Tag Archives: technique

A Place for the Gaudy in Design

My Kind of Compliment Sandwich

My Kind of Compliment Sandwich

Self-aware preamble: As a backhanded compliment to a respected peer & ‘good acquaintance’ (less than ‘movies & beers’–my definition of ‘friend’–but better than just ‘I know the guy’), I might not be using the compliment sandwich. End preamble.

The tour is coming up, & we’re preparing the signage. Honestly, it’s garish, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. When he first asked my opinion, Mike reminded me of me & my insecurities. It was surreal & unexpected, as his eye is well-refined & I dig his taste. I eventually said

Is it enough to say it’s not ugly?

And we laughed.

Then a client of his arrived; I went for a coffee & reflected on it. I had no opinion that didn’t include the recommendation: start over (it went unvocalized). The design is extremely divergent from what I think looks good, from colour to font (also, I don’t envy the challenge of the atypical banner shape). But as I stood & looked out his studio’s front window onto the main street & sipped on a cream-deficient coffee, I realized Mike’s sign was perfect.

SGAA Brochure

SGAA Brochure (PDF)

My sense of taste worked for the brochure (PDF); organic, colourful, unified, balanced – but that sensibility would be unremarkable & ill-advised as street signage for a one-weekend affair. There aren’t 20 views for the public to get used to its presence. And I’m not brave enough to make something that jars the eye to this extent.

Example: the bright, sky-emulating cyan that caps the vertical banner doesn’t appear on Elmvale’s main drag. Remember the bright blue women were wearing in the early aughts? That blue. As fashion, it’s over. I never would have considered it. Yet it stands out & I expect it will be effective, & I said as much before leaving.

The Original Compliment Sandwich

The Original Compliment Sandwich

It’s brilliant in a way, & completely counter to what I feel is Mike’s natural, intuitive sense.

Whether tasteful design or airs toward sophistication, it depends on context. What do you do to stand out?

*sigh* All advertising is noise. Some places have laws limiting it, & some noise is more valuable than others (literal case in point). I remember Barrie had a problem for a short time with single, small, bright, pulsating-every-two-seconds purple/near ultraviolet lights perched atop portable signs (counter to By-law number 2005-093, Section – PDF). They were impossibly intense even in the daytime, &, as a driver, I was relieved at their discontinuation.

When the landscape, urban or otherwise, lacks uniformity, the tasteful is easily lost. Conversely, when everything is cacophonous, minimalism stands out. Take the way our brains filter information: is it law of nature, or LOL of nature?

Elmvale business signage has covered a range of design – utilitarian B+W block letters w/red detail, minimalist Helveticaesque text, script fonts that attempt classiness, as well as some very well-designed logos & genre-specific, easily identifiable store frontage (such as the smart branding of the local bar as an Irish pub – but, oh, those poor greens on the website).

One more point that I can’t resist about the banner: the floor of earthy-ish orange-brown that isn’t Pantone 448C, but reminds me of it, is as appropriate–& therefore perfect–as anything else.

I’d say it’s a great piece of advert.


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Photoreference vs Comics

Not photo 'reference,' but photo 'use.'

Not photo “reference,” but photo “use.”

There’s an attitude I adopted back in my music days: it’s not the tool, it’s what you do with it. Whether it was guitars, drum machines, filtered and refiltered samples of my daughter’s voice, answering machine messages, or various unrecognizable sound sources, when the result was musical, mood-inducing, or it just plain grooved, IMO it didn’t matter what the sound sources were.

It was a departure from our local song-circle attendees, some of whom had/have strong opinions about adding any technology to acoustic instrumentation. One folk purist would exhort on the evils of electricity (amplification of any kind was unnatural) and glory of the warmth of wood (natural). I said I’d never seen a guitar string tree, in an attempt to illustrate that he considered acceptable a certain amount of tech. I said he and I simply chose to draw our lines in different places.

Also not photo 'reference,' but 'use.'

Also not photo “reference,” but “use.”

With this in mind, I find I’m a hypocrite when it comes to comics. I want to see comics drawn, so I draw. I disapprove of blatant tracers (Greg Land et al). I also kinda-sorta disapprove of photo-users, but artists like Maleev pull it off (mainly b/c he seems to do his own photography). But I’ve used samples in occasional panels, influenced by Byrne’s use of photocopies for cityscapes in his Marvel work.

But that’s beside the point I wish to make. The term photoreference is where you get some photos, and use them as reference when you draw. It’s what the elder statesmen of comics called one’s clip file.

This article, as delightfully snarky as it is, misuses it. I wouldn’t care, except it’s CBR, one of the mainstream comics criticism sites. The author uses the term “photoreference” not as “reference to draw from” but as “inclusion in a montage/collage.” *cringe*

Let me guess – he could care less about my opinion.

The 'Who Wants to Fuck Mary Jane' cover of ASM #602

The Who Wants to Fuck Mary Jane cover of ASM #602; the inward pointed toes say No, but the conveniently-angled pubis says Yes… to nice guys jerks.

*sigh* This post wanted to be a diatribe about the sexism in mainstream comics, but I find the topic increasingly exhausting (<- giving in to this is a luxury of maleness).

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The Separation of Mediums & the Artist

Finally, I made my way uptown to the brand new comics shop in town, Jack’s on Queen. I bought some bags’n’boards for the comics package I have planned for the Springwater ‘Autumn Equinox’ Studio Tour (PDF) later this month.

The plan is twofold:

  1. to offer some ‘market separation’ between my comics work & framed, gallery-worthy fine art prints, &
  2. to do my part to help the SGAA cross-promote with local businesses.
I'm so original.

I’m so original.

Local government encourages the latter; it–huzzah!–has been very supportive in recognizing local artists & artisans as vital to local culture & economic growth. I feel it’s an important part of social responsibility.

The former is a possible overthink in terms of my engagement with public. I’ve had three conversations during the past week about the focus of one’s body of work, & I don’t feel it’s a coincidence.

The first was with a fellow cartoonist with whom we share mutual respect for each other’s work. She declined a collaboration b/c the theme doesn’t fit into her overall theme, & she’s taking care to curate her projects & what her name is attached to. I contrasted that consideration with my aspirations to writing as my focus, with illustration as necessary byproduct, & my eagerness to indulge in a variety of genres, as a kind of jack of all trades – not out of desperation, though, but simply when projects interest me.

Then I enjoyed a brief conversation with a local painter; she was present when I picked up my latest framed piece. She had seen two other pieces of mine that were thematically similar & asked if it was the thread that ran through my work. This caused me to reflect on the idea of broad appeal of higher-ticket items (framed artwork) versus the (sometimes very) controversial nature of the stories I write & cartoon into comics.

Last came the convo with the comics shop owners. They, like me, find it encouraging that the Guild & government have embraced a cartoonist as a ‘fine’ artist. The graphic novel has made great strides toward acceptance as literature in larger centres, but I feel like a bit of an ambassador for comics in my rural area (er, not to sound too pretentious, eh?).

As an artist whose work generally runs contrary to convention, I’m encouraged.

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Fine Art Illustration Can Be Comics, Dammit

Sometimes it’s some kind of narrative.

Forgive me for failing to know the names of these illustrators.

One gentleman in particular, the one that leads this short series of interview soundbites, describes fine art illustration as “(having) a sequential quality,” that “it’s really like fiction.”

Jan Pienkowski

Er, I guess I do now know his name: Jan Pienkowski

Literature. Right.

With illustration, there’s a beginning & a middle & an end, and each picture has to somehow guide you to the next, have a hint, have something that makes you think, ‘Oh, yes,’ go back & make you think ‘that was the person in that window, & here they are.’

Not that it isn’t true (it is), but here’s another example of the terror of the word ‘comics.’ We all love how German, Japanese & other languages have these beautiful & exotic words that, alone, define a concept that in English needs a sentence to describe. Or two.

English HAS a word to describe the sequential series of illustrations that gives a literature-esque, narrative, storytelling effect.



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Stress of the Day

Filthy Cake, artwork with overlay

Filthy Cake, artwork with overlay

(Written last night before bed.)

That should be plural. ‘Stresses.’ And I do not handle stress well.

Never have, really, but I used to thrive on it. It was a thrill, barely getting to work on time. The adrenaline rush could keep me going until second break, sometimes longer. My, how things change.

Add one heat stress episode (with a ride in an ambulance) &, roughly one month later, an early morning (still in bed) panic attack… that I mistook for a stroke. They, with other factors, some reaching back to childhood, reset my life in ways I never could have imagined.

Yesterday, I was on the final stretch toward submission of an artwork. Scanning & digital assembly (you can see by the accompanying pix that I handle my black linework & my colour discretely). I dropped my only mouse at roughly 1:45pm. The deadline was midnight, Pacific (or 4am local), but I self-imposed 6pm Eastern, b/c I was due in Barrie for Idea Party at 7, & leaving it till later wasn’t an option. One can never tell when one’s car will break down, y’know?

Dropped mouse decided there would be no cursor on the screen, but it would close windows with a click. I take it apart, & a bunch of shit falls out. Nice. I recognize the scroll wheel, & a plastic piece that I correctly assume is the framework  in which the wheel sits. And two pieces of wire, each unlike the other. I figure out where one goes; the other – not a clue. But I put the screws in.

Cursor! YAY! …no clicky, from either button. That ate 45 minutes or so. If only I had wussed out & gone to my brother’s place to temporarily steal his mouse instead of trying to be be Manly Mister Fixit Man. B/c I ended up at his place anyway, stealing his mouse. My hurriedly scribbled note:

– broke my mouse
– have a deadline
– borrowing yours

He was cool. He always is.

Filthy Cake, artwork sans overlay

Filthy Cake, artwork sans overlay

Okay, so you see that sheet of overlay? The one that could have been half an inch shorter on top & another half-inch shorter on the bottom? It should have been. It’s been so long since I did a full-page of art that my overlay was too big; the subsequent crosshairs were too far apart. See, scanning as two halves & assembling them is necessary. But my crosshairs were just far enough from centre that I missed a lousy TWO MILLIMETRES from the middle of the piece.

I cursed myself, then resigned to scan the middle section of each, to insert & make it whole. By 5:55, I was just making my final edge trims–with bleed for print, properly trimmed for Internet display–when I noticed I hadn’t put my signature on the piece. *sigh* I hit the drafting table to sign the orignal (thankfully, I’d left some white space), hit the bathroom hairdryer to ensure the ink wouldn’t leave a residue on the scanner glass, scanned that small section, inserted it perfectly into the digital version, then redid the trims & web-rez processes.

As I sent it in at 6:45, I noticed an earlier email from the printer rep, asking if I could proof the brochure (PDF – I’m very proud of it, to be honest) before end-of-day. Oops. I couldn’t have gone if I’d seen it earlier, but I hate leaving people uninformed, b/c I hate being left same.

The drive to Barrie was interesting. The once-familiar adrenaline was evil. My mind became flushed with bad memory (PDF) after bad memory. I wasn’t freed from this until I had the insight to put on familiar music that I associated with good times. It worked.

Reviews of the submitted art were positive. I ended up crashing very late, as I’d forgotten an extra piece of art (got it in under the wire).

Today was no less hectic. I had hoped to visit my grandson on the same day I proofed the brochure, but no such luck. Today was also my scheduled psychiatric appointment.

Pic of a 1yo, looking up over my archival pigment pens

Pic of a 1yo, looking up over my archival pigment pens

Geography (jpg): Elmvale lies almost half-way between Barrie (1/2hr south) & Midland (1/2hr north); Elmvale is home, the printer proof is in Barrie, & my counsellor is in Midland. And construction on the major roads between my destinations – Hwy 400 (from Forbes Rd to Horseshoe Valley) & the Old Penetanguishene Road (from Orr Lake to Waverley). It’s not an insignificant chuck of asphalt for the relative speed.

Adrenaline. Strangely not nostalgic. Definitely unwelcome.

The proof looks awesome – it folds just as I planned. Before leaving Barrie, I dropped a piece of artwork off for framing. Despite construction delays, I had time to pop into Mom’s to initiate a laundry wash cycle (Moms are awesome, too). And I made my appointment on time. But it was stressful. Just thinking about it now is causing a knot in my stomach, so I’ll sign off here.

P.S. My brother was generous enough to give me both of his unused mouses. On the laptop, it’s going to take some time to break the blue stick habit.

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Your New World Order Is Ready for Pick-Up

Julian Assange, the most dangerous man in the world

Julian Assange, the most dangerous man in the world

Assange: Isn’t it amazing that he’s both hero & villain for doing that which comes naturally to every two-year-old?

I’ve never been big on New World Order conspiracies. But if you wanted to make moot, then completely rewrite, international laws, forcing entry into an embassy to arrest someone would be a fucking strong first step.

The David Cameron government has indicated that it won’t respect Ecuadorean sovereignty over its embassy in London, according to a Reuters report.

Another quote of note… & worth ridicule:

“Under British law we can give them a week’s notice before entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have diplomatic protection. But that decision has not yet been taken. We are not going to do this overnight. We want to stress that we want a diplomatically agreeable solution.”

Yes, Britain wants a ‘diplomatically agreeable solution,’ as long as it wins.

Nostalgic for the good ol’ days of Colonialism, are we? Ah, but they’re late – former colony South Africa beat them to it.

Answer to what you thought was a rhetorical question in the opening line: Like a 2yo, Assange can’t keep a secret ;)

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Jumping back & forth across the line

Jumping back & forth across the line.

I don’t know where to start.

For the most part, blogging is just bullshit, right? Everyone blogs, & the few who don’t know scads who do. If you’re writing online & you aren’t Sarah Vowell or Dan Savage, then who gives a damn, right?

I found a new one. I kinda think Joel Runyon is crazy… but I’ve known since childhood that the line between crazy & genius is thin, & it’s often crossed & recrossed like the centre line in a game of hopscotch.

The latest post on Runyon’s Impossible blog is jaw-dropping. Pencils of Promise is inspiring, ambitious &, on its face, imbued with a woefully rare realistic idealism.

Pencils of Promise started when their founder Adam was backpacking through India and asked a small child who was begging, ”What do you want most in the world?”

“A Pencil”, the child answered.

I am awash in pencils, mechanical & traditional. And pens. Markers, brushes & ink, & paper. I even have a dozen or so hand-made je ne sais quoi styluses (reed? bamboo? cannae remember), created in about 90 seconds by my co-grandparent & working artist Derek Martin, that I have yet to use b/c I’m afraid I’ll somehow screw it up. I’ll waste these materials &, worse, my time. Silly, no?

Why can’t I get anything significant effing done? The simplest answer, based on the paralysing effect of a blank sheet of paper, is: I seem pathologically risk-averse.

So, it isn’t PoP’s selflessness that I find particularly moving (though, really, it’s more impressive than anything I’ve ever done), but how my incredibly self-centred mindset is applying the lesson. PoP’s first rule:

If we don’t love what we do, then we are doing something wrong.

The Art of the Unseen

The Art of the Unseen – Can I punch these guys?

I admitted in my last counselling session that I don’t enjoy drawing. I love conceiving it, & I love the finished product. I also love my time with pen-to-paper when I’m lost in the moment, knowing it looks good. That means I love it, right?

Except I rarely think it looks good. There’s a psychological pain in this.

And there’s a simple answer here, too: do something else.


Giving up isn’t the solution, at least for me, at least for this. I’m working on it. There is just… something… I’m missing. A way to approach drawing, a way to approach the physical expression of creativity. B/c, conversely, writing is pure joy–much like the pre-drawing concept stage.

I’m determined to figure this out. This, I’ve decided, is not impossible.

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