I really enjoyed facilitating my class called Drawing Stories, an introduction to drawing comics, this past Fall at the Lawrence Arts Center. I say “facilitated” instead of “taught” because the real teachers of my class are the comic artists whose drawing exercises we use, artists who have written interesting and influential books on creating comics, among them Lynda Barry, Scott McCloud, Ivan Brunetti, and Jessica Abel and Matt Madden.
I squeeze a lot into the eight two-hour sessions, so much so that I will probably make this a twelve-week class in the future. In Drawing Stories, we learn by doing. We keep a sketchbook-journal with drawing exercises and experiments in it. Then we share our work and learn from each other, supporting each other as we go. And yet no one is ever required to share their work, because we all have different comfort levels with that.
In the first class, we experiment with doodling and drawing, playing around with different pens and pencils, and finding a simple visual vocabulary for communicating our first ideas. We draw stories without words at first, then bring words into the mix, considering the unique ways that words and pictures work together. By week four, we’re thinking about characters and how to draw them, how each character’s expressions, gestures, clothes, and environment reflect who they are and what they’re up to. In other sessions we focus on the varying grid formats available for a single page comic, how the eye flows from one panel to the next, and how one might visually transition from scene to scene in a story. We practice techniques, too, such as penciling, inking, lettering, and making titles and word bubbles.
The most fun we have, though, are the times when we make collaborative comics — a “comic jam.” We use plain old copier paper for this, dividing each piece of paper into a grid of nine panels. Everyone has a grid-page in front of them with an attached “parameter,” a theme or principle that each artist must follow to guide the learning process as well as the form or content of each one-page comic. Each student draws the first panel on their comic-page and then hands it over to someone else in a willy-nilly fashion, until everyone has drawn at least one panel of each comic before we trade and draw some more, until all nine panels are filled. Some examples of the kinds of parameters we’ve used include: “no words,” “dialogue only,” “start at the end and draw the panel before the last one,” and “write a caption for the next panel.” But these are just a few examples, the possibilities are endless, and the laughs are, too.
Note: Individual student comics are shared with permission from each student. Click on each to enlarge for better viewing. Artists are, from top to bottom: Michael Galvin, Grace Wise, Class Comic Jam, James Adaryukov, Casey Carlile, and Jill Rohde.
It’s the simplest of exercises — we all did it as kids. Make a squiggly doodle mark, and then turn it into something else!Â Thanks to cartoonist Lynda Barry for reminding us in her books Syllabus and Making Comics,Â how to draw as playfully as we did as kids!
I’m prepping for the class I’ll be teaching at the Lawrence Arts Center this winter called, “Imaginative Drawing.” It’s an 8-week class that begins in January. Enrollment is now open; click this link for on-line enrollment.
I am excited to offer a new drawing class this Fall called Drawing in Black and White — a class that I hope will be both interesting and fun. This introductory-level class is intended to introduce students to drawing techniques using ballpoint pen, ink pens, cut paper, and scratchboard. We’ll draw from observation and imagination, build confidence in our skills, and discover the expressive power of making art in black and white.
During class we’ll doodle and practice with all manner of pens. We’ll draw from observation and “map” areas of light and dark on the page to create the illusion of space. We’ll consider the unique qualities of our various media by practicing techniques specific to each. We’ll practice shading using a ballpoint pen, similar to sketching with a pencil. We’ll create areas of dark and light in a
different way using pen and ink, layering lines and strokes to create different tones. We’ll cut black and white paper into shapes to explore the interaction between positive and negative space, exploring the black-white design principle calledÂ Notan. We’ll discover how different it feels to draw with a white pen on a black background, and we’ll use that knowledge to “cut” a drawing using an old illustrator’s media called scratchboard. All the while we’ll summon the creative process to help us investigate our world through drawing.
The arts center will provide each student with a sketchbook to use in and outside of class and a variety of pens and paper to use during class. I strive to create a supportive environment each session, and this class is appropriate for beginners and anyone else who wants to try something new.Â Contact the Arts Center front desk with questions about senior discounts and financial aid.
Fall registration is going on now. This class will meet on Wednesday evenings for 12 weeks, beginning on September 11, 6:30-8:30pm. Register in person at the Lawrence Arts Center (940 New Hampshire St.,Â Lawrence, KS) or on-line at this link.Â Iâ€™m looking forward to this new class, an introduction to techniques for making expressive drawings in black and white.â€“Lora Jost
Note: The flying squirrel-doodle to the left (12″ x 20″) is the subject of this blog and is the doodle that I refer to throughout. Other images are from my sketchbooks.
Whatâ€™s in a doodle? Curly do-dads, texture, funny wings, big long tails, emotion, practice, improvisation, new ideas, new media, spilled tea.Â Even the sound of the word doodle suggests spontaneity and flow. Doodling is the quintessential imaginative drawing, and imaginative drawing is the theme of a new drawing class Iâ€™m planning for adult learners this Spring at the Lawrence Arts Center. This class is the reason Iâ€™m thinking about doodling at all and about the place of doodling in my own creative process.
I keep sketchbooks but often begin my explorations with writing. Â So when writing gives way to sketching, doodling, and drawing, a ballpoint pen is in my hand and is often what I use. I learned recently that ballpoint pens are the medium of choice for entire on-line communitiesÂ of artists. And the January 2014 cover of ARTnews shows the work of ballpoint pen artist Â Toyin OdutolaÂ and inside the magazine is the work of otherÂ ballpoint pen artists, too. Inspired by these, I decided to explore this medium in a large-scale doodle-drawing to gain a better understanding of it not just for sketching but for “finished” work as well.
So already through the pen, art and life are connected in a doodle. Or maybe life itself is a doodle because in a doodle, everything feels connected. For example, the first time I saw aÂ Â Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was at the soccer fields in Overland Park, Kansas, andÂ that little piece of history is in this doodle. It isnâ€™t in it literally, but that experience led to something that led to something that is in it. When we returned from Overland Park that day, I looked for this beautiful grey-blue bird with the extravagant tail Â in my Kansas bird book and found it, â€œone of the most well-known birds in Kansas.â€ Ha! I was surprised and wondered what else I have never heard of. And perhaps more interestingly, what might be all around me that I have never seen?
The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher eventually led me to backyard birdwatching. When I was scribble-writing some ideas for this blog, I looked out the window at a zillion Starlings at my suet feeder and seconds later two Downy Woodpeckers were there, and then two Goldfinches and then a slew of Cardinals. The feeder is constantly churning with comings and goings and then, of course, there are squirrels. And there are squirrels in my doodle. It was several months after seeing the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers that I decided to get some bird feeders. I got the cheapest feeders I could get — small, plastic and ugly — and a waterer too, and hung one at the side of the house and one in front. And the birds came! And the squirrels came too, lots and lots of squirrels. My husband gave me bigger and better bird feeders as gifts but also grumbled about the cost of feeding a whole neighborhood’s worth of squirrels. But he was the one to notice the littlest and cutest squirrels on the coldest of days saying, â€œWe gotta keep those little guys alive!â€
I began reading Bert Dodsonâ€™sÂ book,Â Keys to Drawing with Imagination, and drank in his encouragement to doodle, to stretch your doodles in new directions, to noodle the doodles, and to mix them up. I joked about getting a bird-proof squirrel-feeder. Or how about a Squird feeder! Of course there are Flying Squirrels. But what if flying squirrels had actual wings? What if they had cicada wings?
Doodling odd flying squirrels made me think of those strange prehistoric creatures that surely should not be able to fly but surely did. Amidst my listening to jazz and â€œAll Things Consideredâ€ on the radio as I doodled, Â I heard Terry Gross on â€œFresh Airâ€ interview author Elizabeth Kolbert. Kolbert talked about her new book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. In it she explores the fact that species are dying off so quickly due to the impact of humans, that it is a time of mass extinction, and is considered the sixth mass extinction on earth.
My flying squirrels will never exist but imagining that they could provided a moment of levity as I listened to Kolbertâ€™s dark accounting of the extinctions of species now taking place as I doodled. I wrestled with the ugliness of it all in the vigorous marks I made in the tails of my flying squirrels. And thatâ€™s not all the bad news I was hearing as I worked. At this same time the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill to preserve â€œreligious rights,â€ a bill really intended to take away the rights of gay and lesbian people should they ever be allowed marriage equality in Kansas. I explored the absurdity of it all as I doodled.
I went to KU’s Natural History Museum on the day I took my computer in for repairs. Little squirrels had been nesting in there, slowing it down and giving me that interminable spinning pie wheel. It had been a long while since Iâ€™d been to the museum, and I wanted to scope it out as a possible destination for my drawing students. There were old bones and taxidermied creatures. I came across a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and a flying squirrel (a dead but real one) and made a quick sketch of the squirrel. And I decided that I would like to make some art about animals that are gone.
And then the doodle was done.Â I liked some of the things that were going on in it, especially the bottom-most squirrel. The shape and pattern of it had a visual integrity that the more cartoon-like squirrels seemed to lack. I liked working with aÂ BicÂ ballpoint but wasnâ€™t fully satisfied with it either. I couldnâ€™t get the darks dark enough. I figured out that the basic Bic crystal has a twin, the Bic crystal pens found in the pack of 12 colors, and with these I could eke out a slightly better black and darker blue. I wondered how this image would look in scratchboard, a medium I’ve used a lot. But in scratchboard, how could I Â keep the sense of spontaneity that I liked here, when I find the application of lines in Scratchboard to be more cumbersome?
The doodle helped me ask questions and forge other kinds of professional connections, too. I wanted a better-than-Bic pen for a blacker black and went on-line to find out how I could un-clog my old Rapidograph technical pens. Happily I found an on-line community to help me. When I posted my doodle on my Facebook page, a friend shared about an interesting Â on-line doodling community. And the doodle may have suggested a path forward on an illustration job that I’m working on. It even helped me process the beginnings of a collaboration with Â a composer-friend in New Jersey. Â We hope to explore a music/visual art collaboration and our point of departure will be nature, climate change, and extinction. For her part she will begin composing about a river. I will start with birds or frogs. Then weâ€™ll trade our work and see how the other person’s art inspires a second round and hopefully many more.
Bert Dodsonâ€™s book, including his chapter on doodling, has helped me to push my work in small but significant ways. One key to drawing creatively is to simply draw at all, and through the process of making and working, ideas come. â€œWe tend to think of imagination and creativity as qualities that people have. But in reality these qualities show up only in action–as something you do. Simply put, imagining is what you do in your head; creating is what you do on paper.â€
Come see my clayboard drawings in a three-person exhibit called Scratch, Sprinkle, Cut, at the Carnegie Cultural Center in Ottawa, KS. The exhibit features the black-and-white art of Azyz Sharafy (sandtoning), Angela Pickman (cut paper), and me (clayboard).
The Carnegie Cultural Center is at 5th and Main in Ottawa, KS. The exhibit runs August 5 – September 30, 2011, and the hours are Wednesday – Friday, noon – 5 pm, and by appointment on Saturdays. The exhibit reception is open to all on Friday, August 19, 5:30 – 7:30 pm.
I will offer a two-hour Scratchboard Workshop at the Carnegie on Saturday, August 27, from 10 am – noon. The cost is $20. Call to pre-register at 785-242-8478.
I made this mosaic in the Art and Conversation class that I co-led for women survivors of sexual violence, at GaDuGi SafeCenter. In this project, each participant created a 6-inch ceramic tile painted to represent a painful experience. Â We each, then, broke our tile and used it to create something new — an element in a mosaic.