Four Talking Boxes 1972


Once again I decided to dig out an old piece of art of mine and write about it. I find that to be an interesting exercise that can help me shed some light on my current work. Looking further back on the path can help me look ahead. So I pulled out an old 8.5×11 inch ink drawing from April 4, 1999 creatively named “Ink Drawing #8.” At least it was named something. I didn’t always name things back then.

This days I’m adept at making spontaneous ink drawings. I can take a pen or brush and just start drawing in ink without putting down any underdrawing in pencil. It’s a skill and technique that took me a long time to learn. Ink Drawing #8 was one of the first drawings that I made when I was first learning how to do that.

It started with me buying some coquille board. That’s a drawing paper that’s a good heavy stock but with a very fine pebbled texture on the surface. It was the first time I ever tried using that type of paper and though I enjoyed using a brush and ink with it I found it hard to draw on with a pencil. So I ended up saving it for a while until I started drawing in just ink. This board may have even been the impetus to start me in that direction.

One interesting aside about this drawing is that there is a false start on the back of it. I stared a drawing of a large monster or some such on the back but after a couple of dozen lines defining its basic shape I bailed on it, turned the paper over, and started a new drawing on the other side. Of course I don’t actually remember doing this but since the drawing is in ink it’s still there.

Ink Drawing #8 is one of my better drawing from this period. It works for me. It’s not perfect but I’m not looking for perfection when I’m drawing this way. It’s almost impossible to attain perfection with a brush and ink when drawing spontaneously so it’s better to go for interesting and happy accidents. Keep it simple and think ahead.

With spontaneous ink drawing there is often stuff that drives me crazy but I have to live with it. For example there is one small area of this picture the my eye is drawn to as not quite right. To the left of the woman’s right arm (the one that’s behind her body) the slat of the handrail of the bridge and the line of her arm create a triangle. That triangle seems a little off to me. All these years later and I still notice it. It’s kind of nuts but not everything can be perfect in an ink drawing so I accepted it and moved on. That and there was no real way to fix it. That’s another thing you have to accept when making a spontaneous ink drawing. It’s not a technique where you can fix everything. But that’s strength too. It frees you from worrying so much about mistakes which can be paralyzing for an artist. Sometimes you have to throw away the eraser.

This drawing reminds me of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” There are no screaming people in mind but the composition of the diagonal bridge and the high horizon line in the background are very similar. Plus there is a small person approaching a larger person. I must have had that painting in mind when I drew this because it’s a very particular composition.

My main weapon of choice in making this drawing was pattern. The four main ones are the horizontal stripes of the water, the vertical stripes of the bridge railing, the brick pattern of bridge road, and the diagonal stripes of the woman’s shirt. That each one is distinct helps the piece. I could have crossed the water pattern over into the railing to imply that the railing was made of iron rods rather than a solid wall but that would probably have cause visual chaos. It would have messed up the distinct diagonal of the piece. Roads not taken are important too.

One of the things I really like is the figure gesture of the woman. She’s bending backwards and twisting her head towards us. She’s standing still but also in action. I find that hard to capture. The diagonal lines in her shirt also help to make her more action oriented. The are just curved enough to suggest a there dimensionality to her and make her move a little bit. While the shape and texture of her pants, which look like a big jar, ground her. The pants give her a solid base.

I like the man walking towards her. Though a lot of him looks to be made out of blobs he has a movement to him. He’s coming forward. Not running but in a bit of a hurry. His legs aren’t even differentiated one from the other but they still read as his two legs. I also like how his shirt has turned into a bullseye with his head near the center. It lets us know that he’s coming.

I also used white paint on this drawing. Since I was making a finished piece I went back in here and there and whited out some black lines. Not to make it perfect but to make it presentable. I even drew with the white paint on her gloves. I used it to emphasize the fingers. Give her hands a little bit of a gesture. I can tilt the original and catch the light on it in such a way as to see some of the white paint that’s been drawn over in black. It’s almost like looking at the underdrawing. That’s neat because usually an underdrawing gets totally obliterated. It’s like a little time machine or glimpse into the process.

One last thing. There is also some writing on this piece. Way down in the bottom left corner it says, “Conditions inside the maze were so cruel that the rats no longer longed for a sense of order but dreamed to embrace the warm bosom of chaos.”


I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got four new comics.

  • Britannia: We Who Are About To Die – 4
  • Invincible – 138
  • Dept. H – 16
  • Lazarus +66 – 1 of 6
  • Check them all out here:



    Sometimes I can’t get anything done. I go to put pen or pencil to paper and nothing good comes out of it. It usually doesn’t last that long but I can lose half a day or even more to the grips of mediocrity. It’s not like writer’s block (which, thankfully, has never really haunted me) where you stare at a blank piece of paper, or screen, and nothing comes out. It’s more like I draw badly because I start with a bad idea. Or a half-hearted idea. A bad idea might actually be better than a wishy-washy one.

    It all starts with trying to figure out what I want to do. That’s not easy for any artist. What’s the point of doing anything after all? If you’re getting paid to do a job then it’s easy to do. Or at least its easy to see the point in doing it. You do the job so you can get paid. But if you’re an artist not getting paid to make art what is the point of making art? That’s the question that you have to find the answer to. Not being able to answer it leads to many creative people not doing anything creative. Often the answer for me is “Because I want to make something.” Then, of course, I have to figure out what to make. That’s the part where the ideas live.

    Some people are good at being popular. Maybe they are in tune with current trends and can see which way the wind is blowing or maybe it’s just that they care about what’s popular. They have a genuine interest in it. They can see what people want and then they can deliver the people something similar and the people like it. They’re people pleasers and their creative ideas are all about pleasing people. I lack this trait. I have little interest in what’s popular and when on the occasions I try to tap into something popular it usually doesn’t work out well.

    I’m a me pleaser. That’s how I work. I let my own tastes and interests be my guide. It works for me and let’s me get things done but it’s not much of a crowd pleaser. My tastes aren’t the same as pop culture’s tastes. My tastes ten to be a bit eccentric and weird. I think I’m good. I think I make some good art but it tends not to be popular. It doesn’t have that streak of “Everyman” in it. Instead it has a streak of weirdness.

    In trying to sell art over the internet I’ve noticed one trend when it comes to popularity. If you want to be popular than glom onto something that is already popular. You can see it on all of those T-shirt-a-day sites. The shirts all reference something that’s already popular, mash-up two popular things, or straight-up rip-off a popular character. It’s a lot easier to sell a Star Wars T-shirt than one you come up with yourself. I’ve seen people selling all sorts of prints, paintings, and drawings of popular characters. So every now and then I try my hand at it. Usually to no avail.

    This all started a few days ago when I was trying to draw some art cards. Small baseball card sized pieces of original art. I’ve made many of them, offered them for sale, and almost never sell any. I pencilled a couple a faces and then got sucked into the rabbit hole of popularity for just a minute and tried to draw a Batman card. It was mediocre at best and it killed my momentum. I put all the cards aside to leave for another day.

    This morning I pulled the incomplete art cards out and looked at them. I liked one of them. A random face that I drew. I inked it, colored it with markers, and liked the way it came out. There was a simplicity to it that I enjoyed. I managed to capture what I wanted to in just a few lines. So then I got the idea to try and do that with a popular character. Who knows? Maybe I could tap into that wave of pop culture. Sure I could.

    “Friends” is TV show that I like. It may not be the best show ever but it’s my go-to nostalgia show. It’s also one of the few places where pop culture and I are in agreement that something is good. I’ve tried to do drawings of the cast of the show before and they usually aren’t very good. If I have to stick too close to reality with my art I tend get get bored. That’s not a recipe for making good art. But I figure if I could make some drawings in the simple style that I just drew that face in I could have something good and maybe popular. Silly me.

    I tried. I really did. I called up some photo reference of Jennifer Aniston’s face and tried to make a drawing. It didn’t work out. I made the drawing a little too complex and it had no character. Nor did it have much of a resemblance to Jennifer Aniston. Undeterred I started on a second drawing and simplified it even more. It was another swing and a miss. If the drawing of the face I had done earlier got the grade of an A than theses two drawings go the grade of a D at best.

    I must have wasted an hour of my life making those two bad little drawings. It’s really not pleasant when that happens. Even worse it sent me into a tailspin for another hour or two. I couldn’t get anything done. I kept wanting to go back and make brilliant little drawings of the whole cast that everybody would love but that was never going to happen. I’m good at freeing my mind to work on things that can go in any direction but when I work with other people’s expectations in mind I don’t so as well. I lack whatever that mechanism is that people who can tap into the popular zeitgeist have.

    So there you have it. That’s my story of frustration and not getting things done for the week. What’s yours?


    I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got eight new comics.

  • Shadows on the Grave – 6 (of 8)
  • Deadly Class – 29
  • Divided States of Hysteria – 2
  • Eternal Empire – 3
  • Kill or be Killed – 10
  • Kaijumax Season 3 – 1
  • Mage: The Hero Defined – 0
  • Diablo House – 1
  • Check them all out here:



    I like using magic markers for drawing. They’re fun for me because they offer instant color. With paint or watercolor I have to wait for them to dry so the color isn’t as instant. I still use paint but I’ve been using a lot of marker over the last six years. When I started using them the main challenge I had, besides figuring out a technique for them, was choosing which markers to use and then building a set of them.

    The choosing was fairly painless but took some time. I started out buying some cheap markers and developing a finished art technique with them. First I bought many a Sharpie marker and ended up with about thirty different colors. I even bought a set of twenty Bic Mark-It markers that are Sharpie-like. Being that Sharpies and Bics are cheap I probably didn’t spend more than a dollar a marker on that set. Sharpies are limited though. The tips available and type of ink really doesn’t allow for a lot of different techniques. Though they gave me many ideas before I moved on to more expensive art markers.

    The second method I tried for building a marker set was to go cheap and only buy one color. I had worked some stuff out with the Sharpies but still didn’t have a full grasp on a finished technique. What I mean by that is I had always used markers for color sketches and things like that but I had never used them as I would paint to make a finished piece of art. Markers were for working drawings and not the end piece of art. That is a totally different mindset. So I bought a bunch of blue ShinHan Touch markers that were on sale. I only spent about two bucks a piece on them. They had a chisel tip on one end and a fine, round tip on the other. I kept it monochromatic because I wanted to work on technique without worrying about getting the color right. It took a while and I ended up with about twenty different blue markers. That was still a pretty cheap set.

    My next step was to get some color markers. I wasn’t 100% sold on the ShinHan Touch markers I was using but I ended up getting more of them because, once again, they were cheap. ShinHan was discontinuing this set of sixty markers and I got it for under a hundred dollars. It was a good buy and helped me nail down the finished technique I was looking for but I learned a lesson about marker sets. The lesson was that about a third of the colors in a pre-made set are ones I’ll never use. They’re just not the right colors for me. That’s a high rate of failure. I guess the same would apply for any set of colors but paint sets aren’t usually sold with that many colors in them.

    After I finished figuring out my technique I went on to sample more types of markers. Sometimes I’d buy cheap sets of markers but soon found that was generally overkill. Since I was no longer concerned with technique I found the best way to sample markers was to buy four of them. Black, red, yellow, and blue were my choices. The primary colors and a black. The choices are pretty obvious. I even skipped the black every now and again because I normally use black ink with all my marker drawings.

    After trying out lots of different brands I settled on the one that was generally considered the best. Copic markers. Copic Sketch Markers to be more specific. The sketch ones have a chisel tip on one side and a brush tip on the other. I almost alway use the brush side. I’m a brush guy and that works best with my technique. The second thing that sold me on the Copic markers is that they are refillable. You can buy ink for them and when the marker runs dry you can put more ink in them. But they’re not cheap. A marker is about seven dollars and the refill ink is about seven dollars. The ink refills the marker about ten times which brings the long term price of the marker way down but the upfront cost is still there. Plus with the Copics you can replace the marker tips too. The extend the life of them even more and keeps the cost down.

    So how did I build my set of Copies? One piece at a time. Or maybe a few pieces at a time. It all depends on how much money you have but you can start with just three makers. Blue, red, and yellow just as I said before. Make them a medium blue, red, and yellow too. After that add one each of the secondary colors: green, purple, and orange. Don’t even buy any refills yet. Make sure you like the colors and they work for you and then buy the refills once you’re sure you like them. Purchase number three is skin tones. I’d go with four or them if possible. From pink to dark brown. That’s a good range.

    So now you have ten markers and maybe ten refills. That’s about $150 worth of supplies but spread out over time it’s not so bad. Sometimes you can catch stuff on sale too. I’d spend about $20 at a time to get three markers and it took me a couple of years to build my whole set of about eighty markers. So be patient.

    The next thing on my list is three shading markers. These are neutrals or light colors that I can use with most of the other colors. A light blue, a yellow ochre, and a light grayish purple. With these I can make all the other colors work a little bit better.

    So there you go. Thirteen markers. If you got that far into building you marker set then maybe you really like them. If so add more markers over time. The best way to do that is with lighter and darker versions of the original colors you bought. A dark, medium, and light blue will serve a lot of you blue needs. Same with every other color. Goal number two is to turn one color into three colors. That takes some doing so buy one light blue, see if you like it, and then go buy a refill for it. Or maybe a couple of colors at a time and save the refills for next time. No need to rush.

    After you have three versions of all six of your basic colors you’ll have about forty markers. That’s a pretty big set. After that you can try new markers out. There are lots of browns and earth colors to try, all sorts of greys, plus various one-off colors that don’t quite fit in but can be useful.

    I’m going to leave you with this list of Copic markers. If you don’t like that brand then look for these colors in another brand. They work for me as a pretty good starter set.

    Primary Colors:
    Red – R29 Lipstick Red
    Blue – B04 Tahitian Blue
    Yellow – Y18 Lightning Yellow

    Secondary Colors:
    Green – G07 Nice Green
    Purple – V17 Amethyst
    Orange – YR68 Orange

    Skin Tones
    Skin 1 – E15 Dark Suntan
    Skin 2 – E21 Baby Skin Pink
    Skin 3 – E27 Africano
    Skin 4 – E97 Deep Orange

    Shading
    Pale Blue – B91 Pale Greyish Blue
    Grey Purple – V95 Light Grape
    Yellow Ochre – Y28 Lionel Gold