Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving: "Turkey Carving" + "KFC Cannibal"

Happy belated feasting: this ran last weekend in the paper, but posted post holiday here, which is okay as everybody probably still has leftovers. And as to why there's a carver - this one in particular - depicted in this panel, I'll get to later on in the post. For now, here's a brief breakdown of the entire process behind the piece. I excerpted and edited down each successive evolution of the panel as it was employed as part of an ongoing demonstration during one week of classes: as per my usual method of instruction, after all the lectures, handouts, examples, reviews and critiques, I'll always display a few works on a table set aside in the studio so as to provide both running narration (like an on-site director's cut) and an opportunity for students to take breaks and watch the real-time evolution of a panel, which, more often than not, generate some additional insights through questions + answers that might not otherwise occur.

An advantage students have in this class is to track the progression of a particular panel from idle doodle all the way to the print version published in the newspaper and also compare + contrast that variation with the final state of the original pen & ink piece, which will have been treated with a watercolor wash. The crucial lesson I think happens in the transition from initial concept to drawing though: especially that moment when one first puts down a mark on the sheet of white paper, and the the process begins anew. I always take great pains to constantly stress that those first few lines are more often than not going to be "wrong." And by that I mean they will inevitably get reworked, tweaked and tightened up as the rest of the composition is fleshed out... at that initial point they only exist so as to serves as reference points: you are effectively erecting the framework, creating the stage upon which the rest of the elements will be assembled and drawn into a unified whole. In other words, you gotta start drawing something, somewhere, to have material to work with. Hence my constant admonishment to beginning students of drawing that sketching is the foundation of the process which a finished piece is only a part of. Sort of like taking a hike: the destination is not the journey. The clean, inked panel is by no means ever arrived at without some degree of mapping out beforehand what goes where, with plenty of opportunity to adjust other aesthetic aspects en route - meaning there is a host of other means available to clarify, correct and/or compensate - even improve upon - problems, weaknesses or mistakes.

I initially sketched up the pencil version in front of the Cartoon & Comic Arts class as a demonstration piece: primarily on plotting out the paper real estate within the confines of a single-panel i.e. using basic composition so as to not have the cartoon look like a beginner's piece (ex: with vast open areas of nothingness + a cramped layout that has everything crammed into corners). Ostensibly many of the common mistakes can be flagged at the onset by working up from a doodle in the sketchbook - that's the stage one can catch potential problems before investing much more time & energy on the finished piece.

One such problem is handily illustrated with the doodle posted above: obviously I needed remedial lessons in illustrating a mask, as that sad turkey initially sketched out has some serious issues. So it was off to the Native Art department to reference sketch out some sample works-in-progress that were laying around (unfortunately no beaver). And I also took this opportunity to bounce it off the actual person who is actually depicted in the panel - always grateful to have friends with weird senses of humor. Besides which there's the minefield of "cultural appropriation" whenever the subject matter of Alaska Native - or any indigenous and/or minority group - appears in a cartoon, and it's always a good idea to try to make fun of something in as respectful a manner whenever possible. Here's a good example (hat-tip to John Hagen) of the difficulties that can arise from this issue, which can be a speed bump for many artists, especially when juxtaposed against a classroom setting, where an entire degree program within our art department teaches Native arts to any and all interested students regardless of ethnicity.
From the perspective of a creator, the underlying concept of inverting what is one of the absolute worst insult-to-injury holidays (which I personally have zero respect for above and beyond an opportunity to eat + drink with family & friends) and re-contextualizing it as a re-appropriation instead is an absolutely sublime irony. Subverting the dominant paradigm versus the wordplay of a basic, bad gag.

Also I poked about the model's own website (more on that in a minute) so as to not just rely on my own memory for characteristics that 99% of folks won't ever really notice, and arguably isn't necessary with a caricature. But sometimes it's all about the details... not just the turkey meat, but what's in the stuffing that will make a real meal... or not just a simple feast for the eyes.

Backstory: the guest appearance of Tsimshian carver and metalsmith Abel Ryan stems from us meeting back in 2009 in the Fine Art Department at UAF, where he was completing a degree in the Native Arts studio. Ever since that time he's been a constant source of personal inspiration largely on account of his solid work ethic and impressive output, which is in conjunction with his consistent on-line presence including process posts on his Facebook page and other sites such as the Museum of the North's archived collections and videos. Together with his frequent appearances at venues such as the Alaska State Museum and Sheldon Jackson Museum in Juneau, artist residencies at various institutions like Sitka's Fine Arts Festival and other gigs, he sets a solid example to me of an artist who, through such sharing of his work (and really puts the "work" into artwork), crosses mediums of expression and influences other artists... even some cartoonist in his cabin in the Interior of Alaska.

Bonus leftover/previously unpublished on-line panel: This scenario actually does actually happen, especially given the opportunistic + omnivorous scavenging habits of the common raven. The panel was inspired by a friend's longstanding habit of feeding the traditional Thankgiving turkey carcass to her neighborhood gang, and also while watching the usual shenanigans down at the local dumpster.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rip-Off Artists: Hack-Job Fail VII

One of my pet peeves is seeing the work of cartoonists hacked and shared with such painfully obvious and crappy cut + pasting. It’s disrespectful to the artist and indicative of a lazy mentality, not to mention theft of intellectual property and violation of copyright. This was a particularly egregious example of how adulterated agenda can cripple & corrupt a cartoon. Shame.

On a related note, never trust or submit work to any publication that strips off the original creator's credit line (in this instance, Gemma Correll's), pastes on their own (that's theft) and substitutes their own lame-ass caption. Shame.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Darth Maul"

On really cold days I sometimes miss the perverse enjoyment to be had from whacking away at logs with a blunt instrument. Mauling's not really all that different than mulling over ideas for cartoons I suppose, given my razor-sharp wit (I wish).

sketches by Tara Miracle + C. Hale

Art imitates Life... or is it the other way around? Tài bàng le: my Life Drawing class had a special treat with guest demonstration of Chinese Swordsmanship by Tim Walker from the Northern T'ai Chi Ch'uan Association. Very informative session where he showed us some graceful + powerful routines, just perfect for gesture studies. We learned, among many other interesting facts about t'ai chi, that as opposed to the current image of it being a form of esoteric yoga for old people, it is historically based on more of a martial art. 謝謝

And what with the impending release of the new Star Wars, the Force is with me these days, or at least the Dark Side. One of these days maybe I'll get around to compiling all the Alaskan Star Wars + Star Trek gags I've done over the years...

Saturday, November 21, 2015

B-Day Doodles + "Salfie"

Some bonus overflow crossposted from The Book of Faces: as of late I've begun a somewhat random campaign of posting imagery in comment threads. For one example, earlier in the season a friend was bemoaning the apparent proclivity of folks who combine the ubiquitous selfie with fishing pics: a surefire win/win scenario for any Alaskan.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Notification (Mark All as Read)"

My burgeoning collection of comics advances much like a glacier does in our household: like a solo snowflake, each individual volume unto itself might not represent any significant increase to the total, but as the cumulative weight and mass eventually begins to slowly sprawl across the cabin, grinding out everything in its path under the inexorable pressure. A while back The Significant Otter lovingly built a customized bookshelf in an attempt to accommodate this ongoing continental drift of graphic novels, but unbeknownst to her there was unfortunately a secondary outpost that had built up in my campus office over the past few semesters. That satellite collection would be the continually refreshed stacks of “best-of” examples I use to show my students during the critique assignment on sequential art, or for the comics course, and also when doing demos (plus it turns into a de facto lending library). So when I brought these cases of books home it was the geologic equivalent of a tectonic plate shifting, until a new nature order was reestablished, and equilibrium restored. At least until the next foray to the comic shop (see nerdgasm below). And by no means are the stacks and piles haphazard – despite the clutter aesthetic there’s a place for everything + everything’s in its place… at the very least there’s a specific zone designated solely for comics and comics alone. Really, it's all in order, it just doesn't look like it.

original thumbnail doodle

All this is to say the bottom horizontal panel is pretty much what it looks like in my little corner of the cabin. The overall concept arose from a recent reaction to a piece I had put up on the Book of Faces, which afterwards I realized how much time + energy it takes to monitor and respond to social media when something goes relatively viral. And nevermind the incessant stream of emails demanding attention every time I log in to any one of several accounts, that sit fermenting like virtual compost heaps until wading in with the weekly shovel. When all of this peripheral stuff is juxtaposed against the preferred “anti-social” media of simply reading, it becomes immediately apparent how much less stressful and, in many ways, infinitely more rewarding to stay ensconced within the incubating buffer-zone of books.

Line art version

Just like the optimal workflow process of making comics, where I’m always juggling multiple pieces at various stages of development, it’s a similar situation when it comes to reading books. There always seems to be a current one, or series, that will be temporarily derailed by something new, or something old, and then the whole sequence is shuffled and reset. Repeat ad nauseam. Case in point being immersed into Ann Leckie’s outstanding "Ancillary" trilogy, which in turn triggered a desire to re-read a few of of my all-time favorite sci-fi books by the late Ian M. Banks, while simultaneously perusing the pages of Ralph Steadman's "Nextinction" (note: a cartoonist friend who also happens to one of my favorite science writers recently got to interview him about this awesome new book here). Oh but wait, all of a sudden here comes this! Nerdgasm!

Excerpted panel with digital enhancements

And whattaya know, to complete the artistic triumvirate, the same goes with music: the new wave of tunage that comprises the studio background mixes (Scale The Summit, Volcano Choir, Chromatics, The Joy Formidable, Screaming Females, Caribou, Kurt Vile, Disclosure, Christine and the Queens, Gun Outfit etc.) which all gets interrupted with spontaneous revivals of classics like The Kinks and The Who etc. – trumped yet again by such long-running favorites such as Genesis (bonus trivia: Nursery Cryme, Trespass, Foxtrot and Abacab all provided the soundtrack for this one particular piece).

Incidentally, I wrote this entire post largely on account of one Mr. Atticus, aka The Omnipresent Studio Editor, who decided to camp out right before the scheduled watercolor session, as usual, right where all the action is. Or was supposed to be, until he perfectly illustrated the whole art-imitating-life/life-imitating-art thingy.

"I'm here to help"

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Perspective: Cityscape Exercise II (Updated 2016)

Here's a handful of resultant sketches from another in-class exercise based on the David Petersen lecture in conjunction with linear perspective assignments.

Briefly, in Beginning Drawing after working with a multi-point still-life we close that particular studio session out with experimenting in how to turn one of the studies into "citiscapes."

I'm really impressed with the directions that the students took their pieces. Sure seems to be the right combination of observation + imagination, proving once again how much of fantasy is rooted in reality.

This is along the lines of the adage "learn the rules before you break them," or as my old drawing instructor used to berate me: "Jamie, it's okay to fantasize: just fantasize correctly."

All of these sorts of exercises are ultimately predicated upon the - hopefully - successful understanding of basic skills in observing different scenarios and effectively transmitting this knowledge in the form of a drawing that exemplifies the underlying principles. Now let's go bowling.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

"Do Not Stop On Tracks"

I pass by one of these signs half time when I drive anywhere from home. Having your funny feelers out at all times throughout the day while trolling for ideas often results in random gag ideas ping on the ol' cartoon radar. Also it helps explain why long stretches of spacing out can intermittently punctuated by sudden barks of laughter, which is fine when you're alone, but tends to be disconcerting to any passengers.

Not entirely pleased with the overall, end result of this panel, as it can be too easily misconstrued as some dude with a pet bear, or maybe it's his buddy and they're out on a stroll together, since it's missing an element of threat or foreboding, imminent attack. Not that the possibility of being misunderstood has ever stopped any cartoonist, or artist for that matter, from doing a drawing. Always a chance and some hope of someone "getting it" on their own and being in alignment with the original idea. It's the eternal struggle to balance one's inner vision with the reality, or put another way, commercial success that hinges upon imparting concepts to the general public, which in turn is predicated on crafting an illustration which clearly and effectively communicates in visual (and in the case of a incorporating a caption, utilizing text as well) terms just what the hell is the point.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

In The House/Field Trippin': Firehouse + Greenhouse

   Recently it was time once again for an art drill: when during the course of the semester my posse of prospective talents saddles up and we all take a quick little field-trip to do some reference sketching at the university fire house. One of the many interesting places on campus that contains lots of stuff to draw, not to mention the basic truth that fire trucks are cool. Drawing chrome however, now that can be a challenge.

   The exercise doubles not only as a break from the routine, and a chance to get away from the fluorescent fixtures in the classroom studio, but it's also an opportunity to flex the mental muscle-memory: to rapidly and artistically assess any situation and distill a scenario down to its simplest, underlying elements. So practice sessions like this are analogous to a fire drill: an alarm goes off, we scramble for our gear, rush to the scene, and draw.
   One variation on the exercise is to gather raw material for backup usage in a potential illustration assignment, especially on the offhand chance that a model bails out on us in the upcoming several weeks of figure drawing. That said, most of the participants do a great job coming up with compositions and filling up their required sketchbooks to boot. Not to mention I can work a bit on the ongoing demo that plays with imagery off a favorite song of mine.

   Speaking of demos, here's a couple quick ones done to show how one can cull elements from the sketchbook and assemble an simple spot illustration afterwards. These were based on roughs after spending approximately an hour in the firehouse, then after returning to the classroom we worked up a contour drawing in graphite (just line - no shading), which takes on the average another hour or so, and then finish the session with adding a value using the wash pencils for the final hour of class. Two preceding in-class exercises underpin this experiment: one is the art department studio study, where students practice "visually sampling" and then "remixing" the foreground, midground and background elements in a composition of their own creation. The other exercise that helps set this up is the Famous Artists one, which also utilizes variations on arrangement of items on the picture plane by emphasizing foreshortening and overlapping to enhance pictorial depth.

   With these under their belt the class can now begin to focus on their "visual note-taking" skills while out on field trips, observing and recording their impressions, and finding solutions to overcome any missing information later - in other words making stuff up, but still based on reality. Very rarely does life itself give you the perfect shot, with all the elements perfectly composed, and here's where the artist can improve upon reality to create an picture that, in this instance, says"firehouse." Too many beginners when tasked with, say, drawing a firetruck for example, would set about attempting to draw the whole damn firetruck. You don't really need to do that to get across the impression of a firetruck - just assembling the pieces of excerpted information harvested in the sketchbooks is often more than enough to trigger the associations in the viewer's mind, and then they fill in the rest of the story to construct a simple narrative that says "firehouse."

    Lastly, here's a couple demos done on-site, each in one sitting, while out on the perennial greenhouse expedition with beginning drawing classes. As in the case with the firehouse excursions, it's been covered here before in detail on these previous posts as to the why-fores ("Harvesting Art" in 2009, "Greenhouse Study: Observations on Observations" in 2010, and "G-House Studies" in 2013), and so I'll add this to the mounting bonfire of my scorched-earth razing of writings that are over and done with. In other words over the next few months you'll see a trend of effectively tying off topics that have been around since this blog's inception, but signal a shift in content + pace, as in, been there, done that, not gonna do it anymore.
   Put in the larger context with both teaching and making art, returning over and over and over again to a set of topics reinforces basic lessons while revisiting standard themes and techniques and would get old real fast if it wasn't for the inexorable evolution that takes place with repeated exercise, not to mention long-term changes in style. That's a perspective borne from the rewards of simple discipline - or is it creating a nice, comfortable rut?

   Another way to look at it is how there's always usually something new to be seen, and usually there's also an accompanying instance of a successful drawing (in theory those odds increase over time as well), and in conjunction with a host of new faces and fresh, aspiring talent from the continually refreshing groups of individuals that comprise each and every class for every new semester, well, that is probably the best bulwark against boredom there is. Maybe not so much blogging about it, to say nothing of reading it?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

"Welcome Mat" (Alaska Is My Home)

If you look closely at the work-in-progess photos taken at this summer's Wild Arts Walk/Quick Draw gig, you'll see the birth of this particular panel taking place. As mentioned elsewhere at length, there actually is some prepwork done behind the scenes for the event, and well in advance of sitting down to the challenge I'll test the waters by doing a dry run beforehand. The logistics of such a timed endeavor preclude any protracted musings over material, and excepting any on-the-spot adaptations from unplanned accidents, there's little if any spontaneity aside from the spontaneous combustion that occurs internally.

Here's both the test panel, sans iconic wildflower, and below is the original doodle done in the sketchbook, including a nice, warm wash done by dipping the brush in a mocha. Mmmm... art.