the portable city

by definition, not static

status: archives being slowly restored, comics being relocated, new artwork and writing in the queue

Ten Years in the Forest

A Decade of Forest Wanderers

I am immensely, hugely, unbelievably grateful for getting to spend so much of the past decade making art! And between comics, games, personal artwork and client illustrations, it’s a big pile of work, and honestly, I don’t want to try and put it in any kind of hierarchy, because what the heck do I know?

However, I thought it might be fun to do a retrospective of one of my favourite themes from the past decade – people exploring forests.

So here, friends, is a huge (2k+ px wide) collage of all the images I could easily dig up that hit that particular note – starting in ~2010 and including work done this year. Click it to go to the full-res version if you want to see these images in more detail!

I’ve included drawings and paintings, comics and character sketches, digital and traditional, and also I’ve included a few plein air studies of forests and forest paths, since that’s been a part of my practice as well!

You’ll notice some themes, some trends in colour, a fondness for bears, and a few recurring themes. You’ll also notice that I redrew a few particular images over and over again! I had forgotten how many times I’d drawn that little adventurer between the wall and the tree, but there’s even more colour comps I didn’t include here. Guess it just spoke to me!

If I were to blame one thing for my love of forests, it’s fairy tales. Reading Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen collections from a young age definitely created a kind of mythic forest in my mind – a possibility space where anything could happen, where magic is guaranteed. And being lucky enough to live in Southern Ontario, where we have some magnificent forests and a bazillion provincial parks designed to help connect us to them, I have a lot of inspiration around me as well.

The work on this collage trends from oldest in the top left to newest in the bottom right, but it’s not a rigid organization – partially because I don’t really remember when some pieces were drawn, and partially because pieces like the comics, the repaints, the iterations, might have been worked on and improved significantly in sessions multiple years apart. Dating artwork is hard, it turns out! You might also notice that the quality level is not, say, a linear progression. My ability to polish an image, to render something well, to bring something to finish, is as much a factor of where my focus is at in the moment as it is my general skill level. So while I am 100% certain that I’ve improved at figure drawing, composition, storytelling, staging, shape design, I also think I’m much less likely to TRY and polish the heck out of an image these days! So that definitely changes the read.

I don’t intend to stop drawing forests and forest explorers any time soon – it’s clearly a rewarding theme, and also, I just heckin’ love trees, folks! Gonna enjoy me some trees!

My question for you is, what are the themes in your work that keep showing up? Do you have a few years – or even a decade – of a theme that you can collect and reflect on? Share some artwork in the comments!