Sunday, March 13, 2016

"Chewin' the Ice"

   Note: this panel ran sans caption (and then rerun with an apology the next week) which I honestly couldn't remember if it was on account of me editing it, or the newspaper inadvertently lopped it off in layout. Turns out it was the latter, but no big deal since I paradoxically thought it even better...
     One of the numerous demo panels done over one of my recent residency gigs for the Artists In Schools program. With it I showed the usual process in creating a cartoon, starting with flipping through the sketchbook full of doodles to cull a sample panel that was both appropriate for classroom usage and also a simple enough composition to bang out in a short period of time. And by that I literally do mean a short period, seeing as how the classes were only either 50 or 80 minutes long. Anything that slows the steps down also helps to impart a deliberate sense of methodical evolution, editing and tweaking on the fly, which somewhat blunts the inevitable impression that "you make it look so easy" (another intimidation that often can inhibit experimentation for relative beginners). A side-note here in that I like to use a different brand of permanent black India ink: I'll switch from my current favorite for in-studio work, Winsor & Newton, to Dr. Ph. Martin's Bombay Black, which dries comparatively faster and flatter.

     After selecting the demo piece sometimes I'll also redraw another, second thumbnail of it again, so as to illustrate the principle of sketching lightly first with a pencil. It also can reinforce the annoying principle of doing a drawing again and again (and sometimes still again) until you get it right - quite the concept for many people who are fixated on the end product and expect it do get done in one pass at the paper.
     In retrospect these thumbnails seems to be such a habitually reflexive part of the overall process and a pretty self-evident step from my perspective as an easy way to finalize compositional arrangement of the visual elements that all add up to an aesthetically effective panel. That said it's sometimes a significant speed-bump for beginners, especially youngsters who often tend to attach too much intent and get hung up on it having to look finished right then & there - taking it too seriously as it were. This also accounts to some degree a tendency to press down too hard with the graphite, consequently making marks that are too dark to erase after inking. That also in turn creates a definitive drawing that they'll wind up just simply tracing over with ink, as opposed to establishing a basic template to use as a suggestive guideline for the inking stage instead. One additional factor to consider also is that at a young age many folks don't have as much finesse or sufficient manual dexterity with a writing implement to control their line weight.
     Overall I guess the entire process is like balancing on a tightrope between open, loose expressiveness and tight control over the marks they are making to achieve a desired result (say for example, rendering a smooth gradation from dark to light to imply volume when hatching/cross-hatching a form).

     And after all is said and done, the panel is scanned in and cleaned up for a digital version destined for print, and like a game of Snakes & Ladders, it's back down to a beginning all over again when it's time to play with a wash medium. Here again there's such a basic, primal progression towards what is a nebulous impression of what one envisions and the technique of realizing that in actuality: it's so much like slowly giving birth to an idea, chasing one's creative tail around and around both inside your head and on the piece of paper, back and forth, around and around, kneading the art-dough, letting is rise, punching it back down again, baking it, letting it cool, slicing it up, toasting it, topping it, and finally, sharing it...

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