The Old Bag

When I originally set out to blog about my Old Bag I was holding my new born one late night this last summer.  Sitting in my living room in the dark with just Liam, I was hit upside the head by something Mike Mikos said to me a long time ago.   I cannot vouch for the complete accuracy of the following quote but I can say that the intentions of it are true to what Mike said to me, “Jason, you are going to go through life and you are going to feel like the road you are in is full of twists and turns.  But one day you are going to look back at your life and its going to be a straight line.”   

That moment brought forth a lot of the dialogue that Mike and I had shared over my years at CCS.  That in turned inspired my first attempt at blogging-which is The Old Bag.  In my first post I dedicated the post to my former instructors and to the history that was the Detroit illustration scene.  I thought this would be an easy blog to add to over time.  But I quickly found myself digging through transcripts to reference course names, dates, and instructors that I had.  I also found myself digging out old slides of work from years gone past and feeling frustrated when I wouldn’t be able to find any documentation covering specific works that I had done.  Even worse, I have most of my better work archived on old Zip Discs and backed up on a Jazz Disc.  However, since undergrad, I have switched over to PCs instead of Macs.  But all of my Zip discs are Mac formatted.  To reformat them would mean to dump the data.  And as old as they are, I don’t even know if the data is still good. 

This leaves me in a place where doing what I want to do and being able to do what I want to do with The Old Bag become very different things.   I might be able to dig up enough material to put a few more blogs together discussing different assignments from my days at CCS.  But I cannot guarantee any that I will be able to put together any assignments built around unique techniques.  Nor can I guarantee that the work I still have available from that time is really worth discussing.  But that brings me back to the origin of the idea for this blog.  While I was at art school, I had the privilege of studying under some great artists and at the same time got to make some great friends that imparted some solid life lessons.  Life lessons by artists, for artists, that I feel are worth sharing.  On a side note, I think this is the biggest deference between school taught artists and book taught artists; that on a quiet night when no one else is around, the school taught artist is going to be able to tap into these conversations of life and art.  And, somehow, that stuff will make it into the work.

Some more advice in the form of another pseudo quote from Mikos is, “Jason, there are more important things to life than just drawing.”  I have to agree with this one.  My family and friends obviously come before the act of drawing.  On the other hand, I can’t argue that as an artist the act of drawing is a vital part of my psyche.  But so is playing hockey.  And reading books.  So all you struggling artists out there, make sure your life is filled with important things.  Things beside your art. 

Another great bit of advice from Mikos was, “If a piece needs black, don’t be afraid to use black.”  As an illustrator your works’ goal is to be printed.  The publishing world uses a CMYK process.  This makes painting with value more important than painting to a specific color.  Your colors will shift.  You cannot stop that.  Even you values will shift on you.  How bad depends on paper quality.  Make your focal points high in contrast.  And, do not be afraid to use black.  For concept artists, imagery needs to be able to read across the conference room.  That means good control of values and contrast.  Do not be afraid to use black.

Mike had a lot of great stories to tell.  And he really had fun with art.  He was/is a WWII vet.   After getting out of the service he went to Art Center (in Pasadena).  In one of his figure painting classes, Mike and his friends switched a classmate’s white paint out with tooth paste.  I never had the ability to try that one myself, but the idea of it still makes me grin.  Somewhere in the 70’s Mike was doing some illustration work for an architect.  The guy was hassling Mike over contracts and timelines.  Or maybe Mike was hassling the guy over payments.  The dialogue got heated.  Now at this point, Mike already had his pencil work done.  So he takes his coffee and pours it all over his board, right in front of his client.  The guy snaps into a depressed, “Oh crap….now what am I going to do,” moment.  And Mike calmly says, “Relax, I was planning on starting with a brown wash anyway.”

We will wrap this week up with a simple technique.  This is an illustrator’s way to fake a wood block print.  Using illustrator board, gesso the top to and down the side edges.  Your goal is to seal the board and surface so they won’t separate when they are later exposed to a lot of water.  After the gesso dries you can tap off your edges.  At this point you are going to transfer your drawing onto the gessoed surface.  Some people will use projectors.  Others will use graphite transfer paper.  Do whatever works for you.  You will then take cheap white tempera paint (the kids’ stuff) and paint in all the areas that you want to be white.  A good way to see what is painted is to look at the piece from the side.  Once all your whites are painted, give the tempera time to dry.  If you have a few hours give it what you can.  If you are pressed for time, give it 20 minutes to be safe.  Once your tempera is dry, you are going to take a soft, broad brush loaded with India ink and cover the whole surface in black.  Let that dry as long as you can (preferably overnight).  The final step is soaking that surface and washing away the tempera.  When your board dries it might have a curl to it.  Brush some water on the back side to relax the curl.  Your “wood block” is done.  At this point you can go to print as is, you can paint on top of it, you can scan it for digital coloring, etc., etc.  I have a feeling that this could make for some really cool concept work if combined with digital color exploration.

Jubal Early