Wednesday, February 20, 2013



Very recently I spilled water on my laptop keyboard. It was an accident and I was running out of the house anyway.  Trying to act quickly, I grabbed a nearby face towel and ran it through the various keys, trying to soak whatever liquid got inside.  I thought I did an okay job, put on my coat and ran out the door, thinking nothing of it.

It wasn't until the next morning where I turned on my computer and tried to log on that I realized something was wrong.  The keys weren't working.  The first two letters of my password showed up in form of those black dots designating a letter but nothing else worked.  The tab button worked, two letters worked, backspace didn't work.  

I was a little concerned, but was surprised that I didn't freak out more at this possibly devastating accident.  
I took some time away, left it alone and threw the laptop in rice, as the home remedy for wet electronics is to put them in rice, a dessicant, and allow the rice to absorb all the moisture.

After a day, I restarted the computer, still no luck.  I researched ways to fix the problem, there seemed to be only two options: replacing the keyboard, or taking the keyboard out and completely drying it.  As one alternative was both quicker and less expensive, I took apart my laptop, extracted the keyboard and put it in bag of rice.  It is day two currently - the bottom is still somewhat wet.

The more time that passes the more I get frustrated.  Of course I wish I wasn't clumsy enough to spill water, or stupid enough to have water near the laptop, but it happened and I need to deal with it.  It hasn't been easy - I have not touched Photoshop, or my tablet since, and I can't get any actual work done.  But I don't think I'm beat.  In a few days, I'll put together my laptop and see if I can't get the keyboard working again.  Worst-case scenario, it doesn't, I have to order another one and wait some more, but it's a problem that CAN BE FIXED.  

What does this mean for my art?  It means I'm limited to pens, pencils, brushes, watercolors, acrylics, charcoal.  Sounds like a lot.  And it is.  I shouldn't use this unfortunate circumstance to justify inaction on my part, I just need to be resourceful and keep on working.  If things start to get really bad, I'll use my smaller, weaker laptop for specific things.  While it's not the workhorse my older laptop is, I'm sure getting the right programs on my new laptop can't hurt.

Unfortunately, because all my art is on the other laptop, I can't show you anything new, or anything new from the computer.  There's a few non-digital things I'm working on, but it's best to save that for next time.  I apologize for not having a short post, but that's what life is - unexpected, full of surprises, whether good or bad.  Yes, I had a plan, but plans never work out as expected.  This is an unfortunate consequence of that rule.  Hopefully, by next Wednesday, I'll have a longer post and actual art to show.  Til then!

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Style + Explore

Style, Perhaps, Voice

I look at a lot of illustration, I follow different artists, learn how they draw, see what their process is. It helps me. But it also makes me look at my own work and think of one very important question: what is my style?

Perhaps the question should actually be "what is style?"  I can't answer that but I can think of a synonym - voice. When I think of voice or style, it makes me think of writing; an author's voice or writing style- their idiosyncratic tendencies that make their writing distinctively theirs. Sometimes it's more noticeable than not but it is an essential aspect of that person. Its part of the allure - specific stories can only be told through a writer's voice. Or else, its a different story altogether.

In the same way, every illustrator has his own style. And honestly, style is what sells. I may not be good at drawing things realistically, but if someone likes my interpretation of reality, they may think "that fits here" when trying to find an artist for a cover, an article etc.

This scares me.

See, I don’t know my style or voice, and am torn between two.  This may be a good thing, at least I have two options rather than no options.  What makes me feel even better is knowing that there are artists out there who don’t have a specific style, who just do what they do and have been able to “make it” in that way.  And I don’t mean wanting to have a style that sells, that’s something completely different.  I just want to have a style, regardless of what it is.

Part of it is confidence.   Right now I don’t have confidence as an illustrator (which is why I wouldn’t call myself one).  I would like to have the confidence to say “if you give me a prompt, a task, an article, a something, I can illustrate that”, but I don’t.  Style is a big part of that.  I’ll just put myself in that person’s shoes.  I can fall in love with a specific person’s painting and want something similar to it, but if all their other paintings are completely different, than do I really know what I’m getting?
It’s becoming a little easier for me to see my styles- there are two distinct ones.  There’s black and white, and then there’s color.  There’s a pretty distinct difference from the work I do in color, as in, my Photoshop work, and my work in pen/pencil etc.  But within their own style, there’s a commonality.  That gives me hope, that gives me confidence.  Really, all I need to do at this point is prove it to myself.

How is that done?  Well it’s the answer to a lot of things.  By taking action.  It’s okay to think about style, think about voice, think about things like “how am I selling myself?” (because honestly, that is what style amounts to, a way to sell/brand yourself).  But that can’t be the only thing I can think about, because what does style amount to if there’s no work to be shown?  I can only know my style by creating it, and I don’t think it’s right to also taint my work with thinking “this doesn’t really fit my style.”  From all the artists I’ve heard speak, write, and communicate about the subject, style came after the fact.  It becomes a thread that weaves (or in some cases doesn’t at all) their art together.  Style superficially arises from a focused look on various works of art.  There isn’t a conscious decision of picking a style and then magically being amazing at creating art in that style every single time.  Your first work will usually be different from your second, different from your third, but it isn’t until your fifth, tenth, fiftieth, that you might notice “there’s a trend here, a style.” 
With that, like always, I’m motivated to keep working.  When I first started, months before this blog began and my work was sporadically created rather than consistently done, I was honestly concerned that I didn’t have a style, that my work was random in glances.  But as I look back at past work and at recent work, I’ve started to see a voice emerging.  It’s murky now, but it’s there, and as I keep getting better, more diligent, and more focused, I’ll be able to confidently say “Yeah, I can illustrate that.” 


                This was another illustration I started for Illustration Friday.  Let me first explain Illustration Friday.  Illustration Friday is a website that has a weekly topic, changing every Friday.  Using that topic, you can make something out of that.  Honestly, rather than getting into too much detail, I’ll just link the website.  (www.illustrationfriday.comMany different creatives have various different interpretations of a single word, it’s very fun to see all the different images.

                When I created this image, the topic at hand was Explore.  I thought about the idea of explore, and what kept creeping in my head were hands.  Explore made me think of exploring a body, which made me think of hands roaming a body.  Then, inspiration hit in the form of what was immediately in front of me; my desk.  I was thinking of the hands messing around, “exploring” my desk.  I felt good about it, the image was clear and the interpretation seemed fun.  I was concerned however, about the hands because I knew that I was never too confident about drawing hands.   This is the sketch I came up with.

                I enjoyed it and scanned it, and started adding color.  I don’t actually remember at what point in time I decided to keep the hands out of the reality of the regular picture.  It seemed something a little more interesting and I liked the play of black and white.  Unfortunately, I bit off a little more than I could chew and I never finished it in time for Illustration Friday.  But, I didn’t want to just let it go. What took a while was actually getting the angle of objects correctly.  I'm not sure how it might look to someone else, perhaps wonky, but it's a strange flat picture.  I toyed with it the most out of any painting concerning rotating objects and moving them around after I drew them already but ultimately I found an angle I was comfortable with.

The coloring took a while and I wondered as to whether I should keep it looking realistic with different shades and tones or should I just keep it single colors a la MDC.  It took a while but I realized with something like this, solid colors would be easier, and more feasible given my current standing as a draftsman.  I still need to work on realistic colors but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop my drawing until I get that skill to the level I want it to.  Also, mood and style dictated the painting heavily.  I thought if it did look too realistic, then it would be harder for the very two-dimensional, sketched hands to interact with the rest of the painting.  Keeping the entire thing more towards the cartoony allowed a free piece.

Overall what I remembered most about this piece is how LONG it actually took and it makes me feel good that I was able to diligently finish and have it come out how I wanted it to.  Often I start pieces and don’t finish; either I’m discouraged with how it’s turning out, I get bored, or I just stop liking it.  I can often go back to this piece and know however hard it might be to finish something, there’s an indescribable feeling to the end.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

To the Memory of Bertram Katz

I received an email today.  My phone had beeped, I quickly glanced at the subject line.  “Bertram Katz- The Memorial Exhibit”.  I put it away, aiming to check later.  But it didn’t make sense to me.  Memorial Exhibit?  What did that mean?  That only makes sense if something had happened.  But no.  Bertram Katz, my professor.  I wrote about him recently, the colloquium committee he was a part of.  I never emailed him the post I wrote because I knew, before this blog started, that the class I took with him would become its own post, worthy of detailing because of the difference it made in my life.  I would write it, email him, hope it pleased him and we would stay in touch.  In the years that I would move forward in my career, I would update him periodically, every few months or so, maybe grab coffee and talk about art.  That’s how it was supposed to be.

Bertram Katz, taught Drawing and Painting, a class I took in Spring 2011.  At the time, I didn’t know I would be pursuing art as an actual possible career but I saw an opportunity and took it anyway.  Regardless of what I wanted to do professionally, I knew I wanted to get better at drawing.  I would be lying if I said the class met my expectations by the end of the semester.  

The semester was laid out cleanly by Professor Katz.  We would begin in charcoal, and gradually move onto acrylic paints, painting either still life (or objects depending on what was laying around in the room), or nude models that would often come in as the semester continued.  At the end of each class, we would put up what we had made and get critiqued, not only by him, but by the other students as well.  In the meantime, the professor would assign us galleries and exhibits to visit, often in Chelsea.  By the end of the semester, we were expected to have a one on one meeting in the classroom, with our work laid out in chronological order and talk about our progress from day one.  That’s how we got our grade.

I wasn’t happy during the first half of the class.  I wanted to be better at technical drawing; Professor Katz didn’t teach that.  I wanted to recreate on my paper what I saw with my eyes.  Professor Katz’ criticism was specifically that I was painting “too close to reality.”  The various gallery exhibits I saw mostly consisted of modern art, abstractions, brushstrokes, objects, simple-colored items that I found myself scoffing at and criticizing.  The part I enjoyed most about class was writing our one-page response of each exhibit where I expressed my distaste for this art; the challenge was explaining this dislike beyond my personal taste.  I always wanted feedback but never asked for it.

During a specific class, after I was tired of hearing Professor Katz praise another student for what I thought was a poor, if any, painting depicting what we were being shown, I decided to paint in the manner I thought he wanted.  I looked at our nude model, she was a middle-aged woman leaning on a few objects.  I simplified the image in my head to mere shapes and laid them out on my paper.  I picked colors and filled the shapes in, made sure to keep a black outline of each shape, and thought I was so smart because I knew what the professor liked and I would show him how easy it was.  

Then I realized something.

It wasn’t easy.  I had decisions to make.  Is this circle orange or blue?  How thick do I make these black outlines, and do I keep them uniform?  What color should this triangle be?  What about the one right next to it?  Should it be the same or different?  I never had a confident answer and hope I made the right decision.  When it was time to hang up our drawings, I was nervous.  

Professor Katz immediately picked up on the big change in style I had undertaken.  There was no anatomically correct figure here, no shadings, no tones or colors one could match to the scene in reality.  Here were shapes, lines, and colors.   

I was stupid to think I could do what artists sought all their lives to do.  And to be honest with myself, I just wanted praise.  I wanted a little pat on the back, a mere “good job” in class, to feel like I was doing something.  I got the praise I wanted, but not without feeling completely foolish first.  What turned to be a calculated exercise in being an asshole, I learned humility and, firsthand, what it means to get things wrong.  

The next few classes (there were about three), consisted of me trying to combine the two styles of recreating reality and literally objectifying it to create something that’s specifically mine.  Professor Katz saw that and commented on it.  In our last class of Drawing and Painting, where we had our one-on-one meeting, I laid out every piece of drawing and painting I created and saw the change.  We spoke about how I originally just wanted to create things realistically and I told him how I didn’t like many of the exhibitions he sent us.  With the wisdom of a man who’d heard it all, he listened and calmly told me what he thought.  This exchange of thoughts has been invaluable to me and still sticks by me to this day.  When we spoke about my "abstract" painting, we both agreed that I had progressed from the beginning of class to the end, in the best of ways.

I often tell this story in a condensed version to many of my friends, colleagues, even people I’ve just met.  We butted heads, I arrogantly thought I could recreate abstract art, I failed, and realized that it never is just that easy.  

Drawing and Painting was the class that specifically led to my rationale topic and colloquium discussion (detailed here) which led to my college graduation.  Beyond that, the class itself affected me and taught me things I never thought I would gain from class.  I have Bertram Katz to thank for that.

It’s interesting how people affect you.  I’m sure that, barring the odd email, I would never have popped into Professor Katz’ head.  But his class, and his teachings have stuck by me, and without them I wouldn’t be here.  I wouldn’t be writing this blog, I wouldn’t be trying to become an illustrator.  And that’s how you know a person is important.  He changed the world, my world at least.  And I know if I could every change someone’s world, no matter in how small a fashion, then I’d consider my life worth it. 

I did not know Professor Katz passed away.  The first I heard of it was today, in the email I received. He had passed away October 28th, 2012.  But until today, to me, he was still alive.  I would still think of him, his class, our colloquium, his jovial nature.  He’d speak to me in Spanish every now and then, having a slight Spanish accent, as opposed to a more common South American one.  

I regret not speaking to him one last time, picking his brain for his thoughts on art, especially commercial art.  We disagreed often, and for that I considered him invaluable.  Everything I do, everything I have done, since Spring of 2011, has a part of him in it. 

I will miss you Professor Katz, you taught me things I don’t even know yet.  I’m sad that you’ve gone, but so happy that I’ve met you.  

Thanks for reading,