Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Blogpost Re-Run: Critiques & Portfolio Reviews

Below is a blogpost I did four years ago about reviewing people's work and giving them portfolio reviews. Seemed relevant to repost it (though I did some editing on the early paragraphs):

I'm asked to review people's work at conventions and as we head into the 2018 convention season, I'd like to share my thoughts on portfolio reviews, what I do, and what I'm thinking about when giving them.

Receiving a critique is hard. Bravo to the folks that are brave enough to put their work together, walk up to someone in the industry, and show them work opened up for comment. It's a vulnerable place to be. Hopefully, it's also an opportunity to get fresh eyes and ideas on the work with the hopes of improving it.

Giving a critique is hard too. When I first started attending conventions and people plopped down heir work for me to look at, I  had to prepare a way to approach giving critiques that would be helpful. I'd had my share of critiques of my work when I was an art student at Mott Community College and Eastern Michigan University...some were very positive, some were negative...but the ones that helped me most, were a mix of both: honest, but fair.

When I start with someone's portfolio, I first flip through most of the pages without giving very little feedback. I found after a few of these, that it's best to explain that to the artist first so that my silence isn't misconstrued. I want a chance to get a whole lay of the land, an impression of the work without explanation. As I'm doing this, I'm identifying what I see as the strongest piece and the weakest piece.  By doing this, I can now talk to the artist in relative terms about their work. I can show how the other pieces could benefit from whatever techniques or composition, or methodologies they used in the strongest piece. How could the things that they are doing right and well be applied to any piece of theirs with faults. I could hold them to some idealistic standard, but I think that is both too abstract and vague,  and also discouraging. I want to show them what they can fix right now, and they they are already capable of it.

I developed this approach because of my experiences in later college. I was frustrated with professors at the 30 & 400 level classes wanting to 'break you' and remold you in their image (or their idea of art) instead of trying to help you make what you are already doing better...even lightyears better...but within the framework of the work you are already doing. Now, when an art student is beginning, there are a LOT of bad habits that need to be taught out of you, where you need to be reformed, taught a visual foundation, not allowed to explore 'style', and shown how to see. But by the time a student is beyond those core skills, the tearing them down and building back up with whatever idea of art that professor has is pointless and unproductive.

With every review I try to help them fix their own mistakes. Not to break them or tell them they need to draw like artist X or shake off what makes them unique. I want to congratulate them on what is working and how to make what they already do better. We talk about contour line, line weight, inking techniques, creating greys, texture, style influences, subjects, and mood. I tailor the advice to the work in the portfolio. Sometimes my comments are about  needing to focus on those basics, or perspective or anatomy...but other times, I'm digging way in and nit-picking details about storytelling or line weights. As the conversation is ending, I usually give the artist some exercises and a handful of artists to reference I think will lead them in the direction they want to go...and those assignments can vary from "draw basic shapes and build up forms from them" to "start making comics"

There is also something to be said for how to prepare a portfolio and how to receive a critique.

A portfolio should contain a limited selection of your work showcasing the BEST you have to offer.
It should have a focus that gives the reviewer a sense of your voice as an artist. There is some merit in showing a wide range of all the varied styles, techniques, and mediums you can use, but ultimately, I find this can lead to too wide a variety of artistic voice that doesn't tell me who you are. It's ok to mix in some color and inks, and pencils, but a portfolio shouldn't be a Swiss-army knife of artistic deeds. Show the type of work you want to do: spot illustrations, or comic storytelling, or children's book illustrations, or environments, whatever the case is, this portfolio should show the kind of work you want to get hired for and are interested in doing. And all of this should be your best work to-date.

The best way to receive a review is to listen. Too often I hear the artist who is asking for an opinion, jumping in to self-deprecate, make excuses, or add too much background information. A reviewer can't give you their thoughts and suggestions if you are talking. That's not to say I conduct my reviews being the only one who talks. I ask questions, ask about influences, find out why some pieces were handled certain ways, and try to engage the artist as much as possible. And then I listen to those answers to tailor my advice. It's totally fine if you disagree with what I or any other reviewer is saying (we may be very wrong about your work), but the only way you really find out if we have anything worth taking to heart is to listen.

So with all of that in mind, I wish you the best of luck when developing and showing a portfolio. I hope the review leads to you growing and improving as an artist or to getting hired for the work you want to do.

2018 Appearances:
Heroes Con: June 15-17
San Diego Comic Con: July 18-22
Baltimore Comic Con: Sept. 28-30
New York Comic Con: Oct. 4-7

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Mouse Guard Model Video: Feather Knighting Room

Several years ago I made an 18" x 24" print called "Feather Knighting" with a mouse trading violence for wisdom. The background of the large print was to be a room full of references from past mouse guard stories, artifacts, story cues, and easter eggs. In this video below, I go over the reference model I made to help me get the geometrical perspective correct as I worked on the piece.

Direct link to watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/RPCf0_igzMg

You can still purchase the Feather Knighting print here:

And read the full art process blogpost about the piece here:

2018 Appearances:
Heroes Con: June 15-17
San Diego Comic Con: July 18-22
Baltimore Comic Con: Sept. 28-30
New York Comic Con: Oct. 4-7

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mott Community College

Back in February I returned to Mott Community College (where I started my degree) for a gallery exhibition of my work and to give a talk about my work & process. It was wonderful to share with the program that I started in and gave me so much. ‬The presentation elaborated on my creative process & the influence 2-D design & Printmaking courses had on me there.

Below is a video that shows not only the gallery exhibit, but also my talk and Q&A:

Photos from the day:


The Gallery

The sheep's head I drew 20 years ago was still in the drawing room's still life props closet

This is the first etching press I ever used. After 20 years apart, I greeted it like an old friend

But the biggest highlight/emotional crescendo was Sam Morello, the professor who changed my life with his 2-D design class and introduced me to printmaking was front row for my presentation.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Recommendations of Comics by Genre

On Free Comic Book Day this year I tweeted:

Is there someone in your life who doesn't read comics? Use today as a way to show them how many types of styles, genres, tones, & age ranges of material there are in this medium. Comics are stories. And who doesn't like stories? 

This is an echo of a sentiment I used in my Keynote speech at last years Ringo Awards:
That there are already comics out there for every type of reader, no matter what type of story/tone/genre they already consume in other forms of media.

So, now that it's a few days after FCBD, you may be wondering what to put in front of your non-(or new)-comic reader's eyes to keep them interested. Below is a list of genres (and in the case of 'webcomics'--less about genre and more about methods to find & read the material) with suggestions for each mostly gleaned off of my own bookshelves. This is by no means some definitive list, but meant only to be personal examples I could use to illustrate how many types of books exist out there. Enjoy, I hope you find something for the newly initiated in your life as well as perhaps yourself.

Gotham Academy, Little Nemo, Amulet

Giant Days, I Hate Fairyland, Chew

Mouse Guard, Bone, Cursed Pirate Girl

Owly, Korgi, Little Robot

300, Usagi Yojimbo, Leauge of Extra Ordinary Gentlemen

Through the Woods, Hellboy, Locke & Key

Sin City, The Rocketeer, Blacksad

Maus, Bone Sharps, Cowboys, & Thunder Lizards,
Treasury of Victorian Murder

Oz, Tenty Thousand Leauges, Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser 

Blankets, Strangers in Paradise, Miki Falls

Runners, Space Dumplins, Southern Cross

Lackadaisy, Table Titans, Abominable Charles Christopher*
(All of these have content available for free, 
but also have collections printed as beautifully published books too)

2018 Appearances:
Heroes Con: June 15-17
San Diego Comic Con: July 18-22
Baltimore Comic Con: Sept. 28-30
New York Comic Con: Oct. 4-7

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Creator Commentary: Fall 1152 Issue/Chapter 4

I've made a Creator Commentary video for the fourth issue/chapter of Mouse Guard Fall 1152: The Dark Ghost.  For this issue and the remaining issues in Fall 1152, I’ll be doing the commentary as audio-only. But please feel free to follow along in your copy of the story in either issue form of from the hardcover as I talk about the behind the scenes details, art notes, and my head-space as I go page by page and panel by panel. Enjoy!

Direct YouTube Link:

2018 Appearances:
Heroes Con: June 15-17
San Diego Comic Con: July 18-22
Baltimore Comic Con: Sept. 28-30
New York Comic Con: Oct. 4-7

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