Trump After Trump #2

Trump After Trump Comic Strip 4-panel strip

Trump Wants to Send in the Troops

At the time I made this comic strip, Trump had been warning U.S. governors that if they could not quell unrest in response to the latest wave of killings of black Americans, then Trump would send troops to those states and handle it himself.

My hope for Trump After Trump is to keep it less political and more about the narcissistic character of Trump and how he responds to our complex world. But, occasionally, it seems funny to reflect a specific moment in his actual presidency, such as this threat of sending the national guard to states who did not ask for military support.

You know how frustrating it can be to try to call someone and they don’t answer? We all deal with this little feeling of powerlessness, all the time. “Why won’t she answer??” “Where IS he?” We feel slighted when someone doesn’t pick up the phone, as if they are intentionally insulting us. Maybe she’s busy with her own life? Maybe he’s having a loud party because he just won the American presidency?

Trump, in particular, seems to hate feeling powerless, so his mind goes to a solution that can project his power. In this comic it reads as a funny little tantrum. I expect there will be a lot of tantrums in future strips, but I’ll try to keep the punchlines from all being hissy fits!

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Trump After Trump #1

Trump After Trump Comic Strip 4-panel strip no.1 - Trump tries to call Joe Biden to concede the 2020 election

Biden Wins 2020 – Trump Tries to Congratulate Him

“What if Trump loses on election night and does not concede?” This was a worry – which turned out to be unwarranted, but not for the reasons many of us expected – back in 2016, and it is a worry I have now, in 2020.

This first Trump After Trump comic strip came out of the context of the COVID pandemic, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other black and brown Americans, and the anti-scientific, anti-environment and anti-humanist Trump presidency. The stresses of this moment in mid-2020 had me particularly worried one evening as I thought about the possibility of a contentious election process this November.

I was in my kitchen, worrying, and the thought just materialized, “What if Trump lost in November 2020 and graciously conceded the election and withdrew from public life?” The thought felt like a fantasy, but it felt good to pretend for a moment that I had fast-forwarded to November and my “what if” was playing itself out. Within seconds, I imagined a comic strip that told this story, and the strips started writing themselves.

This first strip has fun with the idea that the real Trump plays the role of the victim (of the media, for example). So we see him feeling assailed by fate as he attempts to break expectations and do the right thing. He tries to call Biden to concede the election honorably, but Biden doesn’t pick up the phone! The nerve!

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Trump After Trump: the Comic Strip

Trump After Trump comic strip logo

I am announcing the launch of my comic strip Trump After Trump, which I plan to post regularly, though not daily since I only have time for one full-time job. I will be publishing the strips here on the blog, on YouTube and on Instagram.

Read Trump After Trump

Even though I don’t intend to undertake the intense work pace of daily publishing, I do plan on telling this story in the classic Monday-Sunday format, releasing strips in the familiar rhythm of six 4-panel, black-and-white comics then capping the week with a big, full-color “Sunday” strip.

The strip explores one of my favorite questions: can a person really change? I am moved by stories that show a selfish person becoming generous, or an abusive person becoming compassionate, or a close-minded person discovering the joy of learning.

A few weeks ago I asked myself, “What if President Trump were to lose the 2020 election, gracefully accept defeat, and decide in his 70s to become a better person?” Normally, when I wonder about something like this, I just space out for a few minutes; but, this time, out popped a fully-formed comic strip idea that started writing itself in my head! So, I followed the inspiration and here we are.

Trump After Trump comic strip face icon

My goals with Trump After Trump are to become a better visual storyteller, practice the crafts of writing and cartooning, and see what happens when this character tries to change. I’ve seen people in my life make extraordinary changes in their interests, habits, and worldviews when they reached retirement age. The cliché “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is not only untrue but kind of presumptuous. Old dogs may not need you to teach them at all; they can surprise you by learning the new tricks on their own. I don’t know where the Trump in this strip is going, but – to mix up our metaphors – let’s have fun watching him try to turn over a new leaf!

This strip has only come into being because of a virtual class on 4-panel comics that Amy Kurzweil gave a couple months ago, which my friend Sean Slattery suggested I attend with him. Thank you, Sean and Amy!

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

Tumbley, 2014

It has been likened to a picture of blood vessels or tumbleweeds, but I call it Tumbley. This painting is approximately 12 paintings made on top of each other then collapsed into one very noisy, smooth surface. Tumbley, 2014, acrylic on canvas, by James Hough James Hough Tumbley, 2014 acrylic on canvas 13.5″ x 63.5″

Our first quilt

Portrait quilt, 2014, by the Houghs My wife’s ancestors were pioneer farmers, and we are carrying on one of their traditions. Quilt-making! We began this one—our first—about 5 years ago then put it on hold for a while until we got some big quilting frames last Christmas. And now we have completed it. The design comes from a photo of our daughter cuddling our son when they were about ages 6 and 1. If you back away from the quilt about 50 feet you can see the image, which is hardly practical, so we content ourselves with wrapping ourselves in our new blanket knowing that the design is a picture of our kids, even if we can’t tell up close. Here’s a tiny picture of it, which shows the image a little better. Portrait quilt (small image), 2014, by the Houghs

3 New Portraits in Pencil

I give out tickets to students as a reward for good work and good citizenship in my classes. They write their names on the tickets and put them in a bag, from which I occasionally pull one name from each class. The winner gets his or her portrait drawn by me. Here are the portraits I finished last week. They are pencil on 11″ x 14″ paper. James Hough, Portrait of an Eighth Grader (1), 2014 James Hough, Portrait of an Eighth Grader (2), 2014 James Hough, Portrait of an Eleventh Grader, 2014

Believer, 2013

Believer, James Hough, acrylic on canvas, 31" x 47" Believer, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 31″ x 47″ My most recent painting takes a turn toward representation. I used additive and reductive painting techniques to create the image, as I have been doing in my non-objective works, but this time I was evoking a still life by Henri Fantin-Latour, whose intimate paintings are so quiet, yet sculptural, in the way he uses light and shadow to create space. Plus, finally seeing the Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil Collection was a huge inspiration as I approached this painting. Looking at Twombly and Fantin-Latour is humbling and uplifting at the same time, and this painting owes its swirling circular shapes and its palette to both painters.

Burger Night

I worked on this painting off and on for a long time. In fact, after my attentions progressively made it worse, I was driven into a brief retirement from painting altogether. “Who needs paint anyways!” I shouted silently to myself. “It’s just stupid goo!” But I pulled through and finished it, thanks mostly to my wife for her encouragement and a little bit to myself for remembering that I actually do like paint. Burger Night, 2013, by James Hough

February

February poem, written and illustrated by Jim Public In honor of this most brief of months, a poem, illustrated.
FEBRUARY
The clouds, a blanket overhead, Won’t let the sun get out of bed, And crows among the seagulls fly Like salt and pepper in the sky.

Studies of 9 Masterpieces

Here are some studies I made for a project I’m working on. The project is an educational chart that attempts to organize a broad range of abstract art and to portray abstract art in a way that makes sense to people who may not spend as much time as I do staring at it.

A Dry Heat paintings

Now that I am preparing for the next Jim Public’s Truck exhibition, it is time to post images of the nine paintings that make up the series I showed last month. The paintings that comprise A Dry Heat are plexiglass panels that I put in watertight vessels full of acrylic paint and water. Before submerging each panel in paint and leaving it in Las Vegas for two years to evaporate fully, I did some mark-making in the white, gessoed underlayer, so each painting has words, pictures, or impressions beneath the color and design left behind by nature’s patient hand.

Business Card

Jim Public's Business Card 120831 Fedex Office wants $70 to print 250 of these, whereas I can disseminate them online infinitely for free, or at least for the sunk cost of my internet access. So I post this here and will presently distribute it on some social media sites. Paper business cards are destined for the wastebasket anyways. So you are welcome to drag a copy of this card to your computer or phone or whatever; and, when you’re finished with it, it’s better to trash pixels than papers. That way we all win. Except Fedex Office, who loses.

Superhero Kid Portrait on Canvas

Jim Public, Superhero Kid, June 4, 2012 I received some commissions to make a few superhero portraits on canvas. I was able to make the colors and characterization a little richer in these paintings than in the works on paper, and to experiment with depth of color and lighting effects by using acrylic glazes. Here is the first one I finished.

Two Sisters as Superheroes

Little Girl Superhero Portrait, Jim Public, 2012 Baby Girl Superhero Portrait, Jim Public, 2012 While working on new paintings and illustrations in the studio, I have also been working on an upsurge of new portrait commissions lately. There are so many painters who do traditional portraiture better than I do–not to mention photographers–that I prefer the fun energy of transforming people into comic- and cartoon-style heroes.

New Homepage Illustration

Homepage Illustration, Jim Public I have just streamlined this website, and the homepage now features this new illustration of some characters standing in front of one of my paintings with their attention elsewhere.

Words in the Air

Words in the Air, Jim Public, 120207
Sometimes I like to talk out loud when nobody is there. My brother calls it craziness, my mother calls it prayer, my father calls it poetry, and all of these are fair; but I just like to watch the shapes my words make in the air.

Sunk

Sunk, 2011, James Hough I’ve made some preemptive resolutions for the coming year, one of which is to use words less often. The world is full of them already. That said, sometimes I like to talk about where a new work comes from. So here goes. Distinterested Witness (destroyed), Jim Public, 2011 Sunk was called Disinterested Witness for a while, but after about a week of looking at it in the house it wasn’t holding up to repeated viewings. So, now it’s Sunk. Before the DW nomenclature there had been a ghostly image of a ship at sea in the piece, but no photos survive to document that permutation. And prior to all of that, this panel and canvas had been home to a painting from 2005 called TAF Prototype, from my days as a painter of faux-marketing-graphic-design-satire. TAF Prototype (destroyed), Jim Public, 2005 But, again, now it’s Sunk, and I think it’s going to stay that way.

Painting, November 12, 2011

The red and lavender palette and tissue-paper-looking paint call up images of muscle, cartilage, brain, all of the softer parts that make our insides work. The colors also remind me of kings and queens in their plush, royal cloaks and gold crowns. These colors are some of my favorite to work with, when I can pull it off. I’m making the effort to present the artwork in different environments. Being made entirely out of acrylic, these 14″ x 10″ paintings love to be held and photographed. You could leave one in the yard during a week of rain and hose it off and it’d be fine. Is that a selling point? I don’t know. But if it adds a little human touch, a little flare of the real, to this modest piece of plastic and paint, then that’s what I’ll settle for. All of these paintings, being made on clear plexiglass, have an altogether different view from the back, so I’ve included one photo of the back of this piece, because it is particularly distinct from what we see on the front. Please don’t be the one who says, “I like it better on the back!” That won’t help any of us. What’s done is done, and the hardware on the back is permanent. Need I say that I prefer the front view? The loops of paint look contrived. I’m more after spontaneous grit.

BUMP, October 15, 1:30 to 11pm, Celina, Texas

Jim Public, BUMP, October 15, 1:30 to 11pm, Celina, TX

I’m so excited to announce my first DIY art exhibition BUMP, which will take place this weekend on the porch of City Hall in Celina, TX, a small suburb not yet gobbled up by the DFW juggernaut, about 10 miles north of Frisco.

Using a crack combination of scrap wood, black spray paint, paving stones, a little fabric, some work lamps, and things I’m still cobbling together in the Agora, I’m piecing together my own version of an art fair booth. In it, I will be debuting a large painting, Bump, sketching portraits of passers-by for whatever price you want to pay, showing a bunch of small drawings I’ve been working on these past few weeks along with some work from the past year, and generally hanging out, chatting, and enjoying what should be a charming autumn afternoon.

I was invited up to Celina for their Downtown Square Centennial Celebration, which this one-day exhibition is a part of. There will be live music, old cars, food and drink, the newly remodeled park grounds on the Square, and a good amount of company to be enjoyed on this day. Even if I weren’t participating, this is just the kind of event the Public family would have been looking for this weekend; it should be a lot like the State Fair we just attended except cleaner, quieter, less expensive, better smelling, and inspiring a generally better feeling toward one’s fellow man. Thank you Christiane Jones and Carolyn Harvey for having me up to Celina; I’m really looking forward to it.

I hope to see you and/or your local friends this Saturday!

What You Looking At, 2011

What You Looking At, 2011, James Hough

This painting had a bit of a long and tortured beginning, as with a lot of my paintings. I made this 25″ square panel 4 or 5 years ago, and the first painting it became was an oil of a logo I designed for a brand I invented called Koby Teith. The brand’s image, as I conceived it, was about rugged Americanism expressed through poetry, with lots of deep, earthy colors and a logo that looked like it wouldn’t be out of place on a cattle brand or bottle of hot sauce. Here’s that old painting, which is now destroyed. (On the off chance that you like this old painting, please refrain from expressing it now that it’s gone: you had your chance during the 4 years it existed:) Believe me, it needed to be put to rest.)

Jim Public (James Hough) Koby Teith star 111001

The next job for this canvas was to be a neat experiment in painting with UV light. I layered many glazes of fluorescent acrylic on it until it was a strangely vibrant, dark monochrome. For the next stage of the plan I was going to create a solid stencil to cover it, affix the stencil to the painting, cover it in clear plastic, and leave it on my roof for several months. Fluorescent paint being poor at holding up to direct sunlight, this technique was going to burn the image from the stencil into the paint. It was an exciting idea for a spell, this notion of making an image using only light rays, but in the end it didn’t really say anything I wanted to say about art or the world, so once again I set it aside.

Next, most recently, I pulled it back out and started layering acrylic on it for sanding. My first pass with the sander was circular; I thought a rough, blurry, sanded circle would look nice on the square canvas. I was wrong. So I renewed my sanding and got the painting to a point where I thought it was good and finished, with something like a white contrail passing across it.

But, after looking at this image for a few weeks it felt contrived and didn’t look so hot; it couldn’t stand up to repeated viewing. I got pissed and really went after it with the sander until gesso and canvas started to come through. Finally, I arrived at the image you see above, which is more spontaneous and gritty. The image has a chip-on-its-shoulder attitude. I titled it What You Looking At: a canvas that’s been through this much pain shows a raw face to the world, and “What you looking at?” is how I imagine it would address a viewer it it could.

What You Looking At is acrylic on canvas, 25″ x 25.” Back in the day when this canvas was Koby Teith Star I was convinced that I was in the middle of my ascension to the contemporary art pantheon, so I priced that painting at $1,000. Now that my feet are back on the ground and I have a new, less pretentious vision of what I want out of my life as an artist, I’ve priced this canvas at $500, which I feel does justice to you and me both.

Highlights from the New Studies

Study 1, September 2011, Jim Public

A common thread in my artwork seems to be an urge to use every color in every piece I make. This goes back a long time, and if you look at the thumbnails of all the work I’ve put on this site, you can see that trend at work. If you were to take a jpg of pretty much any piece of art I’ve made and reduce it to 1 pixel, thereby forcing the color content of the piece into a single square that represents the average color of the entire work, you would likely get grey. I don’t mind this tendency in what I do; in fact, it’s something that’s fun to find ways to push against.

For example, in these sanded works like the one above I actually use quite a range of color as I build up the layers of paint. If you ever hold one of these paintings in your hands, you can flip it over and look through the clear plexiglass (the substrate I use to make these paintings) and see a record in reverse of how I put the painting together. There is almost no resemblance between what you see on back and what you see on the front; that is part of the adventure in making these.

But, because all these different colors are layered, the top color is obviously dominant, and the thicker the coat the more dominant it is, even if you spend all day sanding it. In this way, I can use Technique to fight against Habit, in this case, my tendency to throw a rainbow at every painting. In these sanded paintings, the rainbow is still there, but buried, and I dig and scrape until I reveal those pieces of the spectrum that contribute to a nice looking picture.

So, even though I’ve used all kinds of color to generate this painting, it’s basically a blue monochrome with noise in it. The effect is one that really works for me because my eyes–enjoying the wash of blue, darting around with the different brush marks, picking up bits of maroon, taupe, black, and so on–get a lot out of these 140 square inches of acrylic.