A couple of new illustrations for The Battle of Vesta 4.
Amazing Arizona Comic-Con was well underway by the time I showed up for my four-hour volunteer shift. Holly gave me a volunteer t-shirt and sent me off with Amy, who had an assignment for me. From the original description of the volunteer position, I expected to be moving fifty-pound boxes around all afternoon. But Amy explained to me that Mat Nastos was scheduled to moderate the Chris Claremont panel on the main stage, and I was going to watch his table for him!
I’ve never been to a comic-con in my life, so this was quite an unexpected way to spend my first hour. Mat told me to feel free to sketch, and pointed to his bag of pens and markers. It held several Sharpie markers and one of the same Pigma micron fine point pens I like to use. This launched a discussion of brush tip pens in which Mat showed me his refillable Pentel brush tip and told me about a refillable kuratake pen from Japan with a sable tip, not synthetic like the one I’ve been using this year.
As if having a chance to discuss tools of the trade with a professional wasn’t fun enough, I then spent an hour on the artist’s side of the table instead of the fan’s. Thanks to my bright white volunteer shirt, only two people mistook me for the real Mat. Everyone else I greeted with a smile, asked them how they were, and let them know Mat would be back at 4 p.m. Several of them stayed and chatted with me about Mat’s artwork and prints on the table, or indie comic books, or a new tattoo, or that it was their first comic-con, too.
But what most impressed me in that hour was the unfailing enthusiasm Rob Liefeld showed each and every fan in the massive line waiting to meet him. Rob’s table was the next one over from Mat’s, and I have never seen anyone so genuinely cheerful to be posed and photographed over and over and over. I was in awe of his ability to project a positive energy and make every fan feel like he cared.
From Mat’s table, I also had a view of the other biggest line that afternoon: the one to meet George Pérez. Once Mat got back, I got sent to “float” for a bit and check on other volunteers, see if they needed anything, and lend a presence to any lines that needed tending. After making a few loops around the hall and chatting with people, I relieved the volunteer who was watching over George and his fans.
George’s table had no merchandise or books on it. He only had his sharpie markers, pads of Bristol paper, a donation jar, and flyers for the charity he works with: The Hero Initiative. That’s it. It was explained to me that people had numbered tickets in this line, and we were accepting them in numerical order, and anyone without a ticket could get in line but there was no guarantee we would get to them.
Neither the ticketholders nor George were in any hurry. This line barely moved, because each and every fan got George’s full attention. And I realized that made their wait worthwhile. In the meantime, whoever was in the front of the line got to chat with me about things like Perez’s work on Crisis on Infinite Earths and Teen Titans. One fan told me he had been in line for six hours, and laughed when I suggested that instead of a sketch he request a full-body Sharpie tattoo.
George was gracious and cheerful, and even addressed one fan as “my son” when posing with the sketch he had drawn for the young man. Fans brought up entire stacks of comics for George to sign. One fan had a large Bristol paper full of empty panels, and George drew Batman in the center panel. He signed a two-meter-wide Marvel poster one fan had collected many signatures on. One fan had George sign a huge plastic infinity gauntlet. One had his comics bagged and boarded, but with areas of the bag sliced out and bordered with electrical tape so George would know just where he wanted a signature on the cover. And George delivered sketch after sketch after sketch after sketch. For hours.
I have never seen anything like it in all my life.
Before the night was over, everyone with a numbered ticket did make it through that line, and the donation jar was full. In honor of the tireless joy and attention George and the other creators at the convention showed their fans, consider donating to the organization George was promoting: The Hero Initiative. Funds for Hero Initiative are raised and disbursed by comic book artists and industry leaders to comic book artists in need, especially aging artists who need major medical treatments or surgeries. Please visit HeroInitiative.Org.
Making art quickly makes chaos out of your walls. Things get hung at random and, over the course of a year, lose all sense of order. Closing out 2015 required a bit of wall patching, cleaning, painting, and re-hanging.
Yesterday saw the arrival of the proof copy of a music album I’ll be publishing this month. The CD looks and sounds great, but I found the volume to be too low compared to most of today’s music. I plan to return to my master files, crank the volume a bit, and resubmit the audio before making an official release. The artwork, which I designed using scans of an acrylic painting and an ink drawing, came out really nice. I’m excited to get this album and one more music album published before the new semester begins.
I don’t do the tree thing in December, but the art studio desperately needed some suitable greenery. Here in the desert, we get ordinary house flies all year long, even in the winter. Otherwise the weather is so nice you can open windows and doors and let the cat come and go as she pleases and enjoy the sunlight and play guitar on the porch and… then the flies. It doesn’t take but a couple in the house to drive me mad. But, when life gives you flies, grow Venus flytraps.
Nothing says seasonal festivity like a carnivorous plant. I ordered this one on eBay from “Joe’s Carnivorous Plants”. She just ate her first fly yesterday. I was so proud. The leaves are thin enough that when the sun shines on them you can see the pesky little fly trapped in there.
That should keep the freshly cleaned and organized sketch room from devolving into pestilence and infestation for another year! Go, little flytrap!
Oak Toad on a Leaf
Micron 05 and 01 fine point pen
And that’s it for my drawing pad of 6×8 paper! Though I have a couple other blank sketchbooks waiting, I might get another 6×8 pad to have around. I like working in this size for several reasons. One, it takes less time to go from concept to completion than it does with a 9×12 drawing. Two, the dimensions make it easier to crop to a 5×7 aspect ratio for custom-printed greeting cards. Three, I can find mats and frames for a much more reasonable price at this size, compared to the relatively exorbitant cost of matting a 9×12 to an 11×14 frame. And four, since I draw all my mid-tone lines by hand without a ruler, it is less challenging to cover large areas of the drawing than it is in a 9×12. Just try drawing hundreds of straight lines across a 9×12 sheet of paper sometime, and you’ll see what I mean!
Like last week’s damselfly, this toad had as its photo reference one of my mother’s recent nature photographs. She’s taken some especially crisp and detailed photos of small animals lately, and it’s been fun using them as inspiration for opportunities to practice inking with fine point pens.
Micron 05 and 01 fine point pens and Sharpie marker.
You can tell this is a damselfly, not a dragonfly, by the folded wings. A dragonfly at rest would hold its wings out flat. Damselflies fold their wings above their thorax like this.
We might get it printed on a 14×14 throw pillow. Matting and framing the 6×8 original will be our little project for this afternoon.
Mom deserves credit for taking the original photograph this drawing is based on. We don’t think she’ll mind if we share it with you here:
Our little pad of 6×8 drawing paper is nearly empty now, so we cracked open our pad of 11×17 bristol board to do a quick ink study. Though we’ve painted on much larger canvases, we haven’t gone bigger than 9×12 for drawing. We broke the ice with a Diatryma based on a smaller study from a year or two ago. We’d like to do a whole series of 11×17 prehistoric animals in marker and pen, but working in these dimensions will take a bit of getting used to.
This wind-up toy dutifully marches through a sky filled with Kirby Krackle in tribute to the 1978 toy created by Tomy. For a photo reference, we used a picture taken for our eBay listing which sold this robot a few months ago. This black and white drawing was created with Micron 05 fine point pen, various Sharpie markers, white gel pen, and black pastel. 5×7 aspect ratio, from a high-resolution (300 dpi) scan of original art.
This little frog revisits a 4×6 drawing we did with our very first set of fine point pens in March, 2013. The original 4×6 sold on eBay. This one is bigger at 6×8, though the image above is cropped to 5×7. It uses more solid black in the background than the original version did, but the frog is pretty much the same.
We didn’t post it last week so here is a new illustration for one of the Meteor Mags stories. It was fun to produce. It began with posing for the shot, so yeah it’s sort of a self portrait. But with more awesome hair.
This was the first time we used a white gel pen to put some stars in the sky. For a guide, we studied the stars on the cover of Iron Man #215, shown below. That’s a book we bought at the drug store in the mid 1980s, and maybe we’ll feature it here sometime.
Every so often we do a study of this old comic panel from Weird War Tales. As our inking improves over the years, so do the studies. One of these days we won’t screw up hand-lettering this piece so badly that we have to paint out all the words and re-do them digitally. Here we used the Brian Bolland font purchased from Richard Starking’s Comicraft, a company you may be familiar with if you ever read Elephantmen.
For today’s Sketchbook Sunday, let’s take a moment to spotlight these cute animal cards Mom sent us. In 2010, Mom had never had an email address. We encouraged her to get one, and then she started discovering the joys of Google – especially for finding images and materials for her preschool classes. Last year she took her first online course, a class in digital photography to support her animal photo enthusiasm. Now she is having her own cards made from her digital pictures. Pretty cool! Here are three of our favorites, below.
Readers of Mars Will Send No More may recall how we collaged our table with pages from old Jack Kirby comics a few years ago. The Kirby table has served us well, fueling our inspiration and filling our life with Kirby Krackle as we paint and eat. But now, it is time for a little refinish.
Love those panels of people freaking out in a morass of cosmic crackle! But as you can see, the well-loved surface is now a disaster, and it’s impossible to even tell if the thing is clean enough to eat on or not at any given moment.
So, we sanded down the big chunks with some 60 grit and a palm sander, then gave it a black and white starry cosmos finish with some old spray paint from a box of leftovers in a friend’s garage.
This week, our pillows arrived. Below you see a 20×20 throw pillow featuring the image of Meteor Mags playing piano in her black dress and silly pirate hat.
The pillows are nicely made with a sturdy outer cover. The image is printed on both sides. They have a zipper on one edge. It opens to reveal a polyester pillow. The pillows in the 20×14 products are much cuddlier than the 20×20 products. They are stuffed more. The 20×20 is beautiful, but the 20×14 pillows are more snuggly.
This Sketchbook Sunday, let’s take a trip down memory lane. I made an auction listing for the last surviving remnants of my sketchbooks from the 1990s and early 2000s. I’ve scanned and reworked some of them into new art, and I’d like to re-do a few with fine-point pens. Even though some are pretty ragged by now, I’m sentimental about them. Maybe they will find a new home. [Update: They did find a new home! SOLD.]
Sometimes you have those dreams where everything feels perfect. As a tribute to the numerous dreams we’ve had flipping through boxes of never-published comic books, the colors and textures of Dream Journal Nine contain vintage comic books in their depths.
This little 8×10 canvas has been a companion in the painting studio for two years, the object of many small-scale experiments we would later apply to larger canvases. It was once a light-hearted collage called “Perfect! The Master Will be Well Pleased!”
We’ve had much time to consider the idea of perfection, and we have a new perspective on it now. Perfection is a process, not a static state. Perfection is a verb, not a noun. Perfection is how we shape the world ever closer to an ideal we have in our minds. In reality, nothing is ever truly perfect, but that should not disappoint us too much. We are not trying to attain a state of perfection; we work to perfect our less-than-ideal world and make it more ideal.
On the flip side, you have imperfection. The crackled textures of Dream Journal Nine suggests cracks and imperfections. In dreams, the imperfections sometimes alert the dreamer that yes, this is a dream. You notice something that doesn’t seem quite right. And when you pause to think about it, it becomes clear you are dreaming. The imperfections of the dream world make perfect signposts on the road to lucid dreaming and greater awareness in the dream.
Dream Journal Nine could just as easily bear the title Imperfection, for perfection and imperfection form two sides of the same coin, two halves of the same whole.
We recently published three years of dreams from our dream journals in a 148-page paperback, and also Kindle format, called Three Years Dreaming.
Micron 08 fine-point pen and Sharpie marker
While looking for a poem in our archives this week, we recalled a scan of a bee that we never got around to using as a photo reference. The poem received an edit and the bee enjoyed an evening in the spotlight after all this time.
Instead of sketching this week, we devoted our sketch time to framing and listing several of our favorite pieces from the past year. It turns out to be quite a process: selecting and ordering frames, photographing each piece, and coming up with something compelling to say about them for the listing. Add to that unpacking, assembling, packing, and uploading, and you’ve suddenly got a pretty big project on your hands.
But, at the end, the final framed piece of art gives you a major feeling of satisfaction. You’ve taken an idea and made it real. In today’s world of goods and services performed virtually and delivered by email, we sometimes lose an important reward: that day you can step back, take a look at what you accomplished, and know it as a tangible thing.
Ellie the Studio Cat advised us that it was entirely too nice a day to be drawing inside, so the two of us chilled at the little picnic table outside sketching prehistoric animals. We’re doing some very rough studies to get a feel for rendering these ancient critters with a combination of Sharpie and fine-point pens.
And yes, Ellie does look like she’s scowling in this photo, but she is just relaxing, contentedly hanging out for sunshine and sketching.
Anyway! Trilobites seemed like they would be simple, but their unique anatomy presents some conceptual challenges. Since this sketch we found some more photo references from the Burgess Shale that depict a few different types of trilobites with anatomical variations. We will master the trilobite yet!
Rod Ruth has a pencil drawing in Album of Prehistoric Animals that makes a great reference for Diatryma feathers and anatomy. This was the easiest one of the bunch to pin down where we would want fine lines versus bold chisel-tip inking.
Smilodon smiles on, with Rod Ruth’s cover of the same book giving a perfect snarly pose to work from.
The skull of Dunkleosteus appears in one of our favorite books, Extinction. The interesting plate structure of this placoderm’s head easily lent itself to bold black lines.
An Archaeocyathid from the same book was rendered in ink by one of the contributing artists, so we studied the way light and shadow define the curves.
Here is our first rough pencil study of a panel by Bob Powell with a whacky sci-fi wasp from another planet who comes to earth in a globe of pure force. The sketch isn’t so great, but this is how we get to know our subjects.
Our previous posting of Somewhere Between Mars and Earth got some encouraging response. We returned to it and filled in the lower right corner with more mega-doodle madness. Framed, it looks pretty darn trippy.
Our first Sharpie study of And One of Them Was Destroyed felt good enough that we want to do a more finished version on some high-quality artist paper. While we get materials together for that endeavor, our two-page sketch can enjoy this 12×18 frame!
Last but not least, we framed our little frog from our book of watercolor paper postcards. It will list on eBay soon, and we will be picking up another book of those blank postcards. In the next round, though, we will take care to leave a border around the edges. Frog looks great, but another one of our cards really needs to be matted to a 5×7 frame to preserve the details at the edges. Live and learn! UPDATE: Diving Frog sold on eBay to an overseas buyer. Rock on!
Somewhere Between Mars and Earth
Micron fine-point pen and Sharpie marker
We began this 8.5 x 11 mega-doodle as a study of Ian Miller’s line work in the illustrated edition of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.
It soon took on a life of its own! Peter Deligdisch advises “keep calm and draw lines” in his collection Line of Thought, a work that Amazon groups with “zentangle.” We hadn’t heard of zentangle before, but that’s exactly what our art teacher called it when we started making textures with tons of lines. It may be a hot new art thing, but dig the way Ian Miller zentangled us on the road to Mars decades ago.
We like the energy effects and dynamic lightning bolts in the heart that Miller drew for the chapter called May 2003: The Wilderness. By drawing lines in one direction or the other, Miller creates distinct spaces and shapes. The lines serve as texture to give the area form or identity. Miller uses stippling and tiny circles to achieve a tasty variation of our favorite thing in the universe: Kirby Krackle. And, because so much of the page is “textured” or rendered, his empty white spaces also become solid objects. We have long admired this artwork, and approaching it analytically with the right tools for the job turned out to be fun and educational.
The Ian Miller edition of the book includes this quote from the Bradbury text as a preface: And somewhere between Mars and Earth everything of the message was lost… and his voice came through saying only one word: “Love.”
Here it is framed:
And here is an early version where we almost stopped and left negative space in the lower right corner. But, something told us to press on.
Sharpie Marker study of a comic book panel from The Eternals by Jack Kirby (Marvel, 1976.) I don’t recall exactly which issue, since this page is lacquered onto my table top. Here is our digital restoration of the original splash panel (two page spread) from a scan. So much Kirby Krackle!