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Archive for February 2008


Four Songbirds (Part 1)

Spending long hours alone in the studio, I'd go bugnuts if I couldn't entertain myself with music, radio, podcasts, TV and the like. For those early morning or late night hours working, you can't beat these four serene songbirds of jazz.


A quadruple threat, being a pianist, singer, songwriter and arranger, Blossom Dearie is one of the premier jazz woman of the last half century. Her soft and light little-girl voice sets her apart from nearly every other modern female vocalist, and is instantly recognizable. Many will better know her voice from the children's educational series Schoolhouse Rock! on the songs "Figure Eight", "Mother Necessity" and "Unpack Your Adjectives". Like that memorable children's music, the rest of her catalog distinguishes itself for it's cheerful mood, though often tinged with melancholy. You've never heard a more vulnerable and touching rendition of the Gershwin classic, "Someone To Watch Over Me," which also features many fine jazzy piano fills. Her take on another Gershwin standard, "Our Love Is Here To Stay" is the best I've heard (and that's saying something, as many artists have done so well with that song). Another standout (among many) is the bouncy and playful "The Best Is Yet To Come." Her version couldn't be more different from Frank Sinatra's fantastic robust and swaggering version, a comparison that highlights the differences between the sexes. And nothing can beat the breezy "Just One Of Those Things", which begins with a frenetic bopping bass before Blossom joins in for this quick two-minute track. These are just a handful of her best tunes, but more of her fine phrasing and insightful less-is-more approach can be found. A great place to start is her "Once Upon a Summertime," one of a series of strong albums she recorded for Verve in the late '50s and early '60s. She's been releasing her music since 1974 on her own label, Daffodil Records, and can still sometimes be found performing at jazz clubs in New York over eighty years of age. Go Blossom! Stacey Kent is vocally in a similar vein, and contemporary stylistic cousin of Ms. Dearie, yet distinctly her own. Recently signed to the legendary Blue Note label, she's one of a few top female female jazz vocalists working today. Like Dearie, she balances the buoyant with the bittersweet, and while her voice has something of that same girlish quality, she's smoother and more suggestive. Her rendition of "I've Got A Crush On You" is a longing and honest expression, a perfect song for the upcoming Valentine's Day. She covers the American standards in distinctive fashion, as well as a few surprising show tunes and more contemporary folk songs. Her Dreamsville is a peaceful, lilting album, great for starting the day in a relaxing mode, or late at night before your visit with the Sandman. Or check out her other albums and find out why famous jazz-lover Clint Eastwood invited her to sing at his 70th birthday party. I'll spotlight another couple current first-class female vocalists in tomorrow's post.


Freelance Money Matters

freelance-money_72.jpg I wish I knew then what I know now about how to deal with money as a freelancer. I think I've done all right as far as it goes up 'til now, but I had to learn things as I went along, sometimes not getting as early a start as I could have, which is a shame. So I've put together here a few items to give you a leg up. Of those suggestions I've listed below, some are common sense, some we know what to do but put off, and some are "why didn't I think of that sooner?!" Some of these pointers are broad-based and could apply to anyone, freelancing or otherwise, but are particularly helpful for those living the freelance lifestyle, especially if one hopes or expects to go at it long-term. Savings for Living Regardless of your living situation (single, co-habitating, married, providing for dependents), it's smart to save in fluid funds three-to-six months worth of expenses. Freelancing can be a crazy roller coaster ride, and having that cash safety net for the slower periods comes in awful handy. It relieves stress, allows you to make more focused, relatively desperation-free choices about what kind of work to pursue, and when and how to go after it. Pay off your credit card every month Credit cards are convenient and great for keeping track of business expenses. Many credit cards offer cash back for all purchases, so make a lot of sense, especially for large expenditures and investments like computers and studio equipment. May as well take advantage, providing you can be disciplined enough to pay it off every month. Interest is a killer, so avoid it at all costs. Line of Credit For those times when cash flow may be a problem, a line of credit is invaluable as a second safety net. If you're going to pay interest, make sure it's interest you can write off on your taxes, which a second mortgage like this allows. To qualify, you'll need some equity or collateral, so you'll already have to be in debt with a first mortgage, so this will not apply to everyone. There's nothing wrong with renting, especially if you're younger and just starting out. Personally, I preferred owning a home and building up equity as soon as possible, but to each their own. You can use a line of credit to expand your business by purchasing equipment to keep current, or for promotional purposes. In the end, even if you never tap into it, a line of credit is a good idea for peace of mind, at the very least. Buy used cars If you drive, and unless you're freaky for autos, never by a new car. It's a waste of money to buy new, as a car depreciates considerably as soon as you drive it off the lot. Though as a freelancer you may be called on to work on site, much of your time can be spent at home. Either way, there's no sense having a sparkly new vehicle sitting and gathering dust at home or exposed to the elements in a downtown parking lot. If you do drive for work, business meetings and to pick up supplies, make sure to keep track of your mileage, which can be claimed. And when the old car has hit a wall, donate it to a worthy cause like a Veteran's Donation Program like we have here in Minnesota. Then it's time for the next used car. Long Term Savings Saving for retirement is especially important for the freelancer, for reasons mentioned above, and more. Being self employed, you have to create your own equivalent of a 401K account, and no employer will be offering matching funds. I sure wish I'd gotten an earlier start on this, as I'd be in even better shape had I socked away a few bucks here and there when younger and beginning my career. Take advantage of the power of compound interest. This may seem like a boring subject for artists trying to live a creative life, but if you're attentive to it and follow through, you can buy yourself security and autonomy. If you're twenty years old and can set aside even $25 a month, it's better than nothing, and can add up. And if you've waited or couldn't get an early start, it's not too late, just begin now setting aside as much as you can spare, and envision painting and drawing in your retirement without having to worry about monthly expenses. Additional Freelancing Tips I've plenty more I could share about rates, estimates, how to set up a company, licensing and copyrights, etc., but it's been covered comprehensively and in good detail at other blogs, such as Cedric Hohnstadt's and Tom Richmond's MAD blog. Check out these links and their "Business of Freelancing" category pages for some great advice and insights.


Faces of Men

mansketch03.jpg Another round of sketches, the old-fashioned way: with pencil in a sketchbook. Some are impressions of actors or characters I drew while watching TV, others are wholly out of my head.


Scary Monsters Look 'N' Find Book

lookfind_cov.jpg The project that convinced me I would enjoy and could find work outside the comic book industry, Look 'N' Find Scary Monsters & Other Creatures was a lot of fun in many ways, and took a ton of time and energy to execute. Over a three month period, I produced nine large detailed color spreads, eighty-three small spot character illustrations and of course, the cover. To complete the sizable project, I worked 13-15-hour-days, holidays, nights and weekends, with only a couple nights off. I'd probably never tackle something exactly like this again, but in hindsight it sure is fun to peek through and for kids to pour over. lookfind_undersea_detail1.jpg In the vein of the popular Where's Waldo series, this book required me to fill vast areas with multitudes of silly and scary creatures, all meant to hide and disguise certain specific characters throughout. Printed at a 10 x 12 size, the book opens then to spreads of roughly 12 x 18. The original art was done on huge sheets of illustration board, sized about three feet wide, drawn with brush or technical pens, then colored with markers, occasionally augmented with colored pencils. I never would have made the deadline for not the aid of my trusty Gal Friday, Mary, who jumped in at the second half of the book to help color. It also helped to have company in the studio as we headed to the finish line. Drawn in the days just before the advent of the world wide web, I made numerous trips to the library to check out large and toppling stacks of books for reference to help me get details right and for inspiration. I found some of scariest monsters actually exist, especially deep sea creatures, requiring no additional imagination from me! You can view one of the large spreads in our Prime Projects section of this site. Though now out of print, one can still find used and new copies at various sources on line.


Old Man Sketch


Tried the Cintiq for another quick sketch, this time using the NagelSeries33-Pencil2 Photoshop brush. This brush is wider and darker than the one I used for my last sketch, and I worked a little smaller, too, which allowed me to retain more of the loose pencil look I'm after. I worked with a "Multiply" setting, at 100% flow, adjusting the opacity percentages as needed You can see more of the pencil effect in this close up, and before I tweaked the color for something of a sepia tone. This is closer to how it looked to me on screen while I drew.


Old man wrinkles are always fun to draw. I guess it won't be too long before I'll be doing more of those in self portraits!


Demon Boy Sketchcast

While on the phone with my brother last night, we got to talking about one of my early characters, Demon Boy. Inspired by Jack Kirby's The Demon, and his Moon Boy, Devil Dinosaur's pal, I threw in a little Mowgli from Jungle Book, and...voila! Instant Original Character! He's almost thirty years old, but the little guy can still scare the skin off a pickle, as this quick Demon Boy Sketchcast I did during our phone chat will attest.