Monday, November 8, 2010

"One Room"

… besides losing it in general (“of all the things I’ve lost I miss my mind the most”).
And this doesn’t even include showing the kitchen area, closet or the sleeping loft (that’s where the other insane cat is). Actually I’m still toying with the concept of making this into a triptych over the winter… now THAT would be nuts. At least I stopped before putting titles on all the books, DVDs and CDs.

Way too much more information below the fold... 

Here's a condensed time-lapse process post of a piece I drew almost three months ago, which just ran in yesterday's paper. Most everything was drawn from memory: a composite compost-heap of all the cabins I’ve inhabited up here over the years. Pretty much true to life representation, as visitors can attest to the general state of affairs behind this disheveled, cluttered environment. I've been told being in one of my cabins is like being inside my brain, what with the random explosion of ephemera and cascading miscellany - a cozy kinda crazy. The ulterior (interior?) joke is on my personal habit of constantly somehow misplacing pencils while working – it’s been known to happen that I’ll get completely bent out of shape and frustrated to the point of ranting aloud, and all the while there’ll be one stuck behind my damn ear… talk about developing severe permafrost-tunnel-vision with cartoon-blinders on. So there’s any number of them scattered throughout this panel, along with a red-herring set of keys in an equally obvious location.
And a disclaimer in that I don’t have either a flat-screen nor a lap-top, and neither is the room this clean: honestly I purposefully restrained the excessive clutter just to allow for a handful of spots for visual breathing room. No, really. That, and there are dozens of beavers edited away as well. Like sharks and zombies, you don't ever need to actually see them to know that they're there.
Just recently had a conversation about the merits of utilizing/renting long-term storage, something I’ve never used and have always been repelled by. It’s from more of a practical standpoint with regards to personal sprawl, but there’s another facet of the cabin lifestyle where there’s immeasurable security in being able to instantly survey everything one owns. Not that it matters one damn bit in this instance.

The scan of the pencil sketch is a good example of keeping a grip on the underlying, basic geometric layout for at least a nominal nod to linear perspective. That was crucial along with successive overlapping and some foreshortening to maintain the illusion of depth. Even though I used for the most part only two dip-pen nibs (a thick and a medium point) and one Micron for the ultra-fine details, there really isn’t much obvious line weight, so a lot had to be done as far as compensating with value to demarcate different areas and objects from the fore/mid/back-ground planes by adding touches of gradient, cutting shadows and using contrast. Say, this is suspiciously starting to sound like one of my broken-record (scratched CD?) lectures.

One thing I was immensely pleased with was getting away with only one minor ink-blotch (from being careless with a ruler before it was finished drying), that, and the bonus blessing in the 9x12” finished piece barely fitting on the scanner for one shot. Not being the sort of artist (or person for that matter) overly concerned with meticulous attention to detail, working in shifts of only a couple/few hours before breaking away to sketch and draw other concurrent projects helped ward off burn-out, which even though it’s a single panel, can still fry the brain into drooling monkey-phase. No lie when I tell students to pace themselves: taking frequent breaks helps keep it fresh and alive, as opposed to flogging the dead horse of homework until you’ve totally lost interest, motivation and sanity. But there is a point of diminishing returns where it’s time to give it up - for this panel it was around the 12-hour mark when I threw my mouse up and went to bed (like some cats I know) (actually they hurk up voles instead). Plus it begs the question whether or not even half the details will translate into print: the original image size is 300dpi, an emailed JPEG about 10” high, but that’ll get knocked down to 6” (if I’m lucky). A lot of the subtleties are lost in newsprint – but it’s always a minor glint of interest for me to open up the Sunday paper and see what the final version winds up actually looking like. A bonus in that a print of this particular panel is also currently adorning the gallery walls for the UAF art department's annual faculty show. Since it's matted and in a nice frame it therefore qualifies as Fine Art. As in Fine with me.

And it brought up one of my overlooked favoritest moments in a drawing like this - erasing. Man do I ever love that stage: it’s a little elbow work that reveals and rewards the aforementioned attention to detail, when all the lines intersect instead of overlap, no breaks in the lines, everything neat (well, within reason) and self-contained so there’s virtually no lengthy digital cleanup or tweaking. I've always admired some of my peers who are obsessively fastidious in creating pages that are flawlessly exectued and require no additional cleanup.
Even if as far as the big picture is concerned that’s only the half-way mark, since the scanning, cleanup and conversion, plus shading, will take another significant investment in time and effort (relative to cartooning). There was actually minimal Photoshopping, mostly just a few random objects and a final pass of tonal massage after importation from Freehand. There was several edits as far as the trivia scattered around, mostly flip-flopping back and forth on selecting an appropriate TV image. Choosing between a pool of screen-grabs of stills from personal favorite movie moments was daunting - the runner-up was a great shot of all the animals looking on as Marge & Homer were having sex in their cabin, but at the last minute I settled for a nice pose from Chaplin, whose films I've been studying a lot as of late.

Once again I am reminded of how awesome of an opportunity it is with this weekly feature to have such freedom and flexibility to shift gears not only with regards to content but to form: wildly contrasting compositions, panel sizes and attendant detail will all reflect the needs of each piece, instead of trying to shoehorn it into the constraints of, say, formulaic syndication. So all this was long way to go for a gag, but spending that sort of time on creating anything artistic is largely irrelevant and even more pointless to ponder than producing the piece itself. To say nothing of another truly epic post deconstructing a damn cartoon in depth.
One more final note: this panel was spurred in part by an email I got weeks ago that really helped balance out the overall educational scales and canceled out all of of the unfortunate and unnecessary bullshit one occasionally has to put up with as an art teacher. One of my perennial assignments for the first critique in beginning drawing is of an interior composition, and even though it’s ostensibly an exercise in linear perspective, one of the meta-reasons is to focus attention on observational skills, and by doing so, hopefully establish a slightly more meaningful connection with where you are at, wherever that may be. A former student had written to me of how they’d been moving a completely insane amount of times as of late, and the only consistent reminder of a time of relative comfort and security was the drawing that they had done for that particular assignment, which was dutifully displayed at each successive location before the next upheaval, as a sort of a therapeutic lodestone. I always maintain that I’ll never expect anything more from students than what I can produce myself, so this panel (and posting) is a sort of homage to that. And furthermore, as I recently experienced myself with the Maine series of thematic postings here over the past summer, sketching is quite often an indelible method of linking, and inking, the power of recall, as one is oftentimes much more immersed with observation of aspects that the average person would miss out on in the surrounding crescendo of crap constantly competing for our time and attention. 

And besides, really, what’s more stupid: taking the time to patiently, painstakingly document the trivial ephemera of one's own existence… or not even noticing it anymore? Is an unexamined mess is not worth living in? Those are the kind of bemusing Big Questions behind the particular expression illustrated above, besides where the hell is my pencil?

Prime real-estate: almost a big as Dear Abby, and twice as serious.


  1. Love this post, for a lot of reasons--not the least of which being getting the chance to see into your cabin (sort of), after all the times of you making us draw our own interior spaces.

  2. Well thanks a big hat-tip to ya right back for the spring-board...
    Sad to say there was still a major amount of artistic license in "cleaning up" the place.
    Sadder still this post doesn't even come close to a five-page critical essay deconstructing one single panel cartoon by B. Kliban I did in grad school for a contemporary art history course.

  3. I probably made a bad decision as far as my cartooning activities go, and revealed that I was crazy to think I was sufficiently insane to be a cartoonist, but I decided almost 20 years ago in my own tiny shack that I would own no more stuff than I could put in ONE LAYER. If I wanted more stuff I needed to get rid of older stuff or make more room for ONE LAYER. It has sort of worked...but I fear now it reveals that I developed the sick, compartmentalized mind my parents always hoped I would. Years of being told to clean up my room and don't make a mess took their toll regardless of my efforts to break the programming.

  4. Hey thanks – you know I think that a general state of mind is mirrored to some degree in the state of affairs of someone’s house to their mental state, and to some degree gauged by the clutter on a desktop (computer or work area) and even ascertained by the condition of the page they’re working on. Especially when there are bite-marks and beer or blood-stains (mosquitoes again). But then again, I know some folks that that’s just the way they work, and it stands in complete contrast to their environment or state of mind compared to the finished product.
    It’s always interesting to mull the differences in work habits: sometimes I need the routine and nesting-effect, have everything just so, and others times there’s been when the best stuff has come out of adverse conditions, from focusing on creating work while out of a comfort zone. Drawing in front of folks in a new place is a good example.

    Might not be obsessive about it but I often pull the Mr. Rogers routine (speaking of programming) of showering, shaving, dressing and putting on shoes before sitting down to draw, even if it’s all within a 25’ radius of activity in a one-room cabin. Similarly there’s the dance of avoiding work or gradually honing in on it until, say, the litterbox and dishes are done, which might not be such an issue if one didn’t have to stare at it while working in the same damn room – I often fantasize about having a separate studio to get away from all the background junk and innumerable details that can intrude at least mentally. But then cultivating domestic harmony isn’t as much of a personal priority as it is preserving logistical sanity (losing more than just that pencil).

    For many, including myself sometimes, creating art is a temporary respite or outright escape from the oppressive (or boring) reality, that proverbial calm in the eye of the storm, so it really doesn’t matter where or when it happens. Cost me some grades, jobs and relationships to be sure but earned me many more in turn.

  5. Many people, especially those outside Alaska, do not understand the "one-room cabin" and the lifestyle on people who lives in such dwellings.
    I remember when the Unibomber was caught, there was a statement made that it could be seen that he was mental unbalanced by him chosing to live in a one-room cabin without telephone service or indoor plumbing. A friend pointed out that that observation did not bode well for himself and many of his friends in Alaska who lived in one-room cabins without phones and indoor plumbing...

  6. There’s actually a classic Freeze Frame strip hung on the wall of Ivory Jack’s about just that irony: I’m at the bar ranting about what a nut Kaczynski (almost as hard to spell as Murkowski) was, what crazy views he espoused and what barbaric conditions he lived in, and in the meantime I’m slowly being surrounded by scary-looking locals. Everybody had fun pointing out who was who – colorful cast of characters.

    I especially remember how surreal it was to see the entire cabin put on a flatbed tractor-trailer and actually hauled to the courthouse during the trail, to demonstrate to the jury incontrovertible evidence he was utterly insane. Much swankier than some of the Appalachian-style crack houses I’ve rented up here to be sure.

    No wi-fi though, which makes for rather boring outhouse trips.

  7. Looking at this piece artistically instead of looking at the message, I am so very impressed with how “right” and accurate the drawing is without being photographic realism. I am not saying this well, but my point is that without the use of color, much shading or gradients, or “much obvious line weight,” the perspective, foreshortening, and overlapping DO “maintain the illusion of depth” and provide “[demarcation of] different areas and objects from the fore/mid/back-ground planes.” Nothing is cockeyed or at the wrong angle or in the wrong layer. Everything which should be straight is straight, though not in a precise way. It is truly three-dimensional (without the need of special glasses).

    It is a wonderful example of how a cartoon captures the essence of something in a minimalist fashion. This is the basis of pure drawing with a huge amount of information portrayed in its most fundamental form. I want to say that it is “simple” without meaning that it is easy (which it obviously was not). (It must have taken you days of work to complete this.) It is “clean” (which is a strange word to describe a drawing of so much clutter), but not sterile. It is detailed without being complex. (Again, I am groping for the right words. Hopefully you can understand what I am trying to say and perhaps say it better.)

    This wonderful drawing is an art lesson in basic drawing which art students should study.

    It is also like a “Find Waldo” picture in that one can spend a long time looking for “hidden” details. How many pencils are scattered around the room? Where are the keys? How many sketchbooks are there? What beverage is in the cup on the coffee table? In what form are the music recordings? (Would some young people even recognize that there is a turntable and collection of LP records?) Where is the bulletin board with a note tacked on it? Is the light over the drawing table on or off?

    What I am trying to say is that I love this piece as the art which it is.


  8. Wow - thanks!
    You nailed it: "clean but not cluttered" - what I always used to tell my mom...

    I also tapped into a near-universal syndrome, as someone wrote to me convinced I'd drawn THEIR son's cabin. Wanted a print, which I have an extra one, *somewhere* around here...

    And yes, one most certainly can spend a LOT of time looking for those hidden details: now there's a Metaphor for Life.