Just for Fun

As much as this project is an intellectual exercise, and a frame for my own thinking about strategy, it is also an art project, and working on it has made me realize both how little art I have been making lately and how much I have missed it.

I have been having a lot of fun playing around with different media, and looking for solutions that will allow me to create a specific look with the limited equipment and materials at my fingertips. While I have already decided on the style for the main illustrations for the book, I have still been experimenting with other materials just for fun.

I got a picture in my head of a chapter title page. (I don’t know if I am even going to use chapter title pages in this book, but I see no reason not to mock some up anyway). The final image I want to get will be a print, specifically a monotype, very simple, graphical, and vertical, and I already have Ant working on the lettering for it. In the meantime, I wanted to get a sort of draft version of it done, which I decided to make using oil pastels. I used to use these a lot, and always enjoyed the very messy, process-oriented, hands on nature of the medium. (I’m a printmaker; in case this wasn’t clear already from my explanations of printmaking, the Ragnarok comic book project, and oh, this entire blog, I am all about process). I haven’t used them in ages, and I had so much fun digging in and hand-blending them, that once I finished the draft for the chapter title page, I made a scratchboard hedgehog, just for fun.

Mock Up for a Chapter Title Page

The scratchboard effect is something you might remember from second grade. You can do it with regular crayons, if you are willing to put in the effort to really bear down with the black crayon over the top, but it is easier to execute with the much softer oil pastels. Basically, you lay down a pattern of colors, then cover it completely with a darker color, usually black. Then, you take a stylus (or a pencil, or a paperclip – anything with a sharp tip) and draw with that, removing the black where you mark and revealing the color beneath. So here is our hedgehog, triumphant, scratchboard-style.

I wouldn’t say that I am avoiding dealing with the text here, but it is a lot of work, and I am awfully busy lately, so I will fess up to sometimes choosing the quicker job of playing with imagery instead of working my way through more text. It’s more instant gratification.

However, I am working on it. I am going through the book front-to-back. I may not keep every chapter, section, etc, but I am trying to be methodical about how I approach it, and keeping it all in outline in that way. Once I have my summaries of everything together, I will decide whether it makes sense for this project to keep everything in the same order, etc. I will definitely post some of my summaries before I get to that stage, as this is where I will really be looking for input: Can you make a case that something I have left out is essential? Or that something I have left in is not? Do you think I am totally misinterpreting something? If so, I will want to hear about it.

As always, thank you for reading.

Und Der Gewinner Ist…

Hare Clausewitz

When I finished the five contenders, my instinct told me that the marten was too cute and my badger-drawing skills weren’t quite up to snuff  (although badgers are so fun when they are full on angry). I was happier with the other three drawings. I leaned against the boar, because he looks too kindly to me to be Carl (although I hope to be able to use him in another role), leaving the fox and the hare as the two best candidates and a strong temptation to use the hare because the pun is just so good. I think both have a certain gravity to them, and a certain haughtiness that I like for this.

I thought it would be helpful to get some outside perspective so before making a final decision, I put all five options out there, and while there has been some love for the fox, the overwhelming majority of feedback I have gotten has been in favor of the hare. It seems I am not the only one who can’t resist a good pun.

The pun was not the only factor though. I have experience with rabbits. I have cared for rabbits and are familiar with the way they look and move in a way I am not with foxes. I know their personalities, and the many ways their faces show disdain. Also, commenter Hilary astutely pointed out that there is a tradition of wise and even strategically brilliant rabbits in literature and popular culture, citing as examples Hazel and Fiver from Watership Down, Bre’r Rabbit in the Uncle Remus stories, and Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. I think the latter two are more crafty than wise, but the former two are rabbits of true vision. Hazel jumped to mind immediately when Lauren suggested a hare.

The point is, not only is Hare Clausewitz an awesome pun, but my experience with rabbits could give me more range and ease when it comes to the illustrations with less reliance on photos, and this hare will be in good company in the pantheon of literary rabbits.

As an extra, unrelated tidbit, I have another experimental hedgehog for you, this one smartly executing that ditch-crossing in one bold move. He is one of my ongoing collage trials, of which I will try a few more before giving them up, so you may see some more of those.

Crossing a Ditch in Style

Within the next week or two, I expect to have some lettering, a print or two, and the first post regarding the text, as I’m starting to get a real idea of what that might look like.

Finally, I was going to post something about the National Military Strategy (which was released last week), but (and I think maybe I am starting to sound like I’m campaigning for President of the Ink Spots fan club since I feel like I’m mentioning them in every post, and honestly, I haven’t even decided if I’m running yet) you should probably just go read Gulliver’s piece on it from the other day. He said pretty much everything I was thinking (mainly that it was unsurprisingly but disappointingly vague and empty) with the added twist of comparing it against the requirements of the actual law mandating its creation. I won’t say I expected much more than the ‘we will be ready to face the challenges that are in front of us’ type of statements that were in there, and I am sure that our nation’s top military minds have something better at their command than the kind of uselessly broad and strategically empty material put forth in this document. At least, I sure as heck hope they do, because we can’t afford for this to be the best they have to offer. And we can’t afford for the civilians in the Legislative and Executive Branches who have a say in national security not to know enough to expect better.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I will leave off beating the dead horse that is ‘Lack of a coherent strategy costs us money, time, and lives’ to finish the book on civil-military relations I am currently reading, so I can squeeze in a quick re-read of Watership Down before beginning the book on strategy I had lined up for my next read…

All Fauna Contained Herein Native to Prussia

First off, thank you to those of you who have commented, tweeted, and otherwise given input, with a special nod to he who is known on Twitter as PetulantSkeptic, who voted for more drawings done in the style of etchings without bothering with the etchings, something which literally had not occurred to me at all. I think this is the way I am going to proceed (with watercolor or pencils for color), because it allows me the level of fine detail I will need for some of the illustrations (which neither markers nor pure collage really do) without requiring the work, time, and access to equipment of actual etchings. However, as I am still a printmaker at heart, I intend to make a print for the cover.

I am also currently in the middle of experimenting with  collages which combine the pencil-and-ink drawings for figures and other fine-detail items with various cut papers for backgrounds, landscapes and other larger-mass types of elements. If I am able to put together anything remotely successful, I will put it up later in the week.

In other style news, while I reserve the right to change my mind, I think I am going to take the classic children’s literature approach of using animals to stand in as the ‘characters’ of the book. I was a bit worried about that being cliché, but quite honestly 1) I am confident in my ability to make the approach my own; and 2) the mere fact that it is Clausewitz should be sufficient to set this book apart from other children’s books. As I am working through the material (I have the Paret now, at the insistence of the much-wiser-than-I Adam Elkus), I am seeing Carl as our narrator, probably with a cast of other creatures illustrating his points.

I don’t know that anyone would have held it against me if I used an animal not native to Prussia to represent Carl, but that’s not who I am. (You gotta have standards). So I did my homework on fauna native to the region, and I looked at dozens, if not hundreds, of pictures of about twelve different species. I narrowed that down to five, and made studies of Carl in each of those forms. (I did consider also using a white-tailed eagle or golden eagle, but in the end, I discarded all birds because while I love to draw birds and I have no trouble drawing them in profile or even three-quarter angle, I always struggle to draw them face on, and whomever I cast as Carl needs to be something I can draw fairly comfortably from all angles). I have not made a final decision on which of these I am going to use (but don’t think I am not sorely tempted to go with the hare purely because he would be Hare Clausewitz and I am an enormous sucker for wordplay, however corny it might be). I am including all of them below, so take a look and please feel free to let me know if you have a favorite and why.

Hare Clausewitz

Fox Clausewitz

Boar Clausewitz

Badger Clausewitz

Marten Clausewitz

Thanks, as always, for reading. This project is just getting underway and already it has been quite an experience. If you had told me a year ago – or six months ago, or even four months ago – that I would be spending this much time with Clausewitz, I don’t know if I would have believed you. However, it is provoking interesting conversations and really expanding my own knowledge of and thinking on strategy and its meanings and implications, not only within the book, but out in the real world. I am looking forward to seeing where it takes me before all is said and done.

UPDATE: I am a big jerk and forgot to mention that the lovely Laurenist first suggested a hare for Clausewitz. So, she is smart and delightful and shares my appreciation for puns, meaning I really should have remembered to credit her for the thought in the first place.

Establishing Style, and Beginning to Talk about Substance

The first thing I want to address here is the illustration style, because once we get those sorts of details sorted, we’ll be able to delve into the good stuff. (Okay, also because style’s way easier than the substance, and I’m trying to ease myself into this thing). There are a few different approaches I have considered, and I am going to include examples here, in the form of Clausewitz samples and some past work of mine. Forgive the weird quality of some of the images. After an epic battle, my scanner worked long enough to scan three images (luckily, the most important ones), then froze me out again, so I had to photograph and upload several of them.

I used the line “A small jump is easier than a large one, but no one wishing to cross a ditch would jump across half of it first” for much the same reason Clausewitz did: it brings a clear image to mind. He was using it to make a point about half measures; I am using it to test styles. Please bear in mind, too, that these are just for test purposes and are not intended as book pages. Also, I don’t know why it’s a hedgehog. I guess I just felt like drawing a hedgehog.

First and most straightforward, I could use my usual drawing style. When I am drawing just to draw or to relax, I use Prismacolor markers and a very bright, colorful, flat style. The approach is something like drawing a coloring book page, then coloring it in; I use a lot of clear black outlines and blocks of color. When I was a wayward youth, I used to run around with a lot of graffiti writers. I didn’t paint, but I’d take pictures of their work, and we all liked to draw. Everyone was always drawing and doodling on everything, scribbling in each other’s black books or on napkins or discarded envelopes. I always liked drawing, but they introduced me to the beauty of art markers. Not the cheap crap little kids use, but really good markers where the ink flowed on smooth enough to make the page think it was always that color. I never picked up the wall-painting skills from my friends, but spraypaint is still one of my favorite smells, I still carry a black book for sketching, and I still use Prismacolor markers when I draw.

My subject matter varies, although I do come back to certain themes (feel free to psychoanalyze, if that’s your cup of tea), most commonly trees, snails, angels, and monsters. The monsters are not specific like the Wolfman, or the Yeti or something (although I did recently draw a Sasquatch riding a sea monster at the request of a friend), but just made-up things, sort of pure emotional expressions. Oh, and sometimes I draw things that I dream. But I am digressing too much! The point is that this is my most comfortable style, which could be an advantage in that it might make progress easier. How this style will fit in with Carl though is an open question: it sounds sort of all wrong, but it just might be one of those ‘so wrong it’s right’ things.

Fiends Devouring You

Misty Wood

Trail of Dead

Little Robot Man


A small jump is easier than a large one...

The other approach that is really appealing to me at the moment is the most logistically challenging (although not impossible) one. Which is etchings. My studio art concentration in college was actually in printmaking. Basically, to create an etching, you impress your image into a metal plate either using acid or carving into it directly with a sharp metal stylus (this latter is called the drypoint method), roll ink onto the plate, then wipe the ink off the surface, leaving just the lines holding ink, before finally running it through a press to print it onto paper. (You can also print a reverse of the etching by rolling ink onto the surface of the etched plate, making the etched lines the negative space instead of the positive). Now, I don’t have access to acid, but I do have some plates, and a stylus and some friends with a press I could likely use, so the execution would be a bit complicated logistically, but not out of the realm of possibility.

Rembrandt did etchings. Albrecht Duhrer was a master of them. You’ve seen etchings in the plates of old books. They would be very in keeping with the time of Clausewitz. The first argument against them is that they might be a little too grown-up for what is meant to be the children’s Clausewitz. On the other hand, there could be some fun to be had in the challenge of adapting the style of etching to be appealing to both adults and children, and to bring the old-school into the modern. I’ve always been a big admirer of those who use classical forms in exciting and contemporary ways (like Rimbaud did with French poetry).

(These are not the best possible examples, but they are what I had on hand).

This is a straight acid etching, with contrast enhanced a bit.

This one is a reverse etching.

...but no one wishing to cross a ditch... I was not able to make an actual etching for this post, so I did a drawing in the style of an etching to try and get across the idea of the linear texture of one.

Collage is an option as well, colored paper cutouts put together to make the images. I like the flat, graphic quality of this style. The scissor work can get a little tedious, but if you take the time to do it right, the final effect can be quite impactful.

Nightmares Massing

...would jump across half of it first. Please keep in mind that if I were to use this style for the final illustrations, I would have a more expansive color palette, and there would be no hedgehogs.

I am not much of a one for soft lines or a lot of fluidity in my work. I like sharp lines, patterns, bold colors, so I don’t really see myself using colored pencils or watercolors for this book. The last approach I can really see taking is a combination of the above methods, possibly with photography and photo-manipulation as well, a multimedia approach where part of the image might be an etching, but collaged onto a drawing with other elements. This risks being a muddle, but if I can pull it off, it would likely be the most visually dynamic option. I will try to work up a sample soon.

Moving on to the substance of the book, as my long-winded post finally draws near its close: I had what was actually a fairly depressing conversation on Twitter today with Joshua Foust and Jason Fritz that served to reinforce my decision to take on this project. Clausewitz was crystal clear (and right) on the need for strategy, for a vision with goals and ends: “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” I think this is one of the crucial base statements of On War, and it seems so obvious, and yet I am not convinced that those in the position to most need to remember it, do so. War is not pretty under the best of circumstances. Thinking of all the added, unnecessary ill effects that can (and do) come from waging war without a coherent strategy makes it clear that this subject matter is not an abstraction. (And read the thoughts of more knowledgeable people on similar themes, like Fritz and Gulliver at Ink Spots, and Foust at Registan.net, among many others). There is a tongue-in-cheek element to this project, and I absolutely plan to have fun with it, but I am also aware of the importance and the relevance of the subject matter, I am quite serious about executing it as well as I can.

Having said that, the next couple of posts will likely include some looks at title page design and the question of who the players will be in the final illustrations: soldiers of Carl’s time? Soldiers of today? Woodland creatures? Monsters? Bear with me through all of these stylistic debates, and I hope that very soon, this project will be ready to go onto the really challenging phase (and the one I am thinking most readers will find more interesting): content, boiling the epic tome on strategy down to its barest essence.

I have been thinking a lot about this, about how to approach it. I thought about trying to use just direct quotes. I considered attacking it chapter by chapter and boiling each down to an idea, a line or two. I don’t think either of those is right. I think I am simply going to attempt to distill On War as a whole down to its most essential ideas and state them plainly, as a children’s book should. I will continue to share my thoughts as I do so, but I welcome suggestions, warnings, etc. at any time in the comments, through email, or on Twitter, so please let me know what you think. I am eager for input on the artistic styles I shared today and on the content and the project as a whole.

That Hilarious Prussian

First of all, thank you all for reading. The response to this project has been far, far, far beyond anything I imagined, and I am really excited (and trying not to be intimidated) that so many people – including some who are much more knowledgeable strategy scholars than I am – are so enthusiastic about it.

For the next few posts, I will be trying things out – media, artistic styles, structural approaches, etc – and I thought it might be fun to start these experiments with some of Carl’s funnier moments.

Yes, yes, I know On War wasn’t written to be humorous and Clausewitz is very serious business, but I found him surprisingly funny. Not that he wasn’t serious about what he was saying; it’s more in the attitude. Mainly, I was frequently amused by (not to mention in sympathy with) his impatience with lazy thinking, incompetent command, and bad strategy. Also, by his general imperiousness: he was nothing if not sure of his own rightness, and was not always subtle in implying that anyone who disagreed with him was a fool. What I plan to do in the next couple of weeks is try out different approaches to the illustration of this book, using some individual lines from Clausewitz, starting with some of those that I found most amusing, and hopefully get some reactions and input on the styles I use.

These are some of my favorites (quotes are all taken from the 2004 Barnes & Noble edition, with translation by Colonel J. J. Graham):

“That this, however, has not always been the view taken is evident from the former custom of keeping Strategy in the cabinet, and not with the Army, a thing only allowable if the cabinet is so near to the Army that it can be taken for the chief headquarters of the Army.” (I do enjoy that ‘Strategy’ and ‘Army’ are capitalized here, but ‘cabinet’ is not. The priorities are clear).

“A General who allows himself to be beaten in an extended mountain position deserves to be brought before a court martial.”

“A battle in the open field does not suppose a perfectly equal set of circumstances beforehand, like a duel; and the defender who does not know how to gain for himself any advantages, either through the special nature of the defense, through rapid marches, or by knowledge of the country and freedom of movement, is one whom nothing can save, and least of all will a river or its valley be able to help him.”

“Keep it simple, stupid.” (OK, he doesn’t really say that in those words, but it is strongly implied throughout the book).

“…as elegance easily merges into folly, and as it is not so easily excused in War as in society, therefore we have had as yet few instances of this elegant art.”

“What here seems so prolix in the explanation is often decided in the concrete case at first sight; but still, the tact of a practiced judgment is required for that, and a person must have thought over everyone of the cases now developed in order to see in its true light the absurdity of those critical writers who think they have settled something by the mere words ‘turning’ and ‘acting on a flank,’ without giving their reasons.” (Total Joshua Foust moment: Where is your evidence?…I think I might spend too much time on Twitter).

“A small jump is easier than a large one, but no one on that account, wishing to cross a wide ditch, would jump half of it first.” (Just after this quote in the little moleskine in which I was taking notes I wrote: ‘CVC strongly suspects that most people are idiots).’

“We think that these views will only appear paradoxical to those who have not studied military history long enough or with sufficient attention, who do not distinguish the important from the unimportant, nor make proper allowance for the influence of human weaknesses in general.”

“…beat him in detail…” (OK,  I just really like the turn of phrase on that one).

But see? Funny stuff!…Or maybe I just have a strange sense of humor. In any case, while I certainly take Clausewitz and his ideas and his place in history quite seriously, I also see no problem with admiring and taking amusement from his attitudes, especially his delightful total lack of sympathy for the incompetent.

So, next week, I hope to put up the first art experiments. I might also have some title page materials then. I told Ant – my dear friend, partner-in-crime on the Ragnarok comic book and a very talented artist with a lot of experience in lettering – that I would probably be hitting him up if I needed any lettering done, and he just beat me to the punch and started working on title page ideas. I’ll see about having some of that to put up next week, too.

For now, Carl and I are going to D.C. for a couple of days, where I hope to get the chance to pick the brains of some of the smart and strategically inclined people who know him better than I do.

The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz

A couple of months back, Jason Fritz said this on Twitter:

To which Adam Elkus replied:

This led to a brief conversation among me, Jason, and Adam about the dearth of good strategic training tools for the playground set (however strong their tactical skills might be, and it sounds like the younger Mr. Fritz’s are pretty solid), and concluded with an agreement that a children’s book version of Clausewitz would be awesome.

It happened that I had just started reading On War when we had this conversation. This was the first time I had read Clausewitz through, front to back. I work three jobs, and don’t have nearly enough time to read, so I get most of my reading done on the train as I travel to and from and between works, meaning that I was carrying a 900+ page book in my bag for about two months, as I read closely, pausing frequently to re-read segments or to take notes. The weight of it on my shoulder made it more of a presence than the average book, and I began referring to it simply as Carl, as if it were a sentient being accompanying me on my commutes. (I was also inspired to get an e-reader). I like to think that Carl and I got pretty tight during this experience, and I hope that we will continue to get closer as we work together on this project (albeit through the much lighter-weight electronic version I purchased once I got that e-reader), but really Adam and Jason (as well as many, if not most, of the people with whom I interact on Twitter and whose blogs and such I read on a regular basis) are much more experienced scholars of Clausewitz and of strategy than I am.

What I bring to the table here is a lifelong commitment to being one of those people who actually does those silly things you talk about doing but never do. Like in college, my friend Ant and I had this conversation about how Existentialist Philosophy and Norse Mythology are basically the same thing and thought: wouldn’t it be cool if we made a comic book about the old gods where the modern world was the ongoing embodiment of Ragnarok and we wrote it and we got our friends to play the gods and set up scenes and shot photos and scanned the negatives into the computer and created our own font and made layouts in Photoshop and altered them and then etched them onto zinc plates and then printed them by hand onto rag paper? Like, the most complicated comic book ever? How awesome would that be? And then we actually did that.

I also bring to this project degrees in History, Studio Art, and International Relations. I mention this not because any of those degrees is particularly useful here or represents any concrete qualification to execute this project, but just to illustrate 1) that I like making stuff and also 2) that I am nerdy enough to want to make stuff that is about a dead Prussian.

To share this process (read: in a cry for help), I have decided to blog my progress on the Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz. I will post text choices and sketches and layouts and eventually, hopefully, final products. I may also from time to time share some related thoughts. It is my hope that you, the audience of whoever out there decides to read this thing, will give me input on this project, participate in it to whatever degree you each might choose, whether through the comments, on Twitter, or via email. This can be on important issues such as what text or ideas should be included in the book or whether it’s better to quote or summarize, or on really important issues such as whether the artistic style should be edgy contemporary multimedia collages or Victorian-style pencil and watercolor drawings of woodland creatures or my usual bright color-blocked marker drawings of over-emotive monsters.

I think (read: hope) that some of you who are reading this are wiser, more experienced Clausewitz and/or Strategy and/or Children’s Literature and/or Twitter Art Projects wonks than I am. I would be honored and delighted to have the opportunity to publish guest posts from you on why you love Carl, or why you hate him, or why he’s important, or what strategy is, or why children need it, or why adults need it presented to them as if they were children, or why a certain idea absolutely must be included in any précis of Clausewitz, or why a particular quote is actually irrelevant, or why only anthropomorphic badgers can properly represent Clausewitz’s ideas to young children, or why over-emotive monsters are all wrong for the job.

So thank you in advance for your interest and/or your assistance and/or your pity. Carl and I are going to get to work on some preliminary thoughts and sketches.