Miriam Libicki is a comic book author and artist whose most recent collection of graphic essays, Toward a Hot Jew, will be featured in Jewish Book Council’s upcoming event, Ink Bleeds History: Reclaiming and Redrawing the Jewish Image in Comics. Miriam is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.
The biggest transition from being an art student to being an independent artist was what to do about colour. I had been a drawing and painting major. I made oil paintings with layers of colourful glazes, none of them smaller than three feet on a side. Then came graduation, and with it the end of giant, well ventilated and stocked painting studios.
I couldn’t be a painter anymore, if no one was buying my paintings. I could be a cartoonist, though, if enough people shelled out $3.00 for a xeroxed copy of my drawn thoughts. My first comix essay was drawn on watercolour paper, in graphite. It was nice and cheap to print, and the texture of the original paper still gave a nice arty quality. But something was missing.
By the time of my second drawn essay, I was a year out of art school, and missing painting. I decided to try to teach myself watercolours. It was a really steep learning curve. Oils comprise of layers and layers. Oil paint is endlessly correctable. Watercolours are like golf: whoever can get to complete in the fewest strokes wins. Afraid of ruining any good strokes, I pre-mixed colours and left well enough alone as much as possible.
My third essay was commissioned for an academic anthology. For some reason, printing in colour in a university-press book is even more expensive than in a regular book. Pages with colour are called “plates” and they all huddle together at the middle of the book. Anyway, I was back to black-and-white. I used graphite on paper again, but this had to be smoother paper cause the art was going to be shrunk smaller and I had so dang many words.
My second watercolour essay was a sequel, of sorts, to the first. I can see my increasing confidence with layering colours to get more subtle colours. I even drew some low-light environments, the hardest thing (for me) in watercolours. You can layer opposite hues to get rich neutrals like human skin, but too many layers and the results get muddy. I felt that I was achieving naturalism, but at the expense of vibrancy or strong points of focus.
When I came to tackle photo-based watercolours again, I decided to take the theory of complementary colours (blue-orange, red-green, yellow-purple) and just run with it. Instead of mixing colours, I could let them hang out and call attention to themselves. The result was decidedly non-naturalistic, but hopefully it echoed my writing, in using heightened emotion to get at truth.
By the seventh essay, I was thinking I could compile all my work up until then into a book. And a book, of course, would be most attractive in colour. But this essay was one I’d been planning for a long time. It was research and theory heavy, and I really wanted to get it into an academic journal. Which means back to pencils, right? UNLESS!
Could I do monochrome and bright at the same time?? I found an orange lacquer ink that was really fun to play with. It had red tones when it was dark, and yellow tones when it was light, and allowed for a lot of range in between. But scan it in grey, and none of the distinctions were lost.
I like how, in this collection, people who know how to look can see the evolution of my artistic skill over the course of the essay, and how form follows function follows format. (Try saying that five times fast.)
Miriam Libicki is a graphic novelist living in Vancouver, Canada. Her 2008 memoir jobnik! has been a required text in over ten university courses, and her short comics have been published by Alternate History Comics, Rutgers University Press, and the Journal of Jewish Identities. Libicki is a recipient of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture International Fellowship and the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Research Grant.
Hear Miriam Libicki speak about her work together with fellow graphic storytellers Eli Valley, Amy Kurzweil, and Rocket Chair Media at Ink Bleeds History: Reclaiming and Redrawing the Jewish Image in Comics Thursday, November 3, 2016 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Register online for free admission!
- Dina Weinstein: Gertrude Stein Reissues Focusing on the Artistic Process
- Nora Gold: The Creative Process and the Jewish Arts
- Richard Michelson: Do What Scares You
Miriam Libicki is a graphic novelist living in Vancouver Canada. Her 2008 Israeli Army memoir “jobnik!” has been used in over a dozen university courses. She teaches cartooning and illustration at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. She also makes a line of hand-silkscreened shirts and met her husband while following a nerd-folk band on tour.