Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Colorful Abstractions

I really only wanted one thing for Christmas: a little free time to draw and paint and manipulate pixels.  Now that the grading is done and the obligatory rituals of consumption are more or less past, I have some time to spend with art.  My big fear, though, is that absent my guilty escape from obligations, I won't pick up the pen or the brush.  And maybe that fear is enough to keep me in motion.  And maybe not.  Even prior to the "new" year, I feel this precious time slipping away, oozing down a winter wall.

So I turn to this relatively new practice of abstract comics.  "New" to me and, apparently, new as an emerging genre out of a confluence of various aesthetic and popular practices.  As with the related form of poemics (poetry plus comics), there is a productive tension in the hybridity.  Is this more abstract than comics?  Do these sequenced images rely on narrative too much?  Do I tip the balance too far in one direction?  Or are these questions really about my own identity?  Am I a comic strip creator first and a fine artist second?  Am I making do with one because I don't think I am very good with the other?  Poet, illustrator, artist, performer, scholar -- why do these roles struggle so much in the blend?

And then there's the personal challenge of color.  You may have noticed from the web site that I tend to work in black and white and shades of gray.  I guess that makes me a value artist (har har!)  The sad truth is that I am slightly red/green colorblind.  I work with color tentatively -- which is to say, boldly or not at all.  Perhaps I latch on to abstract comics because there is less need to match color with some representational analogue.  Even so, I am given to some fairly unusual color combinations -- or so I am told.  In my eyes, these palettes are quite pleasing.

Also, I think I harbor some suspicions that my work with digital graphics is its own cop out.  I am largely self-taught and rely a bit too much on Photoshop.  I've taken time today to try to teach myself more about vector graphics, and to try to get somewhere useful with Adobe Illustrator.  Boy, is that tedious!  These works are not done in Illustrator, but are a combination of scanned pen and ink work reworked in Photoshop.  Hey, it's what I know.

In the end, that's probably what really matters.  It's what I know.  It's what I do.  A true artist is an artist in his/her own way.  I never wanted to make a living with this stuff.  I have a job, and I am fortunate in that it so often intersects with these interests -- inspirations flowing together from unanticipated sources and producing odd and intriguing mixes.

So I end where I began, seeking in this time off for the holidays opportunities to do art -- and worrying that I won't.  Even as the evidence at hand suggests this is an unfounded worry, I think I realize work and art are caught in their own blend and flow.  The one with its obligations and time-sucks fostering the other, either with privileged access to time and tools or by providing provocations for aesthetic escape.  And the other both a deep wellspring of joy and its own source of abstract anxieties -- is it good enough, is it right, is this who I am?  And aren't those just the silliest questions ever? 


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pioneer Spirit -- Looking Forward/Looking Back






This week's prompt at Illustration Friday is "Pioneer."  To the stars and beyond! Actually, I came close to drawing a cobbler on an ear ("Pie on Ear"?).  Fortunately, my inner SF geek won out over my incessant need to make puns (visual or otherwise).

This is also that time of the year when everyone is doing some sort of retrospective.  I've put together the following 2009 retrospective of my Facebook profile pictures.  Perhaps this is a tribute to the unavoidable narcissism of Facebook (and really, blogging and web presence, in general).  But I also find that, seen back to back, they reveal much about not only the changing events but also my shifting aesthetics in 2009.  I'm not much of one for chronicling my activities with my profile pic, but I do use it as a place to share new skills and visions in digital art.  Prior to finding sites like Illustration Friday, The Green Palette, and Artspark Theatre, my Facebook profile picture was my greatest "prompt" for doing art regularly.  And, of course, toward the end of the year I stopped even trying to make those pics look like me.

Anyway, enjoy.  And if you have any questions about how I made any of these, don't hesitate to ask.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Imagining Yesteryear's Newness


"Confetti?" scoffed Grandpa. "Why, when I was a boy, 
we celebrated The New Year properly, with the 
time-honored tradition of fireworks and spectacle!"

Susan Sanford over at Artspark Theatre has posted another delicious challenge, this one seasonally appropriate.   I worried a bit that my blog/art productivity lately has been driven by "real" work avoidance.  Now that I have the busywork off my desk (for now), I feared I might stop so creatively avoiding work.  So Thank-you, Susan, for keeping me suitably challenged and inspired.

Yes, I am somewhat cynical about the holiday season.  I also continue in a theme near and dear to me -- inserting impropriety into our nostalgia-driven sense of earlier, more innocent days.  "Grandpa's" rant about the good old days needed a brat with his pants down, I thought.  And the idea of otherwise snooty people in posh frocks waiting for a kid to light his flatulence appeals to that carnivalesque side of me.

No scans this time.  I'm trying to get more comfortable with the graphics pad, and at the same time preserve a hand-drawn, pen and ink quality.  Below is the Susan's challenge prompt with the provided beginning of a caption. 



"Confetti?" scoffed Grandpa. "Why, when I was a boy, 
we celebrated The New Year properly, 
with the time-honored tradition of...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cyclops Rabbit -- A short comic



 I am stuck at home, supposedly grading and finishing the semester.  Of course, what that really means is that I am avoiding grading and thinking about all the art work I want to be making once the semester is put to bed.  And here is a page work up of a character that came to me while I was not grading yesterday.  If the cyclops rabbit is looking for a brier patch, I clearly am looking for fantasy escape from the mundane work that insists on occupying my attention.

Okay, back to the spreadsheet.  And hopefully tomorrow it will all be done!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Weight of the Undone



This week's Illustration Friday prompt is "undone."  Now, I could have (and probably should have) just taken a picture of all the busy work and end of semester administrivia I have waiting on my desktop.  All the work, in other words, that remains undone.  Instead, I went with the first image that came to mind: a close-up of a button fly coming undone. In order to produce this image, I decided to "undo" a little soft pornography.  So, the figure above was originally a photograph of a soon-to-be nude male model on whom I drew some pants (albeit suggestively coming undone).  I then filtered, processed and otherwise worked the image to get to the illustration you see before you.

Here is a scan of my drawing of the pants before digital manipulation:
 



Here is the manipulated photo of the male model:
 
 
 (I know, copyright and all that.  Look, if you
can identify this pic as represented, I will gladly deal with 
the rights issue.  But as a DIY, not-for-profit blog illustration, 
I say the ball is in the copyright owner's court to make 
the appropriate claims...)

And here, for your viewing pleasure, are some other versions of the final image above:



 

Not exactly stages in the process, but some indication of how much time I spent working on an Illustration Friday prompt when I, perhaps, should have been addressing the weight of the undone. Ah well, grades are due and I don't want to spend all weekend with a spreadsheet.  We make choices of how to spend our time, and those choices also can be our undoing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

(Cross) Hatch




This week's Illustration Friday prompt is "Hatch."  First, I thought of playing around with the idea of a porthole.  Then, I landed on the idea of a visual pun.  Yes, I'm pretty sure that bird is a Cardinal overseeing the "cross hatch," both in the nest and around the rest of the composition.  If only the internet allowed me to hear your groans...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Crunchy


Crunchy

The theme this week over at Illustration Friday is "Crunchy." A lot of images come to mind -- many involving breakfast cereal for some reason.  But my mind is apparently still, um, chewing on abstract comics.  I am wondering if this is a little too concrete to be an abstract comic.  The image is not really representational, but the stylized decay seems a bit too much like a narrative.  And then there's that cheesy comics sound effect.  Ah well, whatever it is, it is also my entry for this week's illustration prompt. 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stranger Phantoms -- An Abstract Comic


Stranger Phantoms

I've been enjoying the work and commentary over at Abstract Comics a lot this week.  As with probably all artistic practices, there's a certain amount of disagreement as to what does or does not fit.  Andrei Molotiu tackles this conundrum in the first paragraphs of his introduction to the anthology, Abstract Comics.  First, he defines the genre:  "sequential art consisting exclusively of abstract imagery" (1).  Quickly, though, he adds: "the definition  should be expanded somewhat, to include those comics that contain some representational elements, as long as those elements do not cohere into a narrative or even into a unified narrative space" (1).  Fair enough.

In setting up the framework for what will be included in the anthology, Molotiu then moves to firm up the definitional boundaries from the other side of the fence, identifying what abstract comics are not.  "What does not fit under this definition are comics that tell straightforward stories in captions and speech balloons while abstracting their imagery..." (1).  Got it?  Got it.

Still, disagreements at the blog continue to emerge, with the desire among some for a "unified rhetoric" and "clear definitions" that clearly mark what is and is not an abstract comic.  Apparently, it matters whether you consume your abstract comic fat end first or narrow end first.

Okay, I kid (and with allusions to Swift), but I also find the conversation fascinating.  I don't mean to disparage those who are working out the parameters of an emergent genre.  I also think there are several unremarked assumptions in the discussion.  For example, there is a kind of formalism at work here that wants to make these assessments of the work itself, but where are the boundaries of that work?  Does it include the frame(s)?  The title?  What the artist says about the work?  

Take the following work posted at the Abstract Comics blog by Rappel:


 


Seems to fit the definition, right?  But what happens when you learn that the title (at least in the blog post) is "natural sequence/river"?  Does that frame turn it from an abstract composition to a narrative of reflections on the water?  If so, that seems like a lot of power for a title.  Then again, George Lakoff has spent the better part of an academic career informing us about interpretive frames and how they guide our perceptions.

What Rappel's comic and the discussion that followed on the blog revealed for me is that the definition of abstract comics (and probably any art, for that matter) resides somewhere between the object/image and its reception (c.f. Roland Barthes distinction between "work" and "text").  If human beings really are the storytelling animal (Homo narrans), we will always at some level defy Molotiu's anti-narrative clause in the definition of abstract comics by reading narrative into the play of images, especially if they come in sequence.  Yes, there is a difference between the clear cues of narrative content and the reading practices of individual viewers.  Even so, the boundary between between those story-sources is murky.

I am not really invested in pinning (or penning) down a definition of anything.  For me, the practice of naming and defining is about what it encourages me to see.  In the art world, I think it is also a call to defy, to push at boundaries, to try something different.  And so this discussion has.  

Return to the top of the page and consider my abstract comic, "Stranger Phantoms."  I am sort of hoping you already have, because now I am going to add another interpretive frame to it.  This is a bricolage/collage piece, re-purposing and re-framing panels from classic "Phantom Stranger" comics.  In their original context, the panels were elements of fantasy stories.  Here, they have been reworked with more attention to composition and value progression than telling a story.  The Stranger's powers are mystical and supernatural -- he is not your typical superhero and is a quaint anomaly in the DC universe.  In depicting his stories, artists often rely on surrealist and even abstract representation.  By no stretch of the imagination do I posit these comics as originally presented as fitting Molotiu's definitions for abstract comics.  But in "remixing" the originals, I hoped to create a product that at some levels plays with process, with the idea of abstract comics as a way of viewing as much as a kind of art "thing."  I do not discount what my selection, framing, and positioning have done in the creation of an abstract comic.  On the other hand, I also note that the abstract qualities of this composition were, in part, always already available to me in the source material.

So, (how) did that paragraph change the way you view the comic? 












Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Poemics?



I thought "abstract comics" was a big discovery (for me) of new directions in comics arts.  And then I come across this other term, "poemics," as a direction several comics artists and poets are pursuing.  Usually short pieces (often related to abstract comics) that combine poetry and comics, several examples can be found on the web, especially at the blog poemicstrip.

What fascinates me about this is that I think I've been doing this all along.  The piece above might be a bit of a stretch for a poemic, but I doubt it.  Certainly, when BAR Corporation was publishing conceptual art cards on the Comics page of the Daily Egyptian, I think many of those qualified as poemics (although they tended to be single panel works while most poemics seem to work with sequenced images).  So, with that in mind, I've included several of my contributions to the BAR Corp project below.  And well, I suspect I'll be working more with abstract comics and poemics in the near future.

 

A Rag Man



Space Limitations 




The Ballad of Baudrillard

Monday, November 30, 2009

One Last Challenge...


Eunice and Uncle Reginald had conflicting
opinions about the new Progressive Education.

As I head back into the "heat" of December and the end-of-the-semester *obligation* storm, I steal time to indulge in one last challenge/prompt for illustration work.  Susan Sanford over at Artspark Theatre offers a vintage photograph this month for an illustration challenge.  This calls for collage, but I've filtered the final composition to greyscale, giving it a slightly more illustration feel.  And here too is my prurient desire to muss up a more proper age.  Although, in truth, this image as altered is not all that historically inaccurate as some 19th Century progressive education movements did embrace child nudity as healthy.  


As with last time, here is the provided original:



Sunday, November 29, 2009

Entangled



Right, so apparently I should have been more patient.  The Illustration Friday prompt did eventually come out, and this week it is "Entangled." I've been working a lot lately with pen and (black) ink, doing a lot of cartooning.  But I also have worked with other pigments and collage before.  At some point, these interests will fuse (dare I say, "entangle"?) in some interesting ways.  For now, though, I am oscillating back and forth between styles and techniques.

I really enjoy the Illustration Friday prompts.  They keep me active and engaged with visual communication as I prepare for some more ambitious projects.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Random Art


Inspired by (but nowhere near as good as) some Canadian First 
People's art that our Thanksgiving host had hung all over her house. 

It appears that Illustration Friday will not be providing a new prompt for this week.  Everybody deserves a break, I guess.  So, in lieu of an inspiration from outside, I've been tweaking some images from my sketchbook.  And then, once shared, I think I'll be heading outside.  This may well be the last nice weather for a while, and I wish to extend my thankfulness for a beautiful Friday when I don't have to go into work.  I may even stay out all night and gather further inspirations for space oddities like...





Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Abstract Comix


I call it, "Siphoning Gutter Blood."

I recently went to Chicago for a professional conference.  While there, I stocked up on independent and arty graphic storytelling.  Probably one of the more interesting phenomena I learned about is the realm of "abstract comics."  I was introduced to this practice briefly in a two hour "short course" on teaching comics as communication offered by Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith (based on their textbook) at the National Communication Association Conference I was attending.  I later picked up Andrei Molotiu's excellent anthology, Abstract Comics, at the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Since returning home to both my computer and my drawing board, I've enjoyed viewing Molotiu's blog, Abstract Comics: The Blog.  And of course, I've enjoyed trying my hand at the form.

My above foray into the realm of abstract comics is influenced somewhat by Andy Bleck's contributions to Molotiu's anthology.  I like the idea of making the frame in comics more organic, imagining each panel connected (like former AK Senator Ted Stevens's description of the Internet) by a series of tubes.    In the comics industry, the space between the illustrated panels is called the gutter.  Scott McCloud, the ultimate meta-guru of comics, considers at length the role of closure in "filling in the gaps" presented by the gutters between panels.  Here, I've offered a bit of plumbing for those gutters, albeit more like alien arteries than down spouts.

I'll probably keep playing with this format, so look forward to more abstract comics pages in the future.



I call it, "Texture with Ghosts."



Hmmm.  Have I found something on the boundary
between abstract and conceptual comics? 
I call it, "Movement of a Simple Thought."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

...the Food of Love



This week's Illustration Friday prompt is "Music."  My contribution may be a bit "normal" and lacking my usual weirdness.   Nonetheless, it is the season of returning juncos and white-throated sparrows to the feeder, with their recognizable songs of winter.  Two days ago, I went for a walk in the neighboring park.  It is hunting season, so parts of the park are wisely closed to hiking.  On a "safe" trail, I heard the autumn bird chorus silenced by the report of not so distant gunfire.  And then followed with a new birdsong: alarm, beware, look out. 

Music soothes.  It is the "food of love."  It takes us away.  But for some, it is the way we claim territory in a world of never ceasing competition for real estate.  It is both the alarm and the all okay.  It is the song of something fragile, striving to be heard even as it struggles not to be seen.  I feel ya', little birdy.  Even though it is my kind with the firearms, I often feel that competing urge to proclaim and hide away in the same gesture. 

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Illustration Prompts


Anthony was amazed when he looked out the window and
observed...his pet alien chasing a robot off the lawn.

This has been a busy week yet a bit of a relief from the daily blogging required by my participation in @Platea's "Following Piece 2.0" last week.  Nonetheless, I am trying to keep my commitment to regular posts here, and so I take a break from planning for the National Communication Association Annual Conference next week to post some art.

The above piece is my contribution to Susan Sanford's latest illustration challenge over at ArtSpark Theatre. I love this blog and Susan's whimsical illustrations.  Her combinations of illustration and photography always amaze and inspire me.  I also appreciate her sense of collaborative play as she offers incomplete illustrations for friends and followers to complete.  This is my second participation in Susan's challenges. (Note: In the above illustration, Anthony, the wall and the window frame are done by Susan and what's on the lawn is done by me.  Just wanted to be clear.)


Linked on her blog is the wonderful site, Illustration Friday, which offers a weekly one word theme to inspire illustrators of all skill levels. This week's theme is "blur" and below is my contribution to that theme.  A quick note on process: this illustration is not a scan or made up of scanned parts.  I did this one entirely with the graphics pad and with, honestly, mixed results.  But I share anyway (and look forward to imitating the subject in the near future).


 "Blur" (Illustration Friday 11/6/09)





Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wishing All a Gaunt and Strange Halloween


My contribution to this week's Illustration Friday theme: "skinny."  If this guy seems a little creepy, consider him appropriate for the season.  I also think he matches the subtitle of Bungy Notes -- he is flexible, he is strange.  Happy Halloween, all.  Don't eat too many empty calories.

Following Piece 2.0 -- Day Five



My subject for the last day of @Platea's "Following Piece 2.0" is a self-identified curmudgeon and misanthrope.  His profile professes his revulsion for humanity.  Why "parasite" is part of his Twitter name, he never really clarifies.  Parasite did not post very much on Friday, concentrating most of his tweets in the early morning hours about his general disdain for Chief Justice Roberts and the damage the Bush Administration has done to the justice system.

With that good beginning, I was really looking forward to following him for a day.  So I was understandably disappointed when Parasite's feed went silent for the rest of the day.  I guess I got spoiled by the frequent tweets of my earlier subjects and their tendency to have something that significantly concerned them across the day.  In Acconci's original Following Piece, sometimes the people he followed went into private space quickly, making for a short report.  This cover of that work ran into a similar phenomenon today.  I would be a hypocrite, indeed, if I complained about anyone else's reliable frequency in blogging, micro- or regular.  My own presence in these virtual spaces is spotty and unpredictable. 

And this observation, both of Parasite and my self-reflexive turn, leads to an observation about significant differences between public space and the internet:  It is much harder for me to avoid moving through physical public space than it is to avoid public virtual  space.  At some point, I have to go get groceries (to say nothing of going to work).  My participation in public virtual space is always voluntary, is always optional (at least at this point in my life, at this point in our culture).  There is much to be praised about voluntary performance in optional public space -- issues of agency and communities of choice abound.  There is also a different sort of ethic and imperative of care involved in public spaces that we must share -- even more so when that public space and its practices must be protected from private interests and abuse (c.f. "The Tragedy of the Commons").  And that, I think, is what so concerns Parasite in his few insomniac posts -- the abuse of public service (i.e. the justice system) in the name of private interests.

Friday, October 30, 2009

3:09 a.m. Parasite provides evidence that Supreme Court Justice Roberts is corrupted by coal money. This keeps him up at night? 

3:16 a.m. Parasite asserts the Bush admin hamstrung the Justice Dept. with shills. He follows the legal system, apparently.

3:18 a.m. Parasite continues his expose' on Justice Roberts, who apparently wants to make it easier for judges to take bribes.

3:19 a.m. Parasite links to story of PA judicial system abusing juvenile offenders. He ties the abuse back to...Justice Roberts.

8:09 a.m. Parasite praises German health care system and wishes he only had to pay $25/mo for coverage. Would it buy sleep aids?    

Friday, October 30, 2009

Following Piece 2.0 -- Day Four



Today's subject for @ Platea's "Following Piece 2.0" is the very entertaining Craft Mom.  She runs a semi-popular blog of tips, ideas, and crafts for mom's.  Apparently she's been profiled by local media.  And she has a whole network of "blogger mom" friends that she communicates with on a regular basis.  As with my other subjects this week, she lives nearby in southern Illinois.

I was kind of amused when following her turned into a big psycho-drama about generating followers for her blog's Facebook page.  In fact, I found myself nudging my emergent protocol a little at the end so I could provide a little closure to the whole excitement of her attempt to reach 200 followers.  My collaborative experiment in following keeps encountering the importance of having followers in digital communities. 

Read this unexpected confluence alongside my experience of sharing my daily reports with my partner yesterday.  He finds the project engaging, but notes that I seem kind of mean in my characterization of the people I am following.  I will admit, I do go for the laugh a lot.  Even so, I do so for a reason.  I want to be very clear that I am not just retweeting someone's posted thoughts and experiences; I am reframing them, taking them up as partial narratives open to my own speculation and emphasis, my own creative play.  I fill in the gaps that are inevitable in a brief and chance encounter, whether on the streets or on-line (or on the "stweets," as @Platea would say).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

7:39 a.m. Craft Mom starts her day with the "fun" of learning about spiders, whether or not it is nearly Halloween.

8:14 a.m. Craft Mom circulates information for winning an HP Photo Printer. Free craft supplies are the best!

8:19 a.m. Craft Mom offers an idea to a friend for preschool show-and-tell for the letter A. She recommends "Aardvark."

9:51 a.m. Craft Mom congratulates a friend on achieving 200 followers for her blog. See? Folks like being followed. 

9:54 a.m. Craft Mom retweets a pic of gooey pastry. Is someone carb loading?

9:55 a.m. Craft Mom asks friend (again, apparently) if she can use her recipe for puff paint. She'll give her friend credit with a link. 

10:10 a.m. Craft Mom gets permission for the puff paint recipe. Dimensional art to follow.

10:15 a.m. Craft Mom decides her blog should try to have 200 followers too. Is offering a prize. I think I'll try to win it!

10:28 a.m. Craft Mom announces giveaway contest to facilitate reaching 200 followers for her blog. So that's how it's done!

10:45 a.m. Craft Mom tells her puff paint friend that she will be using the recipe to make a snowman postcard for her kids. 

11:00 a.m. Craft Mom needs 39 more followers to reach her goal of 200 for her blog. Being coy about what the prize will be. 

1:22 p.m. Craft Mom trying to win a giveaway prize by RTing a friend's message. This mom is really into winning stuff! 

1:43 p.m. Craft Mom is playing instant win games with her daughter, who loves it when the digital baby defecates in the bathtub.

9:26 p.m. Craft Mom links to a page of happy Halloween holiday treats. Um. Trick? 

9:30 p.m. Craft Mom is only 7 followers short on her blog. Okay, I misread. It's her blog's Facebook page.

10:32 p.m. Craft Mom links to a blog about feelings of community to be found at HS football games. With community in boldface.

10:35 p.m. Craft Mom is only 5 short of 200 followers. Will it keep her up if it doesn't happen by bedtime? 

11:59 p.m. Craft Mom must have gone to bed. Her blog's FB following: 197. Including me. Good luck finding more followers, CM.             


One more day of following to go.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Following Piece 2.0 -- Day Three



Today's subject is a law student at our local law school.  I was a little nervous about this one, anticipating that I might risk antagonizing someone with the expertise to cause me legal troubles for this experiment.  But I stick to my own protocol and the cautions of @Platea's prompt for Following Piece 2.0 and trust that I am truely not violating anyone's rights, legal or otherwise.

Both Acconci's following piece and this cover of it are meant to be a little unsettling, inasmuch as they investigate the fine line between public and private space, real or digital.  Like Acconci, I have not notified or asked permission of the folks I am following this week.  I do officially follow them on Twitter (although potentially I could track their tweets without actually clicking the "follow" toggle), so they could do the digital equivalent of looking over their shoulders to see me tweeting about them.  So far that hasn't happened; I am prepared to deal with it politely and professionally if it does.

I choose my subjects from a function on my iPhone's "Tweetie" app that allows me to view only local tweets.  I suppose I might have followed anyone on-line, but there is an extra component to my particular take on this project that, while keeping the following on-line, still flirts with the possiblity of an IRL encounter.  We trace our individual trajectories through a shared local landscape, but I am only following these people digitally.  In this way, I experience the porousness of real and virtual in similar ways to how the following pieces (1.0 and 2.0) negotiate the pourous boundaries between public and private.  Or, at least, that's how I am processing it all today.

Lawyer in Training presented an extra challenge: he tweets a lot in dialogue with fellow classmates and friends.  I wondered if I should focus on his side of the conversation alone or if I should consider, as the technology so easily allows, what his friends were tweeting.  I opted for the latter, although I kept my focus on the original subject.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

8:06 a.m. Lawyer in Training expresses concern that lawyers should have basic math skills.

9:21 a.m. Lawyer in Training laughs with friend over her child's pronunciation of "hymn" as "hymen."

11:02 a.m. Lawyer in Training finds Appellate Court arguments convenient. I'm sure that's a matter of perspective.

11:45 a.m. Lawyer in Training decides his class is improving and that he might actually be learning something from it.

11:49-11:54 a.m. Lawyer in Training and friends make fun of a fellow student's difficulty with fractions. 3 out of 4 lawyers are mean.

8:03 p.m. Lawyer in Training appears to be drowning in Torts. It doesn't sound fun.

8:46 p.m. Lawyer in Training shows an incredible memory for sports stats, particularly Aaron Rodgers's.

11:05 pm Lawyer in Training impressed with Phillies performance. Decides the series might be worth his attention now.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Following Piece 2.0 -- Day Two



Day Two of @Platea's "Following Piece 2.0."  Yesterday morning I scrolled through "Nearby" tweets on Tweetie and hit upon Otter Boy.  That's not his Twitter name, but it does include "otter."

Note on my emerging protocol:  I try to make this selection more or less at random, but I also check recent tweets to get a sense of how often the potential subject posts.  What's the point of following someone if they never go anywhere?  Assuming the subject seems to post with sufficient frequency, I follow the subject and tweet a summary of his/her tweets as I see them.  I also follow any links posted or that included in the subject's profile. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

7:17 a.m. Otter Boy chooses to wear Hollister. Shirt? Cologne? The whole ensemble?

8:01 a.m. The Hollister decision pays off as Otter Boy receives immediate positive attention at school.

2:20 p.m. Otter Boy tweets about the science of light. The comment is in quotation marks, suggesting it is something someone else said.

4:15 p.m. Otter Boy notes, with excessive sibilance, that he is at the dentist.

4:48 p.m. Otter Boy gets confirmation from the dentist and praise for his vampire teeth. Plans to celebrate tonight.

4:49 p.m. Otter Boy expresses adoration for all he has accomplished and everything he will ever do. I think I need to change dentists.

5:38 p.m. Otter Boy expresses emphatic appreciation for T-Pain and disdain for Twitter. Not sure what the connection is.

9:25 pm Otter Boy listens to music in the dark. Remembering the Dentist (perhaps), opens wide and says, "ahhh." 

Monday, October 26, 2009

Following Piece 2.0 -- Day One




In keeping with Vito Acconci's original "Following Piece," I am uploading the following data for today's subject in my contribution to @Platea's "Following Piece 2.0".  I suppose if I were really following Acconci's protocol, I would send this report to an artist friend selected at random.

I found "Local Band Dad" (my name for him) by scrolling through the "Nearby" tweets on my Tweetie account.  I posted each entry separately to Twitter today.  The time stamp refers to when Local Band Dad made his Tweets (with one obvious exception).  I followed only his public activity on Twitter, including links he provided on that account.  With those caveats, I present today's report:


Monday, October 26, 2009


7:28 a.m. local dad talks to walmart greeter and expects a humanitarian award for the effort.


7:33 a.m. local dad lusts after lime green Ford Pinto and expresses subsequent disappointment in his Beemer. Sarcasm?


8:47 a.m. local dad posts pic of son with security blanket blearily watching morning cartoons. Doing own following piece with his kid?


9:00 a.m. checked out local dad's MySpace page and learn that he sings lead vocals for a local band. Rebranding as "local band dad."


11:22 a.m. Local Band Dad proclaims love for his father.


1:00 p.m. listened to mp3s of Local Band Dad's band on his MySpace page. Liked it. Wish band was playing somewhere public this week.


5:50 p.m. Local Band Dad posts Fred Flintstone-like gibberish to Twitter. Excitement about the end of the workday or baby talk?


Also in keeping with Acconci, tomorrow I will find a new subject to follow.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fast and Not Fast Culture



It's been a hard Saturday.  I participated in a quickly organized local "Climate Action 350" today and dealt with quite a few denialists.  Well no, that's not quite accurate.  I dealt with one particular denialist who wasn't really a denialist.  More a nihilist.  We're all gonna die.  We can't do anything about it.  That old saw.

It is with this experience that I turn to Illustration Friday's theme for the week: "Fast."  Holding a sign about catastrophic climate change to motorists speeding by on their way to some Saturday appointment, it's hard not to see our culture's addiction to speed, to getting there fast, to instant gratification.

It is important, then, to remember that other meaning of fast -- to go without. To voluntarily starve oneself, to subsequently slow down.  To understand what you have, what you can consume by choosing not to, even if only for a short while.  The general consensus among the climate change mitigation opposition is that the problem is now too big, that no one will make the sacrifices necessary to have any meaningful impact.  Sure, we can identify the need to get back to 350 ppm carbondioxide, but it is harder to agree on what we need to do to get there.  And harder still when we are all too wrapped up in our recession woes to think of giving up anything more, to even consider climate change legislation that might add $100 to your yearly household energy bill.

And then this.  If I just live fast enough, live hard enough, I can keep from thinking about transgenerational problems that loom large but offer no confirmation of immediate gratification.  We cannot solve human contributions to climate change easily or quickly.  So live fast and die hard.

Or not.  I choose not, even if the boys zipping by in their four wheeler in a cloud of dark exhaust flip me off and call me faggot.  Sorry boys, this is not a problem you can run from. 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Covering Acconci



The good folks at @Platea are at it again.  As a cover of an earlier (1969) performance/conceptual art piece by Vito Acconci, @Platea proposes "Following Piece 2.0."  Where Acconci would follow random strangers through the public spaces of Manhattan, @ Platea is interested in how that same experiment might play out in the public spaces of the Internet, particularly but not limited to Twitter.

It was an interesting concept for Acconci, and it is definitely an interesting experiment for the Internet Age.  @Platea provides a closing caution about performers not violating privacy laws and not partaking in stalking or cyberstalking.  Even so, it is the kind of work that might remind us of how public the "public screen" (DeLuca and Peeples, 2002) actually is in a time when some folks expect their actions on the internet and social netorking sites to remain somehow private.

Pop on over to the @Platea site to sign up to follow and report on folks.  There are suggestions there for what this on-line performance might look like, but those suggestions certainly do not exhaust the possibilities.  As with Acconci, the art here lies more in the reportage than in the following.  And if you have problems with this sort of art, feel free to start a conversation here or there about your misgivings.  

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Cry in Ink



These images on the page (whether digital or a literal piece of paper) -- are they some deeper sign of the psyche in turmoil?  Should we worry when dark images emerge?  Are these warning signs, threats of danger, a cry for help?  Or is there just something to black ink on white paper that brings out the darkness?

I'm informed here by Rob Schrab's introduction to Jhonen Vasquez's Johnny the Homicidal Maniac anthology.  Or influenced.  Let's go with influenced.  Schrab writes of violent comics in general and JTHM specifically, "Take a deep breath, give your monster a high five and put him away.  You've just used an evil fantasy to keep you civilized and sane." 

It's true.  In my doodles and nascent attempts at comics, I always find a surreal sense of the macabre bubbling up.  At best, it is only wierd.  More often -- and perhaps more often of late -- those images can take a decidedly darker turn.  If I draw a flower, I feel compelled to draw thorns.  Lately those thorns form on tentacle-like roots, and more often than not seem to be seeking to skewer the offensive nose that would dare to stop and take a sniff.  It's an old pattern.  As a student in those liminal and strained middle school years, I would create elaborate assembly lines of torture and death for my teachers.  Not that I hated my teachers.  Not that I ever wanted to wear a black trenchcoat or bring a firearm to school.  Never even close.  But something about that illicit use of the margins of my notebook for dark fantasy made the regimented life of school tolerable.




Big surprise.  Now I am the teacher, although in the halls of academia more than grade school (inasmuch as there is a difference).  And yet I still doodle and draw.  I take minutes in meetings and transcribe their content.  Would that I included the marginalia drawings that often accompany them!  Aye, that would make for an interesting meeting with my dean.  Prior to digital transcription, my notes are often darkly illustrated manuscripts.  And then, of course, when I should be grading or working on a paper, I often retreat to a world of scrawled line-work and black ink on paper.  If my homicidal creations raise a bloodied axe, the only thing I am killing is time.  Dark thoughts, perhaps, as I commit a kind of slow professional suicide through a not very ambitious use of my precious time.

But my time is precious -- to me, specifically -- and it seems to be slipping away faster and faster with each passing season.  I think these doodles are a kind of cry, but not for help.  More like a howl at the moon, a reminder that in the depths of overwhelming administrivia, there is always something else I would rather be doing.  Not something grim, necessarily, but something pleasurable in its grim subject matter, something transgressive and inappropriate, something at once neat and messy.  An indulgence, perhaps, an abandoned talent that won't go away (not that I really want it to).  A fascination that flirts with relevance in my professional life, but often as not retreats to the safety of avocation, of escape, of much needed release. 



Saturday, October 10, 2009

Doodle Delusions



It's happening.  My pages are slowly losing words and gaining images, ink blobs, and confusion.  My dreams are pouring out through the pen, but in unexpected combinations and confluence.  Today's fantasies are brought to you from one current and one older doodle journal.  Both address dreams and the penetrable boundaries between fantasy and reality.  Both show the exhilaration and anxiety (often combined) that swirls in my brain, my inner life a flash/cut of half-formed forms and ideas seeking completion.  Enter at your own risk.

(You must be this high to ride this ride...)


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Blog Dialogue

In searching other blogs that do drawing and whimsical illustration work, I came across the wonderful ArtSpark Theatre site.  Susan Sanford offers quite a delicious collection of post cards from her "free-associative visual journey," including an illustration challenge.  She provides the following incomplete image:


The instructions are simple: finish the drawing in whatever way you see fit.  I will admit that I could not resist this invitation -- or even wait until I had access to better art tools to do a better job at the concept that came into my head almost immediately upon viewing the prompt.  Although blog dialogue is inevitably asynchronous, I felt an immediate need to respond.  Plus, well, I am enjoying the idea of doing more art on my own blog and, being the perpetual student, I respond well to assignments.

Here then is a spontaneous response -- done by hand with materials immediately available and then processed somewhat in an older version of Photoshop:



 Susan, I love your blog and its multiple links.  I think I am going to enjoy playing your art games in the future -- I know I enjoyed this one. And now I am off to see the other entries -- I didn't peek before I finished mine!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A McCarthy Comic

So my not-so-secret dream is to be a cartoonist.  I don't mean as a profession necessarily, but just as a regular practice in my life.  It seems like a blog is as good a place as any to post work, and so here goes.  I doubt you can read the following short comic as it reprodces here, but if you click on it, hopefully it will enlarge to a more reader friendly size.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

August in the Wrangells

When I was a kid, my mother would plan elaborate family vacations.  She would plot out itineraries and collect brochures for years, working out how to see the most in the shortest amount of time, how to get the most bang for our bucks.  These trips were, on one level, amazing.  On another level, they were exhausting and frequently became occasions for family tension.  But I have to give my mother credit for two things on this front: (1) instilling in me a deep desire to travel, and (2) defining by contrast my preferred way to travel.


This summer I went to Alaska for the second time in three years.  Of course, Alaska is a very big state.  "Divide it in half and Texas would be the third largest state in the Union," I heard from more than one Alaskan.  It would be more accurate to say I visited the Wrangell/St. Elias National Park for the second time in three years.  More accurate still to say I returned to McCarthy, AK.  I did so, in part, because I had such a good time there the first time.  I did so also because, after that first time, I had friends in the area eager for my return.  But mostly, I returned because the first time I discovered the magic that is McCarthy and the Wrangell Mountain Center, particularly the week-long writer's workshop they put on in August.



My approach to this sort of travel contrasts with my mother's.  Where she went for breadth of experience across a region, I go for depth of experience in a more localized place.  Where she planned extensively with a meticulous itinerary, I plan a little but leave a lot up to serendipity.  For sure, there was some planning.  I coordinated my visit with my Anchorage friend, Maria Shell.  Figuring out how to negotiate the trek from Anchorage to McCarthy takes no small amount of planning.  Doing so with a WMC board member charged with stocking up the larder at the center also requires some planning.  But Maria is nothing if not efficient and organized.  And so I found myself stepping into a very Alaska experience -- "the big shop" done for one's self and for anyone along the way who's heard you are picking up supplies.  Maria, to her credit, worried that she was asking too much of her vacationing friends (myself and her college friend, Laurene) -- but I wouldn't have traded the experience or this role for anything.  Sure, fitting all those supplies into her car along with our own gear was a challenge, but that was part of the fun.



In Chitina, before moving on to the tire-eating rails-to-washboard-road 60 mile route off the grid to McCarthy, we picked up WMC executive director, Jeremy Pataki.  Jeremy eased into our group easily and provided many an amusing story and stop on the way to McCarthy.

We had a few days to settle into McCarthy, which included the Blackburn Music Festival that just happened to coincide with our arrival.  No great planning, that.  Again, serendipity.  But such a wonderful experience, and such excellent music.  A good time was had by all!


Then there was our plan to do some back country base camping before the writer's workshop.  Linking up with workshop director, Nancy Cook, and her year and a half toddler, Izi, we flew by bush plane from McCarthy up the Kennicott valley to a small landing strip on the fosse (a level area between mountain and lateral moraine).  We had no real plans for our days there except to find a place to camp and then explore from there in whichever direction we chose.  Here, perhaps, a little better coordinated planning would have benefited us -- we encountered quite a few gear items we wished we had remembered to pack.  Even so, making do without them was fun and we were all reasonably well prepared for what we encountered. 


And then the workshop.  A week of writing and reading and excellent conversations with Scott Russell Sanders, the featured guest artist running the event.  The workshop combines outdoor activities with writing circles and public readings.  It is an exhausting schedule, all the more so for following so closely a back country camping experience.  All the more so because lodging, for me and several others, was nothing more than a tent and sleeping on the ground in what we affectionately termed, "Tent City."  But a deeply enjoyable exhausting schedule, despite the regular and persistent rain.  A schedule, perhaps, more reminiscent of my mother's ambitious travel itineraries.  Indeed, one of the reasons I chose to head out to McCarthy before the workshop was that my previous experience had taught me that the workshop doesn't allow much time to explore the area outside of what's on the schedule. 

And then, a few glacier hikes and beers at The Golden later, it was all over and I was on my way back to Anchorage for a few days before heading home to the start (whiz bang!) of the new semester.  Hard to believe that I had spent two weeks in one little off-the-grid town in the middle of nowhere.

I tell people I went to Alaska.  They ask if I went to Sitka or traveled by coastal ferry.  They ask if I saw Glacier Bay or killer whales.  Did I go to Denali?  Did I see former Governor Palin or go to Wasilla?  I tell them no, I went to McCarthy in the heart of the Wrangell Mountains.  Most have never heard of the place.  Those few who have wonder why I would spend so much time there.  McCarthy remains for now, thankfully, off most tourists' radar.  It is truly a magical place.  Or maybe the magic is in my process, my way of encountering it.  In the end, though, I had so many magical experiences that could not have been planned:


  • Being guided to an artesian spring by a wood elf.
  • Discovering a singer/song writer I think may be on the cusp of broader discovery in the lower 48 (Justin Farren)
  • Getting brain freeze from drinking water straight off a glacier.
  • Hot toddies on a glacier in the rain.
  • Reading creative writing in a tent while drinking bag wine.
  • Getting poked in the eye by a toddler and having the experience bring us closer.  (I love you, Izi!)
  • Waking early to a sunrise that caused cloud draped mountains and glaciers to glow.
  • Sweet encounters with a ptarmigan, hoary marmot, and ground squirrel.
  • A sauna in a bush cabin -- best sweat ever!  Thanks, Nancy!
  • Learning about the Deborah Number while standing on the dirty foot of a glacier.
  • Discovering a strong queer presence in an isolated community.
  • Weathering monsoon rains dryly in a new tent.
  • Falling in love with open mic night at The Golden and how it serves to bring community together.
  • Hearing stories from adventure guides about how the interpersonal communication with clients is far more challenging than much of the technical aspects of mountaineering.
  • Eating a variety of fresh berries straight off the plants.  High bush and low bush cranberries.  Wild currant.  High bush and low bush blueberry.
  • Being held over a moran on a glacier and recalling the local stand-up comic's routine, by turns hilarious and horrifying, about what would happen if I fell in.
  • Learning about the geology of the region by examining a picnic table full of local rocks. 
  • A personal tour of a subsistence homestead by a man who has lived year-round in the Wrangells for 23 years.
  • Seeing a lynx bounding away through the alders. 

All the brochures and travel guides in the world could not have prepared me for these encounters. Thanks, ma, for the travel bug, but you know I gotta do it my way.