Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Beach Getaway

Read all about my weekend painting getaway to Atlantic City with the Philadelphia Plein Air Painters over on the PPAP blog

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Judge Parker Process

 One of the constants of my universe is Judge Parker, no matter what else is going on in my life I am always working on the strip. Rain, sun, snow, ASE and final crits, you name it, I am always working on the strip. I am now working my way through my 5th year on the strip, as hard as that is to imagine, time flies in real life, while I don't think more than a year or year and a half might have transpired in strip time. Next year will mark my sixth year on the strip which will be the same amount of time the late Eduardo Barreto worked on the strip before he was to give it up, due to the illness which eventually he passed away from. This marks the longest run on any comic project by far for me, Darkhawk being 25 issues and Alpha Flight being 27 issues. Bot of those numbers are unheard of now in comics as far as continual runs on a book. It seems 4-5-6 issues is all you get before the team is off the book.

I have often looked back at Barreto's work on the strip and admired his run. Working on the same job I know now how hard it can be to keep at it every week, year-after-year. Strips are not for everyone, some artists could not handle the amount of consistent work needed and the fact you must try and keep your enthusiasm up---plus you can never ever miss a day in the paper. Woody Wilson, the writer has been working on the strip even longer than me, somewhere near 30 years now, and he also writes Rex Morgan.

The current storyline, the marriage of Randy and April has been going on since the end of 2012 and will be wrapping up in the next few weeks. I figure maybe 2-4 weeks has transpired in that time. I am working on that batch of strips now. Doing the strip is sometimes like working in a vacuum compared to painting. There is some feedback occasionally from real long time fans of the strip, unfortunately the Comics Kingdom message board is not such a place. Its just a den of trolls who seem to derive some pleasure from coming in to piss up Woody's and my leg every day. I don't get it, why waste time of something you don't like? But that is just one of the bad sides of the Internet and they have even published studies on the trolls and said how in real life they are unhappy, sad and bad people. So I suppose their second lives on the web should be no better. I wish King would take off the comments altogether and just post the strips rather than let people egg your house every day. Perception of value is important and I would never let anyone lower that if I could run the board. This is just one example of how fandom has shown it's ugly side in recent months. There was a whole shitbag of cats on message boards as the babymen got upset by some female critics comments on some ugly DC cover and threatened them and harassed them. But then again, what do you expect...this is just how the bad side of social media allows the slippery slopes to be greased with the greasy minds and manners of the babymen.

My process on the strip has also changed I think because I so much more comfortable with the characters, they actually live in my head now. This is a good thing because it helps me act them. This storyline was a lot more fun to draw since I 'm drawing jungles and wasn't drawing that*&^%$!! ugly kitchen in Abby's house. That thing makes no sense design wise and I can see how even Barreto had a hard time with it. But soon I will return to Spencer farms and Abbey, Sam and the Girls and I hope maybe I can get Woody to have the kitchen be rebuilt in a new story.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Back to Nature

 Yesterday I finally got back out to paint  directly from nature after months of painting in school and the studio, and it was great. Along with a a few members of the Philadelphia Plien Air Painters I returned to paint near the Swedish Cabin along the Darby Creek, about 15 minutes from my house and a great spot I have painted at a few times in the past year.  There are so many great places to paint there I will be going back for sure, especially since it's so close. It was certainly a heck of a lot warmer this time painting out doors than the last time I did it back in January when it was freezing out along the Brandywine Creek.
I was pretty inspired  to get back to plein air painting after being cramped up in the studio and after seeing the fantastic Anders Zorn show last weekend at the national Academy in NYC. Art High from the inspiration of seeing the Swedish master's work up close , his magnificent depictions of water and nature, I wanted to get out and try my hand at painting water and see if I had learned anything. I wasalso using one of the linen cover birch panels I purchased last year from Source Tek. The panel is great, I think it might be the best surface I have painted on to date. Just a little drag to it that gives me a slight dry brush feel if I want.

After hunting around and finding a few new spots the group split up and went off painting. I found a spot with a good composition of trees and laid out my palette and went at it as the weather forecast was that rain or pop-up thunderstorms could rain us out at any point. I worked pretty steady, taking a few brakes to see what everybody else was up to. Alina, who wasn't painting but who originally found this spot came down to visit as she and Will live right up the road from the Swedish Cabin. She visited with Niloofar who was working in ink. Will was working in gouache and Shaun in oils like me.

I always feel that at any moment I am about to fail when painting like this and after a while of not painting out doors like this I have to stop myself from getting carried away with details too early. I kept thinking back to Zorn as an example of how to design, suggest things instead of getting bogged down in details. Painting water is always a challenge and both Sargent and Zorn make it look so easy, which it isn't. I found myself taking my time and looking at the water, really studying the patterns (shapes) and slowly putting down shapes and then correcting them by painting back into them. Using my thumb or finger or back of the brush also seemed to help adjust or soften things a bit here and there. The main thing was figuring out when to stop. I think that might be one of the most crucial points of plein air painting, when to stop and not kill the spontaneity and energy of the piece.

 Here is my piece almost finished and Will's awesome little goache studies below.

This weekend I'll try and get back out and paint again, maybe this time down at the beach.

The final painting which I completed just as the thunder started to roll in and the humidity and the bugs suddenly increased with the approach rain.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

In Other News...

So it's been over a week since graduation and things are still busy here. I have started to move out of my studio on the 9th floor and bring all of my book, supplies, etc. home.

I have a lot of stuff, waaaay too much stuff, so I will be sorting, tossing and leaving things behind for the students still in school. The amount of "treasure" you can find at this time of year on the upper floors after students move out is amazing. Canvases galore, stretchers, chairs, bookshelves, all manner of supplies, etc. Some people bug out of town quick and want to lighten their load. I don't blame them at all for just tossing out a lot of art and supplies. I still have things in my studio that friends left in our gang studio on the 4th floor from undergrad. I will have to decide about a lot of paintings I have from school, to either toss them or reuse them later for new paintings.

It's too easy to be a pack rat and think, "I'll use this canvas or piles of wood, etc." and then never ever, ever use it. How many cans of fixative do I need? So right now between the studio at school and my home its like a game of tetras to fit it all in.

I just received my final grades from PAFA this morning--as if they in any way really matter now.  They were exactly what I expected to get and I'll pin them on my fridge, but really what matters is the skill I gained, my hard work for me and my goal, not how well I painted to please my critics. The simple fact is usually by pleasing one you will displease another. No way to win that game.

The rumor I hear is that they might go to no grades at all in the next year or so in the MFA, just a pass, fail type system that many other masters programs have.

The whole system of grading in Art School is a prickly subject in many ways. In general I think there is an overall grade inflation on one hand, and no real test , or empirical test or measuring of whether skills taught are really learned like they might have in music school when you have you final performance at the end of the year.  I think there is less so in an animation or illustration program than the typical fine art program.

The best evidence might be that if you paint the way your critic wants, they give you a better grade, go against their advice, and you get a lower grade. You might be thought of as being close minded or stubborn. I did in no way paint to appease my critics, in fact the paintings I was doing to appease a few, or one, I stopped doing as it wasn't what I wanted to do.  I didn't agree with her points in the end and felt painting to show her I could make the type of work she wanted was a waste of my time--I should be painting what I wanted, not painting to prove a point. I felt it was like a commission for a critic.

To sum it up, the critics are there as a resource to help me to be a better me, not to paint or make work that reflects their desires--or TASTE. In the masters program that is the way I think it should be, not the way it often seemed, where if you paint figures or landscapes they want you to abandon that for something else or another aesthetic which you don't desire.

There are a lot of upset an angry students at the end of the year when Spring Prizes are given out, many feel they worked really hard but don't get a prize or recognition for that hard work. I understand that, really. I think being older in school helps here because pleasing a critic or being a star in school might be a great thing, in school. Its a reflection of you pleasing many of the people in the school. Hoverer it is by no means any guarantee of success or future recognition outside of school or that you will have a great and long lasting career in the arts. School is short, art is long.

It's maybe too easy to get A's and B's in art school, when in the end what you want is skill and ability, or that should really be your goal because that is the wind and sails that will carry you forward, and when they are not there, you better be able to put the oars in the water and row likes hell.

This last Sunday we had the annual Student Show for the After School Program at PAFA, where I teach the Illustration class. The teachers all showed up early to hang the student work on the 11h floor  and a few hours later the student's and their family showed up to celebrate their work and have some snacks.

I think this years work was the strongest so far since many of the students have been in the program now for 3-4 years, so you can really see their progress and growth on this year's wall. Its a mixture of happiness and sadness since a lot of the students I have taught are now graduating from high school and moving on.


I will miss my crew who are leaving, but wish them well, they are going to really do well in the future if they keep working and growing as much as they have. As a teacher there is no better feeling than to see some young artist blossom before your eyes. Its the best feeling in the world to see them just gain in leaps and bounds at this age. hats off again the Al Gury who put this whole program together, what a gift for any student in Philly to be able to come to this program,  I certainly would have loved to attend this program as a teen. My hope is that they can carry forward this moment of purity, the desire to be creative for yourself into the sometimes choppy waters of art school or as a way to enrich their lives in the future.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

MFA Graduation! It's a WRAP!

                            Your's truly giving my thesis talk at my wall doing my best Shatner

The dust and shreds of the past month of school are finally settling down a bit a week after my final MFA thesis defense/critique in front of my wall, the Women's Board Preview Night, the ASE Opening and my graduation from PAFA with my MFA. It was like a Dagwood sandwich of art school all served piping hot and fast.
                                      The opening night of the ASE was swelled to capacity

Only now am I able to start really processing the events and my exit process or exodus from Art School. I'm sure I will continue to edit, reflect and sort my"Art School Experience" even more in the coming months after I have completely moved out of school and resettled home and started the rebuild of my studio and my life.  I started moving out of my studio today and took a full carload of books and paintings as well as supplies home. I have to shed some more, and well let's be honest, a lot more extra cargo before I can embark fully on the next stage of my Art Journey, for the sun is already starting to lower in the sky of possibilities.

I will have to work even harder if I hope to catch a good wind and reach my future goals. I can't wait to start painting again, from life, models, the outdoors! FROM PHOTOS! I am chock full of ideas and inspiration. I'm thinking I will have two separate studios at home, one for comics and such and one for just painting. I am aware of time, ageism and the narrow window I face. By some standards I've read I am already too old to be successful as a painter, but I'm going for broke. One of the things I became very clear on is my idea of success doesn't gel with the NYC orbit outside of a handful of galleries. I am not an installation artist or a modernist.

The past month of school was literally just put my head down and keep running and try not to let any of the spinning plates slow and wobble. Honestly I'm still exhausted from the whole process and I know that having my great friends, who had my back and came in to assist and give me encouragement helped me a lot.

Having done two ASE's before and hung several shows in the past few years also helped me as well as my years of professional experience in dealing with multiple deadlines. I worked hard early so calling it a day and framing my wall early did help a lot.

I will openly admit I have pretty mixed feelings on my MFA experience and my final crit and exit from school. I have always been honest about my experiences at PAFA. I have always talked about what I like and dislike. The MFA was not as much fun as the undergrad, and maybe that is the nature of an MFA program, to make you feel uncomfortable and challenged.  Defending your process, goals and ideals is always a good thing--at least that is what the story we are told always says.

But it can also take the fun out of it as well and I have very little patience for art speak. talking about art, yes, but the idea that so many final critiques used the same language to describe so many different disciplines was rather frustrating. I attended as many crits as I could, even those that featured work I didn't care for as hopefully you learn things you can take with you that will help your process and journey as an artist, structures you can continue to build on, and I think this is true. But a lot of this is also a "school thing", the part of the process that really lives in an institution and not in your personal studio space and not in the world outside of school. I will say as well that right now there is an aftertaste I am not finding very palatable and want to wash out of my mouth right away.


I was very disappointed in my final review and in my critics that were selected for that review. Some people got who they wanted and some like me didn't, and that's the way it rolled. When I got my list of critics I knew it was not going to be a favorable exit review. So many just didn't know me or my process so having them as my exit crit I felt would be dicey, though I was glad that Dan Miller was the head critic for me. I love Dan, that man is really an amazing artist and human being.

I have always felt that I was 'out of sync" with the modernist or post, post whatever we call this time in the  MFA program, since I am both a figurative and narrative painter in the land of the Modernist. Worse that I like to paint women. I felt downright conservative at times. At times it reminded me of what I disliked so much about art school the first time back in 1980. I quit then.
                                    My friend Jessica giving me some feedback on my wall

 However I felt right at home in undergrad at PAFA and its the continuation of my relationships with the faculty, especially with Scott Noel that kind of saved me in the MFA. It was that ability to continue my dialogue with Scott for two more years that was the most beneficial aspect of the program for me, along with the new voices of the MFA critics like Martha Armstrong, even Denise Green, who I didn't always agree with. Scott and I battled a lot, but in a good way, he pushed me, challenged me more than any other teacher and I owe him a bigger thanks that I could ever pay him back.

For our final reviews once again we had our system of double crits going on at the same time. This meant critics were split into groups, this created issues as you'd have crits with two friends going on at the same time. I would rush back and forth between crits to try and catch as much as I could.
When Scott wasn't on my final crit I was very disappointed as I feel he understands me the most of any teacher in school. He "get'"s me, which I feel it was pretty evident in my final review.  That wasn't the case with most of the critics who had never seen my work before.

Dan Miller was the head critic and I know Dan gets me and was one of  my critics last semester. But I felt in the end I was basically going over old ground, "why work from photos, etc." They didn't even talk about my figure work at all. Tom Ceszar did put forth some good feedback, but it wasn't what I had hoped.

Ugh. I mean come on, why are we even still having this discussion about photography at this point when I've been doing this for years in school and decades as a professional? The idea that craft is some kind of handcuff on creativity is just bullshit! Only in art school do we talk about such dumb ideas. You don't tell a singer  or a musician to not practice and that doing so makes them weaker artists. You don't tell an athlete to not practice. But we are always ready to shit the bed and toss out skill as some form of freedom when skills in the end frees you to execute and express your desires and impulses in the way you want. Its not some constant missing of the mark or qualifying or lawyering. That's a modernist argument/stance I 1000% disagree with.

 Craft alone is not enough, certainly, but then ideas without craft to execute them is garbage. Failure. Craft is the vehicle, the software that either helps you deliver your idea of fails you in my book. Its pretty simple, and so the review was pretty bad and I knew it would be so.

 I however wasn't going to take the idea that skill was bad laying down, and it did get a bit combative. A word of advice to any student reading this is to never let a critic take control and steer the crit in a way you don't want, or get away with stating things you honestly don't feel are true or valid about your work--and you are free to take any opinion in and also reject any opinion if it doesn't work for you. I was told basically my work is cold and unemotional, great skill but nothing personal to say. I of course don't feel this way and neither did Scott, but oh, well.

I again was disappointed and knew I would be, but that didn't make it any more enjoyable. I know many students who were at my crit felt the same way as I did, and I was disappointed some of my former teachers and critics didn't say anything at all. I would say over half of the critics in my review didn't say anything. Not one word. Why even show up then? They just sat there....

I was pretty mad for a few days after about how it all rolled out, disappointed, but I'm a pro, so you choke it down and move on to better things and tasks at hand. The fact that I had exactly the opposite reaction to my work during both the Preview party and ASE opening, the very pieces the faculty disliked selling first was the best validation of all for me.
David Brigham addressing the crowd of graduates and parents
People got my work, they saw the emotion in my work my critics simply could not, would not see. I had so many talks in front of my wall about what drew me to these subjects and the emotional response to the places, events I am painting.

I had many, many people trying to purchase the same pieces and the strongest reaction to any of my work to date.

 I sold half my wall during the Women's Board  Preview and even sold a piece earlier in the week to one of the Super Donors to the Academy. I felt good, great even for the moment that I had such a strong response and I also made some good contacts and commission as well.

The public reaction to my work was 100% the opposite of the faculty's ...why is there such a disconnect? Is it merely the BS of art school, academia and the lingering radiation of the modernists distaste for figurative or the classical approach? Its not contemporary--the most stretched out term to describe a philosophy or work. Is it that old saw again? I just feel so glad I will not have to go through that again. I  love and will miss PAFA, but not that type of atmosphere.

The crowd sang happy Birthday to Nancy

                                                       Dean Carr waves goodbye to us

In the next week I cleaned up, got some sleep and fought my Judge Parker Deadlines and went to as many of my fellow MFA's crits as I could. I also tried to battle the piles of laundry and house chores that had been put off in the past weeks.

Graduation day went fast, it seemed like things slowed down for a spell and then gravity suddenly let up and it was a whirl, class speakers, guest speakers then I was standing and the next moment getting my diploma and shaking hands. I think this year went faster than my undergrad ceremony. in 2012. It was great my parents could make it out and they really enjoyed the event and the show. I know so many of us students were so happy for this moment to be here and to while a bit sad to leave, to also be looking forward to what's next. I answered that question a 100 times that day. Its pretty simple, I will be doing what I have always done, just not have the plate as a student to keep spinning. That plate can now be washed and put out to dry. I will always be a student, but just not in school.
I had a great time and dinner with my family and friends at my favorite restaurant, Little Saigon, and I got a lot of great presents and a awesome cake. I know things will continue to settle into whats to come in the coming weeks. 
I am moving my studio home from school and have a lot to rearranging to do at home and head wise. I will continue to blog as I set up and set sail to the new horizons. Happy Graduation to the class of 2014!

Nancy B and giving out the Aluni Award that Peter is holding and Phillis giving her talk for our graduating class

Here I am seconds after getting my diploma.

My dad and and my best Bud Jamar Nicholas
My friends and family gathered at Little Saigon for the celebratory meal ( best spring rolls on the planet!) Ed even got me a cake!

                                                    Here's to a bright future as a painter!