Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The piece above is a detail of a larger drawing that I did in water colour a couple of years back. It resulted from an automatic drawing project that I was working on. There was not very much preparation in way of sketches or concept, this drawing was born out of the act of drawing itself. I recently finished an in-class project where I had my students create 30 drawings in 1.5 hours. This idea was inspired by a former instructor of mine during a summer painting program at the School of Visual Arts; however he made his students create 100 works in 4 hours. As an illustrator, my intention is to communicate a story or idea. This can align with article, or appear in the form of an advertisement for example, selling a product or service. Employing metaphor is a very popular way in which illustrators can communicate their concepts in a thought-provoking manner, sometimes we also use narratives to tell the story. I believe through practice and training one can develop and employ this approach to picture-making, much the same as how many people can be taught how to draw. However, there are moments where doing so can feel very formulaic. Although these automatic drawings, these doodles, would probably have next to no use within a commercial art forum, I believe that for me, it is beginning to find it's place alongside my commercial work to help maintain the connection that I have with my craft as an illustrator, and to help inspire my own creative growth. Giving myself an average of 3 minutes to draw or paint something over and over again for up to 4 hours doesn't allow me so much time to think about things. As a result, the kind of work that comes out of me during that period of time is like a stream of consciousness. The shapes that I decide to draw, the colours that I choose to use, the figuration or abstraction that appears, reveals itself in an authentic way because I have no time to question myself. I wonder if this is a good way to build, or to begin to create one's visual vocabulary? I have only done this a few times, and so far this process has indeed inspired a small series of finals (many of which, however, have no connection with each other). Although a body of work hasn't yet developed I'm hoping that if I continue, that somewhere down the line I will look at the work that I have created and realize that the process has resolved and evolved itself over time, through work and repetition. One cannot predict this, I believe it can only be done via experience. It's still such a different way of working for me, and still feels unsettling at times.

It's so easy to fall into a routine, a method of working wherein which one builds a comfortable environment, resting and nesting and existing within a fold of oneself; having one's community define the parameters of one's own movement within it. Speaking personally, because I've existed in this space for a few years now, it's like I've always known it, so why question it? I'm comfortable in this sanctuary that I've created, why raise questions when doing so will only cause confusion and uncertainty?

My eyes open suddenly as if pulled from a deep sleep, the constant pounding of bass and sirens of the music clobber me on the side of my head over and over again and makes its way into the back of my brain. My stomach responds by twitching, sending a message up through my esophagus and then back down again, it's as if my insides are dancing to the music. I roll over onto all fours clawing at anything to help stabilize my balance. Every contact that my hands have with any surface seems to shift. I feel the vibrations of the music on the walls, or is it me who's vibrating and forcing the walls to move? I must be dead. Hell is a strange place, the entrance to it, an underground club. How is it that I've been here so often but never stepped inside until tonight? I try again to push myself to a seated pose onto anything but the floor; standing would be better. It smells rancid, a mixture of smoke, beer, piss and shit. The odor seeps through every pore of my skin, finding entry through my eyes, ears, nails and mouth. There are no voices that call my name through the thickness of the bass, there is no hand reaching from above that will lift me out of this place. I have to get home.

I hear a knocking sound in front of me. I raise my head and try to focus my attention on the point from which the sound is coming.

"You done? There's line out here!"

I suddenly realize that I'm in a tiny bathroom, leaning up against the toilet. I push my hands against the floor, inspiring the small amount of strength that is in each muscle, bone, and tendon to raise me up to standing . I locate the handle and turn the knob. The door unlocks and I step out past a line up of bodies.

I move towards a clearing near the edge of the room, above it is the glowing red exit sign. Hell's egress, I think to myself. I move my attention towards the hallway that is just beyond the sign, but at that moment I feel a firm tug on my wrist. It throws me off balance, but I manage to stay upright.

"Sam." The voice whispers.

It's strange that I can hear his voice so clearly through the cacophony of music.

"Stay." The voice says again.

I look down at my wrist where I feel the pressure of a grip, but see nothing. The exit sign hangs closely in the distance. I look around me to try to find that voice that I heard just a moment ago. The orgy of the blaring music with the faces and dancing bodies blur and mash themselves into each other. I move past the crowd - I have to get home.

Monday, March 22, 2010


It's going to be a tough day today. I can feel it already.
On my walk to the studio I passed by a wall of graffiti, on one of the panels was the close-up of a face of a woman with her head thrown back in laughter. It was nicely done, and stood out to me not only because the stylization of her face was very different from what I expect from graffiti imagery, but also because it reminded me of how I
don't feel today.
I thought of Bruce Nauman's painting, "Face Mask" as a result of it. If you spoke to me even five years ago, I doubt that I would have appreciated a piece such as this. But now I think the visual is so interesting because it says so much with so little visual elements.
It's like we're standing behind the letters F-A-C-E.
very cool.
Face Mask; the mask that we choose to wear is the face that we show to the world.

* Face Mask, Bruce Nauman (American, born 1941).
1981. Synthetic polymer paint, charcoal, and pencil on paper, 52 1/4 x 70 7/8"

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Next Wed March 24th I will be on a panel alongside my good friends Yuko Shimizu, and Fernanda Cohen, as well as illustrator Zina Saunders and Fred Harper to talk about our first jobs - more specifically, how we got them.
After thinking about this for sometime, I realized that I had some of my paintings that I did while I was a student at art college, here in my studio (shown below).
It's very strange to hold them in my hands again, and stare at what I had done. To reiterate from a previous post, these paintings were done using acrylics and alkyds on illustration board. I was taught how to paint through observation via one of my instructor's demos.

I was a sponge.
I took notes.
I didn't blink.
I devoured as much information as I could.

I think back and wonder if my skill level could have improved had I continued along the path of painting and was formally taught how to do so.
Unfortunately, I never really enjoyed painting.
It was extremely difficult for me.
I mean, I wanted to.
I wanted to be a painter.
But it didn't feel right for me, at least it didn't feel right trying to become the painter that I thought I wanted to be.
I believe part of the reason I felt this way was because I hadn't experienced other mediums, or other creative disciplines outside of what I was already familiar with yet.
And so, in the meantime, fantasized about becoming a bad-ass painter who could render a biscuit and have my dog crash into the canvas because she thought it was real.

As a result, I left University after studying fine art for one year to go to art college to learn the techniques of painting (as well as to become a better drawer). I was very interested in honing my skills and dexterity. But as time progressed, I found that it became more and more of a painful task for me to paint. It wasn't until I was a couple of years out of school, that I finally embraced drawing as my medium. Side note, for a long time, drawing has gotten a bum rap. It was seen more as the preparatory stages of an artist's painting, or a low form of art i.e. cartoons, and illustrations, which obviously isn't the case anymore for many people.

When I was in college my hero was Anita Kunz. I remember seeing her work one day while walking along Bloor Street in Toronto, and seeing the poster that she had done for the Toronto International Film Festival.
I stopped.
And like many art lovers, I stepped as close as I could to the poster. I'm not certain if my memory is playing tricks on me, but I remember the figure on the poster was life-size. I remained fixed on the face, and peered into the eyes of the woman, Eve, who she painted. I traced the soft contours of her body with my eyes, noting the pinkness of her flesh against a raw umber/yellow ochre backdrop, and saw how the a film strip coiled around her body like a vine.
At that moment, I felt immediately that I wanted to illustrate professionally.

Anita and I are friends now, but I don't think that I ever told her this story. Her personality is as generous and beautiful as is her work.
I remember trying to memetically render my school assignments in the likeness of her paintings. Unbeknownst to her, Anita became another instructor of mine. And I admit that when you look at the work that I did while I was in school, that I was obviously her copy cat, but during that stage, I knew it was part of my learning process; that over time, with some maturity, experience and some confidence, I would grow into my own aesthetic and shed the layer of work that I did in art college. I really the appreciate the fact that none of my teachers called me out negatively about that - one or two may have mentioned it, but I don't recall ever being made to feel badly about it.
It upsets me when accusers call other artists and illustrators copy cats, especially in school where it should be a safe environment for people to learn, make mistakes and grow forward. As an instructor and illustrator I try to quantify that label, and I wonder about the validity of such a comment, and it's uselessness for both parties.
I'm reminded of my friend Philip, who in a fifth grade speech arts presentation, said that we all had prejudices. He was only 10 years old, but it did not go over well on the rest of the students. After his speech, his classmates, friends even, began to pick on him because they were offended by his accusation. But, looking back, I think that what he said was true. And in the same likeness, I wonder how much of the work that we do is truly original, and not influenced or prefaced by another illustrator and/or artist?

I have been accused of copying by others before (their names of whom I care not to mention) and I have heard this word thrown about many times to friends and peers of mine in the industry. We experience so much in our lives in the way of mass media: on television, the internet, public transportation, billboards, so much - so much of the time that somehow I believe that for most of us through sheer subliminal influence, aspects of various people's work creep and manifest into our own.
In the case of the paintings that I did in school. I knew who I was referencing, but I also embraced the fact that I was still learning - I was still a student (and a perpetual one for the record). As a result of being aware of this, I was confident that I as I grew and changed as a person, so would my work.


I've been up since 5:40am. Remind me never to eat dinner past 9:40pm the previous night. I have a friend who used to be an aerobics instructor in her early twenties. She said to me once, years ago, that she never ate past 8pm because it would mess with her digestion.
I thought to myself, "What did she mean?"
I used to eat at any hour of the night and I would be fine the next morning.
Fast forward 10 years.
Things change.

It's just past 1pm now, which means that I've been up past 5 hours. I have hardly done any illustration this morning - mostly administrative work.
Funny, when I was in school I vaguely recollect my instructor mentioning something about having to do office work. I wasn't so sure what he meant until I began to view my career as a
career, and not a hobby.

People used to ask me all the time what it was that I did.
"So... what do you?"
My response, "I work in retail, but I paint on the side."
(I painted back then - acrylics and alkyds on illustration board using Liquin as a solvent. It must have been the Liquin which broke my Chinese calculator. Bad joke, I've never been good at math, and I try not to perpetuate stereotypes, although I just did. Sorry if I offended anyone. Really, I've never been good at math. Actually that's a lie. When I was in grade one, I was placed by my teacher into the grade two math class, but I couldn't handle subtraction. That makes no sense, it's just the opposite of addition, but for some reason, I couldn't do it. And so I was placed back into first grade.) Back to my point...

"Oh, you paint houses?"

Needless to say that I had to rephrase my response for future conversations. Now, whenever someone asks me what it is that I do, I respond by saying, "I draw pictures."
Tell that to a customs official at the airport and see what types of questions ensue.
I should be more clever and mimic a friend of mine who's an illustrator and musician. I believe he told a customs official once that his occupation was a "Rock Star."

5 hours of administrative work has resulted in me feeling a bit loopy. The weather is incredible outside. And because I continue to eat dinner past 9:30pm, it's not only compromised my 25 year old "figure" which I've not had since I was 25, but all I feel like doing is crawling into bed. Must head to the gym.
Secrete serotonin.
Need vitamin D
Eat fancy burrito.

Okay. That's enough babble. I've uploaded one of my latest projects for H.O.W. (Helping Orphans Worldwide) Wearable Literature project. I was asked along with a couple of others to create a graphic inspired by the words of an author. In my case it was Jonathan Ames' quote, "The more I wake up in life, the more everything feels like a dream." I don't want to go too much into my process other than it began as an existing Tshirt graphic that I tweaked into this one.

Again, I'm slowly exploring a different type of work. Trying to mix text, concept and automatic drawing all at once. It's challenging, and although the results are oftentimes questionable, I cannot ignore the process which I am confident will bring (me and) my work to a new place if I continue to stay the course. I've learned a great deal especially after having moved to New York, from people inside and outside of the illustration industry. I've become encouraged to change my studio practice and accept that the process of arriving to the end product; that the process of drawing or painting for example is invaluable. It's tough sometimes because as an illustrator I have been programmed to think in such a linear, logical and oftentimes analytical way.
As I wrote in a previous post, I love to doodle, and so I am doing much more of it.
But again, I'm digressing.
You can see in the 5th and 6th image that I've written some notes. I do this all the time even with my commercial assignments - especially with my commercial assignments. I ask myself questions and I make an effort to distance myself from my work so that I can see it for what it is, instead of being too wrapped up in my own egocentrism and concepts. I try to play the role of viewer and illustrator because in the end that is our role. Illustration, the art and business of communication. This morning was more business than art though.

Friday, March 12, 2010


My brain feels like jelly.
To borrow a phrase from my friend Melissa, my eyes are like raisins.

I texted my friend this message two days ago,
"I believe we're 35."
Her response,
"And working like we're 22."

This is not a complaint.
But it's true.
I am enjoying the work that I'm doing right now. I'm just a bit tired, that's all.
Since most of my work is done on the computer (practically from start to finish) it's hard on my eyes (yes, I try to remember to do those exercises - looking away and focusing on something in the distance and then resuming work again - is that real, does that work?).
Not sure if there's even a point to this post.
You're catching me while I'm fully exhausted.
I make no sense.
Neither does the drawing.
After I've spent so much time on the computer, I like to draw pictures that aren't digitally generated.
I like the immediacy of a doodle.
The fact that there is no pressure.
That's the sounds of pressure being released.
I have a love-hate relationship with pressure.
I think it's good.
It pushes me to push me.
But sometimes I push so hard that I fall over.

It's time for a Hoegaarden.
It's self-soothing, I know.
But call it what you will.
I need some soothing today.