Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Here's the latest couple for the Cyborg book.

Diminished reality

No one has said a word about them online, which is a pity because they are slightly darker than some of the other ones and I am REALLY curious about what people think of them. This one in particular was a tricky one, conceptually for me. It's actually about ad-blockers that people use in the real world. My understanding is that one wears a pair of robot-goggles or something that "knows" where ads are and places a white rectangle over the picture.

Setting aside the whole issue of designers and people who make those ads (and you know, that delicious opportunity to critique bad ads, and thus deprogram yourself from the ad's message,) this sort of thing really bothers me. I understand that there are those ad-saturated places that are too noisy, visually. But something in me rebels at the idea of simply blocking those out with a white square. Or even with a painting. It's just...I don't know. The feeling is similar to that reaction towards Photoshopping models. We live in the world and you need to be able to take it, lumps, weird shapes, different colors and all.

It was a garbled visual journey that lead me to this metaphor, but I think this sums it up really well. It's not a binary one is right one is wrong issue, it's a debate. And yes, ads messy up our worlds, but also censorship is something we really shouldn't take passively, and certainly not something we should inflict upon ourselves without careful, careful thinking. Do not wear, as Peter Sagel once called it so poignantly, a "rose-colored blindfold".

The other one is pure cheek.

mundane science fiction

I am in love with this concept and if I had my way I'd have another month to paint it more realistically and carefully. But there we are. "Mundane Science-Fiction" -- only "mundane" to differentiate itself from the sort of science fiction that involves death stars. It's actually a fairly compelling way to confront some of the Big Problems we have, only as far as I have seen most of the "real" "mundane" sci-fi chiefly falls back on the weird and paranormal stuff. Earth itself is pretty interesting, and all its inhabitants are distinct and strange, so I've never understood why this is. But then I am no real connoisseur of sci-fi, so what do I know.


Just a few more on deck. I am really excited for these last few. Paint paint paint.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Oregon Country Fair

For the past two years Anthony has had the privilege of working on the recycling crew at the Oregon Country Fair, and this will be the first year I will get to join him.

“Getting” to work a volunteer position that routinely means lifting barrels of waste onto the back of a truck, climbing on rusty cylinders and (as it did last weekend) dumping out foul-smelling food remnants into a pile of slimy goo may not seem like a privilege to most people. But idle hands are the devil’s play-thing, and apart from that working hard for a few hours a day means we’ll have the sort of experience at a fair that only those back stage can have. Twenty-four hour access, camping for a week, hanging out with a downright muppety group of hippies, outlaws, refugees and pirates. Good stuff for an illustrator.

So far I’ve only been privy to “pre-Fair”, and even that has been a treat. The O.C.F. has been going on for forty-two years, and we live in an area where severe weather is rare, so most of the booths are permanent (or semi-permanent) structures built out of scrap timber; as aged and weathered as the trees themselves. It reminds me of my elementary school’s playground, which was made of logs bolted together to make climbable pyramids and balance beams. Before the O.C.F. booth-ers arrive to set up shop the forest appears to host some sort of elven ghost town. Empty scaffolding, stairs, and lofts hint deliciously at what was (and will be) there come next week. So many wonderful lines.

Oregon Country Fair

When I was last there I didn’t have time to sit with my drawing board, but I hope to this coming weekend. I am wrapping myself up in a tight curl, pushing out the very, very last pictures for the big Cyborg Anthropology book, and I hope to be finished by the time we leave for the week. I think the fair would be a wonderful pallet cleanser.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


In my Farmer’s Market newsletter last week I learned that our own dear mayor proclaimed June to be Farmer’s Market Month. It sort of is anyway, since most markets open just as all the produce gets going, but it’s nice to have things official. They actually enclosed the entire notice, and of course because I used to format legal notices for the newspaper I read every word. And then I thought about what it should have been like. (And WAS like, for all I know.) And then I drew it.

full sketch

I regret that I don’t have time to paint this because I’d really like to. Maybe if things are quiet after this Cyborg thing I will do a little unit on mayors. I still know practically nothing about what mayors actually do, apart from snippets our own mayor drops on twitter. There is clearly much more to being mayor than walking in parades, fixing potholes and proclaiming June to be Farmer’s Market month.

Speaking of parades: there was a parade of mayors! I can’t believe I missed the parade of mayors! Evidently many mayors from all over Oregon where in the Rose Festival Parade, parading. Considering my interest in city business (esp. in the area of Those Things That Require Notices To Be Published) and mayors it would have been such a treat!

I must not be a very good Portlander because I’ve never managed to make it down to the key attractions of the Rose Festival. The first time I had the chance I’d just moved here, and I sent my family down to the shore to see the big boats mostly to have some time alone with the moving boxes for a few hours. Last year no doubt I let my knee get the better of me. This year I was shepherding Anthony’s family around for the Big Big Graduation Celebration. It’s still fleet week so maybe I will get down there and draw boats tomorrow evening. A change of scenery from all these robots in my brain.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The wild and lawless days of the post-Impressionists

client's taste

It will not surprise you that most of my fancies lie in the representational world. It may surprise you, as it did me, that I was so taken with this painting.

I saw it at a client’s home a few months ago. I am usualy very strict about NOT sharing things I find in people’s houses directly -- privacy and all that -- however in this case I feel okay about this blurry snapshot. It really was not about the other things in the living room (which were equally engaging) but all about this painting, about two feet tall, with such beguiling depth and detail that I honestly had trouble working around it; it was so captivating. They have a sofa perpendicular to this thing and oh how I long to lie there in the evening and consider that painting.

Abstract art is such a difficult topic. It’s honestly hard for me to get “into” it because I think the openness of the genre (that “pfft I could do that!” feeling) has made room for a lot of stuff that is not good. And something being not good itself has been incorporated into the aesthetic, (What is “goodness” anyway? Who’s to say this is good and that is not?), so it’s sometimes hard to tell the blowhards from the curious explorers. And because of that, because of the pretentiousness of some painters I have known, and for many, many other reasons, I have to say anything Jackson Pollack flavored has always turned me off, because it’s just so hard (for me) to tell if the artist is trying hard or just, well, going through the motions. If you will.

(I should hasten to point out that I’ve never seen a Pollack in person. And also that I am glossing over a LOT about intent vs. result, pictures to look at vs. pictures to make a gut reaction vs. pictures to tell a story, skill vs. happenstance, training vs. talent, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, polished fine artist vs. folk artist, artists painting for other artists vs. artists painting for an audience, relevance of painting in the 21st century, et cetra. Many other things. Come over for coffee or a glass of wine and we’ll paint the town red.)

(I should also point out that I love cubism and those “abstract” forms that take what one sees in life and plays with what can be seen. Illustration is, in a way, abstraction. It’s simplifying what you are seeing or dealing with and squeezing them down into something a bit more manageable, making the scene pleasing / dynamic / challenging to the viewer. I am clearly not voting for absolute stoic realism. It is not abstraction I am objecting to, it’s those paintings that don’t move you. For me that category becomes very wide. And I don’t think I’m alone.)

It had been well over a year since I’d painted anything on canvas, but seeing this painting made me get my messies out and tinker that very night. Because I’d seen that and thought: that’s wonderful. I feel like I can do that. I want to do that.

And it was interesting to try. Because no, as it turns out, I can’t do that.

Well no, that’s not true. I can apply paint to canvas and make layers and use colors and shapes and lines. But my method of doing this has become so different from the canvas-based method. I’m thinking of the base player in my Mom’s church choir who once brought his guitar during a particularly thin choir turn out during the summer. I remember being fascinated by his playing, because he didn’t strum chords. (And guitar mass is a pretty chord-strummy affair.) He would pick each note separately from the six strings. He played guitar just like he played base. I came to painting having drawn all my life, and for lack of any teaching I would often paint just like I draw. My technique is a bit more sophisticated than that now, but it’s still very much suited for the kind of thing I do, and not the kind of thing this unknown painter is doing.

A few days ago I stumbled upon Michelle Armas’ work, a lot of which is also refreshingly substantial. I was delighted to find she is doing her part to dispel that pfft I could do that feeling by posting a blog entry about the steps she goes through to make a painting. (Or, more specifically, how painting commissions work.) I love the way she talks about her process, the fact that she acknowledges the stopping, the stepping back, the self-evaluating. (A very, very important step. One of the key reasons why pfft... gets dispelled.)

Somehow her work, that blog entry, that painting I saw; it all has me thinking about interplay of colors, shapes, lines, spaces and all with a vividness I haven’t felt in a long time. I find myself scrutinizing with renewed attention the colors I see in all the flowers blooming in the neighborhood. My early morning crayon warm-ups have taken a much more gestural quality, and I’ve shifted from starting with sleepy contour lines of the tree out my window to scribbles of light color and experimenting with different colors and line thicknesses on top of that. None of it is worth sharing, but all of it starts my brain off on a good receptive direction. It ensures that I will remain a bit more hungry for Good Art Things all throughout the day.

It's these sorts of paintings that make my heart sing most. Paintings that without the use of any objects of any kind still manage to have me on my toes and squinting, getting lost in that sea of color and shape. Is it just the applicability of the picture-field? Like watching clouds? There's a shape, now there's another, or maybe it's something like this. Those choral pinks and teal-green colors make me feel a little edgy. But that pale grey-blue keeps it contained, I think. Isn't that strange how those greens drip but that one does not? It almost looks like a crowd waiting in line doesn't it? Oh really? It made me think of diving into an ocean. Maybe footprints. It's making me think of what we were talking about the other night, remember? Thinking about how things can never stay the same but always move into something else, away from where they are. You know what I mean?

These paintings. The catalysts. Paintings that engage, ignite, that encourage reaction. Paintings you'd want to explore for hours. Singing paintings. Canvas that says something. I'm waking up to these sorts of paintings again, and I'm glad.


Saturday, June 11, 2011


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I don't think I mentioned this earlier, but the protagonist of the "what IS Cyborg Anthropology?" entry is actually someone who existed. I got hold of some genealogy papers a while back and became enamored with the old-timey photos of the various relations who sailed to America from Ireland. Many of them were very fun and plain looking in a dated way, and I used a few of them in some quickies that I posted to flickr. In particular:

Edmund John Wheelahan

Edmund John, son of

Mary-Anne Clarke

Mary-Anne Clarke.

"Edmund" has been a Wheelahan namesake ever since. I don't see Avonia here in my sketches, but I believe she was the same generation as Mary-Anne, also married into the family. I am very curious about her and of course there is little to go on. Avonia. That doesn't sound like an Irish name. Possibly where the gypsy blood came in?

At any rate, something about Mary-Anne's stern brow and frumpiness made her a natural for my cyborg-y explanation, because I needed someone who wasn't young and intimidating. She's done very well, so much so that we are letting her tell even more of her story.

beautiful ideas

You will not see that here because we will be releasing it as it's own booklet, which is terribly exciting to me. It also means I need to hurry up and finish the rest of it.


Thursday, June 2, 2011


This is a really trippy cell-phone-picture-collage of what my garden plot looks like right now. I regret that I didn't take a "before" picture, becuase it was pretty grim. It was basically the inspiration for this:

Flow, interaction design, and contemporary boredom

It's hard for me to remember to build neat little narratives from things I see in real life sometimes, particularly when things get intense and action, not reflection, is the order of the day. It's the 400 yard dash to the deadline here at Chez Kumquat, but nobody told the garden manager. Yesterday there was an email sent to everyone to say: remember, June 1st is the deadline to have your plot worked and weeded and mulched. Community gardening is very popular here, particularly in my neighborhood where everyone is keen to make a go of it. There is at present something like a five year waiting period to get into the garden I'm in, and so they are really trying to crack down on those who don't really work their plots much. For the next few days (and indeed for the rest of the summer) they will be monitoring the plots closely for lack of activity. Those who are clearly not putting in their 3-4 hours a week to keep things maintained will be given a five day shape-up-or-ship-out warning. Then all will be chopped up and reassigned.

It seems severe but there are some serious jungles in some of the plots right now. (MUCH more so than what mine was.) And it has contributed to the increase of invasive weeds and pest buildup and other bad things.

We are no where near this category of slackers but when you can't remember the last time you worked in the plot (it'd been weeks, certainly) and you get an email like this is really turns your skin. But fate stepped in and canceled my afternoon house yesterday, so I spent the time I would have been there in my rain jacket and mud getting things tip-top. The result is very satisfying. Onions are finally separated out and ready to grow, all greens look gorgeous (in fact, need some harvesting,) blueberries are heavy and waiting for the sun. Compost worked into the soil. All we need now are seeds and starts and we are in business.