Sunday, May 13, 2012


You might be wondering where the hell did I go? Did I succumb into the seductive hands of defeat? Or did I just accept a certain level of mediocrity. Did I forget about my loyal readers? Or worst of all, did I lose track of my goal to become a great comic book artist. Truthfully, I’m still here… barely. This has been a pretty intense academic year and I hardly made it out alive. With 1521 hours of drawing so far, I’m still in my path to become a better artist. But all of those hours are not devoid of afflictions, and I will tell you all bout them… in a minute. First I need to vent a little. God I missed writing. The fact that I neglected my blog, which I’m really passionate about, lies in the amount of hours I devoted in doing my comic book pages. I’m fascinated with how fast time flies, and I do have a theory about that; it is all about perception of relative time, but I shouldn’t get into that now. This academic year hasn’t been easy. I pretty much put everything else in my life on hold, including this blog, as you may have seen. Believe when I tell you that I have forgotten what weekends feel like. Why all the drama you ask? Because I need to emphasize that this has been the busiest year of my life. You see, because I had a business degree back in 2000, I got transferred all of my humanities credits (around 30, which means an entire academic year). So in order to shave off one year I had to take sophomore and junior hardcore classes together. This is somehow unprecedented because you need to pass the sophomore classes to get into your junior classes. Still, the chairman of my department understood my situation and let me take those classes together, not without asking: are you sure you can do this? In my mind I answered: “Hell yeah! If anybody can do that is me! I’m the grown up here!” But rest assured, I doubted myself every day of the year. You have to understand that although you need a certain set of skills to do what I do, which you get by studying and practicing almost every day, what you really have to do in order to improve is to put in the hours. Basically, the Principles of Cartooning (sophomore) and Pictorial Problems (junior) classes demand a certain amount of hours every week that I had to draw in order to meet the deadlines in time. Now I really understand why people need at least one day of the week to rest or do anything irrelevant and trivial. DECOMPRESSING! It is an essential mechanism to keep on going without a potential burnout. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still had time for my regular daily activities, such as eating, cleaning myself (my hygiene was always top notch), seldom exercise, and most often than I care to admit, watching TV in between drawing sessions and before going to bed. Also, the lack of a social life this year helped me a lot to focus and concentrate on this challenge. As you can see, I made it! And I’m immensely proud of myself if I can say so.

Inking demon

First of all let me show you my grades! The disadvantage in getting a Bachelor in Fine Arts is that grades don’t matter much. Clearly it is a way to evaluate your efforts and goals met, in accordance to the teacher’s perspective of course; but when you graduate, no art director is ever going to ask for your grades. It does NOT happen. What you need is a strong portfolio, so no matter how many A’s you get, those grades will be wandering in oblivion. What really matters in this case is what I think of my grades in relation to my efforts, considering my own personal constraints. I still think I could’ve done better, but considering how restricted my time was for the whole year and the eventual burnout and artist block I had to endure, I guess I did very well. And before I forget, for all of the artists out there, I did some research of the infamous “Artist Block” I found an interesting webpage that is a MUST read: The Anatomy of Art Block.

Spring 2012 semester grades

You have to take into consideration that I started writing this blog on a monthly basis in order to have some finished pieces to show you. It has been almost 5 months since my previous entry, so I have way too many of them to upload in one entry. I will basically give you a summarized version of my semester. As you can see in my grades box above, I took 6 classes; most of them were the second part of my fall classes (in the titles shown as II), the others were brand new. My classes are as follows: Pictorial Problems II, Principles of Cartooning II, Drawing II, another Drawing II (which is actually Drawing I with another teacher, more into that later), History of Cartooning, and Figurative Sculpture. So, let’s start, shall we?

Pictorial Problems. – As I told you before this is a junior class, but more important, our main goal was to create a complete comic book so it could be exhibited in the School of Visual Arts gallery. I concentrated most of my time and efforts in developing this comic, not only because it was my thesis, but also because it would be my first comic done exclusively by me. Naturally, I have to thank my classmates and my professor Keith Mayerson who helped me along the way with their observations and critiques. Anyway, if you follow my blog you’d know that I was working in the adaptation of the novel: “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. The more I drew it, the more I cared about the characters, particularly Mr. Hyde, which I find disgustingly creepy and fun. I wrote a brief description of my thesis for the gallery presentation: “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson published in1886. The story is about a London lawyer named John Gabriel Utterson who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the misanthropic Mr. Hyde. The work deals with the duality of the human being, hence, it is commonly associated with the mental condition called “split personality”. Dr. Jekyll represents goodness, while Mr. Hyde embraces evil. These two opposites struggle against each other and it is up to Mr. Utterson to discover the truth behind it all”. I can really relate with this duality as much as I can relate with the HULK! (I had to put an Avengers reference, since everybody is talking about it and I have to agree it is a pretty cool movie). But seriously, Jekyll and Hyde inspired the Hulk, and not only that, but more important this novel actually created the mystery genre. To my disappointment, every single film and comic adaptation has been done with complete disregard to mystery. SPOILER ALERT (although this book has been around for more than a hundred years, so if you haven’t read it SHAME ON YOU): In the book you don’t know that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person until the end. To tell you the truth it is very hard to adapt it to film so the movies dwell more on the horror side of the story. This is a psychological thriller and I hope, with my limited skills, I did a good job to adapt it into a comic book. The chairman, Mr. Thomas Woodruff, told me that my skills do not meet my level of ambitions yet, and I totally agree with him. I really want to create realistic drawings in comics, and that is hard to focus when you also have to create page layouts, compositions, spotting blacks (creating shadows with ink), and over all that, meet a deadline. Either way, the good thing is that every next page was better than the previous one. The comic is done in black and white, but I’m going to find the time (probably this summer) to color it and make it look more professional. I did paint a cover and back cover at the end of the semester, and I’m really proud of how they turned out. I will also show you my three favorite pages from the comic. It won’t be long before I make a website in order to read all my comics. This class has been a remarkable experience, but what is most important is that I completed a task I set about almost 20 years ago. Every New Year resolution had always the same goal: “Create a Comic Book”. You know what? CHECK!

Cover of Jekyll and Hyde
Back cover of Jekyll and Hyde

Minicomic of Jekyll and Hyde

Me in the gallery presentation

Splash page redone - Hyde attacking Carew
Hyde transformation to Jekyll

Jekyll's statement letter

Principles of Cartooning. – I explained in my last entry that I had to do 21 pages this semester. I chose to do the Greek story of Theseus and the Minotaur. I think the subject matter was not as interesting as I thought it would be. I don’t know, the story wasn’t as fun and I only have myself to blame. Saying that, this was a real challenge, and the fact that I got bored of the story pretty quick doesn’t help. Also, it was impossible to get good references for ancient Greek cities, interiors, and clothing. Now that I think about it, I should have gone to the picture collection in the New York Public Library and get as many references as I did for the Jekyll and Hyde comic. Surely it would have made my life much easier. In any case, I did learned a lot with those assignments, mainly composition inside the panels and word balloon placement. It seems intuitive but it is far from it. What you learn is mostly by experience. I’m uploading 5 of my favorite pages of the Minotaur and 2 pages for another assignment in which I needed to establish different moods in each page using the same surroundings. Also a sketch of the Flash my teacher Klaus Janson did for me at the end of the semester. Thanks Klaus, you rock!

The Minotaur Page 8
The Minotaur page 13

The Minotaur page 14

The Minotaur page 16

The Minotaur page 17 

Mood Comic page 1

Mood Comic page 2

Sketch by Klaus Janson

Figure Drawing. – The drawing classes were mainly workshops. One of them was the continuation of a class I took in the fall with comic book artist superstar Phil JimĂ©nez. It was a very frustrating class because it focused only on figure drawing. I really love figure drawing with a model, but it was very intense because he wanted us to get faster, so most of the times were gesture drawings or 10 minute poses. It is very limiting what you can do in 10 minutes. Sometimes I nailed it and sometimes I didn’t, so at the end of each class I ended up feeling like I didn’t know how to draw. I did sell myself short, and it’s understandable since all artists are self-conscious. I didn’t improve as fast as my classmates; then again, I believe I had more figure drawing experience in the past than most of them. The good thing is that I did in fact get better and although some of the times I felt like I hit a plateau, in the end I could clearly see the improvement. There were a couple of students that understood line better than me and I still can’t figure out how they did their drawing so graciously and beautiful in the amount of time per pose given to us. I was sure I was going to get a bad grade, but I came through with my semester homework. We had to do a sketchbook with 10 portraits of one specific classmate, each of them with a different expression. I felt the need to experiment with different materials and that was a game changer. Believe me when I tell you that I was getting really tired of the subject matter (in this case, my classmate). My professor really liked my portfolio and told me that it was the best of the class. I felt relieved and proud, and proceeded to like my teacher again ☺ I will show you 5 portraits and one I did of myself with the expression that symbolized my feelings during this long assignment. I’m also including a drawing made by one of my classmates of myself. It is a different drawing and it is not accurately correct, but he caught my essence perfectly, especially when I’m drunk.

Portrait made with a Wacom tablet and Photoshop


Portrait of me made by a classmate

Drawing Formulas. – Due to unusual circumstances I ended up taking a continuing education drawing class. Basically I took it because of the teacher, Nelson DeCastro. He essentially teaches drawing formulas, in other words, he teaches you how to draw directly from your mind. Artists know exactly what I’m talking about, but let me explain it more thoroughly. Drawing from observation is NOT easy, but once you understand the basic principles of proportions, shading, negative space, texture and line weight it becomes fairly easy, at least for me. It’s hard but given enough time I always get a photographic drawing of the subject. This doesn’t mean that there’s no room for improvement, but what you need is to keep doing it. Drawing from your mind is another different ball game. You have to learn and practice all the formulas, from the proportional distance of the torso towards the head to the more difficult ones of three-point perspective. Since the renaissance, artists have developed formulas to memorize certain rules to make their jobs easier. These guides let you draw realistic environments and figures using your mind and not relying on reference or modeling (I really sound like an artist, don’t I?). This is what I always wanted to learn seeing as I felt comfortable with drawing from observation. Since it is a continuing education class and you live in New York and enjoy drawing you HAVE to take it. Also, Nelson is by far the best teacher I’ve ever had. He’s funny, demanding, and very encouraging. Also he really knows what he is talking about. This class helped me a lot in drawing better figures and stronger environments. It was a workshop class, so I don’t have any masterpiece from this class. What I have is a bunch of drawings based on a mannequin he created. He corrects them in class so I had to withstand some crude but funny embarrassing moments. I’m posting some of the drawings I made. His corrections are in red ink, so if you see a “Simpsons Darth Vader face” next to the chest of the female mannequin, then you’ll get how much fun we had in that class.

Me nailing perspective!

Figurative Sculpture. – I also took figurative sculpture. This was an elective and it focused on making models or prototypes for toys, actions figures, or sculptures. This was a freaking awesome class! I’ve never used clay before, at least in this way. I’m not going to explain the whole process because it’s very lengthy, but at least I will show you some steps for you to get the idea. We basically did 2 projects. I decided to make a portrait sculpture of Conan O’Brien. I was really hooked on his show and I knew that there was a Coco Museum in his webpage. I did some preliminary drawings and I’m quite proud of the first I did. The problem is that it was way too realistic, so my teacher advised me to make the sculpture more cartoony. You can see both, the drawing and the sculpture, in Conan O’Brien’s website here and here. The second project was way more complicated. I decided to do a prototype for a statue of The Flash (Not Flash Gordon, just Flash!!!!!) It started with the same process in clay, but after that we had to create a mold with liquid rubber. I won’t lie to you, it was dreadfully messy and I had a lot of wasted material, but after $200 of chemicals I did the mold. It’s amazing how the mixture of two liquids can become rubber. It’s mesmerizing! Once the mold is done we had to pour another mixture of two liquids to create plastic. This process was also chaotic. Finally, I had to paint it. I’m not as happy with the final product, but give me a break, I made it out of thin air!

Conan O'Brien portrait
Conan O'Brien clay head

Clay Flash figure with liquid rubber

Flash sculpture

History of Cartooning. – I expected much more from my history of cartooning class so I’m not going to delve much into it. Some days I’ve find it interesting, other days dull and boring. We just had to be there for attendance and make one paper. I did my paper on Alex Ross, one of my favorite artists. The one thing that really freaked me out was his first slide of the presentation in the first class. It was from a series of colored etchings from James Gilray made in 1808 named “Very Slippy Weather”. Gilray made a series of the same drawing and then colored them by hand. He was one of the first cartoonists the teacher said. Somehow I knew I had seen it before. The minute I entered my room I noticed the same serigraphy right on top of where I sleep. I’m not sure if it is original but due to the fact that this is my family’s apartment since my grandfather bought it, it may be. Freaky huh! Still, it just reassures me that I’m in the right path.

Me with Jams Gilray etching

Finally, I will let you go with a deep thought, as always. Once I heard that all children were born artists, the problem is to remain artists when growing up. I have always wondered if drawing requires a special gift or ability. Then I read a preface by Jack Hamm (author of the book Drawing the Head & Figure, highly recommended) that goes like this: Long before a child learns to write, he makes marks which in his inhibited imagination represent a person. No one has convinced him that he has no artistic ability, nor has he convinced himself, so he continues his unaffected effort to draw. Because he persists, oftentimes to the undoing of household furniture, walls, and parents, his drawings begin to show a decided measure of improvement. Then one day interest wanes, due to acquired restraints, and only a few after that regularly take up the drawing pencil. The others borrow the oft-repeated phrase, “Oh I can’t draw a straight line!”

There is no science and no magic involved, if you want it badly enough, just start doing it. Screw anybody who thinks otherwise. (This line is mine of course)


Jose Luis 

PS.- If you want to start making comics, please get this book “Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel: Everything You Need to Know to Create Great Work and Get It Published” by Daniel Cooney and if you want to get better at it buy this formidable book “Mastering Comics” by Jessica Abel & Matt Madden. They will really help you a lot… Guaranteed!