“It” is that precious quantity which lets you make artwork which is better than good and sometimes “it” allows for work which is truly inspired, but I learned from working on monthly deadlines for Kodansha and Dark Horse, you couldn’t depend on “it”. It was capricious and wispy, disappearing for periods of time, sometimes only half returning, or returning for only half as long as you want it. It’s also a problem to have to create work on deadlines without “it”. That is a killer. Too much of that kind of thing will beat you into a peculiar kind of self-loathing, hard to describe, but which makes your face in the mirror unbearable for yourself to look at. But you can get “it” to come and stay with you when you have great discipline and work hard without distractions. This is why I like working for three days straight. Those first few pages of Escape are pure “it.” And that set the standard I had to follow, which meant to keep on working until “it” came back, which “it” always does eventually. When I’m most discouraged and begin thinking I have no talent at all, I recognize that as the lowest point of the process of making art and ride it out. Looking back on Kirby’s work, or Toth’s, they seemed to always have “it,” even in their obvious mistakes and their sloppy work. I get mad at myself, then, for the vain luxury of complaint. You have no excuse, I say, or something in me says. You live in a part of the world where you can do just about anything you want. Not everything but anything. No one is firing mortar shells at your block. There are no attack dogs, no mustard gases are ruining you. No one is poaching you for your tusks. You’ve got no excuse.
So I try brewing coffee, then change the music on the CD player. Nothing helps. So I leave my place. I don’t do my laundry, which is dirty and shoved into a narrow crevice in my closet. I don’t do my dishes, dirty and uneven and even dusty in the sink. I don’t pay the bills, their eternally replenishing stack by the mailslot. I don’t put gas in my car, which is always on empty. Instead, then, as I do now, when the deadline stress is too great, I wait until I’m hungry, then go eat Indian food. That day, I called Scott and we went to this place called Taj Mahal to eat Chicken Tikka Masala, spicy, with Nann, no butter. Aloo Matar, and Raita. Mint chutney, too. Lamb Korma, or a sizzling Tandoori platter. Or spicy curry chicken. And Chai or a King Fisher, or a Flying Horse. No dessert. Not long after he and I started working together, we established this custom of eating a big Indian dinner as we were about to enter a serious deadline period. This ritual is intended to brace you for the hard week ahead, and let you celebrate it, too. After all, deadlines are part of this lifestyle, take it or leave it. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. And if you sometimes take a week, or even two, off and do absolutely nothing, you only really steal it from some other week yet to come, and regardless, every third or fourth week seems to be this sleepless, fitful, awful deadline time, with fifteen hour a day work weeks. And you must learn to love this. It’s your lot, your wife, your price. You must love this stress and learn how to burn with it, not to be burnt by it, otherwise it is a miserable servitude without much recompense. This is your garden, now cultivate it.
-Paul Pope, from the intro to THB Circus (1997).
Also remember that Pope said, in his “In the Studio” essay from PulpHope that “You simply can’t only work when you feel inspired… You can’t always rely on the caffeine or the juice in the iPod. You can’t afford to only work when you feel “it”. I learned early on, you can’t rely on “it” to get you out of a mess.”
Hello John, Your work is incredible. How long did it take you to find your "voice?" I feel like I am still jumping all over the place and I don't really understand how I am supposed to focus and draw one type of thing all the time. It is making me pretty anxious, which tends to paralyze me so I haven't been doing any good work at all in a while. Thank you so much for everything you share, you are my hero!
First off, thank you!
I used to define “voice” (in regards to illustration) as “what you’re saying” combined with “how you are saying it.” Then, I’d make two fists and mash them together, as if that helped drive my point home. I’m a hand talker, guys.
I don’t know how other people define it, but for my purposes, that seemed like a reasonable definition: what and how? The big trick then, is how do you go about developing those two questions?
It’s funny that you say that I have an established voice, because I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. But, let’s take a look at the premier example of an established voice:
Ok, so that Rockwell guy. Pretty good huh? We closely associate Rockwell with hyper-rendered, almost saccharine-sweet depictions of a mythical Americana. In the majority of his illustrations, he shows us an America without murder, prostitution, sexism, and racism (although he would tackle this in other paintings later), etc. He was quoted as saying “I unconsciously decided that, even if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be. So I painted only the ideal aspects of it - pictures in which there are no drunken slatterns or self-centered mothers…”
The key words there are “it should be.” So in countless Saturday Evening Post covers, he presented to the public an idealized America, shown in the most realistic way he knew how, in an effort to make his fictional America manifest. And in a way, he succeeded, mostly in part because we Americans are a sentimental lot. Flip on the TV and watch any commercials around Christmas, or July 4th, and tell me that America hasn’t bought into that mythology.
So his “what”: an idealized America. “How”: realistic painting. What happens if you throw either one of those things off? Robert Weaver, grandfather of the “avant garde” within illustration, once said “I wonder how Norman Rockwell would handle this article I have to illustrate titled ‘The Psychological Complications of Being Left-Handed’?”
It’s not that Rockwell was in any way limited by his voice. In fact, most of what we know about Rockwell flies in the contrary of his work (“The life revealed here is one of anxiety, depression and loneliness, with feelings of failure, neglect and inadequacy.”) It’s that he had something very specific and personal to him that he wanted to express in the best way that he could. And that’s how I think you should approach your own investigations towards a personal voice.
What is it that you care about? What is personal to you, and only you, that you can speak authoritatively about? What injustices do you see in the world? What stories aren’t being told that you think deserve to be? If you don’t think you can’t answer those questions yet, just sit down and do some writing. Start with what you know. Then branch out, get out of your head; go live your life, read books, have conversations, fall in love. All of this informs your work.
The “how” is the technical side of this equation. It is your classes on color theory, your countless newsprint pads from figure drawing, and your experiments in your sketchbook. Honestly, it’s the easiest part. It just takes time and good practice to develop.
And there’s one more little bit that I’d throw in there for good measure, and that’s “why?” Why are you making the work that you are? Dean Cornwell said this of Harvey Dunn’s Leonia school: “Perhaps the most valuable thing that Dunn taught us was honest dealing with our fellow men and a constant gratitude to the maker above for the privilege of seeing the sun cast shadows.” Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, I like this idea of “honesty and gratitude.” As an illustrator, artist, however you choose to define yourself, if you’re in this trade and you have the skillset, you have to ability to influence. What will you do with this ability?
For example, have you guys seen this illustration about “stop and frisk” that Richie Pope posted yesterday? Absolutely killer. I know that the subject matter is very close to Richie’s heart, and you know what? It shows, man.
If you’re not making good work right now (and let’s be honest, that’s a hard thing to admit to yourself), then you should take heart: that means that for every failed piece, you are one step closer to finding that voice. And that means that tomorrow has the potential to be a much better place than today. You just have to keep at it.
YOU GUYS are my heroes. Images have power. Stories have power. You guys have superhuman, mutant powers. Use them for good.
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.
All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.
Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.
It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”—
Art and Fear- David Bayles and Ted Orland (via qweety)
Perfection is intimidating. I think most artists blocks come from the fear of creating something imperfect.
this is used to symbolize the Nazi’s and is often reminded of the murders and genocides
this is an innocent and sacred symbol used in a lot of different cultures and religions
THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN SAYING FOR 7 FUCKING YEARS!
OH MY GOD FINALLY.
Just a friendly reminder that signs are not inherently evil or good. In this case one image is traumatic, the other its reflection. It isn’t strange that people have a knee jerk emotional response to either, considering they are basically the same.(This post might appear to be arguing that while this one is good, the other one is bad.)
What is important to remember is that a sign or symbol does not have or retain the same meaning throughout time and in different cultures. In Asia, this symbol has a positive significance within Buddhism and Hinduism (if I am not wildly mistaken). In the contemporary west, people recognize it as the symbol of a powerful reign of terror and death.
Rotating or mirroring of the image to slightly alter it isn’t the important point.. The point is that like language, signs are always defined arbitrarily by people. Signs change their meaning as time passes and as they become connected to unfolding events. We are the ones who define what they mean and what they can do to us, and in this case, I think it’s good to recognize both the origins and religious use of the swastika symbol (why it should not be condemned as ‘evil’), and the visual symbol it has become in western history, of human cruelty and atrocities (why we should not use it lightly, or belittle people who are triggered by it). In the end I think it is important to know people create signs. We control signs. Let’s remember this so signs do not control us.
“Ultimately, most things that are offensive are also lazy and unoriginal; because you can’t reach that point of view by looking at the world honestly…You reach that point of view by taking short cuts and by just sort of repeating what someone else told you.”—
Yes!!! This is what I always say about a lot of offensive writing. It’s not just offensive. It’s fucking boring, rehashed, derivative, unoriginal stuff, and why should you be rewarded for that with an audience? Observing the world, talking to people outside your own experience, coming up with something new, that’s hard work.