch that had some salmon in the background (ultimately edited out) – went with a new idea punning off of “RUN” = The Valkyrie Salmon!
Spent a lot of time playing with this - had a swirling cascade of bubbles at one point - besides having way too much fun it also made it way too busy... so the old adage of successful design was applied: edit edit edit.

Another example was the eventual deletion of a pair of crossed fishing spears (one conventional/modern one + traditional Inuit style) as it tipped the scales (sorry) into more of a fishing design than a racing one. Come to think of it, there isn’t really much of anything present – aside from the words – to indicate racing at all. Yeah but hey just look at the cool VALKYRIE SALMON.

And here’s to the prudence of proofing with clients: for some reason I typed in “5k” instead of “8k” – I mean, nine years of doing something for the same event PLUS after looking over the on-line portfolio of previous samples and still missed that one particular detail.

Also steep learning curve w/Illustrator continually crashing, and my laziness over reinstalling software, which merited a quick crash course in wrapping text around a circle using Photoshop instead. Oh hey - Photoshop humor: ever try “Transform Scale” on fish? Not to mention one variation of the salmon sporting, uh, scale armor. Have I mentioned the importance of editing already? And don't even get me started on trying to get the Left & Right Wing to cooperate with each other and balance each other out.

SO anyways, here's to the end of an era, well, a decade: retiring, moving on, taking a chance and gambling on investing time + energy into other different long-term projects. The fish rots from the head down, or only dead salmon go with the flow, etc. and so on...

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Keep Off The Snow"

Here's to hopefully the last of the seasonal posts for the year. Goes without saying in order to live up here you best be okay with the long winter, and the same goes for cartooning - you better be well-stocked on cold weather gags. But, like the ice about this time of the year, it starts wearing a wee bit thin.

There's an underlying poignancy to this particular panel, as in it never fails to amaze me how surreal it is to see such signs. Our backyard had them on account of the UAF ski trails which were painstakingly groomed and so entire areas were off limits to hikers. Understandable when it came to the tracks themselves, but unnecessary and onerous to close them off to conscientious trekkers looking for a way through the woods and simply stick to the sides of the trail. Every time I drive past the UAF campus and see the sad excuse that's left of the original sledding hill I'm reminded of the chilling effect the fear of liability can have on basic common sense.
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn't say nothing - Woody Guthrie
"I don't always... oh wait, yes I do"

Saturday, April 8, 2017

In Passing: Wollowitz

   Each and every semester that I teach beginning drawing class I think of Charles Wollowitz, my 3D art teacher from high school, sometimes even mentioning him by name to the class. It’s in the context of when we are discussing how to use graphite, and I am always reminded of his habit of hand-sharpening his pencils with his pocketknife. Over the many years that’s a habit I’ve adopted as well, and sometimes tell (tongue-in-cheek) that it was the only damn thing I ever got out of high school art classes. Mind you this was through no fault of my exasperated instructors, it was far more on account of being a rebellious teenager who wasn’t exactly ready to learn anything.

   Whittling the point personalizes the pencil, it makes a custom grip of exposed wood that covers far more of the shaft than if you used the wall-mounted hand-cranked sharpener, or worse, an annoying power grinder. Incidentally, this also releases a faint scent of cedar, if it’s a quality tool and not one of these cheapo newfangled fake wood composites. At the home studio I use a big ol’ Buck 119 knife that’s almost as old as I am, and there’s a old Swiss-Army knife the omnipresent man-purse along, with another in my show & tell toolbox – both of the latter occasionally tripping me up when going through security or going onto school grounds.

   Sad to say there isn’t much I remember with any clarity from high school. The place (William Nottingham in Syracuse, NY), and some of the people – a bare handful of folks I’m still in occasional contact with via social media - remains a haze of high points + low, punctuated by a series of crazy mis/adventures. What documentation I do have (aside from that sad little figurine above - I'm missing even any yearbooks) is some copies of the school's annual art & literary publication “Meadowbrook,” which in the 1983 + 1984 issues were the first appearance in print of my cartoons. But before that, in 1982, I had several pen + ink spot illustrations run in that same publication, one of which was the sketch of Wollowitz at the wheel, seen at the head of this post.

   For this juvenile delinquent, the ceramics room was a sanctuary: at the end I was spending something close most of the day hanging out there, usually while skipping other classes. As long as you were working, he was cool with that. I was also in the process of flunking 2D art, and would consequently drop out during my senior year, an important turning point (ie downward trajectory) in my life - by no means the last of really dumb things I would do.

   I’ve written here before in fits of nostalgia about things like the infamous Superbug, and of the artists + artwork that inspired me during that time, and many a post documenting the crude, clumsy beginnings of my own drawings and attempts at cartooning. I even mentioned Wolllowitz by name back in a 2010 post that mulled over “what makes a good art teacher.” I could just as easily write an autobiographical book on what makes a poor art student – from the perspective on both sides of the desk by now. As it turns out, the two are inextricably interwoven.

   Last week Wollowitz passed away at the age of eighty-nine last, and his memory is testament to the patience and forbearance of many the teacher who recognizes talent and tries to instill a disciplined work ethic in his students, many times, as in my case, against their grain. And this meta-lesson tempers my teaching in turn to this day, whenever I see something of myself in a student who could be "so much better if they would just simply apply themselves." Oftentimes it’s the smallest gesture, of faith, of stern reprimand, or supportive encouragement, that will stay with a person, and maybe, hopefully even resurface many years later to finally make a connection at last.
Thank you Mr. Wollowitz.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"Boiling Water" + "Insulative Properties" + "Arctic Air Mass"

It's a cartoon catch-up triple-header today: three bonus panels that have run just in time before the demise of winter. Or at least the end of 1) really cold temperatures (beyond the usual) and 2) lots of snowfall (above-average).

I always get a real kick out of so-called "spring break," as it ain't either for me - mostly consumed with catch-up in the studio. There'll be a couplefew more cartoons left in the pipeline that will have white stuff involved (aside from white-out natch). Not quite time for mosquito gags or tundra fires yet - soon enough.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Visiting Artist: Sandy Jamieson

Had the distinct honor + pleasure of hosting a show & tell from artist Sandy Jamieson to the advanced drawing class earlier this week. It had been almost forty years since his last visit to the art department: he graduated from UAF back in 1969, and teaching drawing classes as an adjunct the following year.

Personally I rank him as one of the quintessential Alaskan artists, arguably a member of the trinity of iconic creators - alongside Chad Carpenter & Ray Troll - who have left an indelible impression on the 49th state - especially with regards to pure popularity and renown, and their longtime presence on the regional scene (think Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones except everybody’s wearing beards + Carhartts). Jamieson is a one-man institution represented by any number of local establishments that bear his signature imagery associated with their places (ex: the landmark Chena Pumphouse and annual Arctic Man event), and his trademark paintings, prints and cards are enjoyed by many thousands of fans, both locals and visitors from around the globe. He’s represented in many galleries across the Pacific-Northwest, such as Washington and Montana.

His style is a wonderful blend of representational + humorous anthropomorphic depictions of wildlife in the context of outdoor recreation and wilderness themes. Hunting, fishing, flying, snowmachining and hot-tubbing, from the streets of downtown to mountaintops and saloons are among the many settings he employs, along with the occasional political commentary.

He brought in a couple portfolios of original work, including two fresh paintings and the consequent work involved in having them appear as a design on apparel (showing samples of garments that had been printed just the night before), and examples of prints on high-quality stock + canvas and an assortment of cards. Of interest to me - and of particular importance for our class - were the meta-lessons he shared dealing with his experience in the realm of business. He gave us a frank and blunt assessment of the many considerations and practicalities of being a successful artist with a foot in both Fine + Commercial Art, and how the logistics of marketing and merchandise can have an effect on one’s career. Of course one huge factor in any venture such as being an artist is the second job, and/or supportive partner: Jamieson can claim an equally outstanding reputation as a bush pilot/guide + builder of log cabins. Hence the unofficial label of making "art that has hair on it."

Legitimate sourdough cred aside, Jamieson also has many titles in his bio as an illustrator, and we got to flip through a couple volumes of books that I had not previously seen before. After getting my copy of his coloring book signed (“Alaska's Automobile Pioneer: Ride Along With Bobby Sheldon” with author Nancy Dewitt), I got to flip through “K'aiiroondak: Behind the Willows” by Richard Martin (as told to Bill Pfisterer), which according to the Alaska Native Knowledge Network:
“…in the Gwich'in language means "something behind the willows." In the north country willows often grow in areas that were once cleared for settlement. When viewed from the river, the willows screen any sign of human inhabitation. Yet, these places were home to many and still live in the memory of a few. Trade and life prospered along the Porcupine until after World War II. But by the early 1950s, the settlements of the Porcupine were deserted or inhabited only seasonally. Richard Martin's stories bring back this busy time in Alaska history.”
The second title Jamieson illustrated was “Shandaa (In My Lifetime)” by Belle Herbert & Katherine Peter. From the Alaska Native Language Center website:
“Belle Herbert lived all of her very long life -- perhaps 128 years -- in and around the village of Chalkyitsik on the Black River. Belle’s lively memories of life in this region of the upper Yukon River before she met any white person are captured here as she told them to her grandchild. She tells of the hard nomadic life as her people moved camp and set up heavy moosehide tents while the men hunted. She talks about marriage, religion, traditional cooking, the first airplanes, and the conveniences of modern ways. Belle’s stories are presented in Gwich’in with English translations and are illustrated with many photographs by Rob Stapleton and drawings by Sandy Jamieson. Includes illustrations, photos, maps.”
He told us a couple stories that tied in to the history and adventures connected with researching the books , which made me almost start a campfire right there in the classroom (somehow I don’t think OSHA would have appreciated the moment). His is occupational three-part harmony has proven a rich source of inspiration and insight, for example: how the practical experience of field-dressing countless critters tends to give you an intimate, hands-on understanding of animal anatomy in league with Audubon.

For years now in my beginning drawing class for the linear perspective segment I’ve utilized a snapshot taken while Sandy was restoring the historic Dunkel Street cabin outside of the Morris Thompson Center. It’s of a little drawing that I noticed tacked up on the wall of what the eventual layout of the interior was going to look like. What really got me excited was how his preparatory concept sketch – visual note-taking - served as yet another real-world example that having a practical, working understanding of linear perspective can be applied to situations outside of the classroom. So I always make a point to show the picture to my students along with Christo architectural renderings, illusionary sidewalk chalk-art festival pieces and comic book covers of Spiderman et al swinging through a metropolitan scene.

Image ©2017 Sandy Jamieson/posted by permission of the artist

Definitely for us one of the highlights of Jamieson’s show & tell was passing around a handful of his sketchbooks. Pictured here are several of the stages in the process behind his seminal “Beaver Pilot” print, right down to counting rivets + measuring the spaces in-between them. Again, the pun on a popular aircraft in the Alaskan Bush dovetail with his dual occupation as a pilot, which informs the aesthetic of his artwork in turn.

Image ©2017 Sandy Jamieson/posted by permission of the artist

Given that we were a small group gathered around a big table, it was an informal and intimate opportunity to check out some truly amazing drawings, on par with the work of Bill Berry, another renowned Interior Alaskan artist of regional significance.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of flipping through them and geeking out seeing the concept sketches of some of the most classic, recognizable imagery that symbolizes our home here in the far North. Once again driving home the crucial and recurring drumbeat of my insistence that students use their own mulch-piles or compost heaps of ideas in the process of developing their own pieces. Jamieson’s reference sketches reveal both the meticulous, exacting level of detail and playful humor that infuses his unique and wonderful work. What an exceptional treat for the department - many thanks from myself + the students for the chance to learn firsthand from such experience and skill.

“...everything I do starts with a pencil”

Friday, March 31, 2017

"America Again"

   As a post-script to a previous post about this unfolding fiasco that faces our national environmental health, specifically the budgetary implosion threatening our system of refuges and parks (Updated with this latest insanity here). To put into context this deluge of initiatives dismantling pollution controls, from waste from coal in streams to littering the land with lead, the wolves are in charge of the proverbial henhouse, with virtually every single head of each regulatory department in government now being chaired by sworn enemies of their respective responsibilities. In the normal workforce, you wouldn't get a job if you proudly state at the interview how much you hate the place where you want to work and - above + beyond systemic incompetence - your sole qualification and goal was to gut and kill off the very company you are tasked with running, but these are definitely not normal times.

--> More ranting below the fold...