Outsider Art


“Slotin Folk Art Auction (2017)”by Marcus O. Bst is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

I’m not sure if my art can be considered “Outsider Art” or not. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care one way or another. I don’t like labels. I am who I am and the art I create is just what happens when I create and I neither know nor care what others call it. The public at large, however, demands labels, thrives off of what others identify with. People don’t like what they can’t define and, more pragmatically, they can’t buy and sell things that have no description. So, while I don’t really care, if I want to make a living as an artist, I need to label my art, my style.

When I first heard about outsider art, I gravitated towards the term. Mainly because, at a fundamental level, I’ve always felt like an outsider. I learned very early in life that I think differently than most others and that, on the rare occasion that I have dared to voice my opinions, the reaction from the hoi polloi has been swift and punishing. Hence, I became a chameleon, blending into whatever group was convenient. It made an identity fairly useless to me, even burdensome at times. Now that I’m trying to grab at least a little of the spotlight, I must acquire an identity, but which to choose?

“earth totem”by artyfishal44 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The term “outsider art”, according to the magazine, Raw Vision, was first coined as the title of a book written by Roger Cardinal in 1972. Even with a whole book about it, the term outsider art continues to be very loosely defined. At its most basic meaning, the term can refer to someone who is simply untrained. I certainly fit into that category; I’ve taken one drawing class in my whole life and have taught myself everything I know about painting, color theory/paint mixing, digital art, etc. It also often refers to those who suffer from mental illness and I would contend that I can check a box in this category as well, though I will be appropriately vague on the details.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I would describe myself “on the margins of society”. I had a relatively normal, middle class upbringing. My education is pretty extensive and I’ve been going to museums and galleries for as long as I can remember. I’ve even lived vicariously through several artist friends in college. I am, as I have claimed, self-taught, but in gaining this knowledge, I have followed the advice of several art books and YouTube tutorials. Hardly an esoteric education. If anything, I have immersed myself in pop culture to advance my training, though I’m not sure if anyone would guess that, given the bulk of my art.

“Slotin Folk Art Auction (2017)”by Marcus O. Bst is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

So, I continue to ponder the outsider designation. Oddly, I don’t think my art is “out there” enough to really earn the title. My search for a label goes on, though my lack of enthusiasm will probably mean that this will be a long and meandering endeavor. But that doesn’t really bother me, since I’ll still be doing art throughout the whole process. By the time I’ve decided on a box to fit myself in, my style will probably have completely changed anyway.

Trying New Things

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while. I got caught up in two paintings I’ve been doing for a show. Most people associate art with emotion and freedom, the expression of feelings and ideas that are beyond the power of logic and reason to describe. There numerous articles written about the association of art and madness, but few realize the planning and discipline that go into painting. I know I don’t speak for everyone, but I don’t just throw a canvas up and start in on it with my brush like an enraged knife fighter. There is a great deal of forethought that goes into my work.

Recently, I was a invited to be part of a zodiac-themed show at a Portland gallery called the Splendorporium. I can’t guarantee that was the reality of the situation, but it’s how my ego has chosen to define the situation in my mind, so that’s the narrative I’m going with. I had actually shown at the Splendorporium before, a few years ago. They’re a great space. Every month, they hold a group show around a particular theme and allow a very wide latitude on the artist’s take on the theme. As such, their shows are always fresh and exciting, with all types and skill levels represented. I’m still trying to get my art, as a business, off the ground and, while I knew about the zodiac show, wasn’t planning on contributing to it, thinking my time might be better spent elsewhere. However, I am an artist and flattery will get you everywhere and an off hand email telling me that my art might go well in the show was all the encouragement I needed.

The fact is that I don’t have much zodiac themed work. I would have to create some pieces, de novo, and with a ticking time clock in the background. Now this was exciting! First, I need some ideas, so I took out my trusty sketchbook and began drawing my takes on the different signs of the zodiac. I searched for zodiac-themed art on Google Images, DeviantArt and Pinterest. In the end, I settled on the signs Capricorn and Scorpio. I found it odd that more signs, even my own (Libra), didn’t resonate with me. But, in the end, you gotta go with your gut, and my gut told me that the goat and the scorpion would be fun to paint, so the first part of my direction was set.

I chose two canvases of the same size and began to prep them as I refined my design ideas. How to make them interesting was foremost in my mind. The problem was that I really don’t do symbolic imagery or allegorical scenes. If I paint a skull, then it’s a skull, not a representation of man’s mortality or the wages of sin or some such bullshit. So, if I wanted to provide some depth to my paintings, some “umph!”, it had to be a purely visual punch. I’ve been playing with artists’ tape and using it to block out areas of the canvas to break up the surface, visually, and create a sort of tension in my works. This is what I decided to do for my zodiac pieces.

My first steps of preparation were the same as I always do, gesso, sand and then apply a thin wash. I painted some light marks to give me a sense of the overall composition and then I got my tape out. While I don’t do symbolic imagery, I love actual symbols and the zodiac is full of them. Capricorn is an earth sign and one of the symbols for that is a triangle, the apex pointed downward, with a horizontal line cutting across near the middle of the triangle. Likewise, Scorpio is a water sign, whose symbol is also a downward pointing triangle, without the horizontal line. I created such triangles with tape, in the center of the canvases, and continued to paint.

Early stages of my Zodiac paintings

I tried to ignore the tape and paint the main images. The animal symbol would be front and center, dominating the painting, a goat’s head for Capricorn and a scorpion for Scorpio. Scorpio has three other symbols associated with it; the symbol for the sign itself, and then a symbol for each of its ruling planets, mars and pluto. Despite my previous comment about planning, I set the same composition for the Capricorn painting, before realizing that it only has one ruling planet (actually, depending on who you ask, some say it has ten ruling celestial bodies), Saturn. Figuring out what symbol to place in the third area I had laid out for it took my two days of research and pondering, but I finally decided on the Chinese character for goat, which seemed appropriate since the goat also makes an appearance in the Chinese zodiac as well.

Before removing tape

 

After removing tape

Next came the moment of truth. Time to take off the tape. Now my nice paintings were marred by blank triangular forms in the middle of them. My wife was dismayed, but, as I told her, with art, you gotta take some risks. How to incorporate these triangles? A few ways played out in my head. Paint them in with complementary colors? Make them black and white? I chose complementary colors. Ultimately, this worked far better for my Scorpio painting than it did for Capricorn. I ended up creating a more complex design for Capricorn than Scorpio, resulting in a triangle that contrasted less, and was therefore, less noticeable in the chaos. While I’m not entirely unhappy with it, I feel that my gambit clearly paid off with Scorpio.

Before removing tape

 

After removing tape

So, there you have it. These are the ways I spend my time as an artist. These paintings will be up at the Splendorporium for the month of June if you wish to see them in person. Tell me what you think.

Capricorn, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24

 

Scorpio, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24

I Love Cooking

 

I love to cook. To be fair, I am a hedonist, with food being a major area of enjoyment. If I had to go out to eat every time I wanted a nice steak, or stir fry or BBQ or anything else, I’d go broke. Not to mention that, there is something special about being able to prepare food “just the way you like it”. Even more hedonistic, I just enjoy the very act of cooking. It is the perfect intersection between science and art, between order and chaos, controlled conditions and crazy randomness.

I credit this love for cooking to my family. I was brought up to believe that a man’s place is in the kitchen. My grandfather was, in addition to being a drill sergeant, a cook in the army. My uncle held a number of food service jobs in his time and their guidance gave me my start in the culinary pursuits. Not to leave out people like my grandmother and my aunt Pat, both have (or had in my grandmother’s case) some mad skills, but, ultimately, I consider cooking to be an essential manly art. Normally, when one talks about food and family, it tends to be a discussion of cultural or ethnic roots, but we just liked food. We were equally happy spending hours layering phillo dough to make baklava as we were wrapping little sausages in Pillsbury croissant rolls out of a tube to make pigs in a blanket. Growing up with the Irish side of my family, we had our share of potatoes and pot roasts and stew, but we made everything from spanakopita to fried chicken to refried beans. When I was a teenager, my aunt Pat married a man from a Lebanese family, and I have made dishes like tabouli, hummus and baba ganoush ever since.

I feel at peace when I am in the kitchen, chopping vegetables or stirring a sauce, just waiting for the moment it takes on the right consistency. My bedtime reading regimen will occasionally include cookbooks and I will often scour the internet for new recipes to try. My favorites are complex, long, drawn out affairs, involving ingredients that must be searched for at specialty shops. Bonus points for ingredients that bring a look of confusion to a shopkeeper’s face when I ask for it. I love toasting and grinding my own chilis for chili powder. There’s something so visceral about touching and smelling and seeing all the different parts that will combine to make something glorious. There have been several times when I don’t even care about eating; the process of creating is the goal unto itself. That being said, I’m usually starving by the time whatever I’m making is finally done.

I’m always surprised that more people don’t cook. I consider it to be an essential life skill. Particularly for anyone with a special diet. I have a friend (I’m looking at you, King Biscuit) who is a strict vegetarian, but does not cook. He is constantly complaining about how hard it is for him to find good food. Of course, it’s going to be hard. There are countless places to get food in most urban areas, but how many of these are actually good? From this group, one must take away any of those that don’t match one’s diet profile, be it vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free, etc. Then, one’s personal tastes must be taken into consideration. For instance, I can (and have) eaten Ethiopian food, but I just don’t like it. I have a thing about texture and I find most Ethiopian food to be too mushy for my tastes. This leaves a very finite number of restaurants to choose from and even these are going to get boring after a while. When one cooks, they are limited by only budget, time and effort.

So, favorite foods. Ceviche, BBQ, almost any meat, sushi. I don’t like sweets, other than a weakness for pie.I love chili, Irish stew, shepherd’s pie. Not a huge pasta fan. Not really into carbs at all mostly, though I do appreciate a good nan. I like heat, spicy food. Not ghost pepper, painful hot, but the complex, numbing type of hot. Kim chee, Sichuan fermented chili-garlic sauce. I love sour. I’ll sip on vinegar, pickle juice and eat limes whole. I hate eggplant, but love baba ganoush. I hate avocado, but love guacamole. Goat is probably my favorite meat, and I’ve had a wide selection. I’ve eaten beef, pork, chicken, rabbit, squirrel, alligator, rattlesnake, bear, elk, venison, boar, buffalo, and those are the ones I can remember. Oh, yes, I’ve even eaten donkey sausage.

Why am I saying all this? Well, I’m hoping to talk about some of the more complex and entertaining recipes I do. I know this is only peripherally related to my work as an artist, but it is such a quintessential part of who I am, that I’m going to be talking about cooking. Figured I might as well lay some groundwork. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and I will come back with some recipes soon.

Anatomy

I love human anatomy. I think that we are one of the most beautiful things in the world, particularly the female of our species. It’s one of the first things that got me into art, but it’s led me down many other paths. Early on, I got the book The Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck and drew from that obsessively. Then something else happened to reinforce this love. I began taking martial arts classes. Suddenly, anatomy wasn’t just something pretty to look at, it was a weapon, a tool, a construct to be strengthened with a whole host of weaknesses. Pressure points, nerve centers, how a joint moves and how to lock one up; new avenues of study opened up before me and I was in heaven. In addition to the structure of the human body, now I also had reason to learn about physiology, the workings of the various organs. I studied diet, exercise, breathing techniques, stretching, even starting some basic yoga poses and meditation. You may already have logically concluded that this path is what led me to medical school, and you’d be part right, but it’s not quite that simple.

I studied Kenpo karate for about 8 years, earning a black belt and working as an instructor for 2 of those. But I travelled out of state for some of my college and stopped training for a while. The next time I studied, it was a school that taught tai chi and qi gong. I loved these disciplines just as much as I did my former hard style art. Mandatory reading was The Tao of Tai-Chi Chuan by Jou, Tsung Hwa, which is excellent. He has a series of three books, the one on tai chi, another on meditation and a third on the I-Ching and I would recommend all of them. While taking classes, I also began learning about tui na, a form of Chinese bodywork, the chakras, the meridians, herbal remedies, etc. I never intended to be a doctor, I was working to enter an acupuncture school.

As fate would have it, the schools I was looking at required MCAT scores as a prerequisite for admission. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really remember much about the MCAT, AKA the Medical College Admissions Test, but I seem to recall it consisted of two 3-4 hour sessions, with four parts. The physical sciences, biologic sciences and verbal reasoning parts were multiple choice and then there was a written essay part. I don’t remember my score either, but, evidently, it was good enough that a few medical schools sent me information packets for their schools. One of these was the University of New England, College of Osteopathic Medicine. So, while I never intended to be a doctor, this school allowed for far more financial aid than any of the acupuncture schools and was located much closer to my family and, to be frank, graduating with a medical degree did seem to offer a more reliable future. I went to medical school and I loved that, too.

One of the first classes was anatomy. I had had anatomy class in college and the lab had a cadaver, but we never got to touch it. It had been pre-dissected. Now in medical school, four medical students were assigned a cadaver and were responsible for its dissection. We even got a box of human bones we could check out of the library and take home to study with. That lab was challenging. I don’t mind saying that I was horrible at dissection when I first began. Nonetheless, we persevered and passed the course and continued with the rest of the curriculum. Most doctors never set foot in the lab again, but I have rarely followed the common path. I was awarded an anatomy teaching fellowship while at the school and spent a year helping to teach and dissect in the cadaver lab. Even this wasn’t enough for me, however.

More recently, I taught anatomy at the National College of Natural Medicine, though now, it’s the National University of Natural Medicine, and was in charge of the cadaver lab. The lab had 6 cadavers, all of which needed to be dissected. I usually had between 4-8 students that assisted me in dissection, but that still left a lot of work for me. I’m not going to lie, I enjoy dissection. There’s a meditative quality to the act that focuses and relaxes me at the same time. And then, through everything I’ve learned and experienced, I still love anatomy. That has stayed with me throughout my entire life. I still refer back to my Netter’s (one of the most commonly used anatomy atlases), I still go life drawing sessions, the human body still fascinates me. Even if it doesn’t seem like that love is reflected in my art.

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.

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.

What is your style? (or Why the Dots?)

I hate brush strokes. That pretty much sums up my style. My first experiments in color involved watercolor markers. Their soft tips left lines where the marks overlapped, making darker lines as the layers of pigment bled into the paper, like the pattern vacuumed into a shag carpet. I hated the look. My solution was to use the markers in a circular motion. I would have preferred a uniform field of color, but wasn’t unhappy with the cloudy swirls that resulted. As it turned out, though, this swirly pattern was what people commented on the most.

Color has never come to me easy. I was terrified of color, at first, avoiding it like the plague for years. Those watercolor markers busted my prismatic cherry, but I wanted more, I wanted bigger and for that, I’d need paint. I choose acrylics for their simplicity and affordability. Space was tight in the one bedroom apartment I lived in at the time and it seemed a bit risky to keep the flammable supplies I would need for oil painting. Watercolors, with a brush, not the markers, have always been too uncontrollable for me and while I knew of gouache and tempera, I had no idea how they worked. So, acrylics it was, but I still needed to figure out what to do about the brush strokes.


My first few paintings were crap, but that’s no surprise. At that point I had failed so many times at so many things that failure is expected. I only have a few pieces from my “early days”, the rest long since thrown away or painted over. “Three Birds” is the first piece where my current style began to emerge. The paint was applied by being dabbed onto the surface, which didn’t quite achieve the look I wanted, but did eliminate several brushstrokes. I don’t really like this piece anymore, my style having developed and progressed in my opinion, but it does possess a raw energy that was the purpose of the piece. My wife likes it, and has insisted that I keep showing it, but I suspect that she may be a little biased.


My use of dots is slightly more developed in my piece, “Otherworldly”, but they are used sparingly, only for background. It wasn’t until “God of the Ants” that dots became a major aspect of my work. This is also the piece that made me realize that I like working big. At 47” X 29.5”, I can remember looking at the vast expanse to be filled and thinking, “Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to try to cover this with dots?” I didn’t keep track of every minute I spent working on this, but it was created over a three month span. I used to roam the neighborhood searching for painting surfaces, and was very excited to happen upon the sides of a shipping crate. “Otherworldly” is also on one of these sides. Unfortunately, in addition to its size, “God of the Ants” weighs in at a little over 18lbs, making it difficult to hang anywhere, so it has never been publicly shown.


Using layers of dots upon dots also provided a way for me to blend colors. Without any classes, any training in things such as color theory, I was clueless as to how to mix different colors on my palette. Not that I don’t still try, but my results are far from predictable. If nothing else, my use of dots gives my paintings a look that is distinctively mine. As much as I lament about how long it takes me to build a painting the way I do and how I sometimes wish that I had gone to art school, that I had been “trained” in some way, I am proud that I can own my style. I look forward to seeing how this style of mine will grow and develop over the years.

Who am I?

As basic a question as this is, it’s one that I’ve always avoided answering. I enjoy being the chameleon, the one who could step into any role that needed to be filled. The scientist, the healer, the brute, the poet, the lover, the strange, silent guy mumbling to himself in the corner; I’ve been all of them at one time or another. Until now, I’ve never claimed the title of artist, despite creating art for the vast majority of my life. It seems like I’ve tried every career path I could to avoid being a professional artist, but none of them ever rang true.

I was born and raised along the southern coast of Maine. Got my black belt in karate and began teaching to help put myself through college. Graduated with a degree in chemistry and went to work in an analytical lab. Began taking tai chi and studying to become an acupuncturist, but ended up getting a scholarship to a medical school in Maine, which made medicine the more financially viable path for me. My time in medicine was brief and I went into biotech, which was an equally uncomfortable fit. Just before my dive into art, I spent an extended period operating my own bodywork practice, while teaching anatomy at a medical school on the side. Throughout all this time, I kept telling myself that I would do art seriously, once I felt I was “stable” enough. At a certain point, it became obvious that the “right” time would never come and I was going to have to make art a priority, or it would never happen.

Despite what many people may believe, art is not easy. I don’t make art because I want to; it is a relentless compulsion that drives me to create. A cruel taskmaster that demands that I manifest the crazed visions that blossom within me. How does one paint joy or sketch dread? I spend agonized hours in internal conflict about whether I should use quinacridone violet or magenta. My job is to bring the impossible to life and accept the inadequate fruits of my labor. My work is a solitary endeavor. I can’t even talk to others about my work, since few are interested in the intricacies of paint viscosity or the difference in tooth between smooth and vellum Bristol board. Don’t get me wrong, there is joy involved, as well. Making beauty is an ecstatic experience, an act I consider to be my highest purpose. I claim the title of artist with a great amount of pride, but it is a role so ill-defined, often times outside the very boundaries of society, that there is a butt-clenching level of fear that accompanies that pride.

Of course, I want to be rich and successful, but, right now, I’ll just be happy if I don’t shit myself.