Connecting the Dots
I am an “illustrator.” I draw what I like to see, and there’s usually not any “deep” or lofty meaning behind any of it. It’s nearly always taken best with a good sense of humor, never with a serious face.
But lately, I’ve been trying out a few things that mean something. And since I’m usually so bad at it, I thought I’d sort of go through my thought process, in case anyone else was having trouble connecting those same dots…
There was that time when our daughter was going through a thing. You know those things? Where they’re nearly insufferable, and they make you crazy because you don’t know how to handle it, and the way you’re handling it isn’t working?
Well, I was trying to describe to myself how that FELT. It felt like holding too tightly to too many wild, flapping things, flapping in that aggressively frantic way wild animals act when they’re scared. It felt like I was trying to explain too many things in too much detail, and none of it was taking any hold. It was going skyward, it wasn’t making any sense to this wild, frantic creature. It felt like I had lost my way, and couldn’t even tell from the stars which way to go. And this is what came out (I called it “A Very Bad Day”):
And that felt good. Much better than words.
And as the days went on, I felt like I had sort of found my general shape, but I was torn into so many different directions, in so many different ways. I was having trouble focusing on priorities, because EVERYTHING seemed like a priority, and everything needed attention. And yet nothing was working the way I wanted it to work. It was hard–It would be SO much easier if you just didn’t CARE, wouldn’t it? But I wasn’t going to give up.
So I drew this, and added this line to describe it: “We’ll get through this, one screaming monkey at a time…”
After a bit, I became more comfortable with the chaos, and just sort of settled in. I thought of Ren’s maddening laugh in Ren & Stimpy’s “Space Madness.” You know–the kind in cartoons where someone straight up loses their mind? Yeah that. That’s what it felt like. Like I didn’t know who was more crazy… And that’s like a hyena laugh, right?? That crazy animal giggle because as hard as you’re trying, it’s NOT WORKING and it seems like you’ve tried everything…
So that’s where this one came from…not so much a title as a statement: “You have to keep a sense of humor about these things…”
After a bit longer, things start to settle down a little. What’s so frustrating is that we’re trying to keep a handle on everything, do the best we can, and raise a happy, healthy kid, and she WON’T LET US. All that stuff my parents said about it “being harder on me than it is you,” is true, and I was only JUST realizing that.
And yet, even after all of that, I can look at that sweet little person (usually when she’s asleep) and remember why we’re struggling so hard. Because she’s special and amazing and wonderful. I thought of those wild things, all primitive and clumsy, and how they still survived for years and years without much effort at all…Because you have to protect the Delicate Things…
I thought of how much attention we give to this one little tiny thing that has such a HUGE impact on our world, and how all you want to do is love it and hug it, and sometimes it just doesn’t WANT that. I thought of two or three or four grown adults and the hoops they jump through for a crying baby or a restless toddler on an airplane, because they just want to calm and comfort that spiny little thing…but sometimes it HAS to pull away. I thought of a mother lion, and all these very attentive hands doing their best to cuddle this small, prickly, spiny creature….
I called it “Attempting to cuddle the crankies…”
Around this time, I had an experience that reminded me to breathe…that reminded me that I had no control over anything, no matter how hard I bash my head against the wall. That I could do everything that I considered “right” ALL the time (which I realize is impossible), and things could still go terribly wrong. There is no REAL control. And keeping it all in and pretending it’s all fine doesn’t help anyone.
And I thought I would try to describe that feeling of bottling everything in…
And this, as silly as it sounds, is one of the most special things I’ve painted because I was able to get out in a drawing almost exactly how I feel. I wrote this thought down, because it came to me so clearly, like a meditation: “Breeeeeathe deeply. Then push it all down low and tighten it all up inside…Maintain what awkward poise you possess simply for the sake of appearances. And keep as calm as a Hindu cow…”
And that’s kind of sad, isn’t it? Not a very good way to behave. I thought of all these unpleasant things, these things that weigh on me, that poke and grab at me in a huge dustcloud of shadows, and how I keep telling myself that there’s no time for them right now….that they’re not important enough to spend time on. I thought of them like a corset, giving the false appearance of control, while simultaneously NOT ALLOWING ME TO BREATHE. I thought of trying to cram all that stuff inside while trying to keep strong for everyone else. While trying not to make waves. While trying not to be a burden to anyone. While trying to take care of everyone else. While trying to manage everything and keep it all going. While keeping a calm, brave face because with all that stuff going on, there’s no room for anything else.
And I thought of how painful and harmful and isolating that is…
And I’m working on that.
And it might not look like much, but it was one of the few times I’ve been able to connect those dots–to help my hands get out what’s in my mind. And it helps make things feel a little better.
Art does that for me. Usually, just the act of drawing something (even if I’m emotionally unattached to it) is fairly meditative and calming.
But for some people, it’s cooking, it’s sculpting, it’s reading, it’s whatever. So what connects your dots?
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad MAX
Mad Max and I go WAY back. My dad was a big lover of science fiction, spread that love to me, and always asked “what if” questions about the future. He shared his love of movies like Postman and Waterworld and Blade Runner—movies that were all set in the future just far enough out to be able to still remember the past.
When I was younger, I remember watching a LOT of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I loved that movie. My sister and I would sometimes chant “’Memba this???” when telling a story, like the savage kids. Dad would explain a bit about why the world of Mad Max was the way it was—a post-apocalyptic future where resources were scarce, and people recreated their own form of civility and structure from what was left. I remember being fascinated by that world.
When I was older, I watched the other Mad Max movies that tell the arc of how that world got to where it was: Mad Max, Road Warrior, and Thunderdome. I’m a total sucker for a movie with interesting characters, and the world of Mad Max is full of them.
The thing I always love about Max was that he was cool without being above it all. And he was good without being ALL good (because no one is ALL good, right?).
And best of all, throughout the arc of all the movies, he didn’t just go in somewhere, guns blazing and save the day like some super dude. He got caught. He was captured. He was hurt. He made bargains. He made MISTAKES. He was human.
The movies were brutal, they were all about survival. And although there were some strong women, they didn’t always fare too well in the end. Sadly, you sort of come to expect that after awhile.
But the movies also had a sense of dark humor to them. Where somehow even after all the mess, you could find something as simple as a grunting feral child with a boomerang or a goofy Gyro Captain to at least make you smile.
So I was apprehensive about Fury Road. I mean it had to be good if it was George Miller, but what if it wasn’t? I’m all for revamps and remakes and sequels and prequels, but I wasn’t really sure how I felt about one of my beloved movie series’ being remade.
UNTIL I SAW THE PREVIEWS. And all my fears subsided, and excitement ensued. And it was so much better than I imagined.
There are amazing characters—and if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I love drawing characters I find interesting.
Like Nux, one of the War Boys who was raised from birth to serve the warlord Immortan Joe (another fascinating antagonist), alongside Nux’s two “mates”–his tumors, Larry and Barry.
But the most amazing character to me (as she is for a lot of people) is Imperator Furiosa. Just google “Furiosa art” and you’ll see how much she’s inspired other artist. If you don’t know why someone might find her so inspiring, hold her side to side against any other “strong” female characters and see how fantastically DIFFERENT she is.
I think her character alone is something filmmakers should look at carefully, and pattern other female characters after. I’ll explain a bit about why her character means so much to me:
- Furiosa is strong, but she’s different than most because while she’s badass, she also doesn’t just go in and kick butt. She makes mistakes. She’s not completely sure what she’s doing, but she’s driven, and she is fighting for something she believes in. She nearly gets killed at one point…and then dusts herself off and keeps on going.
- Her character isn’t driven by sexuality. Okay, she’s gorgeous simply because Charlize Theron is gorgeous, but that doesn’t even figure in at ALL to her persona. No one threatens to attack her sexually (this is often an unfortunate plot point filmmakers use to quickly weaken a female character–although it does exist elsewhere in the world Miller created). She doesn’t try to use her own sexuality to manipulate anyone. It’s not even a factor. People are too busy trying to survive.
- She has weaknesses, but they don’t slow her down. She’s not helpless with that one arm. No one even mentions the fact that she’s got a (super awesome) prosthetic. No one pities her; they’re doing their best to survive themselves. No one takes it easy on her either. Like she tells the Wives, “Out here, everything hurts.”
- She’s wearing practical shoes. (Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But I cannot tell you how completely distracted I was in EVERY single scene of Jurassic World by the main character’s spiky heels. In the Jungle. In the mud. While running. From a T-Rex. Seriously.)
- She didn’t “get the guy” in the end. She and Max develop a mutual respect for one another’s badassery, and they share some thumbs-up looks with one another, but neither of them seems to see the other as a possible love interest. THANK GOODNESS. Most filmmakers try to give their badass women characters a softness by throwing love in there. As if the only way you can be a fully rounded person is if someone else sees you as a potential love interest. Or perpetuate the stereotype that strong women HAVE to be gay. But in this film…
- She has emotions that don’t center around men. REALLY?? Is that even possible? As strong as Furiosa is, she is holding it together for her belief in a certain hope. When that belief falters, she breaks down. Like an actual human woman. She is a wonderful mix of hard and soft. Like an actual human woman. She’s hurt. She cries. Not because she’s weak, but because she’s held it together so long and had faith in something that may no longer exist. That’s a painful thought for anyone. …And then she sucks it up, buckles her arm back on, and tries something else. Like people do.
So recently, I got this AMAZING book on the concept art for Fury Road. Do you know most of the storyboards and character sketches for Fury Road were done as early as 1997? Other than some visual imagery, the majority of the storyline and the characters were laid out in full way back then. I LOVE seeing “behind the scenes,” where the ideas come from, what the thought process was and most especially the rough sketches.
As an artist, it’s one thing to draw a character, but another altogether to imagine and create a character based on a specific idea that the world is dying and they can only use what’s around them. You’d have to put yourself in that world, and think of what you could use around you. I thought of my days as an army lady, and what I needed to have on me, what were “luxury” items as a soldier when you’re full of gear, and how you could customize your own rig. This book has been so awesome for me, and super inspiring.
So as amazing as Furiosa is, and as inspiring as she is to me personally, it got me wondering about the portrayal of women in movies. And most especially this thought: I wonder, is it possible to have a female antagonist?
Is it possible to have a “bad guy” who’s a woman, who commands the adoration of her tribe (as Immortan Joe did by portraying himself as “godlike”), but withOUT the use of her sexuality? A character who is aggressive and maybe even brutal…who commands fear, but also respect? Can you have a woman play a character like Immortan Joe (or Darth Vader, or Bane, or any “bad guy” for that matter)? Is that even possible?
I started by sketching some possible ideas for women in that world…regular women and more aggressive characters. There so many wonderful male and female characters in Fury Road (the Vuvalini—an all-female tribe of motorcycle riders, for example).
I had fun playing with the idea of what a person might want in a world like that. Some face protection? Something to make them seem more visually intimidating? Masks and clothing were used to that respect in the MM films. Can she be disfigured in some way (like Joe or Vader or Bane) and still command fear and respect?
Evidently, the actor who played Immortan Joe got into character by hanging posters of himself in costume that said “DADDY LOVES YOU.” He put them everywhere–in all the areas around set and in the gym areas where the actors playing the War Boys would train. It was this idea that as this character, he was an overlord–he was powerful and merciful, and wanted to be seen as a father figure to his people.
So would a female antagonist play off of the idea of “Mother?” Would she portray herself as godlike or motherly to her people? Would that give her too much sensitivity? Would that sensitivity equate to weakness? (PS: That was pretty much the role of Auntie Entity (Tina Turner) in Thunderdome…although she was more of a “good guy” who brought order to chaos.)
So I’m playing with those ideas. I’m not sure what effect it’ll have on my artwork, but I can tell you my mind’s been swimming with thoughts and ideas. And even if nothing comes of them, isn’t it wonderful to look at things in a new way? Not to just rehash the regular old characters? To ask “what if” as often as you can?
When Myla was born, my mother and I wrapped her up in a little blanket to take a photo of her. “Oh no.” I said. “Delete that one. It doesn’t look anything like her.” We took photo after photo, again and again, and with each photo we took, a completely different little baby popped up on the screen. Nothing on that little camera compared at ALL with the beautiful little creature in front of me.I love drawing our daughter. When she was younger it was very intimidating, and I was so awkward drawing her, because no matter what I did, it didn’t really LOOK like her. It didn’t seem to capture that beautiful little person in front of me. It’s one of the most intimidating things about painting portraits: trying to make the image capture the personality of its subject, especially when you don’t already know that person very well. I comfort myself with the idea that (in my mind) it doesn’t HAVE to look exactly like them. It’s supposed to be a representation of an aspect of their perceived personality.
So Myla has reached an age where she is slowly beginning to be self-aware of her appearance. Not to the extent that some kids are….she cares nothing at all about clothes (you could put a space suit on her and she’d say, “oh, okay.” and rock that for the day. On Kinder graduation photos she said “did you see they put a GENIE costume on me?” when referring to the cap & gown, which she didn’t even question–just rolled with it). She doesn’t really care about how her hair is styled, other than in a functional way (to keep those curls out of her eyes). But from time to time, she has started to notice little things, like how everyone’s skin is different colors. That some people “seem fancy” when she doesn’t really notice that sort of thing. That people keep telling her she’s doing “boy things.”
If her girlhood is anything like mine was, I know the worst of it will come when she’s a teenager. But I’m hoping to sort of help her enjoy and celebrate herself–whatever that means to her–now. Not by constantly showering her with praises of beauty (although I think telling her she’s pretty is a good thing to hear, too), not by inflating her ego by making her feel superior, but by asking her what makes her FEEL happy and pretty, and trying to be comfortable with and rock whatever she’s got.This will totally work, because my parents actually did the same things for me, and I NEVER had any image issues. (INSERT SARCASTIC FACE HERE) ….Okay, yes, I’m fully aware that no matter what I do, she’ll have issues. But one can try, right?
So I drew this little Myla-face on a piece of pressed chipboard, and asked if she wanted to draw what she liked. What made her happy. What made her smile. What made her feel like a good person. How does she see herself? And I let her use my acrylic paints to paint on it.
She painted pink hair, because she’s always wanted pink hair. We used paint-in temporary dye from time to time when she was younger, but they sort of frown at wonky hair color at her current school (which I find ridiculous). She drew a streak of black (which sort of looks like a beret). If anything, it was a fun opportunity to teach her a little more about using acrylic paints…
She asked if she could use a pen to draw the rest, and drew things that make her smile: dragons, animals, made-up creatures, Lego characters.
So later, I finished painting the background for her. I thought it was fun that instead of TELLING her what I thought of her, I got to see what she thinks, what she feels…how she sees herself. Not to judge, but just to think about and be comfortable with.
There are so many good examples for kids about how not being judged only for your outer appearance. Some are:
- Elsa and Kristoff telling Anna (when Anna wants to marry someone she just met) “You don’t even KNOW him!”
- How Cinderella and her Prince marry after only a few nights of dancing and missing footwear.
- Flynn in Tangled liking Rapunzel’s for more than her hair. And the big mean guys in the tavern who sing “I Got a Dream” look creepy, but are (mostly) quite sweet.
- In the book “the Paper Bag Princess,” that the clothes you wear and the way you look doesn’t make you a good person.
And those are just a few that Myla (at age 6) and I have had pretty in-depth discussions about. Not in some lecture, not by me bringing it up, but just in talking about what we just saw or read.
You can have fun with what you look like, you can change your hair and decorate it. Your body can be bigger or smaller or shorter or taller than everyone else’s. Your skin can be so many different colors. You can have fancy clothes, or secondhand pants.
But what’s MOST important is being smart, being caring, being kind.
I hope she always sees herself the way I see her.
Walking Through the Witches
People ask me sometimes about ballpoint pen and how I use it in my drawings. They’ll say that when they use it, it smears or gets discolored. And I say, “that’s because no one in their right mind should be using ballpoint pen.” But I can’t help it–that’s what I like. It’s what I’ve ALWAYS liked, and what I’m most comfortable with. It’s cheap, portable, easy to find, easy to carry.
But it does have a couple of issues.
Don’t be scared, though! When I was younger, information was a lot harder to find, and I was about the only one I ever knew that drew with a PEN. Nowadays, there are TONS of fine artists that use ballpoint (sometimes they call it “biro”), and do some AMAZING work. I don’t know what they go through, but here are some things I’ve learned…
THE PEN ITSELF
I’ve learned that I like ballpoints. Not gels, not rollerballs, not ink pens. BALLPOINTS. Believe it or not, there’s a difference. Nothing fancy, either–I’ve tried the expensive ones, and they’re nice, but for my work, they’re not gritty enough. Plain ol’ Bics work best for me…but I’ll use anything in a pinch.
I call it “glurping” or “glumping,” or whatever. It’s that blob of ink that sometimes comes out when you’re drawing, that can smear up your whole picture. Early on, I’d be happily drawing and OH NO MY WHOLE DRAWING IS RUINED!!! I know of one artist who uses his finger to wipe the pen every few strokes. I use my shirt….or whatever dark fabric thing is closest. Which is why, if you look all over my house, and on every shirt I own, you will most likely see little constellations of pen dots on my right front shoulders. As I draw, every couple of minutes, I instinctively wipe my pen on my shirt in a little twist. Sure, there is absolutely a better way to do this that was not so messy on my clothes. I could use a napkin. But I don’t.
PENS TURN FREAKY COLORS
I use ballpoint sketches as sort of a skeleton, because I like the pen marks to show through a little. If I watercolor on top, I get this nice blend of ink and pen. If I use acrylics, you still get to see the great lines, but with painting more on top. BUT IF YOU VARNISH, no matter HOW MUCH acrylic paint I have on top of my pen lines, the pen will SHOW THROUGH. And it turns sort of a purplish color. I’ve tried different varnishes, and I always get the same result. I usually like the look, but if it’s TOO discolored, I wait for the varnish to dry and paint in acrylic back on top of it. Varnish THAT, and you’re good to go. Waste of time? Yes. Draw my undercoat in pencil instead, then? NEVER EVER EVER. Don’t know why.
So here’s a typical project: Awhile back, my art friend Aaron McMillan (@mcmillankid on Instagram) and I challenged each other to draw Meryl Streep. I wanted to draw both versions of her witch from “Into The Woods.”
I usually start with the eyes and work my way out. I’ve mentioned before that there are many ways to measure faces to get proper proportions, and while I did my time with that in art school, I prefer to just wing it, because I like the wonky look.
My drawings are made up of very soft lines using varied pressure and crosshatching. I noticed once, while drawing, that I sort of blur my eyes to see the values and tones as I’m shading…which might explain my terrible eyesight. (Thankfully I’m near-sighted, so I’d still be able to draw in a post-apocalyptic world if I broke my glasses…but I’d be useless spotting anyone more than 10 feet away. …I have to think about these things.)
Once the sketch is done, I usually use watercolor or acrylic, but for this one, I challenged myself to use markers (since Aaron uses them a lot). Several people use Copics, but I prefer Prismacolor Premiere Brush Tips for no real reason, other than that I’m comfortable with them, and I love them.
Now this is where people who try this often get freaked out, because pens do freaky things…
AAAUUUGH it’s PURPLE!! Yeah, using markers on top of ballpoint pen is a little freaky because it instantly turns purple. This can weird you out at first, and make you think you’ve ruined the whole thing. But be patient! All is not lost! Keep going…
I get my darker markers out to shade, and the purple discoloration is already starting to settle down a bit as it soaks into the page…
And now by the time I’ve blended my darks with my lights, the purple tone is almost as faded as a bad dream in the daytime.
So here’s what it looks like, flat without much highlights. I have the ballpoint skeleton underneath, and I like the quickness of the markers–you can blend solid colors very quickly with darker shadows, and the marker soaking into the page does the rest. So here it is all flat, and ready for the next step…
Highlights! Here I like to use white acrylic paint (although I’ve used white colored pencil in a pinch) to add highlights to everything to make it pop a little more.
I like to find the “hot spots” of white, and blend them into the background color.
And there ya go!
The main point is not to get freaked out. I teach our daughter that there’s no real way to “mess up.” If you can’t fix it with ink or paint, you can always pretend you did it on purpose. 🙂
Don’t be afraid to mess up. Just open that sketchbook and DO IT. The worse that could happen is that you learn something. So good luck with all your artistic experiments!
Pssst! Hey, you! Do you want to see some horrible artwork?
…Well, neither do I. But unfortunately, my sketchbooks have been filling themselves up lately with really bad starts.
Usually, these make for perfect doodle starters for Myla…but lately, they’ve barely been good for even that…
They’re badly started before they’ve even begun.
Some people have said, “Oh, they’re fine! They look great!” But really they aren’t. Not when I know I can do better.
So what do you do when everything you doodle comes out wrong? I usually do one of two things:
1. Distract myself with other hobbies. This is usually when I have to try and change it up a little. I sew for awhile. I sculpt. I play Legos with the kid, or let her lead drawing games with me.
2. Keep bashing my head against that very same wall, in that very same spot. Photographers take TONS of bad shots before catching “the one shot” that works. Sometimes, trying, and trying, and trying again is a helpful way to get out of a rut. This requires lots of disposable supply stock, and patience. It will be frustrating. You will fill up many pages with many bad sketches. But one day, something halfway decent might come out, and you will be a little relieved.
But it’s like revving up an engine that won’t turn: once there’s a spark, you have to keep it up, or it’ll falter again.
For now, my engine’s still trying to turn, and that’s when I have to remind myself of the most important step of all:
3. ALWAYS keep a sense of humor about it all, and don’t take it so stinkin’ SERIOUSLY!!!
Really, it’s art. Calm down. It’ll come back. And it’s that confidence that it WILL come back that has kept you going for years and years, and that you need to be comfortable with. That you need to relax around. If you’re really into it, it’ll come back.
Remind yourself how much you DON’T suck by looking at some of your favorite pieces you’ve made. Keep a little scrapbook of your best work, and pull it out on occasion and look at it. I like to look at mine and remind myself, “oh LOOK! I’m not THAT totally horrible!”
So, I know about artist’s block, and I know about writer’s block. Are there others? What sorts of things do you enjoy doing, and does the skill to do it ever leave you for awhile? And if so, what do YOU do about it?
Me and ballpoint pens go way back. I love them.
When I was younger, I carried a ballpoint pen and a sketchbook wherever I went. I liked ballpoint because I was too clumsy for pencil–I didn’t like that I could accidentally smear what I’d drawn in pencil with a single careless arm motion, because that’s how clumsy I am. I pressed too hard for pencil, and still didn’t like the coverage it gave. And I didn’t like the scratchy feeling of rough pencil or charcoal or pastel on paper.
So ballpoint it was. In college, it was implied that ballpoint pen was NOT an art medium. That it was a tool for writing, not drawing. So I tried my hardest to master other tools, only to retreat back into the comforts of my room after classes, with my trusty old ballpoint pen and sketchbook at the end of the day.
Over time, I learned to sketch pretty comfortably with pen–to ease up and add pressure where I needed it. I got more comfortable with accepting that pen was my very favorite tool, fine arts be damned. I drew in ballpoint pen so much, that after tons and tons of practice, I could get a fairly good and smooth sketch that people often mistook for pencil. Primarily, I sketched in black ballpoint–plain ol’ Bic or Papermate pen.
After awhile, I started adding color and shading and highlights in either watercolor or acrylics. I used the black ballpoint as a sort of underdrawing. I like the sketchy feel, seeing the structure underneath. Sometimes I paint on top pretty monochromatically…
And other times, I nearly completely covered the initial sketch with acrylic…
But it just doesn’t feel like me whenever I’ve tried leaving out the ballpoint pen.
Did you know there are different types of pens? There are inky smooth rollerballs and spotty ol’ gel pens… but it took me YEARS to realize that the ones I like to sketch with are “officially” called BALLPOINT pens. Easy enough, right?
Ages ago, I hadn’t heard of anyone using ballpoint as a fine art medium. I was a little uncomfortable with the fact that it was my medium of choice (but not enough to give it up). Ballpoint quality was so bad that the paper I used would yellow around my drawing, or the pen would turn purple or blue. These days, I’ve seen TONS of artists creating wonderful, beautiful things with pen. There’s the hyperrealistic work of Samuel Silva, the amazingly smooth work of James Mylne, and ballpoint pen art cheerleader Jerry Stith, who has EXTENSIVE resources on ballpoints and art. (Those are only a few–there are also a ton more, a few of them listed here).
But one of my VERY favorite ballpoint pen artists is Jim Rugg, whose work is both amazingly realistic at times, and also hilariously funny (like this Divine Wonder Woman, and this Playboy Barbie). He has a sense of humor about his work that I can appreciate. He enjoys drawing, and it shows…but he doesn’t seem to take himself so gosh-darn seriously.
I used to think it would be awesome if ballpoints came in tons of other colors…but when my mom sent me a set of Ink Joy colored pens a few years back, I thought they were awesome, but I wasn’t sure how to make them work for me. My work wasn’t as detailed and realistic as those other artists who had mastered the ballpoint pen.
Until a few months ago, inspired again by Jim Rugg’s work, I realized I could still do my own wonky style while using the colored ballpoints…and I gave it a try.
The first one was Napoleon Dynamite (which I realize I’ve posted before)…
I moved on to other fun faces I enjoy….Like the drag artist, Divine:
This scene with Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction:
And this character from the movie Delicatessen (Myla helped me with the hands):
Since then, I’ve had a lot of fun, really playing with building color.
The process (for me) starts with laying a basic foundation, usually in orange, and building up the reds for color in the cheeks, nose, lips and eyes. (I still think my technique is a little soft–I’m hoping to get a little more bold with the color and text)
Then I build up with the brown for darker areas.
And it isn’t just a one-shot kinda thing–I keep those three or four pens handy, and switch around between them all, building up colors, adding colors in another area. I like this whole process, because there is PLENTY of wiggle room to get the shapes right. If something’s off, and you’ve started lightly enough, you can adjust it by the time you start really building up the darks.
And the final doodle: Leeloo (Milla Jovovitch) from the movie the Fifth Element:
Funny thing about ballpoints, though, is that they glurp. Those blobs of ink on her face and in the background? Those are glurps. I don’t mind them all THAT much, but they’re a little tough to work around sometimes (I don’t even know HOW those other guys keep the glurps away). To avoid the glurp as best I can, I am constantly wiping the ballpoint pen (which I SHOULD do on a napkin, but I don’t, so if you were to look very closely, most of my clothes contain a cluster of small dots, usually on my right shoulder or pants, from twisting the glurp off of the pen before drawing). Still, glurps happen…and that’s okay. They’ve kind of grown on me, even. Gives them a bit of gritty character.
“Goodbye Sweetie” (In-progress, from Dr. Who):
Professor McGonagall, in progress, from Harry Potter:
With darker skin, the process is pretty much the same, except that you can use even more of a variety of colors to really build up the skin tones. (Again, I still think I’m too soft in this area. I’m working on filling out more of the white space)
RubyRhod from Fifth Element:
Recently, because of a long-standing back problem that has been misdiagnosed for SEVERAL years, I have begun a series of injections to help with what they’re now calling “spondyloarthritis.” (Which, from what I understand, just means “chronic localized sacroiliatic pain that we can’t figure out and don’t really know how to treat.”) This means I need to sit at their offices for at least THREE hours, attached to a IV tube full of mutant medications and such.
…Except, wait? Three HOURS? In a lounge chair by myself? While Myla’s happily occupied at school or daycare? And I can bring my sketchbook and headphones?? Wait. Wait a minute. This might not be so bad after all…
Jack Black in Nacho Libre:
Nicholas Cage as “H.I.” from Raising Arizona:
Awhile back, PaperMate InkJoy was the only colored ballpoint pen set I knew of. Then I learned that my favorite ballpoints, Bic, came out with the Cristal color pack. Woohoo! But the other day, while looking for some replacements should something tragic potentially happen to my newly beloved pens (as I often fear, once I begin to love a medium), I came across the PaperMate Profile.…and I was SUPER excited to find out that the 12-pack has a sort of GRAYISH MIDNIGHT BLUE…which allowed me to simulate one of my favorite colors of all time: Payne’s Gray!!! (it’s a sort of midnight-bluish gray) Not such a big deal for many people, I’m sure, but very VERY exciting for me!
So I’ve become quite fond of my colored ballpoint pens! And I’m having a WHOLE lot of fun building up shapes. It definitely requires a different sort of thought process than just drawing in straight black ballpoint pen. Still, I think I could cover more of the white area. It just takes getting over the timidity of a new medium. But I love it.
So whatever you enjoy, no matter how timid you may be about it, just rock it. Own it. Make it yours. Because the things that make us different are the EXACT same things that make us special.
I once met a very well-known artist who asked me what medium I worked in, and when I quietly said, “ballpoint pen,” he asked (with honest curiosity), after a long pause, “Um…is that even archival?” I was sort of hesitant to respond, washed over instantly in self-doubt–until I realized with full confidence that I don’t CARE. I enjoy it, I am comfortable with it. And the important thing is this: I AM STILL LEARNING.