What is he looking at?

February 6th, 2007
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What?  What indeed?  Who knows?!

More from doodle town.  Another doodle looking in that direction, medicine even.  I wonder if my doodles skew toward right frame?

What’s going on here?!

February 1st, 2007
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Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the doodle.  This is weird, unfocused whateverism in its raw state—no intent other than willful intentlessness.

I don’t know what the lines coming from his eyes are—vision beams?  a directional cue?  bacon, in oblique perspective?—but they’re my favorite part of the drawing, followed closely by the gaping maw.  I feel I nailed “gape” fairly solidly.

Like the palm of my hand

January 29th, 2007
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Look, it’s my hand!

I’ve gotten used to writing great paragraphs of text in this space, even though I had never intended to be so chatty when I first conceived of this blog.  But now, I find that I haven’t much of anything to say today.  (Or perhaps the distinction is that today I don’t feel like saying it.)

Anyway, I find myself wanting to shout:

“Father!  The sleeper has awakened!”

I love David Lynch to death.

I draw faces a lot

January 25th, 2007
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Faces, faces, faces.  I like to draw them.  It’s the obvious thing—ubiquitous, expressive.  Everyone has one, and every one is  different.

In a sense, they’re easy to draw.  You just get the parts down in more or less the right places and, pow, it’s a face.  Human visual interpretation and recognition is such a powerful tool that a very rough face is still a face, and a mediocre or abstract face with just one perfect detail can suffice as caricature.

But they’re hard.  All those devils—those details—that stand out under scrutiny.  I never took any lifedrawing classes, and I grew up cripplingly shy, so I didn’t so much study faces as steal glances at them.  I find I don’t have a well-developed intuitive sense of facial structure when it comes to drawing freehand.  Scales get off, proportions come out wonkey.  I’ve said before that eyes are hard; in fact, everything else is hard too.

I’ve taken to doing preliminary sketches, hoping that will help somewhat.  There’s some comforting freedom in doing loose, messy, scratchy gestural work like that: line bad or wrong?  Rework it with a few more loops or passes until it’s about where it ought to be.  Neat!

I had a job once where I did a lot of little face doodles over time.  I’d draw a face one day, a couple the next, maybe a week would go by with nothing and then I’d do five in one day.  Over the period of several months I ended up pinning a few hundred small face doodles to my cubicle wall, and if someone dropped by they would see my flesh and blood face looking up at them while behind me several hundred pairs of eyes watched us or glanced elsewhere.  I get the impression it was sort of surreal, but I lived with the faces every day and so never gave it a second thought.

I was an awkward kid

January 23rd, 2007
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This drawing is an attempt to capture a moment of perfect awkward social ineptness in my life.  I was nine or ten—it was the fifth grade—and I was in gym class.  That thing I’m wearing up there is a ‘pinny’.  If you’re not familiar, it’s basically a sort of miniature cotton apron/jersey that goes over your shoulders and ties around your waist.  In gym, when we’d have some sort of frenetic competitive sport that split the class into two teams, we’d put on pennies (ours were either red or yellow) to keep track of which screaming child was on which team.

Nobody liked wearing the pinnies.  The were stupid looking.  I barely knew stupid looking from Adam, and even I knew they were stupid looking.  But we had to wear them, and so we did, draping them over our torsos and tying the strings off in front.  And then we’d tear ass around the gym, throwing beanbags at each other or playing some elaborate variant of freeze tag or whatever, and in general we’d end up having so much vigorous fun (or vigorous angry competition) that we’d forget about the goddam pinnies for the duration.

But there are those slow, quiet moments, between rounds or before things get started or after they finish, when conversation can happen.  Conversation was never my thing.  One liners, okay.  Record-breaking belches; dirty jokes: these I could handle.  Conversation was right out.

And yet I found myself standing near (cute, red-haired) Jessica Stenson, in one of those pauses, and found myself moved to some jokey conversation.  And I looked at her pinny, and at mine, and noticed the differences in how we had tied them and the resulting discrepency in length between her leftover ties and mine.  And I grabbed one of my ties—the ties hanging from a knot above my crotch—and sort of waggled it at her and in an inexplicable taunting singsong said:

“Miiiines shorter than yooooours.”

Post-script: after struggling to remember the name of these things (pinnies, not pennies, kudos due Roger Lampe for recalling correctly), I did a google image search to see what’s what in pinnies these days.  You can see for yourself—pinnies are (sensibly enough) still around, but they’ve moved to simple pull-over tanktop things without any string ties, apparently.  If only we’d had these seventeen years ago…)

I got glasses again

January 19th, 2007
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When I was 12 or so—I was in middle school, anyway—I went in for yearly eye exam and came out the other side with a very mild eyeglass prescription.

I think I faked it.  I can’t remember clearly anymore, and even at the time, in the heat of the moment as it were, I don’t think I had a clear sense of the situation, but I think I may have intentionally underperformed on the eye exam in hopes of being given glasses.  Waited a little too long to say something was in focus, been a little too uncertain about images I was certain about.  That sort of thing.

I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.  I guess I was just curious.

The worst part is that, because I was (a) a perpetual, clueless fashion victim [note: I am now a stubborn, self-aware fashion victim], and (b) pretty much constantly freaked out about tangible family expenses at the time, I was unwilling to and unable to move myself to purchase attractive frames.  I found myself standing before a wall of frames and looking at price tags.  The cheapest frames were some not-yet-ironicly-popular horn rims that my mom had the good sense to talk me away from.  We settled on a pair of large, thin black frames that were (phew!) under a hundred bucks.

I looked no cooler than before, wearing glasses, and they didn’t do anything, and my parents kind of expected me to be wearing them.  Because I needed them, you know.  The eye exam, and all that.  I was a kid who could have used some cool injections, so the Glasses incident stands mostly as another milemarker post on the long, dark road of my post-elementary hellride.

About a year and a half ago [I think?] I finally crept back to the family ophtamalogist and got a checkup.  (Yay for insurance!)  I had been noticing increasing blurriness in the distance, especially in low light conditions.  This time, it was indisputable: I needed glasses.

I bought some nice frames.  They retailed at more than a hundred dollars, but insurance ate a chunk out of that.  I actually like my glasses now, and while I don’t probably look exactly cool in them, I think I look reasonably good.  So, small vengences: take that, awkward childhood!

I taught myself piano

January 18th, 2007
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I spent most of my childhood creative time on music.  We moved my grandma’s old upright piano to our house around the time that we moved to Portland—I was about seven—and so not a day went by without at least one refrain of Chopsticks.  And Heart and Soul!  My older older sister would play the lower part, and I would play the upper part.  One day I stumbled unknowing into Baroque territory by playing an inversion of the normal melody.  My sister was impressed; I remember feeling pretty proud about that.

I started working more seriously at the piano over the next few years.  I never took lessons—my parents suggested it a couple times but didn’t push—and so it was very weird, sloppy, non-technical learning, but I improved steadily.  I have a very strong ear for music, it turns out.

Eventully, Chopsticks gave way to Fur Elise, and I was playing both hands of Heart and Soul—though with little precision, in either case.  I’d say “I refused to drill”, but there wasn’t even any compulsion to do so.  I simply did not do it.  There are times I regret that—twenty years later, I’m playing keyboard in a rock band and having a good time but feeling really limited in some of the more technical aspects.  I’m compensating for precision with scads and scads of enthusiasm, at this point.

I took school band grades 5 through 8; I had wanted to play the saxaphone, but our family owned a clarinet and so I played clarinet.  I never got that into it—I didn’t understand it at the time or have a way to express it, but I really get off on polyphony, on harmony and texture, and I couldn’t create that on a clarinet, one note at a time.  Being in band forced me to learn to read music a little, but my good ear was a crutch—I’d have read the music until I could play it by ear. 

By late in middle school, I had lost a lot of whatever enthusiasm I had for the band experience and started to experiment—I would, increasingly, ignore the music and play instead whichever part of the current piece I liked the sound of.  The sax part for these 12 bars, then over to the trombones, and then some trumpet, then back to a particularly interesting clarinet A part.  (I spent most of my time in B row because I wasn’t competitive enough to fight into A, and because my jackass band friends were in B section as well.)  No one ever complained—I got occasional impatient looks from the band instructor, but I’m not sure he knew how to complain about me playing someone else’s part in time and on key, when we had bigger problems.

It wasn’t until college that I took some theory classes and discovered that there was an elaborate established language for all the musical tools I’d built up in my head.  I remember in elementary school someone suggested that I play the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme on the piano, and I struggled to figure it out on the fly but couldn’t get it—now, with a much more developed sense of musical analysis, it’d probably be cake, but at the time I didn’t even know what it was that I didn’t know, just that it was hard to figure that TMNT theme out.

The stubborn, lazy, self-righteous way I learned music while refusing to take instruction runs parallel to my graphic art self-education.  I’ve learned my lesson with music—I’m much more attentive and interested in the things I can learn from others, these days—and I’m trying to be similarly keen on the drawing side.  I want to observe and understand and learn, dammit.  I just have to be willing to do it.

I sang the news.

January 15th, 2007
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This drawing blog is both a return to form and merely the latest in a string of weird projects.  The former because, years ago, I used to do a bunch of sketches on a half-broken Palm IIIc each day and then post them in the evening—it’s nice to be drawing every day again, and to be again making some sort of visible proof of it.

The latter because I, uh, have a lot of ideas.  Too many, really, and sometimes not nearly enough editorial judgement about which ones to pursue.  I brainstorm and get pretty enthusiastic about things.  Once, a few years back, I wrote a little chat bot for an IRC channel, and what this chat bot would do was sit in the channel and every once in a while spew out a randomly-constructed joke in the style of Yakov Smirnoff:

“In Soviet Russia, foo bars YOU!”

YakovBot got annoying after a while—shocking, that—but it gave my friends and I a word for my maybe-too-enthusiastic brainstorming: Yakovian ideas.  I have a lot of those, the Yakovian moments.

At some point, my wife and I were brainstorming about how a person could sell t-shirts on the internet, and several logical shifts later we came up with an idea: a singing newspaper.  Headlines in song!  We sing the news so you don’t have to!  Yes!

And I actually went and did it, founding The Aural Times in February of 2006 and updating (with rare exception) three times a week for six months, before getting burnt out on the pace (3-4 hours a night of extra work, 3 nights a week) and the goddam depressing nature of US and world news.

I did sell a few t-shirts, though.

I cheat to make things easier.

January 12th, 2007
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I don’t really know what to do with eyes.  Well, really, I don’t know what to do with faces in general, but eyes are so important to expression that I worry more about them than I do noses.  Heartbreak doesn’t lurk within the limped nose of a lover.

No one looks deeply into your nose except for your ENT.

The maddening thing about eyes, to me, is how much they can say crossed with how little inkspace there is for them.  I can understand why Walt favored those great big oval eyes on Mickey, Donald, et al—expressiveness galore.  But if I don’t want freakish cartoon eyes, it becomes that much trickier.  A pupil a bit out of place and he’s not looking where he’s supposed to be.  How wide is too wide?  How narrow too narrow?  Can the difference really be in millimeters?  God help me.

And don’t get me started about perspective.  I’m not on good terms.  I think I met perspective at a party once.  So eyes in perspective?  Bah.

Swerve!  A couple of nice cartooning links popped up on Metafilter last night: Carson Van Osten‘s tip sheet, and some breakdowns of Bill Peet drawings.  I kind of need theory to go with execution, and I’ve never done enough critical looking or reading in the past.

Less is more is hard.

January 11th, 2007
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When I started drawing as a kid, it was almost always in pencil.  I liked shading, and I liked being able to erase, and pencils were easy to come by (and even a sort of weird currency and point of pride, in elementary school—we had a fancy-pencil vending machine in the main hall).

Eventually, probably in highschool, I graduated to pens—darker lines, brighter contrast, none of that damned graphite smear effect.  I’m talking about ballpoint pens, mind you, not nib-based pen-and-ink drawing tools.  Just Uni-ball and Pilot jobs.  (It wasn’t until much more recently that I began to experiment with nib pens and brush work, neither of which I’ve really gotten the hang of or kept steady at.)

The phrase “line-work” is a recent addition to my vocabulary.  My drawing has traditionally been built up of thin, tentative lines scratched out with pencil or pen, so the idea of really accomplishing a lot of work with one pen/brush stroke is both conceptually and manually new to me—I’m just starting to think about it, and at the same time only now training some arm muscles to help execute that sort of thing.

I’m a hand-drawer, a fingers-drawer, is the thing.  The ball of my hand rests firmly on the page when I’m drawing, and that’s a real pain when I want to do a nice big expressive line instead of a bunch of short little strokes.  I’d like to learn to draw with my arm, but it’s hard, dammit.  It’s like driving blindfolded.  Where my fingers have gotten clever over the years, my arm is big and stupid and beastly.

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