Saturday, September 30, 2017

Meanwhile, at Alaskaland

A recent commission for a local theatrical production, Meanwhile In Alaskaland:
Meanwhile, in ALASKALAND... is a themed, LIVE storytelling show and fundraiser in Fairbanks. We help bond our community through shared tales of real life in Alaska. Stories are selected in advance from our audition opportunity night or by appointment. In addition to being a fun way to spend a Friday night, you’re helping raise funds for a local charity associated with our theme.

The non-profit selected as a recipient for the month's theme of "animals in Alaska" will be Loving Companions Inc., a local animal rescue group.

Going with the theme of both storytelling + critters, my idea was for a group of regional-specific animals gathered around listening to someone with a tail. The above image is a snapshot taken after a quick concept sketch (done while on a short break at work) so as to get a thumbs paws-up from the client.

The pencil stayed fairly true to the initial doodle, with the exception of swapping out and shifting around a couple species. I personally like the fact that the cat is the only one with his back turned to the viewer, which is commonly exhibited behavior familiar to any cat-person.

A common question I'm asked when doing public demos + show & tells is how long it takes me to do a drawing, and that's always a hard one to answer as the overall process is spread out not only over time but shuffled amidst a constant flow of other projects in the proverbial pipeline. But this one happened in relative isolation, as a priority job, and I did keep an eye on the clock as it were while at least inking the piece: 20 minutes at the most (according to the iTunes soundtrack going in the background). Add to that another ten minutes for the sketch, ten minutes for the pencil and half hour scan/cleanup/shade, plus maybe around another hour spent manipulating the banner text (both my cartoony one and the group's stylized font) and upload time, the whole gig ran just over a couple hours total.

There was a slight amount of tweaking after the scan - most telling in the cat's tail over the beaver's foot, which was a domino effect following the resizing of the cat on the horizontal axis, which allowed for pulling the bird out away from behind the beaver nose (got a little cramped up compositionally at that particular point). Which demonstrate how, in the words of John Muir, it's all interconnected:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

And hey whattaya know, I'm still struggling with damned porcupines. Even after the previous couple of renderings (documented processes here and here) they still come out looking either like a mutant hedgehog or some miscellaneous and mysterious rodent. Hence the seperate study (also done while on a short break at work at The Day Job), and some playing around with on-hand office supplies (scented markers... mmm).

Sunday, September 24, 2017

"Pelts" (aka "The Beard Trapper")

Another example of comparative overkill on a cartoon: As of late I'm frequently alternating between really simple panel design (in other words, more of a traditional cartoon as far as detailed rendering) and then switching it up to a relatively complicated composition for the next one in the cue. Think of it as a sort of artistic version of doing reps, plus it's always good to have some pieces on the proverbial drawing board that require a modicum of discipline to complete.

In other words, slogging through the process when one becomes too attuned with banging out a panel in a single sitting: there's often a tightrope between ease and complacency versus frustration that it's taking too long or maybe is just too hard. In that way I tend to have a lot of empathy with my Beginning Drawing students, who confront and surmount such challenges with assigned work, and I always make sure to relate this perspective during a critique (whether one with what's up on a wall or the the more insidious inner ones with the committee.

Compare and contrast with a recent piece - "Got It" - that integrated the context of clutter as it was more central to the point the gag, as opposed to an environment, or basically a stage full of supporting props. Which are all made up: usually I don't use any photo-reference, just rely on imagination as to what a frontier mercantile would look like maybe based on latent, residual memory from pictures and/or movies.

Sometimes the longer I spend on such elaborate concoctions the more I really wonder what exactly is it that I'm doing and why. Especially when they're a little weird. And then I stop and think about all the pioneer beard trappers of yore, and how important it is to honor a small slice of history - one pelt in a patchwork of Alaskana.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Winter Guide

One of my previous panels was solicited for reprinting in the official winter guide to Fairbanks, a publication of Explore Fairbanks (the former convention + visitors association). After this “unexpected” exposure now many thousands of folks will know of the sublime inspiration we Interior artists get from seasonal affective disorder (reaches for another pint) (…of Cherry Garcia).

Also now seeing as how I’ve evidently become a posterboy for marketing Interior Alaska’s beverage industry, I’m announcing my services-for-hire as an artistic prop available for posing at any fine establishment. Serious inquiries only: please contact my agent to schedule an appearance. Sketchbook doodles sold separately. Offer not valid in Lower 48.

image: Heather Shade

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"Science: Set Yourself Apart From The Pack"

This was my remote contribution to the March For Science. Not to inject a thin veneer of politicization here with this, but in my own small way it's lighting a cartoon candle against the coming return of the dark ages in regards to science. The loud + mindless background baying of the superstitious and ignorant, versus the disciplined, contemplative pursuit of knowledge + fascination of discovery.

Gutting the EPA, censoring research, appointing climate change denialists to administration positions while abandoning other key agencies, astonishingly stupid policy reversals, ignoring experts like overruling scientists to approve pesticides linked to birth defects, etc. etc.

This piece was featured as another classroom demonstration in materials + technique. It also doubled as an example of what one can do with with a sustained, focused period of time in achieving a range of textures and experimenting with varying line weights so as to subtly emphasize foreground/midground/background layers and push depth in the picture plane. Oh yeah, and a meta-lesson in getting shit done, since more than a few folks commented on it afterward: you just did that? Yes, and so can you, or at least would do if you just did more of the ass in the chair thing. usually that's "all" it takes, and is the bare minimum that defines relative success at creating anything.

Afterwards turned it around for another demo for a different class (a lot of the time pieces get rolled over into another level for a different group of students) and cranked out a wash version on the original pen + ink. It's always a bonus to be able to put hand-in-glove with a series of panels for interrelated show & tells: I find it facilitates a faster connecting-of-dots for a meta-lesson in process.

PS: I was recently playing some Rush in the background, and one of my favorite songs came up, and this lyric stuck out since I was looking at this particular panel. "The Pass" is some powerful stuff.
The line "All of us get lost in the darkness/Dreamers learn to steer by the stars/All of us do time in the gutter/Dreamers turn to look at the cars" alludes to Oscar Wilde's "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" from his play Lady Windermere's Fan. - Wickipedia

Saturday, September 16, 2017


Once again the season changes and the recurring question about that eternal quest is on every visitor's mind: "Where can we see animals Denali the pipeline the bus the aurora?" Sometimes I let folks in on our little secret here in the Interior - on the scale of 0-9, the forecast for aurora activity secretly goes up to ten: that's when they're so thick out that you'll need to use your windshield wipers if you're driving. And not only can you hear it, like lotsa people swear to be true, at that level of intensity you can actually smell them too (slightly mentholated, like you spilled Rumple Minze on your parka).

But seriously, depending on who's asking, the answer might be "They're going on right now: they're all around us" or "At my age, drink a lot of water right before bed - you'll be up all night pissing off the porch" or (points up into the sky) or simply, "Just stay. Up. All. Night."

Concept doodle for “Spin-the-ranger”: Getting’ haggard on the front lines with tourist queries

Sunday, September 10, 2017


You never have to leave your own little patch of ground to get ideas. Not to mention many times they're right in front of your face, or in this case, on your face.

Worth noting here on this particular panel an aspect of inking that I do so dearly love: first, there’s two stages in the tactile qualities of drawing: the physicality of the act and sensations (sight, sound and scent). Then there’s the satisfaction inherent with the finished object, which you wouldn't normally think of with a printed image. Running ones fingertips across the raised line of the more thicker brands of dried (that's important natch) India inks that sit up on top of the paper is a lingering caress in fond remembrance of the creative act.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

"The Spawning Run"

Actually spaced out in the middle of the supermarket while waiting for some deli goods and daydreamed this panel up ("Sir? SIR? DO YOU NEED HELP?").
You'll notice a lot of messups in the scan of the original: that's partly on account of it being done in a sketchbook (as opposed to taping up a Bristol on the board at the studio) so I wasn't really caring all that much - just getting the idea down was the main point. But with some digital tweaks it eventually got wrangled into a publishable state. I'm rather proud of the salmon steaks, though the jury's still out on whether or not indicating some sort of transparent wrap would have tipped the, ah, scales into overkill on details that don't particularly matter. Even the caption underwent some major editing - somewhere along the continuum there's a balance between verbosity and brevity. Like many a blog post.