Posts in Category: Illustration

Flaming Carrot

Flaming Carrot • 5.75" x 5.75"

Flaming Carrot • 5.75″ x 5.75″

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.

Harvest: Papayas

Harvest: Papayas

Harvest: Papayas

Last one in the Harvest series skews tropical with papayas. This ended up being both the biggest fruits (only four on here) with the smallest details (little black seeds).

I changed up my approach on this one and worked pretty evenly across the whole thing. This also has the most variety in colors of the set: dark green and black for the seeds, yellow and orange for the inside, and yellow, green, grass green, and a clay color to desaturate the skin.

Harvest: Avocados

Harvest: Avocados

Harvest: Avocados

3rd of 4 in the Harvest series – avocados, cut open to show off the green insides and shiny pits. Same approach as the others: start at the bottom and slowly develop a pattern along the way.

These are made with Prismacolor colored pencils, and on this one I used seven colors total: green and yellow for the insides (blended with ivory), grape purple and grass green for the pebbly skins, and brown, dark brown, and yellow (blended with ivory) for the pits. It took a try or two to figure out the right appearance for the pitted halves.

Harvest: Blueberries

Harvest: Blueberries

Harvest: Blueberries

Another fruit in the Harvest series – this time, a little pile of blueberries. This one’s more of an experiment in subtle patterns within a dense texture. I varied the amounts of blues and purples, and tucked in the stem area here and there to aim for something random-looking but balanced. I also made the front/bottom area a higher contrast and slightly bigger so it would give a proper sense of perspective.

Like the persimmons, I started on the bottom and gradually worked my way up. It got a little tricky to avoid a pattern that was too regular. Some areas started to get that fishscale-like regularity, and I found the best way to avoid that was to jump to different parts of the image while laying out the initial blueberry outlines. I think the hand (and eye) tend towards patterns that are both (1) regular in frequency and (2) trailing off in whatever direction you write. It’s the same issue with writing sentences on whiteboards, though (annoyingly) it can happen even on a tiny scale like this. Sometimes the best thing to do is to keep interrupting and switch to something different frequently to insert the randomness yourself.

Harvest: Persimmons

Harvest: Persimmons

Harvest: Persimmons

Here’s a bright little drawing of persimmons from memory. I drew this with Prismacolor pencils to experiment with blending techniques to replicate the muted sheen on the fruit. To get this look, I lightly filled in layer of orange and red and/or brown around the edges, and then pressed hard to blend a peach color for the sheen and orange for the rest. The leaves are a mix of two shades of green, ivory, and a pinkish brown.

I started with the fruits at the bottom and completed each one before moving to the next because I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to add something else in here (a pixie in hiding? a knit fruit? a glass ball? make one float up?). I briefly contemplated an Escher-like transformation of the leaves into birds. I ultimately opted to fill it in as you see because I liked the visual rhythm.

I’d started this illustration a while back during a Two Buck Tuesday event at Kaleid Gallery, and felt compelled to finish it now that we’re well into fall. I’ll be taking it full circle and bringing it back to Kaleid for the annual HARK! Holiday Show and Sale in about a month.

(re)Birth of a Nation

(re)Birth of a Nation • 16.5" x 13.5"

(re)Birth of a Nation • 16.5″ x 13.5″

I created this piece for the recent Alternative Facts show at Works/San José. This is a reaction to the Trump and GOP campaigns hinting at violence against those who disagree with them, and feigning ignorance about what they promoted. I used the visual language of the intertitles from a silent movie, The Birth of a Nation, for two reasons: because of its melodramatic emoting, and because of its role as white supremacist propaganda.

The Birth of a Nation (1915) by D.W. Griffith is remembered for both its dramatic and film innovations as well as its demonization of black people and promotion of white supremacy. This film stereotyped black people as unintelligent and sexually aggressive. It showed the KKK as a heroic force fighting against their participation in society from voting to mixed-race relationships. While there were protests and calls for censorship, this distorted story was also adopted by the KKK as a recruiting tool.

The tactics of urgently stoking fear of “others” incites violence and continue to be used by Donald Trump and the Republican party that supports him. These vague threats justify policies that are actively targeting African-Americans, muslims, immigrants, women, and LGBTQ people.

“I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself, or if other people will.”
Trump at a press conference reacting to Black Lives Matter protestors taking over at a Bernie Sanders rally – August 9, 2015

“Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
Trump at a rally in Birmingham, AL – Nov 22, 2015

“I love the old days, you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out in a stretcher, folks.”
Trump at a rally in Las Vegas, NV – Feb. 22, 2016

“They used to treat them very, very rough, and when they protested once they would not do it again so easily.” At press conference: “The audience hit back and that’s what we need a little more of.”
Trump at a rally in Lafayette, NC – March 11, 2016

“I’m just expressing my opinion. What have I said that is wrong?”
Trump in an interview with Chuck Todd, Meet the Press (NBC) – March 13, 2016

One year later, in response to provably false allegations used to support policy changes:

“So what have I said that was wrong?”
Interview with Michael Scherer, Time Magazine – March 22, 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding series

All four Peace, Love, and Understanding illustrations

All four Peace, Love, and Understanding illustrations

I made a few more three-panel illustrations with the phrase “Peace, Love, and Understanding” spelled out across tattoos. Not too much story on these; I mostly picked it as an excuse to draw different people and to think through the meaning of tattoos. “Peace” and “Love” are pretty easy to incorporate into tattoos…but “Understanding”? Much more difficult. The best I could do on that one was either including it in a longer phrase, or taking the education angle. It was getting quite challenging to not repeat tattoo locations too.

Peace, Love, and Understanding I • 2016

Peace, Love, and Understanding I • 2016

Peace, Love, and Understanding II • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding II • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding III • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding III • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding IV • 2017

Peace, Love, and Understanding IV • 2017


Bel Bacio Featured Artist for February

What you see when you walk into Bel Bacio this month

What you see when you walk into Bel Bacio this month

I just finished hanging a dozen pieces of art at Bel Bacio coffee shop in San Jose’s Little Italy. There’s an entrance wall and a front room with three walls (and a window), so I chose a mix of paintings, illustration, and prints for each of the four walls. I matched nearby colors wherever possible and grouped them together in four themes:

The "pleasant outing" wall

The “pleasant outing” wall

The "working man" wall

The “working man” wall

The "focus on photography" wall

The “focus on photography” wall

Trilogy of Shadow Puppets

These frames reminded me of the soot around a fireplace so I created these three illustrations of shadow puppets. I mostly picked these animals because I thought the hand shapes were interesting. Now that I see them together, I realized they’re all animals in the American wilderness. I imagine them as part of a tale told at a remote cabin in the woods.

Shadow Pupper: Deer • 10" x 12" • ink and charcoal

Shadow Pupper: Deer • 10″ x 12″ • ink and charcoal

Shadow Pupper: Eagle • 12" x 10" • ink and charcoal

Shadow Pupper: Eagle • 12″ x 10″ • ink and charcoal

Shadow Pupper: Wolf • 10" x 12" • ink and charcoal

Shadow Pupper: Wolf • 10″ x 12″ • ink and charcoal

Prior Art: Mixing

Technology: Mixing

Technology: Mixing

Mixing is the last of seven technologies I’ve explored in Prior Art: analog media manipulation and vintage virtual reality.

Steve Plans the Transition • 18" x 24" • acrylic on canvas

Steve Plans the Transition • 18″ x 24″

Steve Plans the Transition

Steve Johnson // SoundCloud: @ByDisgn

“Two turntables and a microphone” are the classic setup for a live DJ. During songs, the DJ will gauge the mood of the crowd and queue up potential next songs. Albums provide a richness in sound quality but also unique ways to blend songs together through scratching and beat matching.

In addition to commercially-available albums, DJs may use white label albums: limited runs of songs often used for house music and hip hop. Sometimes these albums are made to test crowd response for tracks that aren’t yet released to buy or missing the proper clearance for samples.

In the early days of hip hop and freestyle improvisation, most performances only occurred live (instead of in a studio). Between performances, mixtapes (or party tapes) provided a way to spread their music through clubs and parties. DJs and club proprietors often record their own to sell to promote their work.

Mixtape Confessional • 8" x 10" • colored pencil and ink on paper

Mixtape Confessional • 8″ x 10″

Mixtape Confessional

The greater availability of cassettes and high-quality home recording equipment put music recording within reach for consumers who could create their own mixes from the radio, other tapes, or albums. Private mixtapes are forms of personal expression, created to capture a particular time or mood and intended for a specific audience.

Handwriting the song list on the paper insert for the cassette was often just as important as picking the songs themselves.

Mix It Up • 7" x 5" • colored pencil on paper

Mix It Up • 7″ x 5″

Mix It Up

The unifying thread of a good mixtape can be almost anything.

It can be familiar to many with popular songs or to a few with indie selections. It can be obscure to challenge the listener or local for surprising references.
It can have a steady flow or choose to change it. It might ramp up, it might ramp down, or it might fluctuate.
It can set a mood: red up, victorious, irty, cheery, introspective, calm.
It can fit a particular spot: the energy of a dance or the chill of a club, the excitement of a race or the reflection of a dive bar, the relaxation of a beach or the quiet of a bookstore.

Whatever it is, it captures a time, place, and mood for the person listening to it.