Tag Archives: Drawing

Review: DRAWN ON THE WAY by Sarah Nisbett

Drawn on the Way. Sarah Nisbett. The Quarto Group. 2021. 128pp. $22.99

Editor’s Note: This book is ready for pre-order purchases. Available in the US as of 12/21/21.

Sarah Nisbett had an idea on how to cope with the subway ride to work: sketch the world around her! This simple act of expression has opened up a whole new world for her and now it can do the same for you. Nisbett’s explorations in sketching have led to her first how-to book. There are numerous books on how to do just about anything and that’s just how it should be. We all love them and we take from each whatever we need. In the case of Nisbett’s book, you really feel like you’ve got a friend who is hanging out with you and will get you to pursue that dream of drawing you’ve been meaning to get around to. What’s kept you? Fear of failure? With this book, there’s absolutely no pressure. It’s a very comforting approach with real world workshop exercises you can do anytime and anywhere, even on a subway ride to work!

Nisbett’s approach is compelling because she makes no claims to being an expert. In fact, in so many words, she might say she’s only a certain number of steps ahead of a reader at a beginner’s level. That’s not true but I could see her offering that up, as if wading into a pool and telling friends the water is fine. Maybe that’s the best metaphor I can offer. But Nisbett is an expert in the sense that she’s naturally, over the years, developed her own simple and straightforward methods that work for her–and can certainly work for you if you’re new and are ready to dive in. I should also make clear that, if you are an experienced artist, this book is also for you given its theme of creating quick drawings on the fly.

I think the magic to this book owes a lot to its conversational framework. This is an easygoing step-by-step process. The book begins, like any good conversation, by setting up the parameters: the tools you’ll need; the mindset to get into; learning the basics; and a bunch of wonderfully quirky specifics. Here’s a perfect example: Nisbett guides the reader into a whole new way to look at still lifes: talk to your still life and get to know it! Yes, why not? Objects have feelings. And, in fact, objects do have feelings. Every space, and every thing, we interact with has an energy. And, believe it or not, that energy will reveal itself in your drawings. This is a wonderful concept to nurture no matter what your skill level.

So, it’s great that such an accessible book is out there just waiting for aspiring artists. And, as I’ve said before, it’s more than okay for folks to call themselves artists. You know, once those training wheels come off, people usually don’t have a problem calling themselves cyclists, at least on some level. Maybe you don’t have any plans to enter the Tour de France but you still ride a bike. You can definitely be an artist. People hunger to be creative more than not. So, that’s where books like this come in. Yes, the water is just fine. Take a leap of faith and jump right in!

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Review: HELEM by Stanley Wany

Helem. Stanley Wany. Conundrum Press. Wolfville, Canada. 2021. 240pp. $20

A work of comics will sometimes go from one form to another and such is the case with a couple of titles by Stanley Wany. Agalma (2015) and Sequences (2017) were both published by Trip which have recently been combined, with added material, into Helem, published by Conundrum Press. So, two works have been combined into one which is fascinating given what seemed to me to be open-ended options in two mostly wordless comics. However, there’s a narrative running its way through both titles, and now more emphasized in the final version, Helem.

We will first take a look at one of  Wany’s previous titles, Sequences, as a way into the new book, Helem. As the title to the older book suggests, we are dealing with sequences, one page at a time, and in connection with each other. If you were to view this as a show in an art gallery, you might accept each page as just a set of four small drawings. As the reader takes in more pages, something sequential emerges. What follows are three pairs of sequences.

Pages 22 – 23 from Sequences

In this first pairing, Wany offers us a look into the inner life of a call center, complete with its peculiar hum of activity. It’s hard to say if there is any hint of irony on display and maybe that’s the point. People working in call centers is so common that it’s most likely you have worked in one or know at least one person who has. It’s a strange and highly artificial world but, when you are in it, it’s the only world you know.

Pages 36 – 37 from Sequences

Our pairings become progressively more surreal moving forward. We start off with two friends chatting on a walk in the city. But what exactly happens next is anybody’s guess and best to chalk it up to dream logic. Mr. Death appears to be in a foul mood and not to be ignored. And then there’s a crack in the system, a sign of greater concerns ahead.

Pages 106 – 107 from Sequences

Finally, our last pairing of pages takes us to a higher plane of existence. Our protagonist appears to be lost but soon finds a potential ally, a queen no less. Who is this queen? Does she possess supernatural powers? Our friend will soon find out.

Wany is a master of manipulating the quotidian and transmogrifying it. With Helem, the final and complete version to his two previous books of art-comics, he takes the reader into the heads of two lost souls. The two main characters, both relatively young, are adrift, in an existential crisis. This is Wany’s landscape of the inner world and welcome to it. In both stories, the reader first experiences the world through the eyes of each protagonist and it is only towards the end that we get some closure through actual remarks. In the second story, originally from Sequences, it turns out we have a man wondering where some of the best years of his life have gone. He loops in and out of reality to discover that some of his most compelling moments are in his nightmares.

Stanley Wany is in that select group of artists who are diligently creating comics as art or art that is also comics. A cartoonist who makes art. An artist who makes comics. Wany’s linework is exquisite. The lines dance upon the page and seem quite capable of anything–and telling more than one story all at once. Wany delights the reader on many levels with his flights of fancy; he offers gifts for both the eye and the mind. It really would be no surprise to me if these same pages were to be sliced and diced yet again to tell a completely different story! Isn’t the comics medium malleable by its very nature? Of course it is! Any work by Wany is a delight and I look forward to seeing more from this exciting artist.

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Review: BALLAD FOR SOPHIE

Ballad for Sophie

Ballad for Sophie. by Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia. Top Shelf Productions. 2021. 320pp. $24.99

Editor’s Note: This book is ready for pre-order purchases. Available as of 11/02/21.

Ballad for Sophie is a gorgeous graphic novel. It delights the eye and not in any obvious way. We are often led to think that what we want is a perfect smooth finish but this work shows us that we can have it all: a crunchy complexity to the rendering guiding a vision. There are what appear to be, at closer look, a lot of preparatory lines that are kept in. These type of lines usually act as marks towards the final work. Here they act as another layer of texture, vibrancy and energy. It is quite fitting for a work dealing with music! This is a very special book created by a very special creative team who have been working together for nearly two decades. Filipe Melo is a Portuguese musician, award-winning film director, and author. Juan Cavia has worked as an art director and illustrator since 2004. (A sidenote: Melo has composed a theme song to accompany this graphic novel which you can find here.)

An old legend takes account of his life.

A graphic novel with an added layer of squiggly lines is not  really a part of any comics publisher’s reliable house style plans. And yet here it is–and it’s most welcome. Often, a publisher wants to find just the right balance of getting out of the way even if a favored house style provides a nice security blanket. In this case, we have a work that already had a go elsewhere, originally published by Tinta da China, based in Lisbon, and now embarking upon an English translation edition with Top Shelf Productions. That said, this European graphic novel fits in well with the very best work (Blankets, Essex County trilogy, March trilogy)  from Top Shelf. In fact, all these titles share a hand-drawn expressive quality, whether loose or more lean and clean. Top Shelf is always mindful of a winning recipe and here we have a win-win.

Allowing the creative instinct to have its say.

I think it speaks to the distinctive quality of this book that I can write a whole review and only focus on the style. Some graphic novels are like that, as much, or more so, about finding an arena to draw as it is about telling a story. And that requires an artist with a masterful touch. You can’t expect a novice to really measure up like this. Even a master will have doubts when giving way to creative flourish. But Juan Cavia really lives and breathes linework and so he can afford to take some detours. In an interview with Top Shelf’s editor Leigh Walton, he describes his pursuit of quirky lines as a way to be true to the artist and to evoke a certain level of personality.

Balancing, and rendering, past and present.

This is a rivalry story, in the spirit of the great rivalry story, Amadeus. So, we have two prodigy piano players battling out over the course of their lives. The story is set in the small French village of Cressy-la-Valoise, framed around the trope of a young journalist interviewing a dying old legend. The cub reporter is the story’s namesake, Sophie, and the old legend is Julien Dubois, one of the two rivals. Julien comes from a wealthy family; his opponent, François Samson, is a janitor’s son.  The story goes back and forth between the conversation between Sophie, the youth, and Julien, the elder, and looking back to the past. For the scenes in the past, Cavia’s expressive style is emphasized with linework, halftones and a more muted color palette in order to evoke a more retro vibe.

This is comics at its higher levels.

And that’s really all you need to know. I’ve basically tried to keep my focus on the book’s style and it is a formidable one. This is easily the best rendered graphic novel for the year, or at least it should be on everyone’s end-of-year top ten lists.

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Drawing: A Hopeful 2021

Art by Henry Chamberlain

It seems ages ago that I posted a drawing early last year about the developing “new normal” living conditions during this pandemic. Well, as much as things have changed with vaccines on the way, we still have a journey ahead of us. Perhaps it’s safe to say we’re at the halfway point, or better. Let us hope so! For now, we keep doing all the safe things we’ve been doing and, when it’s our turn, we get vaccinated. 2021 is now here. Let’s all make the most of it as best we can.

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Comics Portrait: President-elect Joe Biden by Nick Thorkelson

President-elect Joe Biden

We are entering a new era, even if a certain someone is in denial. Here is a comics portrait by Nick Thorkelson, who is one of the most astute of cartoonists!

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Drawing: COVID-19 and Canlis restaurant in Seattle

Canlis Piano Livestream

Brian Canlis and the Canlis family lead the way in how restaurants in Seattle respond to Covid-19. It’s done with integrity, spirit and class! Here is a sketch I’ve done to honor that leadership. Be sure to tune in to Canlis Piano Livestream! If you’re in Seattle, be sure to order food delivery from Canlis. If you’re not in Seattle, there are some choice items you may still consider. Visit Canlis right here.

Canlis Community Supported Agriculture Boxes

When there was a tragic accident on the Aurora Bridge a few years ago, Canlis took it upon themselves to provide food and water to first responders and victims. And that was not the first time that Canlis stepped up. Now, Canlis is at the forefront by, once again, behaving responsibly and courageously. Instead of folding up and letting people go, Brian Canlis and his family have repurposed their landmark restaurant with innovative take-out and food delivery including an easy way to support the community by purchasing from local farms.

Canlis restaurant in Seattle

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Drawing: The New Normal in the Age of COVID-19

Humans and Nature coexisting with Disruption

We can all only hazard a guess if we’re asked to imagine a post-covid crisis world. COVID-19 will ultimately settle into whatever a virus like this does. Can we contain it, for all intents and purposes, like polio? Probably so, in due time. The question now is how long will this Age of Covid last? All the disruption: and all the anxiety over uncertainty. We wear masks and practice social distancing while wild animals emerge and fill the void. For all of us fortunate enough to be able to draw, write or do something else productive, we must remain grateful and patient. So, I share with you a recent drawing I did as I go about my process of reflecting and resetting. Sure, I’ll post more. It’s healing to express one’s concerns. Trying to add a bit of the whimsical is not easy. I don’t even know if I was trying to be whimsical with this piece. Life will, and must go on, amid death. Hope will, and must, prevail over despair. These are strange times but we need to remain calm, respect everyone on the front lines, and keep working towards the future.

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Drawing: Sunglasses and Good Times

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Spring is in the air and we’re getting more sunshine. While 2020 gives us plenty for pause, there is a need for optimism and comfort. For me, once I’m wearing a nice pair of sunglasses, it puts me in a good mood. It’s a bit of a ritual as I look for the last pair I wore or go ahead and buy glasses online. I do a similar thing when I buy flip flops online. Someone stylish wearing a cool pair of sunglasses symbolizes good times. Its a state of mind that I enjoy being in and you probably do too. I must say, if I’m healthy and have no business wearing a mask, I’ll find all the contentment and comfort that I need in a really snazzy pair of sunglasses. That beautiful pair of sunglasses will block away the ugliness and my worries, at least for a short while, long enough to take a stroll and know that all will feel a little more right in my world someday soon. Yes, we’ll be on vacation or some adventure before too long. A really snazzy pair of sunglasses can not only symbolize leisure; it can help give us a healthy dose of hope.

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Drawing: It’s Always a Good Time for Soup

Ode to a Soup Can

When you think of art and soup cans, you can’t help but think of Andy Warhol–and, obviously, for good reason! Warhol remains a mighty force in the art world, pop culture, and our everyday lives in ways we may take for granted. Breaking new ground and making art history is quite rare. Warhol did it. In the first phase of his career, he conquered commercial art. In the second phase, he conquered the art world. Someone who dismisses Warhol is terribly off the mark, perhaps working from some anti-intellectual motivation. But people really don’t want to be talked down to. It may seem comforting but it’s an inane act. People truly respond best when they’re lifted up and challenged. Warhol earned his place in art history. Just look at Warhol’s work. Warhol made us see our world differently. For example, Warhol’s screen prints invite us to scrutinize as well as find the poetry in pop stars and consumer culture. Now, as far as soup that I like, I think something less iconic and more organic suits me just fine. How about you?

 

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Drawing: Lynda Barry

I love this video that features comic-drawing rebel professor Lynda Barry doing her own thing. Around the six minute mark, Lynda confides in the audience that she knows that most folks abandon drawing when they try to draw a nose! She proceeds to draw a bunch of fun noses. First, she begins by drawing what her cousin advised to be the proper way to draw a nose, circa 1962. Then, she riffs on the wonderful world of noses. Starting with the shape of a head, Lynda Barry, one of our all-time great cartoonists, guides the viewer into visual anarchy. If there is only one rule to follow, it is this: the drawing still needs to “read” as whatever it is you’re drawing.

Making Comics

Lynda Barry has worked as a painter, cartoonist, writer, illustrator, playwright, editor, commentator, and teacher and found that they are very much alike. She is the inimitable creator behind the seminal comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek as well as numerous comic books and graphic novels, and is the recipient of both the Eisner Award and the R. R. Donnelly Award. She lives in Wisconsin, where she is an associate professor of art and a Discovery Fellow at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her most book is Making Comics, published in 2019 by Drawn & Quarterly.

Making Comics

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