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A trance-drawing improv by Wayan, 1995/12/23-24

In late 1995, the Web wasn't much. For artists, paper was still where it's at: zines were the cutting edge. I admired their spontaneity; I felt ashamed of my relatively controlled art. Wing It was my attempt to break free.

It was done in a fever, a trance state akin to the automatic writing practiced by Yeats and others in the 1920s. The first page explains the set-up: I kept my mind resolutely empty and just let things pour out. No plans, no ideas, no models, not even dream images. Pure improv!

What emerged shocked me--both its content, and its coherence. Wing It turned out to be a serious exploration of the creative flow--and the fears that can block it.

Introductory page to an improvised comic, done in response to Michelangelo's advice to his pupil Antonio to 'just draw.' Shows my sources of inspiration--models, dreams, San Francisco where I live... then explores the fears arising from pure improv--nothing to go from. Click to enlarge. Improvised comics page. A dormant volcano appears, and a Night Mare saying 'Who knows what'll erupt?' I admit I hunger to control the content of my art, and a cartoon girl says she fears being trapped in comics cliches--especially violence. Click to enlarge. Improvised comics page titled 'Competent Comics'. A cocktail party of talking animals, under a talking moon. Uh-oh, is cuteness taking over, or Barthelmian self-reference? Click to enlarge. Improvised comics--a chaotic page called 'Blank!' on the fear of losing artistic inspiration. A crying coyote tree, Hamlet in doubt, a penis tree, some skeptical women and a lot of weird slips and puns. Click to enlarge. Page of improv titled 'Let be': scary modern-art shapes don't intimidate the Coyote Buddha, who says 'Let be.' Click to enlarge. A page called 'Temporal Orientation'. The arrangement of panels in comics and predictive dreams in real life can  violate others' expectations, upsetting them quite as much as SEXUAL (dis)orientation... Click to enlarge. Improvised comics--shaded pencil drawing. This page is called 'See No Evil'. Too much positivity is a form of blindness. Truly malevolent people do exist. The punk critique is true! The rich want serfs again. Click to enlarge. Improvised comics--shaded pencil drawings. This page: 'Wayan's Sack of Sorrows'. I'm a nude, androgynous Santa carrying a big bag of sorrows I can complain about. But I've left some empty slots for future rejections! Always planning ahead, that Wayan! Click to enlarge. Improvised comics--shaded pencil drawings full of horse- and cat-people, flowing layouts, and psychological slips and puns. Click to enlarge.

Wing It was finished in early 1996 (I did Page 1, explaining the set-up, last.). A few years later I scanned it, but left it sitting on my hard drive, unsure what to do with it. In 2002 or 2003, I upped the contrast in Photoshop and cleaned up the lettering, making it much more readable/viewable, but I still just left it around--I was so focused on dream art at the time, it was as if other states of mind didn't matter! But I kept coming back and looking at it. Around 2005, I shifted it from stark pencil grayscale to a warmer sepia tone. In 2008, on impulse, I tinted it, adding color and some shading here and there.

Despite these tweak-strata, Wing It is still quite close to its original look and intent: pure improv. The ways I compromised that later, in the name of readability, were just as compulsive for me (and thus as revealing) as the original urge for spontaneity. Normally I work over a piece a dozen times or more--sketches, roughs, increase contrast, reletter, clean up, re-compose, re-clean, add shadows and highlights, add rough color, rebalance, add color detail, tweak words and expressions... on and on. So three or four editorial passes is quite restrained--for me.

Such multiple revisions are often said to be a bad idea for both artists and their art. Exhaust yourself, and polish the life out of the work! But I noticed that each pass really did look better. Wing It taught me it's okay to go wild in that initial stage, but that I really do work best in many passes--that's my natural flow. I guess it may sound paralyzingly slow, but really it's not--I can work on many projects at once, in different stages.

Today I disagree with Michelangelo; if Antonio asked ME, I'd have to say: "Just get it looking right, any way that works for you."

--Chris Wayan

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