A Firmer Resolution And Other Base Facts

I look across my life and see many failed attempts at following through on resolutions and vows of various types. As an adult, I am no longer surprised by this. Each year that passes is a new understanding of my personal failures. I am sure that most people, like myself, come to this realization once they have left the comfort of their parent's home. I am sure that some realize much earlier than others.

The encouraging thing about failing at resolutions and goals in particular is that you learn to do them the right way. Each time you fail it is important to pick up and go at it again. I learned some very important tips concerning personal growth by using measurable goal-making from Chris Oatley's Artcast just this last week. You can click on this link to hear it: Artistic Growth Is Not A Goal...

The hard part about living your life, especially to be excellent in every area you can be, is that nothing really stays the same. The only exception is God and His goodness. We constantly have to be on our guard concerning everyday challenges. Is there a set way to do a task or requirement? Some times there is, but rarely. Life consists of improvisation in repition. You can do it well, if you have done something like it before. But do not count on it working exactly the same way. So, life feeds art. It gives us due inspiration, because like life, art is a continuous process of change and growth.

Don't give up on your goals! Firmly stand in the gap between your starting point and your goal. Be excellent in your career pursuits, your family life, and hold high the tenets of doing right by others in as many ways as you can! Stay the course, because none of us have it easy and from time to time we can learn from each other's failures.

Christmas In 3-D

Santa was a tall and thin bishop from southern Greece, who was at one time persecuted for his faith. His real name was Nicholas and he started with humble beginnings and humbly gave all he had to the poor in Jesus's name. In the story of Saint Nicholas you will find an extraordinary man whose spirit lives only in part in who we know now as the legendary Santa Claus.

This is the time of year where myth and legend is the most vibrant in the Western world. Our imaginations go wild with anticipation of a new year and an old one passing away. To put things in perspective we must talk not just of the fantasy that has emerged in this season, but also the reality behind the symbols.

As you sit down with your loved ones to celebrate the holidays consider the meaning behind it all. Where did it come from? Why do we do this? What are all the decorations and rituals about? We need to know what this is all about in order to define who we are and what the next phase of our lives will be. And as a way to to ignite your passion for discovery I have included a gift (a toy, if you will) for you to print out to iniate this practice. I guarantee that the flaws as well as the beauty of these symbols will fuel your imagination. Click on this link and you will see what I am talking about: Christmas Cube.


7 Day Work Week

Hopefully, I won't have to do this again. It's easy to enter the week optimistically, but dreadful if you think about the fact that you have no weekend. I wouldn't recommend this lifestyle to anyone.


Inquire Within: Part 2, Life And Art

Not many times in my life do I remember other people approaching me and immediately engaging in conversation. Not unless I am actively doing something creative, that is.

The day after Thanksgiving I was still at my parents house struggling not to become too bored. So I borrowed my mom's digital camera and went for a walk to the park across the river in the town next to theirs. I went for the very specific reason of shooting pictures of the animals in the petting zoo. Because, I do not often get to go to the zoo anymore. This was a prime opportunity.

As I came around the fence I was trying hard to shoot through the fence, I encountered a woman feeding bread to the animals through the chain link fence. Her golf cart was full of cheap or reclaimed bread. She was popular with the animals. Then she started a conversation with me as if we were old friends. 

I admit, I was not too cordial to begin with. I just wanted to shoot pictures of the cantankerous animals that had very short attention spans. But she went on regardless of whether I acknowledged her too much. In the course of her conversation she mentioned how she had had a digital camera and that she wished she could post an up-to-date picture online. Regretably she didn't know how use her own camera. Not mention that a relative had borrowed it and never returned hers. I could only comment on how the camera I was using was not mine and I did not own one either. But, I missed something very important.

“Therefore, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:10, NIV

This was the Exempla Vitae moment I referred to last week. This was the opportunity to do good by someone. A quick photo or 2 and some contact information to send her the photos could have been a blessing to her. A moment like this could create waves in someone else's life. This is where Life intersects Art. These are the times I live for.

My challenge to you is to think ahead about the gifts you have been given: time, talent, resources, knowledge, experience. Ask God what He wants you to do with these things. Imagine the possibilities of using them in unconventional ways. Write down and plan for such times as these. You will be surprised of the creativity utilized when you come to that time, nothing is ideal after all.


Inquire Within, Part 1: God And Imagination

This is when it is hard to see God. When it seems as if you can't see beyond your troubles. In spite of the blessings you are in the midst of, it is difficult to see the end.

The dessert is like that. You go for miles in the stark landscape. You hope for an oasis, but because its so difficult to tell what direction you're actually going at times you lose hope quickly.

This is when we need our imaginations. This is when it is important to bow low. This is when we need to submit to our Heavenly Father. He is the author of all creation. And what we need to get through adversity are our dreams, visions, and imagination. All of these hardships are fuel for our imaginations.

Click this to see the painting: Passage
These are the times that the unseen things benefit us. I often paint with a limited palette. When I put down paint and attempt to show detail and shape and value, I am challenged to do it without all of the possibilities afforded me by a full range of colors. But this practice of depending on the unknown has allowed me to create some amazing paintings with unique feels and atmospheres.

When we come to a point where revelations of God's goodness intersect our day to day life we experience Exempla Vitae moments. This is the Art of Living Story. The times when we are able to learn through doing or learn through remembering. From this lesson learned a remarkable thing happens: We have a new story to tell. Some tell their story through words, some through music or dance, some through performance or building, yet others do so by imagery. I am one of those who uses imagery, but more specifically cartooning.

As a cartoonist I am constantly expanding my visual and written vocabulary. This blog is an expression of that. My thoughts and experiments are often expressed with sequential art or imagery, but they do have broader applications.  I believe you will be able to experience creativity in a new way by taking advantage of the challenges. My challenges stem from the good I have experienced in my relationship with Jesus, and you should seek Him to take full advantage of all the good that you experience.

What is it you are having a difficult time with? What are your current limitations? What do you have at your disposal? Challenge- Try a project with fewer options. Take away what you are comfortable with and create with what remains.



Every year the family gets together en mass to celebrate America's first Thanksgiving. We have built the tradition over the years of meeting at a certain relative's house and being fed and entertained in a certain way.

Some years we eat and watch football and then go for walks, because we ate too much. Some years we break out the ping pong tables and try to whip each other at bouncing a highly resilient plastic ball over a faux tennis court painted on a wooden table top.

But for as many years as I can remember, we have always played one game in particular, Dirty Bingo. This is a family-fun game that is a mix of a white elephant gift exchange and taking advantage of the opportunity to give your beloved relatives a hard time.

Often this game is a riot for younger children in the family, because the ordeal gives them an advantage over adults. Which they rarely have.  Each year we play we wrap up the most nefarious object we can find lying around our houses taking up room we can no longer spare. We have seen the range in our family. Everything from a brick, to soap, to toys, candy, and probably any other assortment of mischievous or endearing gifts.

It would not be Dirty Bingo without the classic bingo set. It's like playing the lottery. As the game caller you turn the hand crank of the ball, it magically produces a number and letter combination while churning and mixing variable combinations. At that critical moment you yell out the number and letter. If you want to have fun with it, you can include a bad pun when number and letter. I drew this to remember what fun it is to participate in this game. And of course I am making fun of the use of the ball, but one wonders what it would be used for during the rest of the year.

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving. I look forward to hearing how you spend this season with family and creatively.


Watercolor: King Of Paints

There are in fact few media that compare to the versatility of watercolor. It is not just versatile because it is a water-based media. It is versatile because there is little to transport. With oil paints and acrylic usually an easel is necessary. With watercolor you can easily set your watercolor board on your lap or a table or desk.

If you like chunky paint you can go to acrylic (which is cheaper than oil paint), gouache (though, technically a variation of watercolor), or oil paint (which is the king of chunky). But they all have there set backs. Though, you may not be able to carve or sculpt the paint like oil, create density like gouache, or have the quick-dry, easy-cover ability of acrylic; you can have a little of all three with less mess and perhaps less frustration.

I am not necessarily expecting any converts here. Everybody is inclined to their own opinions on what media best suits them. Believe me, I have left out a lot of other media. I have left out, especially dry media-pencils, pastels, chalk, and many others. I enjoy them all. But watercolor does give a lot back. It is forgiving in the layering area, but unforgiving in subtraction. It works well when thrown in the mixed media pool, but it can stand alone. Though, it is easier to be more expressive, it also permits rigidness for portraiture and technical paintings. In fact, as a media it is embraced equally by commercial and fine artists. Though, I am sure neither party agrees on what the other truly is.

The challenge of the week is to try watercolor. If it is your first time, you can be bold and try something abstract. But there is no shame in picking up a book or magazine on the subject. From time to time, I still do and I have been at it for 10 years. It is a great way to learn new processes. When you take my challenge please post it on your blog, website, or portfolio site and send me a link. I would like to see it.

Come back next week for STORYTIME.


My Enchanted Sketchpad

Gangly Tree
My sketchpad is enchanted. It permits me to see into the window of the past or into a window of the future. Sometimes both simultaneously. I have talked about the pleasure I get out of documenting my experiences in the past, but I consider any thing that retains the nature of reality to be mystic in a sense.

Even the prophet Isaiah reinforces this:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
   or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
   or weighed the mountains on the scales
   and the hills in a balance... Isaiah 40:12

Anything that is the product of the Creator (God) is truly supernatural. Can we explain the awe and wonder that nature gives us. How light and darkness interplay to give us forms we cannot perfectly duplicate. Use what you see around you to inspire your work. Because we cannot create anything new, everything is open to be reinterpreted and learned from.

Next week, find out why watercolor is the king of painting materials.


Shadows Made of Syrup

Leaves & Their Shadows
The syrupy shadows of Ohio's fall create a mood and emotion unlike anywhere else I have experienced. The thought of walking through a wooded area in Ohio or Indiana produces a mystic nostalgia for me. The colors of trees lit by the sun are so vibrant I feel as if I am on another planet or partaking in some medieval dream land. Such dream lands that are brought to life through King Arthur or tales of chivalry.

When you sit down to conceive your dream do you think in color and three dimensions? Do you participate with your idea? Do you go down that path as if it were a walk through the forest or along a beach?

It's conceivable that your pad and pen are enchanted. Find out more next week.



Never mind the details. Don't waste your time with elaborate props. Get your characters on the page and have them interact. Actions do speak louder than words in visual media. And actions and reactions were divinely primed for use specifically in comics.

My friend Casey McBride and I tried all sorts of variations on Fill-in-the-blanks collaborations. Comic creators call this Comic Jamming. Late nights helped keep the process interesting. Casey is a trained animator and I am a trained as an illustrator. This activity always kept us entertained.You can see what he does by following this link: McBrideCasey.com.

Try this at home when you are stumped for an idea. Take 2 characters and put them side by side in 4 panels. Put different expressions on their faces and then go back and try to put words in the bubbles that make sense with the random expressions you chose. Then try it with another friend and pass it off to them to try. After that add as many people as you can. You will be surprised at the variety of original ideas you come up with.

Let me know what you come up with and I may link it to my blog.


The High Knight

As the storyteller you have a great capacity to invent. Given a protagonist and a conflict a great deal of interesting topics can arise between the beginning and the end.

What fire sparks your imagination? What sort of peril would this knight save a fair damsel from? Would he fight dragons or does he just tell the narrator stories as he sits on the mantel on cold rainy nights?

Take a couple of minutes and view the full piece on my fine art site: "The High Knight". Fill your imagination with what if's. Let me know what you came up with.


Special Vanishing Point

Stiff lines, bare angles, and semi-technical math are my new friends. I have desperately wanted to achieve the technical perfection of the most skilled comic artists and draftsmen. A little bit of perspective will always do wonders for your piece. So I sat down for hours on end and studied the manuals I had on hand to figure how to best solve my creative problems. 

So, earlier this year that I had to get more serious about perspective drawing, if I was going to continue to be serious about creating comics. It has been a blessing. It has allowed me to see my art in a new way.

Alas, perspective drawing is not for the faint of heart. I am truly in awe of architects, technical illustrators, and engineers. To be accomplished in rendering for three dimensional production is a skill that takes time and patience. Translating from line to form or form to line is a broader way of thinking.

For the illustrator, cartoonist, or painter it is truly secondary. Some times perspective gets in the way of the image. Hours spent hashing out measurements are usually better spent on color or caricature or just creatively inventing.

In this preliminary drawing I first discovered the benefits of a special vanishing point and it did wonders for the finished drawing. I am not yet ready to share the finished page, but you can see here in my Sketches page that if a drawing requires proportional sides the task can be tedious. 


In The Studio

I have found that it is very important for an artist to take care in choosing his environment for creating art. In recent years it has fascinated me to see how other artists set up their space for creating their work. One book that has inspired me above anything else to keep my imagination alive by my surroundings is a book called The Artist Within by Greg Preston.
Photo copyright Alex Ferree 2011

This book shows the visual artists such as Jack Kirby (created most of the Marvel Universe), Chuck Jones (Warner Bros),  Frank Miller (Sin City), Todd McFarlane (Spawn), Mort Walker (Hagar the Horrible), and 97 other cartoonists, animators, comic book artists, and editorial cartoonists in their studios. The exciting thing for me is that I get to see what keeps them inspired, what size their space is, and a little bit about how they work.

My goal as a creative person is to keep working out the creative problems that I confront day-to-day. So I set myself up for success. Some peculiar things that I do that probably not everyone else does or feels the need to do are working on a wooden bench (not for the faint of heart), almost daily set up a still life to practice, work out of my living room, and keep files of my artistic failures AND successes.

After I graduated from college in 2003 I had almost none of the things here. I wondered how I could do art without a proper space or materials. Since then I have discovered that creating art is not intrinsic on location or circumstances, but never-the-less the kind of art I want to do does have some requirements by way of tools. Before I went to be a camp counselor in 2005, a friend of mine's grandfather passed away. I had actually met him once. He was a professional illustrator in the Toledo area. He was a very sweet man. He had showed me some of his art and gave me advice on seeking a career. I was blessed just to know him. A few months before I went to camp, my friend offered me some remaining articles from his studio. Namely the art desk you see here, art supplies, and art books. What  a blessing from God, the provider.

I could go on with other stories about other ways the Lord God affirmed and reaffirmed my artistic calling after college, but I will reserve those stories for another post.


V Is For Verone: Part 2

Instead of giving up he strived one more time to make eye contact with someone, anyone. There huddled in the inner ring was the prettiest little girl he had ever seen. She looked up and in the darkness her eyes sparkled. A spot of passion reflected from the meager fire. Her eyes read him from toe to head.

“There is a place for you by the fire.” She murmured, and then she opened up a her blanket to reveal a vest.

Then the circle broke for him to come through. As the boy reached the far end where a path formed, he went to sit next to her.

“Who are you?” She asked.

“I-I am Verone, a Romani like you.”

“Well then, this vest was meant for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You see the 'V' stitched into the two portions in the front of the vest and the 'V's' making the Romani wheel on the back.”


“I stitched this for my father last summer.”

“Why are you giving it to me? Where is he?”

“He died tragically a year ago, about this time.”Verone was dumbfounded. She smiled gingerly and gently handed it to him.

“His name was Viktor. And I am finished with my mourning just today at breakfast. I was told that I must find another man to fill his vest.”

“I am not a man. This vest is for a big man. Maybe better suited for a bear...I don't know.”
She giggled and then responded,“Do not worry Verone, you will one day grow into this.”

The fire died by early morning and the chill returned. Verone saw that the clan had already moved on and he was the only one left in the cave. The extra large vest was still around him. He was huddled into it. Today, the young thief had to reach his clan. He hastily jumped up with the vest still around him. He looked about the cave for anyone or any sign of the little girl, then Verone climbed back up through the crevice. He ran down the pass.

What would his future be, he thought? Then, he passed a small camp site. The hikers had their bag on mounted on a tree. Verone walked slowly up to the bag and grabbed some food out of it. The boy ate some of the bread and fruit and cold meat as he hurried to tell his family about his wonderful blessing.


V Is For Verone: Part 1

Who is Verone and where did he come from? And why does he have that "V" on his vest? In this two part story I present a little back story to "The Course".

As the cold winter wind broke through the mountains in some unnamed highlands of Eastern Europe a young gypsy thief ran and took refuge under the cliff. His clan had moved on a day ahead and he was seeking to survive.  Little did he know, there was a gypsy clan who had already taken refuge in the cave. He could smell the cooking stew, probably made from a mountain goat or some poor farmers stray cow.

The boy entered the narrow passage way under the overhang. There before him were several small families hunched together around several fires. They barely acknowledged him as he came down the crevice through an awkward rock path. The boy circled the first fire and no one made eye contact. They were concentrating too much on being warm or they just didn't care. He circled the second one and no one even moved. At the third fire the the boy was desperate. If he could not find solace here he would likely freeze to death if he tried to go on. Though, the stew smelled heavenly, he could endure the hunger. He had done that before. It was warmth and rest he longed for.


Chunky Paint

Chunky paint is the medium that bridges the gap between india ink and regular water media such as acrylic, gouache, and water color. If you paint with these media with any regularity you would understand the commonality and therefore the benefits of bouncing from one to the other from time to time. The learning curve is immense and there is almost always something new to learn.

In Little Tree I tested illustration board for its ability to hold watercolor. This is in fact a value study in burnt sienna, but it is also a finished piece. I will boldly proclaim that because it can handle no more detail and it is unnecessary because everything will get lost. Follow the Little Tree link to my Deviant Art page to see the full painting.
On a cloudy day I sought out nature to inspire me to spring board me into my comic drawing stage of the day I came up with this painting and three blind drawings before it. The first 2 of the Painted Flowers series are held in my Experimental Art page.

Blind drawing is an interesting process. It is not blind in the sense that you use only your hearing and feeling senses to detect shape and form. But for the artist it is the opposite. You see with your eyes, but feel the paper/board with your pencil or brush. In effect, you let media feel the contours of the physical object without actually seeing the the page. It always has surprising results and pushes the artist to the next level.


Nature of Inspiration

One of the biggest up hill battles I have fought since I graduated from college is what I am supposed to do with the artistic talent I have been given. In my life there has been no shortage of doubts, struggles, and missteps. But above anything else, the journey has been most fruitful when I let go of my expectations and trusted God to fill in the blanks. That is what this piece, The Nature of Inspiration, is all about.

Amongst my watercolors this color sketch is not the most technical. For me it captures the spiraling, yet linear movement of dreams and goals. How they can often be easily read, but still over a blurry and colorful backdrop. I do not know what my future holds or how today will make sense in reference to tomorrow. Yet, God leads the way and the trail will not finish at a dead end.


Growing Older

Each stage of progression in creating a work of art requires struggle. It requires a change of thinking about what you had prior accepted as the only way to accomplish the task you have set out to do.

Teleki's Old Mother is no exception. It is true that she has always been old even in the first character designs I did for her in 2007. Yet, with time she has aged in an interesting way. She has become a character instead of a caricature of someone I know. There is an important difference. Old Mother had at first a flat personality. She was very generic. Even in the first drafts of the story, she was not relatable. Today, she is both a caring mother and somewhat stuck in her old ways. She is wise at the same time she is incredibly narrow-minded. She only wishes to help her poor son Teleki in his difficult time of need, but cannot help but make him feel more miserable.

If you look in my Sketches page you will see the gradual, but intentional changes that Teleki's Old Mother has gone through over the years.

Over a period of years it has become apparent to me that my skills as a watercolor painter enhance my drawing and inking abilities. Check out my new post on Deviant Art of my recent watercolor, With Garlic On Top.


Title Of Story

Telling stories is a great tradition passed down from generation to generation and from age to age. It is a tradition so universal that pretty much every culture throughout history has maintained it in some form or another. The fact is, that it is one of the best ways to get your point across. Even the most analytical and heavy thinkers with the most scientific minds use it to demonstrate what theory they are trying to explain. Dry facts bore us to death. We might as well dismiss our humanity and plug ourselves directly into our favorite technology if facts are all we get. It is nearly impossible to comprehend something without a proper context. And if that context is not relayed with some accuracy or attention to detail, it also loses its potency.

One of the great things about my friend, Mark Thomas's art is that it has an affinity to give you all of the details you need and you can fill in the blanks about the story on your own. It is important to see art in a setting as opposed to viewing it second hand, because the live version of the art translates the heart and soul of its creator so much better.

On Mark's opening night I was privileged to have the opportunity to draw the very setting of the show. Often, these sporadic interpretations of reality are rough, but the point is not precision or even sobering reality. The message plainly rendered is that you get the mood and you recognize the primary details. So for any artist an opportunity like this presents itself as a practice in seeing and a remembrance of the experience.


Man And Wife

As I work on redoing page 1 of The Course I have to take my steps forward delicately. Perhaps for the seasoned comic book artist they do not sweat the small stuff. However, there must be caution when using strictly black inks. If I were to color this my line quality, though it needs to be clean and pristine would not require the full volume of values that I am trying to accomplish. To see the level of value harmony I am referring to look up artists such as Franklin Booth, Bernie Wrightson, Bryan Bolland, Alex Raymond, and Howard Pyle. These men created art that shows the great range of possibility with just black ink. As I try to emulate their level of quality I have to do so with the mind that this will be a finished piece of art, not just a line drawing for a comic book page.

This week I am going to start showing you some of The Course's characters and talking about their motivations and roles in the story.

Feseleg the Hungarian word for wife is what Teleki refers to "Emily" as. She is as sweet as a strawberry on a Spring day and as graceful as a swan. To find out more about her attributes follow this link:  Teleki's Wife.


Child-like Curiosity

If only it were just that simple to revert back to the playful habits of being age 5 again. Both Picasso and Klee attempted with mixed results. Today I posted a some simple art under Experimental Art which is just plain fun. No worry about composition, the right color combinations, or rendering abilities. Enjoy.



With every new piece of art created there is anticipation as to whether the piece will turn out as expected. All artists plow through this emotional turmoil from time to time.

For me this is the third time that I have worked through page 1 of The Course. I always anticipate it being better, because I know that over time my skills do improve and I absorb what others do into my routine and make them my own. 

See if you can tell the differences between the image in this post and the one that I posted a couple of weeks ago. There are subtle differences, but I expect them to make the final inked page look stellar compared to the last one.

Also, check out Speckled Forest on my EXPERIMENTAL ART page on this blog. That is where I will posting some of my stress relieving art. Enjoy!


Value Composition

Part of the process of producing a comic page is laying it out. Almost all professional comic book artists use some method of figuring out where all of their dark and light areas go on the page before applying any ink or drawing it up.

After realizing that I had not planned my inking out very well a friend suggested this method of blocking in the dark and light values before going to ink. I have chosen the traditional inking method entailing brush and dip pens, because the blacks are much more potent, permanent, and versatile than using technical pens, ball point pens, and Adobe programs.

My method of blocking in value is to scan in the page in its penciled state, scale it down to the actual page size, print it on gray paper, then use black and white pastel to find the best possible scenario for the values of the page. I have to seriously consider the light source when I do this. Typically when you are working with just lines it is more difficult to consider some of these things ahead of time. Back tracking with this method has helped me think ahead on future pages.


Room For Improvement

It is my goal to now add art and a narrative surrounding my creative process at least once a week. As you can see these are the first two pages of The Course. Teleki must learn to run his race with the bitter disappointment of losing his mate to another.

As I learn the comic book process I am learning how to use the tools of the trade. At the time of the completion of these 2 pages in early 2010 I was rushing to complete this to have something to give out at SPACE (Small Press and Comics Expo). I was humbled, because I did a rush job on both penciling and inking it. I am happy with the core concept, but the execution does need improvement.

I learned very early on how volatile the comic medium is. It takes patience to learn even the basics.  Lighting with ink can be tricky, because you want to convince the viewer of depth and ink is a solid black medium. There are definitely shortcuts commonly used by even the masters of the field, but this time around I wanted to be aggressive in learning all the media and processes I could. There is nothing better than the feeling of accomplishing something that you were completely ignorant of just a little while prior.

Yes, in fact there is room for improvement on this year old piece, but if you stick with me, you will see a great deal of it.


New header

Today, I learned how to edit the header of the blog page. In the background you will see a portion of page 3 of The Course. In which, Teleki, the main character recaps his past with his wife. It will be inked shortly.