I’m continuing my 2017 goal of doing a sketch a day. Each month has a loose theme. February was portraits of famous African Americans, while March had me sketching various small objects such as utensils, money and figurines. For April, I’m taking inspiration from Charley Harper, Howard Pierce and the dormant-yet-still-terrific Animalarium weblog. I will be sketching a stylized animal a day, rendered in as modern a style as possible. In fact, I like this idea so much that it will continue in June and September. Follow along on Whimsy, Inc. or Instagram!
Although I’m not the type for New Year’s resolutions, for this year I decided to take one on. In attempting to find a way improve my own self-discipline, creativity and drawing skills, the answer came while organizing a box of old stuff. I found an old, small sketchbook, 3.5 by 5 inches, unused except for a few pages. I’ll make a drawing every day! Armed with this, a 30 Day Drawing Challenge found via Google Images, and a bunch of pens and colored pencils, I went about doing this, cross-posting the results to Whimsy Inc (my illustration Tumblr), Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Although I run into problems fitting the drawings into my schedule (sometimes they’re the last thing I do before bedtime), this has been a great project. The small size of the sketchbook keeps it less daunting, and I will be refreshing the ideas behind the drawings every month. Next month, I plan to do 31 mini-portraits of prominent African Americans for Black History Month. If you like the pieces shown here, feel free to join along at Whimsy Inc or Instagram for more.
Since the early 1990s, I’ve made it a yearly tradition to illustrate, design and print my own holiday cards. That makes me a freak, I know, but there’s a lot of joy in thinking up new ideas and having no creative restraints. The cards end up looking individualistic, sometimes clunky, or surprisingly beautiful. I love them all.
This year was a struggle, since I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired after our horrible election season. Despite the added stress, the card design came out excellent. I thought about doing a drawing based on the famous “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol. Some inspiration came from a lovely book showcasing midcentury modern designer Alexander Girard (an anniversary gift from Christopher). Browsing the Glass Menagerie pottery on Jonathan Adler’s site crystallized the design. A rubber eraser, carved with a pear shape, completed the card.
Some of our other cards over the past 23 years are pictured below (click on each for a larger view). Happy Holidays.
In the midst of filing Blu Ray reviews and preparing Christopher‘s next novel for publication, it crept up on me that the Scrubbles.net weblog has been in existence for fifteen years. Can you believe it? I can’t.
Back in July 2000, I was an itchy music reviewer and wannabe cultural critic with a limited web presence (basically a portfolio, a rudimentary “about me” page with a few links, and a monthly roundup of albums I was enjoying at the time). Weblogs were just getting started – Blogger had been in place for just a year at that point – and most of the existing blogs were tech-oriented or online diaries. Inspired by sites like Boing Boing, Pop Culture Junk Mail and Robot Wisdom, I signed up with Blogger and used it to set up a daily log of links, observations and ephemera to be housed at an address on my local ISP’s server (I think it was blue.psn.com). Using a rudimentary knowledge of HTML and CSS and the Blogger engine, the simple, Twitter-esque blog shown in the above screen shot came about. In those days, I remember hand-coding each month’s entries and manually including the archived pages on the blog’s sidebar. Blogger also lacked a commenting system (!), so I used a script authored by the fabulous Kris Howard at Web-Goddess.org. Blogging was that much of an isolated, fringy interest – but not for long.
The earliest topics at Scrubbles included things like obviously doctored publicity photos, the singing career of actress Tuesday Weld, and a strange hand-painted folk art sign hanging in my neighborhood. To my gobsmacked surprise, these ruminations started attracting an audience. Just a few months after Scrubbles launched, Matt Kingston of Hit Or Miss added Scrubbles to a directory of gay male bloggers. This introduced me to a whole bunch of great guys, many of whom I still consider friends. After the Scrubbles.net domain was secured that autumn, it started a flurry of posts, links, reading and reacting – I totally threw myself into this blogging thing and loved it.
As improbable as it seemed that the early Scrubbles.net actually had a readership, things really took off in 2001-03. In September 2001, my idols at Boing Boing added Scrubbles.net to their “Best Blogs” sidebar, an honor shared by just a dozen-odd others. The band Weezer added a link to Scrubbles on their official website. People started visiting daily by the hundreds, drawn in by links from other weblogs. I kept things fun, kitschy, thought-provoking, concise, interesting. Snarky, pop culture-oriented blogs were becoming more common at this point, yet Scrubbles.net stood out enough to even appear on several year-end Best-Of lists (yeah, that shocks me, too).
As fantastic as the heyday of Scrubbles.net was, I could already feel the buzz waning as soon as Spring 2004, when some of my entries were published in a book on blogs. Ironically, this came as I quit my job in late 2003 and was able to devote time to longer, more thoughtfully written pieces. It wasn’t from a lack of trying on my part. People were moving on to the next thing, however – post 9/11, the so-called “War Bloggers” had crashed the scene like a bunch of frat boys at a nerd party. Weblogs were no longer idiosyncratic musings on random ancient-history crap like mine – they had to be about something, dammit! Hey, the nice thing about blogging was that there was room for everyone. In short time, the new blogging paradigm was set – hyper-specific on topics, smoothed-out, preferably endorsed by a mainstream news outlet and maintained by a group of office drones. I did my best to adjust, but ultimately these changes left me out in the cold.
Although readership dwindled in the mid-2000s, I went out of my way to make Scrubbles.net my own quirky corner of the net. An update on the blogging service Movable Type completely hosed the archives up through mid-2005. The ensuing migration to WordPress served as an excuse for a slight reinvention. It ultimately didn’t amount to much in terms of resonating with an audience, yet this space was finally solidifying into what I originally envisioned it to be. Posts were devoted to vintage magazines and illustration, scans of printed ephemera, sharing goofy songs from the past, communicating joy at coming across something cool on YouTube.
Blogging still serves a fantastic opportunity for individuals to have a voice on the internet. Scrubbles.net flailed a bit during 2008-12, a time when most bloggers were abandoning the format in favor of quick, easy social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. I kept soldiering on, posting weekly Scrubbles.net updates on movies, television, music and books that captured by fancy. Nobody cared, which only made me frustrated and depressed. I took to Twitter and Facebook, shocked and surprised that some of the people with whom I was friendly with during Scrubbles’ heyday wouldn’t give me a second look. Many others were accepting, however, and for that I’m grateful – plus, I’ve made several new friends on each new platform. Because I have many thoughts that don’t fit elegantly in a status update or tweet, Scrubbles.net is still here. Perhaps it’s not updated as frequently as I’d like to (once a month, basically), but I’m happy with the obscure-book-sharing mojo it has now.
As for the blogging world in general, it’s less visible yet active as ever – industrious, clique-y, yet not too engaging (my opinion, of course). Occasionally I’ll come across an utterly fantastic, awe-inspiring weblog like Codex 99, but those are few and far between. For the most part, the scene has become something of a pissing contest to see who could out-geek each other the most. There’s enough goodness in the chaff to keep me going, however. See you for the next anniversary.
Last Christmas, my spouse gave me a nice new Wacom drawing tablet. Regrettably, I hadn’t been using it very much. Just like physical exercise, however, artists need to draw and create on a regular basis to keep their skills strong. Besides, here I was hitting my late ’40s with not much to show for my decade-plus efforts at becoming a bona fide illustrator. In order to do that, I need to illustrate – even if it’s solely for my own enjoyment. With all that in mind, I started a Tumblr blog called Whimsy, Inc.. The premise is simple: setting aside an hour or so each week, I draw something – an animal, a cartoon, or perhaps a portrait of an actor I saw in a movie.
It’s funny – I’m getting to the point where I routinely become very jealous and bitter every time I see or hear about a successful illustrator. Wallowing in regret does more harm than good, however. There’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of failed experiments, a lot of promotion, and a lot of dedication behind every individual who manages to carve out a name for themselves in this highly competitive field. Anyone who can actually make a living off that earns my highest admiration. Real illustrators don’t sit around and whine… real illustrators do stuff.
Eight weeks into Whimsy, Inc., I find that I’m using a variety of materials but generally I’m sticking with improving my digital drawing skills, composition and color. In addition to the Wacom tablet (which I still haven’t gotten the hang of), I downloaded a set of Photoshop gouache brushes which have been a lot of fun to use.
This month, some of my art got put on display in a local gallery. When Phoenix’s r. pela contemporary art sent out a call for entries for a juried group exhibition called 33 1/3! Altered Album Cover Art, I was intrigued. This is a show that explores our shared nostalgia/repulsion with vinyl records, musical expression, commerce, what-have-you… I’m in! Having accumulated a lot of otherwise worthless old LPs bought at thrift stores in the ’90s, I momentarily set aside working on LitKids prints and created the two multi-layered collages seen here. Surprisingly, both of them were accepted in the show. One, Autopsy: Living Stereo (above), even sold before the show officially opened on December 5th. How cool is that?
Living Stereo goes into the visual language of ’50s-’60s “Ping Pong Stereo” albums by layering a succession of covers with concentric circles cut out of the centers. Bits of type, human figures and blocks of vivid color peek out of the edges. Although I would have loved to have taken 100 LPs and make it one long, concave, cone-shaped abyss of cardboard edges, the final 14-layer assemblage came out lively and interesting. This piece used albums by Leo Addeo, the Three Suns, David Rose, Buddy Morrow and other forgotten names from the “and His Orchestra” era. In the gallery, the piece got a great presentation atop an easel with a vintage record player and albums strewn underneath.
The second Autopsy piece (below) was based on French chanteuse-turned-accused-murderer Claudine Longet. I love the simplicity and chutzpah of her 1967 debut LP on A&M Records, with just her first name set in Peignot type (a.k.a. the Mary Tyler Moore Show font). For Autopsy: Claudine, I cut around the silhouette of Claudine’s portrait on the LP and layered it with similar ’60s Easy Listening LPs cut with holes that contoured with the shape above. With the albums near the bottom of the stack getting darker, it’s intended to be a poignant, cautionary piece on fame and the predatory music industry (hopefully apparent even for those who don’t know Claudine’s sordid post-musical-career fate). In addition to Claudine, this sculpture uses covers from Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Burt Bacharach, Lana Cantrell, 101 Strings and a few other “Now Sound of Today” artifacts.
The show runs through December 31st, 2014. I will be on hand at r. pela contemporary art for a few hours on the night of December 19th to try and convince someone to make a wise investment in the Claudine piece.