On Style

I like to read FAQs by artists/illustrators/cartoonists and often they’re asked, “how can I get my own style?” Usually, the answer is that continuous hard work will eventually help style float to the surface. My thoughts on that have always been, “but how long do I have to wait? What if it never appears? Will I know once it does?”

Years of personal mental turmoil later, here’s what I got.

If you want to be a professional illustrator, your style should be visually similar but can thematically vary. It needs to have that kind of fluidity especially since it has to bend to whatever content it’s subjected to it. If your style is drawing with flat geometric shapes with tiny faces, it should be able to apply itself to a romance novel or an obituary.

If you want your style to succeed though, it needs something else. Some special sauce. Something invisible that says there’s some real intention to the work, and somewhere in your gut, you just feel it. It means that even though I may not like the visual style, I can still respect it. It’s indefinable but at the same time, people can tell when a work is genuine. What is it? It’s you, real you!

Finding your invisible special sauce is a way better use of time than hopping on the latest visual style train. That’s going to keep people wanting more from you, not more from that flat art deco style you draw really well.

The question remains. How? Yes, continuous hard work is true. For me, if you’re already comfortable with drawing, drawing in your sketchbook every day isn’t enough to develop style. It’s like digging into concrete with a shovel. Right tool, wrong surface.

Instead, let’s make it more directed. Real style should seep through no matter what you throw at it. Spend a week making books and subject your drawings to it. Next week, paintings. Next, GIFs. Next, chalk drawings. Next, package design. Variety, funny enough, brings cohesion. Not only will you develop a visual style that eventually bleeds through all forms, but so will your ideas.

Style isn’t complete without you contributing to it. It’s like a good joke. Visual style is the setup and your ideas are the punchline. One is doomed to fall flat without the other.

Alas, this proposed direction takes time and courage. Fortunately and hopefully, we are all in small abundance of these things and they are mostly free of charge. It’s never too late to start, so I hope that if you want to, you do.

NOTE: This post was brought upon by two things. I’ve been thinking a lot about why people who have tried to steal style from others have failed(Answer: No special sauce applied. Disingenuity detected.). Mostly though, I want to offer a solution to people who haven’t found their special sauce yet. It’s only a matter of time before you do, friends!

Break time, something like that

The print shop is closed until June so no new silkscreens yet. Sorry I’ve been missing!

In the mean time, I’ve been working on a book for the Stacks show at Light Grey Art Lab. Stacks is a show where each participant chooses a year between 1984 and 2014, and then makes a zine about it. It can be a personal narrative or based on a show or an album. Anything really, as long as it started during that year.

My year? 1992. Did you know X-Men: The Animated Series debuted that year? Because of that little cartoon, I walked into my first comic book store so I owe a lot to it. It’s weird what to think about what your takeaways from childhood are.

My tribute couldn’t just be nostalgic fan art. It had to have some fresh take on it or else, BLAH, boring. This sketch in my day planner started it all. Yep, the X-Men are hitting the gym.

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After that, I really wanted to draw spaces and scenes from the X-Men series isometrically. It was fun rewatching the X-Men and looking at their living and working spaces with that lens on. I noticed so many details about where everyone lived, like how Beast installed these pipes on his lab’s ceiling so he could swing around and how Jubilee has a poster of Elvis up in her room. Nice details, X-Men cartoonists.

I won’t give away the final pages until the Stacks show in August, but here’s a peek.

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I’m working on the cover now and it’s been a struggle. I was banging my head against a wall for weeks with another idea but I just gave up a few days ago. These are looking better so I’m feeling a little better. More Stacks revelations soon!

Leading up to MoCCA Fest 2014

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MoCCA Fest is like my comics fest lighthouse. It’s the only fest I’ve tabled at and this will be my third year there.

My friend was the one who suggested the idea in 2012. I think she knew I was making a lot of books that were piling up in my apartment and MoCCA Fest would be a good test to see if anyone else liked them. My books are mostly screen printed and limited in edition. At first, I started screen printing to mass produce covers for my comics, but I fell in love with the craft and bookmaking. Nowadays, I make narrative driven books that are influenced by comics– it’s really a mashup.

I love bookmaking most because I can play with form. It gives people a chance to figure out an object that is unusual and hopefully interesting to use and understand. I’ve worked in tech for years and in many ways, my books are a rejection of that. There’s no norm. You can’t swipe to get to the next page. The home button may not take you back home. I want to take your perception of a book, uproot it, and show you something new. Well, that’s the hope.

But let’s be real, I make a lot of ghost books. They won’t change the world but I hope they bring you some joy. I’ll have lots of new things to show everyone this year so drop by the Blood Bakery table at MoCCA Fest, April 5-6, 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

More details soon and previews of everything I’m bringing soon!

Here and there…

My sketchbook has been filling up this year with book ideas. With every new book comes a pressure to one up my last one so it’s taking some careful planning to make sure all the details are right. Here are some sketches and mocks for a few of them:

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Lately though, I’ve been thinking in little prints. Fun small things that could fit between two bookends on a shelf. I’ve been on such a roll drawing them that I think my mind is subconsciously telling me that it doesn’t want to work on intricate books. For now, I’ll listen!

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If I have it my way, I’ll have 20 new postcard prints ready next time you see me. Go big or go home, right?

I’ll update soon on progress! Wish me luck.

Making of Aches, a print series

Anything worth doing takes time, tears, and midnight snacks.

February 2013
Aches began on February 6, 2013. As you can tell from my enthusiasm, I didn’t think much of it.

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March 2013
The little thumbnail incepted me — I couldn’t get the image out of my head. Truthfully, I couldn’t find the right book/story to put him in… so I just pinned him to my board.

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April 2013
During MoCCA Fest, my table buddy mentioned making prints and I was struck by lightning!

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May 2013
Prints complete! Our stomachache friend is no longer alone but I’m not done yet.

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Future 2013
I’m designing a portfolio for each set of prints.

Overdose Police

This one started on December 29, 2010. How time flies!

Everything always starts with tiny scribbles and a tiny mock up:

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Months later, after I couldn’t let this idea sit around any longer, I made this final version. It starts off folded 3 times. As you unfold it, you can also watch the story do the same.

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Overdose Police
Edition of 23
4.25″ x 7″ (8.5″ x 14″ open)
6-color print

2012, in review

2012 was about getting organized. Dating, logging, and following through with my ideas were a few of my biggest achievements this year.

January

2012 was also about powering through the bad days. Getting better takes time, effort, patience, and maybe even a little luck. My hands sometimes still don’t listen to what my brain wants to draw, but I’ll keep moving forward.

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2012 wasn’t much about making comics though, which I miss. Maybe 2013 will find time for that.

Late

Or maybe I’ll just draw more sandwiches.

In 2012, I also must apologize because I haven’t shared everything I’ve made. When I work, I get into a bubble and forget to talk about it. This year, I’ll be more forthcoming, okay?

So, 2013, I’ve already reset my timestamp. Let’s go!

let's go

Mystery Boxes

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about boxes.  Many are made just for the utility like Amazon-shipped boxes, but there are others that are unique and well-crafted. Take this box from Tonx coffee that comes to the office:

1. Unsuspecting

2. Opening the box revealed more folds than I thought it would.

3. Completely open. Silkscreen side up.

Very little excess cardboard is created and every panel of the box is screen printed. Even some of the unexposed sides are screen printed despite being hidden. Mistake? I think it makes breaking down the Tonx box just that much more entertaining.

I was inspired and wanted to make a few of my own boxes so here’s one of the more successful ones– a box with a sliding cover:

When I figure out what to put in the boxes, I can make a pattern and start mass producing. But for now, it’s just fun to experiment.

Drawing-wise, I’ve only been doodling on the train. Mostly skeletons.