I could say so much about cartoons and comics, I could spend two whole weeks on the topic. (And who knows, I might just get to,)
But we’re not at full blown lecture mode. Yet. We’re just looking to have fun with a few skills.
There are two contrasting how-to writers that I’ll recommend for drawing up some quarantine cartoons.
One is Mark Kistler, of Draw Squad and Imagination Station.
I didn’t catch Bob Ross growing up, but from what I’ve gathered, Mark Kistler is the Bob Ross of cartoons. I used his books for step-by-step cartoons for a long time growing up. To the point, where opening this book up today, I found some 10-year-old Daniel originals inside.
This is a great book for getting the confidence to start out drawing cartoons. It starts with super easy assignments, and then baby steps you through different techniques of shading and “3-D DRAWING!”. Plus everything in there is a specific kind of 90s zany. I picked it up today and got this lil guy in about 5 minutes while watching Great British Baking Show.
But it’s a fairly prescriptive book. It’s a little like bowling with the gutter guards up. Or driving with your eyes open. Almost too easy. If you want to take your destiny in your own hands, I recommend going with Linda Barry’s Making Comics.
I’ve written about her before, I’ll write about her again. The goddess of casual freeform cartoons and collage. She spent decades perfecting her drawing, and then took a step back and started investigating how completely untrained humans and small children draw. You can follow her quarantine art adventures on insta @thenearsightedmonkey.
Her instructions are all general recommendations and freeform exercises for getting your ideas flowing onto paper without thinking about them. A lot of her figurative exercises use a super-simple Ivan Brunetti style humanoid to move beyond stick figures, but not TOO far.
Cartooning is great, and super low maintenance. It works with any size of paper, any kind of writing implement. Less is more, and you can discover character in the most whimsical ways. It’s an easy go-to for me when I’ve got time on my hands.
And you can do it too! If you do not attempt to draw at least one quarantine dolphin, or giraffe, or mutating alien space potato in the next week… well, just know I will be very disappointed in you.
Sure, baking bread takes a lot of time waiting around. But suppose you’re looking for something to do that will really keep your hands busy. Something that requires your complete attention. Something that requires hours and hours (and hours and hours) of practicing. Something you can do with objects already inside of your house.
Let’s talk about juggling.
People are mesmerized by good juggling. People are also irritated by bad juggling. It’s really easy to identify bad juggling, because that’s when things fall on the floor. While even the best jugglers drop things, it’s recommended to do most of the initial thing-dropping in the privacy of your own home.
Which means there has never been a better time to learn juggling than now.
Here’s what you’ll need. Three objects. They should weigh more than a plague-ridden tissue, and less than a microwave oven. They should ideally be the same size and weight. If they are breakable, keep in mind you *will* probably break them. If they are pointy, you *will* probably drop them directly onto your naked eye. Keep this in mind as you select your objects.
My #1 recommended reading if you’re looking to branch into Juggling is Juggling for the Complete Klutz.
I got this book when I was 10. And learned how to juggle entirely from its pages. That’s right. BEFORE Youtube. It also comes with 3 bean bags to juggle. I have taught entire every juggling workshop I’ve done based on this book. If you’re buying any one thing for juggling, buy this.
If you’re just looking to play around though, you don’t need to get anything special. Go to your closet and grab 3 socks, ideally long winter socks. (If you’re the sort of person who has no socks because you wear Crocs all the time, I have nothing to say to you.)
Take the sock, and double knot it into a ball. If it’s a small sock, fold it inside of itself, or fold it over a second sock to make a ball. Make three of these. That’s all you need for juggling.
Sure, I could teach you how to juggle with all this:
But the point is, you’re learning something from home. So we’re using common objects and juggling with this:
Now, the method. There are only 4 steps to juggling.
1. THE DROP.
Take one sock-ball. Throw it into the air. Don’t catch it. *THUD*
Congratulations. You dropped it. That’s step one.
You can try this with all three at the same time if you’d like.
2. THE TOSS
Pick up your sock ball. Hold it in the palm of your right hand (not on the edge of your fingers). Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows at right angles. Throw the sock-ball so that it arcs in front of your eyes. Don’t worry about catching it.
You ideally want the sock-ball to arc as high as eye-level and then land close to your left foot. Practice that toss.
Once you have that toss consistent, try to catch it in your left hand as it comes down. Juggling is the art of throwing – not catching. You shouldn’t need to move your left hand too much to catch it.
Once you’ve got the right-handed toss down, practice with the left hand.
3. THE EXCHANGE
Now, pick up one sock ball in each hand. Throw the sock ball from your right hand, and catch it with your left.
Wait, but your left hand is full…
How are you supposed to catch it then?
Well this is impossible. Guess we’ve just got to give up. Sorry.
What if you threw the left sock to empty your left hand? Aha! Back on track.
I’m not going to find a better way to demonstrate this quickly, so I’m just going to borrow an illustration directly from the Klutz manual.
Scoop the second ball under the first, and throw it back toward your right hand. It should go the same height as the first throw, and land evenly in your right hand. Two tosses, two catches.
This is the maneuver you can practice indefinitely. Get the height right, the position right, the timing right. Try starting from the left instead of the right. Get this two-throw exchange down solid, because once you move forward, you’re at:
4. THE JUG
Now start with three sock balls. Two in your right hand, one in your left. Throw one from your right hand like you’ve been doing. Then throw the one in your left hand so you can catch it, like you’ve been doing. Only now, when the left sock-ball comes back toward your right hand, there’s STILL a sock-ball in your right hand. Well, I guess you’d better throw that one too.
So you throw from your right hand again to catch the left sock-ball. And now you discover your left hand is still full from catching the last one. So you have to throw again to catch it. And it just KEEPS GOING AND NEVER STOPS.
This can become overwhelming very quickly.
And now you see why we started with THE DROP. Because you’re going to have to drop so, sooo many of these to get comfortable with juggling three sock-balls in a cascade – a never-ending multi-tasking loop.
Fortunately, there’s a million different sources out there to help you with whichever part you’re getting stuck on. If you like books, there’s the Klutz manual. If you’re a visual learner, there’s countless Youtube tutorials on the subject now. If you like interpersonal learning, you can always call up a friend (like me!) to walk you through it and give pointers on Facetime.
But if you enjoy it, and stick with it, you’ll have something active to do indoors for the next two weeks (or two months) until eventually, you can juggle sock-balls any which way.
*NOTE* After several takes of this video, I concede that juggling balls and bean bags are slighly superior to sock-balls. Sock-balls are totally useable, but you’ll have a faster learning curve with something a little less… socky.
(You can also make great juggling props by filling balloons with some of the rice or beans that you’ve got stockpiled in your pantry right now. Here’s a tutorial)
But practice as much as we’d like, we’ll never be as cute as this little nugget:
14 Skills for 14 Days a.k.a. Stay Home, Learn Skills.
It has come to my attention that many people are suddenly looking for creative options for socially-distanced activities.
Not to brag, but between the ages of 10-15, I was pretty incredible at social distancing.
I had very few friends. I was homeschooled. I participated in solo sports like tumbling, trampolining, and rock climbing. My hobbies included hiking, learning circus skills from books, and reading science-fiction.
And honestly, I got a LOT done. The skills I developed in that window have gotten me a foot in the door for a lot of professional artist gigs. And I’ve never gotten back to that level of self-taught productivity. Sure, I’ve had windows of social downtime that have led to picking up weird skill sets (learning jumpstyle dance in 2012, becoming a freelance audiobook narrator in 2016) but the years of my childhood where I got out of the house the least were the years that I picked up the most special skills.
Now, I’m not going to talk about *WHY* someone might be looking to spend a lot of time practicing new skills at home. That’s not my field of expertise. I’m not trained as a sociologist or epidemiologist. I cannot speak to the state of the world or best practices for personal health.
I’m trained as a writer and entertainer. And if people are looking for ways to stay occupied for 14 (or more) days at home, well BY GOLLY I’m going to give it to them.
For the next 14 days, I’m committing to staying in my house and practicing socially distanced creative skills. During this time, I’d like to share one skill a day that I have successfully taught myself. Some of them I’m good at. Some of them I’m bad at. But most importantly, all of them are fun challenges that YOU TOO CAN TRY FROM THE SAFETY OF YOUR OWN HOME.
The subjects I’ll be covering include:
Monday, March 16th – Baking Bread
Tuesday, March 17th – Juggling
Wednesday, March 18th – Cartooning
Thursday, March 19th – Unicycling
Friday, March 20th – Stop-Motion Video
Saturday, March 21st – Break dancing
Sunday, March 22nd – Self-tape Monologues & Solo theater
Monday, March 23rd – Building a catapult
Tuesday, March 24th – Puppetry
Wednesday, March 25th – Yo-yoing
Thursday, March 26th – Headstands & handstands
Friday, March 27th – Moonwalking
Saturday, March 28th – Audiobook Narration
Sunday, March 29th – Tabletop Theater
If anyone has a range of skills they’d like to spend two weeks sharing from home, I challenge them to create their own iteration of this. Let the games begin!
As a Warhol gallery attendant, I used to joke that we only had one painting on display that had been peed on, and my job was to keep it that way.
Now, we have two.
Let me back up.
Warhol created a series of paintings where he covered canvases in metallic paint and “oxidizing” it by exposing it to a corrosive liquid – human urine. He and his studio assistants peed on the canvases and let it corrode into fantastical color swirls. Then he sold them.
Like Warhol said, “art is whatever you can get away with”.
Our large gold painting has continued to corrode and the colors have shifted over the past 25 years, making it delicate and nigh impossible to move.
But we opened a new exhibit last week, and now we have a second, smaller oxidation painting up.
And speaking of shamelessly spraying human waste, I’m 2/2 in NaNoWriMo this year. Currently neck and neck with my 18-year-old self, despite having 15 hour work days both days. Take that, high school me!
I’m digging through some previous work for inspiration. I stumbled across a video edit I made in 2017. I was tasked with creating an ecologically-minded piece of performance research. It was a stressful semester, so my approach was to just walk off into the woods with a friend and make a puppet out of natural objects. It was there we discovered Bark Dog, the Autumnal Good Boy.
I edited the research footage a couple different ways, and then forgot about it for two years. Now you can take an inside look at the explorations we made. Two years later, I still find him utterly charming.
Warhol loved making works based on other people’s art. Sometimes, he got sued for it. Other times, he riffed on works well within the public domain.
Warhol’s painting Raphael Madonna-$6.99 is hard to miss. It’s 14 feet tall, and hangs alone on an entire wall of the Warhol Museum’s 4th floor.
The silkscreen painting is a recent addition to the 4th floor art. It was hung last month in preparation for the exhibit Revelations featuring Warhol’s religious artwork. The painting is so large, it cannot be stretched and cleaned inside of the museum’s Conservation Studio. It had to be hung up in the two-story tall gallery in order to receive its first conservation treatment in 26 years. The conservator spent ten days cleaning the surface of the painting from a scaffold, using a tool the size of a q-tip.
There’s a couple of prevailing opinions about the significance of the 6.99. The one that I stand by is that Warhol saw the painting on display in Dresden. Then he saw the poster for sale with the price sticker on it, and decided he liked that one even better.
Fun fact: while Warhol’s painting was being cleaned, a LOT of people asked me if we were “finishing painting it” for him.
Recently, I’ve been working as a Gallery Attendant at The Andy Warhol Museum.
It’s a lot like working as a Parking Attendant. If the cars were worth millions of dollars. And never moved.
I spend a lot of time staring at Warhol’s art. Enough time staring at art while thinking about my own art, and the influence seeps through. Sometimes pretty directly.
Warhol made hundreds of screen tests. Short film reels of people sitting in front of a camera trying to act naturally. He’d slow the film down, play it back, and call it art. You can do it yourself in the museum, and watch the results online.
I’ve also been spending time doing object puppetry. How much movement does it take to make something seem alive? How many life-like features does an object need before someone can empathize with it?
The connection is simple. Screen tests for inanimate objects. Test how they live and breath on film, see how much a viewer will project onto a simple, silent, black and white clip of the object.
My first attempt, my plastic dinosaur/succulent planter, Susan the Terrible.
From 2015-2016, I spent a year making different styles of art projects. The plan was to try everything I was potentially interested, and go to grad school for whatever I was most successful in. I tried it, I successfully wrote a lot, so I went and got an MFA in Dramatic Writing.
I like writing. But (as evidenced by my Finding the Framework challenges) I also like a lot of other things. Even after trying to spend two years concentrating on writing, I’ve ended up trying a lot of different projects. I joined an aerial dance company.
I started working for the Andy Warhol Museum
I started turning trash into puppets. And then touring shows with those trash puppets.
I joined the team for the largest immersive theater piece in town.
Three years ago, I thought I was playing with different disciplines to find my specialty. Now I can see that ‘playing with different disciplines’ is my specialty.
There’s no way I could have planned a path to end up here. I’ve discovered more of my next steps on accident than I have on purpose. Any accurate maps I have of what I’m doing are being drawn in retrospect. The creative process is all about discovery, so why shouldn’t the career plans be as well?
I read and write a lot. I went to grad school. Where they ask you to do *even more* of both of those things.
How much more?
This much more.
I’ve compiled a list of the top ten books I read during that time (excluding plays, they’re a whole separate… thing.)
These are not the most literary works of grad school, or the most recommended. Only three of these titles were mentioned to me by professors. No, these are the books I’m most likely to talk to other humans about. These are the books that if you sit next to me at a party (in the corner, behind a potted plant next to the host’s dog) I will assuredly end up mentioning to you.
Making Your Life As an Artist – Andrew Simonet
Design is Storytelling – Ellen Lupton
Syllabus – Lynda Barry
What It Is – Lynda Barry
House of Leaves – Mark J. Danielewsky
The Mystery.doc – Matthew McIntosh
The Vision – Tom King
Spinning – Tillie Walden
Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson
Then We Came to the End – Joshua Ferris
The most inherent through line for this list is that I’m now obsessed with visual storytelling. Only two of these books are straightforward “text tells the whole story” sort of books. All the rest use image and format as powerful communication tools to supplement text. We can talk more about that later.