Meditation for Artists: Learn Moebius’ Meditative Technique Called “Automatic Drawing”

Meditation and art have an ancient, intertwined history in China, where the beginnings of Chan Buddhism are inseparable from landscape painting. In Japan, Zen art has constituted “a practice in appreciating simplicity,” of disappearing into the creative act, cultivating degrees of egolessness that allow an artist’s movements to become spontaneous and unhampered by second guesses. The “first Japanese artists to work in [ink],” notes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “were Zen monks who painted in a quick and evocative manner.” They passed their techniques, and their wisdom, on to their students.

Perhaps the closest analogue to this tradition in the west is comic art. Artist Ted Gula has worked with comics legends Frank Frazetta and Moebius and drawn for Disney, Marvel, and DC. As a child, he watched Jack Kirby work. “He wouldn’t speak,” says Gula. “He’d be in a trance…. The pencil would hit the paper and it wouldn’t stop until the page was complete, like it poured out.” How is that possible? Gula asked himself, astonished. Kirby had disappeared into the work. There were no preliminary sketches or rough indicators. He would draw an entire book like that, Gula says in the video above from Proko.

Say what you will about the content of Kirby’s work—superhero comics aren’t to everyone’s liking. But no distaste for the nature of his storytelling diminishes Kirby’s attainment of a purely extemporaneous method he seems never to have explained to Gula in words. Later, however, while working with Moebius, Gula says, he learned the technique of “automatic drawing.” Demonstrating it for us above, Gula describes a way of drawing that shares much in common with other meditative visual art traditions.

“It’s all doing very organic shapes,” he says, showing us how to “draw your mind’s eye. This takes your mind, and your mind’s eye, to a place that normally is unexplored, and it can’t help but enhance your whole view of your ability.” The ego must step aside, executive functioning isn’t needed here. “I have no idea,” Gula says, “it’s all just happening on its own.” Moebius explained it as “just letting my mind relax” and Gula has observed similar practices among all the artists he’s worked with.

Gula describes automatic drawing as a natural process for the artist’s mind and hands. The interviewer, artist and teacher Sam Prokopenko, also mentions Korean artist Kim Jung Gi in their interview, who does “amazingly accurate drawings from his memory without any construction lines,” as Prokopenko says above, in a video from his “12 Days of Proko” series, which interviews well-known artists about their techniques. What’s Kim Jung Gi’s secret? Is he possessed of a superhuman, photographic memory? No, he tells Prokopenko.

The secret to becoming fully immersed in the work—one that surely goes for so many pursuits, both creative and athletic—is just to do it: over and over and over and over and over again. (To many people’s disappointment, this also seems to be the secret of meditation.) In Kim Jung Gi’s case, “of course, some part of it is a talent he was born with, but we can’t overlook how much that talent was developed.” We need no expert talent, either innate or developed, to get started. Automatic drawing seems to require a beginner’s mind.

Related Content:

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In Search of Mœbius: A Documentary Introduction to the Inscrutable Imagination of the Late Comic Artist Mœbius

Moebius’ Storyboards & Concept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Lynda Barry’s New Book Offers a Master Class in Making Comics

In the same way you don’t have to like the way your liver looks for it to be able to function, you don’t have to like the way your drawings look for them to start to work.  —Lynda Barry

Want to feel more alive in the world?

Get back in touch with your inner four-year-old artist, using methods put forward by artist, educator, and g*ddamn national treasure Lynda Barry.

Making Comics, the latest book from the University of Wisconsin associate professor, MacArthur Genius, and Omega Institute faculty member, bypasses standardized professional skills such as inking, storyboarding, and lettering, in order to foment a deeper emotional connection between cartoonist and comic.

First things first, you can draw. Stop saying you can’t. You can.

Stop saying your drawings look like they were made by a four-year-old.

In Barry’s experience, the unfettered drawings of four-year-old artists are something to aim for.

As author and comics historian Chris Gavaler notes in his Pop Matters review:

Making Comics is a love letter to every child who ever picked up a crayon and started making marks with unselfconscious intensity. Those children include her college students. Like her readers, some arrive at class with artistic training and some arrive with none at all. The latter arrive having long forgotten the uninhibited style of image-making they understood instinctively as children. Finding each of those children is Barry's mission, and she is very very good at it.

Barry, who is childless, is keenly attuned to the sort of playful assignments that hold immediate appeal for children of all ages.

And she doles out instructions on a need to know basis, disarming the self-doubt and excuse-making that plague adult students who are presented with the big picture too early in the process.

In Making Comics, exercises include drawing with eyes closed, drawing with the non-dominant hand, two-handed drawing, simultaneous partner drawing, Exquisite Corpse, and transforming scribbles and coffee stains by teasing out whatever image they may suggest.

Barry also conveys precise instructions with regard to speed and materials, knowing that those can close as many windows as they open.

She’s battling the stifling impulse toward perfection, the impossible standards that cause so many to turn away from making pictures and stories as they mature.

Don’t sweat it! More rock, less talk! Unleash the monsters of your id! Invite unforeseen ghosts into the frame!

As Barry says:

….there are two working languages in human life. One is sort of top of the mind, what we’re conscious of. The other is this unconscious stuff that we might not know about or have access to. The way we access it is usually through this thing we call ‘the arts.’ Unfortunately, that has gotten removed from the regular daily experience of human life. What I’m trying to do is to show that there is a way that they can come together, and that you can make things in a way that makes you actually feel alive and present.

Read an excerpt of Lynda Barry’s Making Comics. Or purchase your own copy of Making Comics here.

Video at the top of the page courtesy of Art Book Walk-throughs & Reviews.

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Cartoonist Lynda Barry Teaches You How to Draw

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, December 9 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Dennison’s Christmas Book (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Velvet Underground as Peanuts Characters: Snoopy Morphs Into Lou Reed, Charlie Brown Into Andy Warhol

peanut underground

The fun cartoon above was apparently found in a "Guide to the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol's Factory" published by the French magazine, Les Inrockuptibles in 1990. It came around the same time the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain (located in Paris) held an exhibition dedicated to Andy Warhol. Of course, Warhol famously took a break from painting in the mid-1960s and, among other things, threw his influence behind the up-and-coming NYC band, The Velvet Underground. Serving as the band's manager, he "produced" VU's first album, which meant designing the album cover and giving the band members -- Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and Nico -- the freedom to make whatever album they pleased, up to a certain point. Above, you can see these same musicians reimagined as Peanuts characters.

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The Velvet Underground Captured in Color Concert Footage by Andy Warhol (1967)

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A Symphony of Sound (1966): Velvet Underground Improvises, Warhol Films It, Until the Cops Turn Up

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Novel Adaptation

The human imagination can be an extraordinary coping device in times of trouble, a tiny window providing mental escape from whatever cell fate has consigned us to.

Diarist and aspiring professional writer Anne Frank, who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 15, chafed at her now-universally-known confinement in the Secret Annex. She chafed at her mother’s authority and the seemingly effortless saintliness of her older sister. Documenting her daily physical and emotional reality offered temporary respite from it.

The liberating power of the creative mind is one of the aspects writer Ari Folman and illustrator David Polonsky sought to tease out when adapting Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as a graphic novel.

The graphic novel format decreed that entire passages would be cut or condensed. Polonsky can use a single panel to show logistics it took Anne paragraphs to describe. The interpersonal conflicts she dwelt on are now conveyed by facial expressions and body language.

As with Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón’s 2010 Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biographythe diary’s small stage is expanded to give readers, particularly those unacquainted with the original text, a historical context for understanding the wider social implications of Anne’s tragedy.

But this graphic retelling is unique in that it traffics in magic realist visuals that should play well with 21st-century youth, who cut their teeth on CGI, fast-paced edits, and streaming teen-focused entertainments wherein characters are apt to break the fourth wall or break into song.

These are the readers to whom the project is most intentionally pitched. As Folman told Teen Vogue’s Emma Sarran Webster:

I truly believe that in a few years, when the very last survivors will have died, the angle that will be taken from the story will be that with every year, we are 10 years further away from the original. [...] There is a severe threat that the things we have to learn from it will not be taught and learned if we don’t find a new language for them. So any new language in my opinion is blessed, as long as it stays within the framework and reaches young audiences by means of their tools, which are now very visual.

Ergo, Kitty, Anne’s nickname for her diary, has been personified, emerging from the little plaid book’s pages like Peter Pan’s shadow, ear attentively cocked toward the secrets Anne whispers into it.

The melodramatic Mrs. van Daan’s prized fur coat has an anthropomorphized rabbit head collar, capable of joining in the dialogue.

Polonsky pays homage to artists Edvard Munch, whose “degenerative” work Hitler had removed from German museums, and Gustav Klimt, who painted many works that were confiscated from their Jewish owners by Nazi decree.

Young readers' modern sensibilities also guided Folman’s approach to the text. The spirit of the original is preserved, but certain phrasings have been given a 21st century update.

The snarky Secret Annex menus and diet tips he allows his heroine harken to the direct address of various meta teen comedies, as well as the blistering parody of the Sarajevo Survival Guide, a purported travel guide written during the Siege.

Noble goal of engaging the next generation aside, there are no doubt some purists who will view these innovations as imposition. Rest assured that Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation is sanctioned by Anne Frank Fonds, the charitable foundation established by Anne’s father, Otto.

Related Content:

Watch the Only Known Footage of Anne Frank

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How Art Spiegelman Designs Comic Books: A Breakdown of His Masterpiece, Maus

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Story of Ziggy Stardust Gets Chronicled in a New Graphic Novel, Featuring a Foreward by Neil Gaiman

Film has always been a medium that seeks to entertain as well as edify, framing thrills and chills for profit, and framing compositions deserving of the label of “art.” Very often it has done both at the same time. Every casual student of the medium will, at least, admit this much. But never have the differences between movie art and entertainment seemed as magnified and polarized as they are now, in the midst of debates about comic book franchises and the fine art we call cinema.

Whatever the reasons, film has not reached the détente between art and entertainment achieved by popular music—another medium dependent on late-19th/20th century recording technologies and born of a thoroughly modern commercial matrix. Of course, not all pop aspires to art. But the idea that music can be hugely entertaining—drawing on the “low” genres of fantasy, science fiction, and comic books—and also worthy of cultural immortality has become uncontroversial in large part because of the career of one musician.

David Bowie, rock and roll’s original space alien superhero, used his bankable personae through the decades to give credence to the idea of “art rock,” to realize its glam possibilities, to turn the rock auteur into an actor. He learned from a host of experimenters, both his direct influences and his spiritual predecessors. And he inspired a legion of successors who weren’t afraid to play characters in their work, to mix interests in philosophy, literature, and the occult with the flamboyant, campy styles of the comics. (A mix comics themselves played with in both popular and underground manifestations.)

Bowie embodied the future when he appeared on the scene as Ziggy in 1972, after years of laboring in obscurity and a few fleeting brushes with fame. “The incarnations of David Bowie were, in themselves, science fictional, “writes Neil Gaiman in the forward to a new graphic novel, BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams, which tells the story of Bowie’s rise as Ziggy. “All I was missing was a Bowie comic,” says Gaiman of his own fandom. “And, missing it, I would draw bad Bowie comics myself.” Ziggy Stardust especially called for such treatment.

Bowie wore the glam rock Martian mask with such commitment no one doubted that he meant it—only what, exactly, he meant by it. “He defied classification,” notes Simon & Schuster, “with his psychedelic aesthetics, his larger-than-life image, and his way of hovering on the border of the surreal.” Fittingly, the comic is drawn by an artist who realized a psychedelic, surrealist creative vision of Neil Gaiman’s: Michael Allred, who worked on the Sandman series.

The story, “part biography and part imagination,” reports Rolling Stone, is written by Steve Horton and colored by Laura Allred. You can order a copy here.

via Rolling Stone

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Best of the Edward Gorey Envelope Art Contest

What a delight it must have been to have been one of Edward Gorey’s correspondents, or even a postal worker charged with handling his outgoing mail.

The late author and illustrator had a penchant for embellishing envelopes with the hairy beasts, poker-faced children, and cats who are the mainstays of his darkly humorous aesthetic.

(A number of these envelopes and some 60 postcards and sketches are included in Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyerwhich documents the correspondence-based friendship between Gorey and the author with whom he collaborated on three children’s books, including the delightfully macabre Donald Has a Difficulty.)

The Edward Gorey House, a beloved Cape Cod residence turned museum, has been keeping the tradition alive with its annual Halloween Envelope Art Contest.

Competitors of all ages vie for the opportunity to have their winning (and runners up and “very-close-to-being-runners-up”) Gorey-inspired entries displayed in the Gorey House and its digital extensions.

2019’s theme is the highly evocative “Uncomfortable Creatures” … and depending on the speed with which you can execute a brilliant idea and deliver it to the post office, you may still have a shot—entries must be postmarked by Monday, October 21, with winners to be announced on Halloween.

In addition to Stef Kiihn Aschenbrenner’s winning envelope from the 2018 contest’s over-18 category (top), some of our favorites from past years are reproduced here. Our inky-black hearts are especially warmed to see the spirit of the master kindling the imaginations of the youngest entrants—special shout out to Daniel Miley, aged 4.

View five years’ worth of notable Halloween Envelope Contest entries on the Edward Gorey House website (20182017201620152014) or download the official entry form and race to the post office with your bid for 2019 glory.

Entries must be postmarked by Monday, October 21 and addressed to Edward Gorey House, 8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port, MA 02675 USA.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

20 Years Before John Cage’s 4’33”, a Man Named Hy Cage Created a Cartoon about a Silent Piano Composition (1932)

Quite a find by Futility Closet:

In John Cage’s 1952 composition 4’33”, the performer is instructed not to play his instrument.

American music critic Kyle Gann discovered this 1932 cartoon in The Etude, a magazine for pianists.

The cartoonist’s name, remarkably, is Hy Cage.

Need any background on Cage's 4'33"? Explore the posts in the Relateds below.

via Boing Boing

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The Curious Score for John Cage’s “Silent” Zen Composition 4’33”

The BBC Symphony Orchestra Performs 4′33,″ the Controversial Composition by John Cage, Born 100 Years Ago Today

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