Friday, September 13, 2013

Good Points, Green Arrow

I recently picked up some stellar drawing advice from the Shouting from the Basement, blog of Green Arrow comics artist and writer, Ande Parks. 

Inking Made Easy

Here, in my semi-humble opinion, is what makes good comic book inking, in five not-so-easy steps:
  1. Draw, don't trace. You don't have to be Frazetta, but you have to know what the forms are and how to contribute to them. Always.
  2. Make confident lines. We don't want to see you tentatively feeling your way around. Make every line like you know it's the right line.
  3. Vary line weights. If all your line weights are the same the work will be flat. Fat, bold lines next to razor thin lines makes stuff POP.
  4. Texture. Develop & consistently apply visual shorthand for textures. Complex or simple, they must be convincing. Wood, steel, cloth, etc.
  5. Saved the most important for last. Help tell the story! Spot blacks. Separate visual planes. Keep things clear. Story > pretty lines.
There. Now you can all go be brilliant inkers and take all the jobs. I don't care anymore. I'm a writer! #alleged

I think DC Comics may want him around for a while yet.

Good points, all, I think as I feel my way tentatively through the shape of an ocelot. What is "visual shorthand" for ocelot fur?

As Ande later clarifies, none of this is easy. I think I struggle especially with #3, varying light weights. And visual shorthand for the world's textures . . . That sounds like years of craft. It's clear that this advice nods to a grand tradition of comic book inking, but there's something here for everyone, something most illustrators have thought many times but perhaps never spelled out. That's why he's a writer, too.

Another inaccuracy: of course, we do, we do need to be Frazetta. That's why we're reading blogs about drawing. But we can be patient.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Catlin's Buffalo: What's Wrong?

My third and final piece for the 2014 Buffalo Exchange art show draws on the rich sense of art history, by which I mean a few pieces of classic artwork that turned up in my Google image search history. I search for buffalo model photos online often enough that a few masterpieces turn up in the mix just as a result of statistical probability. One of these was George Catlin's 1845 buffalo painting. 

Why the slightly cross-eyed blend of fury and bewilderment in those very human eyes? These were some of my possible explanations.
The buffalo has dropped its knitting.
The buffalo has been caught cheating at chess.
The buffalo treads on cell phone in frustration.
The buffalo can hear cellphone ringing but cannot find it.
The buffalo has left its oven on.
The buffalo abandons its kite to the prairie wind in a moment of distraction.
The buffalo is displeased with its recent haircut as it views it reflected in a lake.
The buffalo treads on reading glasses of an inappropriate caliber (show glasses rack nearby).
The buffalo struggles to operate a universal remote control.
The buffalo realizes that it has called someone the wrong name in a recent conversation.
My ideas were becoming increasingly difficult to illustrate. Then my friend Shawn suggested human hands. The visual awkwardness that resulted surprised me, partly because I hadn't realized how slender buffalo ankles are, how surprisingly wrist-like. To any other creature, opposable digits would be a blessing. The buffalo, who really only needs to pound the earth with a hard-ended stump, can now only knead the tufts of grass with unusual dexterity. I guess that he might scrape together a living playing piano in a nearby saloon.

I added the coffee pot and mugs for color*. Possibly the coffee inside the pot is transforming the buffalo into a human, hands first. Alternate explanations are welcome.

*A recent study has shown that people are more satisfied drinking hot chocolate from orange coffee mugs than from mugs of any other color. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Buffalo Building

My recent Hipster Buffalo drawing was the first part of a three-part installation for Buffalo Exchange Colorado. The other two pieces are open-ended, topicwise. After I set down the Hipster, I commenced flailing around for subject matter for the second piece. This one arrived from a bad pun, some combination of "Buffalo Bill" with my mental image of the Buffalo Exchange store in its new location on Broadway in central Denver, which I have never had the pleasure of seeing in person, so it remains an object of surrealism for me.

If any work of art inspired the subject matter, it is probably the giant tiger roaming New York in Jonathan Lethem's novel Chronic City. Not to worry; the tiger doesn't really affect the story in any substantial way. Whatever anybody says, comparisons to Catbus from Hayao Miyazaki's animated film My Neighbor Totoro happened only after I had finished the drawing and began showing it to savvier anime consumers.

I can't help but wonder whether Catbus, in Japanese, is also a bad pun that gets funnier beside the word for Pop Tarts. 

I wish that Miyazaki could design my breakfast and commute to work. For my ideal workplace, see two pictures above.

Stylistically, I've been feeding on a steady diet of fluid line drawings of Killian Eng, Adrian Tomine (featured this month in Drawn and Quarterly!), Malachi Ward, and most dominantly, the poster wizardry of Jay Ryan.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Assignment: Draw a Hipster Buffalo

I began a draft of this project years ago when I was living in central Denver, a region that naturally keeps its finger on the pulse of Buffalo hipsterdom.

This was really more of an emo buffalo. My grasp of hipsterdom during the making of this sketch was as tenuous as it is now. Where was I going with that spiked wrist cuff? This never quite blossomed into a finished piece, but Buffalo Exchange fished it from the archives a few months ago and suggested I put a bow on it. I was overjoyed, but my zeal was soon tempered by the realization that hipsterdom of all kinds might have been redefined during the period between drafts. I decided to crowd-source my research on Facebook. 

Some comments have been censored due to requests for buffalo nudity. From this thread, I gleaned that a fixed-gear bike would be an unavoidable accessory.

Try though I might, I knew I wasn't going to find a photo of a buffalo riding a fixed-gear bike on any Flickr album to serve as a model. Forming my mental sketch of a buffalo's anatomy and wrapping it around a bike was no small feat. If I've eaten a good breakfast, sometimes I can draw an animal from memory based on my loose knowledge of biology and a general instinct for when this femur or that antler looks right, but the combination seemed hopelessly improbable. I wish him luck with reaching the pedal on the hidden side.

I wanted to make it look natural. Not only natural, but elegant in the way that hipsters are elegant while engaging the absurdest postures, festooning themselves carelessly over their environment. After a dangerous amount of pensive lip biting, this is where I arrived.

The buffalo's figure was itself a challenge. I wanted to work in some classic hipster anatomy, including a serpentine torso that somehow narrows as it approaches the neck, regardless of gender, as do the arms. Unfortunately, a buffalo of these proportions would scarcely be recognizable. 

I decided to make a minimalist of him in the end, partly for the sake of keeping his species obvious around the clothing and accessories. Besides, what in the past five years is more enduringly hip than a deep-V worn with chest hair blousing out of it? And if there's one thing that buffalos have in abundance, it's tufts wooly chest curls.

I'd like to thank Urban Outfitters, which served as a failsafe resource for cross-referencing styles. Someone in the comments identified this kind of hat as a "watch cap," not to be confused with your common beanie. 

I should add that I eagerly await the correctional comments from people who are absolutely not hipsters, but know one when they see one. Kind of like me.

Here he comes, pedaling his way down Riverfront Park to graze the farmer's market. Someone alert The Sartorialist.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November Valentine

I am now thoroughly enough transplanted to North Carolina that I know the artificial origins of the rampant vine, kudzu, and that this sculpture

represents the Moravian ritual of Candletea, and not the locals' extreme fondness for countertop percolators. I have observed an authentic Candletea, by the by, and it doesn't disappoint. Nor do countertop percolators.

A few strings still tie my heart to Denver, though, one of which leads directly to some sweater on the racks of Buffalo Exchange on Broadway, the source of many of my favorite freelance jobs and, at one point, at least 10% of my wardrobe. The original request asked that I work up a line drawing in the style of the cover art to the Byrds' country-rock album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

I should now describe a process of listening through the album as I sketched, injecting its harmonic essence into the line motion, etc. I gave that approach a shot. In this album, the Byrds made an excursion (excursed?) into country-rock when the band was overtaken by the piano stylings of a 21-yr-old Gram Parsons. I wanted to like the music, but couldn't, so I put on some Veronica Falls instead. I'm not sure how much my client enjoyed the Byrds album, but I think we agree in our appreciation of its cover art, which looks like an old poster for some kind of variety roadshow starring Mark Twain and George Washington Cable as The Genius Twins. Upon closer examination, it appears to be a catalog of some kind, describing riding tackle. 

Todd of BuffEx liked the inset divisions from some of my Black Wolf illustrations and requested some similar insets for this piece. Those insets were plain and circular, so that's the direction I went in my initial drafts.

You may notice the omission of the gun in the hand of the cowgirl in the lower-left of my first sketch. I threw this as a lark because I like the notion of brassy frontierswomen, maybe with an ongoing rivalry with a garden-invading groundhog. After some discussion, though, we agreed to leave our models unarmed, however, in light of the recent Aurora theater shooting. Our heart-shaped collaborations have been adventurous in the past.

It sounds like sensitivity to gun imagery is hightened now in Denver; the shootings bruised deeper tissue than I realized.

Initially, I cut back on the flora a good deal to show more of the buffalo lurking behind the inset, and also to keep things just a hair to the left of gender-neutral. BuffEx sells boy's clothes and girl's clothes, though sometimes the two are indistinguishable. I also opted for a circle instead of a heart.

But hearts and flowers, it turned out, were part of Todd's vision, and I think they worked well in the end. Hey, flowers were good enough for Gram Parsons.

I have omitted from this blog post a draft that showed a different version of the flower heart. The other version showed flowers with rounder petals that looked great up close, but from a distance, some felt (not unjustifiably) resembled a large intestine.

To Denver, and to my friends there whom I do miss, I say thanks. Gunplay or no gunplay, you have a place in my heart. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

10% Rich Black and the Peppermint Glacier

Black Wolf of the Glacier is about an almost black wolf. If Romeo the wolf were a sweater in a J.Crew catalog, he might be called "espresso." Colors eyedropped from a photo of Romeo revealed saturation levels ranging from 8 to 42%. While I didn't have an eydropping tool while I was mixing my wash colors, I tried to keep this in mind. On the cover, Romeo will be charcoal colored with 10% saturation.

Of course, part of me thinks: mythology doesn't give a rat's hindquarters about your point samples. An archetype is an archetype; he should have been licorice-flavored, a wolfish essence of a sumi-e ink drawing. 

In the end, though, my reasoning became practical; several of the author's illustration descriptions called for more detail than a silhouette, which is what Romeo might have become had he been much darker. I had to create internal contrast somehow. I chose to use a little bit of brown color rather than including solid whites.

Romeo had to be a blend of colors for visibility's sake, but most of my color choices were not based on realism. I wanted Romeo's book to have a sharp, crisp wintery feel, like something between a candy cane and a stick of wintermint gum. For that reason, I limited the palette to a range of glacial blues and crimsons. I keep returning to this habit of color restriction that arises from the practical limits of screen printing.

As I discussed in earlier posts, I drew most of these illustrations with my Wacom tablet, then printed to watercolor paper, then painted, scanned, and edited again. My sample illustration (pages 4-5) carries a softer feel, perhaps because I spent less time on the  drawing process for this piece than on any other. My drawing and painting stages for this page followed one another immediately, rather than occurring as separate processes. I think this actually resulted in a stronger piece, partly because when I draw first as a separate stage, I feel a responsibility to define everything with a kind of over-diligence, not trusting or leaving any shapes to the paint for fear that I would forget to include them. In future projects, I think I may let the drawing and painting compliment one another more naturally.

Another process division technique I devised proved more successful; I mixed and painted all my blues into all 30 pages as one step, then mixed and painted my crimsons. The negative space is white. Red, white and blue. Happy 4th of July.


2 - 3

4 - 5

6 - 7

8 - 9

10 - 11

12 - 13

14 - 15

16 - 17

18 -19

20 - 21

22 -23

24 - 25

26 - 27

28 - 29


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Black Wolf: Layout Sketches and Resurrection

Sometimes I wonder how the pictures alone would work as a story.

Of course, pages 4-5 give away the aesthetic ending. These are the wordless layout sketches for Black Wolf of the Glacier, which will shortly be printed on watercolor paper and painted in an aqueous wash. The first page will most likely compose the cover art. I have tried to maintain consistent appearance of the characters throughout the story. The girl and her dog now have names compliments of Deb Vanasse: Shawna and Buddy, respectively.

Black Wolf is a story of the rich life, death, and incomplete resurrection of a wolf in the form of an audio tape of Romeo howling, perched on a rock near the edge of Mendenhall Glacier. When the watercolors arrive, I might convey the howling sound somehow using emitting shapes in all the negative space surrounding the moon. Or perhaps I'll just leave it negative; maybe that's what a howl sounds like, anyway: an empty sky.
Drawing about rebirth in the spring almost feels too appropriate. 

In my last entry, I mentioned the loss of my older Wacom drawing tablet, an Intuos3 with an abused power cord connection. Uncannily, that too is now back from the dead, and in better form than before due to some brilliant repairwork on the part of Tucker Kopf at Hatch Early Learning's technical support department, who also styles himself "Norse God of Technology." Where previously I had no drawing tablets, now I have two, and I don't know how to cope with the luxury of it, or how to evaluate which to use. One is compact, wireless, and prettily programmable. The other is generously sized and familiar. Sometimes switching tablets refreshes my lines, like a new shampoo. But it is lovely to see my old tablet rekindled when I had been so reconciled to its fate, leaning against the wall on the floor in a cold, empty hallway. Now its little blue LED is alive again and shining. Romeo and my Wacom live on in different forms of glory.

In other good news, Lucy's Dance was listed as required reading for the Alaskan Battle of the Books.
Children of Alaska, I wish you a merry warfare.