Squirrel Gone Fishing

Squirrel fishing comic, May 9, 2020, by James Hough

Yesterday evening I attended “Draw a Comic with Amy Kurzweil and The Believer,” hosted by Believer Magazine, via Zoom. It was an hour well spent! Amy had us warm up with a 60-second self-portrait, then she gave us a crash course in 4-panel comics, showing us a strip each from Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts and Roz Chast. Thanks to Amy Kurzweil for holding the class, which was well- and enthusiastically attended, and to Sean Slattery for giving me the heads up!

Aside from the drawing activity itself, my favorite part of the class was listening to Amy describe what she saw in each comic; it was a chance to see cartoons through the eyes of a professional. Is there a beginning, middle, and end? Is there a lot of continuity between panels? Is the end a surprise?

When we got down to business, Amy had us draw along with Charles Schultz. We each made our own version of a strip of Snoopy dancing with a falling leaf. (Hers involved a monkey blowing a bubble that turned into a medical face mask. Sean’s a handstand, a loss of gravity, and a tombstone.) I love this approach to making something: follow the footsteps of a master, using their work as a template.

I made a quick version during the class, then later I thought of a better (imho) punchline in the fourth panel. I also wanted to draw foliage inspired by Bill Watterson. Below is the original, to show the thinking process, how the story evolved. I think it improved.

It’s good to see where creative things come from, the path from beginning to final product. People often can shrug off paintings, drawings, logos, etc., because, in hindsight, these things can seem like they were easy to make. But, pretty much always, the simple final product is deceptive and the result of false starts, second guesses, bad ideas, bad drawing, and so on.

Squirrel fishing comic version 1, May 8, 2020, by James Hough

On that note, I’ll close with one of my favorite song lyrics and quotations, from Iris Dement.

Sweet is the melody, so hard to come by.
It’s so hard to make every note bend just right.
You lay down the hours and leave not one trace
And a tune for dancing is there in its place.

A Few Digital Sketches, Soon to Be Finished Paintings

Below are a few digital sketches that represent a snapshot of what has been going on in my painting studio lately. Working digitally like this has the huge benefit of offering infinite flexibility when working with colors. I also love to dig for intuitive geometric compositions in my paintings, and Adobe Illustrator is well suited to this kind of sketching. horizontal-studies This sketch should be a finished painting by now, but I keep revisiting it, tweaking the colors to try to achieve the balance of light/dark and intensity that it needs. I ended up going with the top design with the chain of small rectangles running across the diagonal. red-pink-white-blue-concept Continuing to play with the red/pink/white/blue palette and simple—bordering on obvious!—geometry. austin-commission-concept I am currently making the painting that is depicted in this digital concept photo. I created the palette after spending some time at the collectors’ land in west Texas, home of big skies, cedar, mesquite, and earth. When finished, this painting will be an important piece of the collectors’ newly remodeled home! orange-green-red-study This sketch did not make the cut for the above commission, but it has found a place in my painting queue. It uses the west Texas palette, and does some of the things with simple color, light and space that keep my eyeballs coming back to look again.

Silly M.I.A.

james_hough_mia This is my personal favorite of the Fujikawa-esque fan arts I’ve made. It brings together M.I.A.’s loudness and Gyo’s softness, and I just kind of like how all the pieces came together. Now I need to take some time to finish coloring a piece with the working title, “Bad Blood.”

Dan and Phil, Jumping on the Ultimate Bed

james_hough_dan_and_phil My daughter is devoted to Dan and Phil. It wasn’t practical to fly them out last December for a Christmas surprise, so I made a Gyo Fujikawa-inspired fan art as a gift. I owe her friend Ashley a debt of gratitude for consulting with me to ensure that I didn’t mess up any details! It turns out that Phil’s colorful bed set is available at IKEA, so my daughter’s bed now sports the comforter and pillowcase that you see on the right. Nothing against Dan’s monotones at all—Phil’s palette just works better on her sky blue walls.

Lorde, Riding the Bus with the Knees Pulled In

james_hough_lorde Sometimes when you love a thing you have to do something about it. I love Lorde’s music, and too many times I’ve expressed my feelings by listening to her too much. So, to keep me from overdoing it on the tunes, I made some fan art! I also love Gyo Fujikawa, so I did what I could to channel her line and color, and her light touch:)

Jonathan Hough, Maker of Things


That’s a custom lighter by Jonathan Hough. It’s great to watch an artist develop. My favorite kind of artist is the one who—through experimentation, trial and error—seeks the best means to give shape to whatever space his head is in at that moment. And then when that head space shifts, so does the search for the way to give it tangible form. Jonathan Hough, my brother, @jh0u9h on Instagram, is one of these artists. I follow what he makes, and we talk about art, broadly and specifically. Often he is the kind of artist who wants to be responsible for every atom (ideally) that comprises a piece of artwork. Below, check out my small collection of Jonathan’s work. Two of them are paintings made from hand-ground minerals mixed with oil to create his own paints. The third is a hammered metal piece that is part bell and part oculus. They are compact pieces, like gems, representing countless hours of focused making. Jonathan Hough art Now, Jonathan has taken his passion for metals and minerals, and an arsenal of technique he has developed as a jewelry-maker, and has begun collaborating with artists to create custom-engraved lighters. This project is his first big foray into bringing his highly specialized skills to a wider audience. Check out some of his recent collaborations…

David Cook / @bonethrower on Instagram


Reginald Pean / @frenchinald on Instagram


And, the artist himself, Jonathan Hough / @jh0u9h on Instagram



Find Jonathan on Instagram to see more of his work. @jh0u9h

Runaway Soccer Ball, new and improved!

I made this illustration during the run-up to the 2014 World Cup. I was never thrilled with the final product: it needed some attention. So, I worked with the color palette and value, and now I am happier with the artwork. Watching little kids play soccer is a unique, crazy joy, and here I give the soccer ball’s perspective on it. James Hough, Runaway Soccer Ball, digital illustration, 2014

Suite of Billboards

One of the last projects I got to do for the marketing director at Faith Family Academy was to design the new billboards. Under her direction and with some great photography, these are the results. Faith Family Academy billboards, Summer 2014, James Hough graphic designer

Postcard from April 2014

I am working on my current postcard that I mail out to art directors, and it occurs to me that I have not shared my design from April. See? If you need drawings of gardens, furry monsters, or hovering robot artists, I’m your man! James Hough, designer artist illustrator postcard (front), April 2014