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.

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