The Process

My first painting was on a piece of wood I found. I had a handful of acrylic paints that I had been carting around with me for years. During a period of unplanned unemployment, I needed things to do that didn’t cost me anything. The paints were a present from some well meaning person in my life and, even though I hadn’t the slightest idea how to use them, I felt guilty throwing them away. I’m not sure where I got brushes from, but I commandeered one of my pot lids as a palette and started painting. Through a combination of trial and error, library books and YouTube videos, I have learned a lot, but there’s still so much I don’t know. Which is why anytime I go to look at art, I’m always interested in hearing about an artist’s technique and process. Mainly because I’m looking for any clue I can as to how to properly do art. I mean, I’m just slapping paint on a surface until it kinda looks like I want it to. I’ve been gessoing my surfaces for a while now, but I just learned about surface levelling gel. Who knew? So, I figured that I would share my process, such that it is right now.

The Sketch

It all starts with a sketch. I have a sketch pad with me at all times and I will be working on it every chance I get. To be honest, it’s my favorite part of art. Creating something new, just drawing lines and letting my unconsciousness take the steering wheel. This is true joy. When I’m staring at the blank page, I rarely have some idea of what I want to draw; I just sketch what is pleasurable. They’re just doodles at first and 90% of the time, they never go beyond this. I have sketchbook after sketchbook filled with pure crap. Seriously, most of it, absolute drek. Every once in a while, though, one of my drawings grabs me. It demands more of my time. I go back to it time and time again, reworking it, refining it. And, if this happens enough, it demands to be painted.

Surface Preparation

The first step for any of my paintings is choosing and preparing the painting surface. I’m partial to wood, I like the firm, unyielding surface, but canvas is cheap and available. Not to mention that wood is heavy; I have some paintings that are so heavy that hanging them is a challenge. While canvas is easy, I hate the course tooth of the surface, so I apply between 4-5 coats of gesso and sand it down to as smooth as I can get it. I am anxious to try the surface levelling gel, but I’m not quite there yet. Once the surface is ready, I used to lay down the basic composition in pencil. It’s just something I’m comfortable with. I played around adding another layer of gesso over that to hide the lines, before putting paint to canvas, but it just smeared the lines and made the surface grey. Now, I spray the pencil with fixative before gessoing it over, but I’m moving away from pencil all together.

Underpainting

I’ve recently started playing around with an underpainting. For now, it’s a monochrome wash, followed by a similar color that is slightly more opaque, to map out the composition. After that, it’s time to lay down some dots. Lots and lots of dots. I’ll lay done a few lines to demarcate general forms, but I really want to forms in the painting to be built up by layer upon layer of dots. When I’m painting a particular area, I will determine a range of colors that I want that area to be. For sky, it’s usually a range of blues. For flesh, a range of yellows, browns and oranges. I start with the lightest color in the group and cover the widest area of that area with dots. Then, I’ll use a color darker and use that to start creating definition.

Television

This is tedious, methodical work and I get bored easily. So, how do have the patience? I watch a lot of TV. Or, to more precise, a lot of streaming online video. I only mention this now, because I will be devoting some of my blog posts to some of the aspects of shows that I find interesting. Consider yourself warned.

The Painting

The least number of layers that I’ve used is around three, the most being six. When is it done? Someone posed this question to me directly not so long ago and the answer isn’t obvious. There’s a certain weight, a solidity that I want my forms to have and I just keep building it up until it’s there. I can see it coming, the development of the shapes, but the exact end usually catches me by surprise. I’ll look at the canvas, palette in one hand, brush poised in the other, seeking the areas I need to build up and I’ll realize that anything more is as likely to ruin the painting, as it is to make it better.


It’s a slow process, but now that I’m doing art full-time, I’m getting faster. My largest piece, a 3’x4’ peacock, took me around 6 months, but I didn’t work on it everyday in those 6 months, and when I did work on it, some days an hour was all I could put in. Now, I have three paintings going at once, as well as various pen and ink/watercolor marker pieces. My latest piece, the one featured in this post, Mine Eye Hath Seen the Glory, took me about a month. It’s really what inspired this post, since it’s the first piece that I have photographed at various stages of development. As boring and basic as it is, there’s my process. I fully expect it to change in a year or so, as I continue to learn, so I’ll have to remember to do a follow up post after a while. Until then, I had better get back to painting.

Nachos!

Nachos aren’t just a delicious snack, they are a part of my heritage, which is why I’ll be celebrating National Nacho Day on Nov. 6th. Per Wikipedia, the first plate of nachos was created in the city of Peidras Negras, Coahulia, Mexico, which is right along the Texas border, by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, a distant relative of mine. As the story goes, he was the maitre d’hotel at a restaurant that had just closed, when a group of hungry patrons came in. Not wanting to turn them away, he took what little they had in the kitchen and turned those humble ingredients into a dish that has not only endured the test of time, but spawned a butt load of variations. Nachos have become so popular that there is not only a National Nacho Day, but also an International Nacho Festival that is held between Oct. 13th and 15th, in Peidras Negras. Now that’s a snack!

According to the lore, “Nacho” Anaya scavenged the meager stores of his kitchen and, finding only tortillas and cheese, manifested the glorious food that are nachos. This part of the story resonates so strongly with me. One of my particular joys is to enter a kitchen, the more foreign to me the better, and, using only what I find, create a delicious meal. The creativity that such a challenge poses is a total rush and, if I’m actually successful at making something tasty and nutritious, I feel like a true artist. I have considered creating an Iron Chef style event just among my circle of friends, several of who like to cook and all of who love to eat. But I digress.

Nachos are basically tortilla chips and cheese, but what’s the fun in that? Talk about a palette that is begging for color. Traditional additions are things like black beans, chopped onions, sliced jalapenos, meat (too many to list here), tomatoes, olives and the like. I like meat, like I’m pretty much a carnivore, but nachos are one of the few dishes that I don’t think do well with meat. Ground beef with taco seasoning is common, but I think it makes the dish too greasy. Chicken is usually shredded and the pieces are so large that they break the already overburdened tortilla chips. Pulled pork? WTF? This isn’t BBQ! And, for the love of God, please don’t ever tell me about the abomination that are tachos, nachos made with tater tots instead of tortilla chips. The secret to the best nachos is crunchy chips baked to sublime crispiness, cemented together with gooey cheese, slightly burnt at the edges to give it its own unique crispiness as well.

A word needs to be said about cheese. This may be an unpopular, but I feel that cheddar is a completely unsuitable cheese for melting. Don’t get me wrong, I love cheddar, but the oil separates too easily upon melting creating an unsavory consistency. For my palette, a combination of colby and jack cheeses will provide the perfect flavor and viscosity combination. Am I thinking about cheese too much? Damn, I really want some nachos now. Well, until next time, stay gooey.

Waiting

Being a doctor makes one very good at waiting. Well, maybe not good, but it gives one a lot of practice. Waiting for lab results. Waiting for patients to get out of surgery. Waiting to get authorization for insurance companies. Waiting for specialists and consultants to get back to you. In medicine, there was a phrase we used to use; the tincture of time. It often referred to seeing a patient with uncertain symptomatology. Many times, the best one can do is nothing, just have the patient come back a few weeks later. Often, the symptoms will resolve on their own, or become something more defined. Without a clear path ahead, sometimes the best one can do is wait.

There is a parable of sorts about this. There were two physicians travelling together, long, long ago. Master and student, wandering together and helping who they could. They came across a man who travelled with them for a ways. Learning that they were doctors, he freely discussed several of his aches and pains, his myriad of symptoms becoming a topic of conversation for miles of the journey. The younger doctor, wishing to prove his knowledge, expounded on the therapies and treatments that he felt would help many of the man’s problems. The man barely seemed to hear. During the day’s journey, the older physician talked freely as well, but about anything but medicine. Family, the weather, the best fishing spots in the region; simple conversation that passed the time, every topic seemingly inconsequential. That night, around the campfire, they all continued their discussions, but the older doctor finally decided the time was right to discuss medical matters. Now, in the flickering firelight, the man listened in rapt attention to the elder physician, duly noting every bit of advice that fell from the old man’s lips. The younger doctor listened, as well, noting that the advice was identical to what he had told the man earlier that day, but now the man acted as if he were hearing the wisdom of the gods.

The next day, the man bid the two doctors farewell and they went on their way. Once again in each others company, the younger asked his mentor why the man had ignored his own advice, yet listened so readily to the older physician. The wise doctor said to the younger physician, “there was nothing wrong with the advice you gave to the man, but there was one ingredient that you left out of your prescription. Time. He needed time to hear what was being said. Time to say the things he needed to say. For him to hear you, he first needed to feel that you were hearing him.”

Now I’m learning that being an artist makes one very good at waiting, too. Waiting for gesso to dry. Waiting for inspiration to hit. Waiting for my paint to be the right consistency. Waiting for a customer to get back to me. Waiting. I suppose every profession has its waiting. And I don’t mind it so much anymore. I much prefer waiting for my prints to be ready to waiting for my patient to die. Also, I usually have three different pieces going, not to mention writing blog posts and having a piece of meat brining in the fridge, so there’s that. That’s for listening and I hope you have as little waiting in your life as possible.

Top 10 Comic Book Artists (according to me)

First of all, let me make it very clear that this list is only my opinion. I don’t mean to say others artists are bad or that I’m even some sort of expert on the subject. I’m just another starry eyed fan boy gushing to the masses. It nearly killed me trying to pick a top ten and to fudge it a little, I’ve dumped a bunch of names into an “honorable mention” category. This is a very personal list, with inclusion determined by not only artistic talent, but by how deeply their art affected me as I was developing my own style. Without further ado, let’s begin.

Juan Jose Ryp

My first peek at Juan Jose Ryp’s art was the Warren Ellis comic, Black Summer. This was followed up by No Hero, also by Warren Ellis and just as dark. His art was perfect for these stories. So detailed you don’t know where to look first and filled with an intense energy that makes one feel that everything on the page is in constant motion. He’s one of the few artists that could make me overlook bad writing in a comic, though I have yet to put that to the test. Warren Ellis is one of my favorite writers and, though I have read very little of Charlie Huston’s work, I thought that the limited series, Wolverine: The Best There Is, is excellent.

Alex Ross

The first time I saw Alex Ross’s work, I never would have considered him a comic book artist. His style is so painterly that I just thought his superhero pieces were fan art, a side line to what he normally produces. Then, Kingdom Come proved me wrong. Quite simply, his art is gorgeous. If you’ve seen his work, you know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t, then go, right now, and look at his art.

Robert Crumb

Probably one of the earliest of my influences, Robert Crumb attained fame from his work in the underground comix realm, with characters like Fritz the Cat and titles like American Splendor. His work was immediately accessible to me, mostly simple black and white pen and ink drawings. He is a master of cross hatching and I did my best to emulate him in my teenage years. His penchant for drawing rubenesque women was also a factor in my appreciation of his work. I won’t go on about Crumb; so much has already been written about him (he’s even got a freakin’ documentary for frickin’ sakes!) and I just wanted to share my love.

John Byrne

Another early influence, I became acquainted with Byrne’s work when he was drawing the X-Men. Part of my love for his art was because of the Dark Phoenix saga, but I followed him onto Alpha Flight, as well. Alpha Flight never garnered much attention, but there’s something I love about the idea of a Canadian superhero team. It always struck me as odd how American centric superhero comics are. Some titles have included superheroes from other countries, heck, Captain Britain had his own comic for a while, but, overall, the scene has been North American dominated.

I’ll include a link to John Byrne’s website, but let me warn you in advance, it’s nearly overwhelming in how busy it is and just how much art and information is amassed there.

Frank Frazetta

I feel a little guilty about including Frazetta on this list, because my experience with his art was not through comics. So, while, technically he is considered a comic book artist, I will forever associate him with Molly Hatchet. Frazetta did the art for their first three albums, all of them featuring bad-ass barbarian dudes.

As a comic book fan, whose art is usually rendered in inks, it’s always striking to me when I see a painter in the mix. Frank Frazetta trained at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts and, while there, trained under a celebrated, Italian painter, Michele Falanga. Falanga was so impressed with Frazetta’s talent, he was going to send him to Italy, on his own dime, for further study, but he died before that could happen. He began drawing for comics when he was 16 and later worked with both movie studios and book publishers doing posters and covers. He did one animated feature called Fire & Ice, with Ralph Bakshi, which was released in 1983. There’s nothing overly original about the story itself (IMO), but the art is gorgeous. In later life, he suffered a series of strokes that affected his ability to do art, forcing him to switch to his left hand. He died of a stroke in 2010.

Frank Quitely (AKA Vincent Deighan)

Words cannot express how much I love Frank Quietly’s work (I say as I write these words). The first time I saw his work was in a comic called, Gangland, a crime-themed rag of short stories that was dark enough to scratch my itch. He has worked on The Authority, Flex Mentallo, Jupiter’s Legacy and All-Star Superman. His art is gloriously detailed and intricate. He won the “Best Artist” Harvey Award in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The is one of the few artists I am envious of. There are many, many artists whose work I appreciate, but, being an artist myself, which brings a certain amount of arrogance about one’s own art, I don’t usually consider them better than myself. Their styles are either so different from mine that there is no way to compare, or the artist has a style that I enjoy, but would never want to do myself. You hear stories such as the tales about blues singer, Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to become the greatest blues musician. If the devil asked for my soul in exchange for Mr. Quitely’s level of talent, I’d say ‘no’, but there would be one hell of a long pause before I did.

Rick Griffin

A true child of the 60’s, Griffin was in the heart of San Francisco during the summer of love. He was part of Ken Kesey’s Acid Test and created a number of posters for psychedelic bands. His first art exhibition was at the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street. In the early 70’s, he started doing some work for Zap comix. I’m not sure where I got them, but I have a number of “underground” comix, which, incidentally, is where I also got into Robert Crumb, and I would literally study the pages illustrated by Griffin. I consider his style to be quintessential 60’s psychedelia.
He died at the age of 47 in a motorcycle accident. Prior to his death, he found God and became a christian. I have seen a few articles that commented on how this entirely changed his style, but I did not find this to be true. His illustrations of biblical scenes seem just as trippy to me as his drug-centered work, but then some consider religion a drug itself, so that doesn’t really seem that strange to me.

Richard Corben

I don’t know how he gets the look he does in his art, but the first word that comes to mind, to describe his work, is lush. There is almost a 3D look to it. One can practically feel the flesh of his characters, smell the hot, foul breath of the fanged maws of the creatures he draws. The very first piece I saw by him was the album cover for Meat Loaf’s 1977 album, Bat Out of Hell, but he also had numerous contributions to the magazine, Heavy Metal. His art does not shy away from some rather extreme sex and violence, which I confess a slight weakness for.

Bill Sienkiewicz

In the late 80’s, I got my hands on a four issue series called, Stray Toasters. It was an incredibly surreal piece that I fell completely in love with. Without giving any spoilers, it reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. The story was certainly strange and convoluted, but I don’t believe it would have had the effect it did on me without the art of Bill Sienkiewicz. Rendered in subdued pastels, the art is phrenetic, having no respect for the neat boxes that usually make up the panels of a comic book, the sequential nature of the story delightfully uncertain and bound only by the page itself. Oh, and he wrote the comic, too.
I’ve read those comics time and time again, and I still consider the work to be one of the finest stories I’ve ever read. This sounds like hyperbole, I know, but I have a rather unusual taste in the stories I like and they’re not easy to find. Stray Toasters checked all the boxes for me. After more than 30 years, he is still very active in the comics scene, drawing for titles such as Batman, The Hulk, 30 Days of Night and the like. He has also done album art for RZA, Roger Waters and Kid Cudi, and even illustrated cards for Magic the Gathering.

Will Eisner

You don’t claim to be a comic books fan without knowing Will Eisner. Born the child of Jewish immigrants, he began drawing illustrations for pulp magazines in the 30’s. His most famous creation, The Spirit, an urban crime-fighting comic, ran from 1940 to 1952 and profoundly influenced comic book artists for years to come. He did work for the U.S. Army during WW2, his illustrations used for educational purposes, training soldiers in vehicle maintenance and ordinance usage.
His career spanned about 40 years and he even formally taught comic book creation, writing two books on the subject, Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative. Truly one of the greats!

Honorable Mention

As I said earlier, I can’t really realistically only name the top 10 artists. There are so many awesome inkers and painters and illustrators, that to ignore them would be criminal. The likes of Frank Miller, Steve Dillon, Bruce Timm, Dave Mack, Mobeus, Mike Mignola, Milo Manara, Jim Lee and countless others have inspired me to be a better artist. In building my technique and style, I have borrowed much from them and I am eternally grateful for their art.