I do a webcomic called NonCanon. For May 2012, I decided to try something different: a month’s worth of watercolors combining words and images from City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold and the Spin Doctors’ album Pocket Full of Kryptonite. Sara made a joke suggestion of a month of City Slickers 2 NonCanons and then I thought of the weird Build-a-Title style portmanteau and cracked myself up too much to stop.
I don’t remember how I settled on the idea of using this 10-year-old portable watercolor kit I have, but I’m glad I did. I know that I knew right away I’d want to be constantly pairing words from one of the two with an image from the other. This meant watching City Slickers 2 three times one Saturday, grabbing the weirdest faces in freeze-frame that I could. It also meant reading a lot of angry/bizarre/typo-ridden YouTube and Amazon reviews.
I also knew in, like, the second bolt of inspiration that past a certain point I wanted to have images from both running into each other and words from both running into each other, as a kind of culmination of the series, and because I knew it could make some really horrifying imagery out of two crowd-pleasers from the 90s. In retrospect, I wish I’d done this for the whole month.
It was the first project I did any under-penciling or pre-drawing for in something like 2 years. You know, because I had wanted to improve my direct-to-ink skills? Because I wanted to capture the perfect immediacy of my first thoughts? Because of speed? Because of laziness? Probably all those and more I can’t remember. Anyway, I brought pencils back.
One thing I learned in this project was that I didn’t need to outline all the details in ink to make them understandable. If you read through the series, you can see outlines drop off, and watch me not miss them.
When I look at the projects I’m drawn toward, they seem concerned with endurance and prolificacy. I like a project whose description makes other people recoil and tests an unspoken limit for myself. Hence: Fail Faster Forever’s 500 pages in 4 months. Hence: running marathons. Hence: a nearly 2-and-a-half-year unbroken sketchbook run. Hence: a month of paintings like this.
The one below this block of text is the one I’d have thrown out, if I’d had a little more time, but I had to crunch out 4 in one day because of the demands of my day job. Surprisingly, it’s the first one I did that day, not the last. I can walk the painting backward in my head, and see a lot of the bad decisions in it come from not trusting my original mistakes. Trying to cover them by layering on blacks, then getting desperate and trying to apply outlines to make up for it. It was the only full-band shot I attempted, and it just didn’t cohere. It looks to me like a forced smile or a painfully clenched fist. The text is still funny.
The thing with these projects is they lead to me over-reaching. That one failure I posted (“Pisspots,” above) gets all its flaws from me overworking to overcorrect because I tried too hard. It’s a failure and a diagnosis and that’s why I like keeping it up.
If I’m being honest, I hoped this project would be a spectacular success or a spectacular failure. I have a core audience of regular readers, and I worry constantly that I rely on that and will get/am already stagnant. I tried something this dumb because it made me laugh, and because I thought it would force me to scramble some, keep me restless. It could alienate everybody, or pull in a big new audience. Instead, things went about the same as normal, with a slight, slow wane. That’s maybe the most disappointing outcome, because it feels so bland.
But color stepped my game up. I’m not great yet, but I’m better than I was in April. I made something entirely from ironically appropriated images and appropriated text and it wound up revealing a lot about who I am, not all of it positive.
There’s a lot I can learn from these 23 dumb paintings (and their fellow failed ones I never posted). Each one is a little detour of experiments I can explore again later. Each one is a reminder that originality/authenticity aren’t what you start with, they’re what emerges.
Also, that I’m a little ashamed, honestly, that I picked these two pop culture things that I was laughing at for being dumb, for thinking that I was better than them. It is a bit uncomfortable to sit and stare and think for a long time about something you picked for the quick-hit irony factor. The novelty reveals itself as empty and then for the rest of the month it’s just you and all the reflexive thinking about why, when you were given a chance to say something, you chose to say “Check it out: weren’t these things so stupid?”