Four Talking Boxes 1969

Sometimes I can’t get anything done. I go to put pen or pencil to paper and nothing good comes out of it. It usually doesn’t last that long but I can lose half a day or even more to the grips of mediocrity. It’s not like writer’s block (which, thankfully, has never really haunted me) where you stare at a blank piece of paper, or screen, and nothing comes out. It’s more like I draw badly because I start with a bad idea. Or a half-hearted idea. A bad idea might actually be better than a wishy-washy one.

It all starts with trying to figure out what I want to do. That’s not easy for any artist. What’s the point of doing anything after all? If you’re getting paid to do a job then it’s easy to do. Or at least its easy to see the point in doing it. You do the job so you can get paid. But if you’re an artist not getting paid to make art what is the point of making art? That’s the question that you have to find the answer to. Not being able to answer it leads to many creative people not doing anything creative. Often the answer for me is “Because I want to make something.” Then, of course, I have to figure out what to make. That’s the part where the ideas live.

Some people are good at being popular. Maybe they are in tune with current trends and can see which way the wind is blowing or maybe it’s just that they care about what’s popular. They have a genuine interest in it. They can see what people want and then they can deliver the people something similar and the people like it. They’re people pleasers and their creative ideas are all about pleasing people. I lack this trait. I have little interest in what’s popular and when on the occasions I try to tap into something popular it usually doesn’t work out well.

I’m a me pleaser. That’s how I work. I let my own tastes and interests be my guide. It works for me and let’s me get things done but it’s not much of a crowd pleaser. My tastes aren’t the same as pop culture’s tastes. My tastes ten to be a bit eccentric and weird. I think I’m good. I think I make some good art but it tends not to be popular. It doesn’t have that streak of “Everyman” in it. Instead it has a streak of weirdness.

In trying to sell art over the internet I’ve noticed one trend when it comes to popularity. If you want to be popular than glom onto something that is already popular. You can see it on all of those T-shirt-a-day sites. The shirts all reference something that’s already popular, mash-up two popular things, or straight-up rip-off a popular character. It’s a lot easier to sell a Star Wars T-shirt than one you come up with yourself. I’ve seen people selling all sorts of prints, paintings, and drawings of popular characters. So every now and then I try my hand at it. Usually to no avail.

This all started a few days ago when I was trying to draw some art cards. Small baseball card sized pieces of original art. I’ve made many of them, offered them for sale, and almost never sell any. I pencilled a couple a faces and then got sucked into the rabbit hole of popularity for just a minute and tried to draw a Batman card. It was mediocre at best and it killed my momentum. I put all the cards aside to leave for another day.

This morning I pulled the incomplete art cards out and looked at them. I liked one of them. A random face that I drew. I inked it, colored it with markers, and liked the way it came out. There was a simplicity to it that I enjoyed. I managed to capture what I wanted to in just a few lines. So then I got the idea to try and do that with a popular character. Who knows? Maybe I could tap into that wave of pop culture. Sure I could.

“Friends” is TV show that I like. It may not be the best show ever but it’s my go-to nostalgia show. It’s also one of the few places where pop culture and I are in agreement that something is good. I’ve tried to do drawings of the cast of the show before and they usually aren’t very good. If I have to stick too close to reality with my art I tend get get bored. That’s not a recipe for making good art. But I figure if I could make some drawings in the simple style that I just drew that face in I could have something good and maybe popular. Silly me.

I tried. I really did. I called up some photo reference of Jennifer Aniston’s face and tried to make a drawing. It didn’t work out. I made the drawing a little too complex and it had no character. Nor did it have much of a resemblance to Jennifer Aniston. Undeterred I started on a second drawing and simplified it even more. It was another swing and a miss. If the drawing of the face I had done earlier got the grade of an A than theses two drawings go the grade of a D at best.

I must have wasted an hour of my life making those two bad little drawings. It’s really not pleasant when that happens. Even worse it sent me into a tailspin for another hour or two. I couldn’t get anything done. I kept wanting to go back and make brilliant little drawings of the whole cast that everybody would love but that was never going to happen. I’m good at freeing my mind to work on things that can go in any direction but when I work with other people’s expectations in mind I don’t so as well. I lack whatever that mechanism is that people who can tap into the popular zeitgeist have.

So there you have it. That’s my story of frustration and not getting things done for the week. What’s yours?

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

  • Shadows on the Grave – 6 (of 8)
  • Deadly Class – 29
  • Divided States of Hysteria – 2
  • Eternal Empire – 3
  • Kill or be Killed – 10
  • Kaijumax Season 3 – 1
  • Mage: The Hero Defined – 0
  • Diablo House – 1
  • Check them all out here:

    I like using magic markers for drawing. They’re fun for me because they offer instant color. With paint or watercolor I have to wait for them to dry so the color isn’t as instant. I still use paint but I’ve been using a lot of marker over the last six years. When I started using them the main challenge I had, besides figuring out a technique for them, was choosing which markers to use and then building a set of them.

    The choosing was fairly painless but took some time. I started out buying some cheap markers and developing a finished art technique with them. First I bought many a Sharpie marker and ended up with about thirty different colors. I even bought a set of twenty Bic Mark-It markers that are Sharpie-like. Being that Sharpies and Bics are cheap I probably didn’t spend more than a dollar a marker on that set. Sharpies are limited though. The tips available and type of ink really doesn’t allow for a lot of different techniques. Though they gave me many ideas before I moved on to more expensive art markers.

    The second method I tried for building a marker set was to go cheap and only buy one color. I had worked some stuff out with the Sharpies but still didn’t have a full grasp on a finished technique. What I mean by that is I had always used markers for color sketches and things like that but I had never used them as I would paint to make a finished piece of art. Markers were for working drawings and not the end piece of art. That is a totally different mindset. So I bought a bunch of blue ShinHan Touch markers that were on sale. I only spent about two bucks a piece on them. They had a chisel tip on one end and a fine, round tip on the other. I kept it monochromatic because I wanted to work on technique without worrying about getting the color right. It took a while and I ended up with about twenty different blue markers. That was still a pretty cheap set.

    My next step was to get some color markers. I wasn’t 100% sold on the ShinHan Touch markers I was using but I ended up getting more of them because, once again, they were cheap. ShinHan was discontinuing this set of sixty markers and I got it for under a hundred dollars. It was a good buy and helped me nail down the finished technique I was looking for but I learned a lesson about marker sets. The lesson was that about a third of the colors in a pre-made set are ones I’ll never use. They’re just not the right colors for me. That’s a high rate of failure. I guess the same would apply for any set of colors but paint sets aren’t usually sold with that many colors in them.

    After I finished figuring out my technique I went on to sample more types of markers. Sometimes I’d buy cheap sets of markers but soon found that was generally overkill. Since I was no longer concerned with technique I found the best way to sample markers was to buy four of them. Black, red, yellow, and blue were my choices. The primary colors and a black. The choices are pretty obvious. I even skipped the black every now and again because I normally use black ink with all my marker drawings.

    After trying out lots of different brands I settled on the one that was generally considered the best. Copic markers. Copic Sketch Markers to be more specific. The sketch ones have a chisel tip on one side and a brush tip on the other. I almost alway use the brush side. I’m a brush guy and that works best with my technique. The second thing that sold me on the Copic markers is that they are refillable. You can buy ink for them and when the marker runs dry you can put more ink in them. But they’re not cheap. A marker is about seven dollars and the refill ink is about seven dollars. The ink refills the marker about ten times which brings the long term price of the marker way down but the upfront cost is still there. Plus with the Copics you can replace the marker tips too. The extend the life of them even more and keeps the cost down.

    So how did I build my set of Copies? One piece at a time. Or maybe a few pieces at a time. It all depends on how much money you have but you can start with just three makers. Blue, red, and yellow just as I said before. Make them a medium blue, red, and yellow too. After that add one each of the secondary colors: green, purple, and orange. Don’t even buy any refills yet. Make sure you like the colors and they work for you and then buy the refills once you’re sure you like them. Purchase number three is skin tones. I’d go with four or them if possible. From pink to dark brown. That’s a good range.

    So now you have ten markers and maybe ten refills. That’s about $150 worth of supplies but spread out over time it’s not so bad. Sometimes you can catch stuff on sale too. I’d spend about $20 at a time to get three markers and it took me a couple of years to build my whole set of about eighty markers. So be patient.

    The next thing on my list is three shading markers. These are neutrals or light colors that I can use with most of the other colors. A light blue, a yellow ochre, and a light grayish purple. With these I can make all the other colors work a little bit better.

    So there you go. Thirteen markers. If you got that far into building you marker set then maybe you really like them. If so add more markers over time. The best way to do that is with lighter and darker versions of the original colors you bought. A dark, medium, and light blue will serve a lot of you blue needs. Same with every other color. Goal number two is to turn one color into three colors. That takes some doing so buy one light blue, see if you like it, and then go buy a refill for it. Or maybe a couple of colors at a time and save the refills for next time. No need to rush.

    After you have three versions of all six of your basic colors you’ll have about forty markers. That’s a pretty big set. After that you can try new markers out. There are lots of browns and earth colors to try, all sorts of greys, plus various one-off colors that don’t quite fit in but can be useful.

    I’m going to leave you with this list of Copic markers. If you don’t like that brand then look for these colors in another brand. They work for me as a pretty good starter set.

    Primary Colors:
    Red – R29 Lipstick Red
    Blue – B04 Tahitian Blue
    Yellow – Y18 Lightning Yellow

    Secondary Colors:
    Green – G07 Nice Green
    Purple – V17 Amethyst
    Orange – YR68 Orange

    Skin Tones
    Skin 1 – E15 Dark Suntan
    Skin 2 – E21 Baby Skin Pink
    Skin 3 – E27 Africano
    Skin 4 – E97 Deep Orange

    Pale Blue – B91 Pale Greyish Blue
    Grey Purple – V95 Light Grape
    Yellow Ochre – Y28 Lionel Gold

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

  • The Beauty – 16
  • Jupiter’s Legacy – 5
  • Motor Girl – 7
  • Skybourne – 4
  • Snotgirl – 6
  • Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses – 25
  • Uber: Invasion – 7
  • The Walking Dead – 169
  • The Wicked + the Divine – 29
  • Check them all out here:

    As I’ve said before I like drawing faces. This week I drew two faces of note. At least they’re of note to me because they were sitting side by side on my drawing table this evening. They’re not the greatest drawings of all time but I like them both and think they are worthy of a little further examination.

    The drawings are two different sizes and for two different purposes. The first one is five by seven inches and the second one is two and a half by three and a half inches (baseball card/art cart size). The first one I drew just because I wanted to draw a face. In the past I’ve drawn a bunch of faces at this size. It’s on a pre-cut piece of watercolor paper. I bought a bunch of 5×7 watercolor paper because I found it works well for small ink and marker drawings. It’s heavy paper. It’s 140lb watercolor paper and feels like a very thick card stock. Since it’s watercolor paper the marker ink gets sucked right out of the tip of the marker and I can get really saturated color with it. Sometimes I also like to make a toned ground watercolor background on it. I blend together a trio of light colors on the paper and let it dry before I draw on it with ink and marker. I didn’t do that here but it’s another reason I like watercolor paper to make these drawings on.

    With this drawing, which I have yet to name, I started with a pencil. I grabbed my 4B drawing pencil and roughed out a face. Thinks went pretty well at first but then I had problems with the eyes. I didn’t want to draw normal eyes so I came up with those black wings around her eyes. But as is often the case when I’m drawing unusual eyes I could get them to match correctly. So then I used an old trick. Get a piece of tracing paper, trace one eye plus a few reference marks on the face, flip the tracing paper over, and then transfer the graphite from the back of the tracing paper onto the drawing by drawing over it. That’s an easy way to draw a reflection of something and get symmetry. After doing that I redrew both eyes until I got them right.

    One of the first things I drew was her head scarf. I’m not sure why. I think I just wasn’t interested in drawing hair that day. The scarf started out as hair but the shape didn’t work and I quickly adapted it into a head covering. That let me get some extra color and shapes into the drawing and that was okay by me. The orange and red go nicely with the greens at the bottom of the drawing. Those greens were almost blacked in as I do with my “Painted Lady” series but I didn’t think that would work. It would make her neck too heavy and I wanted some more color in the piece. I’m glad I didn’t blacken them in.

    The background is made with my side-of-the-brush technique. I use this a lot when I want a non-subjective background. I take various colors and create a pattern with them in the background. In this case it was three blues and some horizontal lines. The key is to use just color with no black and vary the pattern from piece to piece.

    The second, art card size, drawing didn’t start out as an art card. I wanted to make a drawing for a joke Magic the Gathering card I was working on and I needed a face. Oddly this was the first idea I had for the face I needed, a straight on shot of a guy giving the side-eye, but then I changed my mind and tried something different. That something different took up two hours of my time and came out terribly. After much frustration I abandoned it and went back to my original idea. Remarkably the drawing came quickly then.

    I drew the bad drawing on an art card piece of paper and then blew it up to a six by nine inch piece of paper. After abandoning that drawing I decided to stick with the art card size and go from there. I pencilled it quickly and then inked it quickly too. After wasting an entire morning I was finished with the drawing in about half an hour. It was only in black and white at this point as I was planning to scan it in and color it on the computer. After doing that I went back to the original and duplicated the digital colors on the original with markers. I did the background on the paper differently than I did it on the computer. Here I went with a one color neutral grey background. It’s as simple as it gets but made with little strokes that blend together in the middle for a bit more visual interest.

    I like this little drawing. It’s simple and straight forward. I think I captured the side-eye look well and we can all relate to how he’s feeling. I also thing the simple bold lines of this one came out well. I often use those type of lines but I really like them here. Maybe because the bad drawing made me appreciate it when a good drawing comes together.

    I wrote about these two drawings together because I think they go together pretty well. Just sitting there on my drawing table they seemed to match up. Similar skin tones, hair color, eye color, and shirt colors certainly help but so do their long necks, round jaws, and short hair. Though their sizes are different, the small drawing fits into the face of the larger one, they complement each other. My eye automatically compares and contrasts them more then two other random drawings. I think that’s pretty neat and some days “Pretty neat” is enough to get me through.