Category Archives: blog – 2: SAW

SAW (Sequential Artists Workshop) in Gainesville Florida specializes in teaching sequential art (“comics”), and it’s where I work, draw, and teach. Check us out: www.sequentialartistsworkshop.org

How To Be a Passionate Artist & a Pro

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So, how is it done? How does one balance the heat of art-making, the heady personality of the artist, the neurosis inherent in the heart of the artist… and yet behave like a cool calm professional?

OK… here’s the rub… I have no fucking idea. I’ve been at this for the majority of my adult life, and I still have no idea how to be the dedicated true believer I am as an artist, and yet how to balance that with being a pro at meetings, coping with senseless intrusions from clients, and then ultimately dealing with disappointment when the final results are damaged by incompetency at the printers, or whoever.

Being an artist can be soul crushing every step of the way, from the struggle to learn and ultimately master your craft, to the uncertainties involved in “making it,” to dealing with the bullshit of having “made it.” Worse yet, however much I have “made it” in the eyes of others… the sad truth is (psst… don’t tell my students) most of us never make it, certainly nearly all of us feel like that whole “I’ve finally made it” stage is still eluding us. Shit happens, your favorite art director gets laid off, entire industries can go under, books and magazines can be cancelled mid-project. It’s a bitch.

No, really, it’s a bitch!

And what is “making it” anyway? I mean, lots of shitty artists make it. It didn’t matter how many BIG companies I worked for, for me “making it” often depended even more on more personal criteria. How in the hell could I ever consider myself as having “made it” with artists like Hal Foster, Jeff Jones and Wally Wood having set the bar so high? There is “making it” in the business and publishing sense, then there’s “making it” in your own eyes, which also includes the whole concept of “making it” in comparison to the Masters. This whole “making it” bit is elusive to say the least.

So, take all that, all that uncertainty, all that self doubt, and add the simple truth that more often than not, the sorts of minds that make art and make good artists also make neurotics. For me, the real catch is that the very forces, emotional and psychological, that pushed me on and kept me striving to greater heights are the very emotions and passions that often seem to undo me as a professional. I could never have learned to draw the way I do if I wasn’t so obsessive, so in need of approbation. I often think I create work to boost my self-esteem, to prove to a world that has bullied me and banged the hell out of my self worth, that I am worthwhile, that I can contribute something, that I am exceptional. Sometimes I think I make work to ease the loneliness, I create work to be loved. Pathetic? Perhaps, but I don’t think it’s all that unusual. Honestly, I think I’m still in the “look what I can do” phase as an artist.

This is all far more complicated by a number of factors, for one, we live in a culture that demands that people who give more, do more, and excel, also learn to smile good naturedly and accept that incompetent boobs and morons will screw up their work at some point, either through heavy handed editing and art directing of incompetent printing. As Jeffrey Catherine Jones once told me, when she and Wrightson and Kaluta and the rest of them got together they would joke that their work always came back from the printer smeared with bananas. If you don’t get that, let me explain… basically artists learn quickly that once our work is out of our hands it goes into the hands of the baboons at the printers. This, group, is why it is so important to leave borders around your work so the artwork (image area) is not manhandled. This is why I get so exasperated when my students draw all the way to the edge of their papers. Here’s what I’m telling you, that art teacher in school you loved so much, you know, the one that told you to draw all the way to the edge of the paper… didn’t know his (or her) ass from a hole in the ground. That border around your work is where the coffee spills, fingerprints and abuse goes.

Let’s just lay out my latest mistake… or perfectly justifiable frustration… depending on whose side your on here. It’s just about April now, and before Christmas I started working on a major project, taking about 80% of the project on myself (regarding the illustration chores only). This project was 4 full pages of comic strips, each one drawn in the style of a classic Master of the form. I had to learn to draw like Bill Watterson in one strip, then Hal Foster in another; Charles Schulz in one strip and Windsor McKay in another. This work was created with dedication, delight, and the utmost precision. When copying the style of a master the difference between success and failure can be measured in millimeters. You know what I’m talking about, we all know when a drawing of Charlie Brown was done by Schulz, and when it was done by a lesser artist. And let me tell you, sometimes the differences are so subtle as to be maddening… millimeters. Bend a shape by a couple millimeters… and suddenly it looks like the same boob who drew those pissing Calvins we all see on the back of Ford and Chevy trucks drew that Charlie Brown as well. Copying the style of a master requires not only an understanding of their style, but undoubtedly years of mastering drawing yourself, years of observation, years of noticing the minutia, years of discerning patterns and proportions that are invisible to the eye of the average viewer, or indeed most artists. What I really was not ready for was realizing that in order to finish this latest project I had to entirely relearn whole languages of line with each artist. The lines that Chester Gould used might look a little like the lines that Walt Kelly used… but they arent’ not at all. In other words, being a good inker isn’t good enough, you have to be a discerning inker that deals with lines that are perfect down to millimeters. I likened it to code breaking. Each artist had a code of line rather than language. This project I have worked on has been a delight, a torture, rewarding, maddening, embarrassing and worthy of great pride. In other words, a world of conflict.

I am a conflicted person, a complicated person, a person with high emotions and higher standards. The problem is, I hold the world to my standards, and while once upon a time we expected people to master things, to reach higher and set higher standards, we now, instead, expect the person with high standards to just relax and let the baboons drag their work down… and we’re supposed to smile about it, too.

So, I did my job, I did all I could and gave all I had… and in the end, what did I get… my work came back with bananas (and I swear I smelled a little fesces) smeared all over it. Someone at the printer decided that the margins were too wide (or something), so naturally, the solution someone at the printer came up with was to set down the banana, stop scratching himself, and stretch my work out to better fill out the page.

Remember what I said about millimeters? Blown, blown to hell. The worst part was having to listen to everyone tell me “it’s alright… no one will notice… it was only stretched a little.”

“Only stretched a little.” There’s no such thing as “only stretched a little,” it’s either stretched or it ain’t. This is one of those black and white right or wrong things. Not only did I have to witness the distortion of my work (to the tune of 34,000 printed copies), but I had to listen to person after person tell me that the work looked fine distorted… in other words, that I was wrong and my emotions invalid. It seems that everyone is an expert, everyone but me knew how my art should look. I, evidently, am the one person who is not qualified to decide whether or not my work looks good stretched and distorted. I guess everyone else knows a lot more about how my work should be presented than I do. In other words, not only did I have to look at my work horribly disfigured, I had to listen to everyone tell me there was nothing wrong with it that way, and that I was just being silly for being upset about it.

Here’s where we really get pushed and pulled. Clients expect us to be passionate and innovative, meticulous and wholly engaged in the work, in other words they expect us to be artists through and through… until we have to sit down in the board room. Admittedly, I challenge this, I go to all my meeting barefoot, and usually in short shorts, not to make a point, but because I am not playing their game. If I had wanted to play their game and wear business casual clothes, I would have played their game. I chose to be an artist because I have no interest in wearing a ladies pants suit. Now, here’s where we really get put to the test, the client will change this, change that, demand perfection, then drop illos, make senseless changes, and be OK with it when the printer fucks it all up. Then, they expect us, the artists, to be OK with that, to be cool, calm and professional. In other words, that passionate engaged and innovative person that drew the work and conceived of the project, the very artist they relied on to be creative and “artistic,” they now expect to behave like a banker. It’s an impossible situation to be in. And why is it that everything has to be “professional” anyway? Why are we so afraid of emotions? Why can’t honesty and emotions play a part in these business transactions? They certainly liked it when honesty and emotions played a part in the art making! We, as artists, are expected to balance ourselves on a scale that is impossibly tipped out of our favor.

So here’s where it all comes together, remember what I said about artits being passionate, neurotic, emotional, obsessive… well, when I knew my work had come back from the printers stretched, that didn’t sit well with me. When I heard about it I began to vibrate, to fucking vibrate with emotion. It was uncontrollable. Imagine shaking a bottle of Pepsi (or Coke… I don’t care which you prefer, but no Shasta), then expecting that emotional soda wouldn’t blow out and spray everywhere. The point is, I’m full of fizziness, that’s what makes me go… that’s what makes me so much fun to drink… but shake me up and what do you think is going to happen? All that fizziness and emotion we all admire and enjoy is suddenly spraying out all over someone’s face.

Unfortunately, sometimes it sprays all over the client’s face.

That’s the unprofessional part, so I’m told. Personally, I think it’s unprofessional that clients don’t treat artists like artists and don’t let artist be artists.

If I’ve learned anything from my life as an illustrator, right up to this particular project, the take home lesson would be: expect more from yourself and less from the culture. In other words, an artist needs to strive to master the difficult stuff, they need to do their homework even though the culture doesn’t know the difference between Hal Foster and Lynda Barry. And even if you can draw like Foster (and no one does), the printers and publishers will screw it up anyway. No, there isn’t much reward for expecting more from yourself… but you should do it anyway, at least that’s what I tell my students.

Sometimes I hope most of my students ignore me, it will certainly make their lives a lot easier, ’cause no one out there can see the difference. After all, everything’s beautiful no matter how half-assed or poorly conceived or poorly printed it is… right?

New “Barefoot Art” Gallery!

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(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: barefoot MARA3

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: barefoot MARA3

Since I have so many fans who are into the whole barefoot trip I’m on, I thought I’d post a gallery of my artwork that features other barefoot women. These images have been created over the course of many years, and really only scratch the surface. These drawing span everything from my work on my own independent comic, to WOTC, and even to Star Wars illustrations (yes, once upon a time I was a “Lucasfilm approved” artist). I often drew the feet dirty, which would have only been natural in the lives of the characters in the pieces. I have plenty of other great examples of barefoot women in my work (I never have gotten all that interested in barefoot men, sad to say), but those images will have to wait. I won’t bother uploading anything new to this gallery unless interest is high.

So, from Barefoot Justine to you… a portfolio full of barefoot girls in fantasy and science fiction settings. These are some of my favorite images, and were certainly images in which I show a lot of heart and personal interest… enjoy!

To see the gallery go to the “Galleries” link above and hit “Barefoot Art.” Or just click here: https://barefootjustine.com/galleries/4-barefoot-art/

Digital Gallery Now Up

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I have been opening new galleries at barefootjustine.com, and have just uploaded a new one featuring my digital work. I was hesitant to start that journey, several years ago, but I rather took to it once I got going. And it’s a good thing, too, as this summer’s BIG job has been a Flash animation for UF.

Check out the gallery “3.Digital” in my “Galleries” link above for more… but for now… here’s one that bears a nice close look…

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: "Monument"

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: “Monument”

New Illustration Gallery Open at BarefootJustine.com!

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Hey group, I just opened a new and greatly expanded illustration gallery (under “Galleries” above… where else?–Or go right from here: https://barefootjustine.com/galleries/2-illustration/) Check it out!

Here’s a preview of the sort of thing you’ll find there…
(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: WOTC illustration (Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: WOTC illustration

A little backstory regarding the above illustration: when I was working at illustrating for WOTC (D&D) I participated in illustrating a number of books, including one on adventuring in cold regions. I had done a half dozen or a dozen illos for this book, most of them OK, but this one was my favorite. It is still one of my top 5 favorites from my time working for them… and they left it out of the book! They paid me, but they left it out! I was so bummed that they left my favorite out, and I found it insane that they couldn’t find room for such a nice piece. The next book I worked on for them (“Dragonomicon”) went the same way. Easily the best piece I did for that project… they left it out, too! You can see that one in the gallery along with this one: it’s the simple head shot of a (red) dragon. Check ’em all out in the “Galleries” above…

New Galleries at BarefootJustine.com!

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Hey group, I have been working on new galleries for my site (see the “Galleries” link above). These galleries will be far more in depth than my old galleries, I hope you enjoy them. So far the only gallery I have assembled is the “Comics & Toons” gallery.

I have yet to create galleries for 2 to 3 more categories; one for “Illustrations,” another for “Barefoot” (featuring what else… drawings of other barefoot women), and perhaps I will even include a gallery for my digital work.

Keep checking back as I will be working on these galleries a lot over the next week or so.

To see the gallery, click on the link above, or go there from right here: https://barefootjustine.com/galleries/comics-toons/

Here’s a sample of what you will find there:

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus: finished inks page 10

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus: finished inks page 10

Justine’s Odysseus Page 6: An In Depth Look At the Process

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2 of 6: In these 6 entries I am going to walk you step by step through the process I went through to create 6 of the 17 pages I pencilled and inked for the upcoming “The Odyssey Of Sergeant Jack Brennan” graphic novel. This is a DARPA funded project intended to assist veterans with PTSD. The power of myth lies in its metaphorical applications, and this project has used that to great effect and I am proud to have been a part of it. So… let’s go…

Let’s take up with page 6.

Methinks it might help to set this up a little. This page concerns the scene in which Aeolus offers the bag that controls the winds (through the power of Zeus) to Odysseus, and in this scene Aeolus is explaining and demonstrating the power of the bag. Essentially that was what I had to illustrate, and this is how I went about it.

At some point, while watching “Jason and the Argonauts,” I was struck with how much a character in the movie would be a great Aeolus, so I did this quick gesture drawing of him as the movie was playing… not too inspiring, but it was enough for me to get an impression of the physical traits that struck me. Oddly, in the end, for some reason my Aeolus ended up looking nothing like this guy, and ended up looking like my dear friend Joseph Blue Sky–just like every other bearded man I’ve ever drawn.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 6: sketch

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 6: sketch

Funny, but looking at the indistinct and nondescript thumbnails below, it doesn’t seem as though I really had any idea what this page was going to be about, which is especially odd considering that it turned out to be a favorite of mine (which is why I chose it for inclusion here). My thinking was probably that since I had to turn in readable layouts for the whole story that the details of these preliminary thumbnails weren’t all that important as the real thinking would come in the layouts, but even at that, I needed something to go on before ever getting to the layouts. There’s very little to go on in this sketch, but the energy and motion of the central panel is already in evidence. And speaking of that central panel, this page and a few of the others are triptychs, meaning that they contain 3 upright panels (at least that’s how I define triptychs in reference to my comics work).

More on triptychs below.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 6: sketch 2

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 6: sketch 2

Jan_van_Eyck_-_Triptych_of_Mary_and_Child,_St._Michael,_and_the_Catherine_-_Google_Art_ProjectTo the left you can see a traditional religious triptych. Triptychs were common devices in Medieval art. Originally triptychs were altar pieces that were hinged and would fold in over the central panel. I’m not sure why, but triptychs have had a huge influence over my layouts. People sometimes ask me, “Why the long vertical panels?” Well… at least now you can all see where the influence came from. The more an artist knows, the deeper their bag of tricks, which is why I advocate so strongly for a classical approach to drawing when I teach, and for a greater understanding of art outside of comics. Some artists become very limited by their lazy decisions and undemanding ambitions. Now that I think about it, I don’t believe I mentioned it in my earlier post about page 1, but it was also set up as a triptych.

Even knowing that I was going to have to do the complete layouts, I felt I needed to do more to resolve this page before proceeding. The problem is, as I stated before, of these two pages of thumbnails I’m not entirely sure which came first, but I am fairly certain the sketch below came next. I grabbed pens for these sketches as I sometimes find that ballpoint pens can be very freeing as the tension (even temptation) of knowing I will be able to erase them has been removed. I simply have to draw and trust myself with a pen.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 6: sketch 3

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 6: sketch 3

On the back of the page of roughs above I worked out the central panel (seen below), which was the one that I knew had to be powerful, the one that, in a sense, the entire page hinged upon. I had a real strong feeling about how this panel should “feel” when it was viewed, which I often do, but I often don’t know visually what that means until I start moving my pencil around. Unlike a lot of artists, I hardly ever see anything in my head, but I often feel something nebulous, like a ghost, that I have to bring into being through meditating on the act of sketching. I think you can see that by this point, I had finally worked out what the final panel was going to be all about.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 6: Zeus wind rough

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 6: Zeus wind rough

We just found this early alternate original layout for this page, see below, and for comparison I have also included the second go at the layout (the one I turned in) below that. The biggest difference between them being that the two bottom panels on the left column were different, but there are also numerous other differences to hand positions and even the bottom right panel. More importantly, I felt the two little panels on the bottom left of the first layout were silly-looking in context, and I think I was right in seeing that the larger single panel had greater impact. Additionally, making them one panel gave them a stronger presence, which helped with an issue Tom Hart was to bring up later anyway… we’ll get to that in a moment.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 6: layout 1

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 6: layout 1

A big worry I had was that since I was sending in layouts for approval that I would be locked into the approved layouts, but I soon gave up on that fear realizing that working in that fashion (i.e. providing complete layouts of every page from the start) was limiting, and this would simply have to be accepted by all parties concerned–and besides, they would have another chance to look at the pencils before the pages were finished. I need time to let pages develop as I work on the pages before them. I did in the end vary from the layouts from time to time as many of my layouts were rushed and created in a flurry of tense exhaustion. Once refreshed I was able to come up with better ideas and include them in the final pencils. Compare the layouts directly below against the final pencils.

Upon seeing the final layout (see below), Tom Hart had complained that the eye tended to go straight from panel 1 (top left) to the central panel (panel 3), totally overlooking panel 2 (bottom left). He felt I needed to redraw, redesign and rethink my whole layout for the page. I both strongly agreed and strongly disagreed. Yes, the eye was being misguided in the original composition, but I was not willing to let go of the triptych, nor the strong central panel, so I thought back on something I had learned from Jim Steranko one evening while he was giving me a lengthy and insightful 90 minute portfolio review in the studio of Dan Adkins. Funny, now, how obvious it seems, but often as artists what can seem obvious to a mature artist can elude young artists for years until a Master like Jim steps in to set us straight. Jim had complained about a few of my panels (years ago) that the way my characters were pointing were often drawing my readers out of my pages, creating a random and chaotic experience that misled the eye. I realized that if the characters in the first panel were oriented towards the central panel, then the second (lower) panel was going to be overlooked in the hierarchy, so in the final pencils I turned my characters backs to the central panel and simultaneously created a motion towards the lower panel. When you get to the final pencil, notice that even the direction of their eyes draws the reader to the lower left panel, not so in the layout directly below.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 6: layout 2

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 6: layout 2

As you can see in the pencils below the characters in the top panel are finally reoriented according to what I had learned from Steranko, thereby addressing Tom’s concerns. Also, in order to keep the reader on the page, I didn’t just turn Aeolus’ back towards the central panel, and I didn’t just have the movement in the panel (and the movement of their eyes) draw the eye downward, I also turned Odysseus in towards Aeolus, keeping us on the page, in that panel, and gently guiding the viewer to look downward.

Another thing that starts to happen in the pencils is that I begin seeing them inked. I have never been confident about my pencils, not in the least. Frankly, I really have no idea how to draw in pencil, not a complete drawing anyhow. I guess at heart I’m an inker. I LOVE the feel of the brush in my hand. When I see these, especially the central panel, I can see the brush lines already! The lower right panel I knew I would be inking with a toothpick (yes, I buy toothpicks and dip them in ink, then draw with those for effect sometimes), so I used my pencil in that fashion, often drawing gestural strokes with the side of the pencil. It’s funny, but you’ll notice a lot of hands on this page (and throughout my pages) and that is because I find hands easy and fun to draw–which I know is super odd as most people find them painfully challenging. I learned to draw hands by studying Alphonse Mucha’s excellent and expressive hands, and before that by studying Bridgman’s anatomy books. As you may realize, as in depth as these entries are about the process, what you are not seeing here are the years of hardwork that went into getting me to this point as an artist. At one point, early in my development, I traced and redrew every single image in my Bridgman’s anatomy books.

Also note the difference in panel 4 (top right) in the pencils below. I realized after doing the layouts that we had all the power of Zeus billowing out of the bag… then suddenly Aeolus is drawing the bag tight. The storytelling was too abrupt, frankly, not terribly well thought-out, so I chose instead to show a panel of the wind being drawn back into the bag, which worked well with panel 2 (bottom left) in which the wind is just starting to rise up out of the bag. Note also that in the bottom left panel Aeolus is drawing the wind up with upturned hands, skip over to the top right panel and he is working the wind back into the bag with his hands and fingers now turned downward in the opposite direction. These are the little physical storytelling details that register withe a viewer even if they aren’t consciously aware of them. And yes, those opposing hand positions were wholly intentional. They create anticipation and closure around the central action. Also, I essentially compressed panels 4 and 5 (layout above) into panel 5 (pencils below), realizing that the act of drawing the drawstrings closed and the image of Odysseus reaching for the bag could all be part of the same action.

Believe it or not I actually did some research to find classic sculptures of Zeus in order to come up with the “Zeus in the wind” image of the central panel. I’m with R. Crumb on this one… you can’t make that shit up. When I look for an image like that I will often forego my instinct to draw influence from the one that grabs me, or the “coolest” image to instead opt for the one that is most iconic, or most readily recognizable. Artists often should decide on readability and appropriateness of an image from a storytelling perspective over a cooler image. The storytelling and clarity comes first, the dazzle of an image comes second.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 6: pencils

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 6: pencils

And the inks below show that I essentially knew where I was going right from the pencils. When I pick up a brush (wood, metal and hair) and dip it in ink (wet and dark), then mark the paper (wood pulp), I feel viscerally and spiritually connected to every artist who ever picked up a brush. Not so when I pick up a micron, or God-forbid, a “brush pen.” I see all those things as toys, mere kids stuff! I don’t waste my time with such toys. I think in the final panel you can definitely see how the toothpick added a distinctive quality to the inks and the image.

Unfortunately I dread seeing this image in print as I know now that colorists are allowed, carte blanche, to run rampant over the work of some modern comics. An overly eager colorist can destroy anything I’ve drawn with the push of a computer key by increasing contrast or blowing out the black and converting the lines to color lines. This can utterly ruin dry brush lines. This is something that breaks my heart. Proud as I am to have been involved in this project, I don’t think I will ever have the heart to look at the printed book when it comes out. Compare the printed book (after its release in 2015) to this image, look closely, see if the lines and image have broken down and degraded, see if the colorist has gotten cutesy and turned my beautiful clean crisp black lines to color lines. I imagine a lot of the subtlety will be lost, a lot of the strokes will be blown out, and many little areas will have filled in and gone gummy. I hope none of this happens, but I can only assume that between the colorist and the printing… some very unfortunate things may well occur. For me, the work I do is all about lines, line quality and the dominance of line… sadly, that no longer seems to matter in comics, not as much as it once did. I resent that my art will become a playground for some kid with a computer. Sadly, I have had to accept that this is simply the way things are. I don’t have to like or agree with it, but I do have to accept it, especially if I want to keep working–and I need to keep working. This battle… I have lost, end of story. That said, those of us who believe in the beauty of line, or in the integrity of the work they create, and that someone else should not be allowed to play with, pervert, or manipulate their work, should at the very least be encouraged to speak up and make their case… so I did that here… it’s all I have.

Again, the image below is larger and at a higher resolution than the sketches above, so you can click on it and zoom in a bit to get a closer look. This may be your only opportunity to see the images I have drawn the way they were intended to be seen.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 6: final inks

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 6: final inks

In the final panel I was highly influenced by the work of Joseph Clement Coll. Below the final inks I have included a very large detail of the final panel. This, of course, is the panel I inked with a toothpick. There is a very big difference between it and the brush-inked panels. I should also mention that I did go in and work a bit of it over with a brush, and even some white gouache.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 6: detail

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 6: detail

Four more pages to come, so keep checking in. Next week I will be on to page 9.

To see the prior post about page 1, click here if not included below: https://barefootjustine.com/2014/09/02/justines-odysseus-page-1-an-in-depth-look-at-the-process/

Justine’s Odysseus Page 1: An In Depth Look At the Process

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1 of 6: In these 6 entries I am going to walk you step by step through the process I went through to create 6 of the 17 pages I pencilled and inked for the upcoming “The Odyssey Of Sergeant Jack Brennan” graphic novel. This is a DARPA funded project intended to assist veterans with PTSD. The power of myth lies in its metaphorical applications, and this project has used that to great effect, and I am proud to have been a part of it. So… let’s go…

But before we really dig in, I have opted not to separate my emotions from the art, nor my emotional experiences from what you will read below. For me the making of art and living life as an artists are all tied into my emotional nature–and, after all, this whole bizarre need we feel in our culture to separate ourselves professionally from our emotions is really just part of the patriarchal construct of our culture, which I find so nonsensical.

The whole project started with a script, below you will see the first page of 3 that I was sent. To be honest, I was not the first artist chosen to illustrate this section of the book (but I damn well should have been). The first artist was not interested in the project in the least and turned in a cramped and lifeless 6 page interpretation of this story. He was let go, and the team called me to come in at the last minute and save this section of the story–which was all around for the best. My adaption of this section of script stretched it to a much more appropriate 17 pages, and my enthusiasm level for the project was high from the get-go. In the page of script included below you will see that it has been marked up with notes. Tom Hart did an initial round of breakdowns (which means he essentially worked out which action would appear on which page), and though his breakdowns were a life-saver (as they really got me over the hump and started in the right direction), I was allowed the liberty of stretching things out and reworking the initial breakdown of the script in a way that better fit my storytelling style and sense of timing. You will also notice not only my ballpoint red-line breakdowns, but a few thumbnails for images and pages that came to me before I had even begun any real sketching.

Odysseus breakdowns

Odysseus breakdowns

Prior to even beginning the pressure was on. I was led to believe that, since the first artist had fallen down on the job, this whole section had to be pencilled and inked in 2 to 4 weeks! When I started on the thumbnails I decided to think hard about what kinds of images I could simply draw by relying on the lessons I have internalized–in other words, I didn’t have time to research or stretch. Fortunately over time that changed, the deadline loosened up and I managed to stretch more on this project than I have in a very long time.

Something very unusual happened on the first page, and that is that I more or less knew what the finished page was going to look like from the start. I have a lousy visual memory, and I rarely see anything clearly in my head prior to sketching or drawing, instead I have always had to set pencil to paper and work my compositions and the elements of the drawings out directly on paper, and sometimes much of the real thinking doesn’t even start until I am drawing on the finished piece.

In this instance I knew I wanted a Jeffrey Catherine Jones feel to this page (and many of the pages throughout, until I started looking at and thinking about Hal Foster and Al Williamson). I wanted the lines to be as loose and alive as Jeffrey’s, and the compositions to be open and full of white space. One of the most important lessons I learned from my friendship with Jeffrey Catherine Jones was when she busted me for not using enough white in my designs, and in fact, Jeffrey said to me at one point: “I see you spot blacks well… but where’s the white?” Well, my dear Jeffrey, here’s the white! Lots of it… this page is for you. Looking at it now, especially in the clouds of the final inks of the final panel, I was also paying tribute to another of my mentors, P. Craig Russell–who I seem to have had a falling out with, he knew me when I was very young.

Also note the strong mythological look of the first panel. There were no mythic creatures in my section of the script, and this bothered me, so not only did I want to draw some creatures, I also wanted to cue the reader in from the very first panel that this was a dangerous world full of mythic beasts. Though I knew I wanted to create (in panel 1) an image that existed in two planes (above and below water), at this point I had no idea how I was going to pull that off–that came later.

Note my note to self in the sketch below, “not compositionally sound.” I find that odd now as I did little revision to the compositions, most notably the sea serpent is pointing the wrong direction and leads the eye of the viewer off the page (for more on this, see my story about Steranko in the entry for page 6), and I corrected that in the final image (we’ll get to that later).

Odysseus Page 1, (Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen

Odysseus Page 1, (Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen

Another unusual aspect of this project, one that most definitely caused me some anxiety, was the way I had to deliver the work. Normally, when working out a passage in comics, I have an outline I work from, and I work out one page at a time, or a few if I truly know how I want the storytelling to work out for a particular passage. In this case I had to offer a full run of 16 pages of layouts for approval (16 pages turned into 17 at the suggestion of Tom Hart who correctly felt that an extra page needed to be included to make an important emotional point later in the story). Below you will see the layout I turned in for the first page, which is not dissimilar to the finished piece.

Note the “bumps” at the top and bottom of the page, the painted out borders that I then extended top and bottom as I had mismeasured the dimensions for the layout. That proved to be all for the best as the elongated panels were much more attractive. And note that idiot sea serpent is still pointed in the wrong direction.

Odysseus layout, (Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen

Odysseus layout, (Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen

From here I had to simply draw the page. There were a number of problems, first off… I don’t know Jack about boats, how they work, or what all those ropes and doodads are for–it seems to me there are just too damn many of them. I turned to Hal Foster for reference, as I found his boats far more useful than the other references I could find. Additionally, I was watching Ray Harryhausen’s “Jason and the Argonauts” on repeat play as I pencilled these pages… and I’m still not sick of that movie! That movie and the Argonaut itself was a life saver. I have loved that movie and Greek Myth since I was a kid, so the whole project was a dream come true. I would also like to mention that I pencilled this page in 4 to 6 hours. This is important as I have (in the past) had a habit of torturing my pages into existence, of erasing, redrawing, suffering, and fighting with megalithic blocks for countless days and hours. This time I decided with great intent that I was simply going to sit down and draw. I was not going to allow any blocks to enter my being. In order to make this happen I would bow before Saraswati (the Hindu Goddess of knowledge–teaching?–and the arts) to ask for her blessing and for her grace to guide my hand. The moment I felt a block coming, if I couldn’t just deny it and draw over, past, or around it, I would stop and meditate before the Goddess again, allow her to slay those demons for me, and, calmer, I would simply get back at it. Oh… and note the direction of the sea serpent, pointing the viewer into the next panel rather than out of the page… and also creating a nice compositional flow that leads from panel to panel and continues across the page. Often when I lay out pages I look at my compositions on two levels: I consider my compositions not only in regards to the single panel, but often I see the whole page as having a unified composition or sense of movement.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 1: comic

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 1: pencils

Ok, so now it was time to do my favorite part… INK! I love that moment when I get to hold a brush in my hand and truly bring the lines to life. I love dipping my brush in ink and making those sensual lines come alive on the paper! The problem was… I wanted the images to look loose (yet perfectly consciously designed). Looseness is a difficult thing to manufacture. it was important that my lines looked as much like those of Master and teacher Jeffrey Catherine Jones as possible… or at least that was the challenge I had in mind, and the mark I was aiming to hit. One of the things I did to meet this end was ink page 2 (and maybe 3) first, then after I was warmed up and loosened up I went back and inked page 1.

Below you will find the unfinished inks, note the single ship in panel 1 (more on that below):

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 1: finished inks (single ship)

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 1: finished inks (single ship)

I would like to note that I signed this page to Saraswati, as I felt it was her grace that guided my hand. When the team of editors decided that they needed more boats in many of the panels of the book for the sake of continuity, this included the first panel. Tom Hart suggested to the committee that I redraw the panel. I flipped out! NOT that panel!

“To sing a wrong note is insignificant, but to sing without passion is unforgivable.”
― Ludwig van Beethoven

Boats… I was communing with my Gods… I cared not about 3 boats! I felt unusually passionate about the work I did on this project… page after page I was experiencing huge breakthroughs as an artist. And that first panel is one of my favorite panels in the book, and it was divinely inspired and rendered, I was never going to be able to hit that mark again. Look closely (you can… click on it, the image below is larger and at a higher resolution), the lines are controlled but loose, exactly what I wanted, and a thing I have never been able to accomplish before. Poor dear Tom… he had no idea, this wasn’t just 17 pages of comics, I happened to have made enormous breakthroughs throughout the course of this particular project, and it was a subject I had been in love with since childhood… Odysseus and Greek Myth. Over the course of the project I had two emotional moments, and the writer/overlord didn’t mind them in the least. He saw my passion as a huge plus considering the lifeless attitude of the first artist. Inspired work comes at a minor cost, that cost being that inspired and passionate artists can be feisty. Still, in the end, I drew in the extra boats. I believe it is not in the best interest of any project for the artists to be too malleable. Artists have to fight for their ideas, their vision, it serves the project they are working on… but here’s the catch, as an illustrator you ultimately have to give in and give the client what they want, as that, too is the responsibility of the illustrator.

Fight to win, but in the end, always give in to the client, at its heart, that is our job.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 1: finished inks

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 1: finished inks

But we’re not done yet. Keep checking in, 5 more pages to go! I will be uploading an entry a week over the next few weeks, and probably a second entry later this week just to get some momentum going.

Huge gratitude to Tom Hart for taking the time to find all the scans I needed to write this, and the coming, entries on this project.

To see the next installment in this series, click here: https://barefootjustine.com/2014/09/03/justines-odysseus-page-6-an-in-depth-look-at-the-process/

Please, comment below…

Being a Working Artist… Not Easy…

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So we got this work inquiry, it’s gonna pay $2,500! Our proposal was accepted, and I was sooooo excited! I mean, I could really use $2,500. There were details as to the nature of the project, lots of technicalities are underway (like stuff in writing, sending art samples and resumes, etc.), then I reread the initial inquiry, this is all for a project that is 3 or 4 years down the road.

Yeah, I said 3 or 4 years down the road!

When I realized this I sent the email below to Tom Hart who had scored the job for me/us:

“That’s as disappointing as not getting the job… not that I won’t need the work 3 or 4 years from now, too…

Hope I can get by until then.

Thanks for landing this, in three of four years I’ll buy you lunch!”

Micanopy Florida

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My view of Micanopy

My view of Micanopy

My view of Micanopy (side)

My view of Micanopy (side)

I decided that since I had a lot of repetitive computer work to do today that I would take the 20 minute drive to Micanopy Florida (where “The Yearling,” “Doc Hollywood,” and “Cross Creek” were filmed) to sit on the great wrap around porch of one of its ice cream parlors, sip a chocolate malt, and do my work.

These pics were taken from my viewpoint… kinda shows not only why I moved to Florida, but why I came here to work. It’s like Mayberry here in Micanopy and Gainesville… but with hippies and punks mixed in. Micanopy is the oldest inland town in Florida, is full of antique shops and lovely old buildings with gardened lawns. Very charming. Oh… and the chocolate malt was made with real malt and not that lousy syrup!

I have to say, if I can spend the rest of my life sitting on scenic porches barefoot and sipping at chocolate malts while I work… then I’m doing better than most.

I am grateful!

If you are wondering, I am working on an animated info-graphic for the University of Florida’s library. The job was bid on by Tom Hart (our founder at SAW–“Sequential Artists Workshop,” where I teach), and the project has essentially been handed over to me to write, direct, illustrate and animate, so I think I’ll include one of the background images just so you all can see what it is I’m working on.

Well… it’s time to set this HUGE malt aside before I drink it all and get fat. Back to work!

Barefoot Justine's Easter Island Bots for UF.

Barefoot Justine’s Easter Island Bots, a background drawing for SAW’s UF project.

Vonnegut On Beatles…

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“I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, ‘The Beatles did’.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake, 1997