Monday, May 19, 2014

Dave Kellet: Classically Trained Webcomic Artist

Dave Kellet is an art from Southern California. For his Bachelor’s degree, he went to the University of Notre Dame, where he got a degree in English and Spanish. While he was getting his B.A, he was working on a webcomic called Four Groups of the Apocalypse. He then went on to get a Master’s in Literature. His thesis was: "To draw in the crowd : the cartoon and the 'public sphere' of eighteenth-century England." He then got a Master's in the history of cartoon art propaganda from the University of Canterbury, England.

Dave Kellet original plan was to make comics for newspapers. He intended to be a traditional cartoonist. He soon found out that the newspaper comics were not only not letting in many new cartoonists, but they were also on their way to dying. So Kellet decided to start a webcomic and see if he could make a living off of it. Currently, he is making as much as he would in a traditional job, so his wife doesn't have to support him.

Dave Kellet's work is simplistic in nature. He uses as few lines as possible to convey a message (which usually happens to be a joke). Kellet's characters are the sort that you expect to see in a newspaper. The way that they are designed immediately tells you something about the character. For instance, Gramps has a mustache, a bald head, and a big belly. It's easy to tell that he's old and that he likes sweeties a little too much. Sheldon is small, has big glasses, and slightly baggy clothes. He is obviously a child, intelligent, and nerdy. His clothes suggest that he outgrew his clothes one time too many so that Gramps decided to cut out the middle man. He just got Sheldon clothes he would grow into instead of out of. Flaco's large eyes suggest intelligence, that he's no ordinary lizard.

In his work, Kellet primarily uses black ink. This gives his pieces a strong, contrasting feel. The characters and scenery are easily distinguishable from the background. His lines have variable thickness. The generally start out thick at one end, then taper off. His edges consist of more than one line. This gives his pieces a softer, scratchier feel. It makes it a bit easier to relate to his work. His characters seem softer and cartoonier.

His compositions will generally center around 1-3 characters. His layout varies, but there are two main methods of composition that he uses. The arrangement that he most often uses places one character on either side of a panel with empty space in between. Since most of his characters are short, they will be placed at or just below the horizon. When he includes a taller character, like Gramps, the contrast between the larger character above the horizon and the smaller one below th horizon gives your eyes a path to follow. This transition from short character to large character (or vise versa) gives space for the characters' speech bubbles. If the focus of the conversation is on the shorter character, the shorter character will generally be on the right. If the focus is on the larger character, the reverse will be true.
Even if the characters are both about the same size, as in the case of Sheldon and his best friend, Dante, one will be made to appear larger than the other. Kellet has pushed the character in towards the viewer, making the closer character the focus and making him seem more frantic. He has also had the characters involved in activities that will set one higher than the other. For instance, Dante might be on a swing, while Sheldon is below him. To direct the viewer's focus to one character, in this instance, Kellet will have one character doing an activity, while the character that's the focus will only be talking or gesticulating. The 'silent' character gives the viewer a place to put himself in. This is similar to how, in Hindu art, Brahma would be put into a painting that  he seems to have no place in. This would give the viewer an entrance, like he was standing right next to Brahma. A similar technique was used in Chinese Tang Dynasty painting. There would be small people at a point in the painting to allow the viewer to 'walk into' the landscape.

The second method of composition that Dave Kellet uses is the well-known 'rule of thirds.'  He will use this pyramid style of composition most frequently in a single panel composition. He'll have a large amount of white space at the top, making the piece seem lighter. If he didn't do this, the text at the top of the piece would feel top heavy. This would distract the viewer from the piece as a whole. By having the white space mixed with the text on top,  and the characters at the base, it keeps the piece well balanced.

Dave Kellet's doesn't use colour in all of his pieces. Mostly, he relies on the dark lines to divide up one chunk of white space from the other. When he does use colour, he uses pale, soft colours. This maintains the light-hearted, cartoony feel of the comic set up by the sketchy lines. Mostly, Kellet uses flat colours. His use of shading is sparse. The shading that he does is usually to define bulges or folds. His shading is a neutral gray. His shading is rendered as a solid colour, not cross-hatched or stipled. This continues to maintain the soft feel and keeps the pieces from feeling sketchy or rough.
The texturing that Kellet uses in his pieces is generally simple, coordinating with the rest of his composition. He'll use clean patterns, like the plaid pattern of some of Gramp's pants. In the case of Kellet's texturing, the lines will be solid, unlike the sketchy lines he uses in defining the edges of his figures. Sometimes, he will use short lines or dots. This is the case in some of the alien characters in his comic Drive.

All of his pieces are narrative. Each piece tells a story or defines a clear idea. Usually, he will do this with words, but he can also use the poses of the characters and the scene they are in. While the characters are the main way that Kellet communicates his narrative, his background is also an importan element. The sort of background that Kellet uses is typically simple and clean, like rest of his comic. His background can be black, with a skewed square in the center around the characters. Another background may be entirely white. He will use this to emphasize what a character is communicating. For instance, when Arthur is telling another character about an idea or concept he has come across, the white space will emphasize the franticness or conviction that Arthur is experiencing. In some cases, Kellet may even use scenery as a background. He will depict trees, bushes, chairs, tables, or other inanimate objects. His scenery will often be sparse, like his colours. He will only use enough scenery to get across where the characters are.

Dave Kellet is an artist that you could call a minimalist. He only uses what he needs, with nothing extra to distract from the story he is telling. His use of clean and simple lines and colours allows the viewer to focus on the story being conveyed. His backgrounds emphasize the character of interest, making the narrative easier to follow. Kellet is a master of using the simple to the utmost advantage, and that's why I love his work.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Placer County Contemporary Art - Kellen Dyer: BUILD-UP

Recently, at the Auburn 'The Arts Building Gallery,' Kellen Dyer, a contemporary artist, displayed some of his work. According to the Placer Arts 360 website, Dyer "grew up in Placerville, CA. He graduated from Chico State with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting." Most of his pieces focus on sleep and sleep disorders, such as sleep paralysis.

The gallery didn't allow many photographs of the artist's work, but I was able to get a picture of the set up for this blog. The gallery had coloured walls in a neutral gray which allowed the pieces to stand out, but not be overpowering. The mixed lighting of natural light and incandescent was a nice combination. The gray, cloudy light on the day I went emphasized the dream-like quality of Dyer's pieces.

Photo from Placer Arts 360
Dyer's pieces were done in a way that I've never seen before. They were acrylic painted on canvas with paper, wood, and metal. In the case of this piece on the right, the acrylic on canvas painting of the woman is set on top of a bed of crinkled, crumpled, torn paper that spills on to the floor of the gallery. The figure almost appears to be sinking into the paper, unable to wake herself to escape.

I found this exhibition pretty interesting. I didn't know that you could do so much with mixed media. The bounds of contemporary art are indeed limitless. An artist is free to use any medium to express himself/herself and may expand off of the traditional two dimensional canvas into the three dimensional world that we live in.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Richard Turner: A Lawyer Turned Photographer

Image from
At Sac State, I was able to listen to a lecture by one of the most interesting artists with the funniest 'origin story' that I have ever heard. Richard Turner had been a lawyer for 50 years when he decided that he needed a break. He said that he told his wife "I'll be back in a month," then took off in his car with no particular plans in mind. Along the way, he picked up a disposable camera, figuring that it might be good to have photos to looks at after he came back home. While he was out travelling, he came across a great, majestic moose in a lake, minding it's own business. Richard felt compelled to take pictures of the beast, of course.

After he had come back from his trip, he showed some of his photos to a professional photographer that he knew. The photographer looked at them and proclaimed them terrible, touristy photos. I believe it was the same photographer that Richard asked to teach him how to be a better photographer. The man declined, saying that he didn't teach one-on-one. Richard, being a fairly wealthy lawyer at the time, made the photographer an offer he couldn't refuse. Mostly because it wsa a tremendous amount of money. Richard was a well-known, expensive lawyer who had a good history, so his rates were very high. He told the photographer that he would pay him the same amount that he, Richard, made in an hour. The photographer happily accepted Richard's offer.

Richard had spent 50 years as a lawyer. It wasn't until he discovered photography that he felt like he was really having fun with life. His overarching theme can be summed up by the question he began his talk with:
Are we going to survive? 
Or are we going to appreciate the time we have now and make the most of it?

Colfax Art Walk: Contemporary Art in a Small Town

When I think of Colfax, I don't think of it as being a cultural center in any sense of the word. Someone once told me that Colfax was declared 'The Most Boring Town in the USA.' And yet, this is the town that I've spent 17 years of my short life in.

According to the Amaryllipedia, Colfax is a town halfway between Sacramento and Reno. It has a population of maybe 5000 (which may include stray dogs). Colloquially, it is known as Loserville. But, inspite of its many flaws, Colfax is located in beautiful, quiet part of the Sierra Nevada foothills. It is right next to the north fork of the American River and many scenic hiking trails. And, as of the last 1-3 years, it's home to a branch of the Placer County Art Walk. Every second Friday, local (and non-local) contemporary artists put their work up for display for everyone to enjoy. This last Friday (9 May '14) was the first time I got to enjoy it.

My first stop was the little art boutique and co-op where I got to meet artist Barbara Hoffman. Her art is created by a compatriate and herself. She'll have the other artist paint, draw, or otherwise create a small canvas piece. She will then create a larger piece that coordinates with the smaller piece. She either follows the same theme, or she incorporates the smaller piece into her work.

My next stop was to the City Hall. I was able to see some beautiful watercolour on canvas paintings by Marcel Bombola. Her pieces focus around scenery, mostly flora, and flower arrangements. The use of light in her pieces is a wonderful effect, making the scene seem ethereal and dream-like. Her style is very painterly, but very organized. The next five pictures are of her work.

My final stop at the Colfax Art Walk was at the Cider House. The photographer Dave Keyes was displaying his pieces on the walls over the wine bottles. I think his pieces were the most amazing photographs I have ever seen. They were not standard, artistic photographs, although the subjects were unoriginal. These photos were processed through at least 5 photo-editing programs, resulting in pictures that looked painterly and impressionistic, rather than like still-life photography. I would have liked to have taken better pictures to show you, but the artist was uncomfortable enough as it was with my room shot. All the same, the photographs were something to behold.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Jim Cambell's Interactive Contemporary Art: Where Mad Science and Art Meet

Jim Campbell just before the lecture begins.
A little while ago, I got the opportunity to listen to a lecture by an engineer artist, Jim Cambell. He's had pieces shown in the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, in the Smithsonian, the Crocker, and many others. His work is all video and interactivity based.

In the lecture he gave, he told us about his early explorations in art and how his pieces developed as his experience grew. His earlier pieces focused around interactive video. He tried to convey to the viewers what people with mental illness experienced. He had cameras set up to catch the viewers, then the piece would superimpose pre-generated segments of video on the live footage. These pieces posed problems, since the viewers couldn't get past the 'Look! It's me!' reaction to the videos. He fixed this by taking away the immediate feedback in the video.

Among his early, but better developed pieces, he began to make anti-interactive art. He based his works on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. In short, the principle states that nothing exists purely: it can be affected by you and others.
Image from

His latest work (and his most interesting work, in my opinion) involves huge matrices of lights, either LED or bulb. The piece relies on the viewer's mind to fill in the blanks, as it were. The basic idea behind these pieces is that our mind can interpret an abstract, moving image as a moving person. The matrices of lights were generally simple, with 50-100 lights at the low end. But even with so few lights, an image can be produced that the human mind can interpret. Campbell found that it was easier for the viewer to tell what was going on if they stood farther away, or if he put a diffuser screen over the matrix.

A picture of a flu-inflicted Amaryllis with other
After the lecture, I was able to ask Cambell a question. I asked, "We don't generally think of engineers as being artists. What got you interested in art?" He responded that he went to MIT to get his degree in engineering and, while he was there, got into film and video. He said that MIT is a very neurotic school and that he would have gone crazy if he didn't find some sort of balance.  Art was what he needed. Over the course of 25 years, he progressed from working in Silicon Valley to becoming a widely recognized artist.

Over all, the lecture was very interesting and informative. I feel like I had a greater appreciation for this type of art, since I enjoy working with electronics just as much as paint. It gave me some interesting ideas that I hope to use in my work, whether it be for entertaining the masses as my robots take over the world, or if it just stimulates the mind of a few intellectuals and art connoisseurs.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Codex: Contemporary Art with Books as the Subject

The space that the exhibition was set in was small, but well utilized. The organization of the pieces was utilitarian, as was the colour of the walls and the lighting. The labeling of the pieces, however was not orthodox, nor were the pieces they had on display. My favorite of the pieces displayed was the one that I am contemplating in the accompanying pictures, which made a reference to Haim Steinbach, another contemporary artist. According to the Codex website, "This project evolved from a collective inquiry which, given the fanatical desire to digitize every book, was based on the premise the library has now been “flattened.” The codex (book or block of wood in Latin), which first appeared during the Roman Empire between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, was the earliest form of a bound book." ( In the exhibition, all of the pieces had the theme of books. Each one either represented a book, through photograph or drawing, or through a physical book, in the case of my favorite piece. Even the layout of the exhibition suggests books, with the two walls on either side acting like an open book and the wall set behind like the content of the book behind the pages, waiting to capture your imagination. Even the dark hallways leading to the exhibits in the back of the Wattis seem to suggest the possibilities of books that we can't see unless we explore.
The white walls of the exhibition are austere, like you'd expect to see in an art classroom, they are effective. The white walls really allow you to focus on the pieces displayed. There are no bright colours to distract you. The white walls suggest to me the blank white pages of a book. Like in a book, the white is there only as a surface for the content: the words. In the case of the Codex exhibition, the white is the surface for the many pieces. 
The pieces of the exhibition are arranged in a manner similar to the Salons that displayed Rococo art. There are layers of art, each stacked one on top of the other. Although each piece seems to be equally important in this exhibit, it makes me wonder. In the Salons of the 16th and 17th centuries, the pieces that the curators least wanted you to see were placed at the very top. It makes me wonder if that was the intent of these curators. More likely, though, they were just utilizing what little space they had in the small Wattis building. It’s possible that the curators arranged the pieces this way to carry over the common theme of the Codex exhibition: the pieces are stack like books on a shelf.
The lighting in the exhibition was predominantly natural. The large glass windows behind the viewer as they look at the pieces project the light that allows the viewer to see. There was also light bulb lighting in the exhibition. Because the pieces weren’t paintings made of a delicate, easily destructible medium, the lights were bright, allowing you to see the pieces easily. Also, the light was a nice, yellow, warm light, not an unnatural fluorescent light that would have conflicted with the natural light from the windows. My biggest complaint about the lighting was that, if you weren’t positioned just right, you would get reflections on the glass over the pieces. I found it a little hard to focus on the pieces and enjoy them while the reflections showed me the cars, people, and birds buzzing around outside, behind me. 
Of all the things that I really loved about the exhibit, I did have one serious complaint. The pieces that I particularly liked, I could identify. There were no labels next to the pieces, so that I could see who the artists were. If there had been plaques next to the pieces, it would have been possible for me to remember another piece that they had made. It also would have made it easier for me to look up more of their work and to get a fuller appreciation of the piece that was on display. It wasn’t until after I left the exhibition that I found out that the labels for the pieces had been on the glass behind me. I have several problems with this method of labelling. The curators did try to make it easier to identify the pieces by arranging the labels in the order of the pieces on the wall and by giving a rough, thumbnail sketch next to the label. Inspite of this effort, it would have been hard to see the names and titles. The

cars, people, and birds buzzing around would be distracting and make it hard to focus. As a person with the attention span of a goldfish, I think you can see how this would be a problem for me. I suspect, though, that even someone with the patience of Job would have a difficult time reading the labels. These are the same sort of issues I ran up against when looking at the pieces themselves (as I mentioned at the tailend of the previous paragraph). Also, it’s very hard to read little, black lettering with out a contrasting background. This is the reason that books are generally printed black on white. It’s just too much of a strain to try and read anything else. For example, think of the most annoying website you’ve ever been to. It was probably built and designed by an amateur and they probably tried to define the feel of the website with a unique background. This would be great, if they didn’t superimpose words over the top of the beautiful, unique, and complex background image.
Of all the wonderful pieces on display (only a few of which I captured on photo), my favorite was a dual object piece. This piece captured my attention at first because the piece consisted of two dust covers. One dust cover, that I believe to be invented by the artist, was white. It said Haim Steinbach on the spine and 0% on the cover. The other dust cover was that of an actual, published book: Ho Bags, by Harmony Korine and Bill Saylor. Ham Steinbach, in short, is an artist that arranges objects, generally everyday object, into a certain order. Much of his work can be considered Consumerist or Pop Art, since most of the objects he uses can be purchased easily. Ho Bags is a book of visual art, the combined effort of Harmony Korine, a film makers, and Bill Saylor, a visual artist. The meaning of the piece is a bit obscure. When I analyze, it seems to be a lot more than a couple of dust cover dropped on to a frame. The piece makes reference to three contemporary artists, all of which are commercial in some respect. Haim Steinbach, as we discussed earlier, is an artist that makes Consumerist art. Bill Saylor is a visual artist who appears to be very successful. He has published multiple books, curated many exhibitions, and has participated in many more exhibitions. I would assume that he makes a decent living, which would imply that he is at least partly consumerist. Harmony Korine (very much a male, in case you were wondering), is a film director by profession. As a film director, you have to finance your films, and so have to work with those that have money. This would also imply that Korine is consumerist, at least in some respects. This would seem to indicate that the piece we ar looking at is a commentary on Consumerism, where artists, as pure as their intentions might be, get pulled into the American culture of consumerism, commodity, and economics.
Unfortunately, before I left the Codex exhibition, I did not get the name or title of the piece, for the reasons I listed above, namely because the labels were not at all obvious, even though I looked at and through the window multiple times. I did as much research on the piece as I could.  I think I probably spent 12 hour scouring Google and artist review sites. This could be because the artist is not yet well know, either because he/she is new on the art scene, or because he/she intentionally keeps a low profile. If the artist is intentionally keeping a low profile, this could support my analyse of his/her piece: that it is a commentary on the consumerist nature of arts and artists. This artist could be trying to maintain his/her integrity by refusing to enter into the consumerist culture that many capable, well-intentioned artists have fallen into.
In conclusion, the  Codex exhibition was a wonderful experience for me. The setup was just about perfect, inspite of some minor flaws. All of the art works presented made me think critically about books and their influence on society. In the case of my favorite piece, I was fascinated enough to try ans dissect the intended meaning. I would happily recommend the exhibition to anyone that would enjoy contemporary art, if the exhibition were still on display. This exhibition has really given me a deeper appreciation of contemporary art.