Monday, November 9, 2009


Art-Toon, 11/09/2009, PJO

What is an Art-Toon?
(Excerpted from soon-to-be-published book, "Confessions of a Gutter Artist")

Spontaneous, experimental art, what some refer to as "Abstract Comics" and what I like to call "Art-Toons," makes use of color and form to record thoughts and emotions, using the movement or dance of color, dots and lines within a frame or grid or even on a fear-inducing blank, white, page. Instead of words, sentences, or paragraphs, the art-toonist uses direction and force to make marks or lines within a pattern or grid. This pattern language opens the door to thoughts and feelings more swiftly and directly than written forms of language. The images that form spontaneously across the grid or on the page connect the mind of the artist to the depths of the soul through the universal "pattern language of uncovery." This pattern language of color and form cannot be used so easily as words for self-deception. Words can be deliberately vague or misleading. Color and line get right to the point. Shapes and forms can be effervescent, dream-like, and mysterious, or they can be harsh, dark, and forbidding. Either way, their energy is primal and self-sustaining.

Anyone who has ever kept a journal of any kind knows the process can have an impact on self and others, for good as well as ill, especially if words written in private become public. With the Art-Toons, thoughts and feelings can be expressed fearlessly, in their most raw and truthful form. You may not even recognize the meaning of your Art-Toons until later, but you will experience directly what it feels like to have colors and shapes emerge on the page with you as their only witness during the act drawing itself. In addition, using color and form gets around both your interior editor and not-so-friendly art critique. Because you are using line, form, and color to express internal feelings that have yet to be articulated, you do not have to worry about things like perspective or making representative forms of the “real” world.

This frees you from being subject to any sort of internal or external art critique. No one can argue with a wiggly, blue line. No one can say the yellow blob needs to be a different shape or color. The blob is yellow because it is yellow, and it is shaped the way it is because that is how it came out of your hand and into the framework of the page. The yellow blob is a sunflower only if you say it is. Other people may imagine they see things in the yellow blob, but that will tell you more about how they see than about how you draw.

Art-Tooning is not about making realistic copies of people or animals or the work of other artists. Art-Tooning is about which color to use now, and now, and now, and about learning to watch the way each color dances across the grid-lines in contrast with its neighboring lines, shapes and colors. The pattern language of color and form will reveal its own secret beauties over time, but from the very beginning it speaks its truths directly to the soul from a deeper, more ancient source of wisdom.

Art-Tooning does not require expensive canvasses, brushes, or materials. Art-Toons can be done on something as affordable as brown wrapping paper or stones gathered by a river or trash picked up in a street gutter. Artists and scientists have long realized the value of the draft and the sketch to enable the mind to stretch into uncharted territory. It is up to you to decide what form you want your particular exploration to take. Art-Toons can be kept on loose paper, stored in boxes or glued into journals or sketchbooks. You can make or buy journals with paper you like drawing on. The size of a journal can be small and portable, what I call purse-size. Or you can use a larger format. You can even keep more than one journal at a time. The pages can be made out of cut-up paper sacks or card stock. You can use paint, glue, and cut up images from magazines. Entries can be made on both sides of each page or just on the fronts. Some people like to keep their Art-Toons in folders or portfolios. Art-Toons made on 8 ½" by 11" paper can be put in plastic page protectors and stored in three-ring binders. Art-Toons can be kept in chronological order or they can be rearranged according some other pattern or format. Art-Toons don’t necessarily have to be made or looked at “right-side up” or from “front to back.” Smudges, coffee stains or water marks don’t have to be mistakes because they can be incorporated into the process of the record of the over all design or pattern on the page. A line or mark that isn’t meant to represent a “thing” or “object” in the real world can just be what it is--a fiery red slash across a yellow and black background--and mean just what it means to the only person who counts: the person who made the Art-Toon.

A series of Art-Toons can be the record of a particular period of time--a time of transition--with beginnings, middles, or endings--or a record of a birth, a death, a divorce, a childhood, an accident or recovery from an illness. It can be a record of blessings or challenges associated with grief or of an on-going or progressive disease. Art-Toon Journals can document a trip, with representational sketches and drawings interspersed with words or with memorabilia glued on the pages--ticket stubs pasted down next to a new friend’s address. The possibilities are endless.

Once a clear image forms in the mind’s eye of what an Art-Toon Journal can be, you can watch your decision-making process. An Art-Toon Doodle Book can be made with things most people have around the house or that can be purchased at your local school or office supply store. Your only real investment is time. Only you can decide to see what happens if your allow the Art-Toon Book to become a part of your life, to serve your own unique creative uncovery process. Before you start, you might want to ask yourself a few simple questions:

• Do I really want to start a visual record called an Art-Toon Doodle Book?
• If no, why not?
• If yes, why so?
• What would I have to do exactly?
• Just how much time is this going to take?
• Am I to be adding one more thing to my already busy life, hectic schedule, or family obligations?
• What happens if I start it and don’t stick with it?
• Where will it take me?
• What if I don’t like what I uncover or discover about my innermost self?

Imagine you are standing on the edge of a deep pool. The water is still and deep. But you can’t see the bottom and you wonder what lurks beneath its calm surface. No one can make this decision for you. There are no guarantees about results, and no promises being made that your life will change for the better. What do you have to lose? A couple of hours of time? A few pieces of paper? Only you can decide whether or not to take the plunge. But there is one outcome that is guaranteed and most certain. If you don’t take this opportunity to give yourself permission to at least get your feet wet, the odds are 100% certain that things will change anyway, whether you want them to or not.

As Gregory Bateson says, “Break the pattern which connects the items of learning and you necessarily destroy all quality. . . . The pattern which connects is a metapattern. It is a pattern of patterns.” May I dare suggest that keeping a visual record of your evolving Art-Toons and Doodles, which is what the Art-Toon Doodle Book is all about, makes visible hidden patterns and underlying processes that are always there, regardless of whether or not we pay attention to them. Once something becomes conscious, our choices become more informed.

Keeping an Art-Toon Doodle Book doesn’t have to be an act of desperation or something you have to feel guilty about not doing every day if the going gets rocky. Once the decision to go ahead has been made, making entries in your Art-Toon Doodle Book doesn’t have to be a serious or even a sacred quest. Even though for many it becomes just that. Of course, like any journey into uncharted waters, it can bring surprises. The beginning of the voyage into inner space is a brand-new adventure, a scouting of unknown territory. Others have gone this way before, so there are several good maps of the territory . A Reference page is soon to come.

Above all, keep it simple. Don’t worry. An Art-Toon Doodle Book is not a work of art to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. It is a private playgound, a practice arena, a place to record and date dream images, symbols, colors, photographs, collages, sketches, patterns, poems, word clusters, designs, conflicting forces, blue prints, or ideas. Watch for the patterns, watch how you use color and form. What shapes appeal to you? What ones repel you?

Even if you have never thought of yourself as a visual artist, keeping an Art-Toon Doodle Book is just plain fun. It’s an opportunity to experiment with a variety of “art toys” or new media. If you’ve always wanted to try colored pencils or water color, an Art-Toon Doodle Book can be a place to learn about value, hues, tints, chroma, line, shading, form, shape, pattern, and textures of your chosen medium.

An Art-Toon Doodle Book can be a chronological record of your daily emotional environment, much like the weather books kept by amateur meteorologists. If you’ve been trying to make a decision or planning to make a change, but can’t seem to go forward with next step, you can use your response to your Art-Toon Doodle Book entries as an inner wisdom dialog, a way to have a conversation with your inner self. You can use entries to document an event or experience that is still raw or unresolved, one whose meaning may not be fully understood, whose memory causes pain or grief, one that evokes deep feelings of love, fear, resentment or even wrath or rage.

It really is up to you. You may want to make several five-minute entries in a short period of time, or work on one entry that may take several days to complete. It all depends. The Art-Toon Doodle Book is yours and yours alone. You do not have to share it with anyone unless you want to. The Art-Toon Doodle Book is yours to start, to keep, to abandon, to pick up once again. The Art-Toon Doodle Book is never over. It is an on-going process of creative uncovery.

The desire to keep on keeping on with the Art-Toon Doodle Book may wax and wane. The bottom line, though, is about permission giving. Permission to make mistakes, to not be perfect, to let out what has been stored inside, to explore, to discover what has been there all along, to allow your life to unfold along formerly hidden but now exposed patterns. It is about permission to play. Permission to rediscover your inner resources. Permission to become more of who and what you already are.