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!


October has been unofficially deemed Inktober, a challenge, for all who’d like to participate, to make one ink drawing a day for the entire month. It’s been going for years, and I finally couraged up.


Results have been varying depending on the day, mood, and motivation level.





Some interesting findings. Having no goal for this project has been a great goal. I had trouble from the get-go deciding what and how to draw until I just gave up. Each day has been an invitation to try something new.

Thick brush-lined drawings have become my favorite adopted style so far. I tend towards more controlled thin lines so thicker ones have been a nice departure.  They’re much more expressive but surprisingly requires an equal amount of effort. Each line has got to count.

This got me thinking. Franz Kline, an abstract expressionist, is one of my favorite purveyors of the expressive black line. He’s best known for his gestural black and white paintings which look deceivingly simple. Their compositions are often planned and practiced before being executed, but his paintings are still able to maintain a great sense of spontaneity and energy.


Pretty cool. There’s still some Inktober left for even thicker lines.

Summer, be gone!

Summer was… what it was. A bad eye problem, a flooded apartment, late nights at the office, general mental stress. I’ve been out of commission. Things are better now, fingers crossed!

The summer sketching was limited to just one book:




If you can’t tell, most of the ideas are about eyes and working. Subconscious choices, but creepy.

I was stalking this site a few days ago and came across my to-do list for 2014 that I wrote at the beginning of the year. Here’s an update:


A few more months to make magic happen!


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.


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.


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!

Time spent

A lot of this year’s work has been leading up to April with setting up shop at MoCCA Fest in New York the first week and LineworkNW in Portland the next. The fests were great and tiring for me, but overall great. If you got a chance to see the books I’ve made, thanks! The books also send their thanks.

Fests act as nice deadlines to get work done. I honestly put a lot of pressure on myself regardless, but if you find yourself slacking, get a table at your local comics/illustration/etc fest and let the fear of an empty table and wasted money drive you to make. While it’s nice to think we’re always driven, sometimes we need that kind of motivation(me included).

When I got back from Portland last week, I was back in the print shop the next day. I’ve been planning this book since the year’s begun, but due to technical difficulties, time, fest prep, and general other work, it’s been a headache. I finally got it all sorted and was really excited to started!


Only 5 more pages like this before I can start assembling. The window panes were cut before I started printing.


A preview of the format where cut-out window panes are like a Rear Window into other people’s lives. It’s inspired by living in New York, a sardine can with no personal space. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

More updates as soon as I make them!


One moment at a time

On November 29, 2013, these sketches triggered the volvelle, or wheel chart, which is a paper construction with rotating parts. I actually didn’t know the its proper name for a long time so I called it(and still call it in my mind) the “circle book.”


With the shape, I knew I wanted to make something about the cycle of time and decided on showing someone working at a diner. Then I could show a full day though meals and working.


Prototyping begins. The mockup told me a few things.

1. This size is way too small (about 4″ in diameter).
2. Dividing the circle into 4 slices isn’t interesting enough.
3. Cutting the top circle in half does not leave enough mystery and it looks sloppy.
4. I must include a diner sign with food on it.


The final mock and separations.


I based the colors off the color wheel because I thought they transitioned nicely and fit well into the day and night scenes. If you look closely, you’ll see I printed gradients on opposite slices.


Construction was probably the hardest since all the circles were hand cut with an exacto knife. They’re a little imperfect but I’m pretty satisfied with the final look. More circle books for the future, I hope!


  • 9″ in diameter
  • 8 color print (4 gradients)
  • Bottom layer: Fabriano Tiepolo
  • Top layer: Plike in black
  • Edition of 15

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:



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!



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.

January sketching and planning

So far, January has been good downtime for me to think on future projects. Over the past few months, I’ve designed and built a lot of good books and I want to make sure I keep the momentum and growing from them. The hardest part has been figuring out how and having good reasons why.

Every season, I like to make themes around what I’ll print. Over the summer, I made books with slants. In Fall, I made popup books. After some mulling, my goal this season will be to work bigger. I don’t normally work big– I like small things because they feel cozier to read and they’re more manageable to make. So for now, yes to bigger concepts, bigger books, bigger prints, bigger everything.

Leaving things to chance

First, sorry there’s a been a silence. Second, happy Thanksgiving fellow Americans. Lastly, let’s get to business!

To love silkscreen, you have to embrace a systematic process: draw, make separations, shoot your screens, print, print, print, fix problems, print, and assemble. But we’re all human and that can get boring. Here are a few things I did to break the monotony while making the pop-up book that I mentioned in a previous post.

1. Leave colors to chance. I love to print on black but I never test how colors would look on it in photoshop. I avoid using the computer for all of my books– it never felt right and I’ve had too many frustrating experiences printing separations on vellum.


2. When making a mockup, it’s ok to second guess yourself.  It’s more fun if the non-essential things aren’t final. It’s not so fun if the book doesn’t work so pick wisely.



I’m still assembling Curtain Call, but I’ll get you the full low down when it’s complete.

Making of: 6 Degrees Show postcard

On December 6, I’ll be joining a show called 6 Degrees put on by Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis, MN.

The Concept
1. Gather people from all over the world to make a limited-run postcard about themselves and their location.
2. Mail your postcards to LGAL where they’ll collate and resend everyone a full set of cards.
3. Take one step closer to making it truly a small world.

The Postcard: Neon Sign Ghosts
My postcard is a tribute to the neon sign billboard, a now mostly discarded means of advertising in NYC. Fortunately this Pepsi sign, one of the last remaining neon billboards I’ve seen, is near my home. Its purpose is more for glitz but I’m still glad it’s there.

6deg-016deg-02 6deg-03 6deg-04

Surprise! It glows in the dark! A true tribute to the neon sign.

If you’re in Minneapolis on December 6 and have some time, check out the show!