Finding the middle by starting at the ends

This is a series of drawings I recently did for a presentation about the extremes I’ve experienced in my life. They’re all drawn right in my sketchbook with ink and brush. Each is about 7″x10.” The stories are beneath each drawing.

page12When I was two, my parents found me walking on the foundation of our new house before it was built. My mother had to carefully talk me down. I’ve always imagined this image as symbolic for my life. Being willing to walk up to the ledge and look out. Strangely I’ve always been scared of heights.

page7This image describes a comforting ritual I have when I go swimming. I spend as much time underwater as I can. I think it’s a desire to return to the womb sometimes during my busy life. I come up long enough for a breath and then dive to the bottom over and over.

page2

I plug my ears in the shower sometimes and close my eyes for the thunderous sound and warmth of the water to quiet my overstimulated nervous system. Also womblike.

page13

Ever since I can remember, I’ve enjoyed sleeping while someone is vacuuming in the next room. It’s partly because it’s nice not to have to be doing chores, but also because it’s such a nice sound. 

page14

This is the opposite of calm, where I fell on my shoulder and neck during an unfortunate backscratcher attempted while skiing off a jump. I caught my tips I think.

page21This image describes a moment when I was trying to rewire the electric box for my kiln. Two 220 wires touched together and exploded like a gun shot. It terrified me. I took a shot of gin and carefully replaced the wires back in their sockets. I’d thought I’d turned off the main power, but I had not. This is why I draw now. Probably the closest to death I’ve come since the wires were so close to my fingers that my forefinger had smoke on it. yikes!

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You Gotta Ask Your Heart

This is a series of images, the first seven out of seventy-five that are intended to accompany a song I’ve written, not so much as a music video in comics, but more of a live performance accompanied by projected drawings. I’ll put up the video when it’s done. What I’m excited by is the desire to work with two tones of wash directly on cold press Arches watercolor paper. Again finding I miss the old methods a little, simplifying my process. Each image is only 5×7 and so the sum makes a lovely little stack of originals that I’d like to enclose in a hand made box upon finishing. I’ll also make reproductions into a book hopefully. But for now, here’s a peek at what I’ve gotten scanned. I’ll put some more up soon. I tried to scan them so the torn edges of the paper would show so as to maintain some of the analog feel of a book despite the finals being projected. I’m also thinking of shuffling through them by hand on video so it shows the tactility of the paper more while it is accompanied by the song. I’ll attach that later once I’ve made the mp3. I’m still mixing it down. The song is called, You Gotta Ask Your Heart.

 

page 1 (Ask Your Heart)

page 2 (Ask Your Heart)page 3 (Ask Your Heart)page 4 (Ask Your Heart)page 5 (Ask Your Heart)page 6 (Ask Your Heart)page 7 (Ask Your Heart)

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Getting Home

"home""home"My most recent comic project. I’m doing what I can to develop a series of short stories during the time constraints of grad school and going to baby birthing classes. This, I hope is the first of many. Keep an eye out. This is also the first autobio comic I’ve tried, though the guy doesn’t look like me, this really happened. I was the biker and I’m not proud of my reaction. It’s a real conundrum what to do about the feeling that, as a biker, sitting at a red light feels ridiculous when there are no cars, and yet it also seems ridiculous when a driver so righteously yells at a biker as if it’s going to help. Paradox seems ripe for comics. I mean for this piece to be read slowly, and I hope the pacing helps with that. It’s like a mini parable.

Enjoy!

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Take it slow.

turtle_baby_72dpiSo here’s the updated, finished piece I made for Dana as a birthday gift since we’re having a baby in April. The piece is based on the sketch from my last post. It’s on thick Rives BFK printing paper 8.5 x 11 painted with ink and watercolor. No digital color. This piece needed to exist as an object in a frame and the paper really holds its own. It felt good to work this way again. Check out Joseph Lambert’s fantastic comic Turtle Keep it Steady, that appeared in this years Best of American Comics 2008, ed linda Barry. Joe’s comics was Part of my inspiration for this piece. Thanks for sending the comic, Joe, she loved it!

Since this might be the final post of the year, I might have to wax a little philosophical. It has been a tremendous experience to begin returning to illustration in this way from my former focus on ceramics. The link between the two eras is the drawing since I used to illustrate most of my ceramics. My love of objects still holds, however, and my suspicion is that I’m transferring that love to the form of the book. This doesn’t suggest I’m dying to become a book artist, instead, I see the final destination of my work mainly in book form, most likely contracted out. This could be really small runs or hand made books, still, but I suspect I won’t be making them myself. This also could be how I returned to ceramics someday, finding a way to design objects for a separate maker.

As the new year begins, I will be experimenting like crazy. I will probably be able to post once or maybe even two times a week again as I expect there will be many more drawings to share. If you read my last post, I’m entering an experimental phase in my process, and leaving some of the book research behind (as soon as I finish my theoretical paper on Chris Ware’s comics, that I’ll post sometime in February). So I look forward to sharing that much more with you and hearing all the great input from you, my wonderful readers! 

Happy Holidays!

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From Get to Go. How I work.

babyHere’s a summary of my working process. It’s a bit long, but definitely true to the way I work. I wrote it for a graduate seminar and felt nice about its clarity and thought I’d share it. The image above is a recent illustration I made for Dana and our new baby due in April. Enjoy!

From Get to Go.

 

            I used to believe ideas represented the key achievement of the artist, but I’ve grown to understand that ideas merely inspired me to become an artist. From there, I have had to learn how to realize them and follow through. Nevertheless, it is important to continue to nurture the soil in which ideas take root, and make notes of them when they do.

            Ideas originate from every aspect of my life and so I try to remain alert. Very often ideas begin to form, but other things distract me and I don’t take the time to allow them to really blossom. I’ve had to change my lifestyle in order to more easily accommodate ideas. This means I try to choose occupations that allow me to take a break whenever necessary to jot something down or get outside and take a walk when I feel something brewing.  I keep a notebook in my pocket and then later I try to transfer ideas to my sketchbook. After I finish a sketchbook, I go through it and transfer any unfinished ideas into a word document where I can reference the list at random when I want to start a project. I also keep a notebook next to my bed to record my dreams. I’ve begun to pay closer attention to my diet, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and trying to exercise more because this leads to deeper sleep and more dreams. I have filled many notebooks with dreams now; I will never be able to turn them all into art projects. But I know, whenever I need it, inspiration is waiting for me there. Besides, this practice of noticing dreams helps me build the subconscious muscles that recognize ideas when they occur in the middle of my day.

            There are two ways I approach art making. Sometimes, I approach it simply as a practice where I begin making something without much of a plan. It is important that I sit and draw for a few hours here and there in order to keep my eyes able to see things clearly and accurately. This helps me be able to remember how to draw something even when I’m not looking. While making comics, this is especially important since certain characters and scenes need to be seen from many different angles and perspectives. If I’m not drawing often, it is a certain kind of torture to try to compose many frames on a page; I must sketch twice as many options for myself before I can settle on something. Even then, it often looks and feels stiffer than if I can picture it while I’m putting it down. This place where I picture an image is also like the dreaming mind, so I am very conscious of the need to nurture it as well.

            The second way I approach art making is to begin with a very specific idea from my sketchbooks and journals and build a plan. The plan requires inquiry, research, and goal setting before I am able to complete it.

            Inquiry involves asking myself some very practical questions. These are the kind of questions that are intended to prevent me from starting in on a project that I’m not in a good position to complete. With that said, I am a risk taker and tend to bite off more than I can chew. I believe it’s important not to be too practical at the outset, so I usually don’t ask these questions too militantly when I’m just starting out, but they do occur to me as I move along. I ask myself about the internal truth of the project, the economics of the project, and my intended audience.

            The most important factor of beginning a project is whether I feel the truth in it. This is how I am able to decide whether to take financial and emotional risks when going forward. This decision involves playing around with the idea in the form of sketches and imaginings. Often while a project is tumbling around in my head, I will notice whether I’m drawn to ideas similar to it at bookstores, on television, in movies, or in galleries or stores. If I am, I can tell I’m hooked. Still going forward with my project doesn’t always lead to a great final result, but I can tell it was important for me to understand something about what I was working on. Sometimes, I have ideas that I can tell are great, but are not appropriate for the time in my life. These ideas include studying magic so I can learn to make myself disappear; studying realist painting in Florence so I can apply it to illustrations a la John Currin; becoming a Buddhist seminary student so I can teach art and meditation; and building a boat. During graduate school these ideas aren’t practical, but they do make it onto the list.  Right now, however making a comic book is extraordinarily exciting, because I can travel in its stories and include my dreams and artistic ideas in its plot points. The format of it bridges the art world and the world of products in a satisfying way, and therefore helps me feel like I’m participating in many of my favorite sources for inspiration at once.

            For the sake of my own ability to make a living as an artist—which I’ve decided over many years of working in different areas is important to me, and might be contrary to how the artist in general is perceived—I have to ask myself whether the project I’m making is going to make me any money. Note, this does not always prevent me from starting something, but I’ve found it often prevents me from easily being able to finish it! It’s not a rule I plan to create for myself either, as I’m always interested in what possibilities might exist in going ahead and pursuing an artistic idea despite its impracticalities. In fact, I think being impractical is part of the job of an artist, due to the potential wellspring of inspiration that exists off the beaten path. So, the economics of a project is something of a paradox. For me to know how to weigh the financial risks of a project, I have to ask myself whether I could truly devote myself to it as I described above. If I can, I will do what it takes to find the money to make it, and hopefully make some money from it (either directly or by building my name). In the past, I’ve gotten into a great deal of debt trying this. Lately, I’m trying to see if there are other ways to make art then going deep into debt while waiting for some kind of abstract payback in my future. What I enjoy is a blend of applied artwork—along the lines of illustration or retail products such as pottery provided—with gallery or installation work. Generally I find that the sales of smaller items now will inspire me later to plan and execute larger pieces. The products act as a kind of sketchbook I can sell, and so the financial strain doesn’t undercut my artistic process.

            Finally, I begin to ask myself about the audience for my intended result. Ultimately, I make work with the overly presumptuous goal of helping humanity evolve. Obviously, I imagine my contribution to be of appropriate scale, but evolution is my starting point. In that sense, making art is not unlike marketing. Part of my interest in making a book is its enormous outreach were it to become a best-seller. The paradox here is that I also have to create the work with a personal intention to grow as a citizen myself, and learn to build the kind of generosity of spirit that I hope to inspire in others. Luckily, the act of making art inevitably shows me this. Finishing a project is rarely as wonderful as imagining the initial idea. By the time a piece is realized, it is essentially given away. This does not mean it will be uninspiring to others, but my own finished work is not ultimately where I find my inspiration. Instead, it is how I pass inspiration along. Passing it along can be somewhat saddening, but it is the part of the process that teaches me the most about myself. Even if it gets great recognition, and I am well received for it, nothing beats the feeling of starting on a new idea.

            Finishing a piece is a relatively straightforward process. I begin by experimenting at making small things I can finish within a reasonable timeframe. In comics, this has meant making a ten-page piece that allows me to build a system that combines my knowledge of wet media with digital media so that my result is a reasonable and efficient balance between my handwork and technology. In the case of making a graphic novel, the final product must negotiate mass production without losing its initial status as the work of an individual artist. I must research printing, publishing, and publicizing in order to know what will be worth my time and effort. In the meantime, I am also researching the critical field in order to feel like I understand what has come before me and I am able to learn to clarify my ideas if the work succeeds and I am asked to speak about it. I ask for help at this point in the process. I look for mentors in academics and the art community in order to build a sense of what I’m up against and how I’m going to attempt to be unique while I navigate my project. This is one of the most important aspects of making work, and I have not done enough of it in the past. Today I’m finding that when I reach out with a strong intention of passing my inspiration onward, I find an enormous amount of generosity in my mentors.  

            Finally, once I’ve spotlighted as many potential obstacles as I can foresee, I create a timeline for myself and set some goals to complete the project at large. I will set a future date usually by choosing a show or exhibition I would like to submit to, then make more general goals along the way. At the beginning of every week, I will make a micro calendar so that I can reasonably hope to fit real creative time into days that are inevitably filled with other obligations. I find I work best creatively in the morning, and build my calendar accordingly if I can. I also find that unless I work at least an hour and a half, I rarely find my groove.

            During this highly scheduled time, it is very important I leave room for exercise, meditation, rest, socializing, and planning a good menu for the week. I have often been surprised by how time spent exercising and sleeping is often not a compromise of my time spent working, but it prevents anxiety and self-doubt from being such large factors of my studio time. I have a certain bodily wisdom that buffers these emotional obstacles when I am feeling healthy.

            As my deadline nears, I usually have to edit my original goals since it is rare that I’ve allowed enough time to complete everything I’d planned. Instead of this being a letdown, I’ve begun to see it as a necessary and exhilarating chance to focus the work since I understand it better than at the beginning. The last weeks and days of meeting a deadline are the most difficult, but I try to keep the format of my weekly planning and will often work a few nights longer than usual, but an appropriate amount of adrenaline helps me with this. I might exercise less, and sleep less, but not by too many hours, so I don’t feel exhausted. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine is recently proving to be especially important at these times, but I need to have a good support system in friends and family to make it through.

            

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The Big Pond

Well, today I visited the Alternative Press Expo, lovingly called APE, for the first time. As my wife put it, I was suddenly in the big pond, and I was most definitely the small fish. When I first walked in, I was a little shaky. Almost like I wanted to turn around and walk out. There weren’t that many people there, yet, and I felt like I couldn’t blend in enough and remain invisible. People were still too eager sitting behind their tables wondering if the day would prove to be a successful day of marketing, sharing, and networking. I promised myself I wouldn’t stop at any table yet, I would just walk around looking at them all. After doing this for about an hour, I stumbled upon the limited edition book put out by Dice Tsutsumi of the Totoro Forest project organized to raise money for a foundation in Tokyo to save a Janpanese forest. All the contibutors donated their work and over $200,000 was raised. They were mostly animators inspired by Hayao Miyazaki, many working at Pixar now. My favorites are Peter Nguyen and Andrea Blasich, but there are many artists on the website to peruse.

I also purchased the new Best American Comics edited by Lynda Barry. I managed to also get Eric Haven’s, Jaime Hernandez, and Matt Groening’s signatures in the edition! What a treat. I bought the Summer 2007 edition of MOME, a quarterly put out by Fantagraphics in Seattle, that featured Jonathan Bennet, a gentle, sophisticated Brooklyn illustrator and Designer whose understated brilliance was apparent in his signature. Perhaps I’ll scan it for everyone to see how adorable his drawing was. It’s fun getting signatures of comic book  artists because they do drawings…

I listened to a great panel given by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden about their new textbook,  Drawing Words, Writing Pictures. It was an inspiring discussion about how to teach the making of comics at the college level. Something I would love to teach someday. 

My two favorite conversations were with Reynold Kissling, a kid just out of his BFA at MCAD in Minneapolis with his book Kingwood Himself (the cover’s pictured above). The girl character is fantastic, and his environments are really inspiring. He said he spent a year just working on environments. It really shows. The places this girl goes are fantastic. He’ll go far and he was willing to trade his mini anthology for a mini copy of Sydney Arthur. Then my conversation with Ken Dahl (that’s really his name, I think!) was great. He just finished up a fellowship at the Center for Cartoon studies and won an Ignatz award for his first two mini comics Monsters. He’s been picked up by a publisher and will be diving into the rest of the book soon after his move back to Hawaii. 

I could go on and on, but mainly what I learned is this is a great physical place to promote comics and illustration careers in an indy, but doable way. I could see really getting a start this way. I’m definitely going to get a table next year and sell something. We’ll just have to see what’s finished by then. I think I’m also better off serializing the graphic novel instead of trying to finish it as a complete book. That way, I could potentially get picked up by a publisher before it’s done and would spend less on printing in the mean time and create beautiful collectible smaller books. There were many great examples of that today. 

Overall, I was overwhelmed. I was in a state of panic after just an hour there and had to calm down on the phone with my wife who helped me come up with a game plan for how to get through the day. I was surrounded by people I was dying to know, and yet I was terrified to get to know them. I felt clumsy trying to trade or compare myself in any way to them, but managed to have more good encounters than not. The bad ones were merely awkward. I can handle that. 

I spent a lot of money on new books, but I think I’ll be glad I did. As my friend Roger told me when I called him for moral support, I need to begin investing in collecting so that I feel like I’m participating in the community that exists out there. Instead of rising above it, I’m diving in…

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Casting Call

First real drawing in a while. This is the latest line up of characters for the new issue of Sydney Arthur. You can see the mother in there (Jane) from some earlier sketches. This was a blast to create. I inked it large as a 20×14 drawing and then took a photo of it and converted it to a live trace document in Illustrator. Glad to have a little visual reference while I keep writing the story longhand. 

Had a midterm review today and felt satisfied that I’m at least heading in the right direction. It’s a fantastic process, but so multi-layered trying to write a book that I will also create visuals for. The whole finished project seems so far away and so close at the same time. I know I can do it, it’s just a matter of how soon. I’ve applied to have a table at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco next fall. I’m going to fly out Oct 31st for a glimpse at this year’s. I’m extremely excited about the prospect of self-publishing a mini-comic that can serve as an excerpt for next years book that I will show. Hopefully I’ll have something to hand around this year when I visit.

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