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Apocalypse How?


Every few days I'll find myself looking through Roger Ebert's The Great Movies, looking for drawing inspiration. I found this screenshot from Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, a great film, but one so disturbing that I'll never watch it again. Still it has a lot of great images. This isn't exactly a great image, but I liked it enough to give it a shot.


I started with my good friend the blue pencil, sketching out the main characters in the foreground and some of the people in the background. I knew right from the start that depth perception was going to be a challenge, as was the jungle background.


I decided to start with Martin Sheen first, since he's the focal point of the picture. I'm still having a really tough time with eyes, so I plan to spend a lot of time on them this week. (Hands are a problem, too. I just spent a session drawing hands this morning. Man, they're tough...) In the photo, Sheen is more muscular - I think I also dropped him about 10 pounds from the photo. I also have a lot to learn about clothes, wrinkles, how light plays on them, etc.


As I suspected, depth perception and overall composition is a problem in the finished product. I was hoping the size of the men's bodies would help convey depth, which I think it does to some degree. I think the further away figures are, the less definition they require. Of course it looks awkward that the guy on the far right has at least half of his legs visible in the drawing, but Sheen is kind of hovering in mid-air. (I also think he's much closer to the viewer in the photo. My drawing makes him look like he's standing just in front of Dennis Hopper, but in the photo he's probably several feet in front of him.) I also did a lot of not-so-good inventiveness on the part of Hopper's character and all the camera equipment. One of the biggest problems is that the background I drew is nothing like the background in the photo. To be honest, I was just overwhelmed, not knowing where to start with the background. I'm not even sure I understand the background, so I clearly didn't know what to do with it. Still, I learned a lot from this picture and learning is what it's all about.


A Few Morning Faces

Just a few sketches from PIXELovely this morning. The site allows you to set a timer on each picture you want to draw; after that, the image is gone and good luck trying to find it again. I chose 5 minutes for the first one (upper left hand corner) and felt I was spending too long on it. I also didn't care for the result, so I tried to make the one in the upper right hand corner in 2 minutes, which wasn't enough time, so the others were 5-minute drawings. The lower right corner pudgy guy was better, but I think the lower left corner was the best one. I ran out of time trying to get some detail on his shirt, but didn't quite make it.

I really understand the importance of eyes and how difficult they are for me right now. I think if I'm doing a 5-minute sketch, probably at least 2 of those minutes need to be devoted to the eyes. (I'd be interested in hearing others' opinions.)


9/29/14 Exercise

Well THIS was fun! The exercise, from Ivan Brunetti's Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice had you first write down eight things you heard someone say. So here they are:

a_computers a_halfassed a_not84

a_receipt a_toxic a_wakeup

a_where a_working

Next, draw the following pictures: something funny, something sad, something sexy...


something abstract, something scary, something boring...

art4 art5art6

something you saw earlier in the day, something you dreamed (I'd dreamed I was climbing a ladder and had to jump onto a ledge of the tall building.)

art7 art8

THEN you randomly place the eight things you heard someone saw with each picture! Here's just one scenario:

art1 art2
Are you working?                                                        You'd better wake up!

art3 art4
Did you get a receipt for that?                                   This really is a toxic environment.

I'm not 84. I'm not even 70. I don't feel 84. I hope I don't look it.

art6 art7
Where did you get that?                                               I'm doing everything half-assed...

I don't know much about computers...

The whole point of the exercise is that surprising, even unintended things can happen when you do this exercise, and even the funniest drawings can be funnier with the right (or wrong) captions. And yes, I moved them all around several times, far too many to list here. Create your own - it was fun!


9/28/14 Sketches


I know that I definitely need to work on sketching people, so I found a great site called Posemaniacs. Man, this site has everything you could imagine! I sketched this first guy twice, the one on the left was just a quick sketch; the one on the right I spent a little more time on. (Yes, I know there's a refrigerator in the upper left-hand corner. It's from another exercise I did a few days earlier, but as you can see, it didn't quite work out.)


I really like working in blue pencil (although the pencils I'm using are NOT non-photo blue, which isn't really important right now, but may be if I ever get good enough to make serious photocopies of my drawings). I've started using it as a starting point in just about all of my drawings and it's great for sketching. Of course the advantage of using pencil is that you can make changes, like with this guy. I could've spent some time either giving less weight to his legs or more to his arms or maybe both. Or you could say that from this angle, his legs would appear disproportionately larger anyway.... Posemaniacs allows you to add a grid to each picture if you want, so I sketched in just a few gridlines (obviously not with a ruler).


Sketching in pen is a little riskier since it's permanent, but I'm sure it builds a sense of confidence and no messing around. Speaking of messing around, I couldn't help having a little fun with this martial arts guy who thinks he's all that. ;-P


9/26/14 Drawing


Today's drawing comes from a photo in the first volume of Roger Ebert's The Great Movies. It's from the 1972 Werner Herzog film Aguirre: The Wrath of God starring Klaus Kinski as a Spanish conquistador searching the Amazon River for El Dorado, the lost city of gold. Great film. I've drawn/sketched a few of the other photos in Ebert's book with varying success and this one has a few good elements, but Kinski's head is too long and his helmet a little lopsided. I made up a few things, including the bag hanging from his waist, since the photo is almost completely dark below his right hand.

I wanted to make a bit of a contrast between the darkness of Kinski and the girl, but I've made her lines so light, she almost looks like a ghost (which, in reality, she's about to be, as you can tell from the arrow lodged in her chest). I'm having a tough time with faces, noses in particular. I've got a book on figure drawing that I hope to delve into before the year's out. More to come...


From 4 Minutes to 5 Seconds

cartooning syllabus
I'm the type of person who needs some sort of structure in my life, even in my hobbies and artistic pursuits. I've really enjoyed getting back into drawing (after a 35-year absence), working through some books that have been helpful, but still lacking in various ways. I recently got a book through interlibrary loan which is really teaching me a lot: Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice by Ivan Brunetti. This book actually was recommended in another book I recently read, Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry, which I hope to eventually work through.

One of the first exercises in the Brunetti book is to take an ordinary object - such as a car - and spend 4 minutes drawing it. Then draw it again, but in 2 minutes. Then again in 1 minute. Then 30 seconds. Then 15. Then 5. (5!!???) Especially during the last two drawings, you really only have time to doodle. What you're looking for in cartooning is something in the middle - more than a doodle, less than a detailed work. Here's what happened to me with my first such exercise, drawing a car:


Four minutes is a really long time, so I found myself drawing a driver and a cat in the backseat. The 2 and 1-minute drawings aren't really all that different. Even the 30-second one isn't too bad - probably would've been better if I'd ditched the driver and the cat...

Here are the other exercises in the lesson: a cat, a castle and a telephone:




You start to see some patterns... Again, most of the 4 and 2-minute drawings aren't really that far apart. (I will say that the 2-minute cat is awful, but the 1-minute cat looks kinda cute...) Even in most of the 30-second drawings, you can (hopefully) tell what's being drawn. But the 5-second doodles? Impossible! Yet I've seen artists crank out some amazing-looking cartoon sketches in about 15-30 seconds. It can be done. (Just not by me, at least not now!)

And just for fun, here's my self-portait sketches:


My favorite is the 1-minute me, but Cindy thought that one looked like I had a do-rag. If I ever see the 30, 15, or 5-second versions of me in the mirror, I'm either heading straight for therapy or the plastic surgeon.

The learning journey continues...

Two Goofy Drawings

2014-09-18 19.18.23

Just a little goofing around, based on Evan Dahm's Vattu comics, which are awesome!

2014-09-18 19.18.41

I don't know who this guy is, but I'd steer clear of him if I were you... (Nice footies, dude!) 


SPX Report

If I had to chart my comics reading life, it would look something like this:

As you can see, there was a long period when I had little or nothing to do with comics. That wasn't due to any dissatisfaction with comics, I just had other things going on (mainly music and teaching). But since I've gotten back into comics, there's so much I'm learning that I was never aware of before. For instance, last year I learned about the Small Press Expo...one day after it had ended. So I was determined to go this year.

Which I did. I took a day off from work and made up my mind I'd go for one day of SPX in Bethesda, Maryland (only about 45 minutes from my house). Although I'd been to the Baltimore Comic Con and a few others, I didn't really know what to expect, other than lots of indie creators and publishers. I'd also told my friend Derek at The Comics Alternative that I'd try to interview as many creators as possible, but also hoped that interviewing them would not take away from my enjoyment of the event. I did interview lots of creators for the podcast (You can hear those interviews here.), but also took frequent breaks just to take it all in and spend a few $.

I can report that SPX is an exceptionally well-run event. Everything is clearly marked for first-timers like me. The registration process is easy and there are plenty of friendly folks to help you if you need help. Signing schedules are posted and important announcements are made when necessary. And did I mention that everyone is friendly? (Comics people generally are.)

Although I saw just one or two people doing cosplay, there weren't many. SPX isn't that type of con. Neither is there much focus on media; it's all about the comics and there are tons of them. You'll find publishers you're probably familiar with, such as Fantagraphics, First Second, Drawn & Quarterly, Nobrow, Ad House, and SelfMadeHero, but you'll also find smaller publishers and self-publishers. You'll find people with several self-published comics at their tables and some with only one or two. Everyone I talked to was very approachable, very friendly, and very willing to talk.

Although there were several people I wanted to meet and have their work signed (Lynda Barry chief among them), I decided not to stand in line, although the lines seemed to be moving fairly quickly. I like how the organizers have the signings set up: people line up outside the doorway leading into the convention floor and once you're inside, it's just you and the creator, which makes it more of a personal, one-on-one situation. (I'm sure both fans and creators appreciate that set-up.)

The only criticism I have is with the exhibitor badges. Nowhere on the exhibitor badge is there a place for the creator's name. (Some, however, went ahead and wrote their names on them anyway.) At some publisher's tables, it would be helpful to know if you're talking to one of the creators or someone else. But it's not a deal-breaker. You can always ask if so-and-so is there...

(My loot from this year's SPX)

Some other observations and suggestions:

The price of attending the event is VERY reasonable. I would've paid twice what they charged. (Any SPX organizers reading this, please disregard the last sentence.)

Parking is free across the street at the Metro station. FREE!

If you see a book that you think you might want to buy, don't hesitate. Get it. It might not be there by the time you make up your mind.

Don't be afraid to meet/talk to the creators. They will not bite you. (Well, maybe a couple of them might, but think of the story you'll have to tell your friends...)

When you arrive, walk the entire convention floor once to get a feel for where things are and how the event is organized.

Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks.

Move out of your comfort zone. Take risks. If you see a book that looks interesting, buy it. Support the creator(s).

Vote for the Ingatz Awards. You can do it right there and it's easy.

Bring a large bag or purchase one there. Canvas bags are best.

Even if you don't buy anything at their table, at least visit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. They do a lot of great stuff and have lots of great (free) information and handouts.

Mark your calendar for SPX 2015. (I'm guessing Sept. 12 & 13, 2015.) Go to SPX. Tell your friends. Repeat.

The Progression of Black Bolt

bolt1 bolt2

blackbolt3 kirby_bolt

Was definitely in a Jack Kirby fanboy mood when I decided to draw one of my favorite characters from the Marvel Universe, Black Bolt, the silent leader of the Inhumans. (Forgot to draw his accordion-fins, though...) Jack's drawing has nothing to worry about, but I think I'm getting better... Anyway, I'm having fun!


Running (and Learning) Again


While it’s not exactly the news of the world or anything, I achieved a personal milestone last week: I ran 3 miles for the first time since my back injury in April. Then I did it two more times during the week. Those 3-mile runs weren’t fast (They never are) and they weren’t pretty (They certainly never are), but I completed them. I may have looked pretty pathetic, you might’ve slowed down in your car to point and laugh, but I don’t care: I felt great for the first time in months.

When I injured my back in April, I could barely walk without pain. I missed a lot of work and had to consider the pain involved before attempting even routine activities. Physical therapy helped tremendously, but it was a long time before I could even think about running.

I know that some of you reading this blog are people of faith, fellow Christians. I also know that some of you are not. That’s okay; I’m not out to convert you. (That’s not my job anyway.) I’m just telling you my story and what it means to me. But when you can no longer do the things you once did - even for a short time - you not only start longing to be able to do those things again, you start thinking about bigger things, things you’d rather not think about.

I watched my mom’s health deteriorate during the last ten years of her life, largely due to inactivity. I love and miss my mom, but much of her trouble came from a conscious decision to be inactive. As much as we tried to get her to stay active, she simply wouldn’t take care of herself. I was determined that this would not happen to me, which is one of the reasons I started running. I never realized that not staying active would be something out of my control.

I believe that things happen for a reason and I believe God has something to teach us when those things happen, the good and bad things.

I’ll be 53 in January. When I started running a few years ago, I got to the point where I felt really good - not invincible, but really good. I’d take those online “What’s your mental/emotional age?” tests which usually said I was in my mid-30s. I was really proud of that. And running - once you get past the “I really suck at this” phase when you’re starting out - really feels great. There’s something about the movement, something glorious about the act of running, even if you’re slow like me. It just makes you feel alive, like you’re a part of something growing and thriving. I love that feeling and once you’ve gotten used to it, your body wants to experience that on a regular basis. In many ways, running is addictive.

Maybe that was my problem. Maybe that’s what God wanted to teach me. Maybe I was taking my eyes off of Him and running for a reason that was all about me and how I felt. Maybe God wanted me to focus on something else, maybe he wanted me to know that sometimes inactivity is not a choice, that sometimes you have no control over it. Maybe he wanted me to understand how other people feel, people who no longer have a choice to be active.

I admit to watching my mom’s declining health, thinking, “I’m never going to be like that. I’m going to make sure I’m never like that.” Yeah. Careful what you say and think.

I learned a lot about myself these past several months. I learned that I’ve often taken my eyes off of God and kept them focused on myself. I’m also learning not to judge based on appearances. I’m learning that anything I have can be taken away in a moment and not necessarily restored. I’m learning that the faith you thought you had when everything was going just great gets shaken sometimes and it forces you to look somewhere beyond yourself.

I’m still learning.




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