I had originally doodled this concept out while attending a poetry reading at our local Arts Association on a scrap of paper. One of the young winners of the Alaska Statewide Poetry Contest got up to read her entry, and it was tangentially about a streetlight, which traveled in one ear and out the end of the pencil in the form of a random free-association. Not at all different than the usual MO of generating ideas as per the Jacob's Ladder theory.
One reason I always enjoy going to readings is that they never fail to inspire, and like any artistic performance you'll always get something out of them, at least on some level. Off to the side with a sketchbook I might suspiciously resemble one of the herds of people whose attention span is diverted by their omnipresent mobile devise, but born from many years of experience I actually can paradoxically concentrate better what with "the feelers" out. This is also true while passively trolling the sea of conversations as they ebb and flow around me when camping out at the cafe, bookshop or bar: I'm actually taking notes, and for all practical purposes, this is no different than a cartoon dog underneath the table, just waiting for that morsel to drop.
Another reason I went was to provide a sort of counterweight to also watching the latest comic book Hollywoodization (Superman Versus Batman movie) afterwards, in hopes of negating any loss of aesthetic credibility. Let's just say there's still a whole lot more on the "outstanding debt" side of the balance sheet.
I wound up spontaneously giving the young poet the sketch, as a gesture of solidarity I suppose, or call it a tip from one artist to another. It's sometimes easy to let such pieces go knowing that once I've drawn it out once, it's effectively etched into memory (at least short-term, which is problematic these days) and can be easily retrieved and committed to the compost-heap of a journal that serves as the repository of all potential panels.
Spent maybe a half-hour working it up again, foregoing the usual ballpoint pen rendering and opting instead to use the set of Copic markers that I pack around, on the offhand chance I know in advance that I'll be adding some wash for value. But then on a whim I used six different pencils, a range of #2, HB, B2, H4, mechanical and black leads, to get the range of value + texture.
As always, whenever switching out tools of the trade and temporarily adopting another instrument, I reflect upon the many lessons I've given to students about that exact same technique and medium, and make mental notes on how to better incorporate salient points during the next demonstration. It's a constant presence for me as an educator, to monitor and re-evaluate the process in an objective manner, and critique the end results.
|"Exhibit A" in why I tend to eat fast: the food takes up prime real-estate on the table.|
After scanning it I spent perhaps another half-hour tweaking a few key areas through the judicious usage of Photoshop (you can easily compare the difference between the two versions as posted here). Mostly pushing the range of value back, upping the contrast, and washing out the whites so as to subtly enhance the spotlight effect via highlights. Knowing that it'll be published on newsprint and thus adding another level of tone I anticipated it getting muted even more when it appears in print. I think it's a textbook case of blending manual + digital, neither one overwhelming the other but acting in symbiotic harmony.
Pardon the brief navel-gaze here, but one additional aspect of this particular panel that was different than the rest of the herd (at least the latest band to migrate through the studio), was the tremendous feeling of inner satisfaction at a job well done. As in, leaning back in the chair to look at the monitor and say to oneself "that's it." A rare enough moment when you know you've successfully accomplished something that really stands out from everything else recently created. This, as I've ruminated upon before, might pass with hindsight over time, or even completely fail as far as other folks "getting it." But here is an example of where I felt quite strongly that I couldn't care less about whether it's not obvious enough (briefly entertained a variety of possible captions, all of which were summarily trashed), and even readily admit it isn't supposed to be all that "funny" either. So I guess it's a hybrid of extremes: commercial art in the sense that it is a medium designed to quickly + clearly impart meaning through visual communication (for money natch), and fine art in that it represents the expression of an inner, personal statement.
What am trying to say? Sometimes the fun is in deconstructing or psychoanalyzing well after the fact, studying the end result of instinctual, unfiltered creation. Rhetorical questions arise: is it about relationships? Forever doomed to unrequited love or on account of us being really, truly different species? But what's up with the Narcissus reference? Why does using animal characters allow for better understanding of human nature, and how much of it is it subconscious projection? Or is the metaphoric shadow itself only a simple reflection? Does the totemic owl represent true wisdom in a mythological sense? Am I asking you to please just look at me here, and understand it's not just a cartoon, but who I really am inside? Is this the juncture of wilderness and civilization, the crux of urban versus rural? Philosophically speaking, is this not an extension of the Allegory of the Cave? Are we flogging a dead