Project Friday: Sketching Styles, Storytelling Approaches, Working in a Series—and a Book Review

June 29, 2012

See the full post for complete details and a whole bunch of suggestions, as well as a book review.

Matt Madden's 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style, is a fun book containing a fun project. He tells the same story over and over, using a different style each time. For example: manga, how to, unreliable narrator, fantasy, police procedural, one panel, thirty panels, silhouette, horizontal, vertical, etc.

You can go to his blog at the link above. You can see some of these exercises in style at his project site.

I purchased the book the other day and admit that once I sat down with it I didn't get up until I had gone through the entire thing. It made me smile. I like projects like this. I like people experimenting with different ways to do things.

If you're a graphic designer or illustrator (or a writer or actor or singer or dancer; or a dog trainer, or a parent, or pretty much anything…) you are frequently asked to come up with several ways to "solve a problem" or get a message across and not a day goes by when I don't play with thumbnail sketches to do this. It's fun. Even before people started paying me to do this type of thing I would do it anyway. You can see this in my notebooks from childhood where I worked out different ways to write stories based on what was being studied in English classes, or where I created logos for myself for all the different jobs I might have. (The Rockford Files had a big impact on me and not just because I adore James Garner. And if you don't know what I mean by this reference let's just say I've always believed that everyone should have multiple business cards, even if you aren't printing them on the seat of your Firebird; and yes I prefer Mustangs.)

My point is it's a whole lot of fun, both intellectually and visually (if you're going to take a visual approach to it as Madden has).

And my point for today is that this would make an excellent Project Friday! Working in series allows us to exhaust all avenues of expression and really determine which best suits our purpose. It allows us to formulate an approach that is visually or verbally satisfying. It allows us to foster analytical skills and fit concepts into constructs with which we might be unfamiliar or uncomfortable—it's always good for a stretch.

I could go on. The point is it's fun.

So if you are looking for a project for today and the rest of your weekend I think you could have a lot of fun with the following:

1. Look at your art plan for the weekend. (You did have an art plan didn't you!!!)

Break it down into how many pieces you had hoped to accomplish, what theme you wanted to work on, what medium you were going to work with. Then see how you can switch it up. Maybe you'll be working in mixed media using media you don't usually work with. Maybe instead of painting you'll cut a linoleum block and make a series of prints. Maybe instead of doing a painting you'll do a series of comics panels. 

That's just changing media. Think also about changing theme and style! Permutations! 

2. Think about how you can create a series from your brainstorming for item 1.

3. Execute 3 or 4 pieces in the series.

4. Don't forget to spend some time at the end of the weekend looking over all your pieces with a fresh eye. Acknowledge what works and what doesn't work. (Do be honest with yourself—how does it live up to your thumbnail sketch, original concept, hopes and dreams? Don't beat yourself over the head if you haven't created the perfect piece of art—that's not what this is about.)

Write down any new directions you want to go, new media you want to explore more deeply and research more thoroughly. (Maybe you'll sign up to take a class from a printmaker because you have decided that monoprinting would be a good vehicle for expressing your ideas?)

Note: If you think you would like to experiment with printmaking but don't want to put out a lot of money for the project consider working with eraser carvings. It's similar to working with linoleum blocks, but they are easier to cut. And you can print with stamp pads (you probably have one around your house some where—though if you want to get a really nice black pigmented ink pad I recommend Brilliance Pad's Graphite Black). Check out my series on eraser carving that is four parts and starts at this link. 

You don't have to change from one medium to the next to do this mental and visual exercise. All your pieces can be prints from carvings, but you can carve in different styles…You might do one carving in a cubist style and another carving as if it were in a 1930's advertisement.

Also, whatever medium you decide to work in don't forget the importance of color. You can do a whole series just focused on color. How does the selection of a palette alter the effect of your piece? Are the colors you selected pop, retro, modern? How would you describe them?

Why do a debriefing?
Are you really asking me this? You just started reading my blog right?

I always recommend that you debrief yourself after projects because I think this is where the learning becomes solid and "part" of you and accessible for future projects. You become conscious of what you did, how you did it, and how you can do it again. How powerful is that?

So get your art plan for the weekend ready and dive in. Madden's exercise might be a fun place to start, or you might find that by flipping through some pages in your journal you have all sorts of ideas for projects that you just never got around to executing.

  • You were going to do a series of landscape paintings in 4-inch squares. Go to a field right now and start sketching and painting. (Do tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Safety first.)
  • You were going to do a series of puffin portraits—get to the zoo and gather raw material for a carving/print, a painting, a dip pen portrait, etc.
  • You were going to make a collage using only Dover clip art, or only bits from magazine ads, or only from torn pages of books you'd altered. How can you work on those collages to make them thematically similar but different in execution? If you normally work in a "packed" fashion what happens when you approach your collage with a minimalist attitude?
  • Regardless of the medium you work in think about altering how you use negative space. If your style is typically open, fill up all the negative spaces and vice versa. Look at your 5 favorite artists and how they use negative space and work in your theme in each of their styles.

You get the idea—the fun is endless. And I know that somewhere in your journal there are tons of ideas that are awaiting exploration in one or all of these ways.

It's time to exercise artistically. 

Final Note: Madden has also written two textbooks on creating comics with his wife Jessica Abel. I purchased them at the same time I bought his "99 Ways" book. I haven't read them yet, but they look very promising. I'll keep you posted.

Wait, one more really final note: As you may have noticed in reading this, I mention writers. So if you're a writer or a poet you know all the styles you can work in, so jump in too. You don't get to sit out just because I've been focusing on visuals—that's why I mentioned writing earlier in the post. If your theme was bees I'd write a one minute short story, a sonnet, a one paragraph short story, a one paragraph essay, a recipe, even a limerick…

And don't even get me started on film. Make your own 60 second story. Do your theme as film noir, slapstick comedy, romcom, road trip, documentary….Limit yourself as to time (the length) but not as to the creativity you bring to the creation of your pieces.

  1. Reply

    OF COURSE I have an art plan! It is Etegami Friday. I am going to paint and put words on a card. I am using a pentel brush pen because YOU SAID, and in that case you were totally right – adore the way the ink flows onto the postcard – and I am treating myself to brunch at the coffee house where I am walking five miles to paint. It doesn’t get better than that. unless I could take my cockatiel with me in a little travel cage…

  2. Reply

    Yes! Me too! In honor of the 4th, I am doing drawings in Turquoise, Red, White and Blue! I love that you bring us interesting words and pictures to investigate!

    • Carolyn
    • June 29, 2012

    You had me at “99 ways to tell a story”…What a great idea! (I love his examples, and was particularly tickled by the Inventory entry.) Not only is this an excellent Project Friday (mine today is dedicated to making a deadline, so will have to return to this post at another time. Just taking a momentary break, you understand…) but it would also be a great class taught by you, or Matt, or you AND Matt! Could the 2 of you move to my neighborhood, please? We could hold it at my place!

  3. Reply

    Ellen, how your art plans go well! I’m glad you enjoy the blog.

  4. Reply

    Carolyn, I’m glad you enjoyed the little view of Madden’s book. I just enjoy it so much.

    I actually do have my students do the things I’ve written about in this post (looking at themes, playing with styles, messing with different media)—so you can have your own remote Roz class when you do this Project Friday.

    Of course if you live near Cafe Latte then we could talk about relocation because I would like to be closer to the Chocolate, Chocolate, not a Typo, Cake.

    Matt does teach, though I don’t remember where off the top of my head, but his blog will say. And his wife I’m sure teaches too. You might want to seek them out. As I said in my post I haven’t started reading their comics textbooks yet but they look very thorough and I couldn’t resist them at the bookstore. So you might want to check them out (titles on his website) even before I get around to writing about them. They are so packed that I bet you could have your own Matt workshop for months!

    Have fun.

    Oh, and good luck making that deadline!

    • Nita
    • June 29, 2012

    The first time I saw this idea (variations on a small anecdote) was the French book in which a tiny anecdote is told many different ways. It has been translated into English.

    Fun to see this idea done in comics!

  5. Reply

    Nita, I don’t have my “99 ways” book in front of me but I think that the book by Queneau you have sent a link to is the one Madden refers to in his book. Maybe he mentions it on his website too. I’m sure it must be the same one because he mentions a book—I just don’t have his book handy to look it up.

    Thanks for sending this, I’ll check it out.

    • Carolyn
    • July 1, 2012

    Roz, being that you’re a book person, and a sketchbook person, and a book artist, I’m very curious how big your bookshelf is. Or book shelves. Or, better yet, your personal library. Would you be willing to give us a tour? I, for one, would eat it up!

  6. Reply

    Carolyn, I don’t have a bookshelf. I have shelves. There isn’t a room in the house (except the bathrooms) where there aren’t bookshelves. We even have shelves Dick picked up at a school library sale. They run down the center of an odd thin room in the house so that you can get books out of them on either side and they run floor to ceiling. Let’s just say there are a lot of board feet of books.

    You can see two partial shelves here

    And in “An Illustrated Life” and in “Creative License” both by Danny Gregory there are photos of a couple shelves.

    I’m always looking to put new bookshelves in. And journals older than 10 years are put into storage just to make more shelf room. I’ve got two grocery bags of books ready to take to the second hand store because I need more bookshelf space. If it weren’t so hot today I’d be working on clearing out more books (like old computer books) just to get more space.

    That’s about as good as I can do for any tour right in the foreseeable future. It’s a constant give and take here between space I need for bookshelves and space to put the paintings I want to keep up.

  7. Reply

    No ‘plan’ for the weekend, but since today begins the second half of 2012, I’m reassessing my New Year’s goals and thinking about my plan for the remaining part of the year. More drawing, definitely more drawing…

  8. Reply

    Geo Wendy—I think that sounds like a plan for to me! A mid year assessment is a great thing. I hope your planning gets you to more drawing!

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