Sunday, October 23, 2016

I'll Take You Under My Wing

How many different ways are there to say, "I love this frigging band." I say it a lot, but I totally mean it every single time I say it. Depeche Mode are so cool. Urgh. They're urgh-cool. And I love this frigging band. As I said before, their early synthpop material was my gateway and I love it a lot. But every era is brilliant and so extremely danceable. Even, I apprehensively admit, the grungy stuff. And when I say danceable, I mean that Dave Gahan might be my most favorite dancing frontman ever. Because what IS that, even???

I'm really proud of this one. This piece is a triumph for me because it's the first time I've really executed a work in this linework-preserving style with total conviction. I pulled my color palette from the cover of Black Celebration, which features yet another of my knockout favorites, "Question of Time."

Here are some preparatory sketches of Dave and Martin Gore:

How remarkable is this band for having not one, but TWO outrageously beautiful vocals?! When I first saw what they looked like, I remember being really amused that such a big voice came out of cute little Dave. And then there's that amazing sort of effortless vibrato that both Dave and Martin do. I'd certainly put the both of them up there on the list of mind-bending singers with Kate Bush. That's voice-coach-level complicated. And lemme tell ya, between the impossible singing and the arm-dancing, you will never see anything with more idiotic abandon than me singing along with a Depeche Mode song. Also, upcoming album!!!! Anway. Bless these black-clad heroes. (P.S. Hear ye, hear ye: Fletch is my hair idol. Bless also his ginger locks.)

"It's just a question of time.
It should be better.
It's just a question of time.
It should be better with you."

And make sure that he's hungry...

Whereas I find about 99.9% of eighties pop music irresistible in some way or another, I'm far less generous toward the sixties and seventies because of folky singer-songwriter types. Not dislike, necessarily. Mostly boredom. But I make automatic exceptions for weirdos. And who's weirder than old Neil? Well, okay plenty of others. But I'm especially keen on his particular brand of weirdness. Like his questionable singing voice-- like George Harrison, only shriller. And his experimental early eighties albums over which his record company sued him (because they weren't Neil Young enough). And-- though I've still not yet seen it and it's apparently a huge disaster-- his film Human Highway, which features one of my favorite DEVO songs/videos ("Worried Man").

So anyway here's another very quick, very loose drawing. This time of Neil Young, who can do whatever the hell he wants!

The Landscape is Changing

A quick, very loosely referenced Depeche Mode. I know Depeche have moved on to bigger, better, more sultry, more intense things since; but I have a special affection for their third album, Construction Time Again. I was infatuated with "Everything Counts" when I first heard it, and it remains one of my absolute DM favorites to this day. Along with other supremely tasty tracks like "Shake the Disease." Anything in which the band are knocking on sheets of metal and banging pipes together, really.

"'Cause I don't care if you're going nowhere.
Just take good care of the world."

Friday, September 2, 2016

To You It May Be Death Defying

I've wanted to do a Neil Finn piece since day one. It took me something like eight years to finally get around to it, but here he is! I've got a hefty list somewhere of similar ideas saved for later. Things I felt too daunted to approach then. Now I know of course that you just have to do it or you'll never do it.

My introduction to Split Enz was an attraction to their unique blend of proggy strangeness and pop accessibility. The poppiness got a huge boost when baby Neil Finn got on board, and the Finn brothers together are like candy for the ears. The band's exciting visual aesthetic, courtesy of spoon-playing hero Noel Crombie, has been permanently ingrained into my brain's palette.

As for Neil Finn, well, what can I say? One of my absolute favorite vocalists ever. There's just something about a soulful belter. See also: Glenn Tilbrook, Cyndi Lauper, etc. But as if the killer voice weren't enough, there's also his songwriting. Devastatingly emotive but not sickly sweet, with an edge and a rawness.

Some of my other favorite bands imploded or fizzled out. Split Enz had the wisdom to call it a day on their terms, which is the best you can ask for. "I Walk Away" is a beautiful song that you can mold to just about any adversity in your own life and have it fit just perfectly. Neil did the tune with Crowded House after the Enz closed out with it. Both versions are brilliant, but the driving, syncopated, hiccuping Split Enz version (with Noel's fingerprints all over the promo video) especially slays me. It's such a lovely way to say so long.

"Reveal whatever you desire.
To you it may death defying.
Your life a slave to ambition.
Tension your permanent condition.
So much you've always wanted.
Too much giving you a sore head.
Finally marching to a different tune."


Just a quick study of the World's Nicest Man, Michael Palin. Still my favourite Python after all these years. (Alongside Gilliam, of course.) Am I a heretic if I say his travel shows are on the same level as Python??? Anyway he certainly blows Rick Steves out of the water. Yep, I said it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Shut It!

Some more Top of the Pops studies. A watercolor variation on the old liner technique. My favorite way to work, currently.

Dance Stance

Are "Friends" Electric?

I Just Can't Be Happy Today

My winter nights are so much cold-uhhhh.

After the frustration of my last piece, I decided to back up and do some studies.

I get jaded. All of my favorite visual artists stick with more or less the same aesthetic throughout their entire careers. And their work is always fresh and amazing. How do they do it? I leaned a bit too heavily on my liner marker/ colored pencil technique for a couple years and had to step away from it for a solid year. This isn't the right paper for it, but here is its apprehensive return. So, how the heck DO you keep it fresh?! As Martin Fry would croon beneath his immaculate flop of golden hair, "I don't know the answer to that question! If I knew I would tell you..." Hmm.

Shake the Disease

Sound of the Crowd

Thrown Away


Whenever you watch Bob Ross paint, you always trust that by the end of the show he'll have given you a twinkling treasure. Somewhere in the first half you might think, "Hmm, that looks a little off." But a couple strokes later, off goes the contact paper and-- WHAMMO-- it's a masterpiece. As an artist, I don't always have that same level of trust in myself yet. If I plan-- if I gather reference and do studies and thumbnails-- I do. But if I skimp on any of those steps, there's always the risk that by the time I've decided to call it a day and stamp my name on the piece, I'm only wrapping it up to stop myself from fudging it further. So at this stage I've learned very clearly that there is a distinction between a truly spontaneous piece and a fully-rendered planned piece, and that anything in between isn't really controllable. It's discouraging to trip up in that way, especially when you invest a lot (but apparently not quite enough) of yourself in something. I allow for a healthy level of open-endedness. I don't ever cling to a desire for my work to turn out a certain way. I don't know how it will turn out. I don't mind that.

With the creative work of others, I like to get a glimpse at unpolished stuff like demos, sketches, and rough drafts. All those items that are not meant to be shared are a really great thing to share. If I may sound like an exasperating turd for a second: I don't feel there are mistakes in art. Only trial runs and learning experiences. Frustrating, infuriating, rip-your-eyeballs-out-of-their-sockets learning experiences. Sometimes I fail. And I get panicky when I realize I've used up a whole day, failing. Doing what amounts to nothing. But it's not nothing, is it? It all leads to improvement, which is definitely something. Ho-hum.

Me, I go from one extreme to another!

Martin Fry gives me major hair envy. 

I have no good explanation for not yet having experienced an ABC album in full. I'm not as cool as I think I am, I guess.

"And all my friends just might ask me, 
They say, 'Martin, maybe one day you'll find true love.'
And I say, 'Maybe there must be a solution to
The one thing, the one thing we can't find.'"

Friday, August 5, 2016

Thanks, People's Poet!

The Comic Strip Presents... was my introduction to the Comic Strip comedy troupe, one of my favorites. Young Ones came later. I admit I didn't fully get it at first. They didn't rely on campiness like Python. They committed to their bits with total seriousness. And without an audience to reassure me that I was laughing at the right spots in those films, it felt totally foreign. That's what stood out to me. They were weird. And I liked it.

And Young Ones. Butt jokes and slapstick violence aren't for everyone. But how about surrealism and puppets? And musical performances? And just total, rapid-fire, alternative silliness? Rik Mayall is a favorite for a lot of people. His physicality is unmistakable, and a bright spot in everything he's ever been in. His turns as Flashheart in Blackadder are like comedy candy. And I don't care what anybody says about Drop Dead Fred; it is pure gold. You don't ever expect that such a vivid personality could ever leave this earthly realm.

"And then one particularly sensitive and articulate teenager will say, 'Other kids, do you understand nothing? How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?'"

This is the Heavy, Heavy Monster Sound

My hometown is a cultural no man's land. But thanks to my parents' good taste, an internet connection, and reliable secondhand venues like Goodwill, I was never completely isolated.

When I was sixteen the local video rental finally decided to purge its VHS collection. I snagged a holy grail called Greenpeace Non-Toxic Video Hits because I spied my boy George Harrison, ala Rubber Soul, on the cover. It's one of those beautiful relics that's sat in the window for well over a decade-- possibly a couple-- so the colors have been bleached out and everything's blue and pink. I treasure it. It's where I discovered Kajagoogoo and Heaven 17. And the desperately awesome Peter Gabriel track "Shock the Monkey." It's also got Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, Queen, Talk Talk, and my other boy Thomas Dolby. And a truly insufferable Roger Taylor video involving a game of chicken and lots of sultry staring into the camera. Gag. But also, this is where I discovered Madness in earnest, via "Wings of a Dove."

I have warm memories of that summer and my swan dive into Madnessland. It's not like I-- a sixteen-year-old rural American girl-- had much in common with Madness. But the warmth and the spirit of fun and funniness was absolutely universal. The English colloquialism just made it more exciting and broadened my small world. Being a teenager was exhilarating because everything was completely new. I reveled in my new band. Youtube was a vast treasure trove.

I eagerly lapped it all up. Even their Young Ones performances were exciting for me, despite my having zero understanding of what the heck Young Ones was (or what institutions the both of them were in the UK).

Madness exemplify everything I love about music. For me, it's not just about entertainment. It's about enriching my experience as a human being. Their perfect pop songs are clever, heartfelt, silly, and pure personality. Now, nearly ten years later, they still share the top spot in my musical pantheon. Long live Madness.

Here's to many more Madness pieces to come.

Thursday, August 4, 2016


Hello there, ladies and gents.

The beauty of Cheap Trick is that they're keeping a secret. The secret is that they are one trillion times more sophisticated than you expect. In fact they're not anything you expect. "I Want You to Want Me" is a precious gem. "Dream Police" is a sparkling treasure. I knew this. But somehow I always just assumed they were another hard rock band. Not a bad one. Just another one. Now I know better.

When you crack into their catalogue, the sun emerges from behind the clouds and you're blinded. For instance: Robin. The man sings in about a thousand distinct voices. He's not some sassy pretty boy like some other singers of the time. He can go from campy progster to snotty punk to larynx-shredding killer to tender balladeer all in the span of a single lyric. From which golden peak of Mount Olympus did he descend??? And then there's Tom Petersson, Mr. 12-String Bass-- that's INVENTOR of the 12-string bass. And bespectacled, rockstar iconoclast Bun E. And Rick, the King of Quirk, gangly, wordy, weird in all the best ways. Cheap Trick have heavy pop hooks, punk attitude, metal guts, and just the right amount of a sort of new wave offbeat strangeness. They are well-regarded across the entire dang spectrum, by their peers, by music fans. What other band can boast that? Furthermore, they make me intensely proud to be Midwestern. Sure, New York and L.A. are glamorous, but there's a whole bunch of stuff in between. Despite how it sometimes feels, it's not just turds in goatees and cowboy hats singing about summer and beer.

Also, they have great faces. Really great faces.

What Can I Say?

Here's a throwback, depending on your definition of "throwback." From a little over a year ago. But as anyone obsessed with the passage of time knows, you can change a lot in a year. Any sort of glancing thought backwards within my body of work isn't light on cringes. I've got plenty of creations I've considered going out and burying in a deep hole in the yard. (And keyboard vomit I've considered deleting into oblivion.) Still, I gladly look back, and I make it a point to do so regularly. It's an opportunity to index my strengths and weaknesses, to remind myself that I'm not shit after all, and to simply generate new ideas.

This quick portrait of one of my creative heroes is a nice reference point for me in times of uncertainty, frustration, and stagnation. Andy Partridge is a bit of a mad genius. Bursting with ideas. Touched with insecurity and self-deprecation. But just going for it. And talking a lot about it. Little tributes like this one are simple reminders to follow my weirdness at its weirdest. It's a reminder that I need to ignore the bejesus out of that super self-critical monster in me that tries to rise up and eat me when I touch pencil to paper. It's a reminder that all I need or anybody needs to do is just create. With enthusiasm and positivity. To put as many beautiful, singular things out into the world as I possibly can in this short lifetime.