Layet Johnson Cartoon Studio (2021)
Installation, Prints, Performance
Thea Foundation, North Little Rock, Arkansas
05-23-2022: The residency screeched to a halt last week when I came down with covid and on the day of the cartooning workshop no less. I had planned to do a workshop on cartoon portraiture, using photography and tracing to examine the formal structures of the face and then bodies, called Process #2: Hacking Cartoon Anatomy.
I spent that day in bed though and we rescheduled the Friday Art Walk gallery night for next month, on June 17th (the next Art Walk night.) Luckily, this all came as a blessing in disguise. After months of preparation for the exhibition and a recent house move, I was exhausted, and was working to put together process drawings for four residency projects by that Friday night: drawings for Trust Tree, the fasion workshop, drawings of the Crisco Kids (Little Rock’s oldest punk band,) and examples from the cartooning anatomy workshop.
But 2 weeks in, and I didn’t have much to show, which of course makes sense. Maybe for a residency, I shouldn’t be showing people how to juggle a million cartooning projects at once anyway. If I’m to be teaching workshops, maybe we should focus more on discussion and limited expectations, while dismantling this notion that cartoons are easy.
My covid symptoms were brief and quarantine became almost a pleasure, reminding me of how productive I was on that first round of Stay at Home, when I produced my first long form comics. Now that I’m on the way out of quarantine, I’m looking to focus on what’s doable in the residency.
I finished the Trust Tree illustration but want to wait to post photos so they can have a proper release. That was an easy collaboration. They let me do whatever I wanted. But it still felt like a job – in making the drawing, I kept asking myself “what would they like?” As the fashion project develops, our goal with it will be to simplify so that we may draw lots of people. Figuring out how to roam the city and make let’s say one hundred portraits with bios will be a fun project to calculate. The Crisco kids have been hard to pin down. They’ve either been busy or rained out, and today I can’t make the Punk Baseball Game where they play because I’m in quarantine. More importantly, I’ve asked them to share their inspiration with me to get the conversation going and they haven’t yet, which means they probably don’t know what I want. Because I care more about what they want, I can tell this collaboration will take some time.
My new goal is to have process drawings from the Trust Tree illustration, fashion, workshops, and possibly a personal drawing of a monster who lives in the Thea Foundation basement complete by the new June 17th closing. I’d love to do one lecture workshop too, maybe on cartoon mice history, and use it to reveal the realities of cartooning somehow. For the opening, I want people to understand what good cartooning really takes.
My instinct is always to teach though I’m not so good at it. I worry I leave students more confused than when they started. After two weeks into the residency, I asked myself why I was doing this. I knew it was because I wanted to make a program like the kind I’d want to see, where an artist is available to the community, where people can come in and discuss drawing. But what I’m finding is really that the residency has become a tool for gauging public interest. How involved do people really want to be in the art? What are ways to get them involved? These are worthy questions to build community, really! But I had the thought the other day that maybe after this is said and done, I’ll make a big shift. Maybe I’ll start making more landscape drawings and less figures.
We’ll see. Thanks for following! More soon.
05-12-2022: Today’s fashion cartooning workshop reminded me how having a dedicated space like a gallery, with a table and chairs, can be the perfect situation for generating ideas. Of course, you have to have the intent and the right people, and today we had that. Eliot Peterson and Meg Grace joined Ali Bair, Alex Flanders, and me, to discuss the intersection of cartooning and fashion, and we touched on so many ideas I hadn’t dreamed of and came up with a great group project: to make playing cards featuring Central Arkansas people who are in terms of fashion stylistically unapologetically themselves. Put another way, we’re going to make a series of simple drawings (à la Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez‘s Love and Rockets trading cards) of people in town who stand out for how they dress.
Our conversation began with a discussion of fashion illustration and its relationship to gesture drawing, and how in Meg’s experience cartooning is often left out of its conversation. That led to a conversation about the stiffness of fashion as compared to vintage clothing and ideas of “costumes” and acting, which of course led to a conversation about film and theater. All of the participants except for me (though we’re making a documentary about this very project) work in film and tv. As shop owners, Alex, Ali, and Meg (who works with Ali at Little Vagabond) discussed sizing up customers and determining what fits might be right for them. We talked about imagining where one might wear a certain outfit. Would someone wear an outfit often or just once? What if they could wear something super cool on Mars for instance? I knew I liked vintage fashion, but I figured that was just because I was cheap. After our conversation though, I realized vintage fashion has an entirely separate philosophy, where history is active and you wear the clothes, rather than the close wearing you.
Meg talked about her experience studying fashion illustration and her style influences in cartooning including Snotgirl by Brian Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung, Tekkonkinkrete by Taiyō Matsumoto, and FLCL by Kazuya Tsurumaki, Yōji Enokido, and Hajime Ueda. Alex and Ali told a story about Annette, a North Little Rock woman who died and her clothes collection then sold. They said she had a great eye, and tags still hung from some clothes, so she must’ve been a seller too. Eliot was quiet to begin with but dropped a bomb on the conversation when he mentioned how dissonance, uncomfortability, and interiority were all important aspects of fashion, reminding me free jazz by Arthur Doyle, which is somewhat of a sidebar, but always worth mentioning. Read more about Arthur Doyle in this essay by Robert Peterson and Jim McHugh.
Finally our conversation drifted into video games and world building. I mentioned my friends Eben Kling and Aude Jomini’s project Doom Haven and how dreams, no matter how large, have an appropriately sized starting place for everyone. That was Doom Builder for Eben and Aude, the software used to make the 1993 classic video game Doom. After using it to recreate the New Haven, Connecticut wharf, their collaborations have gone in so many unforeseen digital directions.
Maybe it’s post-apocalyptic reconstruction, or that desire to rebuild the world after Covid how you want it to be, but world building seemed to be the obvious course of action for our humble cartooning fashion project. By illustrating all the best dressers in town, we would introduce our community to its very neighbors, using cartooning as a medium for positive and inclusive exchange. As a deck, each card would have a bio of some sort and when it’s done, you’ll be able to get a set at Crying Weasel, Little Vagabond, or the Thea Foundation.
With luck, it’ll be the coolest thing in town. So hold us to it! Check back in! Let us know who you think the best dressed cats are in the city.
(Workshop photos by Michael Carpenter)
05-11-2022: As promised, I’ll be hosting spontaneous workshops throughout the month. I’m treating these simply as opportunities to meet people in the gallery to talk about cartooning. They’re definitely workshops but not necessarily studio classes, but hopefully these sessions will lead to that and everything else. This month is simply about getting everyone into the gallery to see what we can come up with.
In that spirit, we’re hosting a conversation on fashion and cartoon figure drawing tomorrow morning at 9 am in the gallery with Little Rockers Alex Flanders of Crying Weasel Vintage and Ali Bair of Little Vagabond Vintage. I’ve promoted this and will promote other workshops on my instagram too, so follow me there if you can.
05-09-2022: To kick off the residency, I worked on an illustration for Trust Tree, a summer music and art program for girls in Central Arkansas founded by contemporaries of mine here in Little Rock. I’ve followed Trust Tree for years and love everything they do and finally convinced them to let me make them a drawing. Our goal is to make a design for their camp tshirt.
This year’s theme is “Summer Daydream.” I begin as I always do, listing themes and images, then losely sketching them to find a composition I like. Once I get that, I scan, trace, and repencil what I call my second draft. Finally, I’ll do one more scan and ink tracing for the final version. You can see this process in the above photo of my Hacky Sack drawings. The photos of me drawing were shot by Molly Ray of Little Rock who’s helping document the project alongside Omaya and Michael.
Check back to see more sketches and to see where I end up. Hoping to finish up by this weekend.
05-06-2022: Layet Johnson Cartoon Studio is an exhibition and residency presenting works and public programming by Layet Johnson from May 6 – May 31, 2022 at the Thea Foundation. For the residency, the gallery space is transformed into a public cartoon studio in order to serve as a site for public workshops. The project will also be recorded by documentary filmmakers Michael Carpenter and Omaya Jones. As an experimental exhibition model, visitors will become participants in workshops and film scenes, influencing the organic narrative arc of the film. The film will be screened by the Thea Foundation upon completion.
NOTICE OF FILMING AND PHOTOGRAPHY: By entering the Thea Foundation and Layet Johnson Cartoon Studio (LJCS) , you enter an area where photography, audio, and video recording may occur and consent to interview(s), photography, audio recording, video recording and its/their release, publication, exhibition, or reproduction to be used for a documentary film, inclusion on websites, social media, or any other purpose by LJCS. You also release LJCS crew members from any liability connected to any recordings. By entering the gallery, you waive all rights you may have to any claims for payment of royalties in connection with any use of these materials, regardless of the purpose or sponsoring of such use, irrespective of whether a fee for admission or sponsorship is charged. You also waive any right to inspect or approve any media recorded by LJCS crew members. You have been fully informed of your consent, waiver of liability, and release before entering the Thea Foundation and Layet Johnson Cartoon Studio.