Wednesday, August 9, 2017

From Cave to Classroom


What I learned about teaching art

  
Freelancing can be an isolating and sometimes lonely profession. But as any self-loathing artist will tell you “what’s wrong with that?”.  Deep down in the recesses of our workspace along with our solitude, we have our unopened action figures, our bagged comics, our books, magazines, toys, posters, LPs, the flotsam and jetsam of any decent studio. Our studios are our museums created apparently by what appears to be an eight-year-old with disposable income. I have my clients. My down time (aka: waiting for a client). My self-inflected projects (aka: frustration with a difficult client). What more could I want? After twenty years of this troglodylian profession I decided to go out in the sun and once more be with people.

It wasn’t just the social aspect of teaching I was looking towards. It was also the idea of a steady paycheck, something intangible to many freelance artists. But I don’t regret my decision. I thoroughly enjoy teaching at the college level. That of course is the first criteria. However, the professions of teacher and working artist are so different it is no easy transition. One that I am still working on.

When I was a student I had the good fortune of attending two excellent art schools: School of Visual Arts and the Fashion Institute of Technology, both located in Manhattan. While studying there I realized that some instructors were wonderful artists, some great teachers, but few were both. Many artists were pigeon-holed as they became experts at their craft. Some had a difficult time teaching a room full of students, different techniques and various mediums. You also need to adjust from introvert to extrovert as you stand onstage in front of your classroom. I honestly had flop sweat my first time. Weekly public speaking eventually brought out the ham in me. There are, of course, quite a number of things not to do.

Such as, now that people can actually see me it is time to throw away that coffee-stained bathrobe, shave every morning and head down to a decent men’s store for a makeover. It need not be Barney’s or Odin, but more than a t-shirt and worn jeans. My students can dress like they are going to a EDM bar, tattoos a blazing, but if I want any kind of respect from them I better dress for business and not the studio.

I don’t pretend to listen to their music either. I tried and failed horribly with my own children. They know I’m not twenty or thirty (I’ll stop there), so I don’t bother to act it. I do play music in my classes, mostly Rock, Funk, or Blues. Once in a while I sneak in some Classical. If I feel particularly vengeful Opera, yes Opera. Those are the nights when the headphones come out. In return, on some nights they have their say and convince me to listen to K-Pop, Folk Punk, Goth or whatever they come up with. Everyone needs victories against authority to stay inspired. Especially since I run my classroom as a friendly dictator and not a democracy.

And make mistakes. You learn more from failures than successes and it makes you more human. Demos use to be particularly stressful. When I received praise from students for a drawing, the last thing I want them to take away is that I can do this every time (I can’t), that there is something special about me (there isn’t) and therefore they shouldn’t try (they must). I want them to see me draw a funky face, a distorted figure, a crappy still life. I want them to know it takes hours and hours of hard work and practice and even then, there is no guarantee. It is not a gift of either you have it or you don’t. The only gift I experienced in my years of working and teaching is that the hardest worker achieves the most.

The last thing I want to do is create a clone army too. It is comforting to teach what you do best, but it is not helping them to create. We are visual problem solvers. They need to shade it, lay it out, color it, render it the way they see it. Even if that means using one too many typefaces. Brush script is one too many, by the way. That means learning new things for both of us. Perhaps it is a filter I stay clear from in Photoshop or starting a portrait in charcoal instead of pencil. They push me to be a better artist and I believe my work has improved somewhat since teaching.

They should want to come to class not loathe it. I couldn’t wait to get to a class taught by Vincent DiFate or Will Eisner, two of my favorites among many. They were so filled with knowledge and pure love of art I soaked it up and left inspired every time. Remember, they’re in art school, not catechism. Have some fun. Laugh at yourself and don’t take art too seriously. I do have three rules, however, commandments really. I issue these at the start of every course no matter what I am teaching. Are they ever broken? Of course, but they are a starting point for school and the work that lay ahead. They are:

Thou Shall Meet All Deadlines
Thou Shall Follow Specifications
Thou Shall Not Be Difficult*

And if all that fails, bring in food. Students are always hungry.  

*I have a crasser version I use to get my point across in class that seems to have a greater retention value.

Digital Color Theory demonstration in Photoshop © J Stroud 2016


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

SPQA

When I was a kid my mother would write down notes on a pad she kept in the hallway by the kitchen. On the right side were things she needed to buy when grocery shopping. The left held appointments. There was one name, and one name only, that struck terror in my fat little heart: Paula. Paula was our dentist and to this day still causes me dental PTSD. Paula did not believe in novocaine or anything stronger than oil of cloves, which still makes me sweat whenever I smell a pumpkin pie baking. Her office was in an old Victorian house, the kind you see in a Charles Addams cartoon complete with a round brass doorbell and plaster walls. It was the wait for that office visit that filled me with dread knowing it was unavoidable and the excruciating pain that followed that terrorized my childhood.

Like an acid rain waterfall those same feelings are cascading back down as I wait for January 20th to arrive. We can plead, protest, and curse until we are blue (or red) in the face, but he’s still coming. Trump reminds me, too much so, of a Roman emperor the way he carries himself, his sense of narcissism and his decorum or lack of. But which emperor is the big question? Will he be an Augustus and find Washington built with brick and rebuild it in gold-plated Chinese steel? Or like Hadrian building a wall to keep out whomever he fears the most? Of course his sons remind me of Caligula, but that doesn’t count does it? Could he be another Tiberius refusing to live in the capitol? Perhaps Nero who did not trust his own Praetorian Guard and intelligence community? Whichever one he turns out to be very few had happy endings. The Roman Empire did last over 1,000 years and the Pax Romana over one hundred. Will our republic fair better? As the saying goes, those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, while those that do are really, really depressed.

With the New Year come new hopes and dreams. At least we want to believe that. Unfortunately, I have some more bad news. Barnum and Bailey’s Circus is closing for good. They say it is for humanitarian reasons. This just doesn’t make sense to me. I mean sure I feel the same way, but why don’t they just buy a bigger car for all those clowns? Although we no longer have the circus, America still has a lot of great things to offer. But the greatest thing about America is the garage. Without the garage there would be no garage band, no startup computer companies, no teenager trying to change the world. There would be no place to start all those projects you planned on getting to. Who doesn’t enjoy telling your spouse “if you need me I’ll be out in the garage fixing something” while you check your mini-fridge for beer? What about a ‘man-cave’ you ask? Sorry, that’s a casual Friday version, a hold your purse while you shop answer. No, it’s a space heater and crappy TV and a barcalounger held together with duct tape for me. I also hear it’s pretty good for keeping a car in shape when you are ready to sell it for more than just a ‘great station car’ too. So let us salute the humble garage. Without it, life in America would be just like the rest of the world.  And here’s to hoping we don’t look back at 2016 as the good old days. Now, you will have to excuse me while I go ‘fix the toaster’.


Below is a self-portrait, because it’s too cold to paint outdoors and real models expect to be paid. I'm working on my inking in case it wasn't obvious.


Friday, December 16, 2016

The Christmas Blog

I can see by the way Trump’s transition team is progressing that Santa is not granting me my Christmas wish, in that they are still transitioning. Doesn’t Pence have a cure for that? To think I sang a duet of “All I Want For Christmas Is Democracy” with Joe Biden for nothing.

Anyway, this is my last blog for 2016. I think most of us can agree it was one shitty year. I knew we were in trouble when the Cubs won. Bowie, Prince, Leon Russell, Garry Shandling, Alan Rickman, Glen Frey, Gene Wilder, the list goes on and on. Such great talents.

However, I won’t let that dampen my Holiday spirit. As a non-practicing atheist I can decorate our tannenbaum to my heart’s content without the guilt of not attending Midnight Mass. The cookies, the movies, presents, even the Christmas cards and wishes work on a simple humanistic level, like a Target gift card.

Speaking of cards. I have been creating my own holiday cards for over twenty years now. And every year I get a number of compliments from friends and family members. This year was an exception, in that there were none. It could mean the card was awful. Or it could mean the lady that picks up our mail is a part time art critic. But I think the real reason is it looks more like a store bought card and therefore no one realized it is one of mine. That could be a good thing. My work as a professional artist might look more…professional. I do enjoy hearing from people about my card though. Not as an ego boost, but for them to see the personal touch I put into wishing them the best for the holidays. It is a small way to reconnect with people I might have lost touch with over the year.

As I also send it to clients, current and perspective, it is a mini-promotional piece and forces me to do a bit of marketing, something I detest. How would look if, as an illustrator, I sent out someone else’s work? Next thing you know I’m tracing Rockwell’s paintings or stealing jokes. The piece is below for anyone that cares to see it.

With that, I completed my News Year’s resolution of creating one project a month for twelve months. I realize that’s not a huge sacrifice, but it did get me to work more, which is always a good thing. Looking back on my youth and all the years I enjoyed myself instead of working hard on my career my tombstone may actually read: 

I should have spent more time at the office and then I could have afforded a really good marble tombstone instead of this crappy Formica one. 

Hey, in my defense it was the 80s. Happy Holidays, and a better year ahead!





Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Anderson Cooper, give me back my wife!

No one has suffered more than me during this election cycle, no one. And a lot of people have said that. Totally true. With campaign mentions of Weiner and Bush how can you expect anything else? I’ve had it up to hear (my hand is under my chin).

My wife, on the other hand, cannot get enough. She’ll sit and watch CNN for hours while the laptop remains open to a New York Times article. I have become a political widower. “He’s a modern day Ephialtes!*” she yells out over the blue glow of her Airbook. “You bet he is,” I yell from the basement. “I forget, how do you spell his name?” as I Google over to my computer and figure out whom she is referring to before she realizes what I’m doing. It causes a temporary pause in my search for dual citizenship.

And apparently, I’m not the only one worried. Judging how the stock market is keeping time with James Comey’s reports there are a few others out there. The TV news keeps reassuring us that it will soon be over. Yeah, okay. Don’t they know that’s when the fun begins? With calls for impeachment before anyone even takes the oath of office, to refusing to believe FBI reports, to a SCOTUS that is still missing a member that keeps it from becoming deadlock, to a Republican party that eats its own young, 2017 looks about as attractive as a House Hunters International episode in Syria.  You think I’m kidding about that dual citizenship thing? The question is where not if.

The late night comedian pundits who helped put Trump in there are shaking in their Nikes as well. They are busy scrabbling around this week trying to get you to vote for Hillary. They know the first thing any vindictive leader does is knock off the comedians and cartoonists. His list will make Nixon’s enemy list look like an evite for a kiddy party. Time to throw out my Funny Lives Matter t-shirt. The good news is I am way way WAY down on that list, somewhere after Carrot Top but before my next-door neighbor, Crazy Craig Belesco. At least that’s what my eleven followers tell me.

So if you think this is all over today, you are in for a rude awakening. This has made me a political groundhog where I see six more months of icy cold relations. Anderson Cooper, I hate you. Now back to my hunt for asylum.



Continuing with my mood during this time:


* Ephialtes, Greek who betrayed his homeland, in hope of receiving a reward from Xerses, by showing the Persian forces a path around the allied Greek position at the pass of Thermopylae, which helped them win the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC against the 300 Spartans.