Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Back to Basics




Without having a major project looming over my head like the sword of Damocles, Google it people, I’m still very much on my own as far as motivation goes. Which I’ve been complaining about for a while and has therefore lost all meaning and or impact.

So to Hell with that kind of thinking. It gets me nowhere. However, there is Bruce (aka. Little Peep Peep), who I think will get me somewhere, since his development is full of interesting nonsense. It’s like watching neural networking being created before my very eyes. Which is hella instructional for a guy who is in need of some behavioral modification. And by that I don’t mean the yellow detention forms they gave us in 6th grade, ‘cause that was a total waste of time. I learned nothing in detention. I think I got Behavioral Modification detention for whipping acorns at kids who were whipping acorns at me on my walk home from Hoover Elementary. Total bullshit. And compared to the silliness kids get up to these days, it seems like the stuff Tom Sawyer would have pulled in Mayberry or wherever he lived. (Tom Sawyer is fictional and lives in St. Petersburg, Missouri… which is also fictional).

But the point is, not unlike a crazy kitten, I too am commanded, commandeered?, coerced?, by the ritualized habits I’ve acquired on this idiotic journey as an artist. Honestly, most of my habits are either useless or counterproductive. Hence me watching Bruce and thinking about getting back to basics.

Bruce is working rather hard, every day, to be a cat. He’s not there yet, perhaps he will attain his full cat-ness though I’m fairly sure he thinks he’s people, but as the weeks pass, he gets a little better at being a cat and leaves his old, kitten behaviors behind him. It’s a shame, he was adorable when he could fit in the palm of my hand and would get so freaked out about the world that he’d find a corner and pee… I’m fine with ditching that last little behavior. But as he becomes a sleek, juvenile cat, he’s kind of cool. And I’m pretty sure that is the goal of every honest artist: to be cool. Any other goal is selfish and retarded.

Back to Bruce. So, behavior is formed through trial and error and the reinforcement that comes with said trial and error. Occasionally, bad behaviors become the norm. Though not with Bruce, he’s a bit of a feline genius. Most of the time, his cat-itude leads him down the correct path of cat behavior and he ends up doing all the things one would expect a healthy cat to do: he purrs, he kills vermin in the house (Bruce: 2, Jersey City cockroaches: 0), he stalks, he naps, he uses his litter box, he knows when to play and when to chill. And of course, he’s not consciously aware of any of this… because he’s a cat. He’s just doing his thing. Like right now, he’s climbing on me as I type, ‘cause that’s what he does.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot how to be a cat. Or rather, the artist I dreamt of and trained to be. And it all comes down to habit, self-discipline (which is just managing habits) and, I hate to say it, the negation of rather useless habits… like looking online for guitars I will never buy.

And this is all the more apparent when looking at the work of my friends who trained to be illustrators. I’m not saying one thing is better than another, in the great artist v. illustrator debate… that’s for the Supreme Court to decide. I’m just saying when you go to school and study fine art, you get one kind of instruction. When you go to school to learn illustration, you get another.

Let me give you an example. Way back in my sophomore year of college, my roommate was an illustration major. I’d just become a fine art major (so long art education degree). On the average day, I would spend hours drawing naked people and studying art history. My roommate would drive himself insane knocking out page after page of thumbnail sketches or preliminary drawings or several finished pieces all of which had to be different so as to appeal to different “clients”. He ran himself into the ground, filling zip disc after zip disc with stuff. And I would sit at my desk, drink tea, listen to REM obsessively and never once do a second’s worth of work when he was in the room because I could tell it drove him nuts to know I was producing pretty good drawings for my classes with seemingly no effort. I was just as driven as my roommate, but our professor were so different, it always seemed like I was slacking and he was burning out.

When I got into book making, I met a lot more illustrators. And they are as driven as my old roommate. And they are very good at knocking out a lot of stuff, very quickly. Which led to think there is a sprinter’s mentality to illustration. You have an idea or the chance to get a job, you knock out a lot of work in a hurry to land the job, then you work like the Dickens to complete the job because the goal is to do enough work to get you to the next job. All the good illustrators I know do this without thinking about it. It is their creative behavior. They’ve spent decades running on the same behavior and it has served them well.

And that’s so not how I do things. My decades of creativity involve months spent looking for something inspiring, hopefully finding it, then attempting to distill it via some medium I have a modicum of control over and produce something that impresses me, which I must say rarely happens. It’s no wonder the publishing world and I have never seen eye to eye.

I’m not saying either system is better, they do very different things. Some illustrators are fantastic artists while some artists are gifted illustrators… the rest of the artists and illustrators are just terrible hacks.

But for me, it seems like it’s time to go back to my artist roots. And I mean go all the way back to the turning point that got me moving in the first place, that moment when I stopped being a kid who dreamed of a nebulous arty existence and became the young man ready to hone his skilz. I stumbled onto Andrew Wyeth’s Helga Series and fell in love with pencil drawing. And so, I’m going back to pencil on white paper and see what happens. Maybe something. Maybe nothing. But it beats trying every new thing, as if I had an art supply addiction or was a clueless bastard wandering in the Art wilderness looking for a sign from God as to what to do next. Nothing good ever comes from being so silly and passive.

My goal, simple as it sounds, is a one new, hopefully beautiful, pencil drawing per day…

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty




Otherwise known as no more sitting on the bed to type because Bruce assumes the bed is his sacred territory and comes at me with tiny teeth bared, out for blood. Wait, that’s not what I was going to talk about…

Nah. The nitty gritty was me laying out all the various media I’ve explored over the last few years, along with the pros and cons of each, to Mandy and asking her, since she’s seen everything that didn’t end up in the trash can before she got home, which medium worked best under the following criteria: speed, gesture, coolness, speed, cost, speed, relative production, speed, graphic effect, scale (both large and small, speed and most important, would be least likely to piss me off. Let me tell you, it was a lengthy list and I argued for each medium as the best Devil’s advocate. I showed no bias. And I mean that in a real sense and not like television “news” channels.

After some deliberation, she said the acrylic painting on paper was the top of the class. Which is what a lot of people looking at my stuff have said as well. Clearly, I’m onto something. So, with Mandy’s well-informed opinion in hand, I put the materials necessary to keep doing my acrylic painting in my WWII desk and put everything else into a box to be buried below the lithosphere. Yeah, it’ll take some time and cutting-edge science to get such an evil box that far into the ground, but for the time being, it’s worth the effort.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to revive some of my mad paintings skilz which have been gathering dust since May. I should be able to do even more interesting things considering my change in employment. Where I used to measure what I could accomplished based on what I could afford, I am now in a position where scrounging for the right materials takes a backseat to figuring out what to do with said materials. The idea can now drive the painting instead of the painting being limited by the materials. Truth be told, I haven’t had this much freedom since I was in college. Now, if I can just find the same swaths of time like I had back then… But again, speed + acrylic paint on paper = … well… I hope something worth looking at.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Distractions.




Or the Idiocy of Online Browsing.

Nothing like a few minutes, at the end of a long day, spent looking at guitars I can now afford but oh so don’t need. Which, after a few weeks, prompts a visit to the guitar store to look at the front runners in the race to be my not next guitar. Then I sit and I play them through crappy amps where every button is set to “moron” because most of the people going into a guitar store to play guitars should really spend their time finding a better hobby, like knitting or not messing up my world because they suck. And then I reach a reoccurring conclusion: pretty much all guitars are equal. They are made of the same stuff in the same parts of the world and pretty much to the same specifications. Then they get different names and different price tags and are shipped to the States where they are purchased by conspicuous consumers or given as gifts to be tucked under beds, forlorn and forgotten.

And thus, my guitar dreams are dashed. The truth is, one in a million guitars, feels “just right”. Most of the time, those “just right” guitars fall out of the clear blue sky. You can’t plan to find them or shop for the best price of one; they simply arrive as if sent by the rock gods.

Yet, when I have down time, I find myself looking for one of those mythic instruments.

Which is idiotic. And a waste of time. Which is why I can certainly toss my guitar shopping into the Distraction bin. Once I get guitars out of my system, or as close to that as possible since to do so would be impossible, I switch to looking at art supplies I don’t need. Again, the idea is to find the next miracle medium which will allow me to produce fantastic art with minimal cost or effort. Yeah… that doesn’t exist either. To truly find a way to communicate on a powerful and deeper level requires incredible focus, self-discipline and commitment. None of which come with that handy set of “flesh tone” oil paints prepackaged to make portrait painting easy. I mean, really, there’s a plethora of skin tones out there, a ton of which cannot be made with five tubes of paint. And that’s not even taking into account creative lighting or expressive color choice…

And yet, I give the websites a look. Of course, like the guitar quest, I find something I hadn’t heard of or considered and suddenly think it’s the solution to all my problems. After a quick trip to the art supply store, which is far less exciting than going to the guitar store, I come to the same realization, those “just right” art supplies only pop up when you least expect them and certainly not when you’re on the hunt. That simply is not how the universe works. Or maybe it’s not how our silly brains work. Either way, it’s a waste of time.

I hope I’m not coming across too heavy handed about all of this. There are times when the only way to move forward is to go all tabula rasa and see what happens. That can and does pay off… at times. But more frequently, it just leads to nothing. The trick, I would assume, is to know when to just stay at home and work instead of jaunting off to find the next new beginning.

Clearly, I am still working on this. I have a pretty good idea of what materials work for me and I have them in abundance, so there is no reason for me to go looking for ideal paper or whatever. And I have wonderful guitars, which means there’s no reason to go looking for those as well. What I need to do, when that desire to discover that shiny, new thing over the horizon, is to sit my ass down and use what I have. Because it’s all pretty nice stuff. Just sitting there. Bought and paid for. Ready to go. At a moment’s notice. All I have to do is not be a friggin’ moron.

PS. Sigur Ros in concert… yeah, you need to see them. Is it noise, is it music or is it just awesome?