Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Edward Lear's Legacy

Corsica. Edward Lear

Edward Lear's birthday is in May, so before the month ends, thought I'd add a tribute. 
Especially since his works have influenced me all my life.

One night, talking with some young artists, the mention of limericks brought some 
confusion to their faces. Lear's name didn't seem to ring any bells either.
I sure hope Lear's work is not fading into obscurity.

I love it partly because it was so diverse. He painted drop-dead 
watercolor landscapes like the one above.

Toucan. Edward Lear
His paintings of birds--well, in comparison, I never did understand the appeal of Audubon.

His self-portraits, and "silly" drawings--I'd give a lot to have this kind of genius...

...and the kind that could write nonsense this sublime.

Nowadays it seems that artists must squash any diversity and 
limit their output to a single style if they are to receive any notice or reward. 
Glad Edward Lear's times were not so limiting.

Happy Birth-month, Mr. Lear!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Once Upon a Time

Lisbeth Zwerger. From Hansel and Gretel.
(Ms. Zwerger's work, across the board, is incredible.)

I'm celebrating some pictures I love from a different, but fairly recent time in
the history of literature.

Alice and Martin Provensen. From The Provensen's Book of Fairytales.
(A true classic. Which of their books isn't?)

I'm also complaining.
Now, I'm normally not one to cry and moan over the lost "good old days". Most of them were good only in time-mellowed and mangled memory--not in reality.

But still, pull up your chair and let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time there were children's book publishers in the U.S. that truly focused on children and literature. That's no fairy tale. Those houses hired and respected editors like Ursula Nordstrom, Charlotte Zolotow, and Margery Cuyler. Publishers allowed those editors the freedom and the time to nurture authors and artists like the young Maurice Sendak, Trina Schart Hyman, Chuck Mikolaycak, and Syd Hoff.

Charles Mikolaycak. From The Highwayman.
(An amazing book with stunning pictures, as are all of Mikolaycak's books.)

It was a time before tabloid-kings had bought up the great publishing houses and turned many children's book departments into money-losing ventures that made books into toys and venerated
celebrity rather than art. 

It was a time when many authors and illustrators could make a living out of the craft they
loved and spent years to develop.

Trina Schart Hyman. From Little Red Riding Hood.
(Ms. Hyman was seriously one of the best. Do yourself a favor and check out all of her works.)

It was a time when children's books actually generated more income than the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. It was a time when making literature for children could be a
vocational, life-long career, not just a hobby.

It was a time when children's book publishers actually promoted the books that writers and illustrators made. (Yes Virginia, once upon a time authors and illustrators didn't have to do it all at their own expense.) It was a time when visionary-but-poor writers and illustrators actually had a chance to cultivate and establish their craft.

Tomie dePaola. From The Clown of God.
(DePaola's books are bursting with "heart")

It was a time when devoted and loving book illustrators and writers, not
hate-radio personalities, won awards.

Don't get me wrong, there are many wonderful new books out there for
children I'm sure, but things have changed big-time. I don't see that it's for the better.
Not for writers and illustrators, and especially not for kids and literature.

On that note, I'll leave you with a link to a wonderful interview with the late,
modern genius; Maurice Sendak:

And thanks for reading.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Reading vs. Seeing

Back in art school, used bookstores were pretty much the only places to find great instruction books from the early part of the 20th century.  Even some of the standards--those by the greats like Andrew Loomis--had yet to be re-issued.

Luckily, there must have been quite a few artists in Denver who had personal libraries. These ended up in old bookstores that were scattered over the city; and as many as I could afford landed in my bookcase.

I've owned, read, and re-read John Vanderpoel's The Human Figure since art school. 
The key to this one, like to many older art instruction volumes is in the reading. These days, there's much visual information from which to learn, and it is awesome, but sometimes there are riches to be discovered in the texts--often taken right from the lectures--of great teachers like Vanderpoel. Check out the following excerpt:

The inner corner of the eye is farther forward than the outer, so that a section of the exposed portion of the eyeball from corner to corner would slope backward from the center of the face; this enables the eyes to swing sidewise for observation without turning the head. The outer corner also is somewhat higher than the inner.

My powers of observation were not keen enough to give me this kind of info. 
How many times did I hear a teacher say "Just draw what you see."?  
How many times is it still said in art classes? It sets my teeth on edge! 

Maybe some artists can learn that way, but I had to hear or read this stuff before I could 
actually observe it. And frankly, that information wasn't being offered in any 
of my college art classes.

So I found it in old books. And I try to pass it on when I teach.

The Dover paperback edition of Vanderpoel's book is identical to mine, 
with the exception of the cool cover and this decorative title page.

I still haunt the few remaining used bookstores in the city, and there are still treasures to be 
found in them for a lot less than online sources. And it helps to actually read them.

Thanks for reading this!

For more information on John Vanderpoel:

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