Wordless comic 2: Reading

The first thing I did when I graduated earlier this Fall was read a slew of novels that were on my list. After years of reading studies and articles, it was nice to come back to reading fiction. For me, reading is an emotional investment in the lives of a story’s characters, and it’s the willingness to stay with those characters, come what may. I often have to be ‘ready’ to take on a new novel for this reason. Sadder stories, in particular, have a way of lingering and leaving an imprint long after the last page has turned. What gives stories the power to live in us, in this way?

I drew a series of “self-portraits” of myself reading. I merely wanted to learn to draw a cross-legged figure, but ended up with several similar charcoal sketches, each one a slight variation of the next. I decided to take them and digitally re-arrange these little me’s to show what a really good book can sometimes do — move readers through different states, and maybe even leave them, ultimately, with a heavy heart, but also richer, somehow.

Enjoy your weekend. Wishing you creative coziness.

Ribbon of characters

Happy Monday! This drawing came about one night. Keeping in mind Ivan Brunetti’s advice to build characters out of basic shapes, I found myself tinkering around with different ways to create an easily drawable figure that does not rely on any reference images, a figure that I could be creative with. Sketching, I found a knack for drawing these characters using my 0.3 Copic Multiliner pen, and enjoyed drawing lots of them. They came one after the other until I had an interesting community of 56! — bear gals, mice gals, rabbits, kitties, crickets bats…

I learned that, if you stay open, you can let a doodle grow into a daydream that unspools according to its own logic. I also learned that creating variations of the same figure is one of my favourite ways to work (or, in the words of my partner, “you like to draw lots of small things”). I guess that’s one way to put it; the picture reminds me a bit of the Where’s Waldo books I loved as a child. To draw with that level of density of the page! 🙂

So, until next time — lots of small things.

Click on image to zoom in

Openness to change

My past attempts at writing comics or creating graphic narratives have fallen on a bad habit: I tend to wait until a fully formed idea arrives. I want to see the lead up and the punchline before taking to my inks and pens. This is an understandable preference for certainty, but the result of this is having very few strips or stories to speak of! My aspirations do not match my output.

I had recently heard of an exercise in Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice that’s designed to help build comic-writing fluency. I really enjoy Brunetti’s writing on comics; he emphasizes simple forms and shapes, and the first time I saw his work, I had an emotional response that made me nostalgic for all the picture books of childhood. His approach makes crafting comics feel democratic and doable. The challenge he assigns is as follows:

a) invent a character using basic shapes
b) draw them with an object and in a place, performing an action (4 panels)
c) demonstrate the motivation (2 panels) and consequences of the action (2 additional panels), creating a simple wordless narrative (the exact sketchbook exercise can be found here).

Feeling rusty, I decided to try a shortened version of the exercise. The visuals came together quickly. I started with a playful doodle of a juggler using a charcoal pencil. Then a basic set of images came, and I drew them out. The text suggested itself much later on, while editing the images.

The result: An important drawing and writing lesson that I needed to hear about staying open to change — specifically the changes that take place on the page. Strange, I feel like this strip is reflecting on itself, making me an eavesdropper into a third-person conversation. But let us talk about sentient strips another time! Here’s the comic:

Until next time, wishing you creative contentment and openness to the marvelous magic of the blank page!

Creating space to create

I hope this post finds you well and easing into holiday things. I’ve seen my days take a very nocturnal turn recently, in a good way. Where we are, the sun sets by 4:30 pm. As elsewhere, a longer part of the day is now spent in darkness. We are also currently under a stay-at-home advisory in Illinois, so the usual holiday visits and anticipatory shopping trips have been replaced, this year, by nights at home. These conditions have given me the opportunity to explore the unique qualities and possibilities of nighttime.

I am biased, of course. I have long been a night owl who has had to learn to curb my nocturnal habits in order to participate in daytime things. I love mornings, in theory. Every well-organized sunlit workspace I’ve seen on Pinterest has given me the feeling that daytime is the best time — it’s when we fry sun-coloured eggs in a pan, brew hot energizing drinks, migrate to the work-desk, and expend our efforts. Light allows plants to photosynthesize, makes colours vivid, and makes us feel good. In reality, though, I hit my stride in the late afternoon. My mornings tend to be a bit of a mental jumble. My thoughts flood with the numerous to-dos of the day; it’s as though waking up twists the handle on a spigot and out everything comes, all at once. For this reason, organizing tasks and being productive in the daytime often feels like corralling wayward sheep — doable, but requiring that I marshal my mind’s most industrious herder dogs.

Most days, my inner border collie looks like this… (I’m sure this means that I need better organization methods, or at least more caffeine).

BUT. As the sun sets, a shift happens. The call to activity quiets down, and I properly wake up. A stillness and slowness begins to set in at around 4:30 pm (dusk, here) bringing a feeling of calm and openness — a smoothness to things, and a freedom from daytime rushing around. There’s time to uncoil, and I can almost feel my retinas relax and become newly receptive again. Seeing and sensing the outside things is replaced with seeing inside things in the mind’s eye (characters, scenes, colours… little animals). Night is the time for fireplaces and candles, imagination and inward thoughts. I believe the word-friendship between “hearth” and “heart” is revealing.

I hope I don’t sound like a villain, but I love the night. I’m cultivating this night-time creativity and have started practicing a creative ritual at sundown (4:30-5:30 pm): I light a candle or two, turn on my favourite lamp (the one with the orange glow), queue up a nocturnal playlist, brew a cup of non-caff tea, and give myself an hour to create before dinner — whether writing, editing photos, drawing, knitting… whatever my heart desires of the day. It’s the hour I give myself to set my creative hearth/heart alight. It’s a warm and comforting time for pencils and inks, music, doodling, and orange light. Like all good things, it is bookended by cooking. 🙂 As we approach the cold days, painting and comics have become my staple.

Here’s my messy creative space, replete with handmade pom poms, some unfinished weaving, and deer pals (I am a clutterbug).

The elements of the space are simple and few:

  • colour pencils
  • gouache paints
  • primary watercolours
  • Copic multiliner pens
  • Black Magic and Winsor & Newton inks
  • brushes, brushes, brushes
  • laptop for reference images
  • speakers
  • my big ringed sketchbook
  • a lit candle to signal that the creative light is ‘on’
  • and a copy of Lynda Barry’s Making Comics (2019) which has been inspiring some new artwork and thinking about artwork (more on this in an upcoming post)

In the meantime, here is a little bird-friend — a portrait in gouache of my childhood parakeet, Richard, who was with us for 7 years and was known to mistake a plate of red spaghetti for worms (we let him fly around, he loved it). He is showing me how to glow in the dark.

Until next time. 🙂

GIMP Art

Happy Monday, friends.

Well, I recently re-discovered an old Wacom drawing tablet in the top-drawer of our “old tech” dresser (the one full of wires and adapters and old thingamajigs). What buried treasure! In combination with free GIMP software, the drawing tablet has given me a new way to “paint” with all the colours and leave behind fewer actual stains and messes in the process (if you haven’t yet used GIMP, and are interested in a free image-editing/basic drawing tool, I highly recommend it. It’s no Photoshop, but it’s very good).

It seems that a beast of a blizzard is brewing and making its way to Chicago. We can already hear the wind; it’s howling in the streets, shrieking in the crevices of our windows, and is bringing down fine bits of diagonally-falling snow (it’s the Windy City for a reason). That means it’s time to take out the long johns, stock up on tea and cookies and candles, and gear up for some extended nights in front of the fireplace channel. And, time for art. Painting and drawing have always helped me get through long winter days and nights. Whether in pigment or pixel form, I need those colours — their energies and worlds of feeling.

Here’s a very first tablet painting. It’s keeping my thoughts warm!