Brain Frame ProcessPosted: March 2, 2014
Oh man… it’s been a while. I’m sorry ya’ll. I promise it’s cuz things have been crazy busy in the best ways possible. I’m excited to tell you more, but still have to keep some of it secret. But teasing…
– Convention Schedule
– Inking one of my favorite sci-fi comics?
– Art show???
– Pin-up for (insert secret publisher name)?!
– A Kickstarter?!?!
More info on the way for all that. But for now, I wanted to give you a peek behind the curtain on my recent Brain Frame Performance. Onward!
BRAIN FRAME PROCESS
So, last month I had the honor of performing at Chicago’s famous comics-performance-experiment-wacky-fun-amazing Brain Frame series. When I was asked by organizer, Lyra Hill, I was equally excited and terrified. I felt pressure to do a good job, since the show has such a rich history of awesome performers. I also wanted to try something new for me and different from other performances I’d seen. I came up with some criteria that I wanted my piece to meet:
– No video projection (I’m actually sick of video projection in all art right now)
– Must have music
– No talking
– Must have live drawing
– Must have audience interaction
Lyra had specifically requested that I do a reading featuring my experimental style work, which usually means Simon. He’s my default for experiments in comics, so I was happy to oblige.
My initial thought was to do a whole piece that was live drawing. I pretty quickly realized that would be a limiting in both scale and detail. I wanted the piece to have the impact that comes from large scale drawings. So I figured I’d have pre-drawn images and focus on how drawings can change via additions, subtractions and paper folding.
So, the piece bounced around in my head for a month or two (Lyra graciously gave me tons of time to create my piece) and I’d do sketches or fold paper in random ways to see how it looked. Finally I started sketching the actual piece on paper and figuring out the sequencing. As for theme… It sort of comes to me AS I’m drawing with Simon. I’ll have a thought, then I develop that as I sketch. It’s kinda like having a conversation with someone to solve a problem or come to an understanding. But I’m having that conversation between my brain and hand and paper. As this Simon comics developed, it became about what it means to feel, think, reflect, and share with the world. Basically, it’s a piece about what art is to me.
The sketching process was a great way to start figuring out which sections would be folded paper, live drawings, or ‘paste downs’ (though no paste would be involved). As I figured out Simon’s progression through the piece, more and more challenges became apparent. The hard part became what would I cut or alter from the piece to make it manageable on the large scale I had planned. Lyra had also thrown a curveball in about halfway through the planning process: there would be two performances on the same night! This was exciting news, but also meant if the performance would have to work two times, meaning I’d have to not damage it and couldn’t do live drawings over pre-drawn images unless I wanted to draw them twice. Honestly, I like having challenges, so this was… good news?
I wanted this to be big enough that people in the back of the venue could still see it, but not so big that I needed an assistant. The size I landed on was 4 1/2 feet wide by 4 feet tall. This was still… really big. Moving this beast around is not easy.
It’s still sitting in my living room because I don’t know where to put it. Once I knew the size, I could buy paper and start drawing the ‘finished drawings’. Which I knew would take a while. So before I started, I wanted to get my music sorted out.
Initially I thought I could just piece together something on my own from tracks I liked. I also have a small synth and thought that might work. I quickly saw that this was A. too much work, B. would take time away from drawing, and C. would make it hard to adjust during the performance if something went wrong. Plus I was interested to hear what a musician would bring to my images. Luckily I work with the extremely talented guitarist Chad Nannenga. Chad has played with some awesome bands like the Fabulous Naturals & Merle the Mule. I gave Chad all the sketches in a powerpoint presentation so he could see the flow that would eventually happen from image to image. We talked a bit and I gave ideas about what mood I wanted each section to have. This was very broad (“this part should be exploratory, this part should be sad”). I also provided some tracks that I wanted him to reference or try and emulate (but not copy). Things like :
Then he just ran with it. We met a few weeks later and he had a string of riffs for me to hear. I gave him feedback on what I liked and didn’t so he could make adjustments. Shortly after that we met with drawings and guitar in hand and started to really knock out which riffs fit which drawings. Then figure out how to accent each section with effects pedals and how to transition from one major section to another. We came up with cute nicknames for the riffs, so we could tell them apart. Things like ‘chickin pickin’ and ‘radiohead riff’. After that it was just up to me to finish drawing all the dang pages, while Chad practiced the music and transitions.
For those curious about Chad’s gear, he was playing a Fender Jazzmaster guitar. He used a Line 6 DL4 for looping and another delay pedal for the textures. All this was fed into a classic Vox Pathfinder amp.
Since the drawings were so large, I used large 70#-90# paper, purchased on rolls. Since it was rolled, I had to flatten each section after I cut it. So often-times my dining room was occupied by big sheets of paper on the floor covered in heavy books. Actually, as an artist you find sections of your house taken over by projects often. You get used to it, I guess.
I used a video projector (yeah yeah, I know I said I wasn’t gonna use one, but I meant in the performance) to up-scale my rough sketches and keep proportions. Then I put the drawings on the floor and fleshed them out more. I was drawing with Sakura Permopaque black markers for my black lines. Originally, I was going to use Fatty Sharpies. But there are a lot of parts where pages have to fold, and the Sharpies were bleeding through. I actually tried a ton of different markers and paper stocks, but Sakura was the only brand that didn’t bleed through. I did have to use a different marker type for color, as I could only find black and white Sakuras. I ended up using the Blick brand art markers. Which… absolutely suck. I could barely get one page colored before they ran out. I ended up buying like 15, as I was afraid changing brands would produce a noticeable change in the color. And of course, they bled through. So on pages with images on the back of the paper, I had to paint white over the bleed through. It was kind of a pain. Next time I’d probably try a thicker paper ($$$) or use pastels (though that would be messy).
Once most of the drawings were complete, Chad and I began practicing with the large drawings and music together. This is where all the kinks were worked out. Things like how I’d attach the paste downs (ended up using good ol’ “tack stuff”) and how Chad would transition his effects from section to section.
I think in total we did about 4 run-throughs, including one on the morning of the show.
The Brain Frame Crew of Brad, Emma, and Lyra were extremely helpful and positive during the whole set-up process. We were at Constellation, which is a very cool venue. Intimate, but not small.
Chad and I chose to appear in all black, to let the Piece be the focus of the show, rather than our kooky outfits. I, of course, had to wear my Adidas shell toes, as that is where my magical powers come from.
The performance climax is me reaching inside the final drawing, and pulling out small paper cubes to throw into the audience. This was challenging to find a solution for. I didn’t want to use objects that were too solid or heavy, as they could potentially hurt someone. But if they were too insubstantial, they wouldn’t be ‘throw-able’ and it would just look sad when I tried to pitch them out there. I decided to try paper cubes, as they are cheap (I had already spent a lot of money on this) and they mimicked the paper being used in the rest of the performance. The problem with these was, of course, they are too light and would fly far. I tried different paper stocks, but nothing really worked.
Then my beautiful, amazing, intelligent girlfriend came up with a solution. She is a jeweler and she had a bag of metal shot (tiny metal balls). She suggested putting one or two inside the cubes. We tried this out to ensure they’d fly far enough and not hurt anyone. I actually threw cubes at her face and she told me if it hurt or not. Yes, that is how I said thank you. We filled about half the cubes with metal and left some unfilled so they would ‘float’ more and stay in the front row.
After the second performance, Lyra actually ATE one of the cubes as we cleared the stage. This was awesome, but had me worried she had eaten metal. Luckily, she had not eaten a metal filled cube. She assured me after a few days that “everything came out ok”.
Documenting your work is incredibly important. I work at an art school and that’s the main thing I try to make clear to every student I talk to. If you don’t document your work, it didn’t happen and doesn’t exist. Luckily, Brain Frame has an awesome photographer and videographers. That’s where I got most of the images in here, as well as one of the videos below. So, take a look at my performance! It’s 16-ish minutes, but please watch till the end for the exciting conclusion.
Thanks to Gillian Fry for the awesome photos.
This video was of the 1st performance and shot by Kyle O’Connell
This is the official Brain Frame video of the 2nd performance. Thanks to Jack Wensel, Cooper Collier, Cody Wallace, & Tyson Torstensen.
Hope you found my rant about creating this piece interesting. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun. Transporting and storing this giant project was also a huge challenge, but that’s probably less interesting. So I’ll end it here for now. I’ll leave you with some images of other stuff I’ve been working on lately:
Piece to you!