Sunday, March 26, 2017

"(No) Alpha Males"

File this under "the odds are good/the goods are odd." Probably helps to be up on one's Latin also, or at least experience in the fraternity system.

Can't help but see the correlation between walking into a musher's dog lot and pretty much any pick-up bar in Alaska. There's always a token representative in every pack, the wolf, the mutt, the thoroughbred, the stray, and the cur.

(In the proverbial doghouse again)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"The Many-Storied Cabin"

Concept rough + finished pencil

Been a while since my last protracted process post - so here's another installment on the behind-the-scenes details for this latest piece, "The Many Storied Cabin."

Librarian Greg Hill is putting out a third volume of his collected weekly newspaper essays, and tapped me to do another cover for it. His "Book Range" series, of which this is the third volume, is a fundraiser to benefit the Fairbanks Library Foundation. This being one of my main personal advocacy issues, I'm always humbled + grateful for any opportunity to illustrate and promote the importance of literacy. Greg was one of the presenters in last year's Cartoon North II exhibit, and we share a lot of history with the Guys Read Program, David Petersen appearances, and other community events over the years. It's always a pleasure and an honor to join forces on projects like this.

Stages of inking

Again and again I am reminded of the maxim by Shel Silverstein: "Put something silly in the world, That ain't been there before." It's what I love most about drawing - thinking of an idea and creating it. At any rate the world is probably a much safer place without me being an architect, even though I usually have enough books on hand to construct such an abode. At the very least the volumes lining the walls presumably add some insulative properties - in fact one of the ideas we brainstormed for the subtitle was "Reading: The R-Factor."

Only after the penciling was all done did I have the foresight to double-check the actual size of the book cover by scanning an earlier volume and using it as a template of sorts. Turned out my off-the cuff approximation was short by a couple inches, which meant a big ol' blank space would be left across the top + bottom. Whoops.  Compounding the problem was a real-estate issue with there being no more room left on the original page (14x17" Strathmore Bristol, smooth 400 series) to accommodate any expansion. Photoshop to the rescue! An extra hour of judicious sampling the preexisting trunks provided enough raw material to vertically extend the forest.

Every so often an idea spins outta control and begins to assume logistical issues, usually along the lines of "well THAT escalated quickly." As in, it starts to get technically hard, at least in comparison to to the relatively easier compositions of usual cartoon panels. That's when the work ethic of voluntarily pushing oneself comes into play. Literally, since losing that sense of play can be a real killer, and might just be the defining line between Fine Art versus Commercial Art. In my experience the two share a considerable overlap, and definitely influence the other, if not share the same motivations and disciplinary process. That's anathema to many free-spirited artist types - treating their work like it's a job, but as I frequently remind students, there's a reason it's called artWORK.

Except for the spot-black brushwork on the spruce trees, inking was all done with dip-pens only (three different sizes + two kinds of India ink). Note the random blots in the lower right-hand corner, which were a result of the kitten attempting editorial input via dip-pen rolling across the drawing table. In a reverse way I actually appreciate having a disaster happen right at the outset of any protracted undertaking, as it alleviates the stress of screwing up anything later on by getting it out of the way.

Looking back a decade ago to when I did the first volume, and then the second, I was - to be completely honest - more than a little abashed at the result. This is not an uncommon reaction in retrospect, and to be fair, at least means you're getting better. That said, the vulture perched on your shoulder in the studio seems to always be muttering on about "room for improvement," and it always ensures humility knowing today's masterpiece will eventually decay into tomorrow's embarrassment. Being harshly critical of one's own work is an occupational hazard, and muting the inner critic is as crucial a part of the creative process as any aspect of craftsmanship.
-->The key assumption here is that there will always be plenty of second, third… even fiftieth chances to redeem oneself. At the same time there is a cautionary lesson here in that just knocking out stuff in a rush might come back to haunt you later on down the road (the same could be said for blogging and/or posting on social media).

The initial concept sketch showed some random snowflakes wafting down around the piece, but in the end the overall composition was just too busy of a visual cacophony. But wait - there's always the background! Starting with samples from NASA deep field images, I selected all of the white spots, changed them to black, then cut + pasted them onto a new white background panel, color-coding each successively smaller-diametered section of stars, which were then each layered into the final piece. All of this ostensibly to provide window-dressing for the constellation of Ursa Major and the North Star.

Appropriately enough I did this portion wearing headphones and looping Brian Eno’s “Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks” in the background. After suffering massive eye-fatigue at the end
of pulling a round-the-clock stint, it was somewhat therapeutic to jump back into the piece at 5am the next morning and tackle the universe. And painstaking attention to such ridiculously meticulous detail is an homage to Schultz's Schroeder plinking out actual Beethoven pieces - one of many ways the master set the bar for cartoonists everywhere for all time.

Other points of trivia in this piece include the inclusion of my beaver chop logo on a book cover in lieu of any signature. There was simply no way I was gonna letter in individual titles on all of the covers and spines - thought the though kept reoccurring. Also discerning viewers will note a private joke with a pile of nuggets added in at the last minute. And a hat-tip to Greg for coming up with OED (instead of the initially sketched "ink") as a subtle poke at the ubiquitous Greer tanks that accompany pretty much every cabin in Interior Alaska.

One last step involved excerpting selected elements from the initial scan of the line art and recreating stand-alone illustrations to be sprinkled throughout the book as little black & white spot pieces. Then it's off to the print shop to proof some poster prints (a previous one benefiting the Literacy Council of Alaska went over really well), which will hopefully be offered at some signing gigs that I'll keep everyone updated on as they get scheduled.

What makes this special to me personally is illustrating the concept that books provide a shelter: growing up an only child with a reference librarian mother and a regional bookstore managing father I guess books were a constant source of everything for me - knowledge, wonder, entertainment and inspiration. On this cabin even the windows are books, as is the door.
Like our minds, all we have to do is open them. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Mood Swings" + "Winter's End"

This is the hardest part of the long and bitter winter season: the time when the temperature fluctuates wildly between extremes on a daily basis. Mid-March and the body (and mind) is primed for some thawing, but we still get the yo-yoing of subzero nights (-35 in the outlying valleys) and tantalizing teases of upper teens during bright, sunny days. This cartoon was belted out amidst a massive, multi-day work session on another project, when ideas usually flow as a result of prolonged focus. It's like "taking a break" and letting off some creative steam on the side.

Got just a wee bit carried away with this one. Actually resorted to several sessions of chipping away at shading it all in, so the cumulative effect makes for quite a dense, rich range of value. Of course the original line art version with all the contour + texture stands on its own.

I needed to break away for some specific studies on hand positioning... always nice to challenge yourself with something new and different. I am always reminded of da Vinci's exhaustive studies, thanks to my drawing instructor in college. Knitting - on the other hand - was something new that I had no idea how to do, or draw for that matter. Now as for reading books - got that one down. In fact - next weekend I'll put up a special process post dealing with just that topic.

No doubt the extravagant shading was influenced by the current focus in class on value and the accompanying exercises on rendering forms with smooth gradations so as to create the illusion of volume. Not only have I been re-connecting the dots and coming full circle with teaching posts and this blog but also dovetailing both with what happens on the drawing board at home in the studio.

Here's a sampling of the Xerox face/subtractive charcoal assignment for this semester's Beginning Drawing class... and the "werebeaver" demo done in honor of the full moon.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Room Temperature"

Yeah, a tired, old stereotype on the whole igloo thing. Sacrificed for the sake of something that's bothered me for years. Also posting below an epic fail on the initial pencil sketch that crashed + burned right before my very eyes. Needless to say I take such failures in stride and use them as motivation to solve the problem.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

"Arctic Greenhouse" + Fairbanks Sketchers Update

One can only suppose this scenario plays out across the Interior during the depths of winter... little oasis of warmth + green in a sea of brittle white.

On a related note, our Fairbanks Sketchers group met up for our monthly outing at a local greenhouse (this as opposed to the semesterly field-trips I take with my drawing classes to greenhouses up at the university).

Great turnout again with a wonderful cast of characters: check out this backpost for more information and links to the official Facebook page on upcoming events.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Dear Senator...

"Signed, Pissed"

I grew up in Central New York, and the closest decent-sized body of water we had was Onondaga Lake. It was also known as "America's most polluted" lake: I can still remember the thick, acrid stench from the raw sewage and chemical/industrial waste, and the signs warning people to stay out of the water. Rotting mats of gunk and the occasional dead carp littered the shoreline, not far from where we would sit in the park and eat our Heid's Hotdogs. That pales in comparison to the desecration and cultural genocide of the local Native Americans and their relationship with the waters.

The Alaskan Republican version of the future Chena River

The other half of my family lived out in the farmlands of Western New York, right by Lake Erie. This was the most notorious of the Great Lakes, with an equal history of toxic contamination, most notably the Cuyahoga River catching on goddamned fire, which was the rallying cause of the 1969 Clean Water Act, in turn administered by the EPA.

Yeah, about that whole EPA thing: Fast forward to the end of February 2017, and the signing of an executive order that begins the rollback of protections for clean air and water (one-quarter of its budget) that this administration has begun to attack now that it's off the leash.


But wait: here comes Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan with some simply stunning hypocrisy and bald-faced Orwellian double-speak:
"This new order signals a return to the rule of law and prioritizes environmental protection, keeping our waters clean without running rough shod over the Clean Water Act and our economy."

I have addressed here in the past over multiple posts the obsessive fixation and hatred Representative Don Young has for the environment. Now Senator Sullivan aspires to take his place in the pantheon of hyper-partisan posturing. Adding insult to injury Sullivan is simultaneously attempting to capitalize on the wholesome image of Alaska's wilderness with his "Frontier in Focus."

 I'll close with an excerpt and link to a far better perspective on Sullivan's hypocrisy by the astute Wickersham's Conscience:
"Once you know that the Koch Brothers own Koch Ag and Energy Solutions, which in turn owns Koch Fertilizer, which manufactures and markets a wide variety of fertilizer products used in the agriculture industry; well, it all makes sense. The Clean Water Rule would limit the amount of fertilizer that be applied to land, which might hurt the billionaire brothers’ profits. And their profits are always the most important thing.3 And Senator Carpetbagger’s mean little soul is owned by the Koch Brothers. 
Once again, it is crystal clear – clearer than the waters of America’s rivers – that Senator Sullivan apparently represents the Koch Brothers, not Alaskans."

Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Basic Commands"

Here's another one that relies heavily on familiarity with the parlance of the mushing community, as in the basic commands "mush," gee" and "haw." I snuck in a homograph on the second phrase.
Also serves an example of the form following function ie a gag stretching out into a strip so as to better incorporate elements of timing + pacing to the narrative.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"The Alaska Playground"

This one's a good example of how much of a difference a slight tweak can make - and how I use the computer to make last-minute adjustments after inking a panel that could use some "post-production." Compare & contrast the really subtle shift in space in the upper-right corner of the panel: the visual breathing room opens it up (above), so as to not make for such a cramped composition (below).

We just went through (another) bout of forty-below... with a jump to thirty-something above a couple days later about Mother Nature's mood swings! Fortunately where we are living now up in the hills there's enough temperature inversion at a higher elevation to take off the bitter edge of these snaps, though the propane we use for cooking temporarily liquefied for a couple days which meant it reached -44 (its "boiling point" paradoxically).
Sometimes when it gets that cold, things. Just. Stop. Working.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Teacher's Pet"

In a one/two sucker punch that ignored both Alaskan law and catered to partisan subservience, both of our state representatives opened the door for the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Millionaires voting for billionaires.

Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan is perhaps best known for his obstinate refusal to even consider former President Obama's nominee for a vacant Supreme Court position - part of the lockstep Republican blockade of absolutely anything by Obama. This petty, hyper-partisan gamesmanship demeans the process and violates the constitutional duty of the position. As in, arguably one of the more important parts of the job description, right there in writing:

With his Devos vote, Senator Sullivan ignored the will of the voters (who it seems he isn't really paid to represent), and Senator Murkowski pulled one of her classic, disingenuous feints so as to avoid actually taking a principled stand.
"McConnell knew he could afford to lose two Republican votes assuming that the vote to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) as attorney general came after the DeVos vote. And he signaled to Collins and Murkowski that they were absolutely fine to break with their conference on DeVos, knowing it would help them politically — and, of course, by helping them politically that he could rely on them for a vote he really needed in the future." - Washington Post
Together the senators have repeatedly demonstrated an appalling lack of morals and ethical judgement, especially in the case of their amenable, fair-weather friendship and general affiliation with tRump (see previous post on this habitual complicity). We have work to do.

“I would like to thank the thousands of Alaskans — including parents, educators, and students — who called or emailed our senators in the last few weeks,” said Parker, a former Lathrop High School teacher. “This isn’t an end, but the beginning of an energized, grassroots movement to protect our public schools." - Tim Parker, president of the Alaska chapter of the National Education Association
Exhibit A: The typo indeed "captures the essence..."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Valentine's Day" (Edit)

Bonus mid-week post: Always one of my favorite holidays (2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2011 again) and a bottomless well of material to draw from.
This year's panel for publication in the paper actually got bumped to the summer season, as it hinges on Cupid, but hopefully folks can disassociate him enough from the holiday icon for it to work, as the context/setting for the gag has to take place during mosquito season, which is all I'll say about it at this point...

Earrings by Patricia Carlson