The sphere of commercial illustration and graphic design is not known for its groundbreaking introspection or abstract meaning. It is easy to doubt whether or not I will ever be able to create things that move people or make people think or make people laugh in the same way a book or a feature film or a even my friend singing in their living room can.
Just yesterday, though, I cam across a new animated short film called Save Ralph. It inspired me to keep striving for better. To keep practicing, to keep writing, to keep drawing, to keep dreaming. Maybe I won’t ever direct a feature film or write a book that changes someone’s life, but I think one day I could make something like this.
Something that uses a playful, children’s-book aesthetic to speak about real issues and strive for real change. There is something really special and unique about that juxtaposition. Something that really captures my imagination. (Like creating a gritty world around Peter Rabbit.)
This short film beautifully highlights the power of storytelling, imagination and art in the fueling of social change and the passing of ideas.
I spent a chunk of my evening alone in the apartment drawing these 18×24″ sharpie-on-newsprint scenes.
It was quite a fun process, and, as always happens when I pick up a pen or a paint brush, it made me want to do more traditional work.
But it makes me want to draw with sharpie and pen more often specifically. There’s something really freeing about completing a drawing with no ctrl+z. The inability to erase presents a higher bar of entry to the drawing process, but once you’ve forced yourself past the bar, it can be a much more enjoyable process. No more kneading back and forth across the same spot on the page over and over.
You’re stuck with every line, no matter what, so you start to let go of some of that tension, and just let the lines fall where they’d like.
This evening also helped to fortify my opinion on quantity masking crudity. These drawings are not beautifully crafted – and yet, as soon as you start building the quantity, the total picture starts to become more impressive.
Two famous painters from history – Francisco Goya and Vincent van Gogh – were born on this day, 275 years and 168 years ago respectively. I do not have anything very insightful to say, I just scanned through each of their works again this evening, and pulled several ‘comparable’ pieces (only in rough terms of color and subject matter) to put on display here.
First we’ll start with self portraits, hard at their work. (These remind me of one of my favorite paintings)
Churches with blue skies.
Women in blue.
And finally, secluded gathers behind tall trees.
It’s quite beautiful to see how unique these two worlds are. And, despite how different the subject and scene of each painting is, how clearly every work fits in to the over arching world of the painter.
Both Goya and Van Gogh really found their thing. I wonder, when I’m old and gray and looking back at my life’s work, what my thing will be.
Here’s a bonus video about a piece of Goya’s work by one of my favorite YouTube channels.
The other day, I carved a lino-cut for the first time in about six months.
I chose a crow with a feather in its cap, because me and two friends do a poster challenge together every weekend. This weekend, instead of choosing a specific medium or design, we chose a word. Each of our three posters were inspired by the word feather.
Here are all three of our posters (you can click to enlarge).
Sometimes, if you find yourself struggling to create a singular masterpiece – create 50 or 100 or 1,000 small, crude pieces. And the mass collective can become the singular masterpiece.
If you’re struggling to write the book, just get one sentence down today. In her book on writing and life, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott describes her own writing process. She sits at her desk, wondering what on God’s green earth to write, maybe hyperventilating a little, until she finally notices the 1-inch picture frame beside her monitor.
“It reminds me that all I have todo is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being. All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running.”
The title of that chapter is “Short Assignments.”
Lots of short assignments lead to big payoffs. Often times, quality only comes with quantity. With practice. With repetition. Or simply, with enough of the bad that it simply morphs into a giant, singular good. David Bayles and Ted Orland display this idea beautifully in their book, Art & Fear:
“[A] ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
This project – drawing 100 of something – taught me this lesson in my second year of art school. In my case, it was finding spaceships within splotches of watercolor.
Today, I started a new quantity-over-quality project, with these 2×3 inch paintings of shapes. It was fun to paint with real brushes again, rather than my stylus and computer. And though these are not special in any way individually, I’m hoping once I fill a wall with 30 or 40 of them, the quantity will mask the crudity.
I was toddling around the living room tonight, having closed my laptop for the sake of my eyes not melting out of their sockets, when I heard a cheer from the open window. My street is full of bars and restaurants, and as spring has started to emerge, the weekends have gotten louder and louder. I glanced out of the window and caught a glimpse of a TV on in an upper room across the street, and what looked like a basketball playing. I wonder if the Bucks are playing right now… I flipped on the television, and found myself dropped into the middle of a 90s crime drama. I started changing the channels, looking for tall dudes in green, when I landed instead on an old grainy image of a man painting against a black backdrop.
Of course, I know Bob Ross. But I realized in that moment that I’d never actually sat and watched Bob Ross paint before. I’d seen images and short clips forever, but I’d never sat with him. So, having very little inclination to do anything else, I leaned back and watched. And listened.
And felt that this was exactly what he was meant to do. He seems to really love painting – and to love to share painting. And if he doesn’t, what does it matter? It made me want to paint. And certainly it made countless others want to paint as well.
Here’s another animation I made today. It started as a simple exercise, playing with the tool that allows you to turn one shape into another. I was just seeing what it looked like to turn a circle into a triangle, then I kept going and it turned into this…
This evening, I watched an interview with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
I am not a great lover of Basquiat’s work, but it was interesting to feel a little bit more appreciation after engaging with the artists himself for 35 minutes – even though it was a rather painful 35 minutes. It was hard to tell who felt more uncomfortable through the interview, Basquiat or the interviewer.
Here are a couple moments that stuck out to me from the interview. First, the interviewer asks about a series of paintings in a show he had seen recently.
Interviewer: “Were they done for that show?” Basquiat: “No, they – they were just done. But they weren’t done… for any reason or anything.”
Interviewer: “What do people like in your work?” Basquiat: “You got me.” Interviewer: “I think people are classifying you as – what? An expressionist?” Basquiat: “Expressionist? That happened a long time ago didn’t it?” Interviewer: “Expressionism? Yeah – well there’s New Expressionism.” Basquiat: “Oh… expressionism. Well, art should be expressive. Of something or other.”
Interviewer: “There’s a certain – let’s use the term crudity to your heads I suppose. You like it that way? Or would you like to get them more refined in a realistic way?” Basquiat: “I don’t – I haven’t really met that many refined people. Most people are generally crude.” Interviewer: “And that’s why you keep your images crude?” Basquiat: “Oh believe it or not, I can really draw.” Interviewer: “No I believe you can really draw.” Basquiat: “But – I.. I don’t really know. I try to fight against that usually.”
Basquiat: “I am what I am, what I am.”
Quiet, contemplative, soft spoken… I had painted a picture of Basquiat in my head, but similar to his own paintings, it seemed crude when put against the man himself captured on film.
I’d like to continue learning more about Jason, “one of the quirkiest and most prolific denizens of the New York art scene.” But from the little I know about him now, it seems like Jason is someone I’d like to be like. Ambitious, hard working, consistent.
On multiple occasions, Jason sketches every piece of artwork in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
In this video, Jason said “I think there’s a quality in quantity.” I agree with him whole-heartedly.
After reading and watching a little bit about Jason, and seeing his artwork, I was inspired to go back to a past project of mine, a comic strip called Stephanie and Carl. I drew Stephanie and Carl today for the first time in many months, and hope to keep drawing them.
I spent the day working at my small round, white kitchen table, then the evening working on my couch. Different projects here and there – but the evening was dedicated entirely to posters and personal work (though I had not planned to work on personal poster projects for 5+ hours today).
I made another animation today! It was really fun to play around with the “squeeze” and “stretch” effect on the bun during its bounce – a key foundational aspect of 2D animation.
This week’s design challenge is a poster that incorporates an element made in a 3D software… I don’t like 3D software. I’m trying to figure out a way to blend an element of 3D with my normal 2D style, like seen in this sketch. The concept is a mailman in the 2D world very confused at this 3D package.