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Monday, June 18, 2012

Drawing as Religious Experience

Maybe God was the first illustrator. Maybe he needed illustration to get his ideas across. Maybe it went like this:

God is sitting around talking to one of His angels, waxing enthusiastic about His plans to populate Earth.

"And then I'll make animals," He tells the angel. "What's an animal?" the angel asks.

"It'll be a little like a person," God replies. "Body, neck, head, limbs. Here, I'll show you." God grabs pencil and paper and draws a gorilla. He shows it to the angel, who says, "So animals will be hairy, wide-bodied humans with hands and feet."

"Yes, some of them. Except for these," God says. He scribbles on the paper for a moment, then holds up a drawing of an elephant. (It's a very fine drawing, done half with His left hand and half with His right.)

"Huhn," says the angel. "So animals will be big, hairy and wide-bodied, but some will have giant ears and frightening noses instead of hands."

God looks at the elephant drawing. "You really thinking the nose is scary?" Then, without waiting for the angel's answer, God draws a cat.

"What's that?" the angel asks.

"An ANIMAL," God tells him, with the tiniest bit of derision, because after all, what does the angel think they've been talking about?

"Ohhh-kayyy," the angel says. "So animals will be big, hairy and have hands and terrifying noses, except for the ones with small heads and striped fur."

"Exactly!" says God. Then He hunches over his paper and draws a giraffe.

"I give up," says the angel.

"And now for the birds ..." God says.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Using Zoo Time

If you like to draw, zoos are good place to be. You can hang out near the slow-moving animals, like the rhinos and elephants, or try to capture movement near the raptors' cages.

Yesterday the Northern Ohio Illustrators Society had its annual sketchcrawl at the zoo. My modus operandi was to do a page of fast gestural drawings, not seen here, to warm up. I recommend warming up. In fact, I recommend warming up way more than I did. It would've been good to warm up for a half hour just to work out the kinks.

After doing some quick colubus monkeys with a brush pen, I sat down to do their environment here. If I were going to do it again, I'd start by painting in only values with watercolor, then laying the lines back on top. Had I pulled that off, it would've made a better sketch, because the scene really is about values more than line. I'm a sucker for lines, sometimes to my detriment.

I also took a lot of photos for later use. On something like a zoo trip, I might try to capture a somewhat realistic depiction of the animal. Better yet, let's call it a more or less TRUE depiction, as in: here were the general shapes, here were the accurate proportions, my best attempt at color, etc. Here's what the flamingo more or less looked like."

When I go back to the photos I took, however, I'm likely to go a little freer, a little more stylized or to exaggerate. Observational drawing teaches me to look at the animal. Drawing from memory or from photographs lets me exercise imagination.

For My Writing Friends

For my writing friends, I wonder ... Is there any equivalent of a writing warm-up? I don't have one, but I'm a big believer that the creative process is similar from one discipline to the next, so it got me wondering what would happen if I figured out some version of quick-sketching as it would apply to writing.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why Cleveland Is Kinda Cool

A little poky here with the Parade the Circle page from last weekend, but I've been busy with Events Outside Of My Control.

But the point is that this year was the 23rd Parade the Circle event, in which Cleveland's University Circle comes alive with artful weirdness. It had been a long time since I'd been to the parade, but I was extra glad I went this year, because I'm adding it to my internal catalogue of things that are just really excellent about this city. And here's why:

See, I don't necessarily love a parade. I've heard it said that some do, and I respect that. But they're often too filled with military precision for my taste. (Sidebar: thumb's up on the Macy's TG Day Parade.)

But the reason Parade the Circle is cool is that the people IN the parade are just folks who have spent a few days or a few weeks coming up with outlandish, and sometimes beautiful, artful and chaotic costumes and floats. It all reminds me of how we made art when we were kids — playfully. There's a noticeable abundance of exuberance and a noticeable absence of slickness.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Your Daily Newspaper ...

You can click on this to make it more readable — though it will be most readable in print. Just sayin' ...

The thing about your daily newspaper is that, if you are lucky, there are still people working there who try to do cool things once in a while. When I say "cool," I mean "Beyond what the paper should be doing as a record of history in the making and raining hell on corrupt people." Like that. Anyway, the cool thing my newspaper, the Plain Dealer, did for me today was publish my illustrated version of a recent blog post. I hope people like it. I also hope the Plain Dealer is still around to do many more cool things for many years ago come.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Tee It Up

I play a little game to circumvent inertia and procrastination.

Let's say I have a project that is financially or personally important to me. Let's say it requires persistent work over a period of time. Or let's say it's just a one-shot job that simply needs to get done. In any case, once it gets moved from "attractive project" category to the "task-to-be-completed" category, the most primitive part of my brain wants to put a big pot of approach-avoidance on the stove and watch it boil.

This is odd, since most of the work I do is actually pretty pleasurable, or goodchallenging, or funproblemsolving. No matter. It's as if the Great File Cabinet Upstairs has a manila folder marked "WORK," and once a job slides into that file the luster lifts. I can't tell you how many times I was faced with an art-school homework assignment and felt myself heading for a great big pity-party, avoiding it only by reminding myself, "YOU ARE PAYING GOOD MONEY TO BE FORCED TO DO THIS WORK!" That put things in perspective.

Anyway, when I have a job and I resist starting, I trick myself with a tee-up. I agree to take on the tiniest little starter task — something that is so trivial that it cannot even be called work. If the project is to start an illustration, the task might be to clear space on my drawing table. For me, this is a tiny task because I never let my table get crazy messy. It would be an unfortunate tee-up task for a total slob. You see what I'm saying, right?

But in my case, the tee-up is, "I'll just clear a nice space to work, locate my tools and materials, then I'll start the real work in the morning."

And what inevitably happens is that I start enjoying clearing my work space, and decide that there would be no harm in taking a gander at my sketches — just look at them. And that either gets me focused and excited for starting the project the next morning — success! — or I actually just dive in and start working right then and there. Double success!

If have a writing job, and feel a little overwhelmed, I might get past the approach-avoidance with a decision to just write the first paragraph. Who can't write a paragraph? I can write a paragraph. And I do. And almost inevitably it leads to the second paragraph. When the story has seemed especially daunting, I've tricked myself with the even easier assignment of simply creating an electronic file and putting my name at the top.

Yes, I am that easy. I am that easily tricked by my own bad self.

Anyway, that's it. That's the tee-up. Maybe you already do this, too. Or maybe you want to try it. It's just a suggestion, after all.