Cartoon and Illustration

Now accepting commissions!

Okay, that is a little odd for a headline–at least it is for me, because up until recently I simply assumed that people knew “commissioned” artwork was a big part of what gets done around here.  But some friends pointed out that if you don’t keep mentioning stuff like that, then people tend to forget.

And, what with the holidays coming up this is probably a great time to remind people of just what they might be able to purchase for someone as a really nifty gift.

So, for those of you who didn’t know (and those of you who knew for just forgot), here’s a quick overview of the sort of thing you can get, and how much it will cost you to get it (from me).


This is a “quickie” sketch from me, the sort of thing you may pick up at a convention (when  these sell at a discount price to get more traffic).  Not every such drawing is strictly “cartoony” but often they are like this.  It will set you back $60-80 for full color 8.5 x 11″ index stock, like this sketch of Zatanna.


Similarly, if you have a particular “sketch cover” variant comic book you’d like to have customized–I’ll ask you for $60-80 (more if I have to locate the sketch cover variant book you are looking for).  This is Tiger Lilly based on the book “Tales of Neverland #2” I drew for Zenescope several years back.  (Notice that this is less “cartoony” than the previous example).


Want to get a little more fancy?  These are my pencils.  Still just a small piece, drawn about 7 x 10″ on ordinary bond paper.  But it will cost you $100+ simply due to the details and number of figures involved.  And if you’ve never heard of this obscure character, you may want to do a little research.  Your nephew might even like to have one of these–you know?


For $200+ you could have me enlarge (to 10 x 15″) and ink a faux cover like this one, with logo and all right on the bristol board–just like the big boys used to do (and some still do).  You’d also get the pencil version included, so right there you’ve got two originals–one to keep and one for a friend, for just $100 each (if you’re inclined to think that way).  (Seriously?  Never heard of this guy?  I tell you, he used to be very popular when I was  kid.)


But wait!  The Best is Yet to Come!  If you really want the full treatment, $300+ would get you a full color treatment.  You’d get the original pencil version, the inked version, AND a digital color version.  I can supply you the file for your favorite print shop, or–for an additional fee–send you the print out, in practically any size you want.  I could even have something like this output onto a huge piece of PVC and you could attach it to the wall of your rumpus room!  (Again, the price on that will be additional, but it CAN be accomplished, no problem.)

All kidding aside, this may look like it was published by DC, but that’s the point of a really superior commission piece, now isn’t it?  To make it look like something that should have seen publication.  Happy to have fooled a few people over the years.


Finally, you could even commission a piece like this one.  This one is approximately 10 x 15″ drawn in color pencil front and back, on UC-4 polyester drafting media. (Yes, I draw it twice–once backward, then flip it and do it the right way round…because I’ve been seduced by art.)   Something like this will cost you $600-1500.

Ideas like this don’t grow on trees folks.  There’s a lot of preparation work before finally getting down to the hand-drawing phase.  That portion of production alone will take several days from my schedule.  For that price though, you’ll get the original permanently varnished color pencil art on UC-4 media, attached to illustration board, and ready for framing.  (This option has actually been pretty popular, with many pieces sold at auction, and purchased outright by big name comic artists and TV personalities who shall remain nameless–but who really DO exist and will hopefully come to my defense if neccessary).

My point being, if you’re in the market for a one-of-a-kind gift for that special fan on your list this year (or any year, except those already past), get in touch. Let’s talk.  While the schedule is filling up fast this fall, another client is always appreciated.

Visit and look under “commissions” and “hand colored pieces” for more samples and ideas for subjects.  Or you can make contact directly:  doodle at


Cartoon and Illustration, Cartoon and Illustration by James E. Lyle

Days of T.h.u.n.d.e.r. (part 2)


Artwork copyright © James E. Lyle.  T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents property copyright and trademark John C. Productions.

So my last posting was such a big hit (Wow!  Six views in one day) that I have decided to follow up with more postings on what it was like working on T.h.u.n.d.e.r. back in the 80s.

Let me give you some history.  I had been drawing a book for Phil Hwang called “Escape to the Stars” (or ETTS as the fans called it, all 5 of them).  We collaborated on that book from early spring of 1983 until sometime in 1986.

We went through several publishing entities with that series, all of which were created in an effort to make our efforts look more legitimate.  What we didn’t know at that time was that there really isn’t such a thing as a “legitimate comics publisher”.  Even the big guns are basically working on a shoestring most of the time, and so we were just as competent as practically any company out there in the “alternate comics” business.

That’s probably worth mentioning.  Back in the 80s anything that wasn’t DC, Marvel, or Archie was called “alternate press”.  That was done to distinguish us from “underground comix”–a name which had the taint of drugs and pornography all over it.  So we were the “alternative comics” crowd in those days.  But there’s alternate and then there’s Alternate.  The term “small press” had not caught on in those days, and we didn’t really want to be called “small” because it seemed demeaning.

Moving on.  Phil and I had a pretty good run on ETTS.  We’d turned out 5 issues by the spring of 1985.  In the process of doing that book I’d moved into a studio, downtown Waynesville, NC, and begun looking slightly more professional in the process.

Phil and I, however, had our creative differences, and ETTS number 6 never went to print.  We broke up our creative partnership, Phil went his way and I went mine.  QED, because he was going to school in College Station, Texas and I was still living at home in the mountains of NC.

Thing is, Michael Sawyer and I had originally intended to build our careers in comics as a partnership, and Mike had been lurking in the background all along.  So about the time that ETTS came to a halt (limping onto the shoulder of a proverbial comic book highway) he had a concept or two waiting in the wings.

I’ll leave the telling of that to when we get to Mike’s inside cover introduction, which I’ll be reproducing and annotating in a later post.

Today I’m posting the pitch artwork for T.h.u.n.d.e.r. The image above was actually used to pitch the artwork to SOLSON Publications.  If you think it looks like a bad photocopy of some pencils filled in with Dr. Martin’s dyes and color pencil, then I’d say you’re a pretty perceptive person with an eye for art.   But along with the single page type-written pitch (which I’ll be showing soon as well) we managed to convince Gary Brodsky and Rich Buckler that they should do T.h.u.n.d.e.r. as a series.

But it wasn’t as cut-and-dried as all that.  We actually pitched the book to Will Shetterly at SteelDragon Press first.  They were the publishers of the series “Captain Confederacy”, which had something of a following back in that day.  Will passed on it due to the notoriety of the lawsuit that was then raging between John Carbonaro and David Singer over whether the title T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was in public domain or not.

Long story short, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was NOT in public domain.  But at the time we began work on our version we assumed it WAS.  As did a lot of other folks.  Will passed on the book with the suggestion that we “change it some” and then resubmit it.  But we were too dogged in our determination to get it done as a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents spin-off to give that more than a moment’s consideration.

Somewhere in all of this Chuck Wojtkiewicz suggested that we might want to pitch it to SOLSON.  Which we did.  Chuck did warn us that SOLSON seemed “kind of fly-by-night” (perceptive guy that he was and is), but we saw it as a step up from paying to publish our own work, so we submitted.

The providential thing was that Rich Buckler had been working with John Carbonaro just months earlier while they were working in tandem at Red Circle and JC Comics respectively (both imprints of Archie Comics).  So Rich was easily able to reach John, and hammer out a deal for us to do the book.

This is where things get a bit tricky.  Yes, there was a lawsuit going on between John Carbonaro and David Singer’s Deluxe Comics due to the title “Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents”. Because of this situation John wanted to better secure his claim to the copyright of the characters.  Characters he had legally purchased from Tower Publications (at considerable cost to himself) back in the 1970s.

John Carbonaro’s legal council apparently told him that by getting SOLSON to pay a licensing fee for the T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents characters and subsequently getting such a book published would help convince the court of the legitimacy of his claims.  Those basic claims being:  A. that the characters were his to license, and B. the property was worth all this fuss in copyright court.

So John cut a sweet deal with Michael and I (through Rich) for our use of the characters for the next four years.  SOLSON paid the licensing fee.  (Keep that “right of use clause” in mind.  It will come up again later).  We (Mike and me) got to keep the rights to our variation of the characters IN PERPETUITY.  So long as we were willing to pay John the licensing fee we could renegotiate in the future.

This is one reason why you have never seen our book reprinted.  We never had the money to pay the licensing fee after that.

Keep in mind that this all went down in winter 1986. I was 21 at the time, and Michael just 23.   At that time 1990 seemed a long way off…

Cartoon and Illustration

Chester Gould’s Morgue


There’s been so much going on in the past several days that I hardly know where to begin. Got new mobile phone, having repairs done on studio building, went to MAGMA in Pigeon Forge, getting ready for Heroes Convention this week…

But seeing as I’m most excited at the moment about the photo above I think I’ll talk about that.

It may not look like much to the untrained eye, but it is Chester Gould’s “Morgue”.  No, it does not contain the remains of the creator of Dick Tracy.  But rather it is the greater portion of his reference files going back to at least 1922, and used by him in creation of that comic strip.

The files were passed on to Ray Schliemann, who assisted Mr. Gould on the strip (primarily as inker over Gould’s pencils).  When Ray retired he passed them on to Nick DePaolo–who I’ve had the pleasure to get to know over the past several years since he retired to my community here in the mountains of North Carolina.

Yesterday Nick passed this treasure on to me.  Which is a round about way of saying, “God has been so good to me” (as well as, “thanks Nick!”)

It’s like the biggest Christmas present ever.  I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the files, but as indicated the tear sheets go back to at least 1922 and the most recent stuff I’ve seen is probably early 50s.  Though I suspect that Mr. Schliemann added to the files after he got them from Mr. Gould.

What’s so great about this, you ask?  Oh man!  To a cartoonist and comic book artist this is like finding a gold mine.  Particularly if that cartoonist is in the midst of drawing a comic book set in the period when so much of this reference is from.  Sure, I can go online and find stuff at the drop of a hat.  But not ALL this stuff.  Because nobody has bothered to digitize all of this stuff.  A Morgue is rather subjective after all.

For example, who out there has the advertisements for the 1950 Studebaker in the same folder with pictures of 1897 Oldsmobile?  Well, I do now!

Another great thing about this, I also inherited my father-in-law, Ernie Guldbeck’s Morgue (he gave it to me in bits and pieces when I’d go to visit him in Glen Ellyn, IL until the time he passed away) so I can now combine the two Morgues into one, add my own collection of actual  tangible clippings and have all sorts of vintage reference at my fingertips.

The difference between the Gould/Schleimann Morgue and the Guldbeck/Lyle Morgue?  Gould organized his already.  It’s all neatly catalogued and foldered.  All I need to do it clean out my file cabinet, put the folders into alphabetical order and add my paltry two drawers of reverence to his.  I may need more file cabinets, not sure.

As I stated the collection is rather subjective.  But another great thing about it is that since Gould and Schleimann were also in the Chicago area, Ernie’s files dovetail neatly into theirs.  And as Ernie took up his career in Chicagoland in the late 50s many of the clippings naturally come from the same sources.


I’m surprised that I slept at all last night.  I wanted to look at every clipping in the collection.  I held myself to a half-dozen file folders, which I looked at while finishing dinner and “watching” a re-run of Columbo.

What I have noticed thus far is that Mr. Gould enjoyed the work of  Norman Mingo, Robert Graef, and John Held, Jr. in particular.

A lot of people only know Norman Mingo for his work at MAD Magazine (he’s the guy who did all the classic Alfred E. Newman images, so it makes sense that he’d be identified with that character.  But Mingo did a lot of advertising art much earlier in the century, in particular featuring “good girl” illustrations to sell things like shaving cream and men’s ties (go figure).

Graef is probably best known for his Argosy covers, but he also did a lot of advertising illustration and so that’s what’s contained in the files.

John Held, Jr. of course did a lot of cartoons of the “flapper age”.  In fact, he’s known for defining the look with his cartoons.  There are a lot of those in just the few files I looked at last night.

Unfortunately, as these are clippings many of the sources are obscured by simple fact that the titles of the magazines and papers they’re pulled from are missing–not to mention the dates.  But I have determined already that there are many clipped from Collier’s Magazine, and at least a few photos trimmed right out of the Chicago Tribune.

Of course, you’d think that working for “the Trib” that Gould would have a lot more clippings from that paper.  But I suppose he figured that if he wanted reference from that source he could just go down to the paper’s own Morgue and look up almost anything.  So it would appear that the few Tribune clippings that Gould kept in his own files were of particular note to him.

I’m sure I’ll come up with all sorts of ideas about his thinking as I go through the files.

But I fully intend to apply the reference I find to the production of the comic-book series, The Mob of Zion, as that book was already something of a tribute to Dick Tracy and Chester Gould.

Cartoon and Illustration

Your Portfolio and You: Part 5 Sequential

I’ve been warning you all along we were going to get to this point.  A “sequential” portfolio is very different from almost every other type of portfolio in that it’s about telling a story, not about how pretty the pictures are (though that can be part of it).

We’ve talked about delivery.  Sure, we can dicker about whether or not you’re going to be presenting the thing as a series of originals, printed pages, or digitally–but when it comes to sequential art all that becomes secondary (or maybe even tertiary).

What matters with sequential art is telling the story, and doing so quickly!  And I mean quickly.

I didn’t get this for a long time. The fact is, I have made a lot of mistakes along the way, and probably will continue to make mistakes in the future–but I’m learning.  Hopefully someone out there reading this may glean something from my mistakes.

And I’m not claiming I picked this all up on my own.  Got a lot of this advice from friends, and it finally started to sink in a few years ago.

So here we go:

Keep it short!  Three to five pages of continuity will do the trick.  If you put in more than that you’re wasting the time of the editor or art director (as well as wasting potential follow-up material that you’ll likely want to send them later.)

Be Dynamic!  For pete’s sake, this is comics.  The reason that super heroes, zombies, ninjas, and the like abound in comics is that they tend to look really good on the page.  There’s a place for “sitting room drama” but thus far that genre has not found a solid niche in the world of comics.

Keep it simple.  By this I mean that presenting just pencil samples (if that’s what you’re going for) is probably enough for most industry insiders.  If you feel you have to show them pencils, inks, and colors to convince them you’re capable then you probably aren’t that sure of your abilities.  (And if they’re asking you to demonstrate all three then they’re probably not that certain of your abilities either–or just killing time.  If they think you’re a great penciler then they aren’t going to ask you to jump through hoops, but rather are going to be doing their best to sign you up.)

Keep it neat.  Actually we dealt with this one before in all those other posts I wrote.  It should go without saying, but if you can’t present a neat portfolio to the buyer you’re just saying (without words) that you’re disorganized and probably incapable of staying focused, meeting deadlines, sticking to scripts, turning in vouchers, and a world of other business practices that publishers are expecting freelancers to engage in–besides simply being able to draw.

Okay, that’s what you present.  As for how you get to that point–well, you don’t do it like I used to try to do it.  That is, you don’t set out to draw ONLY the 3-5 pages that will impress.

I used to try and either dream up a twenty+ page story and then think I could do a really good job if I spent all my time drawing only the best pages in the middle.  It doesn’t work that way.  It never did when I was starting out, and it still doesn’t work that way now, some thirty years later.

There is such a thing as “creative momentum”.  I find that if I draw the entire twenty+ page story that somewhere in the middle there will be a few rare gems.  Not that all the rest of the pages stink, but there’s always some little glitch on a page that I find in review. And it’s almost always something that I know will actually get worse if I keep fiddling with it.  So it’s a matter of finding the pages with the least glitches.

Then it’s a matter of finding 3-5 pages that work in a sequence from start to finish; a clear little bit of story that makes sense visually even though there are no word balloons or captions to indicate what’s going on within the story.

But the point is, I’d never have that 3-5 pages of “rare gems” if I hadn’t drawn the whole twenty+ pages to start with.  That’s the advantage of having assignments to work on in the first place.

I know, it’s a Catch-22 situation for the young artist.  How can you get assignments without good samples, and how can you get good samples without assignments?  I get that.  The trick is you have to create your own assignments.  Or work for peanuts–or for nothing–in order to have the experience under your belt that leads to good samples.

It’s a sliding scale too.  “Good samples” in the eyes of one editor may be barely passable (or worse, complete garbage) in the eyes of another.  But this is where we find ourselves in the world, and also how we find our voice in our chosen field.

The practical application I can explain to you:  3-5 pages of dynamic work, presented simply and neatly.

What the creative content of those pages will be like is left entirely up to you.





Cartoon and Illustration

Your Portfolio and You (Part One of Many)

As promised, today I’m going to begin a series on putting together a portfolio.

Now right out of the gate I’m going to get some nay-sayers who are going to argue that, “portfolios are a thing of the past–it’s all on the internet now!  And who needs to show samples anyway?  I’m just going to take my work to the people and be a success!”

Which brings me to my first point.

A successful portfolio involves two major facets:

• Professional Samples

• Professional Attitude

Now I’m not saying this because I’ve always had both.  Far from it.  I’ve had lousy samples and lousy attitude enough times that I’ve been passed over for many, many jobs–and been oblivious to the reasons for being passed over during those times.  But in retrospect I’ve come to realize my shortcomings in most of those cases.

First piece of advice for those attempting to present their work to the public–whether that “public” be random people on the internet, art directors (yes, they still exist), editors (ditto), art buyers, etc.–do not speak in a condescending manner to the person you are attempting to sell your talents or abilities to. (Don’t cop an attitude).

When I use the term “portfolio” I’m using it in a generic sense to describe any systematic presentation of an artist’s work intended to demonstrate his or her talents and abilities to potential clients.

That being said, I believe in the value of an online portfolio as well as a physical portfolio (actually any number of physical portfolios) preferably all coordinated with one another.  I’ll get to the why of this later on.

I’m going to keep this short today–except to say that I’m going to be working ultimately toward a comic book (graphic novel, sequential art) portfolio presentation within this series of blogs.  Beginning generally and working toward more specifics, because that’s how I started, narrowing my focus down gradually over the past 30+ years the way one might sharpen a pencil point (which is a nice analogy to end with for the day).



Cartoon and Illustration

Hangin’ with “the Dude”

I was going to write a massive article on what it was like to take a class in oil painting–studying under Steve “the Dude” Rude.  But frankly, it’s beyond words in so many ways that I cannot begin to attempt it.  However I will share a shot of how I saw much of last week–from behind Steve as he painted and taught us about the process.

Now, as to what I discovered personally I can speak a bit about that as well as reminisce on some discoveries made during the week that have nothing to do with oil painting technique (which is going to take me months or years to assimilate).

I was one of two students.  Me and Kurt Blumberg (I don’t know if I’m spelling that right, because I did not yet get Kurt’s info–my bad–hoping that he’ll send me an email when he gets home).  I don’t know why there were not more students there as it was worth every penny (admittedly quite a few pennies, maybe that had something to do with it) to study with a master like Steve.

But those of you who missed it–if you call yourself serious about making comics or illustration, for shame.  It worked out providentially for Kurt and me though.  Two students in a class like this?  Huge one-to-one instruction time.  Kurt knows.  He came all the way from Wisconsin to this one, and he’s been to several before.  If I had the time and money I’d follow Steve all around the country doing the same thing.  It’s not a cult of personality, it’s just getting good advice from someone who knows.

Anyway, each day started out at 6 am for me.  (Everyone who knows me reading this is saying, “You, Doodle? Up at 6 am?? Impossible!” But it’s true, so was my mania this past week).  I’d rise at 6, get ready for the day and then drive over to Solid Studios in Asheville for arrival around 8:15 to spend some time with Steve, his wife Jaynelle, Kurt, and our model for the workshop, Sarah.

We had a lot of good conversation–and when Kurt and I weren’t berating ourselves for our own feelings of inadequacies I found out that Steve is a lot like my late father-in-law, Ernie Guldbeck.  Similar to Ernie, Steve is a big, gregarious guy who works hard to make friends with everyone he meets.  Nobody is a stranger for long around Steve.  He was constantly inviting people down to watch the workshop in progress from Comic Envy (which is located on the top floor of the same building).  He also spent a lot of time upstairs at Comic Envy during our lunch break (compulsory break, BTW–Steve didn’t want us taking on too much).  I had to wonder about a lot of people who were in the shop on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday not realizing that the “really loud guy” was Steve.  I don’t know any comics fan that isn’t also a fan of Steve.  So how many people passed by and didn’t realize who he was?  Who knows.  It made me smirk a lot.

Jaynelle was a picture of patience.  She’d be working away on her laptop, putting out fires that were popping up all over–both personally (they’d left their two teeners in Arizona with Jaynelle’s Mom) and with the upcoming Nexus Online Comic Strip.  Got to see some insight into how that process works.  There were also things like arranging airfare for collaborators on Nexus (Mike Baron for one) who were flying out to meet Steve in the coming weeks; as well as fielding illustration queries from major ad agencies while Steve was busy with us.  She really is a hands-on manager for all of Steve’s business concerns and worked really hard in spite of jet-lag and allergic reaction to the falling leaves of western North Carolina!

Kurt and I were going nuts most of the time.  The fact is that drawing comics and painting in oil are completely different animals, and Steve was working really hard to get as much across to us about the process of learning the difference as he could in the 3 days we had to spend with him in the studio.  On Wednesday Kurt and I drew, and drew, and drew in charcoal trying very hard to shake off our years of comic book short cuts and get back to those things we’d studied in art school about “drawing what you SEE, not what you Think you see!”  About 2 o’clock on Wednesday I had to admit out loud to everyone there that part of the problem was just simple human pride.  It’s hard to realize that though you may be quite good at one facet of your craft that you have been taking the short cut route for a long time and it’s time to toughen up and do things the hard way again.

I also have to admit on Wednesday night I was ready to punch a wall.  Fortunately, Steve understood and so encouraged me to go home and take a long walk with Karin.  He assured me that in spite of his tough teaching that I was making progress.

Thursday I asked a bunch of friends to pray for me before I took off for Asheville.  So kudos to Joel, Shane and Kaysha for any and all prayers–because on Thursday it began to click.  Found out that Steve (like all cartoonists) is a fan of the film “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” when he made a joke about “Brupreckt”.  So there you go.  After that it was all bad jokes, puns, and more jokes as the day progressed.  At one point Steve pointed out that we were “going through the three stages” of making good drawings and I quipped–“Three Stages? I love those guys! Nyuk, nyuk!”

That will give you some idea of what it was like.

Thursday was also my first stab at making an oil portrait in many years.  Steve had us work on one half of a canvas–then had us look at the results.  Then he painted a similar “corrected” version next to it, demonstrating how to go about approaching the medium correctly.  My first stab I have dubbed “ghost in a fog bank” as I way overused white paint in it–a common newbie mistake Steve informed me.

As I was preparing to leave for the day, I looked at what Kurt had done.  It wasn’t bad at all–certainly not as good as Steve’s correction, but not bad.  I told him, “Has anyone ever told you that you’re way too hard on yourself?”  And as we shared a moment of awkward silence Steve piped up and said, “You know you BOTH suffer from that don’t you?”

I do wish that I’d been able to stay more into the evening.  Steve actually made himself available to us in that manner–he let us know he’d be back in the studio after dinner if we wanted to come back, but I really needed to be home with Karin to help with things around the house as much as I could–as well as “decompress” a bit every night before bed.

When I came in on Friday morning found out that Steve had done a copy of a Santa Claus painting by one of his heroes Haddon Sondblum–just to see how it would come out.  Kurt had been there to observe Steve’s work on that, as well as do a bit more painting on his own pieces.  Me?  I was walking around the lake with Karin and our pal, Beau.  So I don’t regret that.  Good walk, good talk–it helped a lot to get out and do that.

Friday Steve did the full length portrait of Sarah in a satin gown.  We watched him work all morning and then he said, “What? Holy Cow!  It’s lunch time already? You guys are going to have to get to work on your paintings after we eat!”  So we had lunch and then put our big canvases on the easels to begin work.

This is when it got really intense.  We each started our canvases by doing a sketch in thinned down oil.  Steve would come around and look at the piece and say, “Don’t try to fix a bad beginning–just wipe the canvas clean and start over.”  He did this (I think) three times with each of us.  It may seem cruel to the outsider, but it could not have been better for us.  We didn’t suffer that period of doubt thinking we might be able to fix the piece.  Just, “Start over,” and we did.  I got to the third sketch and Steve thought that the proportions were good.  But he stopped me and said, “Jim (he calls me Jim) take out your charcoal and newsprint pad and do some head sketches until you’re sure what you’re doing there.”

I should mention that I had chosen a difficult angle to work from earlier in the week.  We’d discussed how theoretically this should make no difference, but practically it made a huge difference.  So now I had to tackle that practical difference.

So for 45 minutes I beat on the head part of the illustration while Steve worked on the highlights of the satin gown painting and Kurt blocked in the color for his painting.  It was truly intense.  Finally I got to a place in my sketching that both Steve and I thought had the essence of Sarah down reasonably well.

I actually had to go walk around the parking lot for a few minutes after that.  I just had to blow off some steam.

Anyway, I returned to the studio and began knocking in some color flats.   That’s about all I was able to do before our time was up for class.  We had to clean up and take what we had home with us.  So I’ve got a few dozen photos of Sarah to work from, and a large canvas sitting in the corner of the studio right now waiting to be finished.

I know it will take many months to accomplish anything with this painting, but I’m going to apply myself to that.  Now is the time to assimilate what I’ve learned.

After that Steve and Jaynelle invited us all to dinner.  We went to Sunny Point Cafe over in West Asheville.  My toddler stomping grounds–I have not been back to West Asheville in years for any real length of time.  So I marveled at the difference that has come in the past 50 years.  It was great sharing dinner with one of my heroes–and finding out how much he’s like “Pop” was (though Steve’s not that much older than me, really–only about 6 years).

Some things learned:

“The advantage of oil paint is that it stays wet–the disadvantage of oil paint is that it stays wet.”

Painting is a whole different animal than drawing.  They’re related, but not that related.

Steve Rude has a very big personality–once you get comfortable with that, you’re going to be fine.

Try to develop a definitive line to your work.  Don’t be searching around for your line.

Poppy Oil will keep oil paint from drying as fast and will actually bring back life to various paints that have dried already (particularly “earth colors” like burnt umber).

Do not be afraid to use black paint!  (It’s perfectly appropriate in paintings if you use it correctly).

Don’t use so much white!  (Ghost in a fog bank).

Okay, that’s it for now.  But if you ever see that Steve Rude is giving another workshop you should hock your car and take it.

Cartoon and Illustration

Artistic Criticism (and how that works–or should work)

Don’t ask me how these things come up.  I suppose the very fact that both I and my wife make our livings from creative pursuits just makes this sort of thing inevitable (not to mention the fact that both our families are filled with artists and musicians).  But I feel compelled to comment on what I consider the facts of “Artistic Criticism”.

Which is to say I make fun of art.

Seriously, I will go to a museum and pick out little bits in paintings and mock the look on the face of a particular figure, put words in the mouths of allegorical characters, poke fun at Louis XIV’s clothes, etc.  It’s what I do.

That is, among other things.

I also look at compositions.  Observe techniques.  Get inspiration.

But it seems to bug people when I make my snarky comments.  So I mostly keep them to myself–although when I start amusing my wife I do tend to escalate the humor part.  She joins in, and we have a grand time of it.

Some people think this is wrong.

I’ve got a real problem with that.

If we as a society have to draw the line at making fun of art–because it’s “serious”–then we’ve no longer got freedom to actually criticize what we’re looking at.  You can’t actually appreciate something unless you’re also free to deride it.  The minute someone says, “You can’t make fun of THAT!” they have robbed the public of the power to appreciate it.

This is also one of the reasons that I feel that comic books and comic strips are such an accessible art form.  They welcome mockery, and in the moment of our mocking them we (well, some of us) became fascinated by the form.

Now, does this mean that I think people should go spray graffiti on statues in the park?  Or that it’s okay to talk at the top of your voice during the local theater production of “Oklahoma!”  Not at all.  

But I’ve had people tell me that I can’t make fun of the fact that I was bored to tears (or sleep) during a “classical” concert–because that’s SERIOUS art.   Is it any wonder that I am less inclined to be as excited about that sort of event than I am a comic-con?

Does this not reveal that the person who has just criticized me has failed to appreciate the artful humor I have previously employed?

Again, not saying that one should be mean spirited when criticizing art of any sort.  But there HAS to be some allowance made for humor in criticism–and not just for well known critics.  Mark Twain was employing humorous criticism way back when he was just plain old Samuel Clemens.  The very fact that he is one of America’s best known and loved humorists to this day is based on the fact that he was willing to mock the work of others–when it needed mocking!

So when some art snob calls you a Philistine for snickering at yet another bad painting that’s supposed to be taken seriously–simply because it’s in a museum (in spite of the fact that it looks like 9 square feet of asphalt someone pulled up from a road)–point this out to them:  The power to appreciate something is contingent upon the ability to mock it if it needs mocking.

Or perhaps simply say, “Oh?  If this is such great art and I am such a Philistine, perhaps you could take the time to explain to me what is so great about it.”

Maybe if someone had taken that step back about 100 years ago we might not have so many museums filled with junk.  Then again, we might not have so many creatively constructed comic books and comic strips.