Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Walrus Selfie" + "The Alaska Penguin"

I am the walrus, in the sense that I just wish I was on a beach somewhere else. Oh well... this is as good as it gets, which works just fine.

Probably one of the more common and erroneous misconceptions of Alaska would be the presence of penguins: wrong pole but it is a prevalent stereotype given such a similar climate. To say nothing of the tendency of other two-footed residents around here to waddle around amidst the ice fog while swaddled in protective layers of bulky clothing (we'll leave alone the topic of blubber for now).

Which is certainly not to say it can serve as fodder for perpetuating the myth of their previous existence in Alaska, much less the story of their eventual and unfortunate demise.

To be sure there are a host of legendary penguins that populate the media: as a stock character they provide much in the way of comic relief, but it is critical to remember their endangered status, especially given the predicament of many polar species in the face of climate change.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"Hump Day"

The Alaska Wood Bison has been in the news up around this neck of the woods, and so popped up on the cartoon radar and was added to the eternal mix of random topics percolating away in the subconscious. The tipping point was one day while on an field-trip expedition with a Beginning Drawing class to the Museum of the North (part of the semesterly pen + ink assignment to gather reference sketches of textured artifacts & miscellaneous critters) I did a buffalo as a demo. It being Wednesday I ad-libbed a coffee cup and the accompanying caption.

That in turn beget a doodle, which eventually gave birth to another panel. Funny how these things work. Funny: How these things work.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


I got the idea for this panel while sitting at one of the usual satellite studio locations and staring out the cafe window. In the parking lot was a friend's pickup truck, and his beautiful Alaska malamute was patiently awaiting his return while hanging its head out of the back window.

A funny side-note was how I'd been experiencing withdrawl from not having an iPhone on me at all times, so similar to a phantom limb syndrome, I kept reflexively reaching for a resource that wasn't there anymore when I was wondering how to spell "malamute." The original joke was a caption that read "malemute/femalemute" which, even without an accompanying image, I thought was a funny concept. But it turned out that was based on a misspelling, so this idea was next in line.

One method in achieving a nice, soft sepia tint to ones washes.

I actually love the sound of dog teams baying in unison, as there are a fair number of mushers in out neck of the woods, so at certain times the valley is filled with a harmony of howls, as each lot successively daisy-chains off its neighboring pack. It's the Official Soundtrack of The North.

There's a bonus B-side remix to that soundtrack: Years ago I had the rare fortune to sit on a hillside right across a small valley from a pack of wolves who were vocalizing while lounging about on the tundra. Accompanying me on this trek out to the White Mountains was the Significant Otter and Bird-Dog, who kept tipping her head in quizzical perplexity at the howling. Perhaps it triggered the dormant, ancestral connection with a spirit pack, or maybe she couldn't quite understand the regional dialect.

On a similar note (literally), there has been several occasions at our new digs back out in Ester that we've heard a resident pack of coyotes yipping away up in our neck of the woods. In marked contrast to the dog, however, the cat couldn't seem to care less.

In theory, only one of the objects on the table is intended to be a cat toy.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Wear The Fox Hat

A project that was a long time coming, as it was a suggestion made by an acquaintance for years in idle conversation over beverages. I get that a lot: "You should draw a ____" and it usually goes in one ear and out the other (aside from the 1% of the time it sticks and gets shoveled into the mental mulch-pile). But eventually with enough persistence and pulling out a wad of cash, I'll take anything more seriously, and a spot opened up on the studio schedule in between several other gigs for me to work up a design. The tshirt was commissioned on behalf of the Maclaren River Lodge via a mutual friend who essentially wanted to see his idea actually realized as a finished product.

Leaving off the requisite pile of pencil sketches, I did something a bit out of the ordinary in that, after the core concept was approved by all parties, I worked up most everything fully colored. That is of course the most expensive route to take as far as getting tshirts printed up, but on my end as the creator it was a crucial component to help in visualizing the end result, and simplify the process by reverse engineering it down until a decent-looking, balanced compromise is reached. That being said, the traditional rule of thumb for me is ensuring the design can still hold up and function as a black + white image.

The question at this stage was twofold: what style of lettering/particular font is appropriate, and also should it all be on one line wrapped around the top, or divided above & below? Symmetry + balance is important especially with these circular designs, and the contrast of the lettering should be taken into consideration with regards to it's line weight, and organic feel versus hard-edge etc. and not forgetting the basics like legibility. Another speed-bump was mulling over seemingly inconsequential details that actually had a very subtle but important impact as far as any initial impression: how to phrase the statement: "Wear The Fox Hat" vs "Wear The Fox Hat!" vs "Wear The Fox Hat?"

At this point the beard had undergone a bit of a trim, as I pulled it further back up inside the core circle area so as to be able to draw the bottom text further up against it, and make for an overall tighter, more unified composition.
Then it was assembling a buffet of possibilities with color, so some sample swatches help to illustrate variations using a 1-color (dark ink printed on top of a colored tshirt background), a 2-color (black + white ink printed on top of red tshirt background), a 1-color reversal (white ink printed on top of red tshirt background), and my personal aesthetic choice, a 1-color tone-on-tone option (darker red ink printed on top of a lighter red tshirt). This would be awesome on a 100% cotton pigment-dyed garment, and would age really well too as an organically distressed tshirt. It also has the advantage of combining the economic advantage of being only a 1-color print, but still incorporating the crucial element of red.

Along with accompanying emails, everything in the end gets printed out as hardcopy, backup CD's with all the image files (TIFs and vectored Illustrator) are burned, and some bonus signed prints included in the final package ready for delivery. It's a good sign for me to feel excited about wanting to wear one myself!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"The Sixth Seal"

Proselytizing polar bears aside, no, I haven't had a come to Jesus moment nor embraced any other deity (besides His Noodly Appendage). It's just another cultural reference that makes for good fodder, so praise the lord and pass the muktuk. I even resisted the urge to render copious amounts of gore out of respect for the eventual reposting in a church bulletin. Hallelujah.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


When a rejection letter actually makes your day: actually having a juror write out the title of one of your submitted pieces. Always remember to give 'em your best shit, I guess.

But seriously it brings up a point on how my father always used to council me to not ever bother hiding who I was at job interviews, since if you don't really want to waste any time working for anyone who doesn't appreciate you for who you really are. Life's too short to work for assholes in other words. And that certainly extends into the art world as well.

And as far as rejection goes, it always reminds me of my broken-record mini-lecture I give each and every semester to aspiring talents when it comes time to submit to the student art show. You got rejected? So What! Big Deal! You got in? So What! Big Deal!

Actually sometimes it is a comparatively big deal... egomaniacs with inferiority complexes notwithstanding. Impartial, objective validation of your work is a nice bonus (informed opinion), but never necessary. In fact, said rejection is more often than not an even better inspiration when it comes to motivation. The above letter graces the studio corkboard right above the drawing table. And immediately upon opening the envelope, I turned around and waded right into a new panel. Take that! And that! (repeat... "odd" infinitum).
Basically, be the Weeble.

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.