What’s the Big Idea

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“Like a flame came the fox through the forest”

A while back, I was watching a classic episode of Sesame Street and this cartoon short came on. It was one of those classic right place in the right time moments, because that one line struck a chord with me. It was so evocative, and I could see this fox running through the forest with his tail streaming behind him like wild-fire. The image grew in my head, and I began writing and sketching, world building and assembling a “Book of Lore”.

There are themes that I’ve been working through since (college? high school?) pretty much forever, involving our relationships to each other and the world. The themes boil down into a handful of core thoughts. We can do so much good when we work together, but then we’re also able to cause so much damage when we work together thoughtlessly. Technology, while capable of amazing things tends to be oppressive, reducing individuals to numbers. At the same time, individuals and small communities exist, generating their own possibilities as if by magic. As I thought about this little fox and his magical, flaming tail, these themes began to weave themselves into a story.

So, What’s the Big Idea?

At some point, it’s time to move past the “Book of Lore” and decide what to do with it all. It’s okay for the big idea to be big. At this point, it’s a dream, and it’s okay to dream huge. Dreams are goals without a plan and the plan is what makes dreams manageable and possible. Working beyond our abilities is how we grow.

It’s no secret that I love puppets, miniatures and model building, as well as fantasy stories and fairy tales. What I really want to do with this idea that has been building in my head, is make a stop-motion short film. Set in the future, in a world ruled by twelve elemental giants, a young fox stumbles on a mystery that unlocks the past, and might just save the future. It still amazes me how the idea and dream stage of a new project can build up very large from the initial kernel of inspiration.

Remember What Inspired You

At this point, your new project can seem really huge and overwhelming. My example is taking overwhelming to a new level, but that’s okay. When that feeling of dread comes remember what inspired you. That spark is the keystone that we can return to anytime we’re not sure if we’re going in the right direction or even if we’re moving forward at all. The Inspiration and the Dream are just the first parts. Remember when I said that a dream is just a goal without a plan? Next time, we’ll start making a plan. I call this “The Breakdown”.

Until next time, take care and be good, and keep on dreaming!
Your friend,

Thank you for supporting my work! By purchasing artwork from my etsy shop, supporting me through Patreon, or just by showing up, commenting and sharing you make this and other personal projects possible. I can’t thank you enough for that.

Keep it Simple

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This summer, I worked on a handful of large(ish) projects. Some of them came out pretty okay, and some of them…Less than spectacularly.

I did a presentation at the Saint Louis Science Center called “The Breakdown” about breaking down dream projects into smaller, goal oriented projects. Some of the smaller projects build directly into the dream project, and some of them are designed to develop skills that can be used toward the dream project. As I’ve been developing it, I’ve realized that it’s a lot like putting together an independent class curriculum. Which makes sense, because I’ve been joking for years that my work is a lot like being in college.

In June, we signed Abby up for Roller Derby and began teaching her to skate beginning the #moxisummerofskate. That first day, we looked up some youtube videos and she fell in love with a skater named IndieJammaJones. It turned out that the skate company Indie works for was running an instagram contest for a new pair of skates. All you had to do was skate every day and document it. So we started skating every day. First Abby, then I got skates and started skating with her, and then her best friend, and her sister…We all learned to skate, but that wasn’t the only thing that happened. We became a part of a community, and made new friends from different parts of the world. We got GOOD at skating. Maybe the most unexpected thing though, is that I’ve noticed that my videos are getting better, the editing, the sound, and the ability to get Abby (Rattle Skate) to engage with her audience. This little side activity has ended up dovetailing into learning skills that I can use for actual projects I’ve had in mind for a long time.

I’m still working and writing new comics as I make time, and am really excited about them. I’d planned to to some great posts detailing my process. Scan all the sketches and planning with side-by-side comparisons of pages in their different stages of life. I was going to post forty finished and colored comic pages in forty days, AND do 100 portraits of friends and family. It was all too much. I didn’t hit any of those goals, felt like I let myself down, and felt like I let you down.

Then one day, I was going through Instagram and came upon a comment on one of Lucy Bellwood’s final 100 Demon Dialog posts. (she’s awesome, check her out http://instagram.com/lubellwoo ) Some one asked her how they should go about approaching a project like the 100 Days project. Lucy told then gently but firmly “Keep it simple”.

I’ve always felt like I need to schedule more, to do more, to work harder. If there’s boxes on my schedule that haven’t been filled in, I feel like I need to put something in there. Pushing against the wall of my limitations is important, but pushing against walls is tiring. Lucy’s right, instead of working harder, maybe it’s time to try keeping it simple. Time to start breaking it down.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and here’s how I think I want to approach this for now. On Mondays, I’ll check in here and set out one goal for the week. On Fridays, I’ll check back in to talk about how it went. I notice that Patreon is letting us add images directly into the post now, so that actually makes things even simpler as I can easily share what else I’ve been working on.

I realize that by now it’s already Thursday, so I’m going to make this week’s goal super straightforward. This week, I’m going to submit a proposal to present The Breakdown at Midwest Craft Con and my application to vend at Queen City Craft Show.

Until Friday, take care and be good!
Your friend,

Thank you for supporting my work! By purchasing artwork from my etsy shop, supporting me through Patreon, or just by showing up, commenting and sharing you make this and other personal projects possible. I can’t thank you enough for that.

Things That Inspire: Lumino City

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This week, I discovered a new game by London-based, State of Play Games called Lumino City. The story revolves around a young girl named Lume as she travels through Lumino City searching for her grandfather and solving puzzles along the way.

Lumino City takes all of my favorite aspects of maker culture, indie-craft, and game development and puts them together into something at the same time very modern and timeless.

I’m a sucker for both miniature worlds and puzzle games, so this game was right up my alley. The game, story, and puzzles were first designed on paper and in Flash to make sure that all the parts fit together. The world of Lumino City recalls a childhood steeped in storybook illustrations, cartoons, and inquiry. Then, each part was hand cut and assembled out of card, wood, paper, and electronics. Using a variety of tools and techniques, State of Play stretches the boundaries of what can be done in a game while paying close attention to detail. The puzzles are well crafted and challenging without being too difficult. Luckily, Lume’s grandfather left her a book of ideas that helps nudge players in the right direction if they get stuck.

When I was a kid, the most common way to see how effects were made in the movies was small, grainy pictures in Starlog Magazine.

The experience doesn’t end with the final puzzle though. There’s also a short prequel game called Lume, which is essentially State of Play’s initial experiment that led to the final game. In addition to that, there’s a free “making of Lumino City” app that takes us on an interactive tour through…the making of Lumino City. There’s a lot of work that goes into a project like this (over a year of it, in fact) but it’s presented in a way that’s not scary or intimidating. There’s a tone of confident experimentation and collaboration that underlines that marriage of indie-craft, maker culture, and game development. There’s a whole world out there that we can help build, and games like this are showing us the possibilities.

Thank you for supporting my work! By purchasing artwork from my etsy shop, supporting me through Patreon, or just by showing up, commenting and sharing you make this and other personal projects possible. I can’t thank you enough for that.

Overwhelmed (As Usual)

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My “Day Job” such as it is, is pretty regular freelance work designing lapel pins and medals for Little League teams, Soccer Clubs, and Marathons. I bring this up, because I bought this account when I left my first studio job to be a full-time freelancer and stay-at-home dad. I was thinking about this last night, and realized that I’ve been a working professional for eleven years now, and a freelancer for almost seven of them. And I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing.
I started the year off with three resolutions:
  • Instead of saying “I couldn’t”, I would say “I didn’t”. This was a personal call to not make excuses, and to examine what was actually going on and adjust to meet problems.
  • Instead of saying “I’m gonna”, I’ll say “I’m working on”. I was recognizing a tendency to dream big without planning and following through.
  • Instead of saying “I’m afraid to try”, I’ll plan to succeed. Facing the things that scare or overwhelm me is the most productive way to move forward. What’s the worst that can happen?
So here I am at the halfway point of the year, and I need to step back and assess things a bit, because it all feels like it’s falling apart. I’m coming to realize that an unspoken goal for 2017 is to actually begin to figure out what I’m doing wrong, and what I’m doing right, so that my career can be more sustainable. I’m going to jump right in with two things I know I could be better about. Time Management, and Over Committing.
Something a lot of artists seem to struggle with, especially those of us who’s work is largely autobiographical, is separating our work life from our home life. Compounding that, something that I’ve realized this year is that while I might spend a lot of time convincing other people that my job is not a hobby, I have trouble remembering that myself. This leads into the problem of over committing. My job is supposed to be FUN, and involves a lot of schoolwork type research and behind the scenes stuff. There are so many fun group activities that I could do, and it’s all work right? It all helps me get more stuff done, right? Right!?
My self-worth shouldn’t be tied to my output. I shouldn’t feel the need to fill every square in my schedule. Doing more doesn’t make me better. It just makes me cranky and distracts me from focusing on things I’ve already committed to. This is turning into the longest lead up to an apology ever.
I’m sorry.
I over scheduled my life to the point where I couldn’t possibly keep up with my commitments here to my patrons, and as I got more in the weeds it became harder to face that and have an honest conversation with you all about that. So now I’m clearing a lot of stuff off my desk and moving forward again starting with this post. To wrap it all up, here’s what’s going on with the current projects:
  • The 100 days project – I’m putting this one aside for now. It’s something that I really want to do, but honestly don’t have time for and it was stressing me out to the point where I couldn’t get anything else done.
  • Life With Girls – I’m taking a short break from posting new finished comics. The forty days leading up to my fortieth birthday, I will be posting a page a day of 6 short stories looking back on the places I lived growing up and unspectacular art projects I made there. My $2 patreon backers will get to see these pages in my sketchbook posts this month.
  • 2018 Story Calendar – I’d planned on having this year’s calendar completed by the end of July, but that’s just not realistic. I continue to work on it, devoting a little bit of time each day. The end of August is my new soft deadline to have the bulk of the work done. Expect to see much more about this in July once the forty day project is fully complete.
  • The Breakdown – this isn’t really a project yet, but has been playing a key role in figuring out what works and doesn’t in my daily work life. My friend Sally and I have been developing it as a way to schedule projects, professional development, and celebrate successes.
  • Postcards – I owe my $5 backers some personal correspondence. I’ll be making a poll for new postcards so I can get something special to you soon.
Thank you all so much for your continued support, it really does mean the world to me.
Take care and be good.

Five Favorite Books 1-4 the Harper Hall Trilogy

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The second book of the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, Dragon Singer begins where Dragon Song left off, with Menolly arriving at her new home in the Harper Craft Hall. She’d lived and thrived homeless for her love of music, succeeding where many others would not have. She discovered and adopted not just one fire-lizard, a creature thought to be a children’s  story, but nine of them. Menolly had found kindness and support at Benden Weyr, home of the dragon riders, proving to be both resourceful and useful to them. She soon discovered though that while she would be more than welcome to stay there, the Master Harper had been looking all across the continent for her, in order to take her as an apprentice Harper. In spite of all these successes, she looks at herself as “just” a girl,and how could she possibly fit in with all these great and talented people.Even now, nearly thirty years later this feeling resonates with me. That imposter syndrome, or feeling of soaring capableness followed by crushing self doubt.

Menolly meets the other master musicians and is tested on her musical knowledge. She butts heads with troublemakers who, like her father, don’t think it’s her place to be a Harper and who are jealous of both her talent and the fact that she has fire-lizards. She also makes some friends and allies, as she begins to settle down in her new home. The second book of the series is more about daily life as a Harper, and about making friends, working at what you love, and settling down in a new place. Part of the reason this book has stayed with me I think, is that it was the first time I’d ever considered this as a way of life. I could make art everyday as part of a community.

The other crafts can jibe that we want to know too much about what is not strictly our business, but I’ve always felt knowledge of matters minor or major makes for better understandings. The mind that will not admit it has something more to learn tomorrow is in danger of stagnating.

Working together, side by side and sharing information has always been the most attractive way to work for me. One of the themes of the book is the interconnection of all the people in the world, and how they all have to work together in order to survive. Sharing information is part of that, because closely guarded secrets get lost with the death of a Crafts Master and have to be reinvented. How much better would it be if that information had been shared so that advancements could be made with our having to redo work first?

As she settled in, Menolly also made some great observations on the relationship between work and play. The life of an artist involves a lot of play that is also hard work. Creative work takes a lot of mental energy, and is exhausting in ways that aren’t always apparent at first sight.

Boys of fifteen Turns, her age, were already serving on boats at the Sea Hold. Of course, an exhausting day at sail lines and nets left little energy to expend on running or laughing. Perhaps that was why her parents couldn’t appreciate her music-it wouldn’t appear to be hard work to them. Menolly shook her hands,letting them flap from her wrists. They ached and trembled from the constricted movements and tension of an hour of intensive playing. No, her parents would never understand that playing musical instruments could be as hard work assailing or fishing.

It was the first time I’d every really thought of it as work that had to be done and sometimes wasn’t fun, but that was mostly always rewarding.

The rewards of living a creative life in the company of other passionate, creative people is why this book has stayed with me all these years. Like an old friend,I can go back to this book when I’m feeling lost or alone, and the story of Menolly reminds me that I’m not alone at all. There’s a community out there that I’ve become a part of. It reminds me of the excitement of trying new techniques and playing with my work. It reminds me that while I might feel like a fraud who isn’t as good as he wants to be, there are people out there rooting for me.

Find us on Patreon!Thank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

Five Favorite Books 1-3 The Harper Hall Trilogy

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menolly of Half Circle Sea Hold by jeffrey johnson of redherringillustration.comThe first book of the Harper Hall trilogy, Dragon Song begins with the main character, Menolly singing the funeral song for her friend Petiron. An aging Harper,
Petiron had retired to Menolly’s home at Half-Circle Sea Hold to live out his days. As his caretaker, Menolly and the Harper became close friends, and he taught her everything he knew of his craft. While she was described as tall and strong and was often mistaken for a boy, she was a girl.

“One in ten hundred have perfect pitch,” Petiron had said in one of his evasive replies. “One in ten thousand can build an acceptable melody with meaningful words. Were you only a lad, there’d be no problem at all.”

“Well,we’re stuck with me being a girl.”

“You’d make a fine big strong lad, you would,” Petiron had replied exasperatingly.

“And what’s wrong with being a fine big strong girl?” Menolly had been half-teasing,half-annoyed.

This remembered exchange between the two friends, set up that not only does Menolly have an extraordinary talent, but also that it’s kind of a problem that she’s not a boy. Being a Harper was something that men did and it would be disgraceful to her father if anyone found out that she would have the gall to believe that it was something she could aspire to.

Published in 1977, during the height of second-wave feminism, Dragon Song deals in part with issues of equality and gender discrimination, changing political climates,abuse, and growing up. I wanted to say that it was about longing for something better, but I don’t really know whether that’s true. Menolly’s life as Petiron’s apprentice wasn’t perfect, but she had her heart’s true desire – to play music.When he died, she grudging allowed to play with supervision, and then following an accident where she cut her hand was forbidden to play at all. Without musician her life she felt like a hollowed out shell, began to drift through her days doing chores and looked for opportunities to be alone with her thoughts.Gathering sweet grasses and crayfish in the countryside offered these chances for her. They also made it possible for her to explore the coastline, which is how she stumbled across a fire-lizard queen and helped save its eggs from being drowned in the ocean.

Most people considered fire-lizards, miniature dragons about the size of a Macaw, fairy stories told by young boys to impress the other children. Menolly had not only seen one though, she had actually held it’s eggs! Looking forward to seeing the fire-lizards again, she left home early one morning to gather food.Far from home, up the coastline, she was caught outside the safety of her home’s stone walls during a dangerous storm, and was forced to take shelter in the fire-lizard’s cave. The eggs began to hatch. Rather than let the babies fly out into the storm to their deaths, she fed as many as she could the crayfish she’d collected. When Menolly woke the next morning, nine fire-lizards thought of her as their mother. Feeling like she’d never really belonged back home, and knowing that once they realized she wasn’t there they would assume she was dead,she decided not to go back.

Dragon Song is not about looking for more than what you have. It deals with a lot ofbig issues, within its adventure framework, but it is about loss, self reliance, and finding happiness. It’s also about finding something to care about and letting others care about you. I always identified with Menolly because she LOVED what she did, and I think really wanted people to pay attention to that part of her, but at the same time didn’t want anyone to notice her. Those were very familiar feelings growing up. As far as an introduction to the world of Pern, I’d say that it’s actually better than starting with the first book. There is a short foreword that gets you up to speed with the setting, and I found the story itself to be much more personal and satisfying than you’d find in the core books.

Find us on Patreon!Thank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.



Five Favorite Books 1-2 The Harper Hall Trilogy

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About the Setting

Fire Lizard Queen by Jeffrey Johnson of Red Herring IllustrationThe Pern novels are Science Fiction, or at least that’s where you’ll find them in the book store. Being born the same year that Star Wars came out, I’ve been a fan for my whole life, and I‘d always thought of myself as a lover of Science Fiction. As I look back on it though, the closest thing I’d ever read to “pure” science fiction up to that point was Dune, by Frank Herbert. In fact, I was probably twenty-seven or twenty-eight before I’d ever read any Isaac Asimov or H.P. Lovecraft. I think I was in my thirties before I really realized that Star Wars wasn’t really, SciFi at all, but that it was actually Science Fantasy. So were the dragons of Pern.  I’ve loved them both since “hello.”

Dragon Song, and Dragon Singer are the first two books of the Harper Hall Trilogy, from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books. The Harper Hall trilogy is science fantasy, and like Star Wars or Doctor Who, there are a lot of mainstays from fantasy stories, like dragons, sailors and travelling bards. All of these things though, are nestled into a science fiction framework on the far away planet of Pern, settled by colonists from Earth. I remember in seventh grade, writing a book report on this same book, and explaining things using terms from the setting with no context. I didn’t even think about what it would be like if I’d never heard of Star Wars, and suddenly someone was talking to me about the Force, Wookies, Droids, and the Empire. It’s far enough removed from our world to make it difficult to know what’s going on, or the motivations behind the characters actions. Luckily, these books begin with a two page introduction to the world.

Pern was settled by space faring colonists from earth. It was an untouched paradise, and the people were happy there. What the colonists didn’t know though, was that there was a sister planet in the same solar system that would regularly orbit close to their new home. Pern’s sister, called “The Red Star” in the books was infected by a kind of spore, that would spin off from its atmosphere, flung into space to fall to the surface of Pern. As the spore fell, it would heat and stretch into  long silver filaments, earning it the name “thread”.  Thread would eat any organic material. The only things it seemed not to be able to destroy were stone and metal, the only way to destroy it were drowning in water, or burning it with fire.

The Colonists were, hardy and resourceful people though. They carved huge forts, or “holds” out of natural caves and cliffs to protect them and their provisions from the thread. They bred and trained creatures native to the planet called dragons, after the mythical beasts from earth to fly and burn it before it could reach the planet’s surface. They developed a social structure much like city states from earth’s middle ages. Holders worked the land for the lord holder. Lord holders, paid a tithe to the weyr, or the home of the dragon riders who protected their land. Crafts and skilled labor operated outside and through this system, with guilds and craft halls overseeing their work, giving them independence and ensuring that all holds had access to trade for the things they needed. The society was in many ways egalitarian, recognizing that they needed to work together in order flourish. The people survived, but with a system so rigid because of the constant threat of thread, change, innovation and progress came slowly, if at all.

Tradition has become very important on Pern, and has over time taken the form of unwritten law, set deep in the people and unshakeable.  Dragon Song, and Dragon Singer are about Menolly, and how she discovered fire lizards, miniature dragons thought to be children’s stories. Her adventures continued as she goes on to became a part of the Harper craft hall.  Musicians and storytellers, harpers are the eyes and ears of the world, keepers of tradition, and agents of change. I find myself coming back to the story of Menolly and her passion for music every time I doubt my own path.

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

Five Favorite Books 1-1 The Harper Hall Trilogy

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Anne McCaffery's Harper Hall Books by Jeffrey Johnson of Red Herring IllustrationWhen I was in Sixth Grade, we moved to Huntsville, Alabama and I was introduced to the public library. I’ve been to a lot of libraries since then, but somehow none of them even compare. the Library was three stories with massive sections of reference books, fiction, non-fiction, a youth area with books and novels and lots of space to spread out and read. That library was not close to my house, but I was an eleven-year-old kid in the ’80s with a bike and a sense of adventure. I could go anywhere. And did.

I was that kid who would rather sit out in gym and read than play basketball, earning myself a “D” in a class that’s thought of as an easy “A”. This isn’t to say that I didn’t do physical things, or that I wasn’t active. I wanted to act  out the adventures in my head, and just couldn’t do that by playing games in gym. I was that kid who, when all the other kids were talking about the cool toys they got for Christmas, would tell them that I got a pile of new books. To which, my classmates would give me pitying looks. I didn’t care though, because books were what I wanted, and what I’d asked for. I would read pretty much anything, but I loved books about adventure, wizards, and dragons.

I’ve loved the library my whole life, but never really learned to use card catalogue. Luckily, my mom would let me browse however long I wanted, and would let me pick up any book that captured my interest. This is how I was introduced to Brian Froud and Alan Lee, through their Fairies book. Which terrified me. (Look up Alan Lee Pookah to see the face of that fear.) I found books on leatherworking, and music, on puppet plays and foreign languages. I also found where they kept the fantasy books that would fuel my imagination through middle and high school.

Books with the word Dragon in the title were always worth at least picking up for me. Dragons of Winter Twilight by Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman with the awesome blue dragon and armored warrior on the cover. Piers Anthony’s Dragon on a Pedestal with Princess Ivy and Stanly Steamer on the cover. A book by Anne McCaffery with a girl by the sea with miniature dragons flying all around her called Dragon Song.  Finding books this way would often drop me in the middle of a series, but when they were good, they were good in spite of having no context.

Dragon Song was a book about a girl named Menolly, who loved music. No, not just loved music, she lived music. It’s a story about how that part of her life was taken from her, by an accident and by the expectations of her time and place. Just when she is feeling the loss the most, something amazing happens that changes her life and sets her on a path to find herself again. It had me at “hello”.

redherringjeff on patreonThis month, to celebrate reaching my first Patreon goal, I’m writing five book reviews of books that have stayed with me and helped shape who I am today. I plan on breaking up the reviews into (more or less) five parts.


  • An introduction with where I was when I first read the book.
  • What you need to know about the setting and characters.
  • Book review part one, the main story line.
  • Book review part two, the “B” story line.
  • There’s always a conclusion, isn’t there?

This week’s review is about Dragon Song and Dragon Singer, the first two books of the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffery. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you!

INKtober Day Fifteen – Ten-Thousand Hours

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inktober15_web“They” Say it takes ten-thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery of something. Ten. Thousand. Hours. It’s kind of mind boggling. By that metric, if you were to set aside ten hours a week to draw, you’d log five-hundred twenty hours a year. Every two years, would be one-thousand forty hours. At that rate, it would take you twenty years to achieve mastery. Just in time to retire.

What “they” don’t tell you though, is that it doesn’t all have to be done all at once. Nor does it have to be done in a special “drawing time” that you’ve set aside. Every doodle you make during a class, meeting, or phone call counts. Every map you draw when giving directions, counts. Every smiley face in a fogged bathroom mirror, every Pictionary game, every unicorn hastily scribbled on a restaurant napkin for your bored six-year-old daughter…it counts.

Not only do those things count, but “they” also don’t tell you that you’ve already started logging those hours. Every macaroni portrait and torn paper rainbow you made in the first grade counted. Every junior high science fair project that required diagrams counted. Every piece of artwork you’ve ever made, counts towards that total.

The other thing “they” don’t tell you is that it doesn’t really end at ten-thousand. That’s really just the beginning. It’s not insurmountable though, because you’re already on your way and building up steam. Before you know it, you’ll be doing ten-thousand every two years, because that’s your life and you love it.

Now get out there and draw or make or cook or play something!


redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Fourteen – A Sketch Book Exercise

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inktober day fourteen by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationPull out a piece of paper and do a drawing of someone sitting and reading out of your head. What details did you add? Are they in a setting, or just floating in space? “I wouldn’t have put this detail in here if I was drawing this out of my head”, is one of the things that I think about while working on these drawings from life this month.

I’m in the Saint Charles Community College catalog this spring, teaching three classes: Beginning/Intermediate Drawing, Beginning/Intermediate Watercolor, and Sketchbook Fundamentals. Basically, it’s an intro to different types of working sketchbooks, and sketch journaling. As I work on my own projects and sketches, I often think about strategies I wish I’d learned and practiced as a student. I also think about exercises and assignments that can help push a class towards learning to practice those strategies.

A Sketchbook Exercise

  •  Draw a real object or scene from your imagination. For some reason, I always think about a pumpkin when considering the subject for this exercise. It’s pretty easy, and readily recognizable by most people.
  • Find a photo of a pumpkin and draw it again from reference.
  • If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can try drawing it from several different angles using only the one bit of reference.
  • Find a real pumpkin and draw it from several different angles, from life.
  • Draw it one more time from memory. How does it compare to the original one you drew from imagination?

Each drawing should be different, but how are they different? Our skills and visual vocabularies are built up like legos. When we first begin to draw something, it’s like building with Duplo blocks. Kind of big and clunky, all the parts are there, but there isn’t any fine detail or individuality. Ultimately, it’s kind of a symbol of the real thing. As we learn about what’s really there, and what makes each individual unique, our skill improves and we start building with regular, and then technic legos. Each step adds more detail, and makes the experience richer for both the builder and the viewer.

Life drawing is an important component of sketchbook practice, but it isn’t without it’s special challenges. I did today’s drawing at the library while the kid’s read and played in the children’s area. Right after we got there, mom came in with her little boy and sat down to read while he played, so I started drawing her. If you’re drawing a cute, single mom at the library and you’re six-year-old drawing is close by, there’s a better than average chance that she’s going to ask loudly if that’s what you’re doing. I don’t know if it’s more embarrassing getting noticed drawing someone, or getting called out doing it. Hahahaha!

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