teeny catalog

  • I want to believe

    illustration B

    B is for believe in my 36-days-of-type series

  • Adventures in environmental color

    Lately I’ve been working on incorporating environmental light/color in my work. I’ve never been an outstanding colorist—I actually think I missed color theory in college when I transferred before my sophomore year. It’s something I’ve been more conscious of IRL and in my sketchbook this year.

    Light and color in a Friday night dive bar: Illustration of friends in pink lights and purple shadows

    A mixture of blue/yellow light coming in an off screen window (used a photo reference): Illustration of woman in greenish light and shadows

    The illustration I made for the top of my online store is one of the most technically interesting things I’ve ever drawn. Here’s the basic illustration: Illustration of a woman reading comics

    I think this is pretty decent as it stands, and it’s where I would stopped six months ago.

    The thing I was really interested in here though was the light source. The final version uses light to direct the composition: Illustration of a woman reading comics in dramatic lighting

    Much more complex and dramatic! The busy composition is easier to navigate and the mood is totally different.

    While working on this piece I really felt like I understood how the light was playing the room—something I didn’t actually grok with the previous two drawings. For this one, I used two “gel” layers representing the light in the room: Screenshot of layers palette with basic lighting

    The whole room is in shadow (the purple multiply layer) while the light (the yellow overlay layer) is coming in through a contained shape (the window). From there, I erased light and added shadow to show how the light was interrupted by solid objects (chair, person) and more translucent objects (leaves, curtains): Screenshot of layers palette with detail lighting layers

    I’ve still have a lot to learn, but I’m really excited to be capturing this kind of depth! If you have any resources you really like for environmental color, give me a shout and I’ll add them to this post for folks to see.

  • Master's Copies

    Copying the masters! It’s what we Arr-teests are supposed to do, especially as students. I really failed to appreciate this exercise literally at all for the duration of my formal education, despite going to school down the street from a major art museum.

    Student copying at an art museum saying "This fucking sucks"

    This year I’m trying to practice everything more, especially drawing. I’m trying to be a student again. My goal for this year was to do 50 copies of basically any piece of art I find compelling, and try to learn something from it. I’ve done 12 so far. Maybe I’ll start tracking them as a list, that could be interesting. I try not to work on them for more than 30 or 40 minutes total. This helps me stay loose and not get too obsessed with perfection.

    This week I copied Witches’ Sabbath (1797-1798) by Francisco Goya:

    Copy of Witches' Sabbath by Francisco Goya

    And the original:

    Witches' Sabbath by Francisco Goya

    I’m really working on depicting shapes using light instead of heavy lines and environmental. Looking at both paintings side-by-side I mostly see mistakes, but when I look at just my copy I see the areas where I’m improving, or doing something new.

    Goya painted this during the later part of the Spanish Inquisition. According to wikipedia, Goya’s paintings of witches covens were an act of protest against the way the Spanish Inquisition used a culture of fear to control people. “Goya’s depictions of such scenes mocked what he saw as medieval fears exploited by the established order for political and capital gain.” Illustration is a powerful tool for protest, and those who hold that pen have the responsibility to wield it well.

    Here are a few more masters’ copies I’ve worked on this year:

    Diana Bathing Diana Bathing by François Boucher

    Process video of my copy

    Motocycles Comiot by Théophile Steinlen Motocycles Comiot by Théophile Steinlen

    Copy of Motocycles Comiot by Théophile Steinlen Copy of Motocycles Comiot by Théophile Steinlen

    Portrait of Comtesse d'Haussonville by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Portrait of Comtesse d’Haussonville by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

    Copy of Portrait of Comtesse d'Haussonville by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Copy of Portrait of Comtesse d’Haussonville by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

    I spent more than 30 minutes on some of these, but I’ve been trying hard to keep the exercise at around half an hour. Even when I didn’t feel like I got very far, or like my work would never be as good as this, I’ve learned a lot from each copy. If you’re trying to add new skills to your library I highly recommend the exercise! Don’t be too hard on yourself about it, the point is to learn.

  • The making of Debt

    Last week my most recent nonfiction comic was published on the Nib (read Americans Are Drowning in Debt here if you haven’t gotten a chance yet). I thought I would write a little about my process making a non-fiction comics.


    Debt friends My friends and I are in a lot debt. I’m an X-er (and I’ve got the haircut to prove it), so most of our debt is not “good” debt like a mortgage. We joke about it sometimes, but honestly debt is a very shameful topic in the US so we mostly pretend our lives are really carefree and that we can afford to buy expensive green fruit that is often already rotten when you open it.

    I was really interested in:

    1. learning more about debt in the United States and how we got here
    2. opening a public dialogue about debt so we can all feel a little less ashamed about it


    Collaboratively mobbing I don’t actually write non-fiction, so all I really had were suspicions about American debt. Luckily I happen to know a writer* and activist who used to be a bankruptcy lawyer. I asked Kevin Moore if he’d be interested in doing a comic together about debt based on his “standard American Debt Rant” and he said yes.

    This was Kevin’s first comic, so we worked together on an outline for a 30 panel comic, which translates to about 7-8 pages of material (and is a fairly standard size for feature-length comics journalism). We decided to cover US debt history, give an overview of the most common kinds of debt, and talk about little about debt futurism.


    Scripting We pitched this story to my favorite comics outlet and they accepted it! Then I sat back while Kevin did the reporting. Although we had seen the effects of the debt industry first hand, the history was almost worse than I was expecting.

    It was actually really hard to keep the script short and to the point because there have been so many specific injustices at play here for generations. We worked with seasoned comics journalism editor Andy Warner, and he and Kevin took the script through a few drafts. Once the script was finalized, it was turned over to me for drawing.


    Ideas When I get a finalized script, whether I’ve worked on it at all or not, the first thing I do is sit down and try to find the over-arching visual narrative. I usually do this by doodling on a clean sketchbook page as I read the script over several times. When the page is full, I look for the common threads, and find the ideas that hit me hardest. In this case, what really struck me was how pervasive debt was, and how it sticks to people and things and stops them from moving forward. That’s how I came up with Debt Slime.

    Then I go through and cut together a very, very loose version of the comic that shows the basic composition of the page and each panel. I submitted this to my editor, and he gave me some feedback and the go ahead to final art.


    Then I drew for nine million years. After my concepts are approved, there are three basic stages:

    1. Penciling
    2. Inking
    3. Coloring

    Ultimately each panel takes about an hour, give or take. It’s really easy to get tunnel vision here, so I got feedback from Kevin and Andy after each stage. That feedback helps push me to my best compositions and visual metaphors. I especially struggled with the color palette on this one, but I’m really proud of how it came out!


    Wreck that debt Kevin and I got some green fruits to celebrate, and all over they were only about 30% rotten. I’m still in a lot of debt, but I do feel slightly less bad about it now.

    * Kevin is actually nearly finished with a book empowering folks to enter the field of software development. back to article

  • Digital Comics Ouevre

    A non-exhaustive and highly disorganized list of unique digital storytelling largely accomplished through comics.

    Highlight Reel


    Highly focused on user participation, but still containing comics as a kernel

    • Reigns: Her Majesty (Devolver Digital, 2017)
      • Greed and jealousy still conspire against the benevolent queen. Outwit and outlast those that would seek to depose you and your husband by swiping left or right, making just (or unjust) decisions on all manner of royal matters.
    • Framed 2 (Loveshack Entertainment, 2017)
      • Rearranging the panels of an animated comic book to alter the order of events and change the outcome from disaster to success.
    • The Empty Kingdom (Merlin Goodbrey, 2014)
      • Your kingdom lies empty before you; all your subjects fled; all their stories told. And yet you take up your sword. And yet you don your crown.
    • The Wolf Among Us (Telltale Games, 2013)
      • Digital comic thriller based on the award-winning Fables comic books (DC Comics/Vertigo).


    Academic papers

    Perhaps you would like to read more about digital comics or digital narrative in general

    • Coming soon!

  • 2019 Book List

    Here are some books I’m reading in 2019, loosely organized. Ideally I have only one from each category going at any given time, but I don’t really follow that rule.

    I’ll be updating this over the course of the year, so check back if you’d like to follow along! Italicized books are completed, bolded are in progress.

    da books


    • Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
    • CSS the Missing Manual by David Sawyer McFarland

    Art & Design

    • The Laws Guide to Nature Journaling by John Muir Laws
    • Steering the Craft by Ursula K LeGuin
    • Just My Type by Simon Garfield


    • Amusing ourselves to death by Neil Postman
    • Bullshit jobs by David Graeber
    • So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
    • Walden by Henry David Thoreau


    • The moon is a harsh mistress by Robert A. Heinlein: Really great revolutionary story, though I thought the libertarianism got a little heavy handed
    • Killing Mister Watson by Peter Matthiessen: Fictionalized account of a string of murders in post-colonial Florida, historically very interesting
    • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: Space opera from the point-of-view of a ship, what more could you want!!
    • The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin


    • Redlands
    • Black Hammer


    Sometimes books don’t make it.

    • Eloquent Javascript by Marijn Haverbeke: This was unfortunately not as well organized as the last edition. I’ll still reference it, but it wasn’t a very readable text this time around.
    • Hello My Name is Awesome by Alexandra Watkins: I decided against rebranding ¯_(ツ)_/¯

  • the teeny catalog


    As a child I was fascinated by the card catalog at the library. This unassuming brick of drawers, dense with arcanely marked cards, held reference to every! single! book! I’ve never been great at recall—I didn’t, for example, know how many or which books I’d already read, or even how to conceive of the data set. The card catalog introduced me to my first information system, a hint that maybe a photographic memory wasn’t so important, if you knew where to look. Catalogs can be vehicles to make sense of the world around us.

    Of course it’s not enough just to catalog. Taxonomy is the branch of science concerned with classification: good systems reflect how groups of things interconnect and interdepend, how they’re simliar and how they’re special, and how they work as a whole. These relationships are how we advance our understanding of the world, and make sense of the way it falls around us.

    Often it seems my work as an artist is really to be an archivist, a cataloger. It’s those interconnections that advance my work, and my primary professional task is to find the right one for each problem. How does this relate to the things around it? How is that meaningful? Over the years, I have used lots of different platforms and digital gadgetry to build catalogs, but they have always fallen short. There’s never enough cross-pollination between my Goodreads library and my GitHub repos. My best catalogs have lived in paper sketchbooks and college ruled spiral-bounds: unreferencable, unsearchable, uncategorized. A professional practices log interred in densely packed boxes, the opposite of a card catalog.

    So, I’ve been on the prowl for a professional practices log that works. I’ve found great inspiration in other creative catalogs, like Austin Kleon’s studio practice log, or Brain Pickings cross-disciplinary design inventory. Catalogs like these are living organisms we can learn from, and with, over time. For a long time, my own blog was a sketchbook, a place to catalog one kind of information. This was okay, but it never felt like a great place to explore ideas from multiple angles. Actually drawing represents only the very tip of the creative iceberg—to make great art, we must observe the world outside the studio. We have to study.

    The web is a natural place to document creative practices. When blogs began, they were the only form of simple digital publication available, and so they became the new, experimental, digital zines of the noughties. From the beginning blogs were interconnected—Andrew Loomis and NASA are equally referencable. The web connects my catalog to yours and millions of others all over the world, a meeting of minds inconceivable just 100 years ago.

    Since then countless new platforms have emerged to facilitate our cataloging and our communicating. In some ways, this is exciting—the gang’s all here, clapping and hearting and thumbs-upping. But the ways these platforms control our speech—format, distribution, outright censorship—have become intolerable. None of them are great places to store ideas anymore.

    This is the place where I’ll be storing my own personal catalog of research on art and design in a digital age—a place to talk about the rest of the iceberg, how observation informs practice. I hope that by building my teeny catalog in public, you’ll be able to add some new entries to yours.

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