I think every artist has a go-to character/style/theme when they’re feeling stuck…here’s one of my go-to’s when I want to draw a comic character.
This past weekend was Silicon Valley Comic-Con and we’re less than a month from Free Comic Book Day (first Saturday of May), so in honor of those, Psycho Donuts in Campbell is hosting a “Ripped from the Strips” show. It’s been a little while since I’ve drawn in a comic style, so I decided to go for one of my standbys: Flaming Carrot.
Flaming Carrot is an indie comic character created by Bob Burden in 1979, published in some form up until 2006. He was one of the “Mystery Men“, a superhero group also created by Burden that was made into a movie in 1999 that’s a pretty fair (though much flashier) representation of the oddity of the comics.
I like the combination of things to draw for Flaming Carrot – the giant carrot mask, on fire, on a guy in a kinda rumpled button-down shirt. Superhero costumes are usually spandex or armor so it’s fun to draw something different. I flipped through a pose reference book to find something suitably epic to base his pose on for exclaiming his battle cry, “Ut!” I sketched it in pencil, filled it in with watercolors, and inked the linework once it was dry.
When I came up with the idea for Natural Conclusions, I knew it was highly dependent on the kind of artwork I’d find in thrift stores. I had a vague idea that landscapes or still lifes would probably be the easiest subject to find for original paintings. They were…but I also came across a lot of other stuff too. About 15-20% of what I came across ended up working for this particular project. Here are the various reasons why pieces were either non-starters or failed along the way:
Colors too unrealistic. I found a few with background/skies that were so far beyond any natural color (hot pink) that any interpretation I’d make would bear no resemblance to the original. I was a little leery about whether Cherry Blossoms \ Shae and City Sunset / AP would work out for this reason, but the subjects were too interesting to pass up and it worked out.
Lighting too unrealistic. I came across lots of bizarre lighting for moonlit scenes. I decided that it was okay to have an unnaturally large moon (always a full moon…no love for the waxing/waning out there) as long as the scene was even a little realistic. That’s how Winter Forest \ Anonymous and Night Mountains / Brooke P made the cut.
Far too busy. I found some good candidates that I later realized had too much conflicting detail to clearly show what the landscape was. If I found myself thinking about how to simplify it – rather than how to fill in detail – then it was too busy. Since only a slice of the original would be showing it needed to still look like a landscape, and these would just look abstract.
Words. Paintings with words are popular home decoration but didn’t really fit this project. They might make for an interesting Jasper Johns-style collage. I’ve seen some fun uses of frames-with-words, like this awesome one with Skeletor.
Good enough. I really wasn’t sure if I’d find enough to work with, so sometimes I bought paintings that I later decided were pretty reasonable on their own. When I had this change of heart, I donated them back.
Material failures. I had two promising paintings that were either oil or had some kind of coating that eventually rejected the acrylic: one was a Victorian house, and one was a barn in the snow. I had practically finished the Victorian one when I removed the tape, and the layers of acrylic I’d painted lifted right up along with it. When I start each painting I always put a base isolation coat to seal them, and that lifted up too. I checked the barn (which I’d taped off but not started painting) and sure enough, the isolation coat lifted off that one too. Very disappointing.
My solo show, Natural Conclusions, is now up at Kaleid Gallery in downtown San José from now ’til March 30th. Beyond the official description, I thought I’d say a little about what these are and why I did this.
This show is the culmination of two years of collecting amateur landscapes in need of a little love. This idea came to me based on two ideas:
• remembering what it’s like to get “stuck” on a painting, knowing I wanted to improve it but not sure how (one in particular I did finish years later)
• thinking about “paint night” paintings and how they can only go so far in a couple of hours
I aimed to preserve the intent of the paintings as much as possible while “finishing” them. About half were signed so I’ve left those visible and noted them in the titles. The frames are unfinished pine that I also “finished” in the same areas as the paintings. I hope you enjoy them!
This March is my second solo show at Kaleid Gallery in downtown San José! It’s at the same venue as my first show, Prior Art, and the opening reception will be happening during San José’s First Friday art events. Come check it out!
Natural Conclusions – new paintings by Julie Meridian
March 3rd-30th, 2018 +reception Friday March 2nd 7-11pm
Kaleid Gallery, 88 S. 4th St. San Jose, CA
Open Tues-Sat 12-7pm (closed Sun & Mon)
How does someone else see or respond to the same place? What is unique in each person’s perception and expression? How can we value an experience as it is presented and also be thoughtful about progressing beyond it?
Natural Conclusions is a show of unexpected collaboration and second chances. Each painting was originally sourced from a local thrift store or flea market. Julie Meridian has chosen a portion of each to “complete” in her style, creating a study of contrasts in expressive power.
Here’s a throwback of a painting I’d felt was not quite done at the time and finished years later. I recently brought it out for a show so here’s a little backstory about it.
I started this one in college as an figure painting exploration with a particular focus on hands and feet. At the time it only had the frontmost two feet in it which ended up looking strange. It seemed like there was one giant thing? creature? looming above it.
At some point after moving I’d left it out on my drafting table. Something about leaving it off to the side to just see on occasion helped me realize one day that I just needed more in the background. I filled in a bunch of additional feet and it finally felt balanced. It was a little odd to work on something after so long, but why not? I was much happier with the result.
I ended up carrying through parts of this style to other work without really thinking about it. The mix of detailed backgrounds with drawn elements came up in the Chinese folktales re-paints of scroll calendars. It’s been easier to spot these things in hindsight than to explicitly plan for them.
A few months ago I had a little extra time in the evening and ended up at Corridor with a glass of wine and my laptop. While I was there, I was struck by the lighting and the rhythm of the layout. Two other people were there, quietly enjoying a dinner, so I surreptitiously snagged a photo that I decided to make into a painting.As with all paintings with photo references, I start with a sketch. It’s nearly impossible to correct weird angles or proportions after the fact so I always do this when it’s from a photo. The lighting in this is a bit darker than I’ve done before – a good test of me slowly attempting to improve the balance of dark tones in my paintings. Part of the challenge is that I get them looking right in person and then the photo is just…off. When I take a photo or scan them I always need to adjust them to match what I see. The dark tones are built up from a mix of burnt umber and ultramarine blue.
I listened to the High Resolution Design podcast while painting this one. I think it helped keep me in an industrial design headspace while I was painting all of these lights.
Vinyl records are a surprisingly good base for a painting! I recently came across a call for entries for a show titled “Extended Play: A New Spin on Vinyl Classics” that invited artists to use albums as the basis for new paintings. This is a collaboration between Art Attack SF, a neat gallery in the Castro, and a little bar called Church Key in North Beach.
Music lyrics seemed like a good inspiration, and I went with the first thing that came to mind since it had a few distinct images in it: Cat’s In the Cradle by Harry Chapin (or Ugly Kid Joe, depending on your era). The first part of the refrain combines lines from nursery rhymes: “The cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon” I had three albums to work with so I decided that little boy blue was the least interesting of the three and focused on the others.
“Cat’s in the Cradle” was pretty straightforward; a cat, holding a cat’s cradle string game. I opted for human-style hands to make it easier to show the gesture for holding the cat’s cradle.
“The Silver Spoon” was less clear. I thought about combining it with Little Boy Blue but I decided I’d paint these out of my imagination (i.e. no reference materials) and wasn’t confident about how a boy would turn out. I already had the cat and the moon, so the next thing that came to mind was an owl because of the Edward Lear poem “The Owl and the Pussycat”. The owl could hold the spoon.
“The Man in the Moon” I felt needed a cravat. He seemed like he’d be out having a cocktail.
I wasn’t sure that the acrylic paint would hold onto the vinyl. I’d just had a painting fail where I’d painted a few layers on a found canvas that ended up not sticking on it. To my annoyance I’d discovered that the gloss seal and the paint were just barely holding on, and they peeled off in one plasticky piece. I did a small test paint patch that I attempted to peel/scrape off the album and it held quite well, so I was relieved I didn’t have the mess around with sanding and sealant experimentation to get it to hold. The one tricky thing about working on the album was that it was difficult to make the underlying sketch. I used a white pencil to sketch the basic forms, and it really only showed when the lines were nearly perpendicular to the album track. When they started to align the pencil would slip into the groove and fail to leave a mark.
I tried something different on the colors for these: instead of starting with warm tones as the base, I built it out of cool tones. It has a different look to it, so now I have a better sense of how I might use that approach in the future.
I decided relatively late what to do with the labels. I had started painting the cat before I had a clear idea of what to do with them, and partway through decided to make the label a collar-style necklace since it had a nice rainbow gradient. On the owl, the label had some playful hand-drawn lettering for the band name so I decided to leave just that showing, and the curve made it look a little like a worm that could be in the owl’s beak. On the moon, I decided the man in the moon would have a round head but be occluded by the label. The label also had Columbia’s logo of the dog and phonograph so that made for an interesting thing for the moon to look at. As I was filling these in I also realized the center holes weren’t filled in, so on the cat and owl I styled these to look like pendants.
They were looking a little incomplete floating on the albums, but I didn’t want to eliminate the album background completely because it shines in a neat way. Since these all had a nighttime feel I added fields of stars to the backgrounds of all three.
This is a painting of Tahuya, a spot in Washington that has a genuine inland fjord. Fjords: not all in Norway!
My sister Tiffany has a neat little place right on the water and this is a painting from a photo she took just outside. Since it’s a fjord that connects to the ocean, it’s saltwater and there are bunches of oysters, clams, and mussels. The water’s edge is littered with the shells which get bleached by the sun over time and can be seen in the shallows.
There were a couple of surprising color behaviors while I painted this. I can’t recall this happening with other paintings, but the gel that I use as an isolation coat between layers added a slightly purple sheen in some light, at some angles. That made it tricky to see my progress. Check out this video below to see how it looked mid-painting from one angle to another.
The other color trickery emerged when I got a scan of the finished painting. All of the dark areas are primarily a combination of ultramarine blue and burnt umber. The ultramarine blue in particular made the ripples look pretty dark – correct to my eye when I see it in person. The scan lost a lot of the nuance, though, and it took a half dozen adjustment layers & masks to get the image resembling the real thing. The scans usually don’t need much (if any) adjustment, and I’m not quite sure what it is about this one that made it different (technique? dynamic range?).
I don’t usually paint on 3D objects…but when I do it’s usually for a gift. This is a Zelda-themed repaint for my friend Jeremy who has a whole black/white/red setup for his motorcycle & gear. The helmet was pure white with black accents, so I took a few photos and went through a couple of rounds of mockups to figure out the look.
Visualizing on a curved surface is tricky! I considered taking some reference photos and mapping them onto a 3D object so I could spin it around, but (as I often do) opted for the quicker visualization figuring that I’d work out the fine details as I went. These Photoshop mockups just overlay vector masks onto the photo, and I eyeballed the curvature to fit the viewing angle.
Photoshop Test #1 was about establishing the overall placement for the classic Hyrulian crest with a little decoration on the sides. Jeremy wanted to incorporate “It’s dangerous to go alone” on it so he found the phrase in a glyph system designed for the latest game, Breath of the Wild. He also wanted more black along the sides and front, so for Photoshop Test #2 I figured out how to extend it without interfering with the letters (or vents).
Once I was ready to start painting, I knew I wouldn’t be able to mask the fine detail for the glyphs. Instead, I measured the front and printed them out to fit that length. Since it’s a curved surface, I also needed to work out how they would wrap evenly. To get this look, I cut vertical lines between each glyph so I could carefully bend the paper. I taped it over the area to paint them to use as a visual guide, and that worked out pretty well.
The rest I’d masked carefully though I ended up doing a lot of cleanup on the edges. Since I painted it (rather than spraying it) the paint didn’t leave a clean edge on the first pass. I wasn’t ready to invest in the kind of system (and masking, and ventilation) I’d need to do a proper spray, so it’s a good thing this worked! I used Testor’s Paint which seemed to grip pretty well. A final gloss coat by a professional painter helped seal it in. Ready to go!
Happy May Day! In celebration of the warmer weather and the end of the drought, I created this series of things that grow in the ground. I always like cutaway-style illustrations so I created a view of what’s above and below the ground.
I’d found these chicken wire frames last year. I really liked the style except for one part: they had black velvet swing arms so they could be free-standing. The arms really distracted from the chicken wire, so I removed them and employed them in a little creative use last year.
As for the rest of it..? No deep meaning here, just an excuse to study the details and spend some time with watercolors.