Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ink Wash Portrait

Another image for the project I mentioned in the last two posts.

This is done in ink wash--the objective was to draw a spontaneous looking portrait that could possibly be made with found wet media and whatever might be at hand. I used a sort of crappy brush, but the idea, in this case, was that the drawing was supposed to have been done with a napkin and coffee. I've never tried to paint something with a cup of coffee, and I imagine it would be hard to do, but this is more of an idealized version of what that might look like.

I won't go into the specifics at this point, but the mood of the piece is meant to be somewhat eerie. It's rare that I get to do something this expressionistic for an illustration, so it was refreshing to be able to paint this loose, and not have to be too fussy about it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Drawing a Fishing Boat: How Do You Draw a Machine When You Don't Know How It Works?

This is for the same project as the previous post.

When drawing a plausible boat or ship, it all comes down to this: you can't fake the rigging.

You can generalize it or simplify it, but just like bad anatomy, the viewer can spot if the mechanics don't look like they make sense. A fishing boat is the worst, because there are no sails. All those lines have something to do with hauling in a net, and there are a lot of them, more than I've pictured. In the front, what you can't see because of the angle is a kind of big spool, and I think the long arm there is what hauls in the net. While I don't understand everything at work here, I was able to distill the main components that I kept seeing in my reference.

So how do you draw a machine when you don't know how it works?

If you draw a lot, you probably do it all the time. You can draw a car without knowing how an engine works. You can draw all the appliances in a kitchen. A boat is no different.

This involves asking myself the same question I ask when I do any illustration: what's essential to telling the story. In this case it's a machine that has to look like it functions. That's all it has to do. I don't have to understand everything about a ship, but I do have to identify what makes it look like something that works to me.This is not a scientific process, but it's also not really as hard as it sounds. If you have enough reference from enough angles, you're going to keep seeing a lot of the same components. Maybe someone who really knows ships or boats is going to be able to spot that it's wrong, but on a basic level, it looks like it functions, and as far as I'm concerned, that's all it has to do. Also, in this case, drawing all the rigging in silhouette didn't hurt. In the final drawing, much of the boat's in shadow anyway, and it's going to be reproduced at literally the size of a postage stamp, but even at that size, those details make a difference.

And I still have no idea how this thing works.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Seagull Drawing

This is a sketch I recently rendered for a project that I thought was long defunct, but that I recently had the privilege to revisit. It's not entirely a new sketch, since it was gleaned from part of a pencil drawing I initially did for the project when it was first offered to me.

The new sketch is a bonus sketch I included for some promotional material that's being sent to a publisher by an agent who I'm now working with. The sketch is meant to accompany a manuscript for a YA novel that she's submitting. I love the book, and the agent is someone I really respect and admire. The hope is that the publisher will pick up the book, and I'll be the one to illustrate it, but there are, of course, no guarantees. I'll talk more about this project as things develop.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Some Giraffe Studies, A brief List of My Favorite Caricaturists

Here are a couple of giraffe studies for an new project.

Having fun stretching the giraffe anatomy a little bit, but I'd like to still take it a little further. Reg got me an early birthday present--a big Gerald Scarfe career spanning monograph. Scarfe is truly my favorite contemporary caricature artist by far, and he's a little bit of an influence on the exaggeration in these pieces.


There's a trend towards a more photo real approach to caricature today. They wow you with their rendering skills and all these beautiful textures, but there's a sameness to the style. I occasionally see someone who works in this style who does impressive work, but they all tend to blur together in my head. You don't see the nuance of a Drew Friedman, who doesn't distort his caricatures in that obvious way so many caricaturists do who work in that mode. I don't mind this kind of elasticity in more line based caricature, but in the more photo-based stuff it gets a little old.

The other caricaturists I like are Jack Davis, Steve Brodner, Jack Levine and Phillip Burke. Illustration savvy folks will probably see these as the usual suspects, but there are other greats from the pre-Jack Davis era, and lately Drew Friedman has been featuring a number of them on his blog. You can see Friedman's blog:


You might have to backtrack a few entries to earlier posts before you get to these artists, but it's worth the journey to check out some great examples of Friedman's art as well, including the legendary Barfo toys he did for Topps.

Here's one by Friedman:

And here's one by Jack Davis:

But I like him even more for stuff like this:

and even more than that for his early work in E. C. war comics:

And one by Steve Brodner:

Phillip Burke:

and Dave Levine:

But Scarfe continues to be my absolute favorite, and you can see why,

you can see more of Scarfe's work,


Part of the reason I love Scarfe is his amazing line. I've always been a line guy, so his work really appeals to me.

Oh, and I almost forgot Al Hirschfeld, who's right up there with Scarfe, but who recently passed away. I'm not sure how I could have forgotten Hirschfeld. Another all-time favorite next to Scarfe.

You can see more of Hirschfeld's work,


Still waiting to hear about the sketches for the SCBWI Illustrator's conference project that Joann Hill from Disney/Hyperion is art directing. I should be hearing back from Hill on monday. A recap: 15 people attending the conference signed up to do two pages and a spread for a picture book text selected by Joann Hill, who will art direct sketches, and critique one finish at the conference. We're all new to the industry so it's a valuable exercise. The giraffe is unrelated to the Hill project.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lucian Freud, 1922-July 21st 2011: His Influence On My Work and Thinking

Freud and Naturalism

Lucian Freud was a painter who rose to prominence in the late sixties. During a time when abstract expressionism and minimalism were in vogue, Freud chose a less fashionable subject, the figure (And yes, he is related to Sigmund Freud. He's Sigmund Freud's grandson).

Lucian Freud was my introduction to naturalism in painting. Naturalism was something I would later discover in the films of Mike Leigh, and ultimately in the single most influential artist on both my art and life, John Cassavettes, but it all started with Lucian Freud.

Naturalism isn't the same as realism--realism in painting usually refers to photo realism, and photo realism has as much to do with the two dimensional record of the photograph as the resulting painting. A photograph is a single moment captured in time, inert, and unchanging. A painter may choose to elaborate or accentuate the information in the photograph, but this doesn't change the fact of the photograph.

Naturalism is something different. The subject is typically painted or drawn from life. From life the painter records a different kind of fact--the fact of a human body that exists in time and space. Lucian Freud painted his subjects over many sittings, and the results are a kind of painstaking observation, an attempt not to render the subject realistically, but to record a kind of truth about the subject. This is not an act of precision, but of interpretation. His paintings weren't cold and objective, but a dialogue between subject and painter. The American painter Phillip Pearlstein employed a similar kind of observation, but he painted his human subjects like still lives. Unlike Pearlstein, there's an essential humanity in Freud's paintings--he truly captures the character of his subjects. It's a kind of magic you sometimes see in painting that you can't really define, and Freud's paintings definitely had it.

Freud's influences included his teacher, Walter Sickert.

Here, Sickert attempts to capture the truth of his subject, but his paintings are more about the human figure itself, rather than the personality of an individual. From Sickert, Freud borrows both this search for the truth of the figure, and Sickert's heavy application of paint. This heavy application of paint is inspired in part by impressionism, but the impressionists and post impressionists had a different objective in mind. The impressionists--even painters like Toulouse-Lautrec, who very much tried to capture the character of the people he painted--employed a more romantic treatment of the figure, and Sickert aimed to eliminate this kind of romanticism from his paintings in an attempt to capture the essence of his subjects.

Freud's other great influence was Stanley Spencer.

Though Spencer would sometimes paint more classically influenced narrative subjects, his greatest achievement was his portrait and figurative work. There's an element of expressionism in Spencer's work, but it's mixed with acute observation and a more contemporary, naturalistic approach to his subjects that is closer to Sickert's approach than expressionism.

Contemporaries of Spencer were the German Expressionists like Otto Dix, and Oskar Kokoschka:

I discovered the German Expressionists before I discovered Freud, and they too, had a great impact on me, but for different reasons.

Expressionists pushed the fact of their subjects in a different direction--their approach is more visceral, exaggerated, and sometimes almost caricatured. Like Sickert and Spencer, there's no attempt to romanticize the subject, but it's a different kind of truth, and naturalism is a distant concern.

The German Expressionists were really my entry point to modernism. I discovered comics before I discovered painting, and German Expressionism had more of a relationship to the style of rendering in the comics that I loved. Like cartooning, it was an approach to the figure that was mannered and expressive, but there was a compelling and sexy vulgarity to the German Expressionists that reminded me of E.C. horror comics. I imagine E.C. cartoonists like Bernard Krigstein and Graham Ingels were more than a little bit influenced by the German Expressionists.

Freud too, had a more mannered approach in his early work:

But he was still searching for something. The Spencer influence is most apparent to me in these early portraits, but unlike Spencer, he doesn't quite capture the essential truth of his subjects. These portraits are neither truly expressionistic or truly naturalistic. Here he starts to get a little closer:

His technique, here is starting to resemble his later work. He doesn't employ the same thick bodied approach to paint, and he still hasn't quite captured that illusive quality of naturalism that he does in his later work, but it's getting there.

Here's Freud in his most mature period, but I'll just let the work speak for itself:

A contemporary of Freud that also knocked me out at the time, was Francis Bacon:

I discovered Bacon before Freud. Bacon, both more expressionistic, and more visceral than Freud, seemed like the ultimate consequence of German Expressionism. I wanted to be Bacon as much as I wanted to be Freud. I couldn't get enough of him.

Then I discovered Freud's other contemporary, Frank Auerbach, and it all started to gel:

Auerbach, who is still living, has similar ideals to Freud, but with a little more romance. He's a little bit Freud, and a little bit Giacometti, but Auerbach is mostly Auerbach. Each painting is done from life in a single day, though painted from multiple sittings, and he's as meticulous in his way as Freud. At the end of each day, if he's not happy with the painting, he scrapes off the paint, and his studio has a couple of inches of discarded paint on the floor from this process. But Auerbach too, is after his own version of the truth, but more like Sickert in the sense that he's trying to capture the unvarnished truth of the figure in the space it occupies, rather than the personality of his subject.

In his drawings he will work the surface practically raw with an eraser:

There was something about that stubborn persistence to find what he was looking for in his drawings and paintings that was, and continues to be really attractive to me.

But back to Freud.

Freud As a Personal Influence

I discovered Freud's work in college, when I was 21, and it blew me away. I immediately started attempting to achieve this sense of naturalism in my own work. In my own romantic attempt to get to the "truth" in my painting, I worked from life and painted with thick acrylic paint, directly with my hands, without brushes, which at the time I considered to be pretty noble of me. This painting was one of the few I held onto from that period. My dad sat for it. He spent most of the sitting napping. I have a lot of pictures i've made of my dad napping.

It currently hangs in my living room, and it's probably the only painting I did in school that I'm still happy with.

Like most art students I took myself pretty seriously. I remember a particularly annoying guy I went to school with then, who also took himself just a little too seriously. It's easier to dislike in others that we don't like about ourselves, so I took an immediate disliking to him, and when I found out he painted with his fingers, I started to realize just how pretentious I was. It was a tough lesson.

OK, maybe I didn't learn my lesson:

This was the kind of work I was doing when I graduated: giant drawings (I think the first one is something like 30 by 40 inches) in crow quill pen done from life. When you graduate from art school you're confronted for the first time with the reality of having to live your life without the shelter and support of art school. In art school, it's easy to come to the conclusion that you're brilliant. Some people will even tell you that you're brilliant. Eventually you discover that maybe you're not so brilliant. It's a bitter pill to swallow. Then there's the reality of trying to make a living, of trying to figure out what you're good at, and what you're good for. It's taken me a very long time to figure that out. I'm a bit of a late bloomer that way.

So if you know the work I do now, you'll notice that it's about 180 degrees from what I did then. All those high ideals and pretensions were causing me to get in my own way, and I lost track of why I wanted to make art in the first place. I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to be an illustrator. But it took me till just a few years ago to find out what truly gives me pleasure in the work I do. But I can't blame myself entirely. Freud, and the London figurative painters in general were pretty powerful influences.

And to close, here's a painting Freud did towards the end of his life:

Comparing it to his somewhat earlier self portrait above, it's almost as if he's returned to his roots with a more Sickert-like approach, while still capturing the essential character of his subject. Freud will be missed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How Do You Make an Income From Your Work In a World of Perfect Copies?

There was a recent discussion on Google+ about the future of digital media, and print on demand technology. Fabricator technology has been around for a while, but the quality of the manufacturing material has recently improved, an continues to improve. So what happens when you can not only print a book that looks just like a traditional book, but you can print consumer products like this, on demand? Or even more complex objects, like computers?

There's a great short story by sci-fi author Corey Doctorow that explores this idea, about a future where fabricators are illegal because they violate intellectual property laws. So in the story, after being released from jail for breaking this law, someone builds a fabricator...that builds fabricators. There's simply no stopping, copying. So what kind of future will we have when you can make a perfect copy of just about anything in your living room, no matter who originally owns the patent or copyright?

Below is a video that suggests what the future may hold for 3D printing:

Recorded information takes up space in the form of bites and bits, but the storage space is yours. You have X amount of RAM, and when you use up that RAM, it's used up. You don't take someone else's RAM when you copy their stuff. Case in point: you can copy someone's data without them knowing about it, because they have lost no data as a result. You have gained something: you have gained their data, but now both of you have the same data. There is no difference between the data that they have, and the data that you have. Your data is identical, but without loss in the transfer, and without the expenditure of physical RAM on the part of the person you're copying from. They've lost nothing physical, and you've gained nothing physical. This is why the metaphor of stealing a CD or DVD from a store that the big media companies are so fond of doesn't quite apply. Nothing physical is taken or lost.

If I can take a digital copy and produce a print or physical copy that's indistinguishable from a mass produced copy, we're talking about something very very different than an inferior copy of an original. Only in the case of original art is this not the case, but as far as publishing or any other kind of reproduction, the difference is already becoming increasingly minimal.

The ethics of the practice of copying is arguable, but it's important to consider this idea of the perfect copy that digital reproduction allows when we talk about the value of digital reproduction--value gained, and value lost. When we both own the same bites and bits, we both own the same product. So what does the person who copies take from the person who creates? The best that I can gather, assuming that proper attribution is given, is control--someone can take your creation and remix it or manipulate it however they wish--and potential income--income that you would expect to gain if you were able to sell copies of your work. So what we're really talking about is the perceived loss of potential income, a potential income we can't predict, since people who copy aren't always the same people who would otherwise buy if they couldn't copy.

In the new digital economy, you have to consider that you don't have control of either of these things. You can do what you can to maximize that potential income to your advantage, you can try to take legal action against people who alter or manipulate, or copy your work, but it's an uphill battle. As long as those perfect copies can exist, we have to think about media--how we consume it and sell it--in a whole new way.

The Creative Commons

I should say first that I'm not qualified to discuss the Creative Commons with any authority or depth, but I recommend searching the names, Cory Doctorow, and Nina Paley, for a more in depth discussion on the subject.There are even better authorities, but I don't have the names on hand. At any rate, I'll try to scratch the surface, but I'm still learning about this stuff myself.

Through Creative Commons licenses, some artists have been offering their work to the public for free, or limited use. For instance, Corey Doctorow offers his books for free as downloads under a Creative Commons license that allows sharing, but not selling.

Nina Paley wrote and animated a feature film released under one of the most liberal Creative Commons license that allows sharing, selling, remixing, and just about any kind of copying as long as attribution is given.

Paley is making more from lecture tours, merchandising and donations than she would have ever made if she released the film traditionally through a distributor. Corey Doctorow says that giving his books away for free as downloads actually increases his hardcopy book sales. But the creative commons, or allowing your public to copy and distribute your work with limited boundaries, is still unproven as an effective means for an artist to make a living, at least on a wide scale. These success stories are still few and far between.

You can learn more about Creative Commons licenses:


Cartoonist Colleen Doran, the creator of the long running comic book series, A Distant Soil, discusses:


what she thinks about online copying and how its effected the sales of her work. She's none to happy about this trend, to say the least.

George R. R. Martin And The New Internet Impassioned Audience

Here's the reality that I think the marketplace must accommodate: People aren't going to produce work of a very high quality that involves a very big big time investment--as in, full-time employment--without compensation or a means to support themselves. The public is accustomed to a very high level of craft in the products they consume. They're not going to tolerate a shoddy product, and when they like something they want more of it. Especially now in the new environment where artists have a direct connection to their audience.

The vehemence of George R. R. Martin's fan base is a prime example of how this direct connection has impacted the marketplace. George R. R. Martin is the author of the popular and best selling Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series of books that was recently adapted into the TV series, A Game of Thrones, by HBO. Martin's recent installment of the series, A Dance With Dragons, took longer than any of the previous installments for him to write, and the release date continued to be pushed forward to the frustration of his fans. His fans felt entitled to a new book, and were angry that he wasn't coming through. Nothing like this kind of entitlement existed before the internet. This kind of passion is double-edged--on the one hand, this new audience feels as if they own part of the author in way that has only been paralleled in the world of TV and movie celebrities. They feel the author owes them. On the other hand, passionate fans are passionate consumers, and I believe that his audience is so passionate about what they love, that they would be willing to support his efforts even if they had access to the books for free. The question is how much they would be willing to support that work, and how much they would be willing to remunerate the artist if they didn't have a need or willingness to buy his books in a traditional retail outlet. But would this audience support the artist directly, or would their still be a need for an intermediary, like a publisher or distributor, or even something more akin to a promoter or publicist?

So this question of potential income, and how artists will support themselves in this new environment of perfect copies continues to be unresolved. I don't have an answer here, but it's a question that all artists and creators are going to have to confront, eventually.

Please Check a Box Below

Once again, just a reminder of the check boxes below. Though I have stats on the number of people who visit the blog, I don't have a way to gauge interest, so I've added the check boxes below to give me a better idea of what people like to see. So please check, "more posts like this" if this is the kind of thing you like to read, "or less posts like this" if you'd rather see less of this kind of thing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Comics: The Bullet Proof Medium, or Why No One Can Mess With Us

Why Painting Can't Die

Every so often you hear someone say, "painting is dead." It's a statement that was more popular in the 80s, but every once in a while you still hear it said by academics and people who have spent entirely too much time in graduate school. This all comes from the myth that art must always be progressive, that if you're not doing something that's formally new, it's not worth paying attention to. Invention as a measure of value makes sense in the sciences, but not in the humanities.

For some reason, the visual arts focus on this idea of progressiveness more than any other discipline. You don't see this in literature, or dance or music. Value is placed on progressive formalism to some degree in these other disciplines, but not nearly to the degree that it is in the visual arts. A novel that is formally traditional isn't by default considered outmoded. But what is considered contemporary in painting focuses on the formally progressive. The idea that "painting is dead" is all about this focus, that somehow at some point there will be nothing new that can be done formally with painting. But it doesn't make sense that formal innovation is the only thing to be valued in painting. It would be like saying, because rock music has been thoroughly explored, there's no reason to write another rock song. Or since modern dance (and what could be more dated than modernism?) has been played out, there's no reason to explore it any further.

Formalism has long been the focus in visual art since the turn of the century, when formal innovation in the visual arts began to develop at a rapid pace. If you wanted to be contemporary, you had to keep up with Picasso. But Picasso's formal innovation (and the formal innovation of those that followed) is supposed to have freed us, not stifled us.

Comics: The Bullet Proof Medium

One of the things that attracts me to comics, is that formal progressiveness is a sideshow to the main event--comics as a literary form. A lot is being done formally with comics, but since comics is primarily a storytelling medium, it has more of a relationship to literature. The best part is: fine art academia still has no idea what to do with them.

One of my favorite cartoonists, Chris Ware, one of the most formally inventive cartoonists working today, was featured on the cover of Art in America a number of years ago, but since fine art academia tends to be naive about comics, they had no point of reference to discuss the formal invention in his work.

Robert Crumb is similarly celebrated by the fine art academic community, but in a similarly clueless way. They seem to know it's important, without quite knowing why. Comics, in the past two decades, as a form, have reached a kind of critical mass--there's too much being done of quality to ignore, and much of it, more for its subject matter than formal concerns, doesn't resemble what has been done before in the medium. Comics, at this point, is the last true visual art medium that is essentially bullet proof. Fine art academia simply doesn't know where to begin to discuss what is, and isn't formally progressive about comics. At least not yet. And even when they do, comics are so tied in to literature, there's no separating what we value in the novel, from what we value in the "graphic novel" (a term I loathe that we're pretty much stuck with at this point).

Comics: The Last Vestige of Modernism in a Post-Modern World

Chris Ware: fine art academics still don't know quite what to do with this.

Comics, aside from those that are technology based, is the youngest of all contemporary mediums. It Is the last contemporary form to be developed that involves the direct application of the human hand, a 2D medium that stands on the foundation of the complete history of painting, mark making, and symbol making, applied to storytelling in a truly unique way.

Though it is an arguable point, the medium of comics as we know it today, was developed at the early turn of the century. When the first long-form comic or graphic novel was developed is another arguable point, but the proliferation of the long-form comic, or at least, comics that were not first serialized as strips or magazines, essentially emerged in the later half of the 20th century.

The assumption is that everything that is done in contemporary media and art is post-modern by default. This is essentially true, but what is progressive in comics formally has more of a relationship to modernism than post-modernism. The formal inventions in comics involve signs and signifiers in a way that is not by design, self-referential. It is invention that comes from necessity in the same way as the progressiveness that occurred in painting in the first half of the twentieth century. Formal progressiveness in painting occurred through a practical exploration of the process of painting. Formal progressiveness in comics comes from a practical exploration of the process of visual storytelling. And while there is still a lot to be explored formally in technology based mediums, comics is the last new medium that involves the direct application of marks to paper, that last new medium in which anyone with the most basic tools, can create.

Please Check a Box!

Edit: I recently added two check boxes below each post, "more posts like this" and "less posts like this". The idea is to get a sense of what people like to read on my blog, without their having to make a comment. Though I do get stats on how many people view the blog, I have no other way to gauge peoples interest besides numbers, so do check a box, even if it's "less posts like this". Maybe you want more art, and less jabber? Maybe more jabber and less art? Or jabber and art? You tell me!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wednesday figures, Remembering to "Draw Through"

A five minute, and a twenty minute pose respectively.

Drawing Through

We had a long pose last night as well, but I choked. I tend to really stiffen up with the long poses, and I forget to "draw through" or basically, to lightly gesture in where a limb is covering up another limb. Not gesturing in where one part of the anatomy falls behind another often ends up in a disjointed looking drawing with poor anatomy. Drawing through is something I do all the time with figures I draw from photos or my imagination because I'm more conscious of reinventing the figure on the page to suit my needs, but I need to treat life drawing in the same way. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Another Running Cow, Getting Submissions Ready for the 2011 Bay Area SCBWI Illustrator's Conference at Fort Mason

Here's another running cow for the same project, another piece of a larger composition. All my pencils and sketches are done for this one, 2 pages and a spread! On friday I send my sketches to the art director who will be evaluating the entrees for the conference. The entrants get feedback on the 29th, and we submit our finishes on September 10th. This isn't exactly a competition; there are 15 entrants who signed up, and one will be chosen for the critique, but there's no real "winner" or "loser". Since most of us are newcomers to the industry, we've signed up for the project to get a better sense of the process of of putting together a picture book in collaboration with an art director. The art director will be Joann Hill from Disney-Hyperion.

Some illustrators submit really tight roughs, some really loose sketchy ones. I probably fall somewhere in between, but usually I can ink directly onto my roughs, since most of the hard stuff is resolved. One illustrator I know, Tin Salamunic, submits sketches that are practically finished illustrations!

Inevitably the art director will ask me to make some changes, so it's important not to fall too much in love with your compositions. There's a lot more work ahead.