Sunday, March 1, 2009

You can't go home again...

Yesterday, I decided to go for my daily walk on the campus of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, my old alma mater. (I usually just walk around Northampton, but that can get boring after a while.) I parked at one of the few metered spaces on campus, next to a new art building that was built a year or two ago. It just so happens that this new building was constructed in what used to be part of a parking lot across the street from the first dormitory I stayed in when I went to UMass. I spent my freshman year in that dorm, which was subsequently converted into offices a few years after I graduated, and underneath one or more coats of paint on one of the walls in one of those offices on the third floor is a large painting I did of a Kirbyesque cosmic character, right over where my bed was at that time. I wish I had taken a photo of it years ago.

So I walked past my old dorm, then around the dining commons at which I took most of my meals that freshman year, and then up the hill towards one of the older buildings in which I'd had a number of art classes.

However, the closer I got, the more confused I was. Where was the old grey clapboard building where I had taken my first design class, my first sculpture class? Then I remembered -- a few years ago, that building had burned down. Now there is nothing left of it. New paths crisscross the lot on which it stood.

Here's a partial panoramic photo of the area where I think that building once stood.



If I had been blindfolded and set down in that spot, I would not have known where I was, at least not until I looked to the west and saw the twenty-story UMass library tower looming over the campus. It was weird -- I had walked to or by that art building literally hundreds of times when I was going to school at UMass... and now it's like it was never there. As I pondered this, I realized that even my memory of its location was beginning to fade... I could only be sure of the general area in which it once stood.

Thinking of that old building (whose name I can't even recall!) made me think of some fun stuff I used to do there. As one of the places on campus where sculpture classes were held, this building housed a fairly large and well-equipped wood shop on its top floor. I learned to be pretty proficient with the jigsaw and the bandsaw there.

One of the things I did there was not technically schoolwork, though it was art-related. I had taken to making these -- I'm not sure what to call them. What I did was this: I would take a piece of comic book art I really liked -- for example, a drawing of the the Fantastic Four's Thing from a cover drawn by Jack Kirby -- and carefully redraw it on a piece of 3/4 inch-thick pine board, first in pencil, then inking those pencil lines with a brush or a crow quill pen. This could be tricky, as the wood grain would want to take the ink in different directions. But with a light hand, and making sure not to load up the brush or pen with too much ink at once, I managed it. Once I'd finished the inking, I would take the piece of wood to the shop and carefully cut, with the bandsaw, all the way around the outer edge of the drawing. Once I'd done that, I would cut out any internal spaces -- say, for example, the space formed between an arm and a torso if the character had his hand on his hip -- with the jigsaw. I'd sand the back side of this cutout to clean up any stray wood fibers, then take it back to my dorm room where I would color the artwork with inks, usually the Pelicans that the campus store sold. When done, I would use black ink to cover the sides and back of the piece, then give the whole thing a coat (or two, or three) of polyurethane to protect it.

It was great fun. I loved the smell of the wood as I cut and sanded it. I made about two dozen of these things, ranging from relatively simple single figures to more elaborate complete cover compositions, done in two or three layers of wood (foreground, middleground, background). I gave most of them away, but also sold a few to a comic book store owner I worked for at that time.

I thought I had saved one of them, and when I got home yesterday I searched through my studio for it, to no avail. I was hoping to take a photo of it to include with this entry. Oh well..

I wonder if any of those things survive, thirty-three years later? If treated with care, they probably could last for many years. The colors would fade (those Pelican inks didn't hold up well in sunlight), but the black ink I used for the line work would likely remain dark. Pine is not terribly strong, so any small details could very easily break off. Maybe someday I'll see one on eBay. -- PL

5 comments:

~ tOkKa said...

-->> Do you recall how big these wooden pieces were and how long that detailed process was ?!

>v<

PL said...

"~ tOkKa said...
-->> Do you recall how big these wooden pieces were and how long that detailed process was ?!"

Dave, I never made any that were larger than the dimensions of a standard comic book cover. -- PL

Brookslyn said...

Hm... this might be a little off topic, but your discussion of UMass Amherst brings some questions to mind. I assume you traveled elsewhere in the US (and possibly the world). Did you ever consider leaving Western MA? What made you stay? I grew up in Amherst and am in Los Angeles now, but have been thinking about moving back for the last year or so. I'm a bit concerned that there might not be as much exposure to pop art, etc... which is currently fueling my interest in studying illustration/fine art.

PL said...

"Brookslyn said...
Hm... this might be a little off topic, but your discussion of UMass Amherst brings some questions to mind. I assume you traveled elsewhere in the US (and possibly the world). Did you ever consider leaving Western MA? What made you stay? I grew up in Amherst and am in Los Angeles now, but have been thinking about moving back for the last year or so. I'm a bit concerned that there might not be as much exposure to pop art, etc... which is currently fueling my interest in studying illustration/fine art."

I'm not a big traveler. I've driven (ridden, actually) across the country and back, passing thorough probably twenty different states. I've flown or driven to Florida, North Carolina, Texas, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Louisiana, Georgia, Ohio, California, and Michigan. The only times I've been out of the country were when I attended a convention in Toronto.

I've only lived out of Massachusetts twice, and each time for only two years -- first in New Hampshire (during which time the TMNT were created) and right after that Connecticut. I enjoyed both places, but I really like Massachusetts (except when the winters drag on, as this one seems to be doing).

One of the great things about doing comic books is that -- especially if you are self-publishing, as Kevin and I did with TMNT -- you can really do it practically ANYWHERE. Just pick the place you like the best, and stay there.

Your question has actually made me stop and think... if the TMNT had never happened, and my wife had gotten a job in Dover, New Hampshire after her graduate school studies were finished (instead of the one she got in Connecticut), would I have ever moved back to Massachusetts? I don't know. I really liked Dover. I suspect that at some point I would have wanted to be closer to my family and friends in Massachusetts, but that move could have been made much later than it was.

I would guess that there is more happening, pop art-wise, in LA than in Amherst. But the Northampton/Amherst/Five College area is pretty rich with art-related stuff, too. I suppose you have to evaluate just how MUCH exposure to that sort of inspiration you need, and where you can get it.

A big thing for me is that I have never found large cities to be terribly appealing. Generally, they are dirtier, more crowded and much noisier than places like Amherst. I see them as places to visit (occasionally), not to live in. -- PL

Sarah The Anime Librarian said...

I know what you mean

I recently went up to Westfield State College, my old stomping ground, and while some looks the same, a lot has changed.

I think the thing that really hit me was sitting on the bench that was erected in the memory of my friend Larry Pizzano who died of cancer my senior year. I remember helping to rasie money for a schollarship in his name for the school, and I remember talk about the bench, but I graduated before it ever went up. Sitting there, I realized its been 10 years this comming Dec since I left that school, and 14 and 1/2 years since I started as a student.

It made me miss my friend a lot all over again. It also made me really happy to remember him, and all the crazy stuff we did. I remembered I met my husband during that time at Westfield. And I recall I met another friend during that time period...an exceptionaly cool guy who I met at a museum party...and that was good to remember too.

Good times them was. Good times.