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.
Here’s a foray into abstraction that I made a little while ago and just recently put up for sale. Inspired by the flame effect of these frames, I created a couple of illustrations in ink and colored pencil based on a painting I did in college. The painting was about the death of Baldur, a Norse myth, and like many Norse myths Loki is in it causing some trouble. I represented Loki’s shapeshifting nature and destructive actions as a kind of cubism on fire.
It had been a while since I’d made the painting, and I found these illustrations had a notably different style even though I had the same approach in mind. I haven’t done much abstract work and I’m finding it to vary quite a bit when I do. While the painting felt rough and smokey, these feel streamlined and slightly Joan Miro-ish.
I also realized I go back and revisit the same themes periodically. These Lokis are based on an earlier painting, and the colored pencil box I have has a painting I made from the story of Ye Xian which I also painted on a scroll in the Chinese folktale series.
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.
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.
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.
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.