Friday, April 30, 2010

From The Vault - The Hunger 2005

I have no idea what this was used for by the client who commissioned it but I do remember that they needed it FAST!

So, fast, if I remember right, that I was assigned the piece sometime in the morning and had it done for them by the end of business the same day. So, I couldn't have taken more than a handful of hours on this in total.

That's why I can forgive some of the mistakes such as the left thumb on our hero and the fact that our heroine seems to be missing some legs here and there.

But, for something I had no idea I was going to be doing when I woke up that morning I'm still happy with the way this piece turned out. Nothing like some extreme pressure to throw out all those little doubts you have in your head. With a schedule like that there is only time to DRAW DRAW DRAW!

So, yeah, I like it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chill Out

Chill Out.

A friend of mine sent me a link to this story yesterday.

After hearing the song and reading about how it all came about I was inspired. I love the idea of involving your audience in this way and putting together something simply to make someone else in the world feel good.

It got me thinking how I could do something similar. Could I have anybody who might stop by my house for a visit sing part of the chorus of a song? Would they feel put out? If they knew I was going to ask them to do this when they came over would they come over at all? Or could it be done completely online. Could my parents in Maine sing the chorus and send me a WAV file? How about my cousins in Hawaii?

This idea definitely has me thinking.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sports Illustrated Kids

I got a call last January from Sports Illustrated Kids to do some illustrations for them for an article called "What's The Call."

The monthly article deals with different sports situations where weird things happen. It then asks the reader to make the call to see if the play was legal or not.

Since these images were done in January for the March issue I think it's safe to put them up on the blog and show them off.

I meant to put these up a few days ago but I've been so buried in work I actually even forgot to call my parents this weekend. It should be just as busy a week this week so if the blog posts are few and far between I apologize. I'll do my best to keep it up.

But, for now, enjoy some wacky sports situations!

Friday, April 23, 2010

From The Vault - Starbuck 2005

I was digging through my files last night, hoping to find some piece of art that I hadn't shown on the blog yet. After the treasure trove I found under the bed in Maine and a bunch of old OilCan Drive images I had myself set up pretty good for "From The Vault" Fridays. Once those images ran out I started scrambling.

So, when I came across this piece of Kara Thrace, call sign "Starbuck", from the updated Battlestar Galactica series I was amazed I hadn't shown it before.

I did this piece sometime back in 2005. I don't know why I did it but I'm sure it had to be a little bit because of how much I liked the show and how much I liked Starbuck in particular.

The piece was inked with regular sharpie markers and maybe a micron marker here or there. I added touches of gray to the black and white inked (or markered) piece and scanned the whole thing into the computer for color.

When I did the color I did it with a few layers to get some of the effects and tones I was looking for. If I remember correctly, when I took away the basic color layer I was left with the final image. A ghostly image of Kara Thrace against the lonely space background.

I liked it so much I kept a version of that as a finished piece as well.

And here I was scared of running out of pieces to showcase for "From The Vault" Fridays. Not yet. Not when I can still come across pieces of art I haven't posted yet from files or from the old portfolios sitting under my bed...pieces just like this.

And that's what this day is all about.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How I Write a Song

There are times when songs come out of the ether, tap me on the shoulder, and wonder if I'd like to work with them. Most of the time it's a simple riff on the guitar that gives me the seed of the song and a starting point to go from. I used to try and write these things down but I'd always forget how to play them. There is still a song I have written down in my notebook called "chugga chugga" and I have no idea how it sounds or what chords or notes are in it.

Thankfully, last Christmas, Monika got me a digital tape recorder.

So now, when one of these songs comes down from the heavens and bugs me I can record it quick and give myself audio notes on how to play it as I go along.

Usually they come along when I am noodling about on the guitar while watching TV or something. But, sometimes they get in touch with me a different way.

This first clip is from a song I listened to in a dream. In the dream a girl I knew in high school was up on stage singing it while I watched from the audience. When I woke up I stumbled my way towards the closest guitar and hit record on my tape player to see if I could even play what I had heard in my dream. Unfortunately I don't sing anything like the girl in my dream and, in my head, this song still sounds like it should be sung by someone from the Cowboy Junkies.

And, this clip is so long because it's actually two clips. One to get the idea down and the next was to try and figure out where a chorus might work into the song.

If the player doesn't work in your browser you can find the original clip HERE.

So, that was the dream song. This next one came about from messing around with some of the new guitar pedals in the bedroom. I started playing this riff and then the melody just came along. What I love about this one is the rawness of it and how you can hear my voice slowly finding the melody after the first few lines. And then it seems I was simply following the song as it moved into a natural chorus part and then to the outro. Times like these are why I am glad I have that tape recorder.

If the player doesn't work in your browser you can find the original clip HERE.

So, yeah, there are a few ways songs come to me. I love both these ideas and I'm looking forward to developing them further when I can find some free time.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Drums and Vocals

These screen shots are what I look at when I'm recording the OilCan Drive music. I'm recording through a Line 6 Toneport external box using a program called "Gear Box." This is what Gear Box looks like. Using some of the external pedals I showed off a while ago, this makes up the technical side of what I'm recording the bass, guitar, vocals, and drums through.

So, last week, using the new pedals I made quick work of the guitar and bass parts of a new song. All that was left was to do the drum recording and the vocals and I'd have a whole new song done and in the can. I had a few things to do but I figured on Tuesday I could find some free time and maybe record the drums for not only the new song but one other as well and, if I was lucky, get the vocals done too.

Little did I know how long it would take to dial in the right drums sounds on my Roland Electric Drum Kit.

What I thought might take a half an hour to get right ended up taking four days.

The good and bad thing about the Roland kit is how much you can tweak it to get different sounds. Not only can you get a decent kit, you can change snares, toms, and kick drums to make a custom kit. Then you can go in and tell it that the snare is only 6" deep, not 9", is made of wood, not brass, and has some tape on it to help mute it. You can do this to every drum on the kit.

Think you're done there? Nope.

When you finally get your kit done and programmed in you can then go and choose what type of room you're recording in. Is it large, small, tiny? Is it made of wood, plaster, or glass? And where are the microphones? Are they above the kit or below the kit next to the kick drum?

All of this had to be figured out and listened to over and over again. What I was trying to do is make it sound as close as possible that the drums were being recorded in the same type of room that the guitar and bass had already been recorded in. I wanted it to all sound like it matched.

So, being the only one here recording, I would hit play on the computer, run into the other room, jump behind the drum kit, play along with the song, end the song, run back in the other room, hit stop on the recording, and then listen to what it sounded like. If it wasn't right I'd go into the drum room, tweak the drum sounds a bit, and do the whole thing over again.

So, yeah, four days.

But, I think I've got it all dialed in and it should be easy to record these parts. Of course, I say that now. I might just sit behind the drum kit to record the song today and decided it still all sounds wrong. We'll see.

I don't know if any of this stuff makes any sense but if you happened to have seen me last week and I looked a little crazy at least you now know why.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

OilCan Drive Cover(s)

Sorry I've been a bit more quiet than usual the past few days. I've not only been doing a bunch of client work but also trying to dial in the drums I'm using in the recording of the OilCan Drive album. (More on this soon but, to give you a glimpse of what's been going on, something that I thought would take me half an hour to figure out ended up taking me the better part of four days. Fun fun.)

And, all through out this going on I've slowly been putting together the cover for the OilCan Drive book. Using a bunch of different elements I've drawn over the past few weeks I've been trying different layouts and designs to see which one worked best.

Here are a few of the results.

The cover will be a wrap-a-around cover with the image continuing from the front to the back cover. So far I've come up with four different designs (well, actually three...the fourth would be used more as a banner or poster and wouldn't work well as the cover since the images will get cut right in half when folded over.)

So, I've already chosen my favorite and started working it up as the hi-res cover. But, I'd love to hear what you think about each design and which one you'd choose for the cover.

It'll be interesting to see if we make the same choice.

Friday, April 16, 2010

From The Vault - Macmillan Education 2004

Back in 2004 I was contacted by Macmillan Education, a company based in England, about the possibility of doing some illustrations for a few educational lesson books they had planned.

I'm not sure if they requested it or if I offered it up, but I did an initial piece of art for them to show them how my style would work along with their concept. I don't even know if I was paid for this piece. I hope I was.

Anyway, I got the job and started designing the characters. The story was about a boy from England, Alex, who was visiting his cousins and aunt in America. Once he gets there all sorts of wackiness ensues.

My initial designs can be seen here at the top and the changes can be seen below. I kind of miss the big smiley face Alex had on his shirt and I question who's idea it was to put him in red pants. But, ah well, I did what I was told and made the changes.

I ended up doing about forty or so illustrations for two lesson books. But, the two pieces I remember the most aren't because I enjoyed doing them or liked the way they came out but because of the comments I got as I was working on them.

One piece had the kids at a diner looking out the window as some celebrity movie star walked by. I drew the kids through the window looking out, amazed at seeing this star. The star, larger in the foreground, was supposed to have his head obscured so we couldn't really see him. I did the piece, drew it in perspective, and sent it out. The comment? "The star looks like a GIANT next to these kids! Why is he so much bigger than them???"

I guess the client had never played the "I crush your head game." If so they might have wondered why, when looking at their fingers next to a tiny head, their hand had grown so HUGE! ha ha

The next one had another size related issue. The kids went to an aquarium and watched a humpback whale breach the water, splashing and drenching poor Alex. So, I drew the huge humpback doing his thing and I drew a little tiny full figure of Alex next to the whale getting soaked.

Well, the client didn't like the fact that Alex was so small and wondered if I could draw him bigger, maybe bringing him closer so we could see him from the waist up. I argued that Alex is next to a humpback whale and he should be small next to a creature so large. They didn't buy that. They wanted their larger Alex. The way they explained it away to me was, "well, maybe the humpback is a baby and not as big."

I couldn't argue with that logic and threw up my hands and did as asked.

With changes like that you can see why I beat my head against the wall from time to time. As much as I love being an artist and doing this job for a living sometimes having conversations like that make my head spin.

But, in the end it all worked out and I kept everyone happy.

And sometimes that's an even more important trait in doing this job than how well I draw.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The last contributor illustration is done and has been put up on Time Magazine's Techland website. So, I figure it's safe to show it here.

Doug's profile using this piece can be seen HERE.

Every one of these pieces has been really fun to do and I'm hoping Time's website does so well that they have many more people contributing to the site.

It's always fun to draw new people.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another Trip to the Mountains

Another trip to the mountains and another great photo.

This picture was taken just outside of Estes Park, Colorado, a week ago when my friend Bill and I took a trip up to the mountains for the day.

Unfortunately, clicking on the thumbnail to make the image larger will only make it so big due to some restrictions in the blogger upload. So, to see the GIANT version of this you can check it out HERE. And, yes, that is Bill way on the right.

Have a great week!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New Toys

I finally got my taxes done last week and with a little bit of my tax return money I bought a few new toys for the OilCan Drive project.

I first used the Tech 21 SansAmp pedals years ago when I first started mucking around with music. When I got my first Fender Amp I turned around and sold those pedals on EBay. You have an inkling you've made a mistake when the winning bidder on EBay asks you why the hell you're selling such great pedals?!

A few years later I realized my mistake (sometimes I'm not so quick) and searched out those pedals I had foolishly sold. What I came across were some new pedals Tech 21 had developed called the "Character Series". Instead of a "one pedal does it all" stomp box each of these little beauties mimics a specific amp throughout it's many years of production. Meaning, with the "character" knob on each of these you're pretty much taken on a trip through time and the different amps a certain company made. As the Tech 21 website puts it, "then there’s the Character knob, which is something quite unique. This continuously-variable control moves seamlessly between different model voicings, covering vintage, high-gain and face-melting lead tones."

I've had the California pedal (recreating the Mesa Boogie amps) and the British pedal (recreating the English Marshall amps) for over a year now. I've been using them both to give the characters of OilCan Drive their own "voice" when playing guitar. Ryan plays his Fender guitar through the British while Vince plays his semi hollow Gibson guitar through the California. These pedals are absolutely great sounding and, while they give you great tones, they don't cover up the actual guitar playing coming through them. Some modeling gadgets I've used in the past tend to muddy up the sound and you lose the actual person playing the instrument. Which is never a good thing.

So, with the little extra money I got back I decided it was time to give Henry, the bass playing ape of OilCan Drive, his own pedal. I picked up a VT Bass rig for Henry after hearing such great things about it. And, boy, were the reviews not wrong. Just plugging this thing into my clean keyboard amp to test it out made the walls of my condo shake. I loved it even if my neighbors may have been wondering why we were getting a small earthquake in central Colorado.

I also picked up a Liverpool pedal (which mimics a Vox amp, think of the early Beatles sound) and a Boost RVB reverb pedal. Both of them sound great and new songs are already spilling out of my head while I play them. I always figure if any new piece of gear I've bought ends up inspiring a new song it was well worth it.

But, one thing I did find when looking for these new pedals to buy is that Tech 21 isn't done yet. Not only have they come out with the guitar pedals already on the market but they have a bunch of new ones on the way.

As Monika tells me, when I am really struggling with music there are two bands and artists I always go back to as my source to kind of get me grounded again. As much as I love Blink 182, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, and Bob Dylan the two people I tend to look to for inspiration are Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Pete Townshend of The Who.

So, when I saw this was one of the new pedals coming out I just had to have it. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait another month or two.

And, to give you a better idea of what the pedals do all around check out the new ones being featured at the latest NAMM show.

Now they just need to come out with a Kurt Cobain grunge sounding Character Pedal and I'd be all set.

Friday, April 9, 2010

From The Vault - OilCan Drive Christmas 2002

Because Manu requested it, here is a piece from the vault that actually has Mr. Mucho (or Moocho) on it.

Before Mucho was the star of every holiday card I would send out he was still getting stuck in supporting roles here and there. This one, featuring the OilCan Drive band receiving Christmas gifts, shows Mr. Mucho as a gift for Henry. Not a big role but, hey, we all have to start somewhere.

I came up with Mr. Mucho years ago while doing my first self published comic book, EXIT 6. I needed a girl in the opening shot to be holding a little rag doll. Without much thought I sketched this little guy flopping around in her hands. Since then, Mr. Mucho has shown up somewhere in almost every comic book venture I've worked on.

Even in the new OilCan Drive book. When I finished I realized I had forgotten to put Mucho anywhere in the story pages. So, for a two page interview with the band I conveniently snuck him into the panel borders. It may not be as subtle as past appearances but I wanted him in there somewhere.

Mr. Mucho will be appearing this year in the December holiday card and, if I can find the time to work on it (since I'm not done with the first one yet), he'll make an appearance in the next OilCan Drive story.

It goes to show you never know where a good character might come from. Even if he did start as a simple rag doll held in a little girl's hand.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Flying Machines

I spent part of the day today laying some color down on two little tiny images of the OilCan Drive band racing on air cycles.

These will be used on the cover of the book and finishing these up is one more step to getting this part of the project finished.

It's almost there...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Customer Service

A while back my friend Adam let me know about a new pair of headphones he had purchased in a Nashville music store. He said they were the best pair of headphones he'd ever owned and that I had to get a pair for myself. Always trusting Adam I sent him some money and he bought me a pair of these headphones and sent them my way.

Equation is a small Nashville based company and one you've probably never heard of. The pair of headphones Adam sent me were the RP-21 model. And, yes, they are, hands down, the best headphones I have ever heard. They sound great while listening to my MP3 player, playing my Roland drums, or recording guitars for the OilCan Drive project. If someone stole these from me I'd cry and then turn around and buy myself a new pair.

So I was a bit worried when, while recording guitars a few weeks ago for the OilCan Drive project, I noticed the left ear was cutting in and out. It was a bit of a distraction to say the least and it threw off a lot of the recording. I jiggled the cord a bit and the sound went in and out. So, I figured, and hoped, the problem was simply with the headphone's cord and not the headphones themselves. I did a Google search looking for a replacement and, while I found a lot of places that sold this smaller company's headphones, I couldn't easily find a place to buy a replacement cord.

I was almost ready to say screw it and buy a new pair of headphones when I figured I'd give it one last shot. I went to Equation's website and hit the contact button. I filled out the fields and sent in my question about my problem and asked if they could point me in the right direction as to where I could find a replacement cord. I hit the send button and figured I'd never hear from them again.

Today I got a call, not an email, from Equation to talk about my problem. I talked with a great guy named C.P. and, after telling him about the headphone cord problem, he not only gave me a website where I could buy a new cord but also told me he was going to send me out a replacement cord free of charge.

Wow. All this from a company I thought I would never hear from again.

So, thank you Equation and C.P. Not only for making a really great product but for some excellent customer service. In this day and age where we're mostly dealing with people and companies through email and the computer it was amazing to get someone on the phone that was so helpful, really stood behind his product, and went out of his way to make me a happy customer.

C.P., your company, your product, and your help really made my day! Thanks again!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Hey, what says "Happy Easter" better than some finished pieces of the desert?

I finished these pieces up last night and was hoping they'd all line up on the finished cover but, of course, they didn't. So, now I'm trying to come up with a plan to make this whole thing work. I have three different designs I am working on and, while they kind of work on one, they don't work at all for the other two.

I am at a stand still and not really sure what to do.

So, I think I'll let it lie and go eat some Easter ham. Maybe after my stomach is full the answer will come to me. But, for now, enjoy these shots of the desert.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Into the Desert

One of the final pieces I need for the OilCan Drive wrap-a-round cover is a desert landscape for the back side.

I've had this piece penciled for while but things kept getting in the way and I couldn't find the time to sit down and ink it. Part of the problem might be that the idea of inking a desert landscape is nowhere near as fun as drawing, inking, and coloring giant bass playing apes or flying air cycles. But, it still needs to get done.

And, I think once I start on it it will go along just fine.

I still need to draw the two air cycles with the band members on them racing through the sky. You can see a quick blue pencil sketch at the top of the desert but I don't think I'll be using those. And, after that is done there will be nothing left to do except put it all together.

But, today I'll be sitting down at the art table and inking a nice desert landscape. I can think of worse ways to spend a day.

Friday, April 2, 2010

From The Vault - OilCan Drive 2003

Another old piece of the boys in OilCan Drive going to work.

Apparently at this time I was still messing with Ryan's wardrobe choices before I put him back in the familiar burgundy and white hockey jersey. This time he was sporting a t-shirt saying "Da Rose." I don't remember if this was in reference to a girl or a bar. It sounds like some sort of bar to me but I really can't remember. It obviously made enough of an impression on me to put it on Ryan's shirt. I just wish I could remember why.

The funny thing about looking at this piece now is that on the headstock of Henry's bass guitar it says "Bubba."

Even though this piece was done two and a half years before I would meet her, "Bubba" is the nickname I call my girlfriend, Monika.

How weird is that?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool

Alright! It's a new month which means it's time for another new blog header!

I'm trying to keep with the theme of putting only images which I own up in the header. I'm not really sure how a client would feel if I was using one of their images for a month to promote my blog...I might have to put a disclaimer somewhere on the page saying "so and so client does not necessarily endorse, condone, or even like anything that goes on here." So, why risk making someone mad? I figure it's easier to keep it all in the Sean Tiffany Plastic Spoon Press Family.

So, with that in mind here is the newest OilCan Drive piece I've been working on for the past month. It's an image of Ryan and Henry that I'll be using on the upcoming OilCan Drive book. This is merely one part of the cover. I've slowly started putting it together in my free time and I really like the way it's looking so far. Hopefully, with any luck, I'll get a good chunk of time to work on it this weekend. Keep your fingers crossed.

And, because I like ya, here is the original image before I cut it up to use as the blog header. I like this image so much I may turn it into a mini cutout stand-up sometime soon. We'll see. I'll let you know how that goes.