Monday, April 26, 2010

Glazing, Part Ia

Huh.  I just re-read yesterday's post and it occurs to me that I have nothing much further to add at this point, save that I've reintroduced a little bit of glazing in the most recent session, easing up on the amount of oil and laying it on very, very thin.  I'll do a follow-up when the painting is finished.  Work proceeds apace.

Anyway, today was meant to be a day of doing outdoor work - nailing down some flashing on the roof, painting the back porch (I tore up and replaced some rotted boards yesterday) and clearing out some of the smaller trees that stand on the back property line, but it rained enough to make both the porch and roof work either difficult or dangerous, and lack of a chainsaw made sure that I couldn't cut down any other trees or cut up the one I fell with an axe yesterday.

So what I did mostly was indoor stuff - laundry, etc.  I had planned to do a little more work on the painting in the early afternoon, but I slept late and decided to just bum around, for a change, and then went to see Roger McGuinn and John Sebastian in Tarrytown with Jim, plus dinner beforehand.  The tickets were a birthday gift from Yesenia, who was supposed to be my companion, but her surprise trip meant that I had to find someone to go in her place, which turned out to be surprisingly difficult.  Thankfully, Jim is usually up for any concert, and the fact that it was right over the bridge made it an easy sell.

The verdict on the show was that I loved every minute of it, while Jim really liked Sebastian and was mostly bored by McGuinn.  I could see the point - McGuinn was great but maybe a little distant, and his performance was less dynamic than Sebastian, who turned out to be a great musician and raconteur, which I hadn't known.  Sebastian's voice sounded a bit like he'd spent the 70's gargling gravel (or he'd had half his vocal cords removed and donated to Randy Newman), but McGuinn sounded exactly the same as he did forty-five years ago.

I personally found the McGuinn set really moving, for reasons I can't quite put in to words, but that's pretty much par for the course with me and The Byrds.  And maybe that's why I love them so much.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Glazing, Part I

I keep going back and forth on whether or not it's the way to go with the current oil portrait I'm working on.  As originally conceived - for many reasons that I'll get into at a later date - the subject practically demanded that the painting take on the look of a Northern Renaissance work.  Meaning oil pigment on wood panel, done in a technique known as glazing.  Simply described - and the concept is simple - you apply the paint in translucent layers, using a glazing medium (linseed oil is a common one) to thin the pigment.  Layer on top of layer, building colors, not blending them.  The idea is to get the colors to become more luminous, although in my case, the goal is to stay as true to the technique of the original masters as possible.

Of course, while the concept is simple, the execution is hellishly tricky.  Yet another regret I have from my time at RISD is that I didn't take a class in Renaissance painting technique, but I was a horrible painter at the time and didn't seem to have any hope of improving, so taking what amounted to a master class (as I recall it being described at the time) seemed like a semester of frustration and failure, given how poorly I'd done in the basic oil classes.  I'm fairly sure the teacher would have agreed.  I did not distinguish myself.

One of the surprising things, however, as I approach 40, I find that many of the handicaps I had as a younger artist have fallen away.  Whether this is indicative of some kind of mental block on my part or just the benefits of maturity (or senility) - or some combination thereof - I can't say.  But the things that used to be impossible for me to accomplish have now moved to the box labelled 'pain in the ass.'

The way that the impossibility would manifest itself was in my sheer inability to finish a painting.  Every painting from college that I did, save one, shared the same fate.  Approximately halfway there, I would hit a wall and be unable to proceed any further.  Complete blindness - I couldn't see what I was supposed to be doing and I couldn't see how to get there.  So the half-finished canvas went on the pile, and I took whatever grade it was that the (it must be said) completely disinterested teachers felt appropriate.

I've had a few fits and starts with painting over the last eight years or so.  The first attempted comeback was a portrait of my dad in celebration of his 60th birthday.  It sits unfinished in my basement, so I had not, as yet, gotten past my issues/difficulties.  A 60th portrait of my mother met the same fate (although I barely even got started on that one).  There may have been one or two more, and then I started teaching at ROCA and was invited to participate in the faculty show, and I determined that my comic work wasn't going to be punchy enough, and I needed to have a painting in there.

Yesenia was kind enough to sit for me, and then I had a window of about 72 hours to do the final painting.  I ranted and railed against the work, as I used to, and yet, somehow, I made it through.  It must be said that the final work was pretty mediocre and really looked amateurish in the exhibit (not my cartooning, though, which was something I knew how to do and it showed).  But that's beside the point.  It was a start, and I could build from there.

I haven't suddenly turned into a painting machine, and I still have major problems working, but I seem to be working, and that's a victory.

Anyway: glazing.  What led to the digression was my lamentation that I don't have any real grounding in oil technique, and glazing is a technique all to itself.  And no matter how much research I did in advance (not as much as I should have, but still enough), I knew that there would be things I did not know and could not anticipate.  I had known that the technique draws dust like crazy, and I saw that pretty much right away.  And I had known that increased medium - oil, that is - meant increased drying time, which meant longer waits between working. 

What I hadn't predicted was what is fairly obvious in hindsight: increased oil means increased viscosity.  The first couple of rounds with the glazing, I loved the technique so much that I really started to ladle the linseed oil on.  I finished for the day and went about other business, and when I checked back in, the painting had begun to melt, slowly but horribly.  I was working on an easel - as I normally do when I paint - and gravity ensured that the background just kept flowing and flowing.  I eased the angle back as far as I could on the easel and for four straight days, I would check in on it every few hours and use a flat brush to clean up the spill as best I could.  It was less like painting at this point than like working on a superfund site.  Finally, it stopped, but it did the job of scaring me off the technique, and I went back to flat paints.

This one's getting long - I'll pick up tomorrow.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Say What, Now?

Certainly, it's way too involved to get into the ethics or effectiveness of the death penalty in this space, but:

I'll say this - I vow here to never commit a capital offense in Utah.  So, I guess chalk that up as an effective deterrent in my case.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ends & Odds

Watched: Terminator Salvation

You know, I was expecting to hate this, but I actually liked it quite a bit.  Turns out that I like the Terminator franchise in just about every iteration except the original two, which have that Cameron touch.  I'm apparently immune to the Cameron touch, with even the films of his I liked back in the day no longer being to my taste.

Admittedly, Christian Bale's one-note (that note is 'dour') John 'Batman' Connor is a step back from Nick Stahl's really smart and winning Connor in T3, but not as far back as Edward Furlong as the humanity's whiniest savior in the second film.  And Sam Worthington (as a death row inmate who finds himself wandering the wasteland fifteen years after his execution) is a charmless chunk of beef - sort of like Daniel Craig without the humor - but that works in his favor, here.  Although I now have one more reason not to see Avatar.

The weirdest thing about me liking this film was that it was directed by McG, and if anyone told me I could actually get involved at an emotional level by a McG film in advance of seeing this, I would have laughed. Laughed one of those harsh, braying, mirthless laughs.  And the laugh would have been on me.

Don't get me wrong: this is not a great film.  Sequences repeat oddly, with minute variations, like a fugue for people with short attention spans who like things that go boom.  That sometimes describes me, but not in this case.  And the script peters out at the end, despite having actually been pretty solid for the first 3/4.

This manifests as a weird flaw in the film, with the fixed idea that all Terminator films need to feature certain elements, even if they have to be shoehorned in with a credulity-destroying crowbar.  "Come with me if you want to live" and "I'll be back" get their usual airing, as do the old jeeps, the "Help me, John!" dodge, and many, many other far-too-specific callbacks to the first two films.

I'm not even 100% sure who they're doing that for - kids likely won't have seen the originals, and geeks of a certain age will largely have the reaction I did to seeing yet another Terminator chasing John Connor through yet another dark sparks-and-smoke factory with metal catwalks and stairs.  Fine, sure - except this particular factory was pretty clearly built by the machines solely for their own use, and if you can explain to me why machines need stairs, then you've obviously thought it out more than the scriptwriters did.

There's also one major plot element that never gets fully explained - why, exactly, are the machines rounding up people?  But that's okay.  There are certain things I like unexplained, and that's probably one of them, although I get the feeling you're supposed to know why, and I just missed it.

Anyway, all that aside, TS was a good, solid action film with a serious enough approach that got the job done and then some.  I think it was a mistake to dispense with the mythology from the third film and the television show - most of the really interesting reflections on the themes of the franchise come from those two sources - but I can also agree that franchise reboots that tie themselves too heavily to past continuity can doom themselves before the first frame.  So there you go.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sudden Valley

Yesenia quite literally just took a surprise trip to Puerto Rico this morning.  We were trying to figure out the best time for her to get down there before she went back to work - the cost of fares was initially too steep, but then they came down (and she opted to fly out of JFK, which cut another hefty chunk off), and she made the decision yesterday afternoon and bought the tickets.

And so we did the usual 3 AM drive out to JFK this morning, a mixed blessing of a drive.  On the one hand, I made the entire round trip in about 90 minutes - it would take about three hours at any other time.  On the other hand - it's 3-fucking-AM.  Nothing makes me happy to wake up at that hour and drive through Queens.

Only thing that leaves up in the air is another ticket for things that fly - for my birthday, Yesenia bought us both tickets to see former Byrd Roger McGuinn this coming Sunday.  Well, she's not getting back until next Tuesday, so that leaves me dateless for my birthday gift.  Dave sad now.  I do hope to find someone interested in going with me, so that at least the ticket doesn't go to waste (a contribution to the price wouldn't hurt either).  Somehow, the idea of going to my birthday show alone seems deeply pathetic.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Mr. Comic with Dave and David

The second comic with David Greenberger of Duplex Planet fame. The original sketch (below) shows just how much I rely on black and hatching to get my effects. Both Greenberger and I agreed that it was way too gloomy that way - so I settled on trying to make it as positive as possible. Which meant no hatching and no solid blacks, and open space with primary colors.

Since the scripts come dialogue-only, I've decided to use the strips as a platform for pushing myself into different areas. This time around, the experiment wasn't so much playing around with the whole time/space mash-up that comics allows, but in trying to dispense with any pen and ink trickery and in going for a Hergé-inspired ligne claire piece.

Which is to say: contours with no differentiating weights, no crosshatching or any other pen shading effects, and flat colors with no real hierarchy - - which is what the emotional tone of Eleanore's speech seems to call for.

I didn't get there, of course. It's a style that many great cartoonists have pursued without much luck, and these are people who worship the Hergé school. I'm largely ignorant of it, so to do a perfect version on the first try would be something, no?

For starters, I realized about ten minutes into the inking phase that to really do things right, I'd need a mechanical pen. And I somehow don't have one, anymore. Weird, because the Rapidograph was my primary tool for the better part of my teen years, and I always kept a functional one around for clean up and panel borders long after I switched to dip pens.

For those not steeped in comics inking issues: dip pens have a nib that flexes while you draw - meaning that the line weight alters with the amount of pressure you apply, and how much ink is on the nib. A Rapidograph delivers a fixed-width line and has a constant ink flow. Both tools have their uses, but as I've moved even from nibs to brush inking, my need for a Rapidograph has declined sharply over the years.

Mostly, the Rapidograph is a architect's and draughtsman's tool, and with the exception of the ligne claire style, it has no use in comics. It's a dead line, and most comics need a living one. But given how lumpy all of my architectural details came out in this piece, I sure could have used one.

The other issue was with color, which is always a spooky voodoo area for me. I realize that the colors are a cheat here - even leaving aside the gradient sunbeam, I just lack the experience to trust myself to use no color clues as to the depth of the space. A true ligne claire artist would be able to use one single tone for the entire wall, and it would work. For me, it just looked like a giant lump of blue. So I treated the space as four layers, and darkened each layer as it moved towards the viewer in space by about fifteen percent.

I did resist the urge to do any highlights or lowlights, usually a big crutch for me, and I guess I'll be happy to accept the bronze medal for that. Two out of three.

I realized after the fact that - although I don't have any Hergé in my influences, a strong hint of Bil Keane, of all people, came into play. Also a cartoonist who used flat color and simple linework very effectively (although Keane was a brush man, a trait I've picked up), and who did may strips that featured one character in multiple places over single backdrop. The main character here also owes a debt to Keane's Thel, the bosomy yet rail-thin mother from The Family Circus.

Here's a look at the blue pencil grid.

Can I tell you what a pain it was making sure all the steps, rails and risers were spaced out properly?  Those math classes are starting to pay off!


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Those Who Get Something Done, Get Nothing Done

Well, some sticks were cleared, some paints were applied, some lettering was done, some cleaning was done, but not a huge amount of any one of those. The weekend was a little lost, as Jim Doller and I went to MOCCA. Had a really good time, too - if there's ever a person to go to a comic convention with... fuck it, if there's ever a person to go to any convention with, it's Jim. He's always got goals and a strategy in place to meet them.

This time around, his goal was to finally get a chance to chat with Frank Miller after he stupidly (Jim's own choice of words) ignored one back in the 90's, as well as to get Miller and David Mazzuchelli to sign something. I had thought that would be a difficult proposition, since it wasn't that kind of convention, but Jim is able to approach these icons without any hint of bad attitude and (and this bit is important) any hint of the self-loathing I usually project, so they always respond positively. I contributed my bit by recognizing Mazzuchelli on the floor. My exact words were, after walking past a pale, gangly guy with big glasses, bigger hair and a day-glo pantsuit, 'That guy looks Mazzuchelliesque.'

The MOCCA Con was held at an armory on Lexington Ave., between 25th & 26th Streets, so we got to watch various National Guard regiments march around while we waited to be let in.

My own reasons for going were fairly diffuse. If by 'fairly diffuse,' you read 'none whatsoever,' that is. I'm generally not a con guy - but given that the last three conventions I attended were pretty fun experiences, maybe I should rethink that. I hadn't really considered going, but with Yesenia away and a nice day out, and not wanting to hang around the house all day and also having to be at a dinner party in Fort Washington later in the afternoon made me realize that my reasons for not going were far lousier than any reasons to go, so I went.

Kalliope asked me about it - and if I saw Kate Beaton - after the fact, and here's what I wrote to her:

"Very crowded, after a while (Jim & I got there an hour before it opened, and the line kept coming in even by the time we went back out for lunch two hours later. A lot of fun - I'm now looking forward to SPX.

I hadn't realized Kate Beaton was going to be there. Jim and I did the rounds four or five times, and there was only one table that had a line. The last time around, we both wondered who the line was for - it was a little difficult to see, since the line was blocking the guest. Then we passed by, and I was looking for literally a second - from about fifteen feet away, at this point - and I realized it was Beaton while simultaneously, she looked away from who she was talking to and scowled right at me, like, 'yes, can I HELP you?!' Nice.

Best moment was the panel we (verrrrrrry luckily) attended, in the small, crowded basement room - Paul Pope, Frank Miller, Kyle Baker, Jaime Hernandez and Dean Haspiel (kind of the ringer of the bunch). Very entertaining and enlightening, and Miller went a long way towards redeeming himself in my eyes.

I didn't have a lot of spending money on me, and I spent it sort of stupidly - Fantagraphics had a table, and they had a bunch of stuff I 'needed' - 'Ganges' 2 & 3 and 'Tales Designed to Thrizzle.' If I'd thought it out, I would have waited and bought that stuff at their website and spent more on some smaller artists, but I have to say, there wasn't a lot there that really distinguished itself - too many younger cartoonists are now drawing in an approximation of the Craig Thompson style. That is, simplified design and heavy use of blacks, all in thick brushwork. I'm sure that all of it would be good on its own, but a roomful of it is no good for the cartoonists or the consumer, really.

We went out for those Vietnamese Baugettes. Awe. Some."

The one spanner in the day came when Jim and I were supposed to meet up with John Nora. By the time John texted me that he'd gotten to the convention, Jim and I were down in the basement, quite literally two people away from getting into the aforementioned panel.* The signal - unsurprisingly - was too weak to let me send a text back to John to let him know where we were. I felt badly, but I also knew that he'd understand there was no way in Hell I was going to leave that line. Thankfully, the panel was brief, and John's astute enough to have guessed where we were.

Afterwards, my advice got us stuck in traffic going east on Houston and north on the FDR, perhaps karma for allowing me to be smug about being right about a whole host of other issues during the day. Jim dropped John and I off at Homeira's apartment for a dinner party with a guest list consisting entirely of middle-aged mathematicians, but I had a good time anyway, and I hope John did, as well.

All in all, a good day.


*The panel was about 'Personal Visions in Superhero Comics' or somesuch bullshit like that. I have to say, I am impressed with the equity with which MOCCA views creators both in and out of the mainstream. In the basement outside the panel room were posters from previous years, with a Todd MacFarlane Spawn looming over a neon MOCCA logo, facing off against a Kim Deitch Waldo poster on the opposite wall. More than anything else, that's convinced me that comics have finally come of age - when there's no longer any need to attack people working in different aspects of the medium to prove a point.


PS: There's only one person among the Rambler readership who'll be able to attribute the source for today's title, and I'm interested to see if they get it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Oddities That Only I Care About

I'm guessing this means that everything ever made ends up on the internet, since the last I looked, this song was considered 'lost.'


Friday, April 9, 2010

Collect Your Winnings

If you have 'Gets nothing done' down in the Friday column for Dave's first day of temporary bachelorhood, then you! Are! A! Winner! Well, in this pool, anyway.

I'd had the bulk of the day set aside to pencil a new page with David Greenberger (of Duplex Planet) for the Texas music magazine, but somehow I never quite got up the oomph to go beyond the blue pencil phase.

An hour later: right after I typed the above paragraph, Sarah called from Minneapolis, and that effectively killed what little oomph I had left. So I think, in lieu of drawing, I'll go rule out my lettering guides and (perhaps) letter the thing.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Days of the Bachelor

Yesenia's heading south - not to Puerto Rico (her usual destination), but to visit her sister in North Carolina, the proud mother of a 4-week-old boy. Every time she goes away - in addition to taking a piece of me with her - I get this idea in my head that I have to make some radical positive change to the house before she returns. Clean something, fix something, paint something, etc. Not sure why that is. I guess I feel like I can fool her into thinking the place is better than she remembers?

At any rate, seeing as how she's only going to be gone for - let's see - six days, there's not really a whole lot of stuff I can do in that window of a deep, structural nature, so cleaning is the order of the day. I'm thinking that the place to finally get it will be my drawing room upstairs, which is the current home to the ever-dwindling pile of roaming crap that's taken up residence in each second-floor room at some point since we moved in. Right now, it's small enough for Grover Norquist to drown it in a bathtub, but the final dealing with it requires some filing and fiddling around down in the basement (where all of the stuff will end up), so there's a few hours of prep before it can go anywhere.

I still need to do a little plastering and painting in the drawing room once that stuff is gone, but that's a project for another time (for when we have more funds available to throw at inessential repairs). The biggest issue in there is my constant inability to install outlet and switch boxes flush with the wall - the new outlet and switches are either set back a half inch of jutting forward the same. Seems like such a small distance, but it may as well be a mile for how lousy it looks. Of course, that's the type of thing that requires shutting off the power, pulling out the box, likely disconnecting all the wires and redoing it all, so you can see why I'm just thinking of seeing how well I can feather out the plaster, in this case.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Suck All You Want, We'll Leak More

I'm guessing the water-table is still pretty high, since I've been down in the basement vacuuming out puddles and the pumps have been kicking in on a pretty frequent basis, but more just keeps coming back in - not deep, and not too far; just around the edges and the merest sliver of a puddle. But it is pretty remarkable.

Thankfully, it's warm enough that I felt all right about leaving the windows open down there, so the place is counter-intuitively less stuffy than it's been all winter. I just have another hour or so of clean-up to get through - more stuff off the floor, mostly trash to go out. I'll say this about the water: it did finally get up a lot of that plaster dust that's been on the floor since the basement was demolished back in 2007.

The biggest inconvenience is that I'd planned on having a jam down there tomorrow. The jam is still on, but now it's in Westchester, and I have to cart a bunch of gear over with me to facilitate it. Funny - I used to have no problem carting my 88-key Rhodes all over Providence by myself, up and down rickety, steep and narrow staircases to play parties in the century-old houses that now serve as outer-housing for RISD and Brown students. Now I get exhausted just thinking about moving a microphone stand.