I Blame Jim Lee: How a Casual Afternoon Browsing YouTube Took Me On A Life-Changing Art Odyssey

“Quick Draw Jim Lee” by J.D. Thompson. Copyright 2018.

Back in January, 2018, I was working on a short book that evolved into the backstory for a board game idea. I planned on hiring an artist to help me design the art for the game, but in order to capture the basic gist of the characters I invented, I decided to do some rough sketches myself. I went looking for some basic art tutorials on YouTube, and I discovered Jim Lee’s Sunday art stream, where he often spends anywhere from an hour to five hours working on a piece in real time and live. I don’t know exactly what it was about the stream that I found so fascinating, but before I knew it, I found myself trying to replicate the pieces Jim was creating line for line.

It all started with the joker.

“Joker” sketch, inspired by Jim Lee’s Sunday art stream.

My better half watched me as I created the sketch, and she encouraged me to do some more. So every Sunday since January, I’ve been watching Jim Lee draw and drawing along with him. Sometimes I draw what he draws, but mostly I started doing my own thing.

During Jim’s art streams, he was constantly emphasizing the importance of understanding anatomy and made reference to some classic artists. So, I bought a few books on figure drawing by the artists he casually mentioned – classics, like Bridgman’s Constructive Anatomy and Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth by Andrew Loomis (which is essential reading). I even picked up an old copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema. I read them and did the drills each author recommended.

At first they sucked – really sucked, but I started really focusing on the anatomy and the basic shapes and structures, and found myself getting the hang of it. Of course I am a long way off from an Andrew Loomis, but I was enjoying myself and came to really look forward to my Sundays with Jim Lee.

Then I watched a short documentary from the SyFy channel called “So Much Damage” about how Lee and Todd McFarlane and some of the other great creators of the 1990s formed Image Comics. Then YouTube led me to a short documentary on Todd McFarlane, and later a ComiCon panel where McFarlane gave a rousing speech that left me really inspired to get a bit more serious about art.

So, I more or less gave up everything else in my life and used every minute of free time to practice drawing – I’m talking about 8-10 hours per day.

I took a few pieces of work I had done to a local comic shop, just to get some feedback, and told the owner, Roy, that I was really enjoying drawing and watching Jim Lee’s weekly videos. I even showed him the sketch I had done of Jim Lee as an old west gunfighter – a sort of inside joke from one of Lee’s streams where fans referred to him as “Quickdraw Jim.” The owner of the comicbook store told me, “Hey, Jim Lee’s going to be at the upcoming Boston Fan Expo. You ought to go and show him your drawing.”

“Quick Draw Jim” created as a thank you to Mr. Jim Lee for introducing me to a wonderful new world of art and inspiring me to create my own.

At first I thought to myself, “There’s no way I’m going to Boston and certainly not showing my noob work to the Jim Lee.” But I mentioned the story to my better half and she said, “We should do it. We should go and you should take your work, and share it.”

So, I’ve decided to do it – to throw caution to the wind, and take what started back in January, 2018 as an art hobby, and get serious. I had drawn a lot when I was a kid, but nothing serious. Over the years I would occasionally pick up a sketch pad somewhere on the road and do a drawing here and there to pass the time – usually when I was killing time waiting for a flight or train, but never received any formal training.

Now, in about six months, I’ve created a portfolio, decided to build this little website, and tomorrow I’ll be on my way to the 2018 Fan Expo in Boston to show my work to Jim Lee and the good folks at DC Comics. I’m on a mission to give my first serious piece of comicbook style artwork to Mr. Lee himself, and maybe find myself opening a new chapter to a whole new adventure in my life.

Maybe I’m crazy, and maybe they’re going to laugh me out of town, but I’d rather be the guy who tried and failed, than the guy who never tried.

Here goes nothin’.

-JDT



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