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January 16th, 2024

Diane Arbus And The Darkness Within

I found this on my porch this morning so either the delivery person left it late last night or sometime before 6am today.

Of the great film photographers, there are four whose influence have always been with me, going back to my teen years. David Plowden, Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Frank…and one I tend to mention with some hesitation: Diane Arbus.

Her photography is like an ice pick to the soul, or at least it is to the painfully romantic such as myself. But she was unquestionably one of the grand masters of the art form. She knew what she was about, and she hit her mark with precision.

If I were to choose one image that most represents her to me, it wouldn’t be the boy with the toy hand grenade, or the work she did with asylum patients, the images of midgets, transvestites, old people. It would be the shot of the Hollywood set house on a hill. It’s an unusual one for her in that there are no people in it, its subject is in the distance, and the sky and space around the subject are essential to it. I don’t think there is anything else in her oeuvre quite like it.


Diane Arbus: A house on a hill, Hollywood, Cal. 1963 

This one shot to me is the heart of it. Everything she ever did emerges from what she is saying in that one shot. 

I could not be more distant from her in my own work, and yet it speaks to me and I admit a lot of it resembles her. I admire David Plowden for his straight on composition and for the deeply felt, timeless silence within. I love the drama in the photography of Margaret Bourke-White, and her mastery of the black and white process, which is every bit as good as Ansel Adams’. Robert Frank’s work captures moments that show us the humanity of its subjects in their environment. He is as humane as Diane Arbus is alienated. I don’t think anyone who knew her was surprised by her suicide. Saddened and grief stricken surely, but how can you look at the body of her work and not be surprised at how she ended it.

Her work speaks to me because I am usually wandering down the same dark paths she did. Why I didn’t fall in like she did I have no idea, other than different metals behave differently in the fire. Maybe I’m just too curious to be completely demoralized. Or maybe I just accept the indifference of the universe in a way she never could. There is no despair in my photos, at least I hope that’s not what anyone sees in them. What I do in my art photography is, as best as I can tell from a lifetime of doing it, maybe something akin to brutalism, a sensation of the gods talking past you, conversing among themselves and not even seeing you, timeless, eternal, indifferent. It’s the silence that moves me. I am more like David Plowden than Diane Arbus. There is no silence in her work, just a lot of despair.

She was one of the grand masters. I admire her because she knew what she was about and she hit it with precision every time. That not only takes skill, it takes a lot of self examination to be that good at it. I have one of her photography books, and I bought this because it promises to tell me more about the artist and hopefully I get a better idea of why she fell into the darkness she saw everywhere.

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 17th, 2023

Art Gallery

Those of you who browse my website every now and then might notice a new link on the main page. It goes to the art gallery I’ve been meaning to put up for years now. This is a place for everything I do at the drafting table that isn’t a cartoon. It’s a gallery for my serious “pure art” artwork…stuff I do to express feelings I need to get out of me.

I don’t have any of my oil paintings up here yet, and not all of it is finished artwork. Some of what I’m putting up there are sketches I did leading up to a finished piece, some of it are pieces that I stopped working on for one reason or another, usually because I got stuck trying to figure out how to move forward with it: unfinished works that I might copy over to the iPad and finish digitally. I’m putting that up because I’m still proud of the work I did, but also because I want to give people an idea of how I work, and that there is no magic to it, just persistence.

The Art Gallery is Here.

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 5th, 2023

No Rest For The Facebook Weary

At some point after I’ve finished with the next and final-ish episode of A Coming Out Story, I will need to set up a page and sub galleries for my stand alone artwork and sketches. Because all of that I’ve posted on my Facebook page is going away.

Disengaging from online commercial social media may have another benefit besides not having to endure the censor algorithms. Less time with my face in a smartphone app, more time at the drafting table.

The sketches above are for a cartoon I have been trying to get out of me for, no kidding, four years now. A lot of that is my struggling with how sexy to make it and still not go over the line into cheap thrills. I’ve drawn and re-drawn the frames in it many multiple times because I want it to be authentically what I meant without any ridiculous self-censorship. But when all is said and done it’s still my own personal take on a particular song, nobody else’s, and there’s a reason why the character of my libido in A Coming Out Story is wearing a fig leaf. “I’m your libido not Robert Crumb’s libido…

If I’d grown up in a more sexually relaxed culture I probably wouldn’t be fighting with myself about this. Also…being raised in a Yankee Baptist household isn’t helping.

by Bruce | Link | React!

November 1st, 2023

Who Are You Going To Believe…?

I’m getting a bit stuck working on episode 38 of A Coming Out Story, and I’m so close to finishing the thing that I’ve started working on what I’ve been calling The Mirror Episode, which I think will be the last one in the story. Except I still need to do an epilogue after that one for completeness.

38 and 39 are my way of expressing how it was I was able to simply discard everything I’d ever been told about homosexuals once I saw that I was one myself. I’ve been ruminating about doing a blog post while I get those last two in the story arc out…something along the lines of How hard is it really to see bullshit for what it is when it’s staring you in the face?

There was some luck involved…by then I had already started discarding a lot of what I was told to believe in church. That had to do with my coming to better understand that concept of original sin, and my getting static all through childhood from some of the family over being my dad’s son. By the time I was a teenager I’d already adjusted to the idea that there would be people in my life that would always give me static over something I could not help being. And I was already easing myself out of the fundamentalism of my childhood, into a more blissful agnosticism.

So when the moment came, I could compare the person I knew myself to be with the things I was taught about homosexuals, and see that nearly all of it was wrong. Every time I hear that crap now I think about the scene in Duck Soup where Chico tells his wife after finding him in bed with another woman, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

I hadn’t originally intended for the mirror episode to be the last one but I’m not sure how much time I have left to work on this so I’ve cut a bunch of stuff out. Maybe I’ll put some of it back in after the fact. My thinking now is I wrap it up with an epilogue and it’s officially done.

by Bruce | Link | React!

September 11th, 2023

A Bit Worried About My Drawing Hand

Lately I’ve been very worried that my drawing hand is getting arthritis in it, but now I’m pretty sure that it’s just injury to the thumb and forefinger muscles, and it’s the Apple Pencil with Procreate that’s doing it to me.

When I work with traditional media I use a Very light touch. The charcoals and graphite I work with are all very soft and I can get a lot of dynamic range out of them by varying light to just a bit of moderate pressure. Same with my ink pens. I use my dip pens less often now, but when I do I gravitate to the most flexible nibs because I can get the range of lines I like with those. Mostly I use the new pigment based technical pens. I still haven’t the hang of inking with a brush yet, and given how much I’ve come to like Procreate I may never get it. My favorite writing instruments are my fountain pens, especially my Montblanc Diplomat (which I have with me in California) and my Parker Duofold. All I need with either of those is a very light touch.

So my writing/drawing hand is not used to having to bear down much and I’ve been doing a tad more of that with the Apple Pencil and Procreate now that I’m doing more of my artwork digitally. Problem most likely is I just accepted the default sensitivity settings and now I have to spend some time tweaking them.
In the meantime I’m being forced to take a break from drawing for a while until my drawing hand stops complaining.

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 30th, 2023

A Coming Out Story…Episode 37 On The Way…

I’m having a good time now finishing up episode 37 of A Coming Out Story (finally). It’s a good sign when I find myself laughing while I’m adding all the little details after the inks are done.

Speaking of which…I can really fuss over the smallest of lines, especially around mouths and eyes, because just a tiny change makes a Big difference in a facial expression. I’ve redrawn mouth and eyes dozens of times and you might think I’m not actually changing anything, but it’s that little difference that can make a scene work.

So just this morning I was working on one of the strips and noticed I could do something with one of the figure’s eyes that made a big difference in the running gag in this episode. It’s a dialogue between my left and right brain characters and the joke is right brain is completely blissed out and I just pasted the same drawing of him with a blissed out expression throughout the episode. But then I realized I could do something with his eyes in two of the panels that makes the moment in them hit the bullseye and it was so satisfying to see it happen on the screen while I was doing it.

Probably next to nobody will notice what specifically I did, but it makes the whole episode work Much better.

Like I did before, I’m adding the strips to the episode 37 page as I finish them, but no live link until it’s all done and I have a chance to look it all over. But those of you who can figure out how I was building the links to the individual episodes can go see it happening as I add the strips. Probably be finished in two or three days more.

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 1st, 2023

Maybe I Just Need To Be A Little Less Picky About My Lines

In my drawings I have always worked to very well defined lines like the cartoonists I’ve admired most (Howard Cruse for example). It’s only lately that I’m discovering that if I let my lines get a little scruffy, like in my roughs, the finished artwork seems more lively.

And it’s easy in Procreate, to simply make a duplicate layer of the rough blue lines instead of just inking over them in a fresh blank layer, and then changing the line color from blue to black. I will still tidy things up a bunch, but not to the point I’m taking away the scruffiness. That most recent drawing I posted the other day is, I think, the beginning of a new(ish) style for me, though I did it once before. But that one happened because I was feeling too tired to do my usual ink lines so I just copied the roughs and made them look inked and low and behold it worked. That last one was a deliberate attempt to duplicate the effect of that other one and it worked too.

I’m going to stick with it…at least for a while…and see where it goes. At least for the one-offs if not the multi panel cartoons. I’ve got another I’m working on I’ll post about later.

by Bruce | Link | React!

June 25th, 2023

Yes! Perfect! Hit The Bullseye!

Finished with this one…

 

…and then made a couple prints with the good art room inkjet…

Oh lord have mercy I do believe I’ve outdone myself this time. This photo does Not do the final print justice. I really hit the bullseye with this one. Just delighted with it.

by Bruce | Link | React!

May 10th, 2023

Wish You Were Still With Us Howard…

I got a reminder about the memorial for cartoonist Howard Cruse happening later this month and went ahead and made preparations to go. The first time I heard of this happening I was pretty sure I would be in California by now, but the scheduling of the colonoscopy made me put that off and I realized I could do it after all. It’s not so close to my Disney World/Gay Days trip that I couldn’t get there and back in time, and Massachusetts is a state I’ve never visited. Also the drive takes me up the Hudson River Valley in New York and that’s one I’ve always wanted to do because my favorite American landscape artists (of the Hudson River School) lived and worked there. Maybe I’ll take a slight detour and visit Frederic Church’s house. His paintings are amazing.

I’m retired now, and I can go wherever I want, whenever I want (providing the retirement money is there). And Howard gave me lots of encouragement with my cartoons, and A Coming Out Story. There’s a little nod to him at the end of “Intermission 2” that I pinged him about after I put it up…

…and he replied with thanks and more encouragement to continue on with it. A few days later he was gone. I had no idea he was in the hospital.

I have some of his original artwork, including page one of his magnum opus, Stuck Rubber Baby, about growing up gay in the deep south during “Kennedy Time”. I even commissioned a drawing from him around the time of National Coming Out Day. It is a magnificent piece about the moment a teenage boy comes out to his parents. Howard’s lines are as fluid and meticulously perfect as anything Al Hirschfeld did. He even put a couple easter eggs in it that speak to my interests and work at Space Telescope.

I miss him lots, so do his many fans and fellow cartoonists. So I should be there. His original memorial got put off because of COVID, so this is actually happening years after the fact.

by Bruce | Link | React!

March 17th, 2023

Episode #36 Still In Progress

This is a hard one to get out, largely because I am so emotionally invested in it and I want it to be exactly right. So each panel of it is a Lot of work. And adding to that is I can’t use any of my usual time saving copy and paste tricks. Nearly everything in each panel is unique from all the others. The only exceptions are the backgrounds of three of them, one of which I’ll show you here. This is the second from the last strip up in GIMP, which I’ve been using ever since Adobe stuck an eight-hundred and fifty dollar knife in my back…

 

 

I’m breaking a rule I had when I started this cartoon story, that I would always use cross-hatching for shading and textures and such. I wanted the story to be a visual nod to the black & white underground comix back in the day. The printing they used wasn’t always the best, but they made it work, sometimes with zipatone, but more often just by painstakingly (really Really painstakingly) cross-hatching.

But for this one episode I’m using the paintbrush and grey tones here and there, to make some of it snap out, but also to create a distinctive change in mood. I used to do a lot of that in Photoshop, but you can’t depend on anything from Adobe, nobody can, so I switched to GIMP and other open source artist tools, and this is the first time I’ve done something like this with a gradient in GIMP. It worked perfectly.

This episode is forming up almost Exactly as I’d visualized it back in 2005, when I set out to do this story. It’s been a long road and I’ve rewritten many parts of the story as I’ve gone along, but not this part. This is, as The Doctor would say, a fixed point in time. This, and one other, which I hope to also get to soon. I’ve said the story I’m telling is one third what actually happened, one third artistic license, and one third pure imagination (as in the parts involving my libido and left/right brains as imaginary figures). This is the part that really happened just this way.

I was having a lot of trouble and frustration with one of the panels I was working on the other day, and when that happens it helps to work for a while on a different part. Some classmates might recognise the place I’m looking at into the sunset there. There, at the moment of truth.

 

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 20th, 2023

Age Sixty-Nine…A Little Late To Stop Being An Artistic Prude.

I’m finally starting to make some kind of progress at the drafting table that I was hoping for when I retired. Apart from A Coming Out Story, I’ve had several other things that I began working on years ago that I’m beginning to make some progress on, and some new stuff too. But alas, some of that is not going to be visible here because it isn’t safe for work. For nearly all my life I’ve had a reticence about certain subjects that you generally don’t see in a graphic artist. At least not in the free world. I’ve lived with it, made excuses for it, and ignored it. But there are some things I want to do now that I’ve retired, things I want to explore, and that reticence is something I have to deal with if I want to make progress. 

Mind, I don’t do pornography. Pornography is obvious and cheap and all it does is push buttons. But I have struggled for nearly three years now with a short graphic story riffing on the song You Can Leave Your Hat On, ever since I first heard it at a gig my classmate Rev Billy did with another band, and it’s been basically about this deeply ingrained reluctance I’ve always had about

about

about

about nudity in my artwork. There. I said it. Specifically about how much to show. If you’ve read the first episode of A Coming Out Story, that gag came about when I realized that I simply could not draw the character representing my libido as a completely naked me, and then realizing that it was right after all because that reticence was a truth about me after all.

“I’m your libido, not Robert Crumb’s libido.”  It was a self truth that became the series running gag. Ha ha. 

The song I was listening to in that bar that night, waiting for my classmate to take the stage again, was about a guy asking what I assumed was his girlfriend to take off her clothes and give him a dance. The line You can leave your hat on, recurs throughout. That first time I was listening to it, it seemed your usual pop heterosexual love and desire song, a little odd for a Randy Newman song, but he has a very wide range and I have loved his movie music, especially for Avalon and Pleasantville. So I was sitting in this bar among a bunch of middle aged and older (like myself) customers observing the crowd and waiting for my classmate to get his turn on stage. Everyone was getting into the song…

Baby, take off your coat… (real slow)
Baby, take off your shoes… (here, I’ll take your shoes)
Baby, take off your dress
Yes, yes, yes
You can leave your hat on
You can leave your hat on
You can leave your hat on

And this was the sort of bar crowd I’m not usually in the middle of and I’m almost zoning out just then because these sort of pop tunes never speak to me. If I really like a song and it’s your usual boy loves girl loves boy song I’ll mentally change the pronouns in it so it can speak to me too. I am barely a post Stonewall gay guy and living in a pop culture that until recently simply refused to even admit that such as I existed, I’ve had to do that all my adult life. But I’m watching the crowd and they’re loving the song and having a good time and I will never begrudge anyone that. This poor angry world would be a lot nicer and a lot more peaceful I’m thinking if everyone could have a fulfilling sex life.

Then I hear this…

Suspicious minds are talking
Trying to tear us apart
They say that my love is wrong
They don’t know what love is
They don’t know what love is
They don’t know what love is
They don’t know what love is
I know what love is

…and suddenly now the song is speaking to me and I’m fully absorbed. Wow.

I’m pretty sure Newman didn’t intend this to be a song about a gay male couple…the dancer was asked to take their dress off after all.  And heterosexuals often get static from their families and communities over their choices in love. But those lyrics…those lyrics. When I heard them I knew I had to do my own take on the song. I listened to it carefully and when I got home that night I bought several copies of it in the iTunes store. And I listened, and the entire thing I wanted to draw, the artwork, all the panels and the layout, came to me.

I knew it had to feature the guy I’d drawn about that same time, after some babbling nitwit online complained that gay guys at Pride were all wearing nothing but short shorts and go-go boots…

 

He was already wearing a hat, which made him perfect for the role of the dancer in the song. Mr Homophobic nitwit hadn’t said anything about a hat, but I added one on an impulse when I drew him because I thought it added to his sexiness.

I had a good idea of what the singer looked like and was wearing too. Another guy, maybe slightly older, suit and tie like he’s just got home from work and he’s had a very tiresome day and his boyfriend comes over and he asks him to give him a dance and the boyfriend is all in for it. Because at that age one of this life’s simple pleasures is making the one you love all hot and bothered.

So I had my story, I had the layouts, I knew Exactly what every panel was going to look like. Sort of. Then I sat down to actually draw it my built-in reticence about nudity kicked right in. I kept trying to draw the dancer in the song tastefully if minimally covered, because deep down I just could not go where the song went.

I had reasons. Perfectly logical reasons. That left/right brain running gag in A Coming Out Story is no joke. I wanted my take on the song to be postable most anywhere. I wanted it to be safe for work. I don’t do pornography. But nudity isn’t necessarily pronographic unless you’re a right wing nutcase, and truth be told, somewhere deep down there were fears that at age sixty-nine I still hadn’t really examined.

Charlie Chaplin writing to his daughter said…

“Your naked body should only belong to those who fall in love with your naked soul.”

The artist shows their naked soul in every work they produce. But giving the world the naked bodies of my art subjects just cut too close to the bone…so to speak. I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t shame, it was if I’m honest, a deeply ingrained fear of being vulnerable I’ve had since grade school. And of being Scrawny. Weak. Ugly. I was a slight, somewhat girlish kid and I got a lot of bullying from some of the other kids, and a lot of body shaming by adults in my life for being so thin and unmuscular. The mother of one of my classmates asked him outright if I was a heroin addict. Ragweed season always made me look like I was on drugs all the time. My clothes, mostly second hand, never really fit very well. My teeth were crooked. 

There’s a story I like to tell about the day I came to class in sixth grade. Next year I would be in junior high school which I’d learned by then was a whole new world. Instead of sitting in the same classroom day and and day out I would be given a schedule of classes for math, english, science and art and so on, and walk from one to the other. I’d have my own locker to put things in between classes. And every class would be a different teacher, and a different mix of other kids. But there was a very unpleasant surprise in store.

That one day in that sixth grade class I saw that some kids from the previous year had come to class before we got there to visit their old teachers. They’d written about their experiences in junior high on the chalkboard. I started reading. Then I came to this line…

Tell them not to worry about group showers. It’s no big deal.

I wish I had a picture of my face just then. My jaw dropped. I was horrified. What!? WHAT!? WHAT!!!???  Suddenly I was no longer looking forward to high school, junior or otherwise.

So there I am at the drafting table trying to get this little slice of life story out of me and on to paper, make a statement about gay love and desire, and I’m all inhibited and trying to be restrained and temperate and keeping my dancer suitably covered for family audiences…and the song just doesn’t read like that. Well…except for the hat. There’s still a hat.

So no matter how I drew the dancer I was never satisfied with what I was drawing. I’m pretty sure I got the singer/audience right the first time I drew him. But the dancer just would not appear. Worse, most of my tries were crap that made me doubt I was good enough to even try illustrating this song in my own way. It had to be done right or it would be embarrassingly awful. It was making me hate my drawing and I hate it enough as it is. But it wouldn’t let go of me either. I kept coming back to it, there was something there I wanted to say, and I kept having to walk away depressed.

Finally I had to admit my drawing was crap because I wasn’t really being faithful to the song.

I was riffing on this song because I wanted to shine a light on what it said to me about love and joyful playful desire, and that is universal across the Kinsey scale. It was important to me. Gay love and desire is a beautiful, meaningful, fulfilling thing for those who are lucky enough to find it. And nothing that came out of my pencils was working. Finally I had to admit nothing I did would be right unless I was completely faithful to the song. Which meant that I needed to get over some residual reticence about nudity in my art I’ve had since…forever.

So I’m going for it.

And now it’s working. The dancer is there finally on my drawing board. He’s everything I need him to be to make this graphic story work. This is going to be one of my best.

Problem is, it won’t be safe for Facebook. Or any social media.

That’s okay…I have my own website here.

And at age 69 I feel a little more free. One less brick in the wall…

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 10th, 2022

If Only I’d Gone To Art School After High School…

The amount of concentration I need to sustain to do any sort of drawing quickly becomes exhausting. But I am retired now and I can put a day’s work into it, if a bit haphazardly. I have to walk away from the drafting table frequently just to let my mind wander.

This next episode of A Coming Out Story involves a lot of drawing because it is so important to me to get the feel of what is happening in it right. In most other episodes can use a few tricks to make the going faster. For instance, in the previous one I drew a background once and then copied it into every panel. And for every episode that takes place in the school, I’ve got a long drawing of a hallway with lockers and water fountains and classroom doors that I plug a section of into the artwork. But in this episode, every single panel but one has to be 100 percent original artwork. And the amount of concentration I need to sustain to do any sort of drawing gets very exhausting.

It would probably not be so bad were I a trained artist. But I am self taught and I am not kidding about being a hunt and peck draftsman. The electric eraser gets more use than the pencil. Some days I wish I’d moved mountains to get myself into the Maryland Institute College of Art. But then this entire story is about one of the other central regrets of my life. So it goes, as the Tralfamadorians say…

I’ve given myself a goal of getting the pencils done for one panel a day, or hopefully one entire strip, which this episode are all two long panels each. That gives me eleven days to finish the pencils at most, or less if I can do two. But that’s less likely so it’s not going to happen at lightning speed. But the pencils are the hard part. Once they’re done the rest of it goes pretty fast.

I need to get this story finished. I’m feeling my energy levels dropping in a scary way, since spring. And there are still maybe another thirty episodes to go.

I have a new LED light board now. The large ArtGraph I had for ten years failed due to a poorly designed power switch setup. My first thought was I’d fix it myself, but the unit is not designed to be openable and fixable. After a lot of struggle I managed to peel the top cover off it and saw that it’s all riveted together inside and in order to get at what the problem was would take me drilling out a bunch of rivets and probably rendering the until unusable anyway. So I took a look at what it would cost to replace it and well, things have got a lot less expensive and much nicer in ten years, so there’s that.

This new one from U.S. Art Supply is thinner, a tad lighter in weight but solidly built, has a variable brightness control, and cost a third what the ArtGraph one cost. Not that I’d buy anything from ArtGraph ever again. The one I had was so solidly built I thought it would last a lifetime, but one bad design decision and the whole thing is trash. In the online chats I’ve seen people reporting rudeness from their customer service droids when asked about sending things back for repair. So apparently you can’t even pay them to fix their products. But after looking inside one I can see their point. It just isn’t worth it. As always, you’re supposed to be a good consumer and just buy a new one. Which I did. Just not one of theirs.

We’ve a nice electronics recycling station at the city recycling center nearby. So the old light board isn’t just going into a landfill.

by Bruce | Link | React!

November 25th, 2021

Smacking Down The Little Art Kids

Because they bring a measure of unselfconscious joy and beauty into the world…and we can’t be having that.

I’ve written before about how many years ago Montgomery County allowed you to go read your school records…basically everything your teachers wrote about you for the other teachers and administrators to see. So I went and looked and there wasn’t much there I didn’t expect to see. But what did tickle me was my first grade teacher who Did Not like me or mom one little bit wrote that little Bruce “takes excessive interest in personal art projects.

I had two art teachers who got me, and they encouraged me and that really helped a lot. But some teachers when they see the slightest hint of artistic interest have some sort of allergic reaction and do their damnedest to kill it in a kid. I suppose so they don’t have to see how stone cold and dead their soul is.

by Bruce | Link | React!

Visit The Woodward Class of '72 Reunion Website For Fun And Memories, WoodwardClassOf72.com


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