“Drawing Stories” at the Lawrence Arts Center

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog 5: Poetic Language

Gallery view, Sound the Climate Alarm, 2020

This is the fifth and last in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. Here are links to the first four:

Blog 1: Artist Statement: Sound the Climate Alarm

Blog 2: Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

Blog 3: Symbols and Themes

Blog 4: Making Art in Covid-times

Fire (detail)
Cranes Over Fence (detail)

Poetic Language

 

Sound the Climate Alarm is, in broad terms, my response to climate change, animal extinction, barriers, border walls, and the pandemic. I was happy to discover the writer and poet Mathew Zapruder’s description of how he views the language of poetry, because I think it is a helpful way to think about the images in my exhibit, too.

Dee Dee Dee (detail)
 

Zapruder talks about poetry as “language freed from utility.” He says poetry is how we “get to the truth that is beyond our ability to articulate.” So where, in my drawings, chickadees sing razor wire, there’s a cardinal honking, or a paper boat is lit on fire, I think these are the kinds of images Zapruder was talking about, intended to “produce an effect in us, rather than to communicate information.”

 

 
Red Arch (detail)
Skateboard (detail)

So, while I am working with specific themes in my art, my images are intended less to communicate information than to evoke impressions, inspire imagination, and spark concern.

Installation of paper crane drawings, Lawrence Arts Center, 2020

Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link, courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.

Artist prints are on sale in the gallery

Blog 3: Symbols and Themes

This is the third in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. Here are links for the first two:

Blog 1: Artist Statement: Sound the Climate Alarm

Blog 2: Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

 

Symbols and Themes

Installation view, Sound the Climate Alarm, 2020

In my last blog, Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm, I described the sources and background of the first ideas for this exhibit. In this blog, I’d like to share about some of the symbols and themes that have emerged in my newer work for this show. 

Cardinal Spring, 2019
Death with Cardinals (detail), 2019

While I have included images of birds in my artwork for many years, more recently I have focused on cardinals. Everybody’s familiar with cardinals and, because of this, images of cardinals have a shared resonance. Four drawings in my show include cardinals. For me, cardinals are versatile characters, sometimes messengers, and sometimes harbingers of joy and Spring. I also include other birds in my artwork, too, often generic-looking birds that represent an assortment of ideas including freedom, the kind of freedom that I imagine goes along with flight, such as the ability to traverse barriers like walls and fences. In two small drawings I exaggerated the wings of a bird in flight to represent a mixture of effort and joy, and in another I exaggerated the wings of a sitting bird (right) to represent a mixture of exhaustion and rest.

Fire, 2016
Thrown, 2019

I have included images of paper boats and paper cranes in my artwork for several years. I view the paper boats as both fragile and resilient. I’ve used the boats in two pieces that signify the effects of extreme weather; in one a paper boat is on fire (above left), and in another the paper boats are rocked around by a storm or flood. I have a few more weather-related pieces in the show, too, one that includes wind blowing a bird nest from a tree (above right), one of rain in the presence of a curiously yellow rainbow, and one showing a windchime whipping around in the midst of a microburst. 

 
Paper Cranes Installation (drawings from 2017)

I made a small installation of drawings of paper cranes for this show, too (left). Many of us grew up learning one or another version of the story of Sadako and the paper cranes. Sadako, a Japanese girl, was a victim of radiation sickness from the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima. She tried to fold a thousand paper cranes for good luck and long life, but she did eventually die from leukemia. Over time, the paper cranes have become a symbol for international peace, and that is how I use them in my art. 

 

In the drawings that comprise the installation, I was experimenting with drawing a paper crane every day as a ritual. I began the drawings when President Trump was threatening airstrikes on Syria, which he later ordered. As I drew, I was thinking about the meaning of the cranes and, on some days, drawing became a kind of meditation. The daily drawings were also a way for me to practice drawing and become more fluid with drawing. So, the paper-crane installation is a documentation of that process 

 

 
Ice, 2019
Cranes over Fence, 2018

Several pieces in the show include images of fences and razor wire (above left and right). These pieces reference prisons, the border wall, detention centers, Guantanamo Bay and, in one, titled ICE (above right), immigration policies like family separation that violate human rights. Naomi Klein recently tweeted, “there is no such thing as a singular disaster anymore – if there ever was. From Covid to climate, every disaster contains every other disaster within it. Every fire is a conflagration of all the other fires.” In my show, I try to make a similar point, that climate change-induced extreme weather events contribute to people’s need to migrate, and inhumane immigration policies deepen the crisis: fires within fires, disasters within disasters. 

Black Arch, 2018

I also use arches or archways as symbols. In the exhibit, I use arches in three small mosaics (above), several drawings and a collage. Arches can symbolize doorways, or openings, or passageways. I think of them as a symbol for life and hope. They also symbolize safe passage through barriers, maybe even mental barriers. Some of my arches also appear as rainbows, a symbol of promise or hope in some religious traditions. 

Two Birds, 2020

 

In my next blog, I’ll share about the art that I have made most recently for this show, made during the pandemic, and how the pandemic has affected my creative process.

 

Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link , courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.

Blog 2: Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

This is the second in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. The first blog in this series is available at this link:

 

Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

 

Robin, Been and Gone in Animals exhibit, 2015

My exhibit Sound the Climate Alarm includes drawings, mosaics, and collages on themes related to climate change, animal extinction, barriers, border walls, and the pandemic. My focus on climate change and related themes goes back about six years, to 2014. That summer, I had a small exhibit at the Phoenix Gallery in Lawrence called Animals. I had just read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book called The Sixth Extinction, and in it she describes and explains the mass extinction of animals that is going on today and all of the ways that this process of mass extinction is caused by human activity, including killing animals for feathers and tusks, spreading invasive species, destroying habitats, and climate change.

 
(left) Death with Cardinals (detail), 2019, and (right) Death with Chicken, 2015

I began making mosaics and drawings in scratchboard and clayboard about extinction. One piece, a mosaic included in the Animals exhibit that is not in this show, focused on robins sitting in a tree (above). While one robin is in full color, the others are obscured or silhouetted to suggest that they had been here but now are gone. I also created some small black-and-white scratchboard drawings of animals in cartoon-like scenes, where the animals are leaving, or being disrupted and carried off by the character Death. I included one of these in my current exhibit, titled Death with Chicken (below), and the influence of Death appears in a more recent piece, too, Death with Cardinals (left).

People’s Climate March Maker Speaker Party, 2014

Another influence on the early work in this exhibit, also from 2014, was a local community event called The People’s Climate March Maker/Speaker Party (left). I served on a committee that helped produce this event, a solidarity event with The People’s Climate March in New York City. At the march in New York, as well as at solidarity events around the globe including ours, there was a moment, at noon eastern time, where the hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the march paused to make the loudest noise they possibly could as a way to “sound the climate alarm.” The folks at the march made a huge noise; they whooped and hollered and used everything from sirens and honking horns to instruments and party blowers, to make a very loud noise.

Sound the Climate Alarm, 2015

After this experience, I became interested in the phrase “sound the climate alarm,” and made some art based on these words (right). I may have latched on to this phrase because I enjoy visualizing sound in my art, similar to how a cartoonist might visualize sound, where marks and lines stand in for the plinks, pops, buzzing, music or anything else I want the audience to visually hear.

(left) Birdsongs, 2015, and (right) Party Blowers, 2015

More of those first “sound the climate alarm” pieces are in this show, too, including a mosaic with birds (below left) whose shapes are silhouetted to indicate presence and absence, with colored lines coming from their beaks to represent sound, and the sound then moves in and around human ears. If we really could hear the climate alarm, what would it sound like? Maybe the climate alarm sounds like birdsongs.

I included visual-sound in a few other “climate alarm” pieces too, including a couple small pieces with people disrupting birds with party blowers (above right), and in the piece Death with Chickens that I mentioned earlier, where Death chases a Prairie Chicken with a blaring-saxophone. The images of people blaring horns and instruments are a way to indicate the hapless disruption of animals by people unaware of their own destructive activity.

With Nature Sing, Bethel College Mennonite Church, 2018
Heating Up exhibit at the Lawrence Percolator, 2016

Additional influences on the work in this show include projects completed between 2014 and 2018 that are not a part of this show but share environmental themes, including two mosaic installations – a mosaic mural at the Free State Brewery in Lawrence, Kansas, and an installation of six small mosaics (above) at Bethel College Mennonite Church, in North Newton, Kansas. Also, in the Spring of 2016, I worked closely with a committee who facilitated a large-scale community project called Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change (right). It was a month-long series of cultural and educational events that involved more than fifty local artists, poets, and musicians, along with faculty and students from Lawrence’s two universities, and representatives from arts and environmental organizations. Heating Up was an exciting project and boosted my interest in responding to climate change in my own artwork, too.  

May You Be, 2019

In the process of looking back at my art over the past six years, I recognize that in our society and culture, value is often measured in monetary or financial terms. But artists can represent a different kind of value through the language of art – beauty, care, alarm, loss, grief, pathways, possibilities. In my next blog, I will share ideas about how I have used themes and symbols as part of this language in the more recent work that I have in this show.

 

 

Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link, courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.

Exhibit, talks, and virtual tour of “Sound the Climate Alarm”

“Sound the Climate Alarm,” my exhibit of drawings, collages, and mosaics on the theme of climate change at the Lawrence Arts Center, is up and running and open for visitors! See the exhibit in person now through Dec. 21 (masks required). Gallery hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am- 7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm.

 

Take a virtual tour of my exhibit, courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center, at this link.

 

Sign up for a gallery talk at the Lawrence Arts Center, on Nov. 19 at 6:30pm or Dec. 5 at 4pm, at this link . Talks will be limited to 10 people; attendees must wear masks and practice social distancing.

 

(photo courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center)

“Drawing Practice” class at the Lawrence Arts Center

“Blind” contour drawing

I am excited to offer a class called “Drawing Practice” at the Lawrence Arts Center this Spring. It will meet once a week for 8 weeks on Wednesday evenings, March 18 – May 6, 6:30-8:30pm. Enrollment is now open.

This introductory drawing class will focus both on exercises to strengthen our ability to draw from observation, as well as additional exercises to strengthen our abilities to draw from memory and imagination. Each student will be provided a sketchbook of their own to use and to keep, and basic drawing tools will be provided to use during class.

Mapping darks and lights

We’ll draw from still life setups as we engage classic skill-building drawing exercises such as contour drawing, gesture drawing, continuous line drawing, sighting methods to help us to draw in proportion, and exercises that help us draw light and shadow, too. In addition, we’ll doodle a lot (and “noodle”), we’ll make loose and controlled drawings, we’ll enlarge, abstract, stretch, and distort our drawings, and we’ll draw at different rates of speed. We’ll practice drawing from memory in different ways, we’ll imagine monsters made from random marks, we’ll go on drawing scavenger hunts, and we’ll chronicle our day — just for fun — as a simple 4-panel cartoon.

Turning “doodles” into “monsters”

Our class will serve as a support group for drawing outside of class, too, and we’ll think about strategies to help us make time to draw at least a little bit each day — but we’ll never beat ourselves up if daily drawing isn’t something we can do — homework is always optional. Our goal in this class is to simply draw enough to forget whether or not our drawing is “good. Our goal is to practice as much as we can, and by doing so, to make drawing a pleasurable part of our everyday lives.

You can register for the class on-line or in person at 940 New Hampshire St., Lawrence, KS, phone 785.843.2787. Financial aid and senior discounts are available.

Take a class: “Imaginative Drawing” at the Lawrence Arts Center

class resource booksImaginative Drawing is a beginning-level drawing class. It is one of my favorite classes to teach, and I’ll teach it again this winter at the Lawrence Arts Center. This class begins on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, and meets each Wednesday evening for eight weeks, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.

 

The class is based on drawing prompts and exercises that we do together each week in our own sketchbook-journals. By the end of the eight-week session, we’ll use what we’ve learned to create a  drawing-related work of art in any medium we choose, as a finished piece.

 

Doodle-creatures from random marksFor the first few weeks of class, we’ll explore drawing as making expressive marks on a page using all kinds of pens, pencils, and other mark-makers. We’ll make comic-style “timed” drawings as a way to doodle, and we’ll also doodle by building up a series of spontaneous lines that eventually turn into pictures and patterns. We’ll “noodle” our doodles, using a controlled hand to create a finished look by adding color, texture, and shading. We’ll make drawings that are based on observation, drawing the objects and people that we see, as we see them. We’ll consider how observational-drawing  informs imaginative-drawing, and vice-versa. Sometimes we’ll draw at drawing “stations” where we choose from a menu of exercise options, staying for as little or as long as we want to at a station. These sorts of exercises will focus on stretching, distorting, or abstracting images that we’ll draw using exaggeration in an imaginative drawingfrom observation. On a different station-day we’ll explore the use of “randomness” as the basis for making something new: random squiggles on a page, random cracks in the sidewalk, or random shapes of clouds can provide the building blocks for making faces, creatures, or monsters. Each week we learn something new about the creative process. Along the way we’ll ask the question, Where do creative ideas come from?  We’ll engage exercises that seem to get to the heart of creativity, bringing disparate ideas together in ways that are new. We’ll also learn about how to keep a sketchbook-journal, using artist Corita Kent’s focus on the journal as a “sense diary,” and cartoonist Lynda Barry’s “daily diary” formats to bring words and images together. Towards the end of the eight-week session, we’ll discuss composition, that is, how to arrange the elements in our drawings with attention to the drawing as a whole. We’ll then imagine a drawing that we would like to make, plan it, and make it.

 

eclipsedoodle002 copyA writer-friend who took Imaginative Drawing several  years ago recently said about this class  on Facebook: “Take this class! About two hours ago, I pulled out my sketchbook from the class. It is part brain health, part creativity, part stress relief.” And I would contend that the class is also a way for students to build confidence in their drawing abilities and to learn imaginative drawing skills to be used in art forms as different as comics and quilting.

 


I strive to create a warm atmosphere where students will feel encouraged and comfortable drawing in ways that are new. While I encourage students to share their work with others in class, because there is so much to learn from each other’s experiments, I also make it clear that no one is ever required to share; “passing” is always an option. And homework is optional, too.

 

Song in my HeartWinter classes begin during the first full week in January. Registration now for Winter session. Senior discounts and financial aid are available. Register either on-line or at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St., Lawrence, KS,  phone 785.843.2787. To register for “Imaginative Drawing” on-line, visit http://enroll.lawrenceartscenter.org/browse-classes/event/2941?fbclid=IwAR1tS5t8oXpsnJfo_AlpjN-yTufrYNYN78CARP9OOr3taLmbexoLf96S9To.

 

 

“The Toll” at the Lawrence Arts Center through Oct 22, 2016

The Toll

 

“The Toll” is a ballpoint pen drawing, 22″ x 30″, that I made for the exhibit “Currently Nontraditional” at the Lawrence Arts Center through Oct. 22, 2016. The exhibit includes works on paper by 12 artists, each responding to some aspect of what 2016 has meant to them.

 

Artist Statement about “The Toll”

2016 has been a year of violence, mass shootings (including one in Hesston, Kansas, near my hometown), terrorism and war. To depict the pain of 2016, I drew many individual paper cranes as the overall pattern in my drawing. Most cranes are marked, wounded or shot, crumpling and falling to the ground. A few shots miss and a few cranes survive. The paper crane became a symbol for international peace after Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who was a victim of radiation sickness from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, attempted to fold a thousand paper cranes before she died. My drawing is about the fragility of peace and the toll of violence, with an awareness that every person killed in a mass attack, is an individual who was loved and will be missed.

Going / Home / Coming at the Percolator

This is a detail of "Democrats!" at the Lawrence Percolator.

Everyone is invited to the opening reception for the exhibit Going / Home / Coming on August 13, 6 – 9 pm, at the Lawrence Percolator in Lawrence, KS. The artists whose work will be shown explore the theme of “home” with the following in mind: When do you become aware of home? In what situations do you not feel at home? How does the idea of home change over time?

 

My piece in the exhibit includes an anecdote from my childhood about growing up as a Democrat in a Republican state — my home state of Kansas. I made the piece by applying and scratching off various inks on a clayboard surface. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing and reading this quirky little piece.

 

The Lawrence Percolator is located in the alley between 9th and 10th streets and behind the Lawrence Arts Center on New Hampshire St. The exhibit runs August 13 – September 11, 2011, and is open on Saturdays and Sundays from noon – 6 pm, and on the Final Friday of each month from 5 – 8 pm.

Final Friday Events in Lawrence, March 25, 2011

Join me for the Final Friday festivities in Lawrence, KS, on March 25, 2011, from 5:30 – 9 pm.
I will show this new mosaic at the Lawrence Art Party,  at the Hobbs-Taylor Lofts on 8th and New Hampshire. I’ll be grouting this mosaic tomorrow, so wish me luck!

I’ll also be showing this new clayboard (also called scratchboard) piece at the Lawrence Art Party.

And finally, I made this new clayboard piece with colored ink, and it is only 5 inches square.  Come see it, and bid on it, at the Lawrence Arts Center’s annual art auction.  The opening is part of the Final Friday festivities on March 25.