Friday, December 19, 2008


It's always interesting when you find something perfectly obvious that's hiding in plain view. For example, most kids love doing hidden pictures, and no doubt part of the attraction to the movies National Treasure, The DaVinci Code and even Tomb Raider is that idea of having big secrets and symbols right there in plain view that no one notices-- kinda like wondering where your glasses are only to have someone tell you they're already perched up on your forehead.

This is more-or-less exactly what happened to me a few weeks ago when, after showing some ruff-n'-tumble cartoons I'd been doing for work to Spooky at dinnertime recently wherein she commented that I was developing my own style and gallery of stock characters-- square jaws, big and expressive eyes, often angry or frustrated or embarrassed. Drawings like these below:

and a few other scribbles that I had done on a sheet of notebook paper like this (1/2 is upside down because I had folded the paper in half):
She started asking me Serious Art Questions that no one had really ever asked me before. when you used to draw, what DID you draw?? What do you LIKE to draw? What cartoons and comic strips are you drawn to? If you were to start your own comic book, what would it be about? Who's some of your favourite artists? Do you like 2D or 3D art more? What official art training have you had? What about colour-- do you like only B&W or have you tried working in colours? Have you painted in oils or watercolours? Have you ever tried charcoals? What about other media-- have you tried photography or clay or sculpture or wire or paper or ceramics or pottery??

I used to draw people and surreal landscapes; I've taken art APPRECIATION classes but no formal training; I've never THOUGHT of myself as an artist and wouldn't know what SORT of comic to do; colour and 3D completely blows my mind-- I can't imagine making an image in 3 dimensions OR colouring something flat on the page; I've drawn and worked with tempera (also known as fingerpaint) when I was a teacher and the last charcoal I touched was the lump kind used in grills.

I have an attraction to the avante guarde, the surreal and grotesque in art; so while I can appreciate The Blue Boy and American Gothic and Hopper's Nighthawks, [NOTE: all these links are to a piece of that artist's work and generally work-safe] what I REALLY like is the surrealism of paintings like Dali's Autumn Cannibalism and the intense-- and VERY disturbing-- photography of Joel-Peter Witkin. I ALSO am a very huge fan of the photographer Sally Mann (some people find her works slightly disturbing as well), and the nudes of Jock Sturges, though his work is generally controversial.

While sometimes a lil' schlocky, I love the textures and compositions of Anne Geddes, I've been a big fan Edward Weston's photos of the human form for years AS WELL as the glossy, erotic, and fast-forward images of Helmut Newton. If you've clicked on these links you've no doubt noticed that I'm most attracted to people and black and whites, but I'm ALSO fascinated by the "hyper-realism" of Ron Pearlstein and the surrealism of Escher. Adam's mastery of light and shadow is, of course, unparalleled, but until recently most of his work has not interested me very much-- I like the strange, the odd, the back-alley. I like intensity and flow and line and form and shadow. I find people more fascinating than objects and will always choose a Picasso over a Monet if that's the choice of what to hang on the wall or look at in a gallery. Magritte, however, like Dali, can do NO wrong whatsoever and if I had the $$$, I'd buy books with ALL their art in it as well as Norman Rockwell. Yes, friends, the man who actually LIKES Joel-Peter Witkin's photo, "Man Without a Head" (you can find it with a Google search yourself) is a die-hard fan of Norman Rockwell. I'm not sure I can explain it, but I just AM. NOW, I told you all o' that so I can tell you THIS: you would THINK that a person as exposed to art as I have been, who's been going to museums and pouring over books of art and paintings and photography since he was 9 years old would, at some point, GET IT. He should just KNOW, more or less, WHAT makes art "A-R-T" and also what makes for good, realistic drawing and painting. I should have been able to answer at least part of the question of what seperates the cartoon image from the realistic one (a question interestingly posed by Scott McCloud in his book, Understanding Comics)
Interestingly enough I didn't KNOW the answer until about 2 weeks or so ago when, after showing Spooky my scribbly drawings (see above) I came upstairs to find her sitting on the bed with her yard-wide portfolio of drawings she did in college open on the bed.

She flipped through the works she had done, mostly from a class on figure drawing, and while there were pieces of A-R-T in there that I want to have framed, much of the drawings she saved were excercises: the model stood still for first 20 minutes and then later for only five and then for just ONE minute before changing poses. Many of these sketches were very rough and quick and THAT was the first thing I learned that no one had taught me and I had never intuited myself by merely appreciating art:


Now, I love Spooky very much and I hope she won't get angry at me when i say this, but she is a very precise person. She's got SPECIFIC ways of doing things and she's quite hard on herself when she doesn't live up to her own high expectations. This portfolio was therefore not only full of the stuff that could be displayed, but a great deal of attempts and even failures (where art is concerned, Spooky very much embraces the credo of Thomas Edison when he said "I have NEVER failed! I've merely found 10,000 things that don't work!!"). Mind, even her quick n' dirty renderings are better than what *I* can currently do, but lest we forget, *I* gave up drawing at the age of 12 or so because all of my stuff looked like stick-figure cartoons compared to the elaborate, published drawings of Brian Froud. I was, for some dumb reason, convinced that I had to GET IT RIGHT the VERY FIRST TIME, or else I was a flopp.
(Bubs, you gotta tell us if that's a Flash or a Flopp-- you KNOW I put that in here jest fer yew!!)

So I first learned from Spooky that if one is to draw, the ONLY way to get better is TO draw and draw and draw, push yourself into new areas and just go ahead and sometimes goof it all up or, alternatively, get some of the drawing wrong but most of it right (Spooky noted in a beautiful drawing of hers that she got the model's bottom and lower back and thighs JUST RIGHT but that her shoulder, hair and the chair she was sitting on was out of proportion. Actually, I'm not sure I would have noticed if she hadn't said anything).

SECONDLY, the OTHER proufound thing that Spooky inadvertently taught me is this:


For example: a fantastic work in charcoal and then one in graphite:


Were I still 12 and looking at this stuff I'd stop drawing alltogether again, but here's the thing I suddenly realized when I looked at a FANTASTIC charcoal drawing that spooky did of a male torso: her definition, the ability to make a flat surface seem to have depth, was all in her skill at blending light into dark. It's a matter of laying down and blending together areas of dark and erasing areas for light. Master THAT, and anyone can begin to turn out A-R-T. No one taught me that, and for some reason despite all the B&W drawings, photographs and sculptures I've seen and studied and stared at, it's never even OCCURED to me until I saw Spooky's Male Torso.

"That's charcoal" said she, "and the canvas is large so I was able to blend it all with my fingers. If YOU'RE going to work with graphite, and lower grade printer paper, you need a stump."

Of course, I didn't know what she was talking about until she explained to me that the funny looking white things, pointed at both ends that I saw in the drawing section of the local craft store are called "stumps" and are used for blending graphite and charcoal in drawings (they're also called stomps, blenders, tortillions [when sharpened at only one end] and, in one case, "rubbers", though THAT is the British term for an eraser and I don't think THAT brand sells all that well).

"Gee, I've always just used my fingers," said Doc when I told him of this marvelous invention, but I rarely have because A) I have fat fingers and B) I also have SWEATY fingers and the oil/sweat on my hands fuses the graphite into the weave of the paper and makes it look bad.

So, of course, since Spooky had a few old stomps lying in her art case, I gave it a try first with some various cartoons:


and THEN more realistically on a piece of notebook paper:

The 'toons I cranked out for work, but I DID take about a half hour and attempt to draw a chess piece-- a queen-- from a child's book on chess. THIS, then, is the FIRST piece of SERIOUS drawing that I have attempted to do in more than 20 years. A drumroll plz....

There U go, my first attempt at realism in 25 or 28 years. It's based on a photo from a book where the queen is shot from below to make her seem powerful and towering, which is an effect I attempted to get but kinda lost somewhere near the top. I'd go on to hack this work into little pieces, explain how it's all disproportionate and I don't like the neck part and so on, but for a dude who's not even ATTEMPTED to do anything like this in almost three decades, I'll take it; it's no doubt the BEST thing I've drawn in my life (which may not be saying much, but hey, I'm workin' on it!!)



  1. I think you are doing quite well, far better than I ever could!

  2. naaaah... not YET, good sir, but I say thankee!! (come on o'er to this side o' th' country! We'll have some gin & tonics and paruse Spooky's portfolio and the rest will be smooth sailin'!!!)

  3. You know, drawing can be viewed as a metaphor for life. I was dabbling in some this summer and bought a book called Perspective without Pain. It's seemed such an apt title for life itself.

    I like your 'toons.


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