Tag Archives: sequential artists workshop

And SAW (Where I Work)

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I reappeared on the SAW site… check it out here:

http://sequentialartistsworkshop.tumblr.com/post/90692097040/preparing-for-next-years-saw-single-year-program

Though it’s my not so humble opinion that we oughta change Tom’s wording from “opinionated” to “divinely inspired with life-changing and immutable insights.” Well… perhaps that would be coming on a little too strong.

On Being Back At the Drawing Table 2

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Well, it’s been a long time coming, this whole wild and bumpy full-circle ride… and yes, the people in the front row did get wet. I’ve frequently and long felt as though at this point in my journey that I have still turned out horribly incomplete. I thought that feeling of completion was going to come from somewhere else, but in a rather unexpected way it came about through returning to the one thing I knew about myself to be true from the age of 8 or 10. I knew and frequently announced that, “I am going to be a comic book artist or a dolphin trainer.” OK, so there were a few surprises along the way, but I had eventually landed squarely on comic book artist. Then, I burned out and wandered through many adventures before coming home to the drawing table again. How prodigal of me.

I’ve written on this topic once already, but it seems I feel the need to speak on it again. This process of getting and being back in the saddle is not so simple as one blog entry. I am not looking back at the prior blog entry as I write this, I don’t know how much it will overlap, and I really couldn’t care less anyhow. Stop reading if you hate repeats or capsule (“clip”) shows.

There is a lot of new information. For one, I have finished the pencils on the Odysseus job for DARPA (part of the DOD), and I gathered tons of steam throughout, and slowed down towards the end, but I had accomplished my goal all the same. My goal with these pages was to just draw them. Just draw them. I didn’t want to torture them into existence, I didn’t want to research and reference. I simply wanted to trust myself and channel all I have internalized, and I have internalized plenty. Below you will find pencils (yet to be inked) of my favorite page:

Barefoot Justine's Odysseus for DARPA (Lotus Eaters)

Barefoot Justine’s Odysseus for DARPA (Lotus Eaters)

Yah… it’s a good page.

So now it is time to ink this beast, all 17 pages, and I can’t wait. I love the process of taking that wooden handle in my hand, dipping the hairs into wet ink, and making marks on good ol’fashioned paper. I just can’t, won’t, and don’t get the playtime attitude of a lot of my contemporary artists and students; this compulsive need to use toys and playthings like brushpens, pigma markers and computers. Toys, just fucking toys. When I pick up a brush I am spiritually connected to the Masters, to every artist I have ever admired, to every artist who ever picked up a brush. I believe that the truly great art involves all 4 aspects of the human experience. The great art is not imbalanced, it contains a mix of the spiritual, the physical, the emotional, and the intellectual, to concentrate too heavily on one aspect creates art that is sick, sickly, neurotic, just as is true in life. Think of all the sickly intellectuals you know, think of all the intellectually bankrupt jocks you know. This to me is why the Beatles will forever be greater than the Rolling Stones. The Beatles were a brilliant mix of the physical, the intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual, all of those elements were available and essential to their work, the Stones were heavily concentrating on one aspect, the physical, the penis to be precise… and THAT bores me. It bores me in visual art as well. And consider this, all the artists who work away on computers… there is NO physicality to what they do or produce, the work is a fiction, an abstract, numbers in space, and immediately out of balance. And worse (consider this) no one can convince me (not even Bjork) that said computer-created work is spiritually connected to anything but ones own mind. I am not suggesting that my work is great or all that well balanced, but that is what I admire, and it is the mark toward which I aspire. Nope, no toys for me, just wood, hair and wet stuff on paper.

It seems that when it rains it does indeed pour. I am simultaneously finishing out the semester teaching at SAW, creating an animated infographic for UF, and starting a new project for DARPA all while finishing the first one. How did this happen? When did this happen? Well, without putting too fine a point on it, and I fucking hate to do this again (as I have so many times before), but I have to give much of the credit to St. Thomas of Hart, who has rather unwittingly become something of a guardian angel. Quite a responsibility for the poor guy, considering what a handful I can be sometimes… but I’m worth it (right Tom… RIGHT?). As Tom has said more than once, “Let Lakshmi and Tom provide.” He may pretend to be humble, but deep down he knows that he and we are all working for Gods. I bow before my Gods frequently in gratitude, to Ganesh who has removed so many obstacles and who has continued to send good fortune my way, and to Saraswati who provides inspiration and the energy I need to teach when I feel discouraged by certain students at certain times. I have more than once started out my door in the morning in a foul mood or in a fit of obsession over some dark shadow in my heart only to stop and bow before beautiful Saraswati as she reminds me that I have a duty to perform, and that duty is to teach no matter what else is going on in my life or the depths of my often self-inflicted suffering. She gives me the strength to set it all aside and do my duty. Her glories and grace have given me strength I never could have found on my own.

But back to the material world, yesterday Tom and I had a meeting with the staff at UF regarding our animated infographic, and though he was a tad anxious about it all, somehow I knew we had won this battle prior to even entering the meeting to show them our progress. As I had hoped, they were blown away by what we showed them… as they should have been, problem is, most clients are too thick to see what they saw. Most clients want what they want however lame what they want is. These fantastic women at UF have been open, warm, and have trusted us as artists to do what was best. I always feel it is a sure sign of incompetent and unconfident managers who do not trust their own judgment. What kind of lousy manager hires a person they cannot trust? These women chose to work with us, and they have been wise enough to trust their judgment and allow us to do what we were hired to do rather than riding us and meddling. No one likes or trusts a meddling manager. If a manager can’t trust their judgment enough to trust who they hire, then how can I trust them? Well, anyhow, fortunately these women are confident enough to trust their own judgment. The meeting was victorious, and we not only satisfied but delighted and moved them! That is how it should always work with clients, and that is how it can work, so long as clients trust artists to do what artists do, and trust their own judgment in who they employ.

And next, I have to balance all of this with more work on a new project from DARPA, and I couldn’t be happier. Oh, sure there are days I don’t feel it and the work is workmanlike at best, but most days are good if not inspired. Sure, there are days when I’m exhausted and I really feel and worry about the pressure of having to produce so much all at once, but for the most part I trust myself and I trust what I teach enough to live by it. I have internalized the hard lessons.

There is a crossroads students must face: choice one, to grind away and internalize the hard lessons; choice two, spend time playing with toys, dabbling, experimenting, indulging ones fancies. The choice a young artist makes at that crossroads is critical to their future. Sure, you can be a dabbler, a player, focus on the fun and “creative” parts, but it sure as hell is gonna cost ya in the end. Or, you can sacrifice a little on the front end, focus, learn anatomy and perspective, torture yourself a tad, and in the years to come you can rely on all the hard lessons you have internalized, it’s up to you. I will say this, if one chooses the hard way, to learn a more academic and classical approach, that makes ones later experiments far easier; however if one becomes a dabbler, said artist may never learn how to draw properly and will find themselves boxed in by the limitations of having chosen poorly at the crossroads. In the end I don’t really care what path my students choose, whether they choose to put their carts before their horses or not is their choice, but I know, I know deep down the truth of such things, and I know deep down that I am whole heartedly committed to what I teach. I teach what I know. I don’t know much, but I trust the few things I do know. And I know that I am an artist, and I know what path I took to get there, and I know it was the right path. It feels good to be on that path again, even when the path wends uphill and through the dark and tangles of briars. Just because a path is right, doesn’t mean it will always or ever be easy.

The more one struggles uphill, the closer one gets to God.

Thanking the Masters

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It’s Thanksgiving, a day I really don’t give much thought to. I always enjoyed it, the feast and all, but it was never a day that inspired me to feel gratitude. I try and feel gratitude for someone or something every day and at every opportunity, and I try and put words to it as often as possible. Even most of my meditations before Shiva, Ganesh and Durga are more often than not merely me projecting gratitude towards them. I grew up in a Christian tradition where I was taught that God was, for all practical purposes, dead, retired, no longer all that evident; so now, as a practicing Hindu (of the Western variety), I have been shocked at how much more involved the Deities have been in my life… and for how much more immediately I feel grateful.

Today, for Thanksgiving, Joe and I went out for lunch… I had no other plans or invites, which was fine by me, I would rather eat with one than with 12 anyhow. I know how to behave around 1, I’m clueless around 12… so I hide and plan my escape… whereas with 1 I can relax and be content. We went to Boston Market, as I knew they’d have a decent Thanksgiving spread, and not only was the spread decent, but the employees were kind and joyful. I hope and assume they were pleased to be there getting time-and-a-half pay… they were awful smiley about something. I was thankful for the food, the pleasantness of the experience, and the lack of pressure and stress I would have felt in Ohio with my family. The whole experience was simply good and easy.

After that my only other plan was to meet with a student, who, like many of our students, are somewhat displaced here, like I, far from what was once “home” and family. As I was heading out I was bellyaching a little inside… wondering why I was going off to the school (SAW) to meet with a student on Thanksgiving day. Who the heck else is doing that on Thanksgiving? Well, the joyful souls at Boston Market were doing that… but again, I assume they were getting time-and-a-half.

What was I doing?

Well, I know what I was doing. It came to me as I was about to leave my house and get into my car. My thoughts went first to Saraswati (Goddess of arts and Knowledge–among other things), and I thanked her, and I decided to drop all my bellyaching thoughts, realizing that it was my duty–and not in a dreadful way, either… it is simply my duty to draw and teach, and more importantly to pass along all I know. It is a duty of the highest order, one that must be fulfilled in gratitude, especially on Thanksgiving.

And I realized why else I was going: to pay thanks to my teachers, to the many artists who befriended me, who tolerated me, who got me through, who gave far more to me than I had any right to expect. I was going to pass along all they had passed to me, and that is a divine duty, one worthy of Saraswati, Thanksgiving, and my time. As I set my mind on Saraswati, my duty, and gratitude, I realized how happy I was, how content, and how brilliantly the sun was shining. I was bowing in gratitude before my teachers, my Masters, my gurus, as I drove to meet my student. I was going on Thanksgiving to thank them… thank you…

P. Craig Russell – for being the first, for tolerating my ignorance and youth, and for teaching me to get over myself, to love Disney, and for showing me through example the power of grace and elegance,

Val Mayerik – for the obscene amount of time you devoted to me, to my development, for teaching me to kick ass with hands and fists, and for being my father when I had none,

Dan Adkins – for learning from Wally Wood, for passing it along to Craig and Val, and then for showing me that you could spend the rest of your life in love with the brush, and for the stories… dear God… those Dan Adkins stories,

Jim Steranko – for the most profound and chillingly insightful portfolio reviews ever,

Frank Thorne – for being a God when I needed one, for the warm glow of your charming wife, for revealing the secrets of your work, and for the warmth of your home when I so needed you,

John Workman – for the gentle knowledge and compassionate enthusiasm for the things that really matter in art and comics,

Tom Hart – for showing me that teaching is as grand a life purpose as the making of art, for patience, and for seeing how much I had to offer in a world that has so often overlooked and dismissed me,

Jeffrey Catherine Jones – for so much more than I could put to words, for teaching me the Yin Yang value of white as well as black, for allowing me to trust my work, for showing me the path I needed to follow, and mostly for treating me like an equal,

Jean Rollin – for a love of Sadeian decadence, and for that amazing weekend in New York, I will treasure forever having known a legend such as you, rest in peace, you and dear Jeffrey both.

And to my students… thanks for giving me the chance to keep alive the lessons these Masters taught me. Thank you, in a world that values little of the past, less of tradition, and far far too much of modernity; thank you for letting this old broad rant and fill you with a love of craft and discipline, for the chance to argue that sacrifice and discipline matter, for letting me swim upstream with the message that artistic limitations and ignorance are not to be embraced as stylistic victories. Carry it on into the future, no matter how much the rest of the world of comics and art slips and stumbles into the sewage of the post-modernist cult of self-expression… thanks for carrying at least a little of what matters with you. You can have as much of it as you like, even on Thanksgiving day.