Category Archives: blog – 1: ART (comics, film, music…)

Therese, the Lonely Otter

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Therese, the Lonely Otter
by Barefoot Justine

Therese swallowed the last sugary sip of tea,
Turning towards the light outside, squinting,
She set her teacup into the saucer with a clink,
And looked across her table at the empty chair.

“Well, old girl, might as well go on out,”
Reaching across the table, she took her hat,
off the back of the chair where it always hung,
And shook yesterday’s leaves from its brim.

She never wasted any sunshine, our Therese,
And soon charged playfully from her well-kept holt,
Into the easy waters of the lake with a splash,
And rustled ashore through the reeds and grass.

“Quite a commotion up there,” she noted,
Dodging cypress knees as she followed the buzz,
Trotting across the old fallen log to the hive,
From a safe distance, she stood for a moment.

“Pardon me, how big and deep can loneliness be?”
Asked Therese of the cloud of busy buzzing bees,
In her experience, bees had precious little to say,
“Fine weather we’re having,” at best.

So it went, indeed, the bees had precious little to say,
Nothing of interest to anyone apart from other bees,
She never fit in with the bees, then, who does?
Why, not even the most cordial of crickets.

It’s no use talking to bees, as everyone knows,
Besides, how could they know loneliness, the bees,
Swarming all together in their hives as one,
With God, queen, and all that dripping honey?

Across the meadow a cardinal pecked the grass,
Picking for ticks and singing all the while,
“Dear cardinal, how big and deep can loneliness be?”
The cardinal glanced suspiciously at her smile.

He hopped two paces away, then glanced back,
Where Therese sat perched on her hind legs,
the cardinal sang a wall of song between them,
Before he flew to his love in the bowers above.

“Not much use talking to cardinals either, I suppose,”
Therese trotted towards the water’s edge,
“They all tweet the same tired little songs,
And what could cardinals know of loneliness?”

Across the meadow came the proud turkeys,
Three adults and nine nervous young in tow,
“Not much use talking loneliness to turkeys,”
So, “Good day,” she said to them with a nod.

“Good day, old girl,” clucked the father,
“Splendid!” agreed Therese, “What a sky today!”
“Splendid sky, indeed… carry on…” the turkey bowed,
And on they went, plucking and clucking along.

Leaving Therese there under her silent open sky,
She sniffed a waft of honeysuckle on the wind,
Smiled, and started towards the winding dirt road,
Where often sat the old tired alligator.

He would know about loneliness, she thought,
After all, alligators eat all their friends,
Or so say the turtles, but Therese wasn’t certain,
So much that isn’t so has been said and said again.

“Hmmmm…” grumbled the ‘gator, belly to the ground,
As much of an invitation as alligators ever mutter,
Therese stood back a safe distance and cocked her head,
“How big and deep can loneliness be?” she asked humbly.

“Why do you ask me such things?” The ‘gator growled,
“I’m sorry, my Lord,” she said, slinking back,
“Get away from me, what’s an otter, after all?”
“Far less than an alligator,” Therese humbly bowed.

“Indeed,” the ‘gator hrumphed as he settled on his belly,
All in the swamp know, alligators need forever appeased,
Lest they snap and make quarrels, as is their way,
And everyone fears the alligators, don’t you know.

Busy on her way, she trotted alongside the iron fence,
And thought ‘I suppose when one is so toothy and angry,
One doesn’t have much time to feel loneliness.’
“Sun is sharp today,” she said from the muggy shade.

Nestling between the broad roots of an old live oak,
She closed her eyes and thought on nothing but silence,
And there she soon found her forgetting place,
A quiet place with no loneliness at all.

A place with no buzzing bees, nor a drop of honey,
A place with no cardinals to snub her honest smile,
A place with no politely gobbling rafter of turkeys,
And where no alligator anger shamed her questions.

“How big and deep can loneliness be?” It lingered,
But dissolved into her silence, then clear as a bell,
“Not as deep as the silence,” whispered the sky,
“Not as deep as the silence,” smiled Therese.

She opened her eyes to find the perfect stone,
‘Just right for cracking snails,’ she thought,
But she wasn’t terribly hungry, so she set it aside,
And looked above, and heard the cardinals singing.

They sang, “How big and deep can loneliness be?
How long can the darkest storm rain?
How hollow the hole in the holy ground,
Where no love, nor rain, can ever be found?”

Funny thing about cardinals when they’re singing,
To you and I it would sound like tweets and nonsense,
But Therese more deeply understood each word they sang,
Than would even the most golden throated of birds.

“How big and deep can loneliness be,” sang Therese,
And on her way she went, back to her wide open lake,
Towards her cozy burrowed holt, to wait for the answer,
Or perhaps, to wait for a friend, who knew.

“How big and deep can loneliness be?”
‘Surely out there some other otter must know,’
Thought Therese as she floated in the water.
“Surely some friend must come,” she cried.

Yet for all her questions, she knew: ‘Loneliness,
Is deeper than the waters of this or any lake,
Ah, but most certainly not deeper than the silence,’
“And never so big as the wise sky above,” she smiled.
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From Comics To Swan Lake

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The hall and empty stage where the ballet would be performed.

The hall and empty stage where the ballet would be performed.

Question: So what happens when a flat-broke comic book artist/illustrator and teacher is asked to create set designs for the ballet?

Answer: She does it.

Sounds easy, but the truth is when I got the call from Kim Tuttle at Pofahl Studios to create set designs for their upcoming production of the ballet “A Haunted Swan Lake,” (to be performed at the The Philips Center here in Gainesville), I felt my heart leap… and for 2 reasons. Firstly, I needed the work: secondly, I had NO idea what I was doing! And I don’t mean at the initial stage, I mean all through the project, at each step, I had to overcome over and over again, the reality that I had no idea what I was doing. I had never designed or painted sets. However, as a veteran creative professional, if I’ve learned anything it is that when I’m thrown into water over my head its better to learn to swim than to get out and shiver. I’d say I’ve learned to fake it, but the truth is, I’ve been at this a long time, and I’ve come to realize that all of these situations are just challenges, and challenges I’ve proven to be up to enough times that I never let on to the client that I feel in over my head. This chin-up confidence has yet to fail me.

For this special Halloween performance they needed to jazz up their set, make it different. My job was going to be turning their pre-existing castle backdrop into a haunted castle, and, of course, all this would have to be done on a budget and within the limits of ballet staging. This budget bit seems to be the challenge of the modern era, how to create something dramatic while getting the most bang for your buck. Actually, it’s not easy, but having been a long time fan of pioneering exploitation filmmakers like Jean Rollin and Jess Franco, I have come to realize that financial limitations can often provide a framework within which real creative work can get done. It seems it’s easy to get lost in a big budget.

First thing that happened was a meeting in which I got a look at the pre-existing backdrop that they had been using in “Robin Hood.” It was a nice castle backdrop, and it provided a spiffy framework from which to create my designs. The next step was that Kim Tuttle took me to her warehouse and showed me where all her props, costumes, and so forth were stored… WOW… what a place! It was jam packed full of objects that had been created for past performances, rather like a dusty, dark and abandoned Wonderland. I took tons of pics of things that I thought I might be able to recycle. Plus, seeing her warehouse clued me in on what her expectations and potential limitations might be. When beginning a job like this any and all information is good. I learned in that warehouse what the limitations and possibilities might be.

She also showed me this tapestry she had bought to hang in the center of the castle backdrop, it was a cool skull, but the problem with it was that it was out of place, too modern, and I really didn’t want to have to work around it, but initially I tried.

The first thing I did was scribble a quick sketch into my diary over lunch, just to get me past the intimidation and to get my juices flowing. At this stage I wasn’t expecting any magic, nor for anything truly useful to happen other than my getting over the fear of the blank page. When starting on a journey like this I can get pretty overwhelmed, even intimidated to the point where the simple act of taking a first baby step is enough to get me past my fear and on to the act of creating.

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It didn’t amount to much, nor was it meant to.

As usual, before the real work began, I did plenty of research, assembling a pile of images of ruins and haunted castle stage props, old horror movies and so on. I could not possibly stress enough how crucial the research stage is. I had even gone so far as to research stage design.

After that I sat down in my studio at SAW to come up with 3 initial sketches in an attempt to work out what my concept for the stage design would be, trying to work in sometimes conflicting influences from old Universal Horror films, German Expresssionist films, and so forth, as well as influence from the research I had done. I have to admit one of my biggest sources of inspiration were the original “Imagineers” who designed all those marvelous rides at Disney, from the Haunted Mansion to the Pirates Of the Caribbean. The first of the sketches played off the idea that she wanted the setting to be decadent, so I went with a table covered opulently in food and candles, all set along the back. Oh… and they had a pre-exsting staircaise they wanted to use, so I used it with the idea that we would create a facade to cover it and make it look like the stone stairs of a castle, that was perhaps the only idea that survived my original sketches.

Oh… this sketch was probably most influenced by “Son Of Frankenstein.”

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My next attempt was essentially an effort to include that tapestry she had bought on-line, not so much that I wanted to use it, as that I wanted her to see that I respected her request that I try. Also notice that I was already thinking about using gargoyles of some kind… which was the seed of one of the more important ideas to come.

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You will notice, that as is customary for me, I was using ballpoint pens and markers at this stage.

The third attempt seemed also to fall rather flat for me, but a key element, in many ways the focal point, had finally come to me, the ruined web-like fabric that would surround what I then thought would be the tapestry she had bought. Though the stairs were the first element to survive, that fabric framing the tapestry (which would soon change) was the pivotal element. But what she really got excited about was that I pitched that besides the show-stopping centerpiece (the skull and fabric), it would be flanked by a pair of gargoyle swans to symbolize both the white and black swans of Swan Lake, which you can see here in embryonic form.

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Neither of us were thrilled with any of the above work, but the truth was, I hadn’t intended her or I to be thrilled, I just wanted to get some concepts before her and get some feedback. Sometimes when I’m working with a client who has laid an extremely open-ended opportunity before me, or when I’m working on something I don’t really know much about, I tend to start simple just to figure out where the client’s head is at, and to figure out what I’m capable of. Often open-ended assignments aren’t all that open-ended, they are often riddled with traps, and not knowing what the client is really looking for can be a problem. After this meeting I had figured out what was what and I came up with another sketch based upon the wisdom through our discussions over the prior 3 sketches.

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The following sketch (directly above) is literally a tracing from the sketch above it. Now that I had the idea, I had needed to tighten the earlier sketch up into something clearly readable, hence the tracing. By the time I got to this sketch all the elements that were to be part of the final stage design are evident: a resolved focal point in the skull and fabric, the swan gargoyles, a cool fully realized design for the stairs (utilizing a coffin shape), and a couple elements we ultimately excluded. I had no intention of letting this be the final drawing, but when I told Kim, after her enthusiastic approval, that I was going to do a tighter drawing, she looked puzzled and asked what was wrong with this drawing?

Well… nothing, I guess.

As you may not be able to tell at this point, I had decided to opt out of using the storebought tapestry and pitched instead the concept that I would paint the skull backdrop myself (what was I thinking? I didn’t know how to paint!) Add to this that I incorporated skeletal swans as the horns on the skull to tie it all together. I realized that concept (the swans) would carry the set design thematically around the focal point of the fabric-framed painting.

One other element I really liked in the above sketch were the chains. The painting and drapery would have to be hung with chain, and so I decided to work in hanging and drooping chains that would play off the drapery.

The next stage was creating a mock-up of the final centerpiece, the skull and fabric elements. This sketch was originally rather loose, as I had intended to redo a much tighter version of it, but since she had approved of the looseness of the set design sketch, I instead sat down with a red pen and marker and black felt tip pens and simply tightened up the sketch enough that it would suffice, and what happened was a sketch I rather like. This sketch was to become the guiding light for not only the painting, but the drapery.

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You may notice that the sketch above looks rather abused, torn, stained and so forth. That is because it was there when I painted the final painting, and it was there when the drapery was being created. The sketch is like an old soldier who has seen a lot of action.

At this point I had also begun designing the newel post statuary as well as the swan gargoyles. I researched Rodin sculptures for the newel post, and went directly to the source for the swan gargoyles… Notre Dame cathedral. What I noticed there were that the gargoyles had very clean spacial sculptural lines that made them highly distinctive. The forms of the gargoyles at Notre Dame were deliciously stylized into a graphic abstraction that now seems almost ahead of its time.

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Kim called in a sculptor, and he agreed to take on the swans, but decided he didn’t have time for the newel post, so that element got canned, but our sculptor entusiastically got down to work on the swans. He loved the designs. The first I saw of the swans were the works in progress below, all sculpted by Paul Costanza.

08.3Swans

Below are the nearly finished swans on their pedastals, the only thing missing is one of them had to be black, so below you will see the black one in all its finished glory. Needless to say I was thrilled with the outcome. He really captured the sketches I had turned in, and without misinterpreting a single thing. I’ve rarely ever turned my work over into the hands of another artist without being disappointed, Paul Costanza did not disappoint me at any turn.

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The next step was to work out the exact size and dimensions of the painting and drapery elements. Kim had me over to the studio where we laid the HUGE backdrop out in one of the rehearsal studios, and we began measuring and plotting. It seemed every time we took a measurement, Kim would shake her head and insist the painting and fabric be bigger… and biGGer… and BIGGER, which frankly scared me as I had no idea how to paint, let alone how to paint a huge expressive and powerful skull! Below are the series of sketches and notes I took regarding the measurements.

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You’ll also note in the sketch above that we had this problem of the backdrop showing in an awkward way over the top of the painting and drapery, so in the margins I began creating possible solutions to that problem, but in the end that problems seemed to have resolved itself.

At this point I had to call in some people. Firstly I needed a real painter to help me get going on the skull, and secondly I needed someone to create the tattered fabric element that was going to frame the painting. The first person I thought of was the very person who secured this job for me, fabulous local painter and person… Margaret Tolbert. Her work and the things she concerns herself with in her work could not possibly be further from the art world in which I inhabit, but I knew that what she did would mesh perfectly with what I could do in this situation. The fabric was another problem entirely, and in the end I turned to Tomis Aycock, a local artist and eccentric. I’d seen Tomis work on the most peculiar projects, and having seen the way he works (in a state of wholly immersed childlike wonder), I knew he would get the drapery right.

But before I turned all this over to Tomis, Margaret and I had to hang this monster 14 foot canvas (with a 10 foot image area) in the industrial building SAW is connected to. To tell the truth, as we stood poised to paint that thing, staring at the *B*L*A*N*K* canvas I began to have a bit of a panic attack. I think the first thing I said, standing there brush in hand, was “I have no idea what I’m doing…”

Margaret was a rock. She was not at all concerned about it, and never got impatient with me no matter how freaked out I got. Just trying to draw the basic form of that skull on something so damn huge was an ordeal. No matter what I did, every time I stood back and looked at it, the form was eluding me, it looked wonky as hell on all fronts. I was practically in tears as I tried to torture the form out of that blank canvas, and if it weren’t for Margaret, to tell the truth, I may have had a breakdown. She was more than a pro, more like my painting guru. She just maintained her confidence in not only herself but me. She gave me pointers, and finally, I’m almost ashamed to admit it, I almost pushed her out of the way once I had it. All at once, like a miracle, I could see the form, I could see the skull, I went at it frantically, saying, “I can see it… I can see it!” and soon it was all there. Funnily, I had hurt my foot in all this wild enthusiasm, having jumped a little too hard off the ladder, being barefoot, I had also managed a splinter or two, and by the time I got home my big toe was all bruised. Proud battle scars… well, no scars, but still.

But form was only the half of it, I now had to learn to paint expressively, wildly, had to use long brushes and go at it. Margaret did get frustrated with the way I was using the brush, and finally said to me, “Say something!” Meaning… the marks I was making were timid and terrified, and she wanted me to let loose and move some serious paint around. Soon, what had become terrifying became brilliant fun, and we nailed that painting in several hours, from blank canvas to finish in one early evening. Thank you Margaret!

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While it’s a bit of a spoiler, the above pic doesn’t really do justice to the 10 foot painting, so below is an image of how it looked on stage in Ocala. Magic…

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Quite an impact. Now, with that underway, I got Tomis going on the fabric, showing him what I was after in my research. I showed him ruins and old drapes, and set him to work figuring it out. I tend to be a control freak about my work, but in this case I knew that I was in over my head with this fabric and that it would be best to let Tomis figure out how to torture and tatter the fabric. To my surprise, in the end, he used a torch to burn the fabric… it looked amazing… so decadent and ruinous.

Meanwhile Kim had a carpenter working away on the facade for the stairs (which I would have to paint to look like stone). At this point I began to realize what an undertaking this was, and just how much I was overseeing. It blew my mind to be in such a position where so many HUGE things were coming to life based upon my rather humble sketches. To tell the truth, it was about as close to being a “grown up” as I have ever felt. I’ve never had a team of people working on my seeing my vision through to reality, a carpenter, a painter, a sculptor, and Tomis on the fabric.

Time was wasting and the performance dates were drawing close. We had 2 shows, one in Ocala, and one here in Gainesville at the beatuiful Philips Center. I still had one last element that I had to tackle, the painting of the facade on the stairs. I decided to call in a SAW student to help me, Javed, and yes… I paid him. As we stood in front of those steps with our sponges and paint I must have said a half dozen times, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” It was difficult to instruct Javed until I knew what I was doing. Fortunately I had seen the backdrop, so I knew a pointilistic sponge texture would do. About a half hour into it, it started to take shape and Javed said “I thought you didn’t know what you were doing?” As I said at the beginning, I’ve been at this a while, and most things are within my reach, which is why I have been so readily taking on jobs I’ve never done before.

Ah… that day I did make the one big mistake all artists dread. We had beverages in cups, and had filled a mop bucket full of water for the paint brushes. So feverish into the process was I that I lost track of my water cup and took a big drink out of our dirty mop-bucket paint-water! I knew what I had done right away and did a spit-take worthy of Lucille Ball, Javed laughing away in the background. In the end I not only showed Javed how to paint stairs to look like stone for a set, but how to change a tire… my car had a flat when we went to leave, and being an old-fashioned girl, like hell if I was going to change that tire with a man around.

As a final note on this, one element about the stairs that upset me was that the wooden dungeon door we’d had crafted did not show from the audience. That was brilliant. I had Javed paint the slats of the door black, then I went over them with a paint-gobbed brush and drew lines in the wet paint to pull out the wood grain, revealing the black underneath.

Javed took a couple pics of the stairs, one before, and one after:

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And one image of the stairs on stage (see what I mean about the wooden door being hidden?) Notice also the scar on the stair where some stagehand had scraped the hell out of it.

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Finally the big night was upon us, and Javed and I cleaned ourselves up and went to the Ballet. I have to admit, as I entered the hall I was pretty impressed with myself for being part of it. We sat in the third row with nothing between me and my work… all of our work, but a curtain, and I could not wait for it to part so I could finally see it all together.

Oh… I opened the program to see how I was credited… they had misspelled my name. Shrug.

When the curtains parted, there it was, my stage design, bathed in light and color and music, and my jaw dropped. It was beautiful, impressive, dark, everything I had hoped it would be, and I leaned into Javed and said: “I did this!” The lighting really brought it all to life, and the few alterations Kim had to make to satisfy the staging situations were perfect (for example, more drapery was added, and the painting was raised higher than expected… note how hard the super cool chains are to see). Mostly what impressed me was what a great tone and atmosphere the design and lighting had created, and how well it sunk into the music.

TO SEE THEM IN THEIR FULL-SIZE GLORY… CLICK TO ENLARGE…

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As stunned as I was by the site of it all on stage, it wasn’t until the ballet started that I really got it. I was a cog in a magnificent wheel, classical music, classically trained dancers, a gorgeous hall full of people, and my humble sketches brought to life to house it all. A lot of work for a few brief moments in the spotlight.

I leaned into Javed and said, “You know… it only took me 5 hours to do the design work.”

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When the curtains closed on the first act I was rather stunned how transient it all seemed. Here I was, a career illustrator, used to seeing my work in print for years to come, and now… it was gone, just a memory.

But it was all worth it, and I realized that just like the dancers, I had to walk away and start the next project.

And so I have.

Mediocrity

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“But why diminish your soul being run-of-the-mill at something? Mediocrity: now there is ugliness for you. Mediocrity’s a hairball coughed up on the Persian carpet of Creation.”
― Tom Robbins,

“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle

Lightbulb Joke

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Q: How many modern artists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: One, but all he does is set a jar of urine in the center of the room while a crowd of critics and university art professors stand around in a dark room stinking of urine applauding and convincing everyone that he has challenged our definition of screwing in a lightbulb.

That is an original Barefoot Justine Joke, bub!

Guido Crepax & Me

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JustineSAW Visit barefootjustine.com for more…

I’m going to walk you through the thinking that has gone into one of my recent pieces, thought by thought and step by step I will break it down, both the thought process, and the physical process.

The genesis of this work came when I was approached about doing a Guido Crepax tribute piece (Valentina in particular) that will be in a collection from Fantagraphics. Obviously I was honored and leapt at the opportunity. I’ve always had a funny reaction to Crepax. While I could never help but recognize the profound influence he has had, and while I have really enjoyed the work of his that is in my library, I can’t honestly say that his work has had any direct influence on me, however, his work has had a profound influence on some of my biggest influences.

The reason I never followed Crepax is simple… he draws on the surface of the paper, delineating the shapes without bones. Thought it’s not always the case, I’m not naturally drawn to art in which volume is not clearly expressed or where anatomical form is not studied. His line work, however, has always excited me, as well as his mastery over the gloriously perverse subject matter, ditto the style, and I can’t help but recognize his influence. It’s not about having any criticisms of Crepax’s work, it’s more that it hadn’t pulled me in. Seeing below, it’s obvious what I mean about the facial features and so forth sort of floating on the surface, and also obvious the brilliant line work and his dedication to craft, and less obvious, the influence he’s had on some of my favorites (we’ll be talking about that shortly).

Art by Guido Crepax

Art by Guido Crepax

Among the many things I’ve loved about Crepax is the use of white, and how the features and elements of the picture often float in a sea of white. This is something I grew to appreciate more and more through the mentorship of Jeff Jones.

Let’s get going by talking about the influence he has had on many of my favorite exploitation directors, particularly Jess Franco from Spain, and Jean Rollin from France. The influence of comics, particularly European comics, has always run very deep in the films of Franco and Rollin. Jean Rollin, I know from the time we spent talking, had a surprising knowledge and good eye when it came to comics. My initial thought was to find a way to frame Crepax (Valentina in particular) into the framework of Jess Franco, who has had an enormous influence on me, and the influence Crepax has had is abundantly evident in his films. I figured if I could say something about the influence Crepax has had on Franco, then through that door, we would arrive at the influence he has had on me, so my first sketch dealt with that concept. Jess Franco was a well known cinematic voyeur. His films often expose him as such, the main action and the women in his films are often viewed (spied upon) through things, windows, screens, or from behind things, plants, bars, etc. This seemed like a great subject for a single page illustration, so as you can see below, that became my starting point:

Barefoot Justine, Crepax tribute sketch #1

Barefoot Justine, Crepax tribute sketch #1

The problem was, I wasn’t all that excited about drawing this particular piece, and since the assignment was not a paying one, I decided to keep looking for something I would really enjoy drawing… so, as they say, back to the drawing board…

My next thought was to go through my extensive morgue and find a couple photographs that might inspire me, but as I did very quick sketches from them, they both fell short of not only any narrative quality, but fell short of inspiring me to sit down at the drawing table and work them out.

I’d like to talk about how common a problem this is for me. While I love drawing comics pages, I really struggle with the layouts and pencils. The inks tend to come more easily to me, the anxiety is always at this stage, especially on a piece like this that will be sitting amid other images by artists like: George Pratt, Bill Koeb, David Mack, Dave Mckean, Michael Gaydos, Beto Hernandez, Michael Avon Oeming, Vince Locke, Brian Bolland, Bill Sienkiewicz, Paul pope and Mike Huddleston, so this was not a piece to take lightly. Believe it or not all these years into my career and I am still so easily intimidated, not just by the company I would be keeping in this book, not just by the legendary status of Crepax, but forevermore by the blank page itself. This is why it is so important for me to enter into an image like this wholly at peace with what I am going to see through to the finish. While both of these sketches held a lot of potential for elaboration, neither were ideas that captured me.

Barefoot Justine, Crepax tribute sketch #2

Barefoot Justine, Crepax tribute sketch #2

Before I get to the next sketch that did not excite me, let’s just say that looking over the image above again, I can see that while it is nothing more than a sketch from an inspiring photo, the kind of line I wanted to play with is already in evidence.

Below is the other sketch that simply didn’t do it for me:

Barefoot Justine, Crepax tribute sketch #3

Barefoot Justine, Crepax tribute sketch #3

I think as you can well imagine, the photo I referred to in this case contained nothing more than anatomical reference, the rest of the concept, the eels, motion, the specifics of the character etc., all came from my head.

I’d like to talk for a moment about the taboo against using pre-existing photos, well for one, it’s fine if it’s done right, if the photo is nothing more than anatomical reference (or something similar), and if we use it is a staring point from which to launch our own creation. I’d also like to point out that the artists who have influenced me mostly used photos. Take Alphonse Mucha for example, he not only drew and painted from photos, he actually, in some case, gridded them first. Mucha was well paid, had a huge studio full of props and all the money in the world to hire models and take photos, but since illustrators haven’t had a raise in a hundred years, we, at this point, are at a great disadvantage. I, at least, am in no place financially to afford props and models, let alone a big luxurious studio. With this in mind, we have to work with what is available to us as reference, even if it is pre-existing, as in photos from magazines.

My fourth attempt to thrill myself came from a clipping from an old fashion magazine, and while I liked the potential elegance and class of it, it too, did not excite me, though this time around the reference was at least getting lost under my own sense of design, and I liked that the photo did what it was supposed to do, get my creative juices flowing so I could go off in my own direction. Ultimately, my goal is usually to use the photo as a source of inspiration, and to fact-check my anatomy, while I go off and do my own things around it.

Barefoot Justine, Crepax tribute sketch #4

Barefoot Justine, Crepax tribute sketch #4

While I liked this one, it just wasn’t yet the one, though it would have done in a pinch. What I liked was, once again, the linework I was aspiring to was already in evidence, and the drawing was mine, the design was mine, and I started to realize exactly what it was I wanted.

By this point I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve, and exactly what I wanted to learn. I realized at this point that I simply wanted to draw on the surface like Crepax, no bones, no anatomical under-drawing (beyond the bare minimum of getting the proportions down), and most importantly, I wanted this drawing to be about line. That became my laser-point focus, I wanted the drawing to be flat and on the surface and all about line and white space, nothing else mattered, so I decided to really look for some imagery that would excite me without my working for it, so that I could get to what I wanted to do and stop worrying about everything else. Sometimes that is the best way to go, figure out what you want to learn, experiment with or master, and find ways to cut out all other anxieties and struggles.

At this point, however, four sketches down, I began to worry a little that I might be too intimidated by the company I was keeping to relax and produce my best. But then realized there was a scene in one of my very favorite exploitation films that was begging to be honored, though not a scene by Franco or Rollin, but by Hubert Frank, who is sometimes mistaken for Franco. The film, “Angel and the Beasts” is francoesque, but far too rich in narrative to be a Franco. There was a particular scene of one of the women dancing over a fight that was going on at her feet. The scene is amazing, so wild, such an exploitation apex, but there was something about that scene that really seemed appropriate… and that was that the actress had a haircut, body, and a style that was very Valentinaesque. I assume that like Franco and Rollin, Hubert Frank was also influenced by comics and Crepax in particular. Below is a blurry still of her in mid-dance.

Angel & the Beasts screencap

Angel & the Beasts screencap

I simply paused on the images that most excited me and sketched them, then wrote down where they were in the film so I could easily find them. The sketches came quick, loose and open, and possessed exactly the potential for excitement I was looking for. I often do my thumbnails in ballpoint pen, in fact I do most of my best sketching in ballpoint pen as the absence of an eraser can be very liberating.

As you can see, even as I drew them I was piecing together the puzzle that would become the final page. I’d also like to say that I rather like these loose, open and easy sketches, and I hoped to capture some of the spontanaity and fluidity of these lines in the final piece.

Barefoot Justine, Crepax sketch, final

Barefoot Justine, Crepax sketch, final

So here’s where I started to unwind into cross-purpose thinking. On the one hand I really wanted to explore some of what makes Crepax’s linework so lovely, yet I wanted to explore the influence of Jeffrey Jones too (who, like Crepax, used a lot of empty white–or negative–space), and lastly, I didn’t want to lose my own sense of line in all this. My main ambition was to create a final pencil that would lend itself well to loose zig-zaggy linework and motion, the motion of dance within the lines themselves. Problem here is, I didn’t take the time to scan the pencils, but I snapped a few pics on my phone, however I’m a luddite and just can’t manage to get to that damn pic, so in lieu of that pencil sketch, here’s a picture of Spiro Agnew:

Can't get to my pencils, so here's Agnew!

Can’t get to my pencils, so here’s Agnew!

Now that the hard work was done (finding a concept that excited me, and getting the pencils finished), the intimidating part was ahead… how could I ink this and keep it loose? Looseness is a thing I can’t manufature, I don’t know that anyone really can; nor is it something that can be forced, which is where focus, meditation, concentration and letting go come into play.

I started inking the 4 panels across the top, and I have to admit, I was feeling very discouraged about the last two panels. They weren’t really loose, they seemed to possess a forced looseness that I didn’t care for, so I decided that after I finished the fourth panel in that tier, that I would stop for the day and hit the last 2 panels another day.

Then something unexpected happened. Just as I was about to walk away from the drawing, it suddenly hit me that I had found the place I needed to find within the maze of my mind, that place that can only be found through focus. My mind works like a maze, and I have realized as I have gotten older that I can access almost any state of mind if I simply focus on going through the maze in my mind… until I find the right room. I don’t know why, but I knew that even as I had been about to give up discouraged for the day, that I had, in the end, found that elusive place I needed to inhabit were I to let my brush dance across the page like Jeffrey Jones. There are a number of Jones pieces that have inspired me, below is one of them:

Art by Jeffrey Catherine Jones

Art by Jeffrey Catherine Jones

Yeah, terrifying stuff! One simply can NOT manufacture or fake lines that loose and confident.

My research done, my influences in hand, I went ahead and nailed those last two panels, finishing the page in an inspired moment, attaining my personal best. I’ll talk more about the particulars of line after you get a look at the panels:

Final Barefoot Justine Crepax

Final Barefoot Justine Crepax

As you can see, the linework on the final two panels is open, loose, and right on! By the time I got there, everything I wanted is in evidence in the final piece, the looseness, the white, the surface drawing, and the lines… those zig zags, the openness and confidence. Easily the most ON panel is the final, in my eyes a hybrid between Hubert Frank, Jeff Jones, and mostly Crepax’s Valentina. Enjoy… I did!

Detail, Barefoot Justine's Valentina

Detail, Barefoot Justine’s Valentina

visit barefootjustine.com for more…

I remember

Standard

I Remember
by Barefoot Justine

I remember having no talent.

I remember how, as a young college freshman, I couldn’t even understand composition. To my ignorant ears, it sounded a lot like pretentious abstract nonsense. What a fool I was, but what did I know.

I remember how as a young student I worried incessantly about whether or not I had my own “style.” Of course, I should have been working harder on fundamentals. Not only do I remember it, but I regret it. Style forms itself around the fundamentals, but never fundamentals around style.

I remember all the long nights I wasted in the basement of my best friend’s house–what a mess that person was, dead now–watching the dumbest stuff on TV. God, if I could get all those hours back. Once time is wasted, it’s never coming back. Opportunities are like that too, once wasted, gone forever.

I remember meeting P. Craig Russell and Val Mayerik and how they took me under their wings. I remember for the first time how it felt to trust mentors enough to do what they said without question, but even that was something I had to grow into. If I remember correctly, I was a trying student. But I do remember that once I caught on I worked like a devil to catch up. I remember that I knew I had not only a lot of catching up, but a lot of growing up to do.

I remember how my parents put every obstacle between me and my becoming a professional artist. I remember that I bulldozed through every obstacle they put in my place. I remember what it felt like to have such a fire burning in my belly, a fire so bright it blinded me to everything else. I shone like a demon but flew like an angel.

I remember all the work I did, all the lonely nights tracing and drawing, and working on my own comics. I remember the dark lonely hours.

I remember when it all finally started to show on the paper. I remember how I began to bleed all I had internalized in my studies through each line.

I remember how grand it was to get published, and to be a working artist.

I remember how it felt to have realized a dream out loud.

I remember how when I met Frank Thorne and he tried to convince me of Hal Foster’s mastery and genius… how I simply couldn’t see it. The work was old-fashioned, had no style, and was boring. What a fool I was. Frank had cast his pearls before swine, and the swine had been me. I have repented Frank! I have see the light! Hal Foster was, as you knew with such certainty, a God among men. I remember the fool I was, but will never forget what I have gained in wisdom.

I remember how much it hurt that the better I got and the more my work matured, the more my audience lost interest. I remember being heartbroken. I remember aching and crying.

I remember when I broke, gave up, sold my art supplies.

I remember every moment of those two years I spent in exile in South Korea, drinking my life away and illegally gigging in Itaewan bars with my guitar in my lap, a pick in my right hand and empty shots at my elbow.

I remember how I suddenly felt compelled to draw. Two years it had been, and now I could draw like I had always wanted to draw, free, loose, wild, expressive, and I filled a whole book with ballpoint pen sketches of wild-eyed characters and tumorous creatures.

I remember being diagnosed with cancer. I remember how I suddenly knew that the tumor inside me had created a sense of urgency, and how the accursed thing, like a demon, had possessed me and came out in my drawings.

I remember how when the tumor was gone I had no more desire to draw.

I remember Jeffrey Jones. I will never forget how honored I was to have been your friend.

I remember hearing that Jeff Catherine Jones had died, right as I had been trying to reconnect with her. I remember how my heartache called me back to the drawing table with a vengeance.

I remember landing at SAW and becoming revitalized as an artist and as a woman with a purpose.

I remember Dan Adkins, and how I had failed to call you in the weeks before you died. My stomach hurts as I think about it, and I shake away the urge to cry. I remember how Jim Steranko had urged me to call Dan. I did not listen, Jim, and I will never forget that.

And when my students struggle, when they fail, when they make bad decisions, when they are blind, I can see in them weaknesses I would rather not remember about myself. And when I see the ones who struggle and rise above temptations, when I see them trusting and taking the hard road, I see the best of myself, and I am proud that they help me to remember that I am that strength and wisdom as well.

It is because I remember that I ache to make them see.

One day, I hope, they will remember, and will remember me.