Monday, February 28, 2011

The Lost Thing

I first heard about this a couple of years ago when I first heard of Shaun Tan, the amazing Children's book illustrator. The book was impossible to find for a reasonable price, since it was long out of print, but I was looking forward to the short. Now it's online, and has apparently won the Academy Award for best short.

Click here to see the short.

The books back in print and you can get it:


Or a collection of three long out of print Tan books:


I also very much recommend his book, The Arrival.

Haven't been posting much, but I will soon, as I make more progress on the three illustrations I'm working on at the moment. I'll likely have more tomorrow.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mouse In a Top Hat

This is part of a multi-figure--or at least, animal--composition. This is a mouse coachman, with a top hat and this sort of cape thing coachman used to wear.

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I had posted some figure drawings from last wednesday, but wasn't happy with them and have since deleted the post. RIght now I have a few illustrations in progress, and I'm glad to get back to narrative images after the straight dry brush studies I did for my show (which is up at the Pence right now, by the way). I intend to incorporate some dry brush in this new spate of illustrations in the hopes of achieving a more painted look. We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

CORRECTION: The Reception for My Show is on March 11th!!

According to the website:

Paper Work: Art by Jed Alexander, Laura Morton, and Marilyn Judson
Feburary 22- March 20, 2011; Reception March 11, 6- 9 PM

This exhibit features work on paper by artists Laura Morton, Jed Alexander, and Marilyn Judson. Morton's etchings and striking collages take as their subject plant and animal life. Jed Alexander's dry brush work exemplifies his skill at conveying animals and other objects in an expressive and humorous manner. Judson creates scenes of delicate beauty as she engineers her paper sculptures to display floral and insect studies. Check this exhibit out in the Learning Center, upstairs at the Pence!

Sorry about the confusion! I got the Date of the show confused with the date of the opening. Hopefully this clears things up!

How I make Things, Why We Make Things, and Why It's Essential For Us to Make

Here it is, the infamous, "artist's statement" for my upcoming show. Too much?

Observation in Mannerism and Expressionism: Beyond the Natural Record or How I make Things, Why We Make Things, and Why It's Essential For Us to Make Things

I work in dry brush, which is a technique that involves painting or drawing with more pigment than water on the brush, causing the pigment to pick up the texture of the paper, giving the marks a roughened look, or a scumbled effect. Or, with a little more but still less water than you would use in a traditional wet media technique, I use the brush to make a series of parallel hatch marks to build up texture and give form to the image.

In all of my work there is an illusion of space, whether it's a study from nature or from my imagination, it's a representation of something. If from nature, to achieve this I use as many photos of the subject as I can to gain an understanding of its anatomy and appearance in the round. I don't use any single photo for reference unless I've taken the photo myself, but generally I try to reinvent the subject from these multiple sources to generate a unique image that is not simply executed from a single two-dimensional image.

The foundation of all my images is contour. Though some of my images allude to a light source, in others I use marks almost as you would a sculpting medium, using surface texture to describe form without regard to a light source. My inspiration for this method is Chinese brush painting, Japanese woodblock painting, and classic Western engraving and lithography techniques, particularly those of Ernst Haeckel.

Haeckel's studies from nature have an intricate complexity that is both keenly observant, and uniquely stylized. This classic method of rendering was common in the mid 1800s, with its roots in the paintings of Durer and some of the earliest depictions of natural phenomena that long predate photography. The earliest depictions of the natural world were heavily mannered, reflective of the prejudices and fashions of their time. It was through this prism of mannerism that the natural world was reflected, and despite what we might imagine, our world view continues to be affected by the contemporary mannerism in modern film and photography. For example: the way a subject is isolated and composed in a textbook, or the way a nature film is edited, all contribute to a mannered and less than purely objective view of nature. Scientists and naturalists have never been the cold and dispassionate observers that they have long been depicted to be, but offer the world their own unique, and imaginative impressions. In all depictions of nature there is always invention, reflecting both a contemporary world view and the individual observer's imagination.

Though classic Eastern painting doesn't rely on the Western/European tradition of perspective and chiaroscuro, it too has been keenly observant of nature in its own way. There has, and still occasionally is a misapprehension that, because traditional Eastern artists were not schooled in these Western techniques, their approach is somehow naïve, but Eastern art was no more naïve in its mannerism than its Western counterpart. Eastern art simply used a different vocabulary of symbols to describe and record the dynamics and uniquely observed features of natural history. Even without Western perspective or Chiaroscuro, there are depth cues and suggestions of texture and volume in Eastern art. For example, in One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, Hokusai made woodblock studies of the natural features of the mountain and its surrounding environment that were no less observant or mannered than Audubon's lithographs of birds just a few decades later.

I am further inspired by modernist expressionism. Modernism, freed from the necessity to record by photography, embraced the affectations of mannerism and explored with greater depth what is unique and special about how we view nature and world. As strictly a form of objective observation, mannerism has in some ways hindered our understanding of the natural world, while modernism has amplified and expanded upon these affectations to provide us with yet another way to understand our surroundings. The emotional content of expressionism has often been overemphasized, since there are few other ways to describe a process that is essentially non-rational. All traditions of art making, whether Western, Eastern or aboriginal, are in their own way no less significant tools for understanding the natural world than scientific and historical record, the process is simply a more intuitive one.

So How Long Did These Things Take You To Do?

I'm often asked, “how long did that take you to do?” It's a perfectly reasonable question, and though I might be able to tell you how long a particular piece took to make, this wouldn't really answer the assumption behind the question.

Ideally, I like to try to allow each mark to do as much work as possible, to describe the form, shape, and lyricism of the subject simply and directly. This isn't something that I can plan or predetermine, but results from the direct and intuitive application of pigment. Often this first application doesn't work out just how I want it to, so what you see may be my third, fourth, or fifth attempt at the same subject. If the piece isn't achieving what I want it to after that first or second, or third application, I have to start again. While some pieces may seem to be a collection of happy accidents, most of these “accidents” resulted from trial and error. So unlike oil painting, where the image is a result of layers and multiple applications of paint, the layers of process in my dry brush pieces are discarded, and though some artifacts of that process may still remain, what you see is that final step, that last spontaneous application of pigment that is the final result.

This process is unpredictable by nature. I never know how it's going to work out, or how much time a given piece is going to take, though I can say that a smaller piece usually takes less time than a larger or more complex one. What you see on the paper may have only taken an hour, but may be the result of hours and hours of failures. For one of the pieces in this show, for instance, it took three weeks to get a satisfactory result. So the honest, literal answer to the question, “how long did that take you to do?” isn't really what most people are looking for when they ask it. Each dry brush piece has it's own process, but there is no procedure for manufacturing them that I can explain as you would something that is methodically crafted in a predictable way. Each piece is it's own discovery.

Opens on the 22nd at The Pence! Reception at 6:00! More info here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Paper Work: Art by Jed Alexander, Laura Morton, and Marilyn Judson

According to the website:

This exhibit features work on paper by artists Laura Morton, Jed Alexander, and Marilyn Judson. Morton's etchings and striking collages take as their subject plant and animal life. Jed Alexander's dry brush work exemplifies his skill at conveying animals and other objects in an expressive and humorous manner. Judson creates scenes of delicate beauty as she engineers her paper sculptures to display floral and insect studies. Check this exhibit out in the Learning Center, upstairs at the Pence Gallery!

Feburary 22- March 20, 2011; Reception March 11, 6- 9 PM

Revised Tortoise Painting, About Happy Accidents on Purpose

I really love the engravings of Ernst Haeckel, particular his monochrome studies of jellyfish and diatoms. This and the insect studies I've been doing lately are very much inspired by these.

I wasn't happy with the colors on the first one, so in an attempt to fix them, I managed to completely overwork it. I traced it up on the light box and gave it another try using a different palette, but that didn't quite work out either. I finally decided to go with more of a monochrome palette like the elephant and my insect studies, and I think I'm finally satisfied with this one. I'm particularly pleased with the shell--the dry brush patterns remind me of the kind of tool marks you see in a stone lithograph. Something good came of the earlier, more ambitious tortoise piece, the one that I spent a couple of weeks on earlier this month that ultimately didn't work out--I got lots of practice making those swirl patterns, something I didn't quite manage in the first attempt at this one. These look much more purposeful and deliberate.

Happy Accidents on Purpose

This is something I'm always telling the student I tutor--make sure everything you do is purposeful and deliberate. Even accidents can be purposeful if they come about naturally through the discipline of your process. I have ocassional happy accidents, but usually they come about after a lot of trials and failures, if not on that particular piece, than on pieces like it. Some pieces look like they're a collection of happy accidents, but each happy accident has a history of exploration behind it. When you see some really spare Picasso drawing that looks effortless, it's because of all the pictures he did that you never see. Unlike a painting that can be reworked, the process in a very spare drawing is invisible because you can't rework it. The layers are discarded. All you see is that last pass, that final result. So when you see that final effort, what seems like effortless skill, some spontaneous image that looks as though it was done in a single sitting, its probably just the last image in a series of similar attempts. Or at least, that's how I make my dry brush images.

Discipline can also mean knowing when to get out of your own way. When to leave the right mark alone, or when to take the risk of allowing something spontaneous to happen, knowing that it could just as easily go wrong. Risks aren't really risks when you take them into account as a part of your process, if you anticipate failing as a necessary part of succeeding.

Alan Clarke's "Scum"

I've always been a fan of naturalistic English directors like Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, and recently found this old Ray Winstone film about a boys reformatory called "Scum". I saw it streaming on Netflix. It reminds me a little bit of another favorite of mine, about a boys prep school called "If..." with a pre Clockwork Orange Malcolm McDowell, though Scum is a lot more brutal. Winstone doesn't have McDowell's charisma, he has a lot more presence today, but you can still see how even at such a young age he was a pretty amazing actor. This one came out in 1979, when he was still probably a teenager. It's pretty painful to watch, and there's some graphic and very intense violence, including a horrific rape scene, but it's a compelling film, and very well done with great performances all around. I'd really like to see more from ALan Clarke, but it looks like he's only directed two other movies that I can find. Everything else he's done has been for British TV, and will probably be difficult to track down, though I did see two shorts also available from Clarke on Netflix that I might check out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sepia Elephant, What Happens to Your Pictures When Other People Own them?

This two, is about 18x24, with a fair amount of white space around it. It's done in drybrush with acrylic ink. This one was done yesterday, and I got one I was satisfied with on the second attempt.

Sometimes people don't understand that the white space is part of the drawing. Recently I visited someone's home where they had hung one of my prints and had cropped out the white space. I found it incredibly frustrating. And even more appalling: they had trimmed off the edge of another one of my prints. But when you sell, or give away a print, you can't really dictate what someone is going to do with it. They could cut it up and put in a collage, they could laminate it, they could do anything with it. What bothers me is that someone is going to see that picture and think that what was done to it was my intention.

Generally I like to imagine that when someone buys my art, or I give a print to them, They put it in a nice, understated frame, or mat, though I'm sure in someones house I have prints that have been thumbtacked to the wall, or that are in some overly ornate frame, or that have some brightly colored mat, or some similar act of vandalism has been perpetrated against them.

There's a Jim Woodring comic in which the Jim Woodring stand-in enters a friend's house to discover that they have framed a drawing that he had originally thrown in the garbage and written and obscenity over, never intending for it to be seen. This is kind of what it feels like sometimes when people do something like this. But in the end, they bought it, they framed it (or didn't frame it) because they liked it. Or liked some portion of it. Or liked it with the addition of a bright red mat. But they liked it, and it no longer belongs to me. I can't go to everyone's house who bought a print of mine and supervise what they do with it, even though sometimes I kind of want to.

And for all I know, I'm wrong. Maybe it does look better cropped. Maybe it does look better in a red mat, or a froo froo gold embossed frame. Just because I made it, doesn't mean my judgement is always correct. In fact, it's probably a little arrogant to assume that I know best.

If it's mass produced print media, when it's published in a magazine for instance, someone's probably spilled ketchup on it, or put their coffee cup on top of it. For some reason that doesn't bother me as much as when it's a print. In fact, it doesn't bother me at all. I kind of like the idea that the image has a life in the context of other people's lives. That it's both seen and a part of the scenery.

Circumstances arranged themselves so that you made the thing, all the pictures you've looked at and all the pictures you've made that have been influenced by those pictures, and your teachers, the weather, what you had for lunch, all your combined experiences went into the making of this picture. Then you send it into the world because you want to share it. Because part of the reason you made it, was in order to share it. So part of sharing it, is being willing to let it go. That's the compromise. What people eventually do with it, what they think about it, who they choose to share it with, all of this is out of your control. Unless you destroy it, there's nothing you can do about its eventual fate. And maybe this isn't a compromise. Maybe it's part of the reason you made it, if reason has anything to do with it. But the picture will have a life of its own, and maybe someone will do something with it that you would have never guessed they might do, something amazing that you had never thought of. This often happens in collaborations, but some collaborations are unintentional, or at least, don't directly involve the decisions of their collaborators. And sometime that might really piss you off, and maybe sometimes it won't. It makes me wonder how some musicians feel about these remixes and mash-ups that people do of their work. I imagine that some people tend to appreciate it and think of it as a homage. I imagine other people feel a little affronted.

When I see all the terrible interpretations of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Tim Burton got the look, but the script was pretty horrible), or all of these atrocious Dr. Seuss movies, it pains me just a little. How could someone so misjudge the source material? There's an Elaine May movie I like called The Heartbreak Kid that was recently remade, in which a guy falls in love with someone else on his honeymoon, someone who is basically a blank slate for him to project all his desires on. You never really learn much about her. All you do is see her walking around and being pretty. His wife in the movie, conversely,is all too human. She's earnest and innocent in her conviction that her new husband will accept her and love her for who she is. She's a deeply sympathetic character played wonderfully by Elaine May's daughter, Jeannie Berlin. In the remake, the guy's wife is a completely unsympathetic caricature. She's a collection of bad and off-putting habits. The Farelly Brothers entirely missed the point. And maybe someone will remake the movie again and turn it into something else, maybe not something better or worse, but something else, and Elaine May and Neil Simon will continue to have nothing to say about it, Salvador Dali will put a mustache on The Mona Lisa and Leonardo DaVinci will have nothing to say about, someone will mix The Beatles' White Album with Jay Z's Black album and none of these artists will be able to stop the inevitable.

So at some point your picture, or movie, or book will evaporate. There won't be any picture anymore. And if part of you wishes that your picture will have an audience, part of you is afraid that your picture will face complete and total indifference, and entropy is the ultimate form of indifference. Entropy doesn't care about your picture.

The painter, Clyfford Still, insisted that his paintings never be rotated from the walls in the museums where they are shown, that they need to always be a permanent fixture. I hate Clyfford Still's work, and always resent this. The Clyfford Still room in the San Francisco MOMA could be filled with paintings that I actually like, instead, but Clyfford Still was such a dick that we're stuck with his annoying paintings. And what's particularly annoying, is that in the end, it's all for nothing. Entropy doesn't care about Clyfford Still. So maybe the best way for me to let go of the frustration I have when someone does something I wish they wouldn't to one of my pictures is to think of Clyfford Still. You can try to control what people do with your pictures, but you might risk becoming a dick like Clyfford Still, or at least, someone's Clyfford Still. Do I really want to be that kind of a pain in the ass?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tortoise Painting

After doing a much larger scale piece involving tortoises that didn't quite work out, I painted this more modest version, yesterday:

This will likely be shown at my show at The Pence on the 22nd. It's 18x24 inches, ink and watercolor. Generally, I'm satisfied with it, but there are limits to this technique. It's more of a colored drawing than a true painting, done in a similar style as my earlier pot-bellied pig. Like the pig, the palette is a little saturated and not naturalistic at all, sort of giving it a storybook quality.

This kind of painting is more of a pure pleasure. I don't have to worry about anything complex in the composition, and once the drawing is done I can take pleasure in making marks and lines. Besides, they're just such gorgeous animals. I like drawing anything with wrinkles and skin folds, and elephants and pigs and turtles can give me that excuse. Once I start drawing human beings this way, though, people have a very different reaction. I used to do more figurative images with these kinds of textures, and at some point I'd like to return to that approach, but for now, I suppose I'm purposely catering more to my audience (now that I actually have an audience). I like having an audience.

I like it when people enjoy my work. Doing work that doesn't appeal to most people, considering how much time and effort it takes, is something I don't have the emotional stamina for at the moment. I think the more I cultivate a real audience, the easier it will be to do more personal images on the side that are more purely for me and a few like-minded others. During college I had a great love for the German Expressionists and The London Figurative School, and for a while I combined that love with inspiration from the lyrical line work of Hokusai and one my favorite cartoonists as a teen, Rick Grimes. If you get a chance, and are curious, please give Rick Grimes' fan site some love:

I'd like to check out Rick Grimes.

It's some amazing work, but unfortunately his style and subject matter haven't found their audience yet outside of a few of us like-minded folks. It's very hard to invest so much time and energy in work you know will only be appreciated by a very few, and if the cliche of the "struggling artist" applies anywhere, it applies here. It's sometimes thankless, and a little brave, and so I hope you'll give his work a chance. If you like it, e-mail him and let him know. It's always good to know that there's one more person out there who appreciates what you do.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Giant Water Beetle, Inked

I penciled this one a while back, and was on the fence about the inked version, but I set it aside for a while and I think I've made peace with it. The best test is trying to think about what exactly I would do differently to improve it, and there's really very little I would change. So I guess I like this one.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My New Show!

The new show is now called The Nature of Etchings, Prints and Pressing. It doesn't actually feature any prints or pressings from me, and I'm not sure if that will remain the title, since there was some confusion about whether I would be showing prints or originals, but at any rate, the opening is from 6 to 9PM on March 11th at The Pence Gallery. I'll be showing dry brush pieces in ink and watercolor, all direct media, no prints. The other artists are Marilyn Judson and Laura morton. More info Here:

Info about my show!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

February Figure Drawings

A five minute gesture:

20 minutes:

Another 20 minute pose:

Hour long pose (more tone added later):

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Another Rhinoceros Beetle

This beetle is just gorgeous, and I think I almost did justice to him. I'd hate to see this guy flying in my direction. He's huge! I apologize for my unscientific names--I'm sure there are different names for different types of rhinoceros beetles, but I'm too lazy to find out.

I like the weird geometry of these bugs, as if they were made out of primitives in a 3D modeling program, all spheres and cylinders. The top shape of the head on this one is like a Brancusi sculpture. I like the way the wings pop out of this little hatchback.

After spending a week and a half on a recent piece, the one I wrote about earlier, and after my third version, I conceded to defeat. I might return to the subject later and rethink it, but for now I'm going to stop spinning my wheels and move on. I'll likely post every day again, now that I'm not saddled with that one.

My Fly Cover, Recently Featured On the blog, "Covered"

Covered is a site where various artists and cartoonists do their own versions of classic comic book covers. You can see mine, here.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Busy in the Studio

Here I am in the studio/laundry room, pretending to work on my current piece for my upcoming show at The Pence Gallery. Though it hasn't been announced on their website yet, the show opens on the 22nd of this month.

This is pretty large for me, 27x41 inches, so I have to work on it lengthwise. I've been able to work on pieces on this table as large as 38x50 inches, but that was pushing it. Behind me you see my blackout curtain, which is to black out the light for my light box. It also blacks out the light when the sun is glaring on my drafting table. Sometimes natural light works out for me, and I prefer it, but in this case it wasn't so convenient.

I took this picture with the little camera in my computer. My new IMac comes with a camera and some amazingly intuitive video editing software. I don't know when or how I will be taking advantage of this, but it's something I would like to mess around with at some point.

Ida Maria, Jacques Brel

I don't usually listen to music when I work--I prefer audiobooks--but while I was working on this I was listening to this new Scandinavian singer/song writer, Ida Maria, who I'm really into right now. I don't know much about music, but in her Youtube description she's compared to P.J. Harvey and Bjork, which sounds about right. I love the way you can just play every video by an artist on Youtube. It's practically like owning the album.

I also listened to some Jacques Brel. There's a ton of Jacque Brel videos on Youtube, and the best are the ones where he plays live. He's amazing! Just a powerhouse. He's especially great in these little intimate settings. Here he sings, Jef. I can't imagine what it would be like to be sitting at the front table while he's singing this. Even without knowing the words, this song is incredibly moving.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Art: Without The Jazz Hands

These are some remarks of mine from a discussion on Facebook that I've cobbled together and edited with some further thoughts on the subject:

I know that people realize it's hard work to make pictures, but I don't think they see it as analogous to other forms of work. If you ever see people painting in movies they're often dancing around with sweat pouring off their faces, grimacing and making triumphant gestures, because the process, they imagine, is romantic and special, but they're just not sure what exactly it is that makes it that way. But there's a part of it that's not too different than mowing the lawn. It's just work like any other work. Sometimes watching someone paint a picture is a lot like watching them paint a fence. But if you imagine the process as mysterious and fabulous, it's harder to identify it as an effort akin to any other effort. It's either minimized or mystified. It's assumed that it either comes easy, or it comes through some great imaginary struggle with the self that probably involves jazz hands.

I'm talking about the booze swilling, furiously paint slinging romanticism of it all. Or Picasso charging a thousand dollars for something he's scribbled on a napkin, thus imbuing the napkin with his magic powers.

One of the least understood forms of art is abstract expressionism, or abstraction in general (post-modernism is a whole different animal, so for right now, I'm sticking with modernism). Abstract expressionism isn't some totally free, formless exercise--unless it's crappy abstract expressionism. You're dealing with a lot of the same problems of design, composition, color, etc. as you are with more representational work. It's still problem solving. This, I think, is another common misconception, one that, whether intentionally or not, belittles the real process involved in abstract and non-representational work, and makes it seem all the more mysterious and mystical.

Picasso's drawing on a napkin magically transformed that napkin into a fist full of money, but who knows why? Only the "experts", the people who understand what makes the magic work. But this both inflates and confuses art's function. It's easy to go either way: if you believe some magical and mystical process imbues the art with specialness, this incredible overinflated value makes perfect sense. If it looks to you more like some meaningless scribble, it would make sense that it's an obvious scam. But if everyone had a better sense of the function of art, the everyday importance and prosaicness of aesthetics, art would be valued by everyone, but reasonably valued. You wouldn't have thousand dollar napkins, but people also wouldn't dismiss art that requires true skill and effort, that is the product of a genuine discipline. The more art is assumed to be imbued with special magic powers, the less accessible the ideas presented by art academia, become. People assume that it's either beyond their understanding, or a big lie invented by academia.

There's nothing mystical about art making. It's work, plain and simple, but it tends to involve a different process than other forms of work. Though intuitive, aesthetics is a product of the intellect, of both logical and non-rational thinking. Recognizing the beauty of something is, in itself, an act of invention. The viewer is always a participant. Invention is a holistic process, the purposeful recombination of interconnecting and interdependent elements. Creation stems from creation myth—the spontaneous generation of something from nothing. Invention is not the same as creation. The two are not interchangeable.

The concept of artifice is a product of the myth of creation. It suggests the isolation of an event, that a thing is spontaneously generated in a bubble that has no practical connection to anything outside of that bubble, but in truth, no such bubble can exist. Everything is interconnected. There is invention, but there is no creation. There is aesthetics, but there is no artifice. Creativity, artifice: these concepts are our attempt to rationalize the non-rational, to try to explain the ineffable in a way that makes sense to the ego. Even in science, we talk about artifice instead of invention, even when the process of discovery is self-evident, because our ego won't allow us to accept that we do not create, that we don't exist in a bubble, but are part of a dynamic. Each one of us is a conduit of this dynamic. The process of discovery can appear to us to occur spontaneously, and this is why we hold so tenaciously to this myth of creativity. This is why invention appears as some mystical act of creation. But invention is simply an organic product of work. We are compelled to make things because this is what we do. It's not our purpose, but it's our function.

So nothing is being pulled out of thin air. There's no rabbit in the hat. You're just recombining preexisting elements--not to minimize the effort, it's not easy to do, and you can make wonderful, compelling and magnificent things, but you didn't create them. Creativity is a myth. I'm all for wonder and mystery. Just without the jazz hands.

Comercial Art vs. "Fine Art"

The common conception in academia of fine art vs. commercial art is that commercial art fulfills a preconceived desire, and fine art elicits a new desire. I've heard this repeated again and again with the finality of a self-evident truth, as if this says it all. But it simply isn't so.

As soon as you sell a piece of art it becomes a commercial product. "Fine art" is basically a marketing concept. If you're Henry Darger, and no one sees your art till after your death, maybe, then, you have some claim to this idea that you're not doing what you do with an audience in mind (although even he, seemed to be writing for some invisible audience). Otherwise, everything you make is for some kind of audience, and it's made under that pretense. You anticipate, to some degree, a preexisting desire. It's not entirely the reason you made it, but it's part of the reason.

And not all art done in the commercial realm is strictly meant to fulfill a preexisting desire. You're making something that people don't know they want yet. Genre fiction, comic books, movies, video games, puffy kitty stickers, most forms of commercial art have the potential to elicit rather than simply fulfill a desire. There is a lot of bad art, but there is also so much art to discover if you're willing to ignore your preconceptions about what Art with a capital "A" is supposed to be. There's a whole realm of art that has the potential to be every bit as compelling and meaningful as anything you could ever hang in a gallery if you're willing to pay attention to it and seek it out. For this reason, everyone has a unique appreciation of the art around them. There is art that the most knowledgeable fine art academic can't appreciate or see. There is art that people who don't have a Western/European academic art education are unable to see. Which form of art do you think is more ubiquitous?

I'm not saying that art with a rigorous Western/European foundation is less or more valuable than other forms of art, it just happens to be one form of art that is appreciated by a small minority of people. But the number of people who appreciate something does not determine its value. A piece of art that only one person can appreciate has value to that person. But all art can't all be of equal relative value. At some point you have to decide that some art has more quality than other art. Even though this is subjective, Western/European academia has made the analysis of quality its specialty. Art academia represents a lot of people who have spent a lot of time thinking about what that quality is and recording their ideas about it. There are people who have dedicated their whole lives to the analysis of the quality of art. It's a pretty powerful and convincing argument. It just doesn't happen to be the only argument. But it's certainly not an argument I would dismiss. Academia has given us this wealth of ideas about the quality of art, but its argument has become so convincing that a lot of smart people have decided that it is the only argument that is worth being considered. This, I think, is a mistake.

The "Art World", "Outsider Art" and Other Wrong-Headed Ideas That Belong In Quotes.

The concept of "outsider art" is academia's way of compromising, their way of acknowledging art that has value, but does not fit within their parameters of art that is academically rigorous. Not only is it an inherently condescending concept, but it is a bigoted one. Aboriginal art, among other forms of art, is considered by Western/European academia to be "outsider art". The assumption is that aboriginal art has been conceived in a naive vacuum, as if by a community of savants. It does not acknowledge that community's unique understanding of aesthetics, and that that understanding is a sophisticated one that is just as rigorous in its own way as Western art. It's an understanding of aesthetics that can only be fully appreciated on its own terms by members of that community. Aboriginal communities in many ways have an understanding of art that most reflects what I was talking about earlier, a thorough understanding of the everyday importance and prosaicness of aesthetics. So in reality, it's the Western/European academic that is naive to the unique quality of this art as understood by that community, and can only see it on their terms. Out of context, aboriginal art becomes something else, and its quality may be recognized, but it's a quality that is differently defined.

Picasso and Braque, inspired by both African and Western art, came up with cubism. They recontextualized what they were able to learn from African art, while never fully understanding African art on its own terms. Because of both their knowledge of Western/European traditions, and their naivete, they were able to invent something new. But in the eyes of Western/European academia, Picasso and Braque were far from naive. It is this discrepancy that permits Western/European academia to either dismiss, or condescend to identify art of quality that does not fit within their prescribed parameters, within a tradition followed by Picasso and Braque, but not by aboriginal cultures or much of our popular culture. This is why, in its naivete, art academia and the fine art community revealingly refer to themselves as "The Art World." They simply don't know any better.

More Pictures, Soon.

More pictures, soon. I'm working on the large piece I mentioned earlier, but it's just not practical to scan while I'm working on it.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Sometimes You Have to Chuck it All and Start Again

He's a very small preview of a much larger dry brush piece that I've been concentrating on over the past week. After working the better part of a week on it, it wasn't quite working out. I'm going to have to rethink it.

Unfortunately, my dry brush technique can be very unforgiving. There's no painting over a mistake--the first application is all you get, so sometimes I have to chuck it all and start again. This isn't so bad when it's a little 8x10, but this piece is 27x41. I used to get pretty disheartened when this would happen, but now I've accepted that this is the way it goes. Fortunately I have an enormous light box, so with a little bit of repositioning, I can trace up what I have so far and give it another go.

This isn't unusual for a dry brush piece--some of my best big pieces have gone through several incarnations, even the larger ones. Though not dry brush, my 38x50 inch Elephants on Pink Buildings piece went through three other iterations. Yes, that means I drew all those little windows three times. The recent pot-bellied pig was also attempt number three. No matter how much I realize that this is a likelihood with a piece like this, I go in with the full intention of knocking it out in the first try. It happens--but rarely.

This is why it always drives me nuts when people ask, "how long did that take you to do?" It's a perfectly reasonable question to ask, and though I might be able to tell you how long a particular piece took to make, this wouldn't really answer the assumption behind the question. The assumption is that every piece involves the same basic procedure. Unfortunately this is not the case. In my illustration work, since i work in pieces, I can revise and revise and revise again if there's any element of the picture that isn't working, and it's not only more forgiving, but it's more predictable. My dry brush pieces aren't quite so methodical. But usually, everything starts with some kind of failure. That first drawing or first sketch is probably going to get chucked.

Even as a writer, I know that more often than not, that first paragraph is going to get chucked, not just rewritten but completely eliminated, but when I'm writing it, as far as I'm concerned, that's going to be the first paragraph of the story. It's a weird kind of self-hypnosis. I begin every paragraph or dry brush piece with boundless optimism, but over the years I've become somewhat inured to the pain of this particular kind of failure. It's not the end, I can always pull out a blank sheet and start again, and if I'm tenacious enough the piece will work itself out. Not always, but more often than not. It's just a question of being bull-headed. This, I'm convinced, is the secret of success. Being a hard-ass, but a benevolent hard-ass. Not kicking your own ass for failing, but not resigning yourself to the failure, either.

I remember when Reg first saw me do this kind of thing, chuck what she saw as perfectly good work. She would worry for me, and I appreciated the sympathy, but eventually she grew to understand that this was just the way it worked. About two years ago, when I did my James and the Giant Peach piece and was trying to figure out how to draw kids (something I'm still struggling with) I drew over 70 drawings of James. I remember telling my Dad this on the phone before I had found one I was satisfied with, and he said, "well there's got to be one in there you can use. Maybe you just need to take a second look at number 45, or number 27?" But sometimes it just takes 70 drawings. Hopefully I won't have to draw this one more than twice. Or at least that's what I"m telling myself.

But I'm very wary of anyone who romanticizes this struggle--it is not unique to picture making. Making art is not a magic trick. It's just work, like any other kind of work, even if it does have it's own unique challenges. But everybody goes through some version of this, in one form or another. We all work, and I think, for most of us, there is satisfaction in doing good work, not just in the product, but in the process. If it wasn't hard it wouldn't be nearly as satisfying.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Preview of the Second Eagle Piece for Cricket

Here's a section of the second Eagle pic for Cricket Magazine--It will see print in June, so I don't think I"m allowed to show the whole thing until then.

Here you can see that it's a cutaway--my solution to a difficult illustration problem, the Eagle is rowing a half-submerged goose carcass through the water with his wings. I'll post both finishes in June, but for now, here's a peak.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Giant Water Beetle Pencils

Here are the pencils for a dry brush piece I'm working on. It's relatively light and loose.

Inks to follow, though there's no telling with these things, whether it's going to work out the first try. I'm also working on a much larger dry brush piece that I won't be able to share until it's finished, so that's where a lot of my time is going now. All these pieces will be in my show on the 22nd at the Pence Gallery.

Right now I'm coveting this pen:

It's got the same chisel point as the hunt dip pen I use now for lettering, but it's a refillable fountain pen, so I'm hoping this will cut down on my lettering time and I won't have to be so fussy. It's called the Asias dufold fountain pen italic dollar 717, and unfortunately costs quite a bit more than a dollar. Still looking for one that's reasonably priced.

Here's a sample of the lettering I get with my Hunt:

But this involves dipping my pen into ink every 4 letters or so, shaking off the excess ink, testing it on the paper until the line is right, etc. My hope is that I can get a comparable effect with the Dollar 717 with less pain.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Turtle Studies

I'm doing an image for my upcoming show that involves turtles, and I'm doing some studies just to get a feel for them. Haven't quite got the shape of the shell right just yet. It curves and taper up at the front and a little at the back.

Red River Radio Appearance

The interview on Art on the Red River went pretty well. It was a new experience for pretty much everyone involved, so no one quite knew what they were doing, but it ended up coming out well. It wasn't on actual broadcast radio --the only difference between this and a podcast is that it was originally aired live, sort of the equivalent of a tiny college radio station.

I've been in panel discussions at The Cartoon Art Museum and at The Alternative Expo, but this is the first time I was interviewed as the main subject.

Here's a direct link to a recording of the show:

Listen to me on Red River Radio.

It plays as soon as you go to the page and starts with a big obnoxious ad, just to warn you.

My part is about 20 minutes, and then Mike Dubisch is interviewed by Wade Zahares, a children's book illustrator and author. Mike is the husband Carolyn Watson Dubisch who interviewed me. all three of them are very talented, and Mike in particular has a pretty impressive resume, doing work for Star Wars and fantasy gaming.