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Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Happy Accident is a Mistake that You've Embraced

Here's the water from the mailer I'm working on.It went in a different direction than I thought it would--originally I intended to do it as a straight line drawing, like my usual treatment of water, but a mistake in the rendering inspired me to take a different tack. I had two options: to give up and start again, or see if I could make it work. The second option didn't preclude me from taking the first, and so, why not spend a little more effort to see where it leads? I just kept rendering the water with these feathered lines until it started looking like a woodcut. I'm really pleased with the results. Another lesson in embracing mistakes.

For example: my dry brush style is dependent on my willingness to embrace mistakes, since the results are largely unpredictable. My approach to dry brush is a combination of control, and a willingness to allow for, and accommodate happy accidents.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Making an Income Through Digital Media: No, The Sky Isn't Falling

Recently this clarion call about the evils of Apple and how it's singularly responsible for the failure of artists to make a living from their art is being distributed allover the internet. The quote is from an artist named Antony Hegerty. You can read it, here:

Antony Hegerty Quote.

OK, ignoring the horrible web design, this is basically nonsense.

Yes, the music industry might be hurting right now, I'll concede to that, but the arts in general? More people are making art and having it seen on the internet, but I'm not sure that less people are making a living at it. The fact that people are using Apple computers to make their art, that more artists use Apples, is because at the moment, they're the best machines available for the job. It's true, Apple has a monopoly on the industry and a huge and cult-like promotional machine unlike any other, but you could just as easily blame Gibson guitars for the commercial failure of musicians. It makes no sense to point the blame at a popular device, even an exceedingly popular device that's got a stranglehold on the industry, because artists use that popular device to make their art.

And then again, most people who own Apples probably don't use them to make art that's too terribly great. You have more people making art overall and more art being seen, so you have a greater percentage of good art being seen, and a greater percentage of bad art being seen than ever before. So the atmosphere is a little more competitive in a way it didn't used to be. So yes, talking to your average artist, just like in the past, you'll find that they're struggling to make an income, because its hard to make an income as an artist, and you also have more self-proclaimed artists.

But lets take the illustration field for example: because of CGI movies, advertising, animation and video games--yes, the video games played on all those handheld Apple devices--more illustrators are being employed than have been in a very long time. Preproduction art, 3D modeling, design, there's a lot going on in illustration right now, even though print media is suffering.

It's no harder and no easier to be a fine artist than its ever been. Computers have no bearing on this, because you have the same basic distribution and promotion system. Galleries. Nothing has essentially changed here, aside from the internet being used as an advertising tool. But people don't tend to buy and sell fine art on the internet. At least not the kind you typically see in galleries. So no bearing here.

Authors: this is a tricky one. Print media is dying, but digital media is thriving. Yes, some of it is free, but a lot of it isn't. The number of Kindles and handheld reading devices is growing. And more importantly, more kids are reading than ever before. The young adult market is thriving like it never has before. That means more future adult readers. I attribute this, in part, to the internet. Because of the internet, because more kids are reading every day, because you have to read to participate in web-based culture, more kids are reading. So while print media is dying, there's a growing population of potential readers, and more people are buying digital books.

And think about peer-based project sites like Kickstarter. Artists are getting funding for projects that they would never have been able to get under any other circumstances. There are also artists who have cultivated a fan base through digital media like blogs and social media, and have been marketing their work directly to that fan base with no middle man. Some artists have a better affinity for this kind of promotion than others, but many are making a living this way. It's a way artists have never been able to make a living from their work in the past. Though many artists are giving their work away for free, there are some artists who have cultivated an online fan base that is willing to support their art with their actual dollars.

Then there are the free media advocates like Nina Paley and Cory Doctorow. Offering their work with Creative Commons licenses has allowed these artists a level of visibility they would have never otherwise had. By giving his books away for free in digital form, Cory Doctorow's print sales have actually increased. Nina Paley wrote, directed, and animated a feature length film called Sita Sings The Blues, that's been seen allover the world, and it's essentially copyright free. She makes an income from the film by selling merchandizing and official artist sanctioned copies of the work. She also has a pretty good ongoing gig showing her film and giving lectures on free media. But the main reason for her success, is because more people have been able to see her film because there is no limitation on where it can be shown or how it can be shown, and more people are willing to support that work because of this access. There simply would be no way that her film could be seen by as many people if it was distributed as an independent film through traditional outlets.

But after all is said and done, I do think, at the moment, that music in particular is experiencing some growing pains evolving to accommodate this new model of promotion and distribution. Part of this, however, is a panic that's coming from the music industry, not from musicians. It's easier for musicians to promote their work directly to their peers, a role that only record companies used to be able to fulfill. Yes, there is more illegal downloading, dollars lost to people who do not support the artists they like, but with more artists interacting directly with their fan base through web-based social media, people are more wiling to support those artists directly. You've got more people willing to fund their Kickstarter projects. More people willing to buy their books and music and films directly than ever before.

The problem here is that industry standard promotion machines like record companies and publishing houses are still better at promotion and selling than most artists. So it's true, it's still easier to make a living if you're being published or distributed by one of these big companies than it is to make a living promoting your work on your own. The middle men still are a powerful force. With more artists trying to compete, but also getting their work seen, there is the danger of those consumer dollars getting diluted. There are still a lot of questions to be resolved. But I don't think the sky is falling just yet. And I don't think it's Apple's fault.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Umbrella Kid inks

More Umbrella Kid inks.



On a completely unrelated note: we watched what I think is now officially the third episode of the new Spielberg TNT Alien Invasion Show, Falling Skies, and though it has some pretty cool aliens and robots, the writing is about on par with the "V" remake. In other words: pretty horrible. But those robots and aliens are fun to watch, so we're hanging in to see what happens.

Listening to the YA book, Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks. It's a very entertaining story about a..well a kid who's an evil genius. Also: a reader who does some pretty great Australian accents when called for. She's pretty great in general.

I normally have more to say about this kind of stuff, but this is all for now.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fish Inks

Here is a dry brush fish, for my umbrella kid mailer.



I was out of town this weekend, so I wasn't able to post, but I did get some work done over the weekend. I was visiting Angelique Benicio, a great painter, sculptor and one my best friends in the world, and we had a fun time inking and painting in her studio. Somehow, on Saturday she convinced me to put on a fake mustache and a pirate hat for an elaborate photo shoot with about a dozen other people dressed in similarly elaborate and wacky garb. This, believe it or not, is not unusual for a typical Angelique visit. I also had the good fortune of being able to take some of my own photos, of Angelique's daughter, Amelie, and her babysitter, Zoe, for some future illustrations I have planned. And I'm sorry to say, you will not be seeing those photos of me in the pirate hat! At least not here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Late Great Gene Colan, 1926-2011, A Personal Recollection

Gene Colan died yesterday.

As a kid, I started paying attention to who drew the comics I loved when I was about 10. Though it probably wasn't my first Gene Colan comic, since he had done so many, this was the first I discovered once I was actually paying attention to who made them:



It was given to me by my stepbrother Ben, the son of my dad's new wife, bought with his own money for my birthday.

The story went like this: Jemm, an alien naive to our ways, lands on the planet and befriends a young boy, who is portrayed as a stereotypical African American street kid. The attempts at ethnic dialogue were stilted and a little embarrassing, even to my kid self. I later determined that the comic was a no good, a poor rip-off of ET. It was one of many convenient excuses that allowed me to decide that my new stepbrother was unacceptable. Kids can be ruthless. It took until I was an adult to truly appreciate Ben, at the time, a very earnest and sweet kid, and now a great father, with better taste in comics than I gave him credit for. But whatever feelings I had for my stepbrother at the time, they didn't stop me from secretly loving this comic, even though officially I considered it uncool.

Though it was printed in color, Colan's work always looked better in black and white, so here's one of the inside pages in black and white:



Look at all those lush blacks! It's a really cinematic treatment, boldly allowing most of the scene to be in shadow. Often this was the disappointment of many of the comics at the time: the story never quite lived up to the art.

I remember later, after Ben had lost interest in comics, he gave me a big stack of them, and among them was a Little Shop of Horrors one-shot, based on the movie. It was my second Gene Colan comic.



This was also determined to be uncool, though I secretly decided it was gorgeous. Here's a page:



There were many great and treasured comics in that stack, this among them, and my comics meant a lot to me, providing a lot of joy and company during a tough childhood. So if I didn't thank him at the time, I thank you now, Ben! Thanks to both you and Gene Colan for all the great comics!

But back to Gene Colan:

Gene's probably best known for his work on the comic book version of Dracula:



His work before this on Daredevil often seemed rushed. Comparing the Daredevil work with a job he did in the 50s for EC's Two-Fisted Tales, it's clear that he was capable of better. It really wasn't his fault: the pressure at Marvel comics to churn it out took precedent. Not only was there a demand to get the work finished on a tight deadline, but it was work-for-hire, and he got paid by the page. It was a dilemma that faced a lot of cartoonists at the time. In a job with little prestige and recognition and low pay, if it was between quality and a paycheck, the paycheck won. But even rushed Gene Colan is pretty beautiful.

With Dracula, however, Colan had found his element, a book he was truly excited about doing, and it shows.

The practice at the time was for other artists to apply ink to the penciled pages, but looking at Colan's uninked pencils, it was clear that no inker really did him justice. He used a very painterly approach with the pencil, and in more recent years, savvy comics publishers took advantage of better printing techniques to reproduce his art straight from the pencil art. Here's an example of one of his old penciled pages before inks:



It's a meticulous job, a finished piece of art in itself, and an incredible shame that he couldn't ink the stories himself, since he was a great inker as well.

Inked, it was still Colan, but something was lost:



He did have an opportunity to ink his own work in a story he did for Blazing Combat in the 70s, and the love and care he took with this story, showed. Click on this spread below, to see a nice big scan of Colan at his best:



Here he uses ink washes to bring out some of the more subtle tones of his pencils, and the effect is striking.

But Colan's work only got better with age. Before his eyes began to fail, and once his work could be reproduced as it was originally drawn, Colan did some of the best work of his career.

This is from Colan's last published work, an issue of Captain America:



Marvel's indifference to the people that built its company over the years was further demonstrated as Colan's health began to fail. Being a freelancer means no pension and no health care. Daredevil movies, Daredevil lunch boxes, and Gene Colan is in the hospital, medical bills stacking up. But the comics community, the one that counts, the fans and artists who admired him, came to the rescue. Because of the efforts a writer named Clifford Meth, auctions were held and other artists in the field donated their artwork for the cause.

Gene Colan later became a great influence on me as an artist, and whenever I try to do a scene with lush blacks and shadows, Colan comes to mind as an inspiration.

You will be missed, Gene!

Umbrella Kid Three

Another image for the mailer. Penciled the background yesterday, and now I'm ready for inks! I'll be out of town, so no posts for a couple of days probably.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Structure Drawings

All my drawings begin with lots and lots of gestural drawings like this. Often there's a certain energy lost in the translation when I put the structure drawing under the light box to tighten it up, so I thought I'd share them here.



If you've been following my blog, this is a bit of a repeat, but for those of you who are new to my blog, here's a little rundown of my process:

I do a lot of these, on cheap 11x17 bond paper, so I don't feel so bad about wasting good paper. I can just draw them as freely as I like. Then I tighten them up on the light box, scan them, and print them out in blue onto stiffer bristol board. I tend to use the cheaper recycled kind, and have discovered no particular advantage is using the more expensive stuff. Then I ink it up, scan the inks, and select out the blue so that all I have are the black lines. This saves a lot of time and clean-up, compared to my old method of inking directly on the pencils and erasing them when I'm finished.

I usually do backgrounds separate from the figures, but do thumbnail roughs of the overall composition so I know where everything should go. Lately I've been assembling all the pencil drawings on photoshop before printing out the individual pieces in blue line, just to make sure everything's working the way it should.

Then I add color using scanned watercolor textures, and whoolah! All done. Though this one might be a while yet.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

More Umbrella Kid

So as you can see here, as it's shaping up, it's kind of an umbrella boat. Again, more abbreviated features on the kid than I usually do. Just an experiment. A little bit more of a cartoony style.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

More In Progress Umbrella Kid and Dog

This is a sketch for part of a self-promotional mailer I'm working on that will fold into four sections.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Last Chance to Sign-Up for My Summer Classes for Ages 10 to Teen!

From The Pence Gallery's website:

Two Great Summer Courses For Ages 10 to Teen!

Following last year's successful summer programs, we are inviting back Jed Alexander to teach his two courses: How to Draw Words and Write Pictures, and Illustration and Storytelling. These six week courses offer a great way to build skills essential for communicating effectively through a visual dialog. Classes begin next week on June 21st!


Click Below for a PDF flyer with more information.

I would like a flyer.




New Dino



For the same dinosaur project. I'll be doing a bunch of these. I probably won't be using them all. Now that I've done the eagle drawings for Cricket, my plan here is to do a dinosaur themed image to beef up the natural history part of my portfolio.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More Dino Pencils

Another dinosaur for my dinosaur project.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More Fish

The idea is to start daily posts again. I can't guarantee that I'll stick with this, but for the time being, that's the idea.

These are more fish for the mailer I'm working on. See post just previous to this one for the other batch.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Latest Dino, Regular Updates!

I forget the name of this one, but it's going to be part of a larger dinosaur-themed image. Dinosaurs are harder to draw than I thought--the anatomy is just so odd. There's a little bit of bird, and little bit of frog, something horse-like and marsupialish, and just a touch of lizard. Surprisingly, they're less like a lizard than you would think. Why it took so long for them to figure out that birds descended from dinosaurs, I have no idea.

For a number of reasons, I wasn't drawing as much as I would have liked in these last three months, but now I'm back to my everyday habit, so I'll be posting more regular updates, if not daily, than close to it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Oh, That's Right...

I Like to draw!

Drawn while rewatching Chomet's The Illusionst, if you hadn't guessed, thus the obvious Chomet influence...



It's been a while since I've been really enthusiastic about drawing, and last night, as I was doing some random sketching, I remembered what it was like to really enjoy drawing. So my new project, just for fun, and to show off my natural history chops, is going to be a dinosaur! This was my first attempt at getting the general anatomy of a tyrannosaurus rex.



I just finished sketches for a small project I can't really talk about that may or may not happen, so more news about that in a couple of months or so. In the meantime, Dinosaurs! Yay!