Cartoon and Illustration

One reason I’m an Illustrator and not a designer

A lot of people assume because I’m an illustrator and cartoonist that I must also be a designer as well.  And while I’ll admit dabbling in type design, and sometimes page design–the title “designer” doesn’t fit me too well.

Today I’ll be showing you why I am uncomfortable with that particular job description.

It began when I decided I’d like to try my hand at painting again.  I have been primarily engaged in drawing comic books and cartoons for the past 30 years, although during that time I have dabbled with painting in a minor way.

In recent years I have expanded to include a technique utilizing color pencils on a type of drafting media called UC-4 polyester film.  However if you mention the word “film” to anyone they immediately assume it’s some sort of photographic technique and dismiss all the actual artistry that is involved, and other people (when confronted with the resulting slick looking illustration assume that what you are offering is a print, not an original).  At very least they’ll dismiss the piece as “only color pencil” as if that were not REAL ART (and then proceed to dicker on the price).

It may sound extremely mercenary of me, but it occurred to that if I put the same sort of thing onto a canvas I could probably charge two to three times as much–at put up with a lot less garbage from people who know just enough about art to cause aggrivation to those of us who work in it every day.

But having engaged in various means of putting art onto canvas in the past, I didn’t want to be messing with grid transfers, etc.  It seemed to me that projecting my sketch onto the canvas was the better method for me.  Some may look down on this as a crass commerial short cut, but to me it’s simply applying technology to do a more efficient job.

Getting canvas and stretching it over a frame was no problem.  A friend of ours, Bill Cole, who also paints made me a stretcher panel, and I probably stretched a few dozen flats for plays back in my teens and twenties–back when I did a lot of drama stuff.  It’s the same process, and the same tools.

The problem that stymied me at first was that of finding a projector that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.  That problem was eventually solved when I one day opened a closet door at our church and found an overhead projector that we hadn’t been using for over ten years.  “Oh, do you think I could borrow this?” I asked the other members of the Session.  “Don’t see why not,” they answered, “nobody’s touched it in years.”  I promised to bring it back as soon as anyone needed it.

So that problem solved I set about trying to figure a way to make an easel to hold my canvas (that at this point had been stretched, sized, and gessoed for over a year) more or less vertical, by attaching it to the wall of my studio.  This would solve two problems:  A) the price of an easel commercially bought that would hold the large size canvas I’m talking about would be at least $100, probably more, and B) most easels are designed to hold the canvas at about 25-30° angle–which I did not want because this would distort the projected image.

I began sketching:


This was my thoughts on the subject.  I had to get the thing away from the wall so that the bolts would move up and down.  I also had some odd notion about needing a slot to allow for the stabilizing bar in the middle of the stretcher frame.

Looking at this now, I think the thing looks like one of Wiley Coyote’s plans to trap the Roadrunner.  There were a number of moving parts, a lot of extra things that didn’t need to be there.

A few days later I sat down and tried to simplify the design.

ImageAs you can see the drawing is perhaps more clear, but the design is still rather complex.

My wife and I had to go up to see her Dad about this time, and I had planned to work on my design in his basement workshop.  But I came down with this stupid flu and was completely laid out the whole time we were visiting.

When I got back home, I got busy on various jobs for clients and couldn’t really do anymore thinking about it.  Figured I’d get to it sooner or later–but with a gallery opening in October that really needs a centerpiece I thought that “sooner” was the better of two options.

Then one day last week my wife, Karin, who teaches music next door had a problem with an overhead fluorescent fixture.  It had been going bad for years, but it finally gave up the ghost and one of her students, Hiram, offered to help us replace what needed replacing.

Hiram is a semi-retired contractor and has helped us out on more than one occasion.  It’s actually a long story, but let’s just say we owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

So he and I set about putting in the new light fixture and in a few hours of running around (accepted wisdom in repair says that no job is complete until you’ve made at least three trips to the hardware store).

Then as he was preparing to leave I asked him to come into my studio to show him what I was planning.  But I didn’t show him my plans–I just described the dilemma.  He said he’d think about it.  A couple of days later he emailed:  “I’ve got it built, when do you want it put in?”

Yesterday he came in with a design that required one 2 x 4 , four bolts, and several sliding pieces cut out of scrap plywood by a buddy of his.

It took about 45 minutes to install (that was even with a mistake along the way).

Here is Hiram with his handy work.



Don’t know why he’s looking so sheepish.  It’s kind of elegant the way he figured it out.  None of the extraneous nonsense I was planning and it will hold a canvas many times larger than what I was planning originally.

Here’s the set up with the projector and a “test pattern” that I’m using to get the focal length correct.

ImageI’ll have to keep this blog updated as I proceed with the painting.  Then again, maybe I’ll just wait until it’s complete before doing that.  (That way if I mess up, I can do a different painting and nobody will know the difference).

BTW, the whole thing cost less than $25, hardware included.




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