Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sketchbook Guilt

Today is the first of April, and I have two things planned.  First, the Toons On Tap social media accounts will be updated with useless 'art tips' overlaid on a stock photo of a nude, flute playing cherub.  Second, today is the start of a month long art battle between Jeremy Cardarelli and myself.

Lately, I have been feeling guilty that my sketching habits have withered since leaving school.  I suspect this 'sketchbook guilt' is not only common, but part of the reason Toons On Tap can exist.

Once, I wrote this in a promotional email:
You need to draw.  I need to draw.  Kevin the ginger computer programmer on Yonge Street needs to draw.  Everyone doesn't draw nearly enough and we all know it.
And got this response:
Best shameless self promotion e-mail I've ever gotten. I'm in T.O, and I will definitely be there monday night. See you then!
Any lessons I glean from getting my own self to draw I can apply to getting more people out to the events.

Sketches from Toons On Tap - Session 25: Cleopatra.  Modelled by Coco Framboise.
Inspiration struck last week as Jeremy and I were browsing an art supply store.  We came across an enticing, multicoloured pad of art paper.  We exchanged looks.  "April Sketch Challenge?"  "Hells yeah!"  Fist bump.  Bought two copies.

Back in September, we completed a similar challenge with positive results.  We've designed the challenge to motivate both of us to draw while playing to the very different ways that we feel motivated.  Jeremy works best when he sets fun, daily goals for himself, clearly and carefully scheduled.  (Perfect example: his Satellite Soda drawings.)  He's an intrinsically motivated fellow who works each day towards his personal best.

As for myself, I'm mainly motivated extrinsically.  Example: the only reason I studied advanced functions in high school was because my potato-head friend once whined that the class was too hard. Honestly, I know I won't magically bounce out of bed and start pumping out sketchbooks 'for myself'.   Jeremy may need the structure, but I need a worthy competitor.

Here are the rules we agreed upon:
  • Fill all pages of the sketchbook, cover to cover, between April 1st and April 30th.
  • Draw on both sides of the paper.  
  • No copying work from other artists.
  • Don't be lazy; the point is to improve.
  • At least 10 pages must be of superheroes.
  • At least 10 pages must be of creatures.
  • At least 10 pages must use coloured markers.
  • Do at least five pages of nude studies, from life.  Draw your friends.  ;) 
  • Draw at least one piece from an exaggerated perspective angle ex. bird's eye or worm's eye.
  • Draw at least three different body types and three different ethnicities.  
If Jeremy completes the challenge, I will take him out to the movies at the end of the month.  If I complete the challenge, Jeremy will buy me yoga pants.  (I wonder why?)  If neither of us can meet the deadline, no prizes for anyone.

I am writing about the challenge here not just to be held accountable by both my blog readers, but to announce my intent to annihilate Jeremy in the competition.  Have fun painting happy little clouds, babe.  I will crush you.

The anthem of my victory

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Making of a Toons On Tap Poster - Session 27: Venom

The team and I have our long list of dream themes we aren't yet sure how to pull off.  We've been dying to do a buddy cop night for months.   I'm insisting on an American Psycho inspired Hallowe'en special.  Jeremy has his heart set on working with former child actor Corey Feldman. (Why!?)  Yet, a chat with Mark Boyer of 3B Artistry has led to the realization of one of our dream themes - a drawing session featuring the comic book character Venom.

Bodybuilder and human statue Jeff Sim is on board to be painted by Mark for our upcoming session on April 23rd.  Both Jeremy and I spent countless afternoons as little kids pouring over special effects books.  To say we're happy to see it done live is an understatement.

Mark Boyer applying make up to Sion Irwin-Childs for our Terminator night.   Photo courtesy of  Jeffrey Danyleyko, the badass Toons On Tap photographer.

To begin the poster, I thumbnailed some ideas while chatting on Skype with my friend Anne.  (Sorry Anne!)  I had in mind a profile portrait of Venom, with the poster text contained within the blackness of his suit.

My partner-in-crime looked over my thumbnails, and disliked all the profile sketches.  Unexpectedly, his clear favourite was the open mouthed drawing, second from the top left.  Taking his advice, I roughed out the drawing on paper, and started tinkering away in Photoshop.

The focus, I decided, would be Venom's jagged teeth.  Referencing photos of infected gums, tooth decay, and rabid dogs, I worked away at making his mouth disgusting.  Considering my own bad teeth give me nightmares, working on this actually made me uncomfortable.  One afternoon during the process, I literally returned home from a root canal to paint rotting, abscessed teeth.  Cathartic, maybe?

All the text is done in the font Ghoulish Fright.  I wanted the bold, graphic look of Socket without using Socket for the one billionth time.  To better resemble the logo from Venom comics, I altered a few of the letters in "Toons On Tap".

The final poster, for print
Lastly, I'm using this poster for two tests:

1) The print versions of the poster say, "Like Us On Facebook!".  Before, our posters listed our bare-bones company website  However, we have since found our Facebook 'like' page to be our most effective place to promote.  As of writing, our page is just shy of 500 likes.  Once we reach 1000 likes, I'll treat the boys to champagne.

2) This image will be combined with the April 9th session to make a 'double feature'-style poster.  For the first time, both sessions occurring in the same month intentionally share a related theme.  April will be 'Marvel month' at Toons.  If the double feature idea works, we'll promote the October Hallowe'en sessions the same way.

Now, to see how many times I dream of my teeth falling out between today and the 23rd.

UPDATE:  You can see how Jeremy drew two lovely X-Men for the second half of the double feature poster here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Autopsy of a Gallery

Poster created by Jeremy Cardarelli
My favourite part of organizing Toons On Tap is seeing what the audience creates.  It's a joy.  Since we began the events, Jeremy and I have wanted to put together a gallery showing of audience work.   'Gallery' has sat on our to-do list for several months.  Everyone was feeling motivated just after New Years, which led us to sitting down with The Comic Book Lounge to discuss doing events at their venue.

And we did it.  Last Saturday.  Finally, crossed off the to-do list.

One week later, I'm thinking back on the experience and wondering what I learned from it.  Unless you count school (I don't), I've never organized nor been in a gallery showing.  Neither had Jeremy.  It was our maiden journey, and through planning Toons On Walls, I learned a few lessons:

No One Likes Light Beer.  Except Toronto Batman.

One of the huge advantages of holding our events at bars is not supplying our own alcohol.  Our usual venue, The Rhino Bar & Grill, is the rare combination of all ages friendly and well stocked with a massive selection of beer.  I'd like to think we're the only life drawing group in town where you can pound back shots and bring your kid with you.

The Comic Book Lounge, since it is primarily a retail space, is not fully licensed nor equipped for alcohol sales.  However, they often purchase Special Occasions Permits to host licensed art events.  After discussing the options with them, we agreed to purchase the permit and sell the alcohol ourselves.   My reasoning - I used to be a bartender.  I've got this.  (NB: I was a bartender for maaaybe five months.)

Selling our own alcohol allowed us to pay the incidental expenses of organizing the gallery without charging a cover charge, or worse, an artist submission fee.   To my surprise, the artists we approached to submit were hesitant to include their life drawing, even if it was objectively fantastic.  I can only imagine how few people would submit had we charged them to.

We decided to sell two flavours of Wild Vines wine and four flavours of Sleeman beer.  Admittedly, I didn't expect Wild Vines to sell well, but Jeremy insisted on it.   Oh, how right he was.  You can drink a glass of Wild Vines as easily as a juice box, and it was the secret vice of our videographer pal Dan Henderson.  The wine sold out first.

As for the Sleemans, we discovered the labels around the mouth of the bottles were very, very practical.  While sticking upright in the coolers, our bartender Tamara Johnston could find the different flavours quickly without needing to rummage around.  At a bigger event, this would be a huge timesaver.  Also, of the four varieties we sold (cream, original draught, honey brown, and light), the cream was by far the best seller.  At the end of the night, the only remaining beers were all Sleeman Light.  The only people drinking light were us, the organizers, out of pity for the unloved beer, and the surprisingly lightweight Toronto Batman.

Lastly, we priced every drink at an even $4, roughly a $2 mark up on the cost of the liquor itself.  Our expenses were covered and the gallery goers got cheap drinks.  As a bonus, I observed that Tamara would be tipped the change.  She was making  $1 off every drink, which added up.  But honestly, the real motives behind our pricing was to get the crowd buzzed.  You drink an $8 beer a lot slower than a $4 one.


The Comic Book Lounge shares its space with Guerilla Printing.  Recently, Guerilla Printing set up a counter placed right at the back of the Lounge's gallery space.  It was an ideal set up for a bar, and was still set up as a bar from the event the evening before.  We put Tamara back there, and didn't think much more of it.

Throughout the evening, however, I noticed people were reading Guerilla Printing's list of services and were very interested.  Of course!  In a room full of artists, everyone needed new business cards or had an upcoming convention or were unsatisfied with the prints they had just submitted to us and were in the market for a new print shop.  Sadly, this was a wasted opportunity.  Had someone been there to represent them, I know Guerilla Printing would have gotten more business.

My friend Tamara Johnston rocking it as our bartender.  Photo courtesy of Magdalena Budziak.
This has got me brainstorming ways that Toons On Tap can experiment with experiential marketing.  We need an equivalent to a front counter that doubles as a bar.

Craig Ferguson Is Brilliant

Every name that Jeremy and I brainstormed for the gallery was horrible.

Confession: I was pushing for "Well Hung".

The evening after our beach vacation themed session, JeffreyDave, Jeremy, Craig, and I headed over to The Cadillac Lounge for drinks.  Stuck on a decent name, we asked our pals for advice.  Almost instantly, Craig came up with "Toons On Walls".

It was perfect.  The name elegantly summed up the theme of the gallery, and it felt like a natural extension of our brand.  (Can I call Toons a brand?)  Promotion and copywriting was easy.  Don't hide it in your sketchbooks - put it on the wall!

Thank you, Craig.  Your suggestion puts our to shame.

Bring White Paper

In preparation for setting up the gallery, I had piles of checklists, envelopes, Evernote files, sticky notes, and receipts.  With an estimated 5-6 hours to hang the show, 90% of the preparation had to be done in advance.  Had we left even just the trimming of the art to the day of, forget it, we'd be toasting to blank walls.

Setting up
I was sure to bring scissors and a ruler, just in case.  (We needed it.)  I stocked up on Sticky-Tac.  (We used it everywhere.)  I even brought my Smart Serve ID in the event I had to jump behind the bar.  (I did.)  However, the one item I did not anticipate to bring was plain white paper.   Never having hung a gallery, I did not think to closely examine the frames while talking with the venue.  Had I done that, I would have discovered that the frames contained white styrofoam sandwiched between the art and the backing.  Although completely functional, it was painfully ugly.  One parking ticket later, we had plain, white cartridge paper - the one item we did not expect we'd desperately need.

Right before tear down
There's always that one item.  Every.  Single.  Time.

Be Human

My minimum goal for submissions in the gallery was 20 pieces, created in a variety of mediums, done by artists who are not Jeremy, Jeffrey or I.  In the event we couldn't reach the goal, we'd have Jeffrey include more pieces and have the gallery be half audience drawings, half Jeffrey's photos.  Before reaching 20 submissions, we were personally hounding people to submit their art.  I hated it.

Looking back, we should have used a proper submission form.  We should have been stricter on deadlines.  Hell, we should have pushed the deadline up by a week.  In an attempt to be forgiving and encourage more submissions, our whole submission process ended up sloppy.  Whenever I wanted to be ruthlessly efficient, Jeremy insisted otherwise.  Follow up.  Send a reminder.  Make an extra trip.  Extend the deadline.  All of it time-sucking customer service stuff that I don't enjoy.

Yet, the one-on-one attention that Jeremy excels at is so important to what we do.  He really believes in humanizing his work, even at the expense of his spare time.  And I admit, he's right.  As much as I proofread his emails for grammatical errors, he proofreads mine for lack of human politeness.  Jeremy is the heart of Toons On Tap, and I'm proud we're partners in this.

We'll Never Do This Again.  Let's Make it an Annual Event!

A rare moment of Jeffrey being helpful.  Photo courtesy of Magdalena Budziak.
Event planning is not natural for me.  In high school, I let everyone else decide what to do.  I'd get analysis paralysis choosing an ice cream flavour.  Once, I didn't show up to my own birthday party.

Nowadays, not only am I enjoying organizing, I find I enjoy it even in the moments I actively loathe it.  I am never doing a gallery again, I think to myself.  Next year's gallery will be even better!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Making of a Toons On Tap Poster - Session 25: Cleopatra

To my co-organizers, beware.  Next session is going to be shiny.  I intend to hose you down with gold glitter until you sparkle like Liberace.  Of course, the real shining star of session 25 will be international burlesque artist Coco Framboise as the evening's model.  

Coco will be draped in an elegant, flowing costume as the ancient royal Cleopatra.  The poster, I determined, should shine like riches.

After the J.D. painting, I've been feeling more confident working with textured brushes in Photoshop.  Everything I'm doing ends up looking soft focus, but I like it.  I may need to convince Jeffrey to petroleum jelly up his camera lens, Penthouse style, when photographing Coco.

Originally, I wanted her in a symmetrical pose with hands clenched to the arm rests of a massive throne.  Then, I remembered I had seen that exact pose a few dozen times in the House of Cards promos scattered all over town.  Oops.  I love how a good ad burrows its way into my skull whether I notice it or not.

Through posing it out myself, I chose to elongate her seated pose with outstretched arms and crossed legs.  At first, I had her head tilted back to look in the direction of her arm.  With that haircut, however, I couldn't stop thinking of the impalement scene from Cannibal Holocaust.  I had to change it.

Fun with Liquify
I just discovered the pucker and bloat functions of the liquify tool.  Oh, the possibilities.

The final poster, for web
As with the last poster, I restricted myself to creating all the text with one typeface.  I looked back at an old poster (session four), and I had used four different gimmicky 70s fonts haphazardly on a platic-tree-green and vomit-yellow background.  (Why?)  And yet, I pray I'll be as embarrassed by this poster in a year as I was over that monster.  Whenever I cringe at my old stuff, I'm happy that I've since gotten better.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

More Process Behind Session 24: Beetlejuice

Part one of the process can be read here

This poster needed to be done quicker than usual as the boys and I were nearing our gallery reception.  Sadly, not every poster can be as detailed as the Daytona album art one.  Also, some of our regulars were wondering if we were retiring after our one year anniversary.  This event needed to be posted, and fast.

First, I drew from the Beetlejuice cartoon model sheets to familiarize myself with the characters.     Inspired by classical, contrapposto life drawing poses, I drew thumbnails of Beetlejuice as an art model and Lydia Deetz as an art student.  Although we don't do classical poses at Toons On Tap... ever... I knew a classical pose on the poster would read as a life drawing class.  

"Draw me like your French girls, babe."

On animation paper, I roughed out their poses.  

As Jeremy would be the one doing clean up, I asked him to critique the drawings.  His biggest suggestions were to improve the weak construction on Beetlejuice's head, and change the size relation of the two characters.  After fixing the drawings, I cleaned them up in pencil on a new sheet of animation paper.  

Next, I scanned the line drawings and cleaned them up in ToonBoom Animate.  After exporting the drawings, I traced the lines in Illustrator and imported them as vector graphics into Photoshop for Jeremy to colour.  Why it takes me three programs to do line art I don't even know.

Referencing the model sheets and screen caps of the show, Jeremy coloured the art.  Also, he gave Lydia three sketchbooks and stood Beetlejuice on a platform.  Moreover, he caught my mistake of drawing Lydia without any shoes!  After adding the text to the poster, we had enough to start a Facebook event page and cease the fears of our retirement.

For print promotion, however, this poster looked pretty lazy.  I painted in a purple blue background and added our Facebook page within a beetle shape.  Of everything in the poster, the beetle is my favourite.

When Charlie Bonifacio confirmed as our special guest artist, we rearranged the text to include him.  Alas, the beetle had to go, but as this poster was mainly for web promotion, it wasn't crucial.  

As for next session...

More to come

Monday, March 4, 2013

J.D. Spark Painting

Last Saturday, March 2nd was the opening reception for the Toons On Walls gallery.  Everyone in the audience was invited to submit a piece created at, or inspired by, past drawing sessions of Toons On Tap.   Concerned there would not be enough digital paintings and submissions of male models, I killed two birds with my entry.

For my contribution, I chose to create a digital painting from our Drive themed session with circus performer J.D. Spark.  My goals were A) to experiment painting with textured brushes, and B) to conquer a difficult angle of the head.  Here was the final result.

This painting kicked my ass
The beautiful thing about painting with texture is that the final result does not look as laboured as the acutal process.  For the yellow background, I created custom brushes in Photoshop with the font Cityscape.  One brush was the title of the session.  The second, the title of the performer.

Far more challenging for me was getting the head right.  Even using Jeffrey's photo for reference, my first few drafts weren't even close.  J.D. is a ridiculously handsome man who looks like a redheaded, extremely flexible Ryan Gosling.  I had painted him as a potato.  Compare:
The dancing potato man
Thinking of what I learned at animation school, I placed the reference photo in a new layer and literally flipped back and forth between the painting and photo.  Cutting apart the image, I moved around features to their correct positions, salvaging what worked (the ear, jacket and hair), and just about repainting everything else.

Also, I changed the icky purple and mint to a hot, hot fuchsia pink and black.  We didn't plan on it, but Jeremy Cardarelli and Andrew Craig also did digital paintings of dangerous men with pink used prominently.  We were the axis of fuchsia dudes, and it was awesome.