Just the Necessities

Readers who stumble across this website without context for any my history may be surprised to learn that for two years I drew and published a weekly online web comic. In all, I published about 150 strips, nearly all of them slice-of-life gags referencing my life as a dad to a single-digit-aged daughter.

I’ve tried to reboot that strip a couple times since I stopped drawing — a little over a year ago now — but my dabbling attempts have been thwarted by a lack of time, focus, and cohesive new narrative thread. Kids grow up and it turns out teenagers don’t think wry observation of their awkward quirks are very funny, DAD!

Those attempted reboots have left little in the way of published assets behind. On the other hand, my cartooning toolbox, mental, digital, and emotional has been much more fleshed out by the experience. In fact, I often find that I’m in a much better position to just absently sketch something while hanging out bored, while in front of the television, or for no reason other than to draw.

Art then becomes a bit more expressive and bit less prescriptive, more of me trying to get an idea out on the page in whatever form that takes and less me trying to hit a (self-imposed) publication deadline for a Saturday morning comic post.

Some of this is reference art, of course. I often draw hoping that what shows up at the end is something that inspires me to draw it again. Then again. Then a hundred more times so that I can spin the whole thing into another modestly successful comic strip.

If nothing else, I land with something and maybe even something worth sharing.

Last night, for example, we were watching some television as a family and I pulled out my iPad and absently started a self-portrait. I had two things on my mind. First, it has been floating through my peripheral awareness that my hair has never been as long in my life as it is right now. Barbershops opened for the first time in two months as of this week, and I was overdue when they locked down due to the pandemic. Second, having taken an extra day off for the long weekend, it also happens to be my turn to brave the grocery stores and restock our basics.

Doodle. Erase. Sketch. Tweak. Refine. Colour. Tweak. Expand. Shade. Tweak. Et cetera…

And around an hour later I posted this little sketch onto Instagram.

Back when I was doing a regular strip I turned to Instagram as one of the primary channels for sharing my art. And in the over a year since posting that strip regularly, I’ve tossed a few doodles like this (and in a variety of other styles) onto that account as a kind-of “I’m still here” flag. I realized as I posted yet-another-not-my-strip cartoon there last night that it might be and opportune time to consider a rebrand: to rename the account as something more generic to the art, and more specific to me. So… that’s the plan. Or at least the seed of one.

In the meantime, I’ll be over here absently sketching.

Open for Business

Flowers have a color complexity that is often ignored until one finds themselves trying to replicate one on the page. All at once they are delicate yet vibrant. Translucent, yet rich with texture and shadow.

A yellow tulip appeared in my flower bed this morning. I write that sentence as if I didn’t plant a bulb there many years ago and tend to a crop of flowers every year, weeding and watching and watering when necessary. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a pleasant surprise to see the color emerge from the ground each spring after a long, cold winter when that same flower bed was a pillow of white and cold for so many months.

As I write this the city where I live is opening for business like a tentative spring flower: a lone tulip is a yet-to-be-weeded flower bed is an apt metaphor, actually. While the media plays the “back to business” story as if everything is well on it’s way to back to normal, the world is anything but. Little has changed since we locked down. The virus is still a threat. The economy is still in the tank. Most people will not rush out into the spring air and open their delicate embrace to an uncertain risk.

Quarantine Sketchy

I’ve been struggling with the idea of posting happy things during the pandemic lockdown.

Many people I know — we all know — have lost jobs, health, sanity, and even that comforting thread of normalcy. Sharing pictures that ignore this fact creates a fuzzy line between cheerleader and oblivious. The obvious solution is to stop posting. Yet, dropping out of sight, ignoring that some people just want to know that others are out there, is a gap that cannot be ignored. So… what to do?

In my wanderings I had been taking lots of random photos of the garden, of spring, of new life emerging from the ground and soil and seemingly dead tree branches. The snow melted over the span of a week, the sun came out, and little shoots of green appeared as I walked by. I snapped. Or clicked. Or whatever it’s called when one presses a silent virtual button on a touchscreen. Alas, I didn’t want to just upload, so besides just wavering between either deleting or wantonly posting these average phone pics of my walks, I instead sat down one evening recently and began to use them as a layered inspiration for some sketching.

Backup. Nine months ago when we were wandering around the UK and Ireland, I happened upon an art store where I bought a sketchbook and some ink pens. Paper, time, and inspiration. I returned home with a dozen or so rough travel sketches. I’ve never been an artist, but I’ve filled more than my share of pages with attempts. The idea of travel sketching appealed to me, and so when I came home I had this notion that I would continue. But the familiar sights nearby work and through our neighbourhood seemed to lack the inspirational push that I required to keep it up.

A few months passed on I came into possession of an amazing birthday gift: an iPad (and later the dedicated Apple Pencil stylus) turned my artistic inclinations through a new tool: a useful tablet for writing and gaming and video became an incredibly useful sketchpad, too.

Back to May 2020 and I find myself with limited access to travel inspiration, but a penchant to draw.

To be fair, the iPad allows me to cheat a little bit. Those inspirational photos that I snap have served as not only memory joggers for the sights I’ve captured, but I had adopted an artistic style that blends some cheater enhancement gained from using each pic as a starting layer in my sketching software. Simply: I’ve been starting with a rough trace of the photo. Atop the photo, a blank transparent canvas lets me capture the rough shape and outline of the object. Quickly. Broadly. And then I ditch the photo and do detail work and colour work and texture work completely from my own mind.

But, yes. I’ll admit to a bit of lazy pen work on the high level structure.

The idea of travel sketching is often thought of as loose, however. It is an art form that is accomplished with the time and tools in hand. A pencil, some paper, a quiet spot on a noisy street corner where one furiously grabs the barest details from a scene to fill a gap of time and story. It strikes me as something of an exercise in mental impressionism, an act of capturing a feeling of a place as much as a photo captures the detail.

The end result is not the sketch, then, but the feels it leaves on the person who looks at it.

So back to the beginning: Many people I know — we all know — have lost jobs, health, sanity, and even that comforting thread of normalcy. Sharing pictures that ignore this fact creates a fuzzy line between cheerleader and oblivious. The obvious solution could easily be to stop posting. The less obvious solution is to stop posting reality.

The sketches, to me at least, are a fusion. They are traced from photos, hacked from reality, blended from memory and image, and at the same time impressions of a moment in time layered with colours and textures and scribbles. Travel sketches of a moment in time when travel meant something besides getting on a plane or in a car and going away physically, but instead escaping the complexity of reality for fresh air in a garden or a park or along a riverbank.

I continue to struggle with the scope of posting anything during this time, a moment when a global pandemic has uprooted the very notion of normal, but I think creating art from that mental space and sharing it is anything but oblivious.