Sunday, January 29, 2017

"Arctic Derangement Syndrome"

I had to confess + apologize to a long-time acquaintance that this panel wasn't really about him (and local residents will immediately recognize the caricature), even though he's one of the most infamous pair of year-round shorts in the Interior. But then again, whenever you hear the words "it's not you," well, it is, so I went ahead and customized it.

Technically it's aesthetically okay when shorts are worn indoors during winter, because it's all about context. In reality it was some other schmuck who went waltzing across a parking lot while I was pumping gas at -30°F that triggered it. This is similar to the mental bifurcation that occurs upon seeing cross-country skiers with rollers on for road travel during the summer months: FFS we only have a few months can't you goddamn wait?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Recap: In Closing/Opening Notes

Here's a brief overview of the behind-the-scenes process in putting up the show... having done it already a year before at the same venue it was a bit more, uh, hang-loose attitude + non-stressful approach. But no matter how much experience one has in putting on a gig like this there's usually some degree of trepidation, and the unexpected always occurs.

Quick + Dirty: White Trash Exhibition Method®™meant not having to worry overmuch about framing and matting the pieces - a good thing since there were approximately one-hundred panels. So going for display-only presentation and non-archival materials meant for a comparatively easy - aside from one major glitch - setup.

After selecting the list of images and then compiling all the resized files into one massive PDF for printing (hat-tip to Date-Line Digital Printing as always for making me look good) I initially estimated needing at least ten sheets of foam core for mounting them: 40x60" each at $12 per. As it happened I scored on more than enough scraps from the framing department to do the job - a huge bag for the grand total of seven bucks.

After last year's experience with the panels occasionally popping off the wall when the distillery fermentation cycle jacked up the humidity, we opted for using double-sided mounting squares versus the usual user-friendly mounting. Made for a more irreversible commitment on hanging, and removal will no doubt entail some repainting after picking off the tape, but well worth it in the end for peace of mind a more durable presentation.

Not too many artists that can have almost a hundred pieces in a show, much less have them all fit in one box! After approximately six hours of prep time everything was ready to stick on the wall. There was one speed-bump thrown up in how I unfortunately picked up Elmer's brand spray adhesive: a decidedly inferior product with weak sticking power. Insanely frustrating to have corners spontaneously lift up after carefully affixing the prints onto the foamcore, which necessitated peeling it off and respraying it again. A royal pain. in. the. ass. Note to self: in the future stick with (no pun intended) 3M brand and never, NEVER use Elmers!

Also worth mentioning how important it is when doing such a project as this to have a big, well-lit and well-ventilated space to assemble the work (I utilized the classroom after-hours). Extra blades for the utility knife are an absolute must for frequently changing out along with the backing cutting board at the first sign of dullness so as to avoid any rough cuts. After spray-mounting the prints onto the foamcore and leaving enough time for the adhesive to set (in theory... grrr), I trimmed them up using a straight edge - eyeballing the cuts which is probably not recommended, but I had an extra set of prints for backup in case of any tragedy. A clean eraser + xtra fine grit sandpaper for touch-ups and the show was ready to hit the road.

In tangent with the physical preparation was a wave of promotion: nowhere near the degree of my usual media onslaught, but a few press releases and fliers posted around town (bulletin boards around campus, cafes, bookstores, post office and miscellaneous stores), and postings on social media sites and on-line event calendars, especially an official Facebook event page with continually updating teaser images and excerpts and links to backposts.

Hey, have I mentioned yet how much Elmer's spray adhesive really SUCKS?

And don't forget the hosting venue - providing them with all the fixin's is an indispensable aide for marketing the event. They created a special libation in honor of the exhibit: the "Ester Caucasian" - an absolutely scrumptious variation on the classic White Russian crafted with homemade coffee liqueur + vodka + heavy cream.

The Dude Approves

The next phase was actually putting the pieces up on the wall, which took maybe a couple of hours. It's the only time I ever get to use the ol' "ask me how's it hanging" line. Working with the unique layout of the structure presents all kinds of design opportunities, which call for impromptu tweaking, even editing of the material.

"Waka Waka Waka"

I pretty much ignored all the rules as far as ideal height of the pieces, but knowing that the fine print of some of the panels would be an issue for anybody under six-feet in height without good vision (lighting was for the most part adequate). Adapting to the limitations of the particular space is sometimes as much of a creative challenge as the work itself, oftentimes calling for artistic interpretation and changes made on the fly. And again I eyeballed hanging the panels, trusting in my  instinct for level and evenly spaced pieces - though having another critical opinion on hand is also a good idea ("nope.. higher... little more to the left" etc.).

Nice touch with the festive Xmas tree

An hour before opening I set up a small section for peddling wares, opting to leave the folding table and accompanying display materials in storage. As per the usual MO I offered a range of goods ranging in price from free (samples) to economical (cards, books + closeout tshirts) to originals, which were themselves tiered at different levels according to their degree of relative completeness (is line art, wash or color).

One of the originals transported to a new home...

And in keeping with the venue, a note on my similarly  non-traditional approach to selling the works on display: for many years I've operated on a model that many bands do with their songs and albums: pay what you want to. Just as when people contact me for a copy of whatever cartoon that ran in the paper that they are interested in having a copy of, I adopt the same MO with shows like this. The pieces themselves, intended for display-only (basically a big ad for me) are admittedly not worth that much, since they are cut to weird sizes, are not archival, and everybody knows that a color laser print only costs like a buck down at the locally-owned/independent digital copy store.

... and another adopted original from the show

This approach hinges on there being a cumulative result that will make everything (financially) worthwhile, especially the time it took putting on the show including materials. So far it's been a gamble that's payed off: I simply run a tab and have interested parties tip whatever they want for either the work on the wall and/or one of a duplicate set of prints kept on-site (made as an insurance against any mistakes made during the mounting). The premise isn't so much guilt-tripping, it's more like recognizing that for some people five bucks is like fifty or even five-hundred to someone else. Additionally in this way the establishment also sees some (potentially a lot of) money, since there wasn't any of the traditional 50% cut in sales involved here. Everybody's happy.

The general layout of the room followed a visual rhythm that roughly followed a loose pattern that depended on the particular section/within each partition synchronized with similar content. In other words, all the usual Nuggets were in one place, the sketches in another, and so on with the edits, the editorials, highlighted excerpts from the Eagle residency, the Fairbanks Sketchers stuff and the longer works like last year's 24-Hour comic and "The Big Picture/It's The little Things."

Just add people: all that was left was waiting for folks to show up, and boy did they ever... unexpectedly fantastic turnout, especially given the number of other equally fine establishments having openings around the Interior. And more than a few people traveled a relatively long way after a Friday at work, which is humbling. Seeing old friends and fans along with meeting lots of new people too makes for a really wonderful time. You'll notice a preponderance of heavy winter gear in the audience, it was -25° F, which is evidence that life goes on in the North regardless of conditions. Made enough in sales to cover the cost of materials and then some profit afterwards, which always a bonus. And as always, the real reward comes in just simply hanging out enjoying a libation in good company with art on the walls.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


The plot thickens: plotting about the plot.
It's relatively rare when everything coalesces into an end result that exemplifies what my art is about, why I do it, and does it the best that it can - meaning, the best that I can at the time. When one single image symbolizes all that and more, that's when I get a comparatively uncommon feeling of sincere satisfaction and accomplishment. It stands out in the assembly line of production, mentally bookmarked, or one for the outhouse wall or refrigerator door.

Now that's a lot of hype for a panel that in all likelihood won't actually connect with most readers. Though I thought there's just enough of a toehold with a double entendre of sorts to let it slide. Hopefully it'll give the other half of the piece a pass, which is loaded with personal symbolism. In theory that ought to be an artistic apex of intent - the best of both worlds: straddling private + public, commercial vs intimate.

This particular panel came about after a really long and intense bout of production, marked by a phase of rendering some (comparatively) complex compositions and complicated contexts. You could look at it as overkill - paying way too much attention to the drawing aspect, or maybe just having a bit too much fun with what is normally not emphasized in a cartoon. At best there's a symbiotic relationship between the image and the text: the picture and the words ought to feed off each other and in turn enhance each other to give rise to a sort of synchronicity where a gestalt meaning is created as a result.


Also, just to ratchet up the stakes, I figure if you're a cartoonist and that's pretty much all you do, if you do decide to make one for your Significant Otter, say for Xmas and/or their birthday, then it damn well better be a good one. So right up to the day before it was due I was mulling it over - then stepped up to the plate and knocked it out, BAM. Pretty rare when that happens: it was like being in a gym and warming up for weeks before grabbing the ball and sinking the winning free-throw shot at the big game.

Dam that'll hold a lot of cookies

Behind the scenes: one of the infamous cheesecakes (this recent batch was a Triple-expresso Mocha w/almond biscotti crust + a White chocolate Irish cream w/shortbread crust), Atticus the Omnipresent Editor and the new kitten Moochie B. Tiberius, my new cookie jar, the annual Kliban calendar, and all the miscellaneous accouterments of our home. Not to mention the portrayal of her passion - getting hands dirty in the soil and growing things.

Uh... "reference"

The next morning after I drew it it, and the ink had dried enough for erasing the pencil, and a quick scan, she got the line-art version, without any color or shading, because that's what she likes best about my work. Also posting here a direct scan off the print version from the newspaper for comparative purposes. The printers of the paper do a hell of a good job, and this panel was a particular nightmare to print, what with it having to be run as a 4-color process even though mostly black & white, so there's a faint off-ness, like a haloed tint to the grayscale, plus being reproduced at such a small scale it's a real challenge to maintain registration. As usual, I was ecstatic to open up my copy of the Sunday edition and see it "live." And I'm also left grateful for the venue and opportunity to showcase a momentary self-indulgence.
Now back to plotting...

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Cold Nose"

Recently I was wondering about the accuracy of the old adages about whether or not the warmth of one's pet's ears and/or nose is a reliable measurement of ailing health. Factually - at least as far as numerous surfing sessions diagnosing on the internet could ascertain - there are any number of other factors and symptoms that cumulatively indicate potential issues.

Fortunately cartoonists make lousy veterinarians, or for that matter, armchair psychologists, who project their hypochondriatic tendencies using anthropomorphism instead. Still, we're cheaper than either.

And speaking of cold, we here in the Interior are battening down the proverbial hatches in the face of a pretty deep cold snap.

Middle Tanana Valley Severe Watches & Warnings NOAA Weather Radio
Watches & Warnings
Special Statement
Issued: 2:53 PM AKST Jan. 10, 2017 – National Weather Service
... Significant cold spell coming to the interior... 

Confidence is increasing that many areas in the interior will see
40 to 50 below low temperatures by early next week. 

Temperatures will cool through Friday with lows around 30 below,
but will briefly warm up this weekend with lows around 20 below. 

Colder air from the Arctic and Canada will surge south and  
settle over the interior early next week. Temperatures will fall 
to 40 to 50 below with the coldest area being in the upper Yukon 
Flats. The middle Tanana Valley, including Fairbanks, will likely 
see lows around 40 below by Monday morning. 

The degree of cold will depend how cloudy the skies will be. 
Under mostly clear skies, temperatures will be as cold as 
forecast. However, if skies are cloudy, overnight lows will be 
warmer than what is currently forecast. 

High temperatures will not be much warmer as there is very little
solar heating to help warm the atmosphere and break the strong 
inversion that will develop. 

For the latest forecast go to to weather.Gov/Fairbanks. 

Which all brings me to this “Forecast of Faces” a medley of teaser swatches from upcoming Nuggets: Way back when I submitted my panels for the feature to the newspaper to run in January, two were specifically 30-below zero gags and another one was for -40. I had almost edited them for higher temps, even just saying "subzero" instead of specifics, but thought, nah…

And if that map graphic is to believed, the warmest place to be in Alaska by at least fifty degrees is evidently on the Pacific Ocean or the Bering Sea? But seriously, if the forecast bears out, it'll come full circle right back to the first cover for the newspaper I ever did back in 1989... the last time we bottomed out in temperatures.  
Stay warm + well folks!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Recap: Beginning Drawing/Fall 2106

"You always say that." Evidently I always say the same thing when asked about any given semester's class: "this is the best group of students ever." And yet it's somehow always true... according to the few folks I've confided in over the many years of teaching drawing - the Beginning Drawing studio course in particular.

Speaking of repeating myself: remember back in the day when this blog was supposed to be all about what it's like to teach a drawing class? Way back eight years ago now, January 15th 2009. My how things have changed - but the one constant thread throughout it all has been how much it hasn't.

So starting with the above-posted sample swatches of the final assignment (some relevant backposts + samples about the final critique from 2009 here, here and here, plus another few from 2010 here, here and here) I went through the archive and did some comparing and contrasting.

And they're right: seems every semester whenever everything starts to wind down, I make the inevitable, proud pronouncement that "this is THE BEST class EVER." And it's true.
A side-note that occurred to me while putting this post together was how I absolutely love having the technological tools at my disposal now to instantaneously review the irrefutable evidence. Used to be such an arduous task to meticulously document student works with a camera + film + slides, in days of yore.

For another prime example of consistent amazement, consider the "Image + Text" assignment and variations thereof. I've recently dropped all the pretentious terminology on the parameters of the original critique and now just simply say "draw a three page comic." Of course all the accompanying justifications and examples are still included in supporting lectures and demonstrations, because the "Vignette" is still one of my favorite segments of the semester to explore, inspire and challenge students with. 

The cresting of such a perspective - the feeling of solid satisfaction at a group's overall progress - happens especially upon review of the final portfolios or reviewing the student art show, or feedback from other faculty and staff on the amazing amount of pieces up on display in the hallways at any given time, there is a collective perspective where I am just flat-out astonished at all the works I've been privileged to participate to varying degrees in the creation of.

Observation, Experience and Imagination is still a capstone in-class exercise: call it a quiz if you like, since it's essentially an on-the-spot assessment of their skills and seeing how well they can assimilate everything they've learned (and it's also a hand-in-glove opportunity for me to remind them of the same.

The self-portraits - among the many others assembled here - in particular always stand out, as they should, since they're ostensibly the crowning accomplishment that highmarks an intense period of sustained output. The same could be said of gauging effectiveness as an instructor: it's one metric to assess one's methods and their respective value in the classroom.

Rather than just simply repeating a tried-and-true formula that works best for the largest number of students, give that they're all individuals with varying levels of skill, ability and interest, there is an overall evolution with constant and numerous tweaks to the roster of exercises and assignments. I learn, I'm tested, and I've flunked my share of lessons - the day or the semester or the class that stops happening will be the day it's time to move on to doing something else.

Figure drawing is the last section (see backposts here, here and here) addressed in the Beginning level, and as with all the other areas it's a cursory introduction at best. Not only is there a meta-purpose to jumping from different mediums, techniques, formats and subject matter in sustaining interest, but it exposes the class to a wide variety  of possibilities that is designed to hopefully entice and encourage further exploration in other courses.

There just simply isn't enough time to cover everything I'd like to and do justice to the topic, but in theory it's more like opening up a door for them to look around and return to for more detailed and focused study for another semester. Or planting a seed, even caching the knowledge and experience for them to return to later on.

One thing that also consistent is my hope that each and every one of the folks in any of my classes just stays with it. There ought to be an vague feeling of discomfort the very next day after the last class when they are out & about doing normal daily activities and they realize it's the "phantom sketchbook" phenomenon: they ought to have been well-trained by that time to never leave the house without it. And also, whenever reaching for that way to express a thought, it should also be instinctual to grab a pencil and sketch it out.

That's the way it has worked out for me, and all of my approaches and processes continue to get results on either side of the table: whether facing outward to a group, or turned inward on my own artwork.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

"Sue & Lou"

Man did I ever have too much fun with this one. In fact, it was my personal favorite of the year. Not just the usual wordplay with homonyms, but some homophones and homographs thrown into the mix as well.
The drawing itself is a thing of elegant simplicity: figurative poetry in the simplest of compositions. Honestly, with this one, I have no idea whatsoever as to where it came from: despite years of mulling about the process, sometimes the how and the why are a complete mystery even to myself. I suppose just watching with wonder at what comes out the other end of the pen is one of the primary reasons we keep on drawing them.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Recap: Eagle Residency

    Here's a follow-up to the previously mentioned (link to more information here) Bureau of Land Management Eastern Interior Artist-in-Residency program I completed back in August. It's an abbreviated post as there's a full 45-minute presentation of assorted photographs, sketches and drawings plus supplemental maps and a portfolio/sketchbook show + tell that accompanies the images. Since I'm obligated by the terms of the residency to have a public component this is a sampling for social media excerpted from that main presentation. I already got to give a test-run to the Fairbanks Watercolor Society as a special guest artist at one of their meetings, and will do so again presumably for the grand unveiling of the poster design I'm working on, which will probably happen at the Alaska Public Lands Information Center at a later date TBA.

    After a hectic and overloaded summer, what with teaching classes at both Visual Art Academy and Summer Sessions, hosting openings and putting on a major exhibition, plus back working a stint with the National Park Service ...oh and on top of it all, moving, this was a sorely needed respite from an insane schedule. So after panic packing and second-guessing supplies I jumped aboard a pickup with my official host for the 400-mile 10-hour road trip to my new digs for the last two weeks of August.
(more below the fold)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

"Dog Hitching"

One of my favorite reoccurring gigs is for the folk at Parks Highway Service & Towing 
(previous posts here, here and here). This year's design was testament to the power of spontaneous inspiration as I had basically spaced the assignment out until the last minute (one of the many reasons I have a great deal of empathy with my Beginning Drawing students, natch).

I had gentle reminder via a query as to whether I'd given it any thought, which was promptly buried under an avalanche of other stuff ("oh yeah - I'll get right on that"), and so when the time came for the "how's that going?" email I set myself up for a rush job by replying I'd have concept roughs done that night. En route to campus I camped out at the cafe with sketchbook in hand, and after a few false starts, this one came out the other end of the pen. So I gave it a quick wash + a few blobs of white-out, scanned it right before class and emailed it off for approval. The students also got to see the condensed process unfold in real-time as they were privy to each step, since I got a thumbs-up and immediately set about improving the panel's composition by penciling it out (including the detail off to the side as posted above) and then inking it in all in one sitting.  Not my normal MO but on-the-spot deadlines sometimes make for good focus under pressure as a creative catalyst.

After scanning the line art as a precautionary backup I took it home for a watercolor session, and that variation worked out better than expected, so the final piece got rescanned the next morning, and away it went. The print version in the newspaper that ran as a Nuggets was a wee bit small + muddy  - still looking awesome though - so it was a nice contrast to see it appear in a different context and sharp, crisp color (hat-tip Graphic North).