Comics Community Heart: an Interview with Kevin Czap

The Emerging Talent Award – this goes to a cartoonist whom we feel has plenty of promise as a cartoonist and has shown themselves to be a solid and giving community member as well… We love everything we’ve ever learned about you, in terms of your comics community heart.
—Tom Spurgeon, during the presentation of Jeff Smith and Vijaya Iyer’s Emerging Talent Award to Kevin Czap at CXC, 2016.

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Kevin Czap behind-the-scenes – showing off their filing system at CXC 2016

By a combination of good luck and being an early bird at a pick-your-own-table convention, I ended up tabling close to Kevin Czap of Czap Books during the recent Cartoon Crossroads Columbus expo. This proximity allowed for neighborly chats and also afforded me a front-row spot when they were awarded the CXC 2016 Emerging Talent Award. Jeff Smith and Vijaya Iyer presented Kevin with a $7,500, no-strings-attached award in the form of a novelty check. It was a special moment to witness at CXC – a generous display of support for a deserving artist.

A week later, I met up with Kevin in Providence, Rhode Island, to continue the conversation about CXC, comics and community.


Alyssa: Tell me a little bit about winning the Emerging Talent Award at CXC. What was that like for you?

Kevin Czap: I’ve been going to shows in Columbus with that crowd for a long time. I do a lot of shows – this year I’m going to be doing a total of 14 or 15, more than I usually do. So I know a lot of people, but there are a number of people I don’t necessarily think they know who I am, or I’m not necessarily on their radar… I’m just going about my thing. I didn’t expect it at all. It felt nice in that regard – plugging away at this thing and trying to be a part of the larger conversation of comics that I feel a part of is being represented at CXC. So the award felt like acknowledgement, that you are being noticed and heard, which feels nice. I’m doing all of this stuff without expectation of reward, it’s just what I what I want to do, but it’s definitely nice to see some traction.

A: You recently did a Kickstarter for the 2017 collection from Czap Books that more than doubled the amount of money you asked for, and you won this Emerging Talent Award, both within a short span of time. It’s pretty wild, right?

KC: I was thinking about that on the drive home [from CXC] and I was crying a lot. Not only that, last year Annie Koyama approached L. Nichols and I about funding Ley Lines, and she gave us a big check for printing the whole line for a year (as well as to pay the artists). And she just did that again for next year. I’ve collected close to what my salary was at my old full-time job to put into making comics, just out of people’s kindness and support of me. It’s too much (laughs).

A: It’s the perfect amount! What was your old full-time job?

KC: I was a web and graphic designer for a marketing firm in Northeast Ohio. It took good care of me but as I was becoming more ambitious with comics-things that had various facets of identity, the time got to be too much. I was spending the whole day thinking about the comics work that I was not getting done.

A: It’s a leap of faith, as an artist, to leave a full-time job.

KC: This award validates that decision even more. And also with the Kickstarter, I’ve been able to see the gains that I’ve made since leaving that job, and all of the time I’ve been able to put to good use.

A: You have a lot of projects going at once: your own comics, publishing other people’s work, Ley Lines… In addition to those projects you are going to 15 festivals this year. It’s a pretty basic question but how do you manage your time?

KC: In the beginning of the year, I figured out a really nice system of dividing up the days into specific blocks so everything is being worked on continually. But then after the first couple of big shows I fell off that a little bit. Now I’m trying to catch back up and get in to it again. Generally I just have a million to-do lists. I realized there are things I really don’t want to do, like call somebody on the phone or ask a stranger a question where the ‘no’ could be a scary thing. But if I put it on the to-do list, I have to cross it off.

A: Do you love crossing things off?

KC: It’s the greatest thing in the world.

A: I was just reading Fütchi Perf and I’m wondering about the process that goes into your comics.

KC: I’ve been trying to speed it up a little bit. Generally I’ll have ideas and over a couple months, they’ll formulate. Different bits and pieces of an idea will grow and crystallize and an image will pop out of that. I feel like I work better in smaller chunks. Fütchi Perf was made in discreet units over time. The first couple stories were for specific publications or tasks. I was living in Cleveland and the local alt-weekly had a comics issue: ‘do Cleveland of the future.‘ I did a single page that I later adapted to the first story in Fütchi Perf.

A lot of them are based off of experiences I’ve had. I try to shove across any plotting ideas I have. ‘Alright that doesn’t matter, what is the feeling, what do I keep obsessing over?’ The story I was just talking about, I was trying to capture the feeling of going to my first house show – going down this hill and there is this weird house and it’s going to change your life but you don’t know it yet.

From there I’ll have the images and then I try to run through the actions in my head. I’ll write out the lyrics or phrasing of the song. I’ve always been obsessed with this idea of somehow translating the feeling or structure of a song to a comic. Some of the more recent work I’ve done I’ll literally try and dissect the structure of song lyrics and try and transcribe that to panels.

But for Ley Lines, it was different. I wrote all of the words first. I had some images like I usually do but it was writing out the actual lines, then rewriting and editing before drawing.

A: Your Ley Lines book, The Letting Go, was inspired by a conceptual artist (Bas Jan Ader)?

KC: Yeah, it’s an artist I learned about in college who I’m still interested in. I was reading a lot of writing about his work and my friend gave me a copy of a documentary about his life and work. I was thinking about these things in general and trying to shove that into a more personal, auto-biographical thing.

A: I work with auto-bio in my own work but I try to pull away from the specific and make it more of a relatable feeling. With the auto-bio stuff, is that really close to you?

KC: I feel like it’s really personal but it’s heavily coded. There’s a very thick screen. Some of the lines or words are directly things I’ve thought about my own situation but taken out of context to be more relatable and capture a feeling. Everything I do is really earnest, but there is a layer of self-consciousness about that because you have a sense that people don’t take earnestness seriously or it’s an easy route to being bad. There’s always an awareness of that. I don’t want it to be naive, but I do think that earnestness and honesty are important.

A: When I made Alpenglow for the Comics Workbook competition, I made a conscious decision to re-imagine that story through kinder eyes. I have the tendency to go toward a heavy-hearted place but I wanted to be more positive, for myself and the people who would read it. When you’re making your work are you conscious of what’s being put out into the ether…of wanting to put positive vibrations into the universe (I’m sorry, I’m a half-hippie!)?

KC: No, totally. That’s a lot of where Fütchi Perf started coming from. That idea of how can I turn this into positive energy that I can put into the world? It’s partly what I’m putting out into the world but it’s also what I’m putting into myself, too. I realized at some point it’s very easy to grow negativity in your own mind and I could see where that path leads. How can you correct that behavior, or view it another way? It is a lot of explicitly taking something and flipping it to see, what’s another outcome of this, what do you actually want to happen?

A: That’s interesting that you say ‘what do you actually want to happen’ because as I was reading Fütchi Perf, in the first story, a character is “chosen to receive a sizable arts grant.”

KC: Oh, ha, I forgot about that. That’s so funny because that specifically came out of not getting a grant and I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I had?

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From Fütchi Perf, Czap Books, 2015

A: Tell me about the comics community and how you might add to it.

KC: As far as the community goes, my role – if I can do anything, I want to be able to bridge some gaps and constantly be true to my idea of comics being a very diverse and interesting medium full of possibility and not about any one particular way a comic looks or is made.

A lot of it involves me constantly questioning and revisiting my own assumptions and tastes. I think it’s valuable to revisit those assumptions. Part of why it seemed important to me to go into publishing, besides liking it – promoting other people’s work and putting books together which is fun – is being very aware that the culture and history of comics is editable. It’s created by active involvement.

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Sketchbook, 2016

One of my favorite things to see is a work in progress or sketchbook from an artist I admire. I asked Kevin if they would bring something in progress along to our meeting. 

KC: Right now I’m working on some things, but it’s all writing at this point. This is a recent sketchbook. It started as all ballpoint pen, and more recently I brought in the highlighter. With the line drawings, it’s like a wall I can’t get past. I want to do more blocky color.

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Sketchbook, 2016

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Kevin Czap – a.k.a. “Comics Mom” – has been making comics since they were a child in Northern Virginia. They live in Providence, RI, where they run the publisher and distro Czap Books. Their most recent work is The Letting Go (Ley Lines #8 – August 2016). Catch up with Kevin at Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend (Nov. 5th 2016)!

Alyssa Berg makes comics in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her work HERE.

Alyssa Berg on CXC 2016

Editor’s Note: Alyssa Berg joined the Comics Workbook crew at CXC 2016 as one of our workshop leaders. Comics Workbook hosted four sessions over the course of the festival, and Alyssa presented on her process, her painted comics, and her use of the 4- and 9-panel grids. She led an exercise using the 4- and 9-panel grids that challenged and excited the attending comics makers, including students from the Columbus College of Art and Design.

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A video from the exercise she led:

And now, the rest of Alyssa’s CXC experience in her own words.


 

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Me tabling at CXC 2016

My First Con

At the airport on my way home from Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, I bought a legal pad because I had accidentally checked my sketchbook in my suitcase. I wanted to record all of the details from my four days in Columbus ASAP – I didn’t want to forget any of the moments that made CXC such a wonderful experience. Over the past week I have been able to zoom-out and see what shaped many of my positive experiences: access to comics history and connecting with the comics community. 

Upon arrival in Columbus, my first stop was the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. I appreciated having a couple days pre-expo to enjoy the reading room, archive and museum. The Winsor McCay exhibit was stunning. On the archive tour, it was amazing to be standing inside the chilly room filled with flat files, books and boxes that house the world’s largest cartoon & comics collection. I was able to see some rare gems at the Billy Ireland. 

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Terry & the Pirates, Milton Caniff

CXC was my first time taking part in a convention and I was struck by the spirit of the greater comics community. The people – comics-makers, event organizers, curators, publishers, students, teachers, librarians, and volunteers – all came together to celebrate comics and create an open and interesting atmosphere filled with great energy. There was a variety of events (including, of course, the book expo held over the weekend in the beautiful Columbus Metropolitan Library) where I had the pleasure of connecting and having conversations with many lovely comics-humans, including the Comics Workbook crew. Some strong bonds were formed, and I’m especially grateful for that.

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Dinner with some of the CW crew

Thank you to the organizers of CXC for hosting such a great event, thank you to the staff and volunteers at both the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum & Library and the Columbus Metropolitan Library.  Also a big thank you to Frank Santoro at Comics Workbook for sending me to CXC with the CW crew. 

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A selection of books from CXC

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Alyssa Berg makes comics in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her work HERE.


For the rest of our complete CXC coverage check out the special “round up” report HERE.

Art Trip: In A Series

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Lynda Barry, installation shot from IN A SERIES

The Adam Baumgold Gallery, tucked away in a residential building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is a small gallery that regularly shows the work of comic book artists. Past solo exhibits include Lynda Barry, Charles Burns and Chris Ware. The current exhibit, IN A SERIES (through August 12), includes artwork from these artists and 39 (!) other 20th century and contemporary artists.  IN A SERIES showcases original comics pages, drawings, collages, paintings, sculptures and photographs.

I was drawn to the two large Chris Ware pages (27.5” x 20” each) from Building Stories (Pantheon Graphic Novels, 2012). They looked great in the space – substantial and easy to read from a distance, as if they were made to be hanging on a gallery wall. It was a pleasure to see Ware’s originals with the blue pencil lines that remain under the perfectly inked pages (pictured below).

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Chris Ware, Oak Park Newspaper – 7. Old Friend, Ink, blue colored pencil on paper

It was a treat to see original artwork by Julie Doucet, Lynda Barry and Ernie Bushmiller but my surprise-favorite from the exhibit was the series by Renée French, works from her graphic novel H Day (Picture Box, 2010). The graphite drawings by French are tiny (2.75” x 2.25” each) and perfect (pictured below).

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The challenge of IN A SERIES is the amount of art versus the size of the space. There is a lot of work packed into the two-room gallery, with some pieces placed in window sills and other pieces hung in the narrow hallway connecting the rooms. Despite the challenge, this eclectic group show is worth a visit. It (likely) has something for everybody.

Here’s the line-up:
Lynda Barry, Jennifer Bartlett, Bette Blank, Joe Brainard, Charles Burns, Ernie Bushmiller, Genevieve Castree, Joe Coleman, Robert Crumb, Julie Doucet, Roy Deforest, Marcel Dzama, Rafael Ferrier, Tony Fitzpatrick, Renee French, Sue Gerard, Chester Gould, Rodney Alan Greenblat, Red Grooms, George Grosz, Alex Katz, Edward Koren, Annette Lemieux, Tala Madani, Maryan, Mary Lynn Massoud, Richard McGuire, Jim Nutt, Jennie Ottinger, Christina Ramber, Auri Ramirez, Emile Selder, Seth, Laurie Simmons, William Steig, Saul Steinberg, Chris Ware, John Wesley, David Wajnarowicz, Time Wehrle, B. Wurtz & Joseph Yoakum.

You can see more images from the show on the gallery website, HERE, and visit it in person through August 12th.

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Alyssa Berg makes comics in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her work HERE.

Sunday is a Good Day to Visit a Museum: Part Three

This is the final part of a series of process meditations inspired by a trip to The Rubin Museum of Art in NYC. Catch up with Part One: Ritual in Preparing the Space/It’s the Simple Things, and Part Two: Meditation on the Grid/Free Your Mind

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Part 3: Pass the Mic/Other People’s Processes
For the final installment of the series reflecting on my visit to The Rubin Museum of Art, I posed a question to MariNaomi, Simon Hanselmann, Sophie Yanow and Vanesa R. Del Rey:
Will you share any ritual, meditation, or devotion in your artistic process?
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Inking/Work in Progress by MariNaomi

MariNaomi‘s most recent memoir comic is Turning Japanese (2dcloud, 2016). She is the creator and curator of the Cartoonists of Color Database and the Queer Cartoonists Database.

I’m not sure that I have any kind of ritual/meditation per se, but I am very habitual in my work days. Basically I start the day with an early-morning jog (at 6:30), then breakfast. Then I take care of things that might otherwise distract me: dishes, bills, emails. I don’t really get creative until after lunchtime. I’m generally in the zone from the afternoon until evening when my husband gets home at 7 or 8. If I’m on deadline (or super inspired), I’ll eat dinner with him, then get back to work until bedtime at 10:30 pm.
I used to beat myself up about not working in the mornings, but I’ve finally accepted that it’s my routine.
Oh, and my talisman is drinking lots and lots of tea.
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Untitled Strip by Simon Hanselmann

Simon Hanselmann‘s most recent collection is Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam (And Other Stories) (Fantagraphics, 2016). Megg, Mogg & Owl is updated Wednesdays at VICE.
my main ritual is trying to clear my mind so i can focus and be fully absorbed by the project at hand.
i usually try to clear my inbox in the morning before i start working otherwise i’ll feel guilty and flustered all day.
cigarettes are a huge part of the ritual. also red bull, sadly.
i really need to change up my rituals to something a bit more healthy…
fuck it though, as long as the work is getting done and i’m hitting my deadlines.
i will most likely be dead in a few years…
UPDATE:
I’m on day 10 of no red bull.
I am a recovering energy drink addict.
<|:-)
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Journal Comic by Sophie Yanow from http://www.situology.com

Sophie Yanow was the 2014-15 fellow at The Center for Cartoon Studies. Her most recent book is War of Streets and Houses (Uncivilized Books, 2014).
The one thing that I do that has kind of become a “ritual,” is when I do journal comics, I do them on graph paper, and I draw 6 square panels out on the graph paper before I start drawing or writing. I generally draw/write directly in the squares. The journal comics are always in a 6 panel grid, so I’ve considered printing out paper that has the 6 panel grid already on it, but I think that drawing the grid
out gets me into the proper state of “I’m going to draw/write a journal comic now.” It’s like a trigger. So drawing the panels first is the ritual/meditation that starts the journal comic.
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Jana, Warm-up drawing by Vanesa R. Del Rey

Vanesa R. Del Rey is an artist and illustrator for Hit comics (Boom! Studios). Her artwork has also been in Marvel, DC and Dark Horse comics.
My artistic process – Discipline. I work 6 days a week for about 10 hours a day, this is a constant but my schedule is kind of organic, it changes every once in a while. I usually do chores and have breakfast/check emails before I sit down to draw. Sometimes I work out before sitting down too. My ritual to get the juices flowing involves smoking ganja and doing a warm up sketch. This warm up sketch can be anything. It’s just a thing to unclog my mind and loosen up my joints. I just spill something out… I give myself about an hour or so. This happens usually when I’ve just started working on a book. After a couple of weeks I skip on the warm ups and dive straight into my pages when I sit down. I get faster as I progress, the shapes become familiar therefore I don’t have to spend as much time searching for them. Once in a while I also do cool down sketches after a day’s work. They are usually just ideas I have floating around that I use to not get bored. For example if I’m working on the computer for a long period of time I like to switch it up and start a painting or do a sketch in my sketchbook.

I guess the constant factor to begin for me is the ganja, I’m a big smoker. I would call it a ritual/meditation. My creative energy is unpredictable, it drives me and not the other way around, but my ritual is the method I have found to channel that energy, to make good use of it. It’s an incredible help for the stress of deadlines too! I’m always on a tight deadline.
Devotion is a given to me…doing my work is my life. I wouldn’t do anything else.
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Alyssa Berg makes comics in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her work HERE.

Sunday is a Good Day to Visit a Museum: Part Two

This series began last week with Part One: Ritual in Preparing the Space/It’s the Simple Things – now we are drawn deeper into the museum and into a new process meditation.

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My last stop at The Rubin Museum of Art was the exhibit Gateway to Himalayan Art. What immediately drew my attention were 4 pieces showing the stages of a thangka (scroll) painting. Thangka paintings most often depict deities or mandalas and are used in meditation practice. The paintings are not an expression of an individual artist; they are made by following a strict set of rules. Underneath the forms and colors is a complex grid based on precise measurements according to which deity is being depicted. In the process pieces at the Rubin, areas of the underlying grid of sacred geometry are left visible.

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Stages of a Painting (Saraswati) Buchung Nubgya 2014

I love seeing works in progress or unfinished artwork–a chance to spy the secrets that lie underneath the surface. But also, look at that grid! Yes, it’s true I am a student of Frank Santoro and, no, I am not going to go deep into practical and/or theoretical grid-talk. If you want that, get it from the man himself (the comments section is full of gems, too). If you prefer having your information in hard copy, it’s available that way, also.

As a person who has spent many+ hours drawing and re-drawing and drawing again the grid, it was an easy jump in my mind from this:

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Stages of a Painting (Saraswati) Buchung Nubgya 2014

to this:

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Tintin Grid Map by Frank Santoro

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Part 2: Meditation on the Grid/Free Your Mind

Recently I was in the audience at a panel discussion where someone asked the artists about ‘creative block’ and how to over-come it. The answers ranged from ‘just getting off of the couch’ to knowing that there are ups and downs in creative work. If I might add my own answer to the question no one asked me:

Sometimes my mind is unwell, or full of complicated messy things or unable to think of new ideas (‘creative block’, I guess?). When I am in this state, I let my wild, creative mind rest. One way to do this is by going into a gentle analytical and physical practice. I sit down at my desk and pre-draw pages of panels and grids. Similar to preparing my workspace as mentioned in Part One, pre-drawing panels and grids is a simple concentration-meditation that doesn’t require much thought (common theme: freedom from the mind!). I get out my ruler, triangle and compass and start to push my pencil across the page making the prescribed lines. I am not inventing them. There is a formula and I’m following that formula.

In my comics, I almost exclusively use a four-panel grid. Through years of repetition comes ease and comfort in getting to a single-pointed mind-concentration. In this concentration I’m not working out story ideas or fixing problems. I’m just there, holding the pencil in my hand, running it along the ruler. On certain days I’ve ended up with a stack of 20 pages of panels with varying elements of the grid or sometimes a single page with different color lines on top of lines on top of lines… It is an easy practice that is calming and allows some space to open up.  And at the end of the practice, as an added bonus to a relaxed mind, I have pages at the ready for the days when the last thing I want do is draw a straight line.

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Look for Part 3 of this ongoing series next week!

Read Part One HERE.

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Alyssa Berg makes comics in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her work HERE.

Sunday is a Good Day to Visit a Museum: Part One

On Sunday I visited The Rubin Museum of Art in NYC. The Rubin shows ancient to contemporary painting, sculpture, and ritual objects from the Himalayas and surrounding region with their permanent collection focusing on Tibetan art. My objective was to see the exhibit Please Altar Everything, work by avant-garde performance artist and musician (Throbbing GristlePsychic TVGenesis Breyer P-Orridge. The exhibit includes installation, sculpture, sigils, altars and gold-leafed paintings. As I walked through the exhibit, I felt especially connected to the sculptural, tactile altarpieces (some with tags that said: please touch!) and sigils (used in spells and for manifesting). Both altars and sigils are creative acts steeped in ritual and devotion.

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Kali in Flames, sigil, 1986

After the Genesis show, I spent some solitary time in the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, the highlight of another exhibit at The Rubin called Sacred Spaces. It is a contemplative space – dark, with drone-y Buddhist chanting and an altar filled with ornate objects of worship.

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The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room

I also had the chance to explore some of the permanent collection of the Rubin – statues of deities and paintings made with the most vibrant and saturated pigments.

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The visit to the Rubin brought my attention to ritual, meditation and devotion in artistic practice – in other people’s practice and my own.

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Part 1: Ritual in Preparing the Space/It’s the Simple Things

The daily act of going to my desk and preparing the space is an important ritual. It is the practice before the practice, the thing I do before I do the thing I do. Is calling my studio area a sacred space too heavy-handed? Well, my hands are heavy holding all this Palo Santo and sage that l am burning to clear any bad vibrations from the aforementioned sacred space.

Most of the time when I sit down at my drawing table, it’s a mess. Like, a ridiculous mess from the previous night. I’m often impressed by the chaos I can create in a short amount of time. I start drawing/painting with an organized and peaceful space but as I make what I’m making, I’m not thinking about my love of an organized and peaceful space. I’m grabbing, mixing color, crumpling pages, digging for scraps, sharpening my pencils letting the shavings lie where they fall, cutting/trimming with abandon, etc. By the end of the night when I’m finished working, I don’t have the will or desire to clean, but I usually have a finished page. The next day the act of cleaning and organizing is my pre-drawing ritual, a simple meditation. It is an act that requires care and attention but not a lot of thought. It’s gives me a moment to see, appreciate and take stock of my supplies, clean my brushes, file my scraps away and put pens & pencils back in their homes. By clearing the physical space I clear the mental/emotional/psychic space in preparation for a new blank page that lies ahead.

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Chaos/Calm

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Look for Part 2 of this ongoing series next week!

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Alyssa Berg makes comics in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her work HERE.