Stuff I Can’t Show You

My regular blog readers (all three of you) may have noticed a lack of new client work being posted over the last few months. It’s not because there is none. Quite to the contrary, I’ve had a steady run of projects cross my desk.

One client in particular has kept me very busy doing packaging illustration as well as toy concepts and turnarounds. Unfortunately my contract with that client is quite strict and I’m not allowed to mention or talk about any of the specific work I’ve been doing. So even though I’d love to show you some of the new art I’ve been creating for them, I can’t.

I’ve got other irons in the fire though for other clients and will post what I can as soon as I can.

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Sketchbook Update: Pose Studies

As I wrote in my last post I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of keeping a daily sketchbook in addition to my client work. Some days are better than others but overall I’m making good progress. Even after fourteen years working as a freelance illustrator I still enjoying finding new ways to push myself to grow and improve as an artist.

Case in point: Last year I attended the CTN Animation Expo in Burbank, California. While there I shopped my character design portfolio around a bit. Several animation professionals graciously gave me some very helpful feedback. One thing I kept hearing was that although my character designs were strong overall there was not much expressive acting in my characters. Most of the people and animals I drew just stood around, usually with one hand on the hip and the other in what Kyle Baker refers to in his book How To Draw Stupid (Amazon.com link) as the “hand of death” pose. They encouraged me to say more about a character’s personality and breathe life into the drawings through expressive posing.

The Expo is coming up again and I want to be ready with a new and improved portfolio. So tonight I took some time to experiment with posing. I quickly whipped up a very generic looking character and then tried to make him act, express, and emote. These few rough sketches are the result:

Pose Studies

It’s a challenging exercise. The more I started to draw the more I realized how weak and cliched my mental acting library really is. While these poses are a vast improvement over the work I was doing last year I still have a lot of room to grow. It all goes back to a basic but very solid principle of drawing: Don’t just look, see. In order to draw well you really need to study and analyze the world around you. I need to be studying live people as well as other actors and especially animators. It will be an ongoing process but one I’m looking forward to.

Sketchbook Update

I’m a strong believer in keeping a daily sketchbook.

I’m also a hypocrite. I often go days or weeks without cracking mine open.

Don’t get me wrong. I do a lot of drawing but the overwhelming bulk of my artwork is created for clients with strict guidelines and objectives that have to be met. Between commissioned work and the never ending slog of running a freelance business (emails, phone calls, bookkeeping, self-promotion, writing proposals, running errands, keeping a blog, etc.) its getting harder and harder for me to curl up with a blank page and sketch for my own study and enjoyment. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit like a professional athlete who plays hard during the actual games but then never has time to exercise or come to practice.

As a result I’ve started to feel a bit stale in my artistic development. I’m catching myself falling back on reliable tricks and habits rather than pushing myself to learn and grow. That’s a slippery slope towards creative death. So lately I’ve been forcing myself to get back into it and crack open the ol’ sketchbook more regularly. My goal is to do a page a day. Some days I make it, many I still don’t, but I’m determined to keep pushing ahead.

Most of my sketchbook drawings are not very cartoony. In order to be a good cartoonists I believe you first have to understand how to draw realistically. You have to have a solid grasp the real thing before you can convincingly simplify and caricature it. So when I sketch I usually study real people, real poses, real clothing, etc.

I also do a lot of very bad drawings (though I don’t have the courage to show them here). You can’t grow and improve without making mistakes and my sketchbook is the one place where I give myself total permission to mess up royally. If all my sketchbook drawings were perfect it would only mean that I was drawing things I’ve already mastered. That’s a great way to get stale fast.

Here’s a few recent sketches. Nothing in this particular batch is from life—all are from photos or video stills.

FallCon 2010 is Saturday October 16

FallCon, Minnesota’s annual fall comic book convention, is fast approaching. Once again I’ll be exhibiting.

It’s a really fun event and the folks at the Midwest Comic Book Association really do a terrific job making sure everyone has a good time. While I don’t really do comic book art per se, I do work in animation and cartooning so the organizers graciously let me squeeze in at a table. There will also be plenty of other top-drawer Minnesota artists on hand who work in comics professionally plus a few big names traveling in from outside the midwest (here’s the complete list). For me FallCon is a great opportunity to rub elbows with them and soak in the fun, creative vibe. I always come away feeling inspired and energized to keep drawing and pushing myself.

FallCon will be Saturday, October 16 from 10am-4pm at the Progress Center on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Admission is $7 or $6 if you bring a canned food shelf donation. Kids 9 and under are free. There’s free parking and the first 500 attendees get a free grab bag. More info at www.midwestcomicbook.com.

 

I Won An iPad! iHappy.

I guess it pays to use Twitter.

This past June I attended the third annual Creative Freelancer Conference. I rave about it often. It’s a must-attend event for anyone who makes a living as a freelancer in the arts (illustrators, photographers, graphic designers, etc.) This year to promote the conference the organizers ran a contest: Whoever could get the most people to sign up for the conference via Twitter would win an iPad plus free registration to next year’s conference. I’m a big fan of the conference and I happily promote it every year anyway, but this year I decided that just for fun I’d plug it a bit more than usual (while giving full disclosure that I was taking part in the contest.)

Then the conference came and went, I had a great time, and I pretty much forgot about the contest.

Last week the conference people called to tell me I had won! They were very apologetic. In all the craziness of organizing the event they just now realized they never got around to announcing the winner. I would imagine it takes an enormous amount of time and energy to put together an entire conference and then to clean up after the dust has settled so I can’t say that I blame them. Besides, its hard to look a gift iPad in the mouth.

As an extra bonus, we got the phone call on my wife’s birthday and it arrived on our anniversary, just in time for us to take it with us on an out of town trip.

Not too long ago I wrote a blog post explaining why I had decided not to buy an iPad. In a nutshell, while the iPad is an amazing device for me it didn’t fall into the category of a “must-have” (unlike my iPhone or my laptop). Now that I’ve had a couple of days to play with an iPad I may reconsider. Too early to tell but you might see an iPad review popping up on this blog in the near future

In the mean time I want to say a big “thank you” to everyone who signed up for the conference as a result of my two cents here and there. I hope you got as much out of it as  I did.

The next Creative Freelancer Conference will be June 23-24, 2011 in Chicago. The conference is designed to help educate, encourage, and inspire artistic freelancers in all things business; to help them work smarter, get better clients, and as a result boost their income. If you are creative and self-employed this conference is a must.

If you want to get a taste you can purchase mp3s of the 2009 conference to listen to at your leisure.

My “Creative Independence” Podcast Interview

Recently I was interviewed by illustrator Bob Ostrom for his podcast “Creative Independence”. The interview is now available online.

Bob’s not only a good illustrator but a super nice guy who’s very knowledgeable about the freelance biz. Since starting his podcast he’s interviewed a long list of successful freelancers and many of them have some very valuable advice to offer on a variety of topics related to freelancing. The Creative Independence podcast is available both on the CI website and through iTunes. I encourage you to browse the episodes and give some of them a listen.

In my interview we discussed such topics as self-promotion, networking, and social media. I hope some of my ramblings at the very least will be interesting and at the very most will be helpful to anyone trying to build a freelance career.

NCS Cartooning Recap

This past weekend I was in Omaha for a two-day cartooning event sponsored by the North Central Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society (of which I am a member). The schedule was jam-packed and the public was treated to a fountain of cartoon goodies including a special headline event that kicked off the weekend: a presentation by Pixar story artist Josh Cooley. Josh has done work on The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Up, and wrote the humorous “UPisodes” used in Up’s promotion.

Josh gave his presentation on Friday night to a large crowd at the Kaneko Center. (I’d love to show pictures but photography was not allowed.) Using slides and video he gave us a detailed peek behind the curtain at the story department at Pixar. He explained what the job of a story artist is, showed us some slides of the Pixar facilities (including what looked like an olympic-sized swimming pool, a fully-stocked cereal bar, daily drawing classes, even fencing lessons!), and talked about the long and winding journey that a Pixar film takes from the first kernel of an idea to finished script. We were also treated to animatics of abandoned sequences from Up and Ratatouille—including one very funny bit with a manic lab rat character that was later dropped.

Saturday morning Josh gave a closed-door workshop on storytelling. Being a filmmaking geek and a huge animation fan I ate it up. Then on Saturday afternoon there were three panel presentations given by midwest NCS members:

“Cartooning In The New Economy” – First came a discussion on some of the challenges currently facing artists in the gag cartoon biz. Cartoonists Ed Fischer, Tom Kerr, Bucky Jones, and Dave Carpenter answered a series of questions from moderator and syndicated cartoonist John Hambrock (The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee).

“Drawing in the House of Saddam” – Next up were cartoonists Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues) and Tom Richmond (MAD Magazine). They showed slides from their recent USO trips to Germany and Iraq. When they weren’t cheering up wounded troops in the hospital they were touring the ruins from the Iraq war including a former palace of Saddam Hussein.

“Sketching As Story”– The afternoon closed with another panel discussion featuring cartoonist/storyboard artist Glenn McCoy (The Flying McCoys, Ice Age 3, Despicable Me), Chris Browne (Hagar the Horrible), yours truly, and Pixar’s Josh Cooley (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up), moderated by editorial cartoonist Jeff Koterba. We showed slides of our work and answered a few audience questions about visual storytelling.

Chris Browne, Cedric Hohnstadt

After our panel I asked Hagar the Horrible artist Chris Browne for a photo. He said he would but only if I wore his viking helmet. It’s a special piece of papier-mâché headgear hand made by Chris himself using scraps of leftover drawing paper from his studio. As a kid I have fond memories of visiting my Grandma, curling up on the couch, and reading “Hagar the Horrible” in her newspaper whenever we visited. Now here I was sitting next to the Hagar artist on stage and wearing his home-made Hagar hat. Of course Chris took over the strip after his father’s death so technically he wasn’t the one who drew most of the strips I read growing up but to me that’s a minor detail. It was still quite a treat!

Cedric Hohnstadt with Pixar story artist Josh Cooley

Pixar’s Josh Cooley is a super nice guy and was incredibly generous with his time and talent. In addition to three presentations on stage he also did interviews, signed posters, and ate his meals with our crazy group of cartoonists, most of whom were huge Pixar fans. For two days we bombarded him with geeky question after geeky question and he graciously answered them all.

After the final panel we made our way down the block to the Bemis Gallery for the opening of a special traveling exhibit, “One Fine Sunday in the Funny Pages”. The exhibit featured dozens of original drawings—one from almost every syndicated cartoon strip that you would find in your daily newspaper. The exhibit was put together by John Read, who is also the publisher of the wonderful cartooning magazine “Stay Tooned!”.

During the exhibit several cartoonists hung around for a book signing. Pictured front to back: Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues), Chris Browne (Hagar the Horrible), Glenn McCoy (The Flying McCoys), John Hambrock (The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee), and Jeff Koterba (signing his memoir Inklings which is getting rave reviews).

What an inspiring weekend! Besides spending time with such inspiring and insanely talented people, Omaha was a charming town and the weather was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for more. I’m still riding high off the cartooning buzz and more excited than ever to keep drawing!