Saturday, November 11, 2017

Busy Busy Busy

Busy and Depressed with the political atmosphere including: lack of gun control, healthcare, new tax cuts for the rich, should I go on? I think not.

I was asked by a friend of mind if I would donate a piece of art for an upcoming charity event. The event is in March 2018, for the Longmont Ballet Company. The students are between the ages of eight and sixteen. They hosted a sketch night at the Denver Museum of Art last week. Below are a few sketches I did, as well as some finished pencils I did this week. From here I will do some brush and ink work to be auctioned off.

Now if you will excuse me it's back to CNN and depression.

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


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.