Sunday, August 30, 2009

Full Circle

Ever feel like your life is a long journey back to the place where you started? I've been feeling that way today, because lately, I've been thinking more and more about comics. Although I started drawing before I ever read any comics, by the time I was 12, it was reading comics that inspired me to learn as much as I could about visual art. I attended art school after high school, but my comics dream had been largely forgotten. Occasionally, those dreams would return briefly then get pushed into the furthest recesses of my mind. In the meantime, I went back to school to focus on music, and worked briefly for a music education website (during which time I wrote my only book to date).

Over the past year, I have become increasingly focused on visual art, primarily in the form of painting as anyone who has visited my blog knows. A couple weeks ago, I bought a copy of Scott McCloud's Reinventing Comics. I had read this volume before, but it was the only one of McCloud's books on comics that I did not own yet. After making this purchase, I decided to re-read the series in order: Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics. At this point, I am almost finished with RC.

Along with Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling, McCloud's works are some of the most insightful and inspiring books on comics. McCloud explores comics in depth, but he does so using the comics format. So the content is informative and rich, and the format shows a comics master at work. These books help stimulate my ability to think of new ideas, even if those ideas aren't directly related to comics.

Earlier today, I checked out some of the webcomics mentioned in Making Comics for the first time. (After all the years I have owned this book, this comes as something of an embarrassment. Sheesh!) If you already follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me post some of these links earlier today.

Here are some of the best I've checked out so far:

I'm still exploring the multitude of other comics online, and from what I've seen so far, I'm sure there are many more gems to discover.

I guess the only thing to do now is actually start making comics myself again. The idea of publishing comics online is exciting to me, especially since I have some good digital tools at my disposal. The precision of graphics software has always appealed to me, especially because I have a tough time drawing geometric shapes precisely on paper (even when using a T-square and triangles...don't ask me how I can possibly screw that up!).

So I'll keep working on story ideas, and sketching characters until I've got a project ripe for consumption.

And now...back to the drawing board! Err, I mean, easel!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


One of my best friends, Paul, likes injecting random phrases into conversations. Three of the most common are:
  1. You'll get that.
  2. Hard telling, not knowing.
  3. Sheesh!
I've been saying "sheesh!" so much that another friend's son says it constantly. Last night, I took some random reference photos of myself for a possible self-portrait in the future. One face in particular cried "sheesh" so I made this in honor of Paul:

Three New Paintings

Hello again,

I've been busy working on several paintings simultaneously. Here are three that I finally photographed yesterday.

Mental Menagerie, 2009. Acrylic ink and paint on 16" x 20" canvas.

I had bought several acrylic inks manufactured by Liquitex before beginning this painting. When I used to work with India ink years ago, I often liked to create continuous line drawings, some of which resembled a single strand of spaghetti folded and contorted to create an image. The lines in this piece are not continuous, obviously, but I think it has the same spirit and a balance between positive and negative space (or figure and ground).

Initially, this work was only black ink on white-primed canvas, but then I decided to add color accents. As you can see, those accents took on a life of their own, and as a result, the final image is much more colorful than I ever intended. I should also point out that the large face on the left was the only area that I penciled first; the majority of the ink lines were improvised.

Old Bug-Eye, 2009. Acrylic ink and paint on 12" x 16" canvas.

This painting didn't begin as a face; it was an abstract work featuring gold ink. Then I added the loops on the left (at first they were much neater, but I wanted to build them up). It was then that the face developed and I finished the work by adding watered-down blue and purple paint to add more definition to the face.

Serenity...Now, 2009. Water-soluble oil on 16" x 20" canvas.

Like many of my other paintings, this was improvised as I painted. I started with the background which looked like decorative paper to me. It seemed peaceful, yet in motion, so I thought that the next step might be to add a still, ominous element. Somehow the idea for a robot with blood dripping from its hand popped into my head. When I see this figure now, it reminds me a little of the Prawns in District 9, but I assure you that this was not my intention.
For those of you who missed it, the title is a reference to Seinfeld.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Why I Love Quentin Tarantino's Films

Okay, this may seem like a bit of a bizarre post, but I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately, having seen Inglourious Basterds this past Friday. I thought it would be worthwhile for me to articulate why I enjoy Tarantino's work as much as I do (without sounding too much like a fanboy).

First and foremost, I think his greatest talent is that he understands pacing of narrative structure as well as pacing of individual shots. Although Inglourious Basterds does seem to drag a bit more than it should, it was still paced at a more comfortable rate for me than District 9. It may seem as though I am comparing apples to oranges, but I have noticed in recent years that an increasing number of movies are edited in a frantic way. This results in a kind of Tony Scott/Ridley Scott/television commercial look that rarely allows a scene to play out as a scene. Tarantino has learned an important lesson from older films, giving the actors and the audience a chance to experience the characters and locations. Such dazzling visuals and montages often sacrifice developing characters or story to their full potential within the film.

Among other directors that seem to understand this are William Friedkin and Blake Edwards, both of whom brilliantly used cameras placed in a fixed locations with long takes at times. In doing so, Edwards also used the edge of the frame to great comic effect in his Pink Panther films.

Now I know that film is a highly collaborative art form, and that screenwriters and editors in particular may deserve as much blame as any given director for overcutting, but from what I've read about a director's responsibilities, I'm inclined to think that the directors deserve the bulk of the blame.

Secondly, Tarantino has a unique writing style, unlike many other screenwriters. Yes, he often wears his influences on his sleeve, and yes, his dialogue is often totally unrealistic but at least it has character. Tarantino tends to be highly self-referential, which is a treat for his fans and probably a nuisance to those who dislike him.

Screenwriting incorporates much more than dialogue, but when dialogue has personality I tend to react to it much more. David Mamet, Charlie Kaufman, Paddy Chayefsky, and Billy Wilder (with his writing partners) are a few of the talents that belong in this category. When you see a movie written by any of these people, you will know who wrote it within a few minutes. There are some films from the past few years that I've seen (particularly The Dark Knight and District 9) that have totally dropped the ball as far as creating and developing meaningful characters is concerned. Granted, Inglourious Basterds has fewer strong characters than most of Tarantino's other films. (The marketing and title of this movie led to the false expectations that the American soldiers would be central to the film and that the dialogue would be primarily in English.)

I doubt that I will ever consider Inglourious Basterds Tarantino's finest work, but it has left me eagerly anticipating his next project. I hope more filmmakers will strive to meet the bar he has raised, not through cheap imitation, but rather through their own inspired invention.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Random Improvisation

Last night I felt like creating some experimental, improvised works with my new acrylic inks.

The first one I have finished is entitled "Ink Blob with Tentacles and a Bad Attitude." I basically created it by asking the question: "What if I made an ink blob and worked outward?"

Not exactly brain surgery or great art, but I had fun making it. :)


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recent Readings

It's been a long time since I posted anything other than my own paintings. Therefore, for the sake of reestablishing a little variety on my blog, I thought I'd mention a few books I've been reading recently.

First of all, I finally finished Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book that incorporates ideas from art, mathematics, and music to examine the nature of intelligence. I realize that I'm oversimplifying its contents with that statement, but you can go here to read more about it. The concepts within are deeply interwoven with one another, so I doubt that I fully understand it after just one reading.

One of my favorite new books is Alien Hand Syndrome and Other Too-Weird-Not-To-Be-True Stories by Alan Bellows and the editors of Damn This volume is a collection of freak disaster stories, miraculous feats, scientific absurdities, and forgotten chapters of history. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves the bizarre.

Finally, two nights ago, I started reading from my 1979 edition of Bulfinch's Mythology. I've read a section here and there since I bought it from a library sale a few years back. Lately, I've explored the chapters on Norse mythology and tonight I think I'll start the chapters on Egyptian gods. I have a few translations or retellings of classics such as these, but I find that the writing is often so dry that all the life is sucked out of these legends (Bulfinch isn't nearly as bad as my translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey). As a result, I am constantly reminded that it may be time to author new versions, or create new art works based on these time-honored tales.

Until we meet again...

The Return of Toby


Here is my most recently completed painting, entitled "Lord of the Frogs."

It is 18" x 24" and was made with acrylic paint and iridescent acrylic silver and gold inks. After a friend complimented another painting featuring Toby, I decided it might be time to create more works with this character. In fact, I have even started developing Toby's story, which might result in future paintings or other projects.

I can't remember why, but I thought a new Toby would be a good opportunity to incorporate a stamp. A friend had given me some frog stamps quite a while ago, and I had never really used them for anything. (The stamp used in this painting was manufactured by Vap! Stamp btw.) The other stamp will get its own time in the sun someday.

The title refers to the way that I consider Toby to be my alter ego. I started including him with my signature (especially on drawings or paintings) since I was 12 or 13 so you might say we've grown up together. He vanished for a few years but now he is back. I have also liked frogs since I was a kid (one of my first nicknames was Ribbit because of a giant stuffed frog I owned and the fact that I often sat in a frog-like pose) and, since this interest has been rekindled in the past few years, I now own more than 30 frog-related items. I assure you that most of them were gifts.

Until next time,


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Inspired by Facial Hair

Greetings! Today's post features a recent painting entitled "A Man for All Seasons" (2009, acrylic on 16" x 20" canvas).

It began with a mental image of a spiky goatee, which then evolved into the idea of seasons, or warmer and cooler areas, revolving around a central figure. I also wanted to create a finished work quickly; it took me less than forty-eight hours from start to finish (although my initial goal was to complete the piece in less than twenty-four hours).

It's been completed for a week or two, but I only got around to photographing it last night.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Gift Given

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine, Norman Daigneault celebrated his 80th birthday (albeit a little early) at a semi-surprise party. His daughters Ann, Joyce, and Mary began planning the event in January, and as soon as I heard about their plan, I wanted to help them make it a special day. I thought it would be nice to present Norman with a painting of him and his wife.

Here is the final result:

The painting is acrylic and measures 16" x 20". Both the older and younger versions of Norman and his wife Laurel were taken from the scores of photos that I scanned for a movie slideshow that was shown at the party.

Perhaps I will attempt more human likenesses in the future. If so, this will be the place to see them.

Until next time,