Thursday, 20 April 2017

…should I stay or should I go...

...there I was reading through my 'Old Guys Who Like Old 
Comics' posts on facebook, and there's this advert for a 'Comic Book 
Inking Masterclass!' - with Cam Smith. Well I've heard of Cam Smith, 
and I've seen his great work on Bryan Hitch and Gary Frank - but I've 
never heard of a 'comic book inking masterclass' or anything like it. 

An offer I really shouldn't refuse.

Oh, hang on a minute, it's not the 60s, 70s or 80s, 'cause we never 
had anything like this back then. If you wanted to draw comics, well you 
just copied from them, and got on with it. And kept getting on with it. 

Ok, I did send off for and take part in the 'We're looking for people 
who like to Draw' mail order course which was advertised on the back 
of loads of comics in the 60s and 70s. 

This simple one with the happy
dog and the bright colours
- this is the one I sent off for...
Not this one - too formidable.
And Norman Rockwell -
which comics did he draw?

I know when I received it, I completed all the drawing tasks - 
perspective, anatomy, patterns, still life, tone, contrast, colours, 
hands-faces-eyes-ears and-God-help-me-noses and sent 
it straight back to the distant land that was America. 

No idea what happened to it after that. 

There were a couple of classes in the mid 80s, one was run by 
Wyn Wiacek, near the Elephant & Castle I think. I remember us 
all talking about comics - particularly Barry Smith's legendary 
pencil only pages in Conan #19 that Wyn said that he had 
seen up close and personal like. (What! He knew Barry!?)

Talking to anyone about a subject you generally kept 
close to your heart was a novelty. A room half full of 
like-minded people was a revelation!

...of course the other class was David Lloyd and Steve 
Marchant's London Cartoon Centre - 'not quite sure where in 
London it was, me being a Croydon boy. I do remember a large 
mainline station, taking a couple of tubes, and then passing 
Trellick Tower (?!) to get there. All looked a bit dodgy to me.

Just like the poster says - it was a lot of fun. Tutors were David 
and Steve, Dave gibbons, who invited us all to the pub and regaled 
with tales of meeting Steranko in London and Jack Kirby 
in the States. Unimpressed he said by Jim's stage entrance 
"...I am Steranko…" but of course justifiably 
impressed by Jack 'King' Kirby! 

The magnificent John Burns (of Countdown and Zetari!) did a 
night and Paul Neary (who I remembered from Skywald 
magazine 'Psycho' and Marvel UK of course) too. 

Bought this at Victoria - still got it!

One of the tutors whose name I forget, gave 
us all some some excellent and prevailing advice - 

"...drawing from comics is fine, but if you really want 
good understanding of anatomy and the body in action - 
nothing beats life drawing! Find a life drawing class and 
go to it regularly. And keep going." 

Brian 6/15 - Ouse Life Group
Eva 7/15 - Ouse Life Group.

…so where was I ? Oh yeah - Orbital Comics, 
Little Conduit St in the heart of London, is indeed a conduit 
to other worlds, and an ideal location - surrounded as we were by 
an enviable and inspiring array of Silver and Bronze Age mags 
(all at reasonable prices) - for Cam Smith's Inking Masterclass!

Definitely bigger on the inside than outside!

All told we were a thirty or so strong all ages group. We had a choice 
of two blue line pages of artwork to ink. One was predominantly Batman,
the other Spider-Man - being an old time Marvelite I chose the Spidey 
page less for company loyalty as for the dynamic drawing by 
Giuseppe Camucoli! No disrespect to the great Gary Frank!

In orbit.

We all brought along a variety of tech pens, markers, 
dip pens, brushes and ink. This being a traditional inking class there 
were no wacom tablets or macs in sight. After twenty minutes of advice 
and instruction from Cam followed by a demo viewed onscreen, I noticed 
people around me were taking the inking bull by the horns and going for it. 

I hadn't used my dip pen for months, and my 'Superhero Workshop' 
not withstanding, had not drawn any superheroes for ages. So this was 
as good a time as any to take a deep breath and go for it!

And what fun it was! 

A big thank you to Cam (and Orbital) for a hugely enlightening evening. 
Reinforced a few things I did know and learnt many things I didn't know 
- like which pens and brushes and pens the pros use (and more to the 

Cheers again to Cam for additional 
post workshop advice.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

...creation - correlation - confrontation...

In preparation for the forthcoming Superhero workshop at 
The Dragonfly Gallery in Watton, I set up a facebook page to allow 
those interested in taking part, to view the work of previous workshops 
and also to download character design templates, cover designs 
and professional comic scripts. 

I was able via
to upload the workshop day's schedule and examples of 
previous co-creations and characters! 

 No sooner had I completed my timetable than I realised that 
I was being too ambitious by far, both for myself and the students - 
 if we got to Session 3 on the schedule we were well on target!

Because this class is more about designing (costumes and characters), 
than it is about drawing, I designed template sheets so that participants 
could get on with the task of creating characters/costumes without 
worrying about anatomical and proportional problems.

Attending a workshop myself at the London Cartoon Centre in the 80s, 
we were handed the above anatomical sheets to use as reference, so that 
we could understand the limits of anatomy and break them accordingly. 

…and encouraged to attend life study classes whenever possible...

In preparation for their first character designs, and in response 
to creative back and forth between Jo, Roy, Paul, Gerry and myself, 
we co-created the following superheroes - 'Buck-Fast! (Lee), 'V-Tol',
 'Magenta' and 'No-Guy!' (What else do you call a character that is 
vacuum, but is defined by their environment? Great idea Roy).

It's not always easy conjuring something up out of thin air 
and onto a blank piece of paper. I  recall Paul and Gerry both came 
from lighthouse keeper background and had discussed possibilities 
for character with abilities that would be appropriate 
for the protection of lighthouses. 

Similar to the original Daredevil, this would involve some type 
of sonar/radar to overcome poor vision, and perhaps 
super strength to cope with the bulk of huge vessels 
and the power of crashing ocean waves. 

Jo investigated the formidable problem of foreshortening 
and dynamic lettering, and Roy who maintained he had not drawn 
for a long time, and had certainly not created a super characters 
before, surprised us all - and himself I think - by coming up 
with four good strong characters!

Naturally the creative process couldn't  continue without the 
obligatory tea and biscuits, wherein Paul showed us the handsome 
Dan Dare edition he had brought in, showing us panels that had 
painted background scenes reminiscent of a young David Hockney. 
(The early Dan Dare studio recruiting assistants  
from the local art college).  

And wonder of wonders - Jo produced from her bag the very 
same book on perspective that I used to study myself as a boy. 
And I thought I had the only existing copy.

After lunch we proceeded to create a dramatic cover scene 
between two of the comic characters we created in the morning 
- 'Buck Fast!(Lee)' and the weirder than weird 'V-Tol'! 

'Carmine Infantino' style design.
'Gil Kane' style design.

Rather than use my existing 'Carmine Infantino' style cover 
template, I rotated the characters little to draw the reader closer into 
the action. Extending costume detail which was not immediately 
apparent in the original face on designs.

Strong as the cover was in black and white, we agreed 
adding colour would enhance to dynamics of the image! I use 
Winsor & Newton ProMarker pens which are excellent for quickly 
providing solid colour confidently with each broad stroke. 

As well as the chisel tip, the pens also have a sharper 
point at the opposite end for fine line and detail.

Well, I certainly could and would not have come up with these 
characters by myself, so a big thank you to my co-conspirators for 
allowing me to be the conduit for their unusual ideas. 

Since I had no idea who today's students would, little did I realise 
that when I brought along the Dr Strange collection of his earliest 
adventures, that I would be reacquainting Paul with the first issue 
of Dr Strange he'd read while waiting age six in his 
own doctor's surgery. 

Possibly the moment Paul revisits his first  Dr Strange story?

The Dragonfly Bullpen hard at work creating confrontational covers, 
revisiting old comic book adventures and pushing the boundaries of 
dynamic colour, dramatic anatomy and extreme perspective. 

Gerry very kindly showed us the very accomplished, finely 
drawn pen & ink illustrations and cartoons he had produced for a
local motorbike magazine, going back over many years. With fine 
design, great attention to detail, and taking more than a little 
inspiration from Punch magazine! 

Gerry's great work warrants a blog of it's own.
Let me know when you're ready Gerry!

Myself, standing with what a few hours ago
were blank sheets of layout paper!

When working with younger age groups I find there is 
always a common knowledge with a shared interest, working 
with participants of a similar age we were all referencing (and reminiscing)
at first hand the same experiences. 

The same comics in the 60s - Dr Strange, Fantastic and Terrific 
magazines, Dan Dare, Hotspur, Victor, Whizzer and Chips, of course 
the Dandy and the Beano. Whatever happened to Billy the Cat?

Also the same 'How to Draw' books on perspective, the human 
figure, hands and faces, and Hal Rasmussen's 'How to Draw Cartoons'. 

Paul, Jo, Gerry and Roy - the Dragonfly Gallery's fantastic four - and their co-creations
- alongside Captain America - created by the legendary Joe Simon and Jack Kirby!

SUPER thanks to Paul, Jo, Gerry and Roy for taking part and contributing 
heart and soul to great workshop - hope to see you all again for Part Two!

A big thank you to Jan Godfrey and Susan Hollingsworth of the 
Wayland Dragonfly Gallery in Watton, for kindly offering me the 
opportunity to take part in their 'Once upon a time' book event - 
A Wayland Feast of Reading, Writing, Poetry and Illustration.

And a big thank you also to writer/artist Sue Welfare 
for recommending me in the first place!


Friday, 31 March 2017

…trains, planes and automobiles...

OK - as much as I'd like to - I can't actually fit any of
those items into the Downham Market Methodist Church. 
Not even the main hall. Well, maybe automobiles... 

 So it's going to have to be the sequel.

For my third art workshop with the Downham Market Stroke Association 
I'm thinking Still Life - Flowers, Coffee pots and Whiskey bottles!  

I realise I can't just turn up and expect people to take on that 
dreaded blank piece of paper without any help. I often find it a 
challenge myself, but using the 'skin of my teeth' method 
as I often do, I was running out of time.

 I quickly designed a few 'How to Draw' guidance sheets, 
hoping they'd make sense. If not I was on hand to help...

I find when it comes to drawing most people say they can't draw. 
Or haven't drawn anything since who knows when! 

There's a great misunderstanding I think (for me too), that drawing 
means producing something of photographic accuracy - which can 
certainly be extremely daunting, if not stop you in your tracks entirely. 
I make it clear that if we wanted a photo we'd use a camera. 

When drawing we want to capture the spirit of the subject or object. 
We all know what a bottle or a vase of flowers looks like so we just 
need a suggestion or an indication - and we all see things differently. 
As viewers we can participate by filling in the blanks as it were 
- thereby completing the picture as we see it.

As it turned out, most people didn't need my help after all, but just got 
on with it. The results you can see are excellent. Strong command of line 
and shape, and also confident use of colour and contrast.

I feel the most important aspect of this and any creative exercise is 
that, regardless of how the end result is perceived - enjoy yourself!

It's true I didn't come up with a 'How to Draw' guide for the flowers 
- because I didn't quite know where to start. With manufactured objects 
you can invoke laws of construction using basic shapes such as cubes 
and cylinders - and symmetry! When drawing natural objects you 
have to adopt a looser, less rigid, more free approach. 

Fortunately everyone got along fine with the 'looser/free approach', 
so much so that the flowers they portrayed were more inspired by the 
still life than a copy of it, and had very much an individual charm 
and beauty of their own!

If neither flowers or bottles caught their fancy, I placed the greek 
coffee pots here and there so people could handle them and get a feel 
for what they were drawing. The pots were a variety of shapes, material 
and age. The squarish pot was aluminium and probably from England, 
the ornate engraved pot was shiny brass and a gift from Turkey, 
and the copper pot that flutes outwards at the base was my dad's 
from Cyprus and must 30 to 40 years old I think. 

These coffee pot studies were all drawn with a great eye 
for detail, form and shape, and character.

I made pastels, colouring pencils and acrylic paints available to use, 
which allowed people to experiment with different media, and to see 
what is best for their own abilities, and also to produce a variety 
of contrasting pictures.

While I was talking to Dennis about his drawings of greek coffee 
pots, he mentioned that when serving as a young man in Cyprus in 
the 1950s, one of his jobs was to ensure all of the island's eighteen 
ambulances were in peak roadworthy condition. Which fortunately 
required him to drive all around the unspoilt island to 
carry out his inspections. 

While not having returned to Cyprus since then, I assured Dennis that 
the greek  roads, contrary to how rugged and rustic they would have been
in those days,are now of an excellent - almost english - standard.

Dennis recalled that a local greek came around each week to collect 
the laundry for washing - I'm not sure if Dennis said he gave him five 
pieces of laundry or five pieces of silver. I also neglected to ask if he 
had indeed enjoyed a greek or turkish coffee back then. 

Taking part in the Hilgay Village Art & Craft Fair some years ago, 
I met local artist - Austin Pearce - who when also stationed in Cyprus 
in the mid-fifties, spent a good deal of his free time travelling around 
Cyprus drawing and painting the Cypriot coast and landscape. 
(Which if I recall correctly he sold on to fellow soldiers and locals).

Occasionally what is most surprising about a piece of work is 
what is on the back of a drawing or painting, such as the two bottle 
sketches above. Artists will sometimes use the back of a piece of 
paper to sketch and warm up for the main drawing. Others will 
start a piece, but with a change of heart turn over for 
another preferable subject. 

Or...just getting value for money.

I persuaded Irene, who was reluctant to draw at first, to have a go. 
Not sure if it's a sign or not - the first thing she drew was a marvellous 
bottle of whiskey, followed by a striking striped vase. 

Having produced an excellent vase of flowers first, this gentleman 
proceeded to create something entirely different and unexpected. 
A series of consecutive angular panels presenting alternating themes 
of dynamic strokes of colour. 

Since I am a big comic fan this reminded me of artist Gene Colan's 
work on Dr Strange - sorry - had to get comics in there somewhere…

I'm good with numbers, not so good with names, so a big thank 
you to one and all for taking part - Dennis, Muriel, Irene, Paddy - 
and apologies to those whose work I remember but not their names. 
I'll try harder, and still forget, probably.  

Finally - trains, planes and automobiles notwithstanding 
- we managed to travel a little down memory lane after all, 
while staying in the same place. 

The following week Mary mentioned that her six year old grandson, 
having seen her flower drawing promptly disappeared, and returned 
short time later with his drawing pad and his own picture of 
bottle with a sunflower!

There's inspiration for you.