Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mining Preceding Art Works, and a Gooseberry in a Coat!

Humpty Dumpty and the Messenger, illustration by Sir John Tenniel
from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

One of my favorite illustrators is Sir John Tenniel. I ran across an essay, by Michael Hancher, about Tenniel's work habits. It is fascinating to see how the illustrator "re-purposed" older work and ideas. I suppose most artists do the same as well, but seeing these and reading the essay was a lot of fun!

Here's the cartoon from Punch which Hancher presents as the possible origin of both Humpty Dumpty and the Frog Messenger (below):

From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

I found the discussion in a fascinating old book 
titled Lewis Carroll: A Celebration, edited by Edward Guiliano.

One of the best things about the essay? I discovered Tenniel's Gooseberry! 
I've had a passion for Eggmen as long as I can remember and, while not technically an egg, this fellow hit me square in the gut.  Look at that stance, that countenance, those expressive hands! 

Yes, perfection does exist.

Thanks for the visit!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Art Show at Sol Shine!

Works in prep for upcoming show.

These had to spill out of my little studio in order for me to organize 
them for Saturday night's opening at Sol Shine Gallery.  
It's a group show, and I'll have over 65 available works; 
38 of them original paintings of all sizes!

There are also 27 of these: Fresh new drawings 
made into prints. Hand-tinted so each one is unique,
they're mounted on deep cradled hardboard, varnished, and 
ready to hang or set on a table or shelf.

Here are a couple of hand-tinted 5" x 7" prints from the drawing Ol' One-Eye.
Printed on Fabriano watercolor paper, they were then hand-painted by me using different
color schemes.

The reception is May 3rd beginning at 5:00 pm. The show will be up for the entire month.

Thanks for checking this out--hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Scratching a Witch-Itch

An untitled work-in-progress. Watercolor, brush and ink.

Been straining at the art too hard lately, and maybe that's why 
witches (and ghosts) have been creeping into my dreams. But the other morning I was just plain sick of keeping my nose to the grindstone.

An odd sized scrap of watercolor paper had been in the way for the past six months, so I grabbed it, threw it on the drawing table, and took a break from the works I'm supposed to be doing. No prelims, no tracing, no thumbnails; just took the pencil to the paper to see what would result. It was totally refreshing.

Not sure I love the pic, but just taking time off to indulge was good for my spirits. 
Got to do it--just play around with art once in awhile. Keeps me from taking myself too seriously, and reminds me why making art has always been requisite.

Shoot, I just noticed I inked over one of her fingers! It definitely needs some scraping and fixing.
(So does my house, but working on this is a bit more enjoyable.) 
And if I decide to put more time into it, I'll post the result later.

Thanks for checking this out!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pen and Ink (Plus a Franken-Creature Sequence)
I'm smitten with pen and ink. Always have been. Nothing gets me to the state of 
total creative awareness like the zen act of making repetitive lines with pen and ink. 
Time stops, the outside world disappears, and I don't care that my studio is in chaos.

Really, most times the studio is pretty neat, 
but working towards a show deadline has me more 
concerned with production than clutter. Plus, it's not fair that in some 
past posts, the studio has appeared mostly organized.  

This messed up work-space brings me to the real point of this post: Pen and ink!
On the drawing table is this book:

This version, published in 1930, was found it in a used book store a few months ago, and it is stunning! My go-to volume when I want to explore and revitalize my pen-work. I've owned the newer edition of it (titled Rendering in Pen and Ink) since art school, but this old fellow trumps that one with more illustrations and thorough discussion.

Sorry about the phone pics, but I wasn't about to cram this onto my scanner.

Here are the end papers. Yes, admittedly, I am an old-book nerd. 

As a kid, fascinated with line, I studied Tenniel's illustrations for the Alice books, Dore's illustrations--especially those from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and the works of John Leech. Like Franklin Booth, I mistakenly thought those engravings were pen and ink drawings. Unlike Franklin Booth's beautiful renderings, my resulting works are far from elegant and controlled. Random and spontaneous they are, and quickly drawn... this detail shows.

Still, revisiting Arthur Guptill's book put me in the mood to explore, so the following 
Frankenstein's Creature-sequence shows a bit more self-control. Not that I like it any better, it's just different.

The extent of my thumbnail output for this one.
An in-progress detail.
Same detail with a warm acrylic wash and some highlight-lifting...
...and some strengthened highlights with white gouache.
Finally, a bit of acrylic ink for color.

Granted, the ink-line application is only slightly less random and unruly than usual, but it was a blast to do, 
and I learned a lot.

Thanks--as always-- for reading!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hatters, Hares, and Hand-Drawn Letters
The Hatter (detail), a work in progress. Mixed media.

The Hatter, an early stage.

A straight-up "influence" post.
So many things sting me. In a good way. 
Like most of Lewis Carroll's characters, pen & ink artists, and the subject of this post: 
Hand-drawn lettering.

As a young children's illustrator, when it was possible to keep up with the paragons of children's book illustration, I spent quite a bit of time in that section of the bookstore. And found hand-drawn typefaces! If they are still being done for that industry, I admit to ignorance. But here are several from the past which continue to inspire:

By Lester Abrams
This, I believe, was Abrams' one and only children's book. From The Four Donkeys, written by Lloyd Alexander. Stunningly illustrated in 1972, this masterpiece fired me up with it's finely drawn and watercolored 
"little guys". And look at that hand lettered, embellished title!
Maybe not a perfectionist's dream, but definitely stimulation for me, a hand-made enthusiast.

Here's another:
By the late genius, Trina Schart Hyman.
From Saint George and the Dragon, written by Margaret Hodges; the illustration-work won 
Trina Hyman the Caldecott in 1984.
Darned elegant, and like all her work, delicately hand-designed and crafted.

Been working on a crop of new paintings with lettering. Below are a few:
My initial approach to the lettering. This one's a detail from an oil painting-in progress.
Same one, further along.
And one from an in-progress, acrylic version of the March Hare.

Needless to say, after a bit of measuring, I pretty much jump right in--no pencil, no tracing, far from refined. But I dunno--would they be more effective if they were more precise, more "perfect"?

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 7, 2014

One Size Shouldn't Fit All
A few preliminary thumbnail sketches.

In past posts I've discussed my difficulties with "rules" in art. But truly, I don't think I have as much trouble with rules as trouble with the "one-size-fits-all" philosophy that seems to be cropping up of late in many blogs, classrooms, and guides for young artists/illustrators.

It seems that, from illustration to gallery art, people--the public, critics, art directors, artists, movie producers, etc.--just seem to want--to need--control. And some offer it disguised as advice.

Now, there's still much creativity and boundary-stretching going on in in the 
arts--thank goodness! But often this sorta seems viewed with skepticism and suspicion by "established" artists, illustrators, art directors, and critics. In other words, the ones who've made some money or achieved some fame using their skills. With that, seems to come the sense that they've been named the Wise Ones. And they are quick to offer their wisdom to the young.
(Up-front--I don't tend to believe that material wealth and fame necessarily precede wisdom.)

Nevertheless, the hidden message in much of what I read is that newbies need to heed and follow their advice. That which ranges from stringent formulas for work-processes to the "right way" to paint edges.

What's the problem with formulas? Nothing. They can help save time. Plus, artists should always be up for learning new things, as well as copying-to-learn and experimenting with tried-and-true techniques from other artists.

What's the problem with advice for upcoming artists? Nothing. Except for the tone and what I see as an undercurrent of manipulation. The intractable, "this is how to do it if you want to be successful like me" messages that often seem hidden between the lines.

Only one example: The "million thumbnails" prescriptions seemingly hatching everywhere. Um, yes Andrew Loomis did many thumbnails and so did Howard Pyle and Norman Rockwell. They offered a specific type of illustration, and I love and admire the work of all three. Each also did many studies and prelims and laid much groundwork before they approached their final works. Each offers much from which to learn. And I gladly admit to having my breath taken away by the single original Rockwell I've had the pleasure of viewing.

But this photo? It fills me with two things: 1. Admiration for Rockwell. 2. Dread (if applied to me).
Could I do this kind of groundwork? Not a chance. I'd be so bored with sketching and drawing and re-drawing and looking at all the slightly altered thumbnails and sketches and prelims that I'd avoid hitting the studio the next day (or week, or month). I'd just go fishing. Or get a job digging ditches.
And even if I could force myself to fit this mold, where would I stop? If two dozen thumbnails are good, why not do three dozen? If building and lighting a maquette is the absolute way to success, why not do it one better and hire real models and stage it and photograph it and project it and then trace it more than once, and do a thousand studies of each body part multiple times before really getting down to the business of painting the damn final thing? And then maybe re-paint it if it's not "perfect". (And good luck with hitting "perfect".)

Hey, Rockwell's process was obviously great for him. And it works for many others. I admire the heck out of him and other artists and illustrators who probably have similar approaches.
And I love to read and learn from many artist and illustration blogs. Muddy Colors (from where I lifted the above photo (  ) is one of my favorite sources of useful information, as is James Gurney's blog ( )

But my point is; Rockwell's process is not for everyone. However, these types of things are pushed that way far too often. Is it only me that views many of  these "helpful posts" as cousins to a
weight-loss-machine infomercial hosted by Suzanne Somers? "You too could have my body/success/career if you only could knuckle down and do it like me/Norman/Andrew." I don't want to look like Suzanne Somers in any of her iterations, and I don't want my artwork to resemble Norman Rockwell's or Andrew Loomis', either. I couldn't if I tried. And it would be wrong of me and for me to try.

Personally, I can read advice-material like that and borrow what I want, say to heck with the rest, and then do my own thing. But can every--especially a young--artist do that? My eyes and ears tell me no. And the results often seem to be:

1. Uniformity. A tired sameness (in illustration, in animated films, in gallery work) reigns. It's filling the coffers of publishers, gallery owners, and movie producers, but it's doing little for the creative improvisation that lies within the soul of the arts. (And I suspect adherence to this kind of advice-set seldom results in a decent living wage for most illustrators and painters anyway.)

2. Enervation, despair, and the near-death of the art spirit. The angst and self-doubt that fills the conversations and the days of many artists is hard to hear, but I listen. Too many are scrambling to stuff themselves into molds cast by centuries-dead academics and decades-dead illustrators; scrambling to turn back the clock instead of embracing a fresh present; ignoring the essential need to be an explorer, authentic and true to their own creativity.
Too many face their chosen careers like assembly-line factory workers--their art production dead and lifeless, their creative excitement only a memory. In part because they've been following advice from
an "expert".

Is there really much difference between digging a ditch and being an assembly-line artist?


But honestly, do consumers/companies/producers really want new and original?
With few exceptions, many (most?) truly groundbreaking artists have been ignored or scorned in their time. That's no myth--we all know their names and stories.

For most illustrators, the following conversation with a client/art director is very familiar:
"I love your portfolio--so original! Now can you do this illustration like a Peter de Seve?"
And all you have to do is walk into gallery after gallery filled with contemporary impressionism and face the fact that many "successful" artist's paintings are virtually indistinguishable from another's. Long ago, a valued mentor called these works "velveeta". And he followed that with "They sell, though."

Could I do that sort of thing; being forced to "draw like de Seve", on command? Or work day after day in the studio, making near copies of my works over and over (and nearly identical to thousands of other artist's paintings) because "they sell"? Nope, because if  my life was centered around making lots of money, I'd sure as heck be pushing pharmaceuticals, insurance, or burglar alarm systems. A much easier sales-task.


But back to the original point:
What might underlie this sudden plethora of puritanical process pointers?
Is it truly about being helpful or is it about something else? Just asking...

What's really needed from teachers, "how-to" bloggers, and all advisers-of-aspiring/young-artists:

1. Take the time to check your tone--is it generously and humbly offered (James Gurney's informative posts are great examples of this), or is it prescriptive/restrictive? 
2. Question possible repercussions before proffering advice, no matter how well-intended. Does this advice encourage progress, or resort to lamenting the loss of the good old days? 
3. Is it really advice or is it instead a chiding; that the entire blame lies with the individual artist's work-ethic (instead of the fact that full-time art careers are and always have been difficult to achieve)? 
4. Ask yourself: Would I have wanted this kind of advice as a young artist--would it have helped or hindered my development? 
And last: 
5. Do I really follow my own advice, every day, for every artwork? Was it truly the foundation for what I've achieved?

It's just a caution, just suggestions.
There's no single formula for artistic success, just as there is no single definition of accomplishment.
One size doesn't--and shouldn't--fit all.

Thanks for reading.

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