Thursday, March 1, 2012

A mere trifle

Black Prismacolor®©™ pencil over non-photo blue pencil of the University of California, Davis,
campus for
UC Davis Magazine, I believe. If I find the color version, I'll post it, but I like the
raw stuff  beneath. I made sure to include the egghead sculptures by Robert Arneson; treat yourself
this spring to a stroll around this campus, to see the sculptures and the glens, and listen to young
people fervently solving the world's problems as they ride bikes along the shady paths.
The ultimate TV show for me would be watching great illustrators and cartoonists draw. Each hour would feature a different illustrator, doing no more than sketching and taking a work as close as he or she could to final art.

No music or noise, except for whatever ambient sound the illustrator prefers in the course of a normal workday, and the illustrator talking … about what's going on in the illustration, about errands still to run, whatever.

You could dry your eyeballs watching all the Youtube®©™ videos of people "teaching" drawing, but most come with loud driving music, as if the illustration itself isn't worth watching. And many seem to be of illustrators showing off, rather than working unbeknownst to looky loos.

But watching true illustrators work, taking pencil to paper and not a remote digital pen to a computer screen … I'd be transfixed. Who'd watch that, you say? Well, who would watch cable TV shows about people looking for apartments to rent or condos to buy, but there those TV shows are, season after season.

We'll just have to agree to disagree.

I thought of all this during the week while looking through a collection of work by and about Walt Kelly, the creator of one of comic history's greatest strips, Pogo. He and his assistant George Ward were masters of brush and ink. Their work was rich and alive and funny, even without Kelly's brilliant loopy repartee and layered satire with which the characters of the Okefenokee Swamp did battle.
Some elements are changed, for reasons I can't remember. Someone has run away with
the pig; maybe that wasn't a selling point. Unfortunately, my memory of wandering around
the UC Davis campus came with the stink of pigs penned on campus.

Unfortunately, the book misses what I miss most, to see Pogo in progress. Walt Kelly drew roughly in a blue pencil (a certain shade of blue invisible to the reproducing camera), then made tighter sketches over that in graphite pencil, then inked most of the daily strips himself by brushing over the pencil lines, or handed over Sunday strips and other materials to George Ward, who learned to mimic Kelly's masterful line.

Other people did the lettering, and that was its own mastery. The lettering in Pogo was vibrant and varied and perfect. Deacon Mushrat, a hypocrite religious type, always spoke in a carefully rendered blackletter gothic script; P.T. Bridgeport, a bear named for Walt Kelly's Connecticut hometown which also produced circus impresario P.T. Barnum, always spoke in elaborate showcard lettering, complete with dingbats.

What I'd have given to live in Walt Kelly's time, and see his work! He was a gregarious center of attention, by most accounts, but I wouldn't have been interested in that. I would have simply wanted to watch him draw, to stay out of his light while he put shape and line and character and perspective to bristol board.

In the spirit of all that, I have plucked an illustration from my dense pile, a cartoon map for the University of California, Davis, with all the blotches and rough edges. I have enervated more than one illustration by inking it, benumbing the fresh liveliness it had when it was a mere pencil sketch. Walt Kelly's wonder, among many, was making his finished are livelier than his livewire sketches.

And I hereby declare a theme I'll repeat until you tire of it: I love, love, LOVE doing hand-rendered illustration, which I have gotten away from, in lieu of digital drawing, for the sake of speed. And I'd love, love, LOVE to do so much more. Just in case that is something you need to know.

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