Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pen & Ink

“My contribution to the world is my ability to draw. I will draw as much as I can for as many people as I can for as long as I can. Drawing is still basically the same as it has been since prehistoric times. It brings together man and the world. It lives through magic.” - Keith Haring

“Teach to your strengths” they say, and guess that’d be one reason why there’s an inordinate percentage of student work’s in this department devoted to pen and ink. Couching it in the terminology and context of illustration and comics (editorial panels, cartoons, comic books, graphic novels) is a rather devious method of introducing a new medium. Not unlike hiding the dog’s pill in a treat, though my cats know all about the backup forced horking technique. Basically today was a good three hours of material stuffed into the two and a half allotted me, and as usual I get carried away during the presentation and lose track of time. Oh well, still seven weeks left.
CRITIQUE #4:“IMAGE & TEXT” Vignette - DUE TUESDAY April 14th
Minimum of three pages inked on Bristol.
*selected text due in sketchbook Tuesday March 26th
*page pencils/layout roughs due Thursday April 9th

Take text from either a favorite poem, lyrics from a song you like, excerpts from a particularly meaningful story or book, or something personal you have written yourself: You will edit and rearrange the words into phrases that will help pace the piece out.
•Juxtapose these selections, editing if & where appropriate, against IMAGES culled primarily from your sketchbooks. Use primarily reference material based on our field trips and assignments – incorporate ideas inspired by or incorporating these images as jumping-off points-of-departure.
•Take all these elements and assemble a narrative: construct a series of images with text. These may or may not directly relate to each other, it may be seemingly random and abstract, or be a literal interpretation (think jazz).
•Pay extra attention to legibility – letter, don’t write, and leave plenty of “visual breathing room” inside caption boxes or around words, and between panel gutters. Keep it clean.
•You may wind up with the words telling the story, or maybe the pictures will, or both will together – or each telling two completely different stories with a possible third one becoming apparent when all read/viewed together. Maybe it will only make sense to you.
•Remember each individual panel is an illustration unto itself – all the same rules apply as with the spot illustration assignment – just this time there are many other factors to consider such as how each panel relates to each other (narrative flow) and how the whole page looks in its entirety.
(Sample layouts for pages showing the placement of text/caption boxes + panel arrangements)
At first glance, all this can look like an overwhelming task, but broken down and taken in stages, which I walk everyone through, it really isn’t that much to pull off, and many students take to this challenge with surprising enthusiasm. And in one hand it IS a bit of work; each and every single panel is a drawing unto itself, along with the overall page design, and details such as the legibility of the lettering, plus incorporating the illusion of the passage of time – but hopefully they’ll be having so much fun they won’t really notice how much work actually goes into one of these projects. To some degree I temper the anxiety by showing one of my own back-burner projects; a full-scale 56-page graphic novel that I bring in only a fraction of the amount of materials and background work for. That alone puts the 3-page vignette in quite a different light, as in; c’mon …this is nothing folks.

Over the weekend their homework was to transcribe some text, approximately a page’s worth, into their sketchbooks; either a passage from a story or novel, lyrics from a favorite song, a poem, or ideally, something they themselves have written (if taken from another source, that author must be credited). This verbage will form the base of their vignettes; and on Thursday’s field trip to the gallery, I will demonstrate how to do a one-page piece based on inspirations from works currently on display. That will also serve as a lesson in editing the text; pacing the words to achieve a rhythm and flow that will work in conjunction with the panel borders – lots of factors to consider long before any actual images are drawn.

As a side-note here, the forthcoming assignment (also handed out today, well in advance of next week’s field trips to the UAF museum) is directly tied into this as a sort of precursor or warm-up stage. This portion of the semester is also specifically geared towards more illustrative works that can easily be reproduced and incorporated into secondary usage (ex; logos/fliers/tshirts/cards/web spots etc.). As a sort of stepping-stone this is an additional and handy check on potential problems using the new materials, plus it’s easier to tackle this critique afterwards, rather than plunging right into a three-page piece. Most of the best pieces I routinely see from these classes, along with the majority of works in the drawing division in the student art show, will originate from this particular spot-illustration assignment, and it makes for a good confidence builder as well (more details over next week's postings).

*Show & tell lecture: This underhanded, low-key approach starts with a bit of a nostalgic overview of some favorites from childhood classics by Ernest Shepherd, Garth Williams and Maurice Sendak. The undeniable impact these simple and charming drawings have had on successive generations of young readers worldwide (despite the onslaught of cheap, shallow crap they are inundated with these days) is phenomenal and under appreciated. Examining selected pages and panels when they are blown up on the big screen makes for a fascinating chance to deconstruct how there guys constructed their illustrations with such deceptively simple skill and considerable attention to detail.
And there are some historical heavyweights : J.N. "Ding" Darling (personal hero), Winsor McCay, Burne Hogarth and Frank Frazetta. Also contemporaries like Barry Winsor-Smith, Frank Miller, Bernie Wrightson, Joe Sacco, and Robert Crumb are among the masters whose work I review.
Also I put students at ease with samples that from Jules Fieffer, Shel Silverstein, William Steig, Charles Shulz, Hank Ketcham, and some other artists whose personal style is very loose and comparatively non-intimidating.
Editorial cartoons make an appearance; I never pass up an opportunity to pitch this particular artform, as I think some of the strongest work being done is in this field (as in Pat Oliphant for example). Minicomics or ‘zines are another enormously popular application of pen & ink: making lines that can easily be photomechanicaly reproduced i.e. copies on a Xerox, and distributed amongst family & friends – this is what most of my own holiday offerings comprise every year.

*Portfolio review + samples: over the years I’ve accumulated quite the baggage as far as examples of pen and ink works. I show scripts, pencils and inks, some from professional pages along with works by previous students, and big sack of books from my collection at home. This is always an interesting experiment also; a little art-bait spread out to see just who in the class actually take it upon themselves to investigate on their own what I brought in. Those that rise to the occasion are usually the more successful students, the ratio is approximately a quarter at the most.

*Demo panel: this is when I flip through my current sketchbook to find a doodle that I work up right in front of them. Also doubles as another refresher on the sketching aspect; how to lightly and deftly (heh) block in areas first with graphite, in effect mapping out the drawing beforehand. This all starts to sound awful familiar, and it’s a theme I repeat many, many times in this class; here they get to see it in action, again, and applied to a finished piece (that will hopefully appear in print over the next few weeks). After a few specific pointers on making marks, they can alternate between observation and completing their own in-class exercises experimenting with materials and techniques, hatching, crosshatching, stippling etc. The class is given sheets of cardstock, which has template strips and circles copied onto them, for seeing how different effects and ranges of value can be achieved through a variety of methods - line weight, density of marks etc. This class is also the one over the course of the semester that I actually have a sizable handout for everyone; it contains all the ingredients for completing a successful drawing with swatches of sample textures of every conceivable sort, a primer on inking techniques and still more samples from Barry Windsor-Smith (just to set the bar as high as possible).

Holden: Sorry about him, he's, uh, he's dealing with being an inker.
Alyssa: Oh... you trace.
- Chasing Amy

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