The Big Update Part 1!

So here it is, the big update! I have tons of photos, plus an interview slash article written by Cathy Dowhos-O’Gorman about my time here at Webb. It’s my last week, and I’m down to my last class, art history! My shows up, and will be up for the rest of the week. We’re having a closing reception on Friday around 12:30 PM. I pick up my father at the Airport Thursday evening and we will leave Knoxville early Sunday morning. I hope to be back by late afternoon this following Monday. I’ve had a wonderful time here at Webb. I have decided that I must come back down to Tennessee for Adventure Con next year. I already have a place to stay which is a bonus! It’s Election Day, I hope everyone went and voted. I have decided to break this post up into sections; the photos you see here are of my show, and an upper school students working on their projects for my class. In printmaking, students are laying out silk Screens of comic strips that they have written. In drawing, students are making mono prints of facial expressions in a deliberate sequence. And in AP Art, Students are finishing up their comics!

What follows is Cathy’s article:

Michigan-based comic book artist Jesse Rubenfeld is wrapping up his month-long tenure this week at Webb School of Knoxville as the school’s fall Artist-in-Residence.

Webb’s Artist-In-Residence Program is a four to six-week, on-campus teaching and learning experience for Webb students, featuring nationally and internationally acclaimed artists. The program, which takes place every fall and spring, provides students with a view into the real world of art by exposing them to professional artists and inspires them to explore their own creative abilities.

Rubenfeld earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) with a concentration in drawing. He is the author/illustrator of the serial comic book, Into the Dust, which has been distributed nationally and internationally, and is now in its fourth installment.

The desire to become a comic book artist came at an early age for Rubenfeld. His father, an art historian and avid collector of comic books, was a big influence, according to Rubenfeld. “Dad collected comic books all his life and grew up a block away from one of the original Archie comic book artists,” he says, adding that many of his father’s friends went on to make comics and create characters like Swamp Thing and Wolverine. “So growing up, I liked comics, I liked art,” says Rubenfeld. “It was never this fantasy job because I knew all these people who had this job, and I knew that it was possible to do it and to make a living at it.”

Rubenfeld said he tried his hand at comic strips, but found attempting to tell a story in so small a space limiting. So much so that his story disappeared. “And then it was just about being funny every week,” says Rubenfeld. It was not until he studied under comic book artist/author Scott McCloud at EMU that he realized he could apply his fine art talents to creating comics. “Scott had seen what I was doing in my fine art, which was far more realistic and less “cartoony,’” says Rubenfeld. “So he looked at my art and said ‘why don’t you do something more like this in a comic?’ I said ‘okay, I’ll give it a shot.’ And I had this story that I had been working on in my head for quite a few years that I thought would be great.”

That story led to Rubenfeld’s breakthrough comic book, Into the Dust, which he says is loosely based on The Wizard of Oz, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, mixed in with 1960s popular culture. “My Dorothy-like character doesn’t end up in Oz, but ends up in 1964 Beverly Hills,” describes Rubenfeld. “So she goes from the Dust Bowl era of Kansas to 1964, and she travels back home to Kansas along Route 66 in a groovy red mustang.”

Rubenfeld describes his art as gritty and realistic, with undertones of expressive marks. He says he prefers to work with ink wash and watercolor as opposed to the more standard digital color. “With digital color, it’s a very exact science,” he says, “and hard to add that tactile ‘go-at-it” appeal that watercolor and ink wash have. It’s messier, but it’s much more expressive.”

Expression was the main idea behind a project Rubenfeld assigned to Webb’s fifth grade students. They were to think about something that happened to them in their lives, gather as many details as possible and then tell their stories in a series of panels to later be colored and put into a collage.

With Webb’s Upper School art students, Rubenfeld taught the importance of making location a part of the story and the need to create the story behind the characters. As an exercise, he gathered photographs of people and handed them out to the students. “And I said ‘okay, you’re stuck with this person,’” Rubenfeld describes, “’what’s this person’s story?’” Another assignment called for students to create expressive portraits, showing a change in expression over a three-panel sequence with the last panel to also show what caused that expression.

Webb’s seventh grade students were charged with creating an original comic strip as a class. They broke up into smaller groups with each taking a panel to draw and ink. After they were done, Rubenfeld collected the drawings and put together the final version. The result was a six-panel comic strip about a “jelly” fish, which is shunned by his family for being different, and he roams the sea in search of a friend. That project is currently on display in Webb’s Upper School Gallery, along with samples of Rubenfeld’s previous works.

Rubenfeld’s tenure at Webb marks his first teaching experience; something he says he’d like to do again. “Webb is a wonderful school and its facilities are terrific,” says Rubenfeld. “I strive to make comics less of a throw-away entertainment and looked at more as fine literature and fine art, and teaching is a great way to get that idea into people’s heads.”

Despite his lack of teaching experience, Rubenfeld is a natural, according to Webb art teachers. “I think that Jesse is such a talented professional and the students took to him right away,” says Upper School art teacher, Margie Luttrell. “He provided a new and interesting twist to looking at art in a different and valid way.”

“The kids were definitely able to relate to him and his art right away and laugh,” says Middle School art teacher Noel Redmon. “There’s not always humor in art, but there is in Jesse’s work. The students were excited to see Jesse and show him their own work. I’m confident that their time with Jesse will be among the highlights of their Middle School experience.”

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