A Louie and Bruce Treasure Hunt [comic strip]

This Louie and Bruce comic page is from September 1981. I was 24 and married for ten months. I had big dreams back then and a bigger future in front of me.

I found this comic and others like it while I went through old boxes during a search for decorations of Christmases past. The drawings caused me to reflect on those days in a melancholy wonder. Wow! How did all those years go by so fast?

They didn’t really. But when you’re busy and not paying attention to life’s clock, the years seem to pass quickly.

Anyway, I’m going to feature my past—the “old” stuff from the 1980s and 90s—during November and December to close out the year.

I hope you enjoy it.

Peace.

Conroy’s Corner from the Archives [comic strip]

I began drawing comic strips when I was in high school. I mentioned The Klutz in my last post. I featured it in my notebooks, notes to friends, and on chalkboards when teachers weren’t around. The Burgess Bros. came next and became a common feature on many unattended chalkboards at my school. Fifi was a French girl from Montreal, Canada who had a passion for watching the Expos play baseball on TV. Her boyfriend, Carl Burgess, was a Navy recruiter stationed in a city I called Big City. (Hey, I was 15.) His brother was a brainiac inventor whose inventions caused crazy adventures that took place in many of my school notebooks.

Super Cluck was my rendition of Super Chicken, a feature on the TV cartoon, George of the Jungle. He was also a klutzy version of Big Bird from TVs Sesame Street, and a member of the Harkem Glove Trompers basketball team, though he rarely played because he hated wearing gloves and was so busy fighting crime. He used to wear a cape but almost hanged himself when he leapt from a rooftop, causing the bad guy (Evil McWeasel) to get away.

The Bullpen was a mature comic strip about a baseball farm team’s group of pitchers that tended to get into trouble with their coach and manager. Think Bad News Bears for grownups crossed with Catch 22 and M*A*S*H without the military locale. Or, imagine all your pitchers behaving like Ty Cobb or the way Babe Ruth did when he was out of the news public’s eye. Even Coach, who was like a father to the guys in the bullpen, had a lot of Pete Rose in him.

The Adventures of Moses featured a high school track star named Moses who was a health nut and an all-American clean-cut kid and his nemesis Flash’t (short for Flash Itt, his name) who was better than Moses was but didn’t take care of himself, like smoking a cigarette and pounding down a beer for warmups before running a track event.

After high school and six years later, I drew Louie and Bruce (a comic strip featured in my last post). I had finished a six-year enlistment in the Navy and had the means to attend college. Conroy’s Corner was born from that venture.

The early strips were 3-panel gags for a monthly newsletter addressed to the “adult students”—a title the college gave students who weren’t fresh out of high school and a way for college officials to segregate them from school activities. I drew many strips about the injustices at that school and the “us and them” attitude there. Most students ignored my protests. I tamed the later strips and eventually only featured sports gags.

The main character, Bruce Conroy, was really Bruce from Louie and Bruce in disguise.

I based the next strip on a true event.

After I graduated college with a BA in art, a local newspaper printed these strips and more. Some of them, yellowed by age, are still on refrigerator doors. I still get a kick when people ask, “Are you the person who drew Louie and Bruce and Conroy’s Corner? Those comics made me laugh.”

And I always grin. It’s fun to laugh. We need to do it more often.

Louie and Bruce from the Archives [comic strip]

This archive features a tiny collection of my favorite Louie and Bruce comic strips that I drew many years ago.

I began drawing comic strips when I was in high school, waaay back in the 1970s when dinosaurs still roamed the planet. The first serious strip I drew for teachers and classmates was The Klutz, featuring an unfortunate character named Howard Klutz who was prone to all sorts of mishaps. I drew many comic strips in school, filling pages of my notebooks with humor when I should have been taking notes for classes.

A decade later, another character became my klutz in a strip I drew for my coworkers, a strip called Louie and Bruce.

"Panel 1"

Louie and Bruce are friends who work at a sawmill. Louie is the klutz and Bruce is the ballcap-wearing foreman of the mill. I began drawing the strip in a large format that usually featured nine or ten panels. Below is the very first Louie and Bruce comic strip. The year was 1981.

"Louie & Bruce, August 1981"

Over time, I used the sawmill setting less and concentrated on life outside the mill. Below is the last large format strip where I used the sawmill setting. The guy talking to Bruce is Frank, a coworker and Bruce’s best friend.

"Louie and Bruce, May 1982"

Frank became a favorite player. At times, my strip was Louie and Frank instead of Louie and Bruce. Frank was more philosophical than the others and I would have him observing the world around him and give him a spot to make statements on those observations. This allowed me to run his own strip.

Frank - Snowball

Frank - Critic

I drew other characters for the strip, but Louie, Bruce and Frank were the stars.

Louie and Bruce Cast

Although I never became a syndicated cartoonist, a local newspaper ran my strip when I joined a writing club and the paper’s editor was a member. She liked my work and ran many of my strips before the newspaper succumbed to financial problems and was sold to a corporation that ran only syndicated strips.

Drawing comic strips allowed me to put on plays between the characters I created. Those shows were often silly, sometimes serious with a one-two-punch gag thrown in, sublime at times, and even nonsensical when Louie was at the helm. But they were always humorous. If they didn’t make me laugh, they never made publication. No other form of storytelling allowed me as much fun and freedom within the realm of a made-up world. Louie and Bruce was the result of that fun and freedom—an escape I loved from beginning to end.

Black Bear Painting from the Archives

In an attempt not to be a stranger to everyone who follows my blog, I’m recycling some of my old blogs from years ago. I have many new followers since I began this venture in 2011, and I’m certain few of them have riffled through those blogs of yesteryear.

This post features an acrylic wildlife painting on canvas from 1989. It’s from a September 26, 2012 post I titled “Evolution of a Painting.” Enjoy.

In 1988, black bear weren’t a common sight around Corry, PA. I had caught a glimpse of one during the spring while I was on one of my many field hikes into the swamps in and around Corry. I was sketching a beaver dam when I saw the big bear ramble through less than 50 yards away. I stayed as still as possible for several minutes after it disappeared into the underbrush, then I disappeared in the opposite direction.

The sighting stayed with me throughout the summer; I purposely scanned the woods and waterways for another glimpse of the bear. I planned to photograph it, but we never crossed paths, although it may have been out there, nearby, out of sight, watching me. Swamps have a plethora of hiding places. That’s why deer take refuge in them during hunting season.

From this near encounter came the idea for my next painting.

The hardest thing for me as a painter is getting my signature right. By that, I mean legible and in a pleasing location.

Although the painting looks done, I wasn’t happy with it. I changed my signature again and got rid of the halo around the front of the bear.

As you can see in the above photo, I glazed the water with Ultramarine Blue. I decided that it looked too “vivid” so I changed it back (see photo below). Now I had a finished painting. Here it is at the gallery, April 1989.

Sunset Photo Manipulation

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Manipulation of photographs and painting on paper.

I wrote in a recent post about my interest in manipulating my photographs to make them look like paintings. The sample I included was a skyscape. I like skies. And water.

Skies would not be skies without clouds. I could look at clouds all day.

The photo above is another skyscape. It is a combination—a collage—of photographs and paintings. I used oil paint for the sun and some of the clouds and watercolor for parts of the sky. It looks almost surreal.

A lot of effort went into making this picture—more time and effort than I usually contribute to this style of art.

But it was fun. And for me, that’s what art is all about.

Skyscape Photo Manipulation

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Photo manipulation of mixed media on paper.

Photo manipulation has a long history, beginning not long after the creation of the first photograph (1825) by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. Anyone interested can read the history at Wikipedia.

I recently became interested in manipulating some of my photographs to make them look like paintings. I tried various methods of applying paints and inks to the photos and came up with some interesting if not bizarre results. Learning to control those results has become a skill with a bit of good luck thrown in.

Other methods—to name a few—are cutting and pasting different photos into “coherent” collages, scanning and printing photos to paper, and using computer programs like Adobe Photoshop to manipulate the photo images. These three methods are not new either. I made photo collages 50 years ago in high school, scanned and printed photos at college, and played with Photoshop in the 1990s. Using Photoshop is a major task to learn and one I never had time for or took seriously.

Manipulating photographs has a stigma of deception to it because it fools the viewer into believing something that is not true. This issue arises because too many of us believe the camera does not lie. Any photographer can tell you that our camera lenses distort reality every time we snap a photo.

But I am not here to argue the science of photography or the ethical implications of photo manipulation.

For me, manipulating a photograph is another artistic form of expression. I did it with 35mm film when I froze it before loading it in my camera. Freezing cracked the emulsion on the film and made interesting web-like lines on the photos when developed. Adding inks and dyes often enhanced the crackled images.

I also experimented with double exposure, negative scratching, shooting with special lenses, and darkroom manipulation involving dodging, burning, and masking.

Lately, manipulating images has been fun to do again. And having fun is the key to being an artist who constantly produces art. The more I work with manipulation, the more abstract my art is. I understand better how colors, shapes, and designs attracted abstract artists.

Whichever side of the fence you are on, photo manipulation is an interesting visual tool—it makes a picture well worth a thousand words or more—and requires a lot of creativity, precision, and skill.

Back To the Drawing Board [drawing]

If I were able to go back in time and relive my childhood while keeping the knowledge I have now, I would choose again to be an artist first and a writer second.

I was an early and avid reader when I was a child. But I was also and moreover an art lover. Art, especially picture art, is what I first saw when I stepped inside someone’s home … beyond the mudroom, of course. Drawings and paintings on people’s walls captivated me and made me want to be an artist. So I worked long and hard to be one.

When I’m introduced to people, I’m announced with the title “artist.” I earned that distinction long ago.

“You’re an artist,” friends remind me when I struggle to write my stories. “Draw something. Paint a picture.” And I do, just to get away from whatever writing problem I’m dealing with.

And it comes so easily, drawing and painting. If only writing were so easygoing for me.

So, for a change of pace after a long bout wrestling with my next novel, I took up my drawing pencils and drew a portrait for a friend and co-worker. Below are displayed the fun I had creating the art.

First came the photo to work from.

It was the only photo she had of the couple together. Photos are limiting. And this one had many lost values in the edges, especially around the woman’s hair because of the busy and cluttered background.

I didn’t like the arrangement of her and the man she’s with—they are too far away from each other—so I rearranged them and brought them closer. They are married, after all.

I began with black marker and sketched a black and white composition that I call a cartoon. It gave me a reference of white space and something very important to composition, a something artists call “eye flow.”

I found the upper right and bottom left white space threw the composition off balance, so I trimmed it out and brought the couple closer together. When I was satisfied, I took new drawing paper and began sketching in what became the final drawing.

After it was done and I framed it behind glass, a friend photographed it and gave me a copy. It’s the only photo I have of the finished art.

My co-worker was pleased with the drawing and so was I.

I love drawing. I wish I could do it every day instead of working at the job I have now. But making art doesn’t put a roof over one’s head or food on the table for everyone who can do it.

Still, if I were able to go back in time, I would still choose to be an artist first.

Hypnagogia [painting]

I awoke today with an intention to write something profound. Then I got out of bed.

There are moments between sleep and consciousness when our minds are busy creating. For me, whether when I’m falling asleep or awakening, that’s when stories play out and I see artwork happen in my mind. Psychologists call this stage “hypnagogia,” a borderland between sleep and wakefulness characterized by surreal visions and strange sensory occurrences.

I learned to use hypnagogia to my advantage when I was a teenager, which sometimes resulted in “trippy” art while I was in high school. I also used it to form story ideas. The best times to do this were those waking moments, which left imprints in my mind that I recorded as best as I could into drawing pads and notebooks I kept by my bed.

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Cloud Ruler, Acrylic Painting

A routine sleep schedule helped me to have hypnagogia occurrences during the same time every morning. I was most creative with my art and writing during my school years and later when I worked a routine 9-to-5 day job. But when my sleep schedule was everything but routine, my creativity was at its lowest. This occurred when I worked as a steward, baker, cook, mess hall manager, truck driver, bartender, and housing manager in the Navy, and again when I became employed in retail.

My current retail employer insists but doesn’t demand that I make myself available to work at any time and day … except Christmas (subject to change, I’m sure, by a growing mental illness among CEOs called Wealth Accumulation Disorder). Luckily, my department is a “day department,” so I have been able to stay away from what the company used to call third shift. I’m a “day person,” which means I don’t have to work past midnight, but I should be available to begin working at 6am. Luckily (and I’ll take all the luck I can get), my department doesn’t open until 9am, which means my days begin at eight thirty. Quitting time is 10pm, so each day is fractured into two shifts: 8:30am–5:30pm, and 5:30pm–10pm.

Hypnagogia rarely occurs when I’m scheduled a 5:30pm–10pm shift followed by an 8:30am–5:30pm shift. I’m certain the lack of hypnagogia happens because I’m used to going to bed at 10pm and waking at 6am. When I go to bed later than 10pm, I struggle to fall asleep and end up reading until midnight or later. My mind is blank at 6am on these nights, and so I spend the hour reserved for recording ideas hitting the snooze button before I have to take my morning dose of Synthroid before I can eat a proper breakfast.

Without hypnagogia occurrences, especially right before I awake, I find myself less alert on the job as well. Perhaps it’s because experiencing hypnagogia is a condition I’ve grown accustomed to. When I miss out, I’m like a junkie without his fix. I need my moment to be creative. And when I’m feeling creative, I do more than make art or write stories, I function better at socializing. My brain’s gears are working best and in full throttle. I’m that smiling guy who greets you with a friendly hello because I got a night of good sleep bookended with hypnagogia.

Maybe someday big pharma will sell it over the counter. For now, I’ll take it when I can get it, and call myself lucky on the days—I mean nights—it happens.

Rock Sketches In Acrylic [painting]

It was time to be a visual artist again, so I spent a couple days getting my artist’s eye back in shape by working on some sketches. I decided to look at rocks and study their shapes and colors. I’ve chosen 3 better ones to share.

They’re all acrylic paintings on paper and cardboard—something I started doing years ago when I painted field studies of wildlife. Paper and cardboard are cheap and easy to find around the house, and they’re lighter to lug around outdoors than canvas and canvas boards.

Rocks study, large rocks, 8×10

I love earth colors. But they can be a bit dull, gray and dark, so I punched the colors up a bit. One facet of art is the exaggeration an artist puts into their artwork. I had fun with color and tried to be as painterly as possible too.

When I’m a bit rusty with my craft, I tend to draw with my brushes instead of painting with them. Squinting blurs the image and keeps me from seeing edges. Then I load my brushes and lay down paint and color, mixing values on the paper. That way the objects look like they haven’t been cut and pasted on.

Rocks study, creek rocks, 8×10

I exaggerated the colors in the above illustration with reds, blues and a spot of green, which was a lot of fun to do. No masterpiece here. But, oh well. I needed a break from writing and this was the perfect escape.

Rocks study, more creek rocks, 8×10

I have always enjoyed going to the local creeks and wading with bare feet over the large flat rocks and turning them over to see what aquatic life lay underneath. Good times.

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Water Shots [photography]

I have always been attracted to water and the life and world within it; perhaps it’s because I’m an Aquarian. Water can be hypnotic with its reflections and refractions of light and color, and it draws me to capture its many expressions. Here then is a sampling of local reflections and the sites that lay atop and within.

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Apple Blossoms [photography]

Occasionally, I get out my cameras and take photos of nature. Where I live, May is a month of blossoms all around me, and a time of beauty and rebirth. I used to compose my photos with ideas about the paintings I wanted to do. Now, while I photograph the outdoors, I compose stories in my head and then hurry to my notebooks and write until I am exhausted.

It is difficult to explain how the beauty in nature influences me to write dark fantasy stories. Perhaps it is the excitement of being outdoors that percolates my love of writing about imaginary things that have an edge of spookiness to them. It may be the Yin to my Yang. Who knows?

In any case, I always return home with beautiful photos and interesting stories to jot down. It’s win-win all around.

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Sketching Critters

I enjoy watching small animals skittering and dashing about with their daily activities. I have my favorites, like chipmunks and squirrels, that I try to capture with pencil and paper. But lately I have been studying birds more than usual. Although I’m not a bird painter, per se, I have done a few paintings with birds in them based on life sketches from my wildlife sketchbooks. And I did a finch painting based entirely from reference sketches.

Sketches in the Sun
Sketches in the Sun, Oil Painting, circa 2002

With so many species of animals, each with its own particular charm and beauty, the wildlife artist never lacks a subject. No matter where you live, there are always animals to sketch—in cities, gardens, parks, forests and farmland. Sketching them in their natural habitat gives you an opportunity to study their fascinating behavior. Whether sitting in a park, at a roadside, at the edge of a river or lake, sketching critters is a wonderful way to spend a day. And your sketches give a rich source of reference for your paintings.

When you have found a subject and settled down, spend a few minutes looking hard at the animal, in the same way as you would carefully consider a still life before starting to paint it. Ask yourself questions such as, “How long is the neck and how much of it disappears when the animal stands up?” This will help you understand the form better. Then, when the animal adopts an interesting pose, begin sketching. You’ll find this is when your patience is tested. The subject moves all the time, so you have to wait until it returns to either the original pose or something close. It might even scurry off or fly away and leave you with an unfinished sketch.

If the animal changes pose quickly and a lot, don’t continue with the sketch—it won’t be precise, and therefore useless for reference. To use your time well, have several sketches of different poses going at once, and dart around the page as the subject shifts position. This is challenging, but you should end up with a page of interesting studies. Don’t worry if the animal you’re sketching doesn’t return to the same pose—just a few lines can be full of information. And get down those shadows too. Their shapes help describe form and make your sketches more convincing.

Spend some time looking at the pattern of fur and feather masses, too—this is essential reference when you come to paint. Try to catch the “personality” of the animal by noticing any characteristic features that make it unique as a species.

Critters
You might find it useful to use cubes, oblongs and cylinders to describe the general body shapes. You can also use these to show the relative shapes and sizes of different species. If you are sketching many ducks on a lake, for example, do a whole page of these simple shapes. This is invaluable information when it comes to painting various ducks together. Try to show the size of an individual duck—or any animal, for that matter—by sketching its surroundings.

It goes without saying, of course, that you should take a note of the date, place, and time of day in your sketches—these will help you recall the scene later when working in your studio. Also, note the colors of the animal if you’ve not sketched it in color.

My favorite sketching tool is a box of watercolor pencils, but you should use whatever feels comfortable to you.

So make a day of drawing critters … and happy sketching.