Thursday, November 30, 2006


A month ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Essen game fair in Germany—a massive show that I saw very little of. For four days I also had the pleasure of being accompanied by artist extraordinaire Chris Moeller. We signed and sketched and signed some more, and because Chris is also an accomplished comic book artist and writer, when I got a chance to crack my knuckles and get a breather, he then got to continue sketching Wonder Woman, Superman, and more.

Many wurstel were eaten, many bottles of water consumed, many Sharpies gave their lives to the cause. I am quite a hot dog connoisseur, and so Germany is a great place for me to go to eat. By mid-Sunday as the crowds were starting to die down, I was feeling a bit spent and silly. We’d both done a ton of sketching all weekend, but I grabbed a slip of drawing paper and a pencil and drew out the following, for absolutely no reason at all but largely driven by the absurdity of the image:

My wife, in one of her rare convention appearances, seemed to enjoy it, so I drew another. Shades of Will Ferrell as Harry Carry here:

“If you were a hotdog, would you eat yourself?”

My wife even started to get in on the fun. Wurstel for all! She whipped out a couple of doodles herself, which she was too ashamed to keep. I suppose I should’ve taken her lead, but two weeks later my drawings turned up again. I’d forgotten all about them. Chris was mildly amused in a shake-your-head-you’re-an-idiot sort of way, but a few minutes later he handed in his own contribution to the fun:

Yes! I’d managed to rope another in. Minutes later, a second drawing was passed over to me. Not content to merely play along, it seemed Herr Moeller was in:

A couple of fans present seemed genuinely bemused. When I was sure my table was clear, I produced the, um, clincher

And with that, the temporary insanity reached its end.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Guerilla Illustration

Greetings from Austin, TX. You just never know where I’ll end up at any given time. Neither do I, a month or two out!! This is a temporary holiday stay with family, then onwards.

Painting while living abroad has been…challenging. It’s all fine and good to be traipsing off across the world, but without being a professional and responsible illustrator, the train derails very quickly and the whole thing ends. Mostly, I’m happy with how I’ve fared.

All of my art directors live in different states. Apart from conventions, I don’t see them. 99% of my communication is via email. If I can turn out quality work, get it in on time, and can answer email, I may as well be in the next town over or Siberia for all they know on any functional basis. And that’s been how I’ve endeavored to work.

On my end, it’s another story entirely. Losing my formal studio space is something I’ve never quite gotten over. The past 2 years I’ve come to refer to my method of working as guerilla illustration. I’ve worked, with the barest materials possible, in corners of rooms, on kitchen tables, in bed in a spare bedroom at my parents’ house, in a bathroom (!), on two of my friends’ couches, in a cube at the offices of Sigil Games Online, in hotel rooms, and while sitting at my table at a convention or two. I have borrowed printers from two friends, Ben Thompson’s Wacom tablet and scanner, and have used the Kodak Photo Kiosk at a Target store to scan sketches and put them on cd when no scanner was available. I’ve been unstoppable, at the cost of a few more gray hairs than I had when I started. Working in such fashion is actually very stressful and often frustrating—working up the creative spark can be tricky enough without being hamstrung by being in an unfamiliar or hectic environment. But I figure if artists could work quite literally in the trenches during two World Wars, I’ve got nothing to complain about. And in the process I’ve honed my discipline, increased my ability to focus for long periods of time, and generally improved my workflow. Who would’ve thought?

Art supplies are extremely hard to come by in some cases. I really took for granted the availability of art supplies close at hand within the states. England faired a bit better in this regard but Spain and Italy...if you need anything more than the basic painting materials, you’re toast if you’re not in the big city. More than once Blick art materials came to my rescue, shipping large Hardbord panels, PVA glue, black acid-free masking tape, and more to me for relatively low shipping costs. That stuff is impossible to find in Europe. Hardbord also weighs a ton when you start piling up paintings.

I have used my mobile as a dial-up modem, tethered to my usb port in Italy. In England I had blessed DSL. In Spain, our little pueblo somehow managed to have a wi-fi cloud; but up in our part of the town the signal was impossible to get unless you had an external wireless antenna, a USB extension cable, and rigged the whole thing so the antenna was at the top of the chimney in a Tupperware to make it weatherproof, with the cord hanging all the way down and into the flat. Then you just pray the service is up and that Telephonyca can keep the lines up.

Guerilla illustration.

Since moving, I’ve taken to labeling each drawing or painting with the location where it was painted. It’s sort of fun for me to do, and if you happen to purchase any of these and wonder why the back of a painting reads “Pienza, Italy” or why a drawing says, “Austin, TX” as a couple certainly will, now you’ll know the how and why.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Plein-air: La Mirador

If you’ve looked at the right side where my ugly mug peers out at you (I cropped the part where I was holding my inmate’s placard) these past few months, you’ll have noted that I’ve been living in southern Spain part of this year. Well, that time has come to its end.

I haven’t blogged a lot about my travels and living abroad per se, though it’s been the background behind some of the posts here, notably the museum strolls and my plein air posts. As we’ve been moving about I’ve endeavored to do at least two such pieces per location. In England I managed three. It’s a shame I haven’t done more than that—there are artists who’d do this living abroad thing and make it the point to do nothing but paint local scenes, and if I were an established landscape painter with a gallery or two that carried my work and would sell it for me, it would’ve been tempting to do just that. As it stands, I’ve earned my living by continuing to freelance and have snuck in these landscapes when I can.

Living up in the little town of Frigiliana has been interesting. The white-washed rows of homes, all of different sizes and shapes having been remodeled and remodeled again over the decades and centuries, are the stuff of postcards. It’s been a privilege to live in such a lovely area. The place I’ve been staying in, it so happens, is also featured in a photo that is in fact printed on postcards sold here in town, such is its typical nature.

I’ve worked on the 2nd floor here right by the window, a window which looks out over the campo and beyond to the city of Nerja and the ocean beyond. If I look slightly below, I get to see afternoon lunches being eaten by vacationers dining at the outdoor La Mirador restaurant, sporting Frigiliana’s best restaurant view. Living in a place where people have traveled across the world to sit and eat and enjoy the view puts me quickly in mind of how fortunate I am here.

Closed on Wednesdays, the restaurant is a small terrace of tiled tables. A few times, an army of artists would show up, on my doorstep as it turns out, and plant easels to paint! Painting vacation tours are popular, and a few came through our town in Italy last year as well, but here they were, sketchers and watercolorists, typically (watercolors being infinitely more portable for traveling than oils). They’d set up and paint, either the narrow road that continues past our home here, or our home itself. Occasionally I’d take a curious peek at what they were up to, but never engaged anyone in conversation. It’s funny, to have been a spectator like that—I know for a fact that outdoor painters (namely, this one) enjoy talking to passers-by, yet I remained the silent onlooker like most others would be.

Trust me, these people weren’t here to pay respects to me.

So it occurred to me that it would be a shame to move out of here without painting the very thing that some people came to paint—my house. All that was left was opportunity, a Wednesday when I could plant myself in the restaurant’s empty terrace and work. As fall rolled around, a sunny day became a second requirement.

Following some days of rain, the restaurant was closed last Thursday. Mid-day, the sky suddenly cleared up to its usual cobalt blue. With the time change and the lay of the buildings, I knew that shadows would creep across the front of my house in no time, so I dashed up and grabbed my setup, moved it outside, and got to work. Less than 90 minutes later, I had another 8x10” oil painting.

As I worked, a number of tourists (mostly German, probably with a tour bus) came and walked by, maybe made a couple of comments to each other (I heard one say blumen which means flowers, so I figure she was commenting on my work as she pointed things out to her friend), but none made a peep towards me. Given my own previous silence, I wonder how many fellow artists were among them…?

The white of the buildings, and the white on my board, with the bright Spanish sun beaming on it, made painting this one difficult. Just seeing was difficult—all that bright white made me squint almost the entire time and was somewhat blinding. To see details in the white—the texture and variations—I had to stare into a shadow somewhere to let my pupils dilate a little, then quickly look back and see it before the brightness made them constrict again, bleaching it all.

Initially I left out the shadow of two wires but this resulted in a large expanse of white in the middle. Though I attempted to paint a variety of whites as is true in reality, it still came off as a giant white space. So I painted them in and it really helped draw the composition together. I’ll tell people they were a neighbor’s clothesline so it sounds more quaint.

This last one shows the scene at the end of the session—note how much the shadow on the house had shifted from an hour or so earlier. Had I painted it this way, it would’ve looked like the poo-colored door was mine, which it wasn’t. The open door is where I stayed part of 2006, and I’m glad I got around to painting it.

My friend Kirbina hung out and watched the entire thing.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

2 Years Down

So this is the two year anniversary of Exit Within. I can hardly believe I managed to blog almost once a week for two years. I can believe even less that there are some of you out there who have read just about all of it.

I thought, upon starting, that even if I succeeded in keeping this up, that I certainly would run out of things to talk about in a year or so. But what the heck, I started anyway. And here I am, with more to talk about. Blogging can seem a bit vain, I know. Who asked my opinion on anything? I’m the sort who has to get worked up to handle being in crowds, otherwise I stay pretty quiet and am not the most forthcoming. I do better in small groups. One friend told me he’d never blog because he just knows that in the end it’d be about as embarrassing to look back on as a high school journal or something. I don’t know if that’s been the case for me exactly. I know the broad spectrum of people who check this out every so often: family, friends, other artists I know or don’t, probably a couple of art directors along the way, and a nice helping of strangers who wander here through my website. That tends to keep me in line, more or less.

For those really into reading blogs (I count myself among you), my mostly-weekly schedule is probably annoying. I simply cannot write more often than that, and if I did, there’d be even more of the filler that would make me cringe upon reflection, like my friend would expect. My free time comes in random chunks. Usually I’m up late one night, finished with work, not quite ready to surrender the day to sleep, not quite awake enough to do anything else. These are the nights that the blog starts to take shape. A night like tonight, when I just start writing….

Eventually I find I’ve wandered into 3-4 subjects, so I start chopping and creating separate entries. This multiplication of topics can happen a couple of times until I get each one focused and long enough to call an entry. Then I put them away. In this sense, my entries reproduce through budding. At any one time I may have about 10 blog entries in my “unused” file, in various states of finish. From time to time I’ll open them up again and go over them for stupid mistakes made at 1AM, or to remove residual stupidity that fell from my fingers while yawning.

When it’s that time of the week, if something’s on my mind and I have the time I’ll write and create an entry from scratch and post it. Otherwise, I’ll pop open one of my unused entries, take a last editing stab at it, link it up if it needs links (prior editing may have included finding and adding links to entries), grab images if required, and throw it up. Then it’s back to work. I think my record is a month of no new content; things were pretty busy and I wouldn’t have blogged at all but I had a list of entries to pull from to get me through, and service was uninterrupted. I got to avoid blogging but you still got new content.

Is it a little obsessive to work that way? Maybe but it’s kept this thing going. For instance, I wrote the bulk of this entry in early September!

And that’s how Exit Within works. Onto year 3