Letters to Holly

Thursday, May 31

One Hour of Blah-Blah

I talked to the art class yesterday. When I was a high-school student, drawing derivative superhero characters on grid paper, I would have loved to hear one person say "yes, you can make a living drawing," and it would have been even better to hear this from someone who was actually doing so at the time.

I got there at 2:15 to talk until the school day ended at 3. I thought I was going to talk to a few students (those he had singled out as already making comic strips), but I found myself facing a dozen students. I took along a folder of my high-school and college art (to show the vast improvement that comes with practice and classes) and my current portfolio of newspaper and magazine work. I handed out minicomics from Wide Awake, my publisher, and the Somnia issue I appeared in. I had no notes so I just babbled for the hour.

The highlights:
1) None of my university art teachers were supportive of the school comics page, but we ragtag band of geeks managed to produce a full page of comic art at least once a week. We studied what we enjoyed and followed those works as templates. Some of us did social commentary, some did horror, some did traditional punchline work, I did superhero material. I learned to use bristol board, brushes, inks and a variety of pencils.

2) I didn't have a single art teacher who suggested this, but there's nothing wrong with using tracing paper to copy a work you admire to learn how and why it works. I learned this from artists at conventions. Tracing's not bad; pawning the finished product as yours is.

3) Give yourself time to set the work aside and look at it later with fresh eyes. As Alton Brown says "walk away, just walk away." If you try to slap together a product at the last second, you'll see only the mistakes when you're through with it.

4) You don't have to spend a lot of money on materials. Shop smart.

5) Use the internet to talk to other artists and find tips for production.

6) I got an a newspaper job four days after I graduated. I made car ads for a year. But I could afford to rent a house and buy a new car. If you like working with typefaces, color, and design, you can get a job. I later moved upstairs at the paper and dis illustrations, eventually winning the state AP illustrator award. My stuff didn't look like Norman Rockwell. But I could work in a variety of styles to match the editorial content.

7) Subscribe to a fashion magazine and study/copy/trace fabrics, colors, and bodies if you have access to neither when you draw. It's not a perfect study tool, but it will help you learn composition and design.

8 ) Learn to see what's there, not what you think is there. If art teaches you anything, it's clarity of perception. And that can serve you no matter what career you develop.

They seemed to enjoy it, and they laughed at the minicomic humor. I underscored that these were produced just an hour away from their school. Folks were making comics, making art either as their hobby or their livelihood. It's possible. But drawing is athletic; it's like running. You have to regularly do it even when you'd rather do something else. Develop the stride, learn to pace and push yourself.

And that's how I saved Christmas.

I met up with Your Sister afterward and helped her leave the classroom so she could get back to work on AP material at home. Before we left, we had a visit from the girl with the crush. A short one. We stopped by the local Starbucks booth while I picked up groceries for tonight's big dinner. I'm cooking for Travis, Kathy, and the returning exchange student. Your Sis worked on the project virtually the rest of the evening, stopping only for supper. I think she'll wrap it up later today.

Picture of the Day
Saturn and Rhea, one of its many moons. In Greek mythology, Saturn/Chronus and Rhea were married. They were also siblings, the offspring of the earth and sky. Saturn, Rhea and their other 10 siblings were the Titans that predated the recognizable pantheon of Zeus, Hera, Vulcan, etc. The Titans lost the battle for Olympus and were cast into the underworld.

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