Walking the Line while Thinking is Hard

In life drawing it’s easy to do “cool” stuff, throw color, ink, or flashy effects at the work and say “I’m drawing”. But for control of your mind going back to a clear line nothing is more challenging. When just line defines the edge of the form you have to see the turning in space of the three dimensional cheekbone and puzzle out how to represent how it interacts with the nose. Without value, light and darkness you look much more closely at edges and shapes.

In the three-quarter view I had one line between the two arms. One line between the left arm and the left breast to catch the way the muscles bones and fat are moved around. I’m trying for understanding the construction of figures from my head and how that relates to life drawing.

In the session two people started talking about construction as in knowing what the body is versus measuring the shapes as you see them and how do you transfer the two as you draw.

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Drawing Batroc

So here’s a drawing of Batroc, done for a benefit book for the Hero Initiative. While it has the usual assortment of Americans it also has Europeans in it so we’ll see how Jacks influence has spread. It should be a fun and interesting book.

They also wanted a short text on my thoughts so I pulled some stuff from the introduction to Abstract Kirby to blab some more

“I’ve read Jack Kirby’s stories for almost fifty years. A Somewhere in the flurry of Kirby’s pages the simplicity of the drawing becomes powerful and emotional. His reduction of form to simple shapes creates the explosive power within the drawing. Within this simple vocabulary, facial storytelling, acting and body gestures smash against his minimalism. Figure angles that most artists would simply skip as too complex seem to flow from his hand. He drew anything. His vocabulary allowed him to take on scenes and draw in a way impossible for almost any artist to conceive of. He didn’t worry about lame panels or bad drawings he just worried about the flow of pages.
As amazing as his great panels are it’s the flow of his stories that makes the real magic for me. The interrelationship of how panel to panel pulses with energy, closer to DeKooning and Pollack then representational art, seems to be lost from comics today.
His storytelling is a photography’s ability to catch the angled momentary shot, not the framed, posed composition of a painter. Most comics are stopped and posed as a moment in time. Jack’s panels always push you along to the next panel. By wanting to put a reader totally into his story, the individual drawing isn’t important. Each panel is a set of forces pushing you to the next moment graphically.

Art historians talk about the breakdown of World War 1 leading to complex multiple viewpoints and fractures of Picasso and Braque’s cubism. Matisse, the other giant of the last century might have put it all back together integrating the world into some blissful forms of shapes dancing. Between Matisse and Picasso you could sum up most of the visual trends of the 20th century. Kirby lives in adventure story land between Picasso and Matisse.
Kirby worked in a minimalist grid, probably as a choice to speed the execution of his pages, adapting film/photography cropping of space to tell stories. But the panels are drawn as a whole page within the context of the story, creating a cubist narrative space, larger than anything Picasso could approach. His compressed shape driven drawing becomes as iconic as Matisse’s gestural based shapes. But the grid and the space fractures up the pictorial space into energy flows equivalent to Abstract Expressionism. In the end, Jack’s drawings become more complex than Picasso and Matisse just by the collision of multiple images piled on one another. So I tried to steal that.

Jack probably wasn’t a modernist embracing restraints to create freedom, mimic production or any of the art critics strategies to explain work. By working within a consistent grid of 4 and 6 he gained minutes and had his layouts almost predetermined for him. It was a production and business choice that becomes art. In fact there is exactly 5 panels that break the grid and only 15 panels that use a three panel division of a tier in 385 pages of comics in the first volume of the Fourth World. For Jack panel structure was a grid, the page a larger element in a story, the grid is perhaps the easiest thing to take.

With no panel choices to drive the design, the imagery becomes transcendent be being shapes cut into and out of each other. Then he overlaps and piles things on to each as if almost collaging the moment. All of this, functioning in a deep space that works as flat design to make some kind of narrative cubism.
His form as simple shapes, rendered with brushstrokes starts with Caniff’s black inked based impressionism moves towards iconic work on his own. Especially under Royer’s inking, the flat design of shape creeps in. The almost gestural tension of those drawn brush strokes racing up and down an arm or a leg is so begging to jump into an expressionist painting. In the end Kirby is just Kirby, one of the three greatest artists of the last century, surpassed only by Picasso and Matisse, but maybe not.”


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The finest comics I’ve ever done exploring the fundamental things that make comics comics. Now with fancy four colors added into the mix, the tension is can the flat hard colors defeat the evils of cross-hatch and the washes of watercolor lapping at their edges. Or some such bullshit, I like these. Please buy them here, Abstract Kirby 4 on Amazon.

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Procrastination, My Deep Love

AL at Work

When politics gets too scary, sports too dull, art too hard, I procrastinate by studying how not to procrastinate. In Facebook, a friend’s link sent me to one more article on productivity. It was a good list, all steps that would make me a more effective landlord/cartoonist/parent type. Of course, I’m not going to do any of them, they were all too hard.

They were also “to lose weight don’t eat.”
But if you don’t eat you die. I always opt for jelly beans instead of dying. Their the kind of instructions your parent gives you to be a success, obviously right, but they don’t provide a way to make it happen.

Most writing on productivity comes down to is, “control yourself and do shit”.

Slow Productivity

It’s just controlling your self is hard. To do something different you need new skills. Learning is a slow, step by step process, building on basics to learn new skills. It only took sixteen years of education and the first five or six years of teaching to figure this out. Over the last eight years, the slow step by step process of meditation has become a foundation in my life. In meditation, you pay attention to one thing, the breath, and work on extending that attention, breath by breath. It’s a simple way to work on building control. When you get good you can apply it to cooking dinner.

Happy Productivity

You learn pretty quickly to screw up in Meditation. In paying attention to my breath I can jump from life drawing to the stupid cat to real maple syrup in seconds. So each session repeats losing control and getting it back over and over again. Letting go of my mistakes and coming back to the breath is practice on how to handle the burning desire of important news on Facebook, when I’m drawing.

A deep breath is pleasant and calming, building that calm with self-talk allows me to call my Senator one more time with equanimity. To take the calm and making it stronger is an essential skill to cleaning out the basement. Learning to apply the skills of a daily meditation to whatever I am doing is making each day just a little bit more productive.

Some Sources

The Facebook Pal was Mike Kennedy, he’s the publisher of Magnetic Press doing cool comics check him out here. The article he linked is here it’s a nice list that sent my brain off in this direction.
A big chunk of what I know about meditation and Buddhism comes from Thanissaro Bhikkhu. His writing and talks have helped make me a much happier person. It’s all here free for the downloading. His With Each & Every Breath: A Guide to Meditation is a great introduction to developing control over your life.


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Teaching of course is great for learning what you want to do. I created Just Draw to lay out the lessons for myself when I get lost. It’s how to get back onto the path of making comics and not being grumpy. It’s available on Amazon here or you can check out the preview. If you’re interested in a class in comics check this out, * week class in comics in SF . It’s my second take on producing a comics class that integrates mindfulness with the craft of drawing comics.

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