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.
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! 🙂
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 approachmakes 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!
The comic below is in the Wordless Wednesday spirit, but I felt compelled to add just a few words. With 2017 just 4 days old, I’m finding myself at an odd loss for resolutions – there are, of course, a few things I’d like to do and some dreams on the horizon, but I’m very struck, this year, by an odd sense of familiarity in place of the New Year feeling of rupture and newness.
I’m coming to realize that the past few months of cultivating a craft practice – while a new adventure – has felt more like a long-overdue homecoming. By homecoming, I mean rediscovering a space of comfort, belonging, care, renewal, flourishing, and kinship. I don’t think of this kind of home as a perfect or uncomplicated place, but as the place I choose to dwell in and come back to; it’s not only where life unfolds and is lived, but where I feel most able to make a livable life. In these ways, the decision to start cultivating creativity again has felt like a slow, months-long process of making a travelling nest for myself – a home on-the-go that isn’t limited by the vagaries of place, chance, and circumstance.
In this vein, here’s a graphic love-letter to the place where I actually grew up – East York, a borough of Toronto. It includes some of my favourite/familiar haunts from back in the day.
To finding (and making) (and making pictures of) home.
The unique panel-structure of comics lends itself very well, I think, to exploring episodic memories, or autobiographical memories linked to a specific place, time, and emotion. The borders of each panel form a discrete unit which are like film-cuts, letting you place in the next scene whatever image you please (or, compelling you to repeat images you’ve already presented). This system of transitions, in comics, is freeing. You can explore the minute details of a single sequence, letting the eye jump from element to element. Or, you can paint a panoramic view, bringing the reader with you into a new temporality which you create, inviting them to experience its coherence (or not).
This comic is episodic in that way, and is my attempt at piecing together different memories of someone that I used to know. It comes out of a short poem that I wrote after I thought I saw this person on the subway many years after we had been friends. She was inside the train while I was on the platform slowly watching the train pull away. I questioned the correctness of my senses but harbored a subtle feeling of lost opportunity anyhow. As I went home, I started to try to reconstruct what I knew of her, and began with the little details–the insignificant things that, for one reason or another, managed to persist in the memory bank.
At the time of making this comic, I was also heavily into the work of graphic novelist, John Porcellino known for his King-Cat Comics. His visual style is as simple and evocative as his writing, and I admire the way that his work creates, for me, a really concrete sense of world and mystery out of the little things: