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



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


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