Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Of The Things I Do + Graphic Novel (Pg 1)

Of Things to Come

                Very recently, I talking to someone I had recently met.  After telling them of the various little things I do; drawing, writing, taking acting classes, now working with a non-profit organization[1] I was asked “what do you plan on doing with all these skills?”[2] After some thought I answered “I want to have some kind of creative or near-creative career.”  Since this was a conversation being held through text messaging, conciseness took precedent over specificity.  But I had a compulsion to further explain myself and my actions so I followed up by saying “I’m doing the things I think I should be doing so…something will eventually come from it.”[3]
                I realized that last phrase could be applied to my life beginning with the end of high school.  Nothing was ever implicitly told to me but from observations and participation in our culture, I believed certain actions needed to be taken in order for me to have a specific place in society.  After high school comes college comes career.  What career?  I didn’t know.  What college?  No idea.  That little phrase whether I knew it or not, explains the kind of motivation and drive I have for the things I do.  Looking back at it, it feels like I was blindly following some heavily treaded path that everyone else knew why they were taking.  

The last part “…something will eventually come from it.” sounds like I’m leaving my fate to some unknown power or system in the world that checks off the things I’ve done off a list and then allows me to take my place as an artist, illustrator, writer etc.  But that’s not how I feel, it’s much more controlled.  

                In reality, the second half is a concession to the way I see things in life.  Nothing is certain and there’s no way I can predict the future, so this vague statement is the best I could do.  I wouldn’t feel right saying something like “I know something will come from the things I do” because I don’t like thinking in absolutes and I could die tomorrow.  Even in casual speak, I almost always say things like “99% sure”, “almost positive” etc[4].  But there’s a hidden confidence in there, that barring anything unusual I will become something and the actions I’m taking is just one of many paths to the place I eventually want to be.[5]

                Being honest with myself, does it really help that I now have an active Twitter account for my illustration[6], or that I constantly update a blog that only my friends, if that, read, or that I’ve taken over my Facebook page[7] to promote all these little things I do?  I can’t say it does.  But what’s the alternative?  Not doing these things, in addition to all the drawing, all the sketching and working and buying of materials.  It would be much worse.  Because what is an Illustrator other than someone who works as an Illustrator?  And I say ‘works’ because that is essential to what I want to be.  I want my living to come from the things I do, the actions I take.  And if I don’t do these specific things, then what am I really doing with my life?

                Again, these actions that I’m taking, the, in essence, self-promotional activities, I’m doing them with the same mindset that pushed me to attend college.  My observation of the culture and environment of Illustrators and freelance artists is that they self-promote, they get their work out there, and after time, enter agents and artist representatives and cover letters and portfolios and here comes a job.  An assignment that says “communicate this, with that”, that being your specific skill as an artist and visual communicator.  That can go into your portfolio, it can be seen by other art directors and hopefully, work steadily comes.  

                This all seems somewhat fantastical but not unreasonable.  I’m doing two essential parts of it now.  I’m working on my illustrative skills and my self-promotion.  Soon I’ll join an online portfolio group, have my own website, and then I’ll go about contacting people, looking for my first job.  

                Is there a possibility that never happens?  Yes.  Is there a possibility I never actually get hired to do a job?  Yes.  But I’m a rational person and what I’ve accomplished so far, that didn’t come out of dumb luck or a random circumstance.  It happened because there was a seed of possibility planted.  I would never get into college if I never applied, I would never graduate if I never did the work, I would never find a job or an internship if I never went to an interview.  Once I’ve done my part, I leave the rest to person who holds my immediate future in my hands.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out.  I don’t get accepted, or I don’t get the job, but that’s expected and I live my life accordingly.  

                I do the things I do because it makes what I want possible.  Like raising a child, eventually things leave my field of influence and I actively wait, because I won’t stop.  Why would I want to?  I love what I’m doing.
Graphic Novel (the most incomplete)

                One of my goals in life to create a graphic novel; specifically this graphic novel[8].

  The germination of this idea began sometime between my junior and senior year.  While this blog is dedicated to my personal pursuit of illustration and my career as an illustrator, I’m more a writer than an Illustrator[9].  But there was a story in my head and I could only think, “this story is best told visually.”  Of course there’s the medium of film and screen, but that didn’t do it for me, not for this story.  “Graphic Novel” was the word that kept making itself known in my head whenever I thought of this story.  

                The thing was, I knew so little about the graphic novel form[10].  Comic books were things I was never into as a child, it was more animated films and series.  I loved superheroes but that was only based on TV shows I watched growing up; the fact that comic books cost money pushed them even more out of my reach when I was smaller. 

                This partially finished page, which is page one of the novel, came to be long after I had the idea.  I had a completely different opening, one that didn’t work at all and exemplified the little I knew about the medium.  So what did I do?  I got to reading a few graphic novels, Watchmen is still my favorite and one of my favorite films, Persepolis (both parts) was incredibly engaging, even if not skillful in a technical drawing way, and Brian Michael Bendis’ Total Sellout, a short story book showing the various kinds of graphic interpretation showed me the possibilities I had at my hand when it came to this visual literary medium.  The entire Scott Pilgrim vs. The World series was also something I couldn’t put down[11], due to its great writing and storytelling. 

                In the fall of 2011, I took a Storyboarding class with Daniel Shefelman[12], an animator and director.  I was the only non-film major and asked him if, for the final project, I could work on my graphic novel and present that, rather than an actual storyboard from a film, as most other students were doing.  He was very helpful with any question and inquiry I had and was more than happy to let me pursue my personal project for the class, as it served the same purpose.  

                By the end of the class I had outlined almost 15 pages and finished almost three.  Page one was finished and became this.  

                As of right now, the project is on hold.  There are a lot of things I need to do before I can confidently continue.  One, I need to get better at drawing[13], and two, I need to have the story finished.  I did a foolish thing of trying to write the story as fiction and then adapt it to a drawn page where I should’ve written things as a screenplay and then switch it to a graphic display; it just makes things easier.  

                I’m not in a rush to finish this.  I still have much more reading to do and I should expose myself to the culture of graphic novels and comic books just so I know more about what I’m doing.  Eventually I’ll have a story written and a graphic novel finished.  From there, publishing will be the next hurdle.  I’m nervous of course, but never discouraged. 

Thanks for reading. 


[1] Terreform.  (
[2] Paraphrased again- specifics don’t matter much here.
[3] Direct quote.
[4] Even used “almost” in that sentence.
[5] The “where do you see yourself in five years” has been something I’ve thought about much more recently. 
[6] @JL_Illustration
[7] Which I never really used personally.
[8] I’m not exactly sure what “this” is.
[9] Though I wouldn’t call myself either or.
[10] I’m still in the dark as a whole.
[11] I loved the film, so reading the work it was inspired by was only natural.
[13] Something that is always true but moreso with this project as being anatomically correct is fairly important. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Work Area + Mark David Chapman

My Work Area

After last week’s very personal story, I decided to talk about something… less personal[1].  My work area. 

Yes, it’s a mess.  But it’s my mess. I was gonna say I'm one of the messiest person I know but I'm easily the messiest person I know. To my defense, mess isn't really the correct word; it has a connotation with dirtiness, which I would deny. I would say disorganized is the best descriptor of my work area.
Why am I like this? I'm not really sure. My priorities are very far from a desire to make sure papers are in the right place, pens are in their correct containers, and books, papers, and folders are on their right shelves.

Zooming closer into my work table[2] there are various tools I use for my illustrations.
The most important is my Wacom Tablet and PC laptop. I've had the tablet for about two and a half years and only recently have I been serious about the tablet and the software I use.
A note about software. I use Photoshop because early on, whenever I would come across an artist's info, Photoshop would be their choice of program. Emulation doesn't stop at childhood.  There are many different types of software, vector based, pixel-based, 3d modeling based etc; there’s a program for basically any kind of project you’d like to involve yourself in.  For any “art”, the only digital software I use is Photoshop[3].
Outside of the digital world, I have various sketchbooks and pads of different sizes and types. I'm pretty resourceful and for the most menial of work I do, that is sketching and practicing, I mostly use any blank paper I can find. Pencils are used in the same way, I'm not picky unless I'm working on something specific.  Otherwise, whatever pencil I find, I sharpen and use it until it’s too short to handle comfortably.

Around me are different mediums such as charcoal, acrylics, watercolors, and most recently, India ink. However, I'm fairly terrible at actual painting but when I do, I use this easel and used to use this Bristol paper. 

This paper is horrible for painting but, until about a week ago, I refused to buy paper specifically for acrylics and/or watercolors.  I stuck with Bristol regardless of how incompatible it was with my media. Concerning my newly bought paper, I haven't had a desire to pick it up (and if I did, I wouldn't use the easel because the Sketchbook is too small) but I don't imagine it will be too long before I pick up a brush again.
In a nutshell, the room I work in and my actual working style is one of disorganization and scatter brained thought. I haven't given it enough thought as to what it means, but I rarely find a problem with it. Generally I'm a fidgety person, I don't often physically focus on my work[4] but I am constantly thinking about the work at hand. I could be faster, streamlined, and efficient, but those are things I could worry about later.  Right now, if I'm getting work done, I'm happy with my day.

Mark David Chapman

I decided to write something short for my first section because the art section, I knew, would be much longer.  This illustration is probably the one I'm most proud of because it feels finished, a rare feeling for me.  However, it was about two years in the making if I was really counting.  Maybe more.

In the time between dropping out of Bryant University (February 2010) and getting into NYU, something I didn't know was going to happen at the time, I decided to start drawing.  A few months before I had finished my first drawing, a pen drawing, based on the song The Day That Never Comes by Metallica.  This trend of drawing to songs continued, this pencil drawing being one of them.  The song? MDC or, Mark David Chapman, by Mindless Self Indulgence.
Mindless Self Indulgence is a strange musical group.  That’s the best, and really only way I feel right describing them.  But they’re great, and I saw them live in 2012 (amazing).  However, when I heard their last album If[5], their last song on the track, MDC, was for me, "too weird", and I took it off my iPod after a few months, noticing I kept skipping it whenever it came up.  It wasn't until I found that there was a video for the song that I began to love it.  For reference, here's the song+video.

I loved it, I got it, I knew who Mark David Chapman was (the man who killed John Lennon) and the video saying it all for me opened my eyes to the beauty of the song.  Immediately I put it back onto my iPod and listened to it at least once a day.  Throughout each listen, the video frames slowly dissipated and a new image born out of my own imagination started to take hold.  

The song gave a twisted hero-like responsibility to this terrible man.  “Please, oh please won't Mark David Chapman come and save us from this tyranny of terrible music that all sounds the same!”[6]  With that I started to draw.  Like in the video, I imagined superhero Mark David Chapman coming down and killing all these terrible homogeneous musicians, spanning all types of genres.  My drawing would encapsulate the final moments of his triumphant killing spree.  

I really, really wanted to show the original drawing I had done about two years ago.  I can describe it, but it won't do it justice. Turns out, I never scanned it, and I have misplaced the actual drawing somewhere.  But anyway, it had a front view of  MDC as a superhero on the left half of the drawing.  There were two ambiguous floorspaces where dead rappers, rockers and other audience members lay in poses respective of their deaths.  Some were hung by their chains, beheaded by vinyl records, and quite a few group members, along with some of the audience bowed in reverence to MDC who smiled, holding the head of said beheaded artist. 

It sounds cool, but the execution looked more like a 12 year old's first foray with colored pencils. One day, I will find that drawing and edit this post and/or create an entirely new post just for that drawing. 

At that point in time my actual draftsmanship skill was poor.  Very poor[7].  I was also very ambitious in 1) trying to show so much in such little space and 2) trying to do well with colored pencils, something I still fail at.  I also made the huge error of mismatching my MDC superhero's costume terribly[8].  

So how did I arrive at the current iteration?

Well, in 2012[9], I decided to try a retake.  I'd redraw the illustration, with some changes of course, and see if I couldn't do better.  Basically, I changed the angle, made MDC even bigger[10] and simplified the busy-ness that plagued the earlier drawing.  Here's what I semi-finished.

See the problem?  I used colored pencils again! 

Honestly, when I finished coloring in the superhero (getting his costume right at least), I already knew I had messed up and gave up early.  More honestly, I wasn't entirely happy with the illustration.  The problems from the first drawing were still there, just in a less intense way.  After some time[11] I thought, why not try one more time, in Photoshop.

I was originally going to just scan the drawing and mess around with colors, lines etc, and see if I could get a more "enhanced" version of the second iteration.  Things weren't working so I just thought, why not just MDC and start from there.

My problem was that I was trying to say too much with my illustration and it suffered because of that.  By keeping the illustration to only MDC and his action, much more was not only said, but shown.  Originally, I had the same illustration but in a different "style" so to say.  The colors were much more muted and blended together rather than being separated in a hard fashion like it currently is.  This final product is a pretty large departure from the other kinds of non black&white drawings I have shown on this blog.  The reality is, I'm torn between the two “styles”[12] as I'm a big fan of both the comic book feel (black outlines, solid colors, hard edges etc) and the realistic feel (soft edges, realistic colors and shadings).  

As I worked on this piece, I slowly realized it just made sense to give him this hard-edged black outline and give him hard shadows.  Both the fact that he was a superhero and that the whole scene was very cartoony in and of itself allowed for this very cartoon-like depiction.  Another version of this piece had blood around MDC's mouth, as an allusion to my previous pieces, but it never looked good enough so I took it off.[13]

While I love talking about the process of my pieces, they're almost never this in-depth, but the journey from beginning illustration to end illustration is so fantastic to me.  I'm happy I was able to do this, and just thinking about the illustration, I can't wait to finish and start more and more pieces.

Thanks for reading,


[1] In a different way
[2] For accuracy’s sake
[3] Will that change?  Maybe.  Probably.
[4] I’d make a flippant remark about having ADD, but everyone says they have it to the point where it means nothing now.
[5] Released in 2008.
[6] The fact that the message is still relevant to this day is a reason I still enjoy listening to the song.
[7] Kind of obvious…
[8] Easily my biggest regret
[9] I think.
[10] Thus scarier I guess.
[11] At this point, I have no idea when things were done.
[12] This is a conversation I’ll have with myself on this blog soon.
[13] It’s hidden in a layer somewhere.