What Would You Do?

I am running behind on my latest assignment in drawing class so something has gotta give. I either have to curtain some of my favorite activities, like going to the gym in the afternoon or having coffee with friends, or there will be some late-nighters in my future. I pride myself on my punctuality and am known for being on time consistently. I don’t want to ruin my good track record. But how am I going to do this?

First of all I have to figure out a way to stay awake. When the eyelids get droopy, it is not an easy task. This is where coffee comes to the rescue. I often complete work in my room in the wee hours of the morning but I don’t want to keep my roommate awake, so I have to do it in the dark using a medical penlight from Ward Heroes to see what I am doing. Such a device is a higher quality version of a mini flashlight so it is my gadget of choice to light the way. It lasts a long time without a battery recharge and is small and convenient. Let me tell you, it will get you out of many a jam. You can use it to unlock your car in a dark parking lot or to read in bed. I hook it on my drawing pad so I have my hands free for creating toons. This sure beats working in the hall or bathroom where the light won’t disturb by roommate. By the way, I know he is sound asleep when I her that inevitable snoring!

When the snoring disrupts my creativity, I leave the room in any case with or without the medical penlight. What would you do? When duty calls, in the form of an assignment due the next day, you have to be as resourceful as you can. The library closes at ten and the local cybercafé at eleven. I could go to another student’s room in the dorm, but it would no doubt be full of loud mouths and blaring music. Dorm life poses its challenges as you can see. I am grateful that the hall light stays on all night long. The same for the bathrooms. There is always someone else up at the same time whether it be two, three, or four am.

I hope things will get easier as time goes on and that one day I will be in my own space doing what I want, in full lamp light if it is nighttime. Don’t get me wrong, I like my roommate and I couldn’t find a better guy, but he likes to sleep a lot. More power to him. I guess he gets his schoolwork done during normal hours unlike us procrastinators. My problem is that I often wait for the muse to arrive so I am inspired while I accomplish assignments. It is hard to be creative on demand. It means you turn out only a journeyman’s work.

Dude, What is that Smell?

Not another blog about my roommate! Oh, yes, it is. Student life is full of odd tales to share. What else can I say about my life? It is still in the formative stage so now you have to accept getting a glimpse of what is going on so far. When I am rich and famous, you will say you “knew me when.” Ha! No kidding. I want to be a world-famous comic strip author found syndicated around the globe. I will be translated into many languages and the toons will speak for themselves. I have big ambitions, if I don’t let the current state of affairs in the dorm get me down.

So what can be so bad? Let me tell you. My roommate (the culprit who snores and keeps me tossing and turning at night) smells bad and there is always a funk in the room. Sure I can change to another person, but I rather like this guy as I have said before. It could be worse. I could get a slob or someone who talks drivel all day long. Meanwhile when friends pop in they often exclaim, “dude, what is that smell?” Yikes. How embarrassing; but frankly it is on his head, not mine.

I think he doesn’t change his socks even though there is a washer in the dorm basement for public use. It would be so easy to throw them in with the towels and underwear. What is his problem!!! I have dropped many a hint to no avail. If I did the same thing, imagine the horrendous odor. He must have a plugged up nose and a poor sense of smell. I hear there are people like that. They need to bathe more often and can load up on the cologne because they don’t think there is enough. Thank goodness he has spared me this extra burden.

I could go on and on, but I have to admit that I solved the problem. After much deliberation and some cold nights with the window open, I hit on the idea of a Clean Breathing air purifier. You can get a small one suitable for a dorm room for a song. The price doesn’t affect its functionality; it just covers a limited area. It is an amazing appliance that you can use anywhere all day long. The room smells better already. I thought about spray deodorizers but they can be sickly sweet, plus you keep shelling out the dollars week after week. Fresh air doesn’t come cheap. But the air purifier was the panacea for my problem. It isn’t noisy as you can imagine. You plug it in, set the timer, and let it perform its magic. I recommend it highly. If you have pet odors or cooking smells at home, give it a go.

With all the bitching about my roommate, who seems to have multiple issues, I have come up with an answer for all of them. So far so good. If he starts to eat in the room and leaves crumbs for the ants, I will tackle that, too.

Machines Alive

As an art student with a passion for animation, I can find inspiration in almost anything on earth. Once something mundane, like a vacuum cleaner, comes alive, it automatically is imbued with humor. It has to do with the unexpected and turning the ordinary into entertainment. Some call it “making the familiar strange.” It is the heart of creativity. I also just love drawing and enjoying the variety of images I can produce. I do it for myself, but if I can get an audience someday, so much the better. I will make the content richer as time moves on.

I am working on a comic strip now featuring household items that come to life, which is why I mentioned a vacuum. I have this big upright fellow dancing about the house trying to overpower a mop and a dustpan and broom. They are in a race to see who finishes first. It is a silly competition to be sure, but there is so much you can do when machines come alive. They can make noises, talk with an accent, flirt with other devices or just wreak havoc on the family.

I have based this current work on real items in my house. I collect old stuff so it will be there when I need ideas. I am getting to be a junk collector and someday the pickers are going to come around. With this in mind, and the thought of making a little money to further my career, I am acquiring things that aren’t just utilitarian. To be sure a vacuum cleaner reigns supreme in any household no matter what kind of floors there are. It can tackle carpet, tile, wood and more; plus it can prance lithely up the stairs with a little prompting. That has got to be in my strip, which I will likely call The Clean Home. But beyond the vacuum, which happens to be an old model (they don’t make them like this anymore says my mom), I have assorted clutter on my shelves in the form of bric-a-brac and cast off refuse.

All kinds of things like teapots talk in films like Beauty and the Beast, so why not a clock, a radio, a toaster, andirons, or what not. I love book ends and have quite an array—some in the form of animals. What would a junk collection be without ceramic pets or toon characters? My Disney group is going to be quite valuable someday since I have raided old antique stores for some pretty old loot. A lot of these rare items are hard to find with all the collectors out there hunting. As they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. People can make a living this way as you see on cable TV.

When I juxtapose several dissimilar items, wonderful things happen in my comic strips. I am going to specialize this year in repurposed trash. Great cartoon characters should emerge if what I have in mind comes to fruition.

Cartoons: Not Just for Kids

Sure, everyone remembers watching cartoons as kids, and most animated movies are geared toward children. It’s much easier to do the types of characters and actions that kids appreciate as animation than with actors and film. Think about it: kids like animals, some of which don’t even exist in real life (dragons, unicorns, monsters, etc) and kids expect pretty much all of them to talk. Imagine the costumes and effects that would have to be created to do those things as a real film and you’ll understand why it’s typically animation.

But cartoons aren’t just for kids. In Japan, there is a whole culture surrounding adult themed cartoons (anime) and comics (magna). We mostly call them “graphic novels” to make it sound better than a “comic book” but that’s pretty much what they are. However, being cartoons does not make them less valuable or minimize their content. If you don’t believe me, go read Maus or Pyongyang. These are not silly illustrations for easy laughs you find in the Sunday paper. These are real subjects drawn in such a way that it enhances the story and becomes part of it in a way that words cannot. There are plenty more, ranging from historical pieces to biographies to fantasy to everything in between. Go to your local library and take a look, or head to a comic book store – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

I also think that political cartoons can sometimes be more effective than the rest of a magazine or newspaper put together. There’s something about an illustration that makes us pay a little more attention to the meaning. We’re not skimming through or only reading the first paragraph. It’s something that we actually notice, something that has the potential to stay in our memory for a lot longer than simple words can. Look at the career of Terry Mosher (aka Aislin). Some of his drawings got him into some pretty hot water – he was the first English-speaker who dared to draw an unflattering picture (well, the pig feet aren’t very attractive) of the Queen, or the one of Prime Minister Mulroney face down in the snow (which earned him a rebuke in the House of Commons). Yet, even after years of these kinds of things, he was honored with the Order of Canada. Why? Because his work is actually a valuable medium of public expression, that’s why! My parents couldn’t tell you anything about the rest of the news that day but boy do they remember that picture of PM Mulroney in the snow!

Then there are shows like Et Dieu créa…Leflaque, which is both a CGI show about a (somewhat atypical) family and a political satire rolled into one very popular show. If you’ve ever seen it, or anything like it, you know this is not one of those shows geared toward children. It is an excellent example of what you can do with the medium of cartoons – something that educates, that makes you laugh, that expresses views in a satirical but effective way. There are other shows out there like it, you just have to know where to look.

Let’s not forget where some of the most popular characters of the day come from: all those action hero movies all got their start as comic strips or books! Don’t tell me their success is all due to kids plunking down money to buy those movie tickets and watching the series on TV.

Comics have a place in the lives of every adult. If you lose your prejudices and keep an open mind, you’re sure to find a writer and medium that you enjoy!

This is my Starving Artist Phase

The image of a starving artist may be trite but it is really true. I must make ends meet as a student in transit between my education and eventual career. I hope this phase doesn’t last long, but in the interim I am finding ways to make money while in school. I am very frugal and never splurge on anything but supplies. Forget after-school drinks, movies, time at the arcade, or trips away.  I can only spend no holds barred on paint, paper, and the like. I save on prepared canvases for acrylic or oil paintings by stretching them myself. They cost way less. You buy the put together frame in any size and uncoated linen that comes by the yard in various widths. With my handy dandy staple gun, I can stretch the cloth across the frame (making it taut with a metal clamp) and attach it in strategic places. Then the gesso goes on and I am ready to roll, at a reduced price.

Buying used books is the most well-known student trick to save money. Who cares if your texts are pristine and unscathed? I don’t even mind all the little notes in the margins from previous readers. They point me to what is important. Of course, when I am done with a course I will sell the book back. Clever and smart, right? Books are a huge expenditure that destroys any budget.

I also avoid eating out too often and buy sandwiches at school or the nearby convenience store. Fast-food is notoriously cheap so the way to save is order only what you need. My latest economy tactic is to ditch the car and ride a commuter bike, after I found the best one at https://www.onroadandmountain.com/best-commuter-bikes-city/. I can get to class in time, store books in the attached compartment, and avoid the cost of gas. Now I pedal away in the bike lane and park with all the other students in the same boat. Sure, we all prefer cars or vans, but it is not practical yet. Someday, I will make up for it. My old car was on the rocks anyway so I am happy to see it go. Repairs can quickly eat up anyone’s savings in no time. When student cars are more than used, the time in the shop rises. When you know it is on its last legs, get that bike.

If you have other ideas to economize, I am all ears.  Students are known to get creative when it comes to hoarding their pennies. I have a part-time job, but one of my best moves is to sell my art. There are impromptu student expos in the adjacent park. The locals come ambling over to get a bargain. Their bargain is our income. We don’t need that much! I have learned what sells. I love to do cartoons and the kids love them to decorate their rooms. Other university students also indulge for the same reason.

Another Difficult Assignment

As an art student, I try to put myself in places where I might get inspiration for my work. If I am stuck in my classroom seat in the midst of an assignment, I have to rely on my imagination. Fortunately I have the gift of recall so I can muster up some imagery if I have some previous experience with a subject, or even if I have just seen pictures online or in books. My brain is a storehouse for artwork production.  This is how it all works. I do have another idiosyncrasy. I tend to turn everything into a cartoon in my mind or on paper. It pleases me but not always my art professor. You never know when this bent will make an appearance.

Today I have to draw a beach scene with normal people and for some reason I am struggling with concentration and it isn’t coming out just right. I have been to the shore a million times over the years so that isn’t the problem. It is such a generic subject and should not be difficult to execute. Why I am overworking the beach umbrellas, I have no idea. I can’t decide on the colors, sizes and placement. I want the composition to show a rhythmic play of these circular shapes. I believe this is a good approach, but somehow these utilitarian objects look strange.

After starting this post to vent my frustration, I sit back and think clearly about my last trip to the beach. Sure, there were umbrellas galore. On hot sunny days they pop up everywhere to shelter people from the intense rays of the sun. Mothers put their children underneath their shelter as they apply sunscreen in globs. Food in coolers is protected from the heat. Besides doing their job helping sunbathers and swimmers enjoy their day, the beach umbrellas from Just Beach Things look so cool, like colorful giant lollypops poking out from the sand.

Now that I have spewed a few words, I am more relaxed and ready to try again. I start over with the umbrellas and now the shape looks right. The professor peeks over my shoulder and nods with approval. This causes other students to come and take a look. Suddenly we are all up and exchanging opinions of each other’s work. It became a critique session and while helpful it stopped the creativity from flowing as we assessed the responses. Mine were favorable so I jumped back in and finished the assignment. Time was almost up. It wasn’t mean to be a big deal but it became one for some odd reason. I was pleased with the results and super happy with the beach umbrellas. I had modeled them on the many I had seen when on vacation. I did include one odd ball version with a really funny decoration. Cartoon figures danced around the edge of the central umbrella, proclaiming their existence with glee. Did anyone notice?

Career Path

Some of my earliest memories are of drawing pictures, or the resulting art. Other kids maybe had favorite toys but I couldn’t think of anything better than a box of crayons (and later, colored pencils, paints, mechanical pencils, paints, pastels, markers…). I remember finding out that there were people who got paid to paint or draw things in art class when I was around five or six. That was it, I knew what I wanted to do in life.

I took every single art class that I could, in school and around the community. I got every book I could find about drawing, cartoons, comics, and art. When I had read everything I could think of (I should say, that our library and school had), I started looking online for more options. I practiced whenever I could. Any time someone gave me money for a holiday or birthday, it went toward more art supplies. I even saved up enough for a real drafting table. The more I drew, the more I settled on becoming a cartoonist. There is just so much that you can say and do through drawings that you can’t in real life. I would draw my friends in cartoons, doing various dumb things we’d actually done. They thought it was great.

However, my parents aren’t totally on board with me becoming a cartoonist. I am pretty sure that my mother used every variation of the word “no” that she could think of, in both English and French, every time I mention it. My parents said they would much rather I get a steady “real” job. That has always bothered me. I get that we can’t all be Albéric Bourgeois or James Simpkins, but I think I could be somewhere between those guys and nothing. I’d be OK with that, and I wish they could be as well. I find it odd that they would prefer that I be a middle manager at some useless company than working at a newspaper and drawing political cartoons or doing a syndicated strip. I don’t know, that life sounds pretty good to me!

I wanted my parents to know that I was taking it very seriously when I was applying to schools. I showed my parents all the different things I could do with a degree from an art school: graphic design, computer animation, teaching, or even being a straight up artist. I showed them some of the salaries, too. I think the fact that I was so mature about it worked in my favor, because they eventually conceded that I could attend. However, I did have to make some concessions with them, too. I had to take some of the computer design classes that I would have rather avoided, because according to my parents, they are practical and have more post-school job potential. Since that got them off my back, I have no problem taking a class now and again that involves computer work. I just keep telling myself any skills I learn at school are going to help me in the long run, and try not to think about it too much otherwise.

I’ve still got some school to go, but we’ll see which of us is right in a couple of years.

I Can’t Believe I Hate Drawing Class

I know on this blog I talk a lot about how I’ve been drawing forever and all that. I’d like to think I am pretty good, but this art class I’m taking… It’s the worst! Well, maybe that’s not the right word. It’s hard. And not in a way that I feel challenged and motivated. It is hard in a way that makes me want to throw pencils across the room and drop the class. Feeling like I can’t do anything right really bothers me, especially when it comes to something that I am typically pretty good at. It’s like I am being robbed somehow, and I don’t like it.

It’s not the teacher, he’s actually really good at what he does and is quite good at teaching it to the class. That hasn’t been the case with every instructor I’ve had so far. Some just don’t seem comfortable with the material and others don’t explain things in a way that I can understand. This guy is a good artist and a good teacher, so it isn’t that. It’s more of the subject matter, I guess.

For one thing, I’m used to drawing things that I’m good at drawing. That’s part of the fun of drawing for me. I am not good at drawing realistic objects like a bowl of fruit, so I don’t draw them. I might go my entire professional career never having drawn a bowl of fruit, and I would be completely OK with that. I get that it isn’t really about the fruit, it’s about the concepts of shapes, texture, lighting and all that good stuff, but I wish there was something more interesting to draw where I could learn the exact same concepts. I will literally never look at my bowl of fruit drawing again, nor will it be something I will put in a portfolio to impress people that I want to hire me. I’d rather eat the fruit while I’m drawing something I like to draw.

For another, it threatens my habits. Like most illustrators, I’ve learned ‘cheats’ or shortcuts for things that I’m maybe not great at drawing. For example, I’m not great at drawing a full side view of a car. So whenever I am drawing an image that requires a car in the scene, I’ll draw it from the front or back. If it absolutely has to be from the side, I’ll make part of it outside the frame so you’re only seeing the section I can draw properly. That does not fly in this class. I’ve got to do multi-views of objects all the time. In the long run, I know this is exactly what I need – it helps me be a better artist, it rids me of bad habits (or just being lazy) and my work is only going to improve. Knowing all that does not make this part suck any less, though.

I need the class to graduate, so I am really trying my best to get through it. I’m passing, at least for now, and I intend to keep it that way.

What Inspires Me

I love being able to share my perspective on things through my artwork. There are so many things on a day-to-day basis that make me want to pick up a pencil and draw. Sometimes it is because I want to remember something, or it could be because I feel like I can bring a different outlook to a situation. And then there are plenty of times where I just want to tell a good joke.

I used to jot down my ideas in a notebook but it was hard to carry it around all the time. Then I started using the text-to-speech feature on my phone, so I could just dictate my ideas and have the phone capture it. Unfortunately, text-to-speech isn’t all that great at really figuring out what I am saying, so I lost a couple of ideas that way. So now I have a recorder app that I speak to and play it back later. I also have this blog to write stuff down in.

Lately, I feel like I am documenting things all the time. I’ll give you a few examples:

–my neighbors have a Siberian Husky. It’s a nice enough dog, but is hands down the dumbest dog I have ever met. He never has any idea of what’s going on, and the face he makes when he is so obviously confused is the best thing ever. I am laughing just thinking about it. I’ve got a whole series of strips drawn about a sort of hybrid man-dog that is totally inept at life. I keep finding new situations to put him in that are completely overwhelming. It’s great.

–my best friend’s train wreck of a relationship. This one started as a series of drawings that used, word-for-word, a fight that they’d had. When my friend saw the drawings, he realized how dumb the fight was, and supposedly how dumb she was as well. They broke up. Then they started dating again and I felt bad, so I drew them a happy ending. That went over well, but they broke up again because they bring out the absolute worst in each other. Anyway, so while they were broken up, I made another strip about all these great qualities he had in the hopes that it would give him a bit of an ego boost. Instead, he sent it to her and she took him back!

–my parents. For some reason, I drew this cartoon of something my mom likes to say, but with my mom saying it as a pitcher plant (albeit a talking one). I gave it to her in a frame for her birthday last year and my dad immediately got jealous. So then I had to draw him as a maple leaf and a quote of his trusty old dad sayings. Now I regularly draw both of them in strip form, having conversations based on real things they’ve said. They love it, although it hasn’t changed their opinion that I am wasting my life trying to be a cartoonist.

But my absolute favorite thing to draw right now is political cartoons. There is so much going on that I cannot even really believe. I want to document both the things that happen and my take on them because these things will have lasting repercussions. It is worth preserving memories of this political climate through the written word, images, and (best of all) cartoons!

What about you? What inspires you?

Hand-Drawn vs. Computer Animation

As much as I know that I will have to work with computers and doing computer animation throughout my career, I’d rather not. I am much more comfortable with a pencil in my hand. We’ve got some computers at school that allow us to draw right on the screen, but it isn’t quite the same – I am not totally used to the idea yet. I am working on it, though.

Personally, I prefer hand-drawn work. I understand that it takes probably a lot more people a lot of time to do hand-drawn animation, but computer work also needs a lot of time. The thing about computer animation, though, is that – say you want to make realistic leaves. So you hire somebody to simulate the colors, shapes, and behavior of leaves. Once that’s done, no matter how long it actually takes them, you’ve got leaves. Then you can have somebody make a tree, then populate it with those leaves. Over and over again. And if somebody’s already written that program and all you have to do is reuse it, so much the better. Either way, it is much faster than paying a guy to sit there and draw a forest’s worth of leaves for some background shots that aren’t even going to be animated.

Computer animation gets more and more realistic every day. That’s totally great, and some of the stuff they can do right now with computers is absolutely amazing. But that’s not always something that I want with my animation, you know? For example, if I’ve got a talking horse that walks on two legs, then maybe he doesn’t have to look realistic. It isn’t like this is a character that appears in real life, so it’s almost better if he looks more hand-drawn. Another example is skin. That’s hard to animate either way. But hand drawn things allow you to have a little leeway – it’s a drawing, we know it is a drawing, the colorist does their best and that’s that. With computer animation, it all looks so real, and then you get to the skin and there’s just something… too airbrushed about it, honestly. For example, in a hand-drawn cartoon, unless it is a necessary feature, knuckles on somebody’s hand aren’t typically drawn, even if their finger is bent. You subconsciously overlook it, because it is a drawing and you know it’s a drawing. But when you’re watching something that’s animated and you can see individual hairs on the character’s head blowing in the wind, if you see their hands are completely smooth and there isn’t a knuckle in sight, it registers as false – even if you don’t quite figure out why. You just know that something doesn’t look right. It takes you out of the moment a little.

I am in awe of the animation they can do nowadays, don’t get me wrong. But I would still rather draw something by hand than sit at a computer all day. It doesn’t matter how good it looks when its done, if it makes life easier, or allows my drawings to be more consistent. I like the idea of having drawn every frame and watching my creations come to life on the page in front of me, not some computer screen.