woensdag 31 augustus 2011

Changing my tune...

The thumb holding a steady beat, alternating between the bass strings, while a finger or two are up top, picking out the melody, adding licks and syncopation. The right hand dampening the strings evey now and again, to really give it a bounce on the off-beats. Throw in a couple of single-string lines, add some wonderful Blind Blake-style double-thumbing... ah, my second great love, the acoustic guitar!

I taught myself "Travis" picking (or alternating-bass style, as I prefer to call it) one August in my room when I was 15. I learned a few "patterns" from a book and fell in love with the style. I've played on and off through the years, and have really enjoyed learning - and especially writing - songs on guitar. I've never really got much past alternating-bass style... but then, it is such a wonderful style, it's hard to get tired of. Perfect for folk, blues and old-time music, but also for more modern singer-songwriter type tunes. There's just so much you can do with it.

So perhaps it is time for a little tune. I write lots of different kinds of things, but this a short song with a ragtime-blues flavor. It's meant to be an old-fashioned jingle for a fictional perfume called "Summer Rose". In the key of C and I tried to get a little more involved with the guitar than a simple "back-and-forth" bass line. I throw in a lot of syncopated bass notes (รก la Blind Blake) and it's a tricky thing to do, I find, but a wonderful style of playing. Once you are into playing that way, it's a little hard to go back - it gives you so many options for variations and changes the whole way you look at the melody - it "shifts" things around in such a cool way, it's lots of fun to try. Even if you don't try the style - you should really listen to Blind Blake. The best guitarist ever, in my opinion. He may have been a little limited in his repetoire - but what he did, no one has ever done better (and it's almost 100 years ago he did it...).

My wife Martha was kind enough to sing it for me, and I play my Larrivee OM-03 along with a washboard using plastic thimbles (but for the video, I play an old no-name parlor guitar...). I just record this stuff at home on a ZoomH2 - so the quality is not perfect. I'd be happy to tab it, if anyone would be interested.

dinsdag 30 augustus 2011

You say "tomato", Tomato says "Aaahh..!"

Since this blog is about the comics I draw, I suppose I ought to introduce a couple of characters I made up. I will start with "Tomato", as I have made more strips about him than any of my other characters.

Tomato is a man with a head like a tomato, wearing a suit jacket, tie and vest. I never think of him as being actual tomato - more that he's just rather unfortunate looking with his big, round, bright red face. People just call him "Tomato", but he must have a real name, I imagine (he just never tells me what it is...).

It was fine spring day when I first drew him, must have been in the year 2000. I had been re-reading my second-hand copy of "All in Color for a Dime" for about the tenth time - it's a great book about old comics and if you can find a copy, it's well worth it. There's a chapter at the end written by Harlan Ellison entitled "Comics of the Absurd" and it's lovely reading. He describes all sorts of strange comics, where pretty much anything could (and did) happen, and introduces a number of crazy and interesting characters from the stories.

It all sounded pretty fantastic, and it inspired me to try my hand at something a little absurd, something where logic and fact where only secondary to a sense of strangeness and fun. So I sat down and got started.

"Hmmm... you'll need a couple of charcters to draw", I thought - and as soon as I thought it, I knew it was a good idea. Some characters would be damn handy. So I drew the first things that popped into my head - a man with a tomato head and a black cat. I gave the cat a simple sweater to wear and for the tomato - well, I always loved things like suits and ties in comics, they're just fun to look at. So that was that - a cat and a tomato, dressed and ready, so I could begin drawing my tale.

"Hey, Jat - we'd better hurry if we want to get this dubble-decker-mocca-cream-cake to Quiet Willie's party in time!"

"Take it easy, Tom Tomato, we have plenty of time! The party doesn't start til May of next year, remember?"

"Ahoy, laddies! Have you seen my hittin'-stick by any chance?"

It went on like this for four or so pages - eventually they do find his stick (I believe the pirate was in drag at that point) and the cake Tomato so badly wanted to deliver flies out the window - he had used too many flies while baking it, we are told.

It was published in "De Stripper" at the end of 2000, and I really enjoyed drawing it - it was nice to just let my imagination go where it wanted, but at the same time try to make the story have it's own kind of logic.

Being of a very lazy and unproductive nature... it was a couple years later that I finally decided to do another strip featuring Tom Tomato and his pal, Jat the Cat. It was a short half-page comic, with only one other character getting in on the action - the Brown Sprout. He had set Tom Tomato the task of getting him 200 grams of caviar - so Tomato goes fishing in what looks to be a sand trap on a golf course. He has little luck as Jat happens by - only to notice that the Sprout's order had been written on a piece of edible paper (which Jat then eats). Feeling betrayed, Tomato devises a plan to even the score with Brown Sprout:
"There you go, Brown Sprout, 200 grams of fresh caviar."
"Fine, fine, son - give it here. I want to feel it dance on my tongue!"
"Blech! Did you say 200 grams? This is more like 400! Bastard!"

In 2005, I started taking on freelance work. I quickly noticed that to get more jobs drawing stuff, I'd need a more modern, smooth style. So that's what I worked on, and eventually started getting comic and illustration work, mostly for younger readers. At the end of that year, it was announced that the newspaper "Het Parool" was to hold a comic contest. The winner would get his strip published (for money, even) and it sounded like a great oppertunity - so I sat down to work.

I quickly came up with an idea - it was to be a strip about a security-guard working in a shopping mall, drawn in my new style. I came up with a couple of gags and started sketching the first episode... and I sketched it again, and again and again. After about a week, I was getting frustrated - the style wasn't really working out for me, it wasn't very much fun and it just looked pretty rotten. The jokes were kind of stupid, too, actually.

Suddenly I recalled the third Tomato strip I had made, perhaps a year before. It featured Tomato on his own (that cat was too hard to draw, I hated it...), his first name "Tom" had been dropped, and he got his standard attire - jacket, tie and vest. The humor had changed as well - absurd but more violent, perhaps, a little creepier:

"Hey Tomato, wanna cigar? Completely free, man!"
"Well, that sounds great!"
"This isn't one of those cigars from the joke shop - as soon as you light it, it explodes in your face?"
"No way!"
"This only has battery acid in it! If you smoke it, your face starts to melt! Ha ha ha!"

It was also a newspaper type format... "that's handy", I thought, "I'll send in some strips like this one - I even already have one done!" So that Sunday afternoon, I drew, inked and colored a fourth Tomato strip and sent a few in for the contest. They were a lot easier for me to draw than my original idea... and I was having a lot more fun, to tell the truth.

I didn't win, but I did get a strip published as a soort of "runner-up". I remember being pretty excited - I went to the local news stand to order a copy (as it is not a local paper) and a few days later we went to pick it up. I was kind of proud - it was amazing seeing my own work in a newspaper.

Since then I have been sticking to the newspaper format, more or less - Tomato meets up with some creepy people and gets either tortured or killed at the end. A few of the strips have appeared in the Leeuwarder Courant, Viz, and Schokkend Nieuws.

Well, there is that one comic I've been working on for a while now. I even have most of the sketches done - just never find the time to finish it, it seems. Here's two pages, maybe I'll get the other 3 doen sometime. A slightly less violent Tomato, with a bit more of the "absurd" I liked so much when I made him up on the fine spring day.

maandag 29 augustus 2011

How I Draw 2-point Perspective

I pretty much limit myself to 2-point perspective. 3-point looks great, but I still have a lot to learn about it. 1-point is wonderful for some things, but I just don't use it that often. With 2-point perspective you don't quite get the excitement you have with 3-point, but it gives you a lot of options and you can come up with endless compositions using it.

So I have a sketch I like and I want to add the background:

First of all, I will tape it down to a big sheet op paper and then draw in the horizon. That's the line that tells us from where the scene is being viewed - how high or low the viewer's eyes are. It also usually runs through all of the figures at the same location - often the eyes or face. But if your viewer is a midget or a little kid, it might run through the legs - as long as the midget or little kid is looking straight ahead, and not looking up (then you need 3-point perspective). Here I drew the horizon through the guy's face:


So I am assuming that the viewer is of an average height and is watching this scene while standing up (not sitting down or walking on stilts - just standing there, looking straight ahead). So now it is time to roughly figure out how tall that guy would be if you had to draw him as he watches the scene unfold. His eyes are on the horizon, where would his feet be?

Well, a person is around 7 to 8 heads tall (in my world...) so that will help me take a guess. Say his head is maybe 4cm long, so he'd be between 28 and 32cm tall. This line is actually only 26cm, but the top of his head is above the horizon, of course - just like the guy with the gun in the drawing.

So that blue line is the viewer, standing well in the foreground and looking at the scene unfold. I usually draw the "viewer" line near the middle of the sketch, at the "center of attention".

Now it is time to do even more guessing... I know I want the sidewalk to go off towards the left at a pretty good angle, so I start there. I use a ruler and try out a few lines - see what looks OK and decide on a vanishing point for that side.

The brickwall looks more or less like I want it, and a few lines I tried for some windows or whatever seem to work as well. They are not too steep or distorted so I go on and figure out where the vanishing point goes on the right side.

This is kind of the fun part - you get to do a bit of math and see if it's all going to work out or not. If not, you have to start all over again - but if it does, you can fill up the drawing pretty quickly.

The left vanishing point forms an angle with the viewer line - here's it's about 56 degrees. What I want (I'm not sure if it's correct to do it this way - but it's what I want...) is to make sure the right vanishing point and the left vanishing point add up to 90 degrees where they meet the viewer line. If I know the left one is 56 degrees, the right one will have to be 34 degrees.

So I mark that off on the paper and draw a line towards the right, until it hits the horizon. That's the second vanishing point.

Although it's 2-point perspective, there is a third vanishing point I always figure out before I get on to drawing the scene. It's the diagonal vanishing point, and it is very handy for lots of things.

The 56 degree and 34 degree points add up to 90 degrees - but the triangle is tilted (it kind of goes off to the right a bit in relation to the drawing). To find the diagonal vanishing point, you need to find the 45 degree point on the triangle. You can actually just use a triangle to do this, but I do it like this:

Draw a square (this one is 2cm by 2cm) and just draw through the corners up to the horizon. That's what the diagonal vanishing point does - cuts squares in half, diagonally.

Which is very handy to draw things like tiles and carpets, but it's useful for a lot of other things, too. For me, it helps me get a sense of depth and size in a drawing. How far away are these people from each other, actually? I draw in the tiles and it helps give me an idea. Which then gives me an idea of how big things should be in relation to each other, how wide a chair should be, how deep a cupboard should be, etc.

Well, after figuring these things out, I get on with the drawing. Once the sketch is done:
I inkt it:

And color it in a bit:

Again, I have serious doubts as to whether this is the "proper" method of doing perspective, but it seems to work out OK for me most of the time - some times it takes me a few times til I'm happy with it, but it it is fun to try and I usually enjoy working out the drawings this way.

zondag 28 augustus 2011

Perspective is nice (nice and hard...)

Been thinking about a blog for sometime now, so decided to give it a try. It seems like a nice, simple way to let people see what I am working on and perhaps to "think aloud" as it were - maybe learn something in the process of discussing my drawings and comics.

As a comic artist, I like to be able to create worlds. It's a blast to make up the goofy characters and get them to say and do anything you like, but they have to "exist" somewhere - they need a place to go out and annoy each other, chairs to sit on (when they would rather stay in and annoy each other), brickwalls to lean against (to maybe have a bite to eat before doing something stupid) and maybe some buildings in the background (cause you can't really think of anything else to put there...). That's what is so nice about perspective - it gives your cartoons a place to "call their own", a way to make the three wonderful dimensions we are limited to come a little bit more alive.

I have struggled with perspective for years. It seems too damn hard for it's own good. You might be pleased to have finally finished a panel - the hands were tricky, the legs all wrong, all the faces needed fixed a million times - but you got it done, and you like it. Then it's time for the stupid background. Bah... How many pictures have I ruined (and how many more will I ruin...) because the perspective is weird. It's frustrating.

So I have been trying to come to grips with it, and  have learned a few things through the years that seem to work for me. Not that my perspective is perfect - and far from exciting or "eye-popping" - but it lets me draw a background in 2 point perspective fairly quickly that looks more or less natural. In my next blog message, I will show a few things that I find useful in making up your own backgrounds (and maybe learn more about it myself while I talk about it).