While going through more boxes in storage, I found this Louie & Bruce comic strip among my papers from teaching cartooning to kids years ago … I think it was 1988.
I know … I thought I had finished writing about my old strip, but chance and fate had other plans.
With Christmas five days away, this strip fits with the season.
This comic strip is unique because I’m not the sole author. While teaching, I had my students help write the strip by first calling out ideas and then dialogue. This way, they saw the strip grow from beginning to end.
I’m not sure why we chose Christmas and Santa for a theme during a summer class, but the theme was fun to work with and caused a lot of laughter and excitement in the classroom … especially the idea of Louie sitting on Santa’s lap as if he were still a little boy.
Not long after I stopped drawing my Louie and Bruce comic strip, I began teaching art courses to adults and children. One of the youth courses was Drawing Cartoons, so I used my strips as teaching aids during the 6-class course. About halfway through the course, we discussed anthropomorphism—giving human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects. From that, we created the character, Frank The Dog.
From Frank The Dog came Fred The Dancing Dog and his all-girl entourage. This lesson introduced drawing action and showing movement in the cartoon.
I enjoy teaching children because their ideas are fresh and inventive. This in turn sparks new ideas in my mind. Teaching art to children is an adventure to an end I never envision when I create my lesson plans. And bottom line: children are funny. They make drawing cartoons, which is already fun to do, a delight to do.
When I teach my classes, I have subjects on slips of paper that students choose from a hat. The subjects range from short and tall, narrow and wide, round and square, to various emotions and animals. A random drawing of “short, wide, round, silly, pig” resulted in the pig illustration above. The subject of crazy resulted in the cat illustration next to it. And from a random suggestion, the cat became a slob as I taught them how to refine their drawings.
Teaching at school may be what teachers do for work, but artists teaching children (and adults) at workshops can be a wonderful experience for those of us who can draw it (or paint it) as well as teach it to others. And with a classroom full of different personalities, there’s never a dull moment. Every day is a new adventure. You never know how the adventure is going to end, but it’s fun to find out.
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.
I took a break from writing today to redo the cover of my Night of the Hellhounds fantasy novel, which features Vree Erickson, my youngest protagonist who has preoccupied my writing time off and on since 2012.
I felt especially artistic when I awoke this morning, and having the day to spend as I please, I thought it would be nice to give the star of the story a place on the book’s cover. The original cover was rather generic and featured the black hellhound baring its fangs at the viewer, so I set about locating all the drawings I have done of Vree over the years.
I like to work at a large scale, which gives me lots of room to put in visual elements. The problem with having a huge canvas is I tend to get caught up in the act of creating art and forget that a lot of those elements are lost when the final product is scaled down, as happens when book covers appear as thumbnails at websites. KISS, or Keep It Simple Steve, has always been my motto, so I found myself removing elements that lost its detail and cluttered the overall product when reduced in size.
Another KISS for book covers is text. Text is as important as good art and should be easy to read, especially when the book is a thumbnail. I made the text large and bright so the thumbnail image stands out. After all, thumbnails are what most people see at the bookstore websites that feature books, whether the books are e-books or the printed ones.
I like this cover with Vree’s face inside a fireball, though it’s actually her face through the fireball, like a window to another dimension.
Now, while I watch the sun set on a day well spent, I hear the call of my notebook wanting me to work on Vree’s future story. But not until I watch the clear sky overhead fill with the extraterrestrial beauty we call night. After all, the poet in me needs some play time, too.
Yesterday I wrote about creating characters, putting them on the story stage, and watching them act. In that post, I included a sketch of my current main character, Vree Erickson. I draw with all sorts of pencils, including charcoal and chalk pencils. I like using watercolor paper to draw on because it allows me to scratch into it using knives and razor blades. This technique is great for rendering hair.
You can read about Vree in my Night of the Hellhounds e-novel (available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble).
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.
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.
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.
Still going through old art files and finding old drawings that seem to have been done by another person. I mean, I know I did the artwork and can remember (vaguely at times) doing it, but it seems like I did it in another lifetime. And, I suppose, I did. I am no longer the person I was then.
I drew this pastel version of a whitetail buck in January, 1991 and gave it to a family member for their birthday gift.
I miss doing that. I spend a lot of time writing now. The drawings and paintings I do are always commissions. I think if I had a way to travel back in time like some of the characters in my books, I would go back to when I drew and painted for the simple joy of giving away my work. I suppose it was seeing all those smiles when they unwrapped their gifts that came not from the store but from the heart.
While going through some old art files, I came across this pen and ink drawing of a black panther drawn February 14, 1982. I was learning the craft of illustration, clearly seen in the clumsiness you see in my execution. Still, it is a nice drawing, which is why I kept it. Also because it made my seven-month-old son laugh. After all these years, when I see this drawing, I still hear his giggles.
I like to draw. Figure drawing, cartooning, doodling … you name it. Graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, various kinds of erasers, markers, styluses. Line drawing, shading, hatching, cross-hatching, broken hatching, stippling, entopic graphomania (you make a dot at the location of each imperfection in the drawing paper, then connect the dots using straight or curved lines) — the list could go on if I had more time.
I have no favorite medium, drawing instrument, or even subject matter. I like to draw … period. As artist Grayson Perry said, “Until we can insert a USB into our ear and download our thoughts, drawing remains the best way of getting visual information on to the page.” But I don’t draw haphazardly unless I’m doodling ideas. And even then I’m aware of what I’m doing, which is usually observing size and viewpoint. The drawings can look childish, but I never toss out any childlike drawing. Most children instinctively draw objects from the viewpoint that gives the most information. So they draw a house from the front, but a truck from the side — because it’s from there that you can see the truck’s cab, trailer and wheels. I still draw that way today; whichever drawing has a viewpoint that gives the viewer the most information is going to be the easiest to understand. That’s what I look for in my artwork (and my writing).
Everyone has their own ways of expression, and finding ways to say it can be a battle. The power of any kind of art is keeping it simple and understandable. Anyone who can do that can make the uninteresting things in life look complex, advanced, and largely exciting. That’s the true power of art.
Here is a go at this week’s Throwback Thursday at my Facebook page. The 3 drawings below are some of the best of my art from 1983. Enjoy this peek into my past.
Graphite on paper. The cat’s name was Mittens and the Spaniel’s name was Rags. I was studying fur when I drew this. I even wrote a short story about them, but I haven’t been able to find it. I probably threw it out after college when I went on a major cleaning spree.
India ink illustration for an ad. I used Chinese brushes to apply fill and washes. This exercise strengthened my watercolor painting techniques, which strengthened my acrylic painting techniques. As for the illustration (which seems awkward because it wasn’t photographed with all sides in correct proportion), it isn’t bad for a first attempt at drawing with ink.
India ink illustration. My first portrait ever attempted with ink. I was very pleased with the results then, though it would take me a few years of practicing to illustrate realistic looking hair in ink.
While I have been busy working on my latest book project, I come up for air every few days to post here and at Facebook. Today I posted two events from my past. The first is from 1974; the second is from 1984.
It is fun, interesting, and painful to look at works from the past. But it also reminds me of the arduous work I have done to get this far.
The first illustration below is a colored pencil drawing from high school. I was 17, hooked on surrealism, and everything I drew had a fantasy dreamscape look to it. My mom covered it with plastic wrap and kept it hung in the kitchen, though it clashed with her kitchen knickknacks and décor.
Ten years later, I was drawing wildlife. But I wanted to paint, so I bought watercolor and gouache paints and set about learning to illustrate the deer and wildlife in my backyard. This is one of my earliest attempts.
In 1984, I was also developing my talents as a cartoonist. While going to Art Instruction Schools, I studied cartooning under Charles Schulz, an alumnus of the school and the creator of Peanuts. The illustration below was my final assignment for that class.
Anyone following my blog would assume that I’m rarely busy writing or making art, simply because of the lengthy gaps between my posts. But that’s far from the truth. I’m busy every day working on my stories and art, from creating new chapters and editing old material, to sketching in my sketchbooks or actually composing and finishing a drawing or painting. All this takes time, leaving barely a few minutes to blog about it.
Blogging is often the last thing I do when I visit the Internet. Reading my email is top priority, followed by answering it, and then checking on family and friends at Facebook. I usually spend an hour a day at Facebook (sometimes two hours or more), and I often add my latest achievements there, leaving me little time to post anything here at WordPress other than a blurb before I turn in for the night.
That is a good description of my posts: BLURBS. They may never be anything poetic, but they’ll certainly keep you, my fans, abreast of my latest news.
Above is a deer sketch from 1988 or so. Old news, but it was a treat for me to find this photo among my old art photographs and share with you.
Meanwhile, I promise to blurb more often here at WordPress. I just have to learn to schedule my time better.