Dogged Daily Drawing
Cartoonist, comics artist-author, web designer Erik Kuntz drew a dog every day for a year.
And now he can draw them out of his head quite easily.
I know this because I saw him do it with my own eyes a few weeks ago. I was sitting across the table from him at Central Market Cafe at an Inklings critique session. He had his sketchbook out. (A lot of folks bring their sketchbooks to Inklings gatherings.) He was doodling as he listened to the various conversations that were going on around the table.
Suddenly this friendly, rough and ready four pawed canine fellow appeared on the page — and everyone stopped talking.
I was always impressed by Erik’s decision to create regularly (by drawing then posting to his website a dog every day so we could keep tabs on him. And not the same dog, either.)
It was the sort of character building put-your-time-and-money-where-your- mouth-is goal that I’ve always aspired to. (Alas, I’ve found that other peoples’ deadlines motivate me more than my own.)
Erik never missed a day– and no one ever told him to do it.
He talked with us a few weeks ago.
Why a dog a day, Erik?
I came up with the idea in 2000. I even designed a logo for it way back then. Somebody said if you do something everyday, it’s not possible to get worse at it. Some of the newer studies, like those quoted in Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers have suggested that genius is over-rated. I read something about that in 2002.
I thought I should force something ; I really should be drawing more. But I let my own personal insecurities get in the way.
It did bother me for six years. I kept thinking, where would I be now in my skill if I’d put more effort into it years ago.
On January 1, 2008, I launched my web comic Hex Libris and I thought, as as long as I’m doing this, I should start doing a dog a day at the same time.
And why dogs?
People like dogs. It’s not like doing a cat a day, because with cats you don’t get the huge difference — all the variations that you get with dogs. Dogs are funnier than cats and have more personality.
I knew more ideas would come from them.
Plus I was working on a children’s book about a Dalmation, and I knew that the reason I wasn’t drawing the way I wanted to was because it’s easier to just not work.
And so how did you proceed?
As best I could. I tried to do them in one sitting. Some of the pieces would take more than one day. Generally they took a couple of hours. I didn’t intend for them to take me as long as they did. Some days I wished I had more time — and came away a little bit discouraged. But as I started to improve and become more proud of the stuff I was doing, I would ask myself, what do I need to put into this image to make it a piece I’m happy with?
I worked mainly with a Wacom tablet. I discovered that the ‘happy accidents’ that you often get in watercolor –can happen in digital mediums, too.
Working digitally you could just go back and work it to death.
But I learned to just stop and post the piece. I discovered the freeing nature of just stopping when I was reasonably done and telling myself, ‘This is what I did today, and I’ll do another one tomorrow.’
I put them up on the web as I completed them to keep myself honest. I never missed one. But one day something happened to my webserver and the dog that had been up went down. And I heard from eight people.
How did you give yourself ideas?
There were some days when I would sit down and just not know what I was going to do. Often I would begin by noodling around with the Wacom. For the one dog I did in complementary colors, I just put on a sphere and started to form a dog out of this. I spent an hour and a half on that, just finding the dog hiding in the raw thing.
Some of the dogs I did with Bic pen or Sharpie marker on typing paper. Sometimes I would scan these and repaint them digitally.
People would send me ideas. Some people would send me photos of dogs and I did drawings.
Some days I would search the web for interesting dogs. Some days I would work completely from my imagination. I would do these three minute-dogs, stopwatch running.
I’d start with a really loose gesture, with some fuzzy notion of an action or a composition. I’d work really rough and light with blue pencil on paper, or the blue digital pencil on the computer. I used to be one of those kinds of people that tried to get every line right and I was really slow and cramped in my drawing. I felt like there was some sort of freedom missing in it.
Now I know I can get away with a fast, loose gesture. I learned that I could draw the arm as an arc, and everybody would be fine with it and nobody knows…
And now, the book: You’ve repackaged your drawings in a new format!
I was thinking initially of a small run of books that would be a Christmas present for family and some friends.
I started with one print on demand publisher but had problems with their color. Later I turned to CreateSpace, owned by Amazon. They were substantially cheaper but they didn’t have the high grade glossy paper. But now the book is available through their store.
I’ve designed books in the past, but never an art book. I used Adobe InDesign, which is a great program.
You know, the Dog a Day project was never meant to be anything commercial. It was meant to improve my skills and yes it did.
The idea was to challenge yourself and accept that if it wasn’t very good, then at least you drew.
I’m still drawing every day. And, yeah, I can draw dogs with my eyes closed — no peeking.
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You can order your personalized softcover copy of “A Dog A Day” at Erik’s webstore here.
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Erik is also the creator of what is probably the most charming comic created for the web, the kid-friendly Hex Libris . Since its launch on January 1, 2008, the series has been unfolding a narrative about Kirby, caretaker of a magical library and his fictional friends. (They range from a Nancy Drew-like character and her big dog Watson — to Frankenstein’s very literate monster.) You can read our early interview with Erik about Hex Libris here .
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The narrator in the “Dog a Day Project” video, of course, is Erik’s wife, brilliant actress, comedian writer Maggie Gallant. They met in London while both working on start-up team for America Online – UK .
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Author Cynthia Leitich Smith interviews author Chris Barton on the publication of his picture book bio “The Day Go Brothers: The True Story of Bogb and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors” (Charlesbridge, 2009) illustrated by Tony Persiani. The book has been getting great reviews and you can learn how to enter to win a free copy in the post in Cynthia’s blog Cynsations.
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Mark Mitchell hosts the “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” blog.
To enjoy some free watercolor lessons from his online course on how to illustrate a children’s book go here.