Four Talking Boxes 2071

I got weird with it this week with “The Acid Ram” number twelve. It’s another in my faux comic book covers series. I think the series might even be the favorite of my fake comic book covers because I like the name a lot. “The Acid Ram.” I don’t even have an exact meaning for it and that’s part of why I like it. It’s weird and anyone can bring their weirdness to it. Have you got something that you want it to mean? Go ahead and let it mean that to you. It’s that kind of title. It fires up my imagination.

“The Acid Ram” also is an outlet for my strangest drawings. One of the things about being an artist who has a lot of strange drawings is that you have to find an outlet for them. A way to present them to people. Sometimes if people are handed a bit of weirdness they find it off-putting. They don’t know how to take it. I have to give them a way in and making the drawing into a faux comic book cover with a weird name can be that way in. As long as the weird name is a good one. I think I have a good one in this case.

This drawing came about as a result of my habits. I recently read a Chuck Close quote on creating art.

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.” ― Chuck Close

Process is important to me. As Chuck Close says all the best ideas come out of it. It’s how I keep things going. Sometimes I have nothing. Not much energy and no inspiration. That’s when I fall back on my habits. When I’ve got nothing to go on I dig through some of my past sketches and thumbnails to find something to draw. Usually just a small six by nine inch drawing. Sometimes they’re all I can work on for a couple of days and I’ll get four to six of them done. Then I take those small drawings and decide if I should blow them up and draw them some more or blow them up and get to inking them. Or maybe even turn them into a faux cover.

Over the course of a few recent days I set up about half a dozen comic book covers. I scanned in all the drawings, put them in their templates, and printed them out on eleven by seventeen inch paper. They were all good to go so I put them in the box I keep all my good-to-go pieces in. I had a bunch of stuff in there already but it’s always fun to add more. A few days later I was looking for something to work on so I grabbed “The Acid Ram” number twelve out of the box and began inking. The inking didn’t take a long time since it’s mostly thick lines and shapes. I probably spent about three hours on the inking and after I was done I scanned it in and then put it back in my good-to-go box. A week after that I was again looking for something to do so I pulled it out of the box and decided to color it with markers.

The coloring took longer than the inking. That’s not always the case but this time I left a lot of decisions to be made in the color stage. The first decision was what to do about the spiral boobs. Spirals can be tricky if they’re not closed. Does the color run out of them or not? I usually find that it doesn’t work to have the color run out of them so I decided to close them off. But I didn’t want to close them off with a black line so I decide to stop the purple color at the narrowest point. I think that worked out. After that I gave her orange hair. Orange always works for hair. And some orange lips in her stomach to balance out the hair.

The next thing I did was I decided her stomach should be divided in two and have different colors on the left and right. There was no black line down her middle so I had to put one there. I was thinking that green should be a dominant color so I colored her shoulders and wings in a bright green. Then I went with the blue and darker green on her stomach. Since that dark green is a strong color I decided I wanted to bring the brighter green down into her skirt to make it more dominant than the dark green.

After I had those more dominate colors set up I went about picking my accent colors. The dark pink is the strongest of them and is almost in their category but its small shapes keep it from overwhelming the green. The same with the yellow. It doesn’t quite reach the critical mass of the green so it hangs back. The dark yellow spots on the yellow arms help push it back too.

The green face was an interesting choice. I had a hard time deciding what color her face should be but I eventually went with a mid-green. I didn’t want it as bright as the main green nor as dark as the stomach one. This was the last color I chose and I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to get it to work. I took much more time deciding what it was going to be than putting it on the paper.

After I get all the basic color down I go back in and add textures and a little shading. That’s the icing on the cake. The textures can be strong or not depending on the situation but I keep the shading subtle. I want just a little roundness on some edges. I’m not looking for 3D realism.

I think this piece succeeds. It has good color and just the right amount of weirdness. To make it extra weird it’s probably one of a small number of my pieces with no eyes in it. Strange.

I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got seven new comics.

  • Love and Rockets (Volume 4) – 4
  • Paper Girls – 18
  • The Savage Dragon – 229
  • Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses – 30
  • Uber: Invasion – 10
  • Usagi Yojimbo – 164
  • The Walking Dead – 174
  • Check them all out here:

    Sometimes it’s tough getting those numbers up. “What numbers?” you ask. The number of pages drawn in one of my ink books. I’ve written about my sketch books that I call my ink books before. They’re the 100 page 5.5 by 8.5 inch sketch books that draw in. I like spiral bound sketchbooks. They lay open flat better than any kind of glued bindings. They’re nothing fancy. Just some basic drawing paper in a book that can be found in any arts and crafts store. They’re what I generate a lot of my ideas in. I make small and spontaneous ink drawings in them that I later mine for visual ideas. Each page has about nine small drawings on it and a page takes about an hour to do. But where do those hours come from? That’s always the tricky part. Isn’t it always?

    I’ve managed to fill up one of these sketchbooks a year for eighteen years. That’s a lot of time and drawings. I started the first one a few months into the year 2000 (or at least I think so since I didn’t even bother to date my earliest pages) and that one took me until June 2001 to fill up. After that the books stretched across two calendar years but took only a year to fill up. I always wanted the book to coincide with a single calendar year but it really wasn’t that important. Sometimes I said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” but didn’t really apply a ton of energy to get the “If” done. It was just a daydream.

    Yet over the years I gained a little more time with each passing book and each book was finished a little bit closer to the beginning of the year. Instead of June I finished the next one in the end of May, then the beginning of May, the end of April, and so on until finally with book 14 on January the first of 2013 I started a new book with the new year. It only took me thirteen years but finally my ink book year lined up with the calendar year and it’s been that way ever since.

    As I look back at these books the nine or so little drawings a page is how they ended up but not how they started. In the very first book I didn’t even draw boxes first before drawing something in the box. I almost always do that now. I was still learning to make spontaneous ink drawings so my earliest drawings were often about learning to draw that way. There are a lot more patterns, large areas of black, and drawings jumbled one into the other in book one. It’s chaotic. I really didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to do with these drawing books nor did I have an inkling of how important they would eventually be for me thinking up ideas. It’s been an evolution.

    I’ve never had any set schedule for drawing in these books. I draw in them whenever I can. I’ve always tried to get eight pages a month drawn and usually I do. But it’s not always easy. Sometimes I jump out ahead and draw four pages in the first week of the month but then another week or two can pass without me doing anything and suddenly I’m behind on those eight pages without noticing. Or I can do one or two pages a week like clockwork and never fall behind. I’ve even missed some months and had to make up double the pages next month. That’s rare but happens. In that case I put time aside and catch up by doing a couple of pages a day for a a few days in a row. I’ve got lots of irregular ways of drawing in these ink books.

    I like to take my time with the book and fill it up slowly. That’s because with my spontaneous ink drawing I’ll tend to repeat myself if I do too many drawings in a row. The whole idea behind this Surrealist automatic drawing method is to clear your mind and draw from some subconscious dream state as much as draw with your conscious mind. That’s why I do it in ink with no erasing. But I will also fall into habits.

    It’s not easy reaching that clear state of mind where I’m not thinking about drawing as I start a drawing. Sometimes nothing new comes out and I end up repeating something I have drawn lately. Or at least repeating a pattern. I start with the same lines that make a face and end up with a new face but one that’s similar to the old one. It’s tough not to repeat the familiar. It can also be tough to find that hour to get a page done. As we hit the month of November and the end of the year is in sight those hours really seem to got fewer. And then there’s the math.

    As I said before I like to get eight pages a month done. That’s eight hours. A full workday a month when you add it all up. And eight pages a month times twelve months adds up to 96 pages. That’s a little short but if I tried to get nine pages a month done then I’d finish the book too early and throw off the timing. Somehow that seems worse than being short on the count. I don’t know why.

    So all year I get my pages done. I’m on time. Eight pages a month. Month after month. Sometimes faster and sometimes slower but I always hit the average I need. I fell good about myself. Then November hits. I’m still on schedule but November is when I always seem the realize the number I’m aiming for, 96, means I still have four more pages to fill. At eight pages a month that’s an extra half a month’s work. Where is that time going to come from? It’s weird because I’ve gotten it done just fine since 2013 but it still sneaks up on me and that’s where I am now. The end of the year is really sneaking up on me.

    I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got seven new comics.

  • The Beauty – 17
  • Kaijumax: Season Three – 5 (of 6)
  • Kill or be Killed – 14
  • Lazarus X + 66 – 5 (of 6)
  • Manifest Destiny – 32
  • Spy Seal – 4
  • The Death of Cerebus in Hell – 1
  • Check them all out here:

    I was working on my “Drifting and Dreaming” comic strip today. So far I’ve posted 399 of them over the years and a new one goes up every Sunday. I make them in batches so I can get ahead on them. The process of making the strips consists of a few distinct parts.

    The first part is the part I was doing today. I was making a series of cartoon art cards. Those are my art cards that have a cartoon drawing of a person looking out at the reader with a word balloon above his or her head saying one thing or another. They’re simple enough to do but as I draw ten of them at a time it takes a lot of time and energy.

    The first step is to draw them in ink. I don’t pencil them first because I want them fast and spontaneous. I use a Japanese sign pen that is inexplicably called a “Computer Pen.” A sign pen is your basic cheap marker that can be found in any drug store. I often use a Pentel sign pen for other stuff and that’s the one you can get at any local place that has a stationary section. I found the Japanese ones online and have used them ever since. I refill them with India ink so I get an even better line out of them but you don’t have to do that. I also like the tips after they’re worn down so refilling them helps with that. I draw the word balloon on top and then the character below it. I like to keep the characters fun and varied. I draw all sorts of crazy hair and head gear for them because that helps with the variety. Though they all my have a similar style I try not to repeat myself too much.

    The second step is to write and letter them. I do that right on the cards. First I get out my Haff crosshatching machine and us it to make the guidelines for the lettering. The machine is a ruler attached to an arm and every time I push a button the ruler moves down from one to five millimeters depending on how I have it set. It’s a really easy way to make parallel lines. I make the guidelines on all ten cards and then set them out in front of me. That’s when write them.

    “How do you write them?” you may ask and I’m not sure I have an answer for you. I stand there and think of things for my characters to say. Strange thing, odd things, and maybe witty things. I left words flow across my minds until I hear something I like. Sometimes I’ll even turn on a podcast or some such to hear other people talking and a word will catch my ear and I’ll make a sentence around it. It’s a weird process but eventually I get the cards written.

    After I come up with what I want one character to say I letter the sentence in pencil on the card. Sometimes the sentence doesn’t fit and I have to rewrite it, erase the previous lettering, and re-letter it in pencil. Professional comic book letterers, back in the days of hand lettering, would go straight to ink and never pencil anything in. But they had the full script in front of them and lots of experience. I’m still writing at this point and need the freedom to erase. I repeat this process until I have all ten of them done and then I take a break.

    I’m not a fan of doing hand lettering. I like to hand letter these cartoon art cards but I don’t enjoy the process. I’ve never been particularly good at it but the best advice I was ever given about lettering was to take a break. I tend to hurry my lettering because I want to get it done. I have to remember to slow down. I take a break if I find myself hurrying or frustrated. I’ve used various pens for lettering over the years but have never really settled on one.

    Recently I’ve been using a .5mm black Copic fine line marker and it’s okay. I don’t love it but it does the job. I use the black marker to letter over the pencil lettering. Not exactly, of course, because the pencils were put down quickly and are just for spacing. I’m neater with the ink letters. I letter all ten of them in ink and them take a break to give the ink a chance to thoroughly dry. That way I can erase over them and remove the pencil letters. Some markers never thoroughly dry. Little bits of ink will smear when the eraser goes over them. That’s really annoying. Especially since a lot of pens that I like because they have exceptionally dark ink are the ones that will smear. I guess you can’t have everything.

    The final step is to color the cartoon art cards. For some reason I find this step the most boring and tedious. Probably because at this point I just want to be done. I color them with my markers and its a simple process but it takes some time. I like to color all the backgrounds first. I find that helps me be less bored with the process. I use two different colors for each background and keep it simple but vary the colors. Often a light color on top and dark color on bottom but not always.

    After all ten backgrounds are done I color each character one by one. I like to use wild color schemes and color their skin in odd colors. Often they get two tone skin. One by one I get them finished. After I finish them I scan them in. That’s pretty easy. Set them on the scanner and hit a button.

    The other part of the writing for “Drifting and Dreaming” is done separately from the previous part. I write the part on the bottom of the strip, the “Middle Story,” on the computer in the strip’s template. I write ten of them. After they’re written I match the “Middle Story” up with two cartoon art cards and a third regular art card. How I match them up is a bit of a whimsy. I go with whichever ones jump out at me as I read them. Some work well together and some don’t. I have no explanations for that though.

    This whole process always takes more out of my than I think it will. It’s familiar and straight forward so I always think it show be easier than it is. It takes about a six hour day to get ten cartoon art cards done. That’s five strips worth. I got ten done today and now I’m tired. I think I’ll go sit for a while.