real sharks for shark cartooning

I haven’t drawn the Pajama Shark in the last few days*, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about him, and Friendly Shark characters in general.  And one of the basic approaches to doing animal characters in comics and cartoons is to study the real animal, either in person or in photographs.  Or if you enjoy photography, you can try to do both.

These images were taken at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago a week ago today in the Wild Reef exhibit.  They aren’t thresher sharks– they are sandbar sharks, described in the Aquarium’s blog as “the sharkiest sharks” in the exhibit.  I agree, they are pretty sharky looking, with the true shark expression which is so challenging and delightful to soften into friendliness. I think these photographs will be useful in future pajama sharking, and they were also tremendously challenging to make.

The light in the tank was extremely low and the sharks were swimming around, in the constant motion these guys require to keep water moving over their gills, so pretty fast shutter speeds were required to stop them.  That means super high ISOs– 6400 in this case- and a fair amount of digital noise.   These are not exactly prize winning wildlife photographs, but I am pleased with the shades of blue and the way the light falls through the water onto the sharks, and with their shapes. (The camera is Mischief, the Fuji X-T10, the lens the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4, and the shutter speed 1/320.)

*I have been doing the Inktober project, with Kekionga as my theme.  If you’re interested, I am posting my drawings every day over on the Official Pam Bliss Facebook page here.  This is a public page– you don’t have to be a member to read and enjoy.  If you happen to be on FB, you are invited to follow.

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bone joan and the black chicken in inktober

This is probably my favorite Inktober drawing so far.  Bone Joan is an important character in Kekionga’s history, and although she has been referred to any number of times, this is the first time I have actually drawn her.  Bone Joan was a wise woman and “yarbwife”, though there were those who said she was a witch.  Her familiar was an enormous jet black rooster, which probably didn’t do anything to discourage the idea.

The famous Black Chicken of Kekionga folklore is said to be based on folk memory of Bone Joan’s Chicken, but I prefer to thing that’s he’s the real thing.  He never really went away and he’s still leading children and other true believers to what they want to find.

(from the story “Monsters of Kekionga”)

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it’s inktober again!

Where have I been all week, you may ask.  Getting started on Inktober, among other things.  For those who might not be familiar, Inktober is a worldwide art project where artists take on the challenge of making a finished drawing in ink every day in October and posting it to the internet.  There’s an official prompt list too, if people want to use it.

I am doing the challenge for the third year.  As usual, I am using the prompt list, and adding a theme of my own.  This year, the theme is Kekionga itself- each drawing will feature at least one of the members of the cast, and as many as possible will be actual single panel comics, with things going on, character interactions, and sometimes even dialog.  I am posting them every day on the Official Pam Bliss Facebook Page, accompanied by comments and background information.  Please note that this is a public page– you do not have to be a member of Facebook or use that social media platform in any other way to read it and enjoy it.  If you do belong to Facebook, you are cordially invited to Like the Official Page; if you do so the updates will appear in your feed.  If you do not, just click this link and bookmark for further enjoyment.

Here is the drawing for October 3rd, just as a sample.  The prompt of the day was “Roasted” .

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the martian toy camera

Polaroid CUBE

Sometimes a lens can give you more than a field of view– it can give you a change in perspective.   So can a change in your work process– you could try automatic writing, or automatic drawing.  Or automatic photography?

One of my favorite toy cameras is my Polaroid Cube (mine is one of the old ones, without WiFi), which I carry in my pocket at all times.  It’s a 35mm cube with a super wide angle lens on one side and a pushbutton on the top– the simplest of all possible point and shoots.   It has no viewfinder of any kind and you have no idea what your images are going to look like until you open up the Cube’s sealed port and hook it up to your computer.

Polaroid CUBE

But once you do, that semi fisheye lens will offer you a whole new way of looking at the everyday world.  This week I turned it on my corgi pup, the Martian.

Polaroid CUBE

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(pajama) shark of the season

Happy Autumnal period!  It’s hard to define the beginning of fall in the Northern Hemisphere, at least until the first of October makes it “official”.  But there’s always a weekend in September when the days getting shorter, the crickets slowing down, and those first few red and yellow leaves making their appearance all add up to say that spider time is passing and autumn is on its way.  That is when it is OK to open up your commercial Pumpkin Patch.  That weekend, and not before.

I made this drawing of Thresher and his Friendly Shark jack o lantern a week or two early, but that’s just so we would be ready when it happened.  And yes, that’s an early Trick or Treat bag hanging off his tail and resting on his head.  He’s saving his candy for later because right now he is full of doughnuts and apple cider.  Here’s hoping you are the same.

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more spider time

It’s September, it’s glorious (when it’s not 90 degrees F with 90% humidity) and I’ve been spending a lot of time with my dogs– and my spiders.  It’s spider time, which is my favorite time of year.  This September I have been experimenting with using a misting bottle in my photography– not only does the mist make the webs more visible in less than perfect light, but sometimes it leaves these little water droplets that I hope are pretty without being twee. (I mist with plain water only, of course, and it does not seem to upset the spiders unduly.  At least once I was pretty sure that the spider was gathering up and and drinking the water drops.)


This huge web was stretched across a neighbor’s front walk– I had to go home quickly and get the camera before the mailman walked through it on the way to the front porch steps.  The plants in the background are papyrus, the artist is Webster, my collective name for our local orb weavers, who are large, brown, and have striped legs.

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poem about a (shark-shaped) pencil case

  • Disappointment on seeing a “shark-shaped” pencil case.
  • Not shaped much like a shark.
  • Not a very good pencil case.
  • I think I will buy the one
  • I saw on eBay.
  • My shark is swimming here from China.

I wrote this poem four weeks ago/then waited for its subject to arrive.  It turned out to be a very good pencil case, with two compartments (one in the mouth), and it really does look rather like a cartoon shark.

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omg! a wartburg!

Seriously. OMG!  A WARTBURG  just pulled into the parking lot at a Chinese buffet in Indiana.  Sorry for yelling, but seriously.  A Wartburg. (Actually, at the time, I did not yell. I just said “Hello!” on seeing it, and “excuse me” to the person I was with, as I headed across the asphalt with my phone camera to document a spot I never would have expected to make on a Sunday afternoon in the parking lot of the Chinese Buffet.  Or ever in my lifetime, really.)

For those who are not in the know, a Wartburg is a small, stinky, two stroke sedan made in East Germany in the days of the Soviet Union, where it was one step up the automotive ladder from the more famous Trabant.  Wartburgs were driven throughout the East Bloc, and the top of the line models were sold in Europe, where they were among the cheapest new cars available and brought in a fair amount of hard currency to the centrally controlled economies of the East.

One place they were never sold and are very seldom seen is in North America.  In fact, until yesterday I would have said “never seen in North America” except perhaps in a museum.  But here it is – a Wartburg 353W Deluxe, one of three owned by this family and at least local enough to carry an Indiana license plate.  Their Wartburgs all originated in Hungary, and were imported after the fall of the Soviet Union by a family member who had fallen in love with them while living in Budapest.

The owners very kindly opened the hood to show me the 3 cylinder 2 stroke engine. Yes, you have to mix oil in with the gas just like with a lawn mower.  (The state owned Minol service stations in East Germany had gas pumps that would do the mixing for you.)  It displaces just short of a liter and yields about 50 hp.   Oddly enough, this is very similar to the displacement and output of the  3 cylinder four stroke motor in our much loved 1987 Chevy Sprint, Mighty Buzz.

The front wheel drive Wartburg 353 was introduced in 1966, and was produced with the two stroke engine all the way until 1989.  The W (for “Weiterentwicklung”/”Advanced”) model was introduced in 1974 as revised version of the original car, with an updated dashboard and interior and improved brakes and electrics, although the body and drivetrain remained much the same.

This example is loaded with jazzy accessories from the fog lamps to the brand logo mudflaps.  Note in the first photograph and this one the roll of toilet paper displayed on the rear package shelf under a crocheted cover.  This is a nod to life in Eastern Europe under the Soviets where this necessity was scarce, and when found was of such poor quality, that anyone with access to the real thing carried their own supply with them everywhere they went.

Scoring the Wartburg is very difficult.  Frankly, as a car, it is not hugely interesting.  It’s small, it’s underpowered, it was cheap in its day, and while it is pretty enough and a good example of European automotive design trends of the mid 60s, it is not stunningly beautiful or exciting to look at.  But it is so, so, so rare– pretty much a once in a lifetime spot.*  So 9 points for a rare but not exciting car +1 not sold here +1 for an interesting older car being driven and used, plus an arbitrary second +1 for super rarity and “really not sold here”:  Wartburg 353 W Deluxe (1976?) =12 points.

*Or maybe not.  We saw the little Wartburg again at Meijer later that afternoon.  If this Wartburg has come to live here and become part of the local fleet (at least on sunny weekends), this is going to make me absurdly happy,

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shark in the park

There’s a shark in the park, but that’s no a problem when it’s a Pajama Shark.  My first thought on seeing these two little drawings of Thresher was that he had sort of a Goofus and Gallant thing going on: I seem to remember that standing up on a swing, while tons of fun, was against the grownup’s rules, while there was nothing wrong with sitting on a bench reading your library book in the sunshine and fresh air.

But nowadays, with all the pressure to be active on the playground, Reading Peacefully! Thresher is probably a bit of a Goofus too.  Sharks resist social pressure either way.

On the character design development front, these are important drawings because they are the first images of Thresher looking straight out at the audience that I am entirely happy with.  (Drawing sharks head on is hard!)  I will admit I had a bit of help here.  I recently brought a product from China* that came packed on a cardboard backer printed with a shark design that included these little guys.

The Enigmatic Chinese Packaging Shark was quite an inspiration.  Working with the idea of widespread, dotlike eyes and a straight line for the mouth, combined with Thresher’s friendly expression and shading, is definitely proving to be a step in the right direction.  I think his eyes need to be rounder and the length of the mouth line needs to be tweaked to balance friendliness and sharkishness.  Which is of course the central dialectic of designing a Friendly Shark.

*More on this interesting product coming soon.

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spider time again

Somehow, once again, the bulk of summer has passed without most of us noticing it.  (I had a better excuse than usual this year, with a corgi pup, the Martian, to raise and start to train.) The end of summer is here, yellow and crunchy, with dusks that seem early and the promise of autumn for those who love autumn.  And of course, with spiders.  It’s spider time.

I will admit it’s my favorite time of year.  There a story you can read that’s framed in it– click here.

(And the blog now returns to a real world schedule of twice a week we hope.)


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