Saturday, November 21, 2009


I’ve long admired the children’s books illustrated by David Small.  “The Gardener,” which he illustrated and was written by his wife Sarah Stewart, is a favorite of mine.   His latest book, “Stitches,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award in the young people’s literature category is a memoir written in the form of a comic. There are many such memoirs out there, but this one blows most of the others off of the shelf.  Small’s expressive line drawings colored with simple gray washes reminded me of the work of Will Eisner (who is often credited with inventing the graphic novel) but in its emotional intensity this one has few peers.  There are many panels that have no dialog in them at all, where you scan the panels and absorb the images in much the same way you would while watching a film.  The facial expressions of the various characters are so beautifully drawn that you immediately know their state of mind.  From the puzzlement and fear of the young David, to the smoldering anger of his mother, and the wrath of his demented grandmother, the line work says it all.  This is the story of a young boy growing up in a home filled with repressed anger and loveless parents, who in order to survive escapes into books and his own fantasies.  As you witness the trials that David is forced to undergo as he grows up, the book is sometimes painful to read, but the artistry and power of the author’s words and images keep you enthralled and by the book’s moving end, you may want to start reading it all over again.

Insomnia and Zeitgebers

After trying to fall asleep for over half an hour with no success, my restless brain which has refused to shut down, has now ordered me to get up.  I often have trouble falling asleep.  Or if I do fall asleep I will awaken a few hours later and have trouble getting back to sleep.  Maybe my circadian rhythms are those of a night owl or maybe I march to a different Zeitgeber.  I had never heard of a Zeitgeber before reading about circadian rhythms on Wikipedia.  But there is such a thing as a Zeitgeber.  It is the time cue that synchronizes your biological, internal time clock to the earth's 24 hour light/dark cycle.  In other words, it's what helps you fall asleep when it gets dark and awaken when the sun comes up.  I'm not the only one in my family that has night owl tendencies.  I remember my father would often be up late, either working in his lab at the University or at home watching late night TV.  Then he would sleep late in the mornings, not getting up until after I had left for school.  But my brother is the one who seems to have the strongest affinity for night-time wakefulness.  From what he has told me, and from what I recall when he would stay with us while visiting our mom, he often stays up until 3 a.m. or later and sometimes doesn't get up until past noon.  Even on nights when I can't get to sleep for several hours or waken during the night and lay awake for hours, I always tend to wake up around 7:00 or 8:00, which means that many nights I only get around 5 or 6 hours of sleep, that's if I'm lucky.  On a bad night I might only get 4 hours.   When I'm not feeling sleepy and when I know after trying for awhile that I'm not going to fall asleep anytime soon, I will get up and either watch television or work on my computer.  So here it is, 1 a.m. and I think I'll work for a bit on my latest illustration.  More about it later . . . maybe in the morning?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Doglessness (is that even a word?)

For 42 of my 55 years, I've had a dog (or dogs) in my life.  I've been without a dog for a little over 2 years now.  That is the longest stretch of being dogless that I've endured since I was eleven years old.  I've been thinking a lot lately about getting a dog.

Something that helped me realize that I need another dog in my life was a short film that I recently checked out of the library.  It's a film titled "Still Life with Animated Dogs," by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, Czech husband and wife animators.  It won the 2001 Peabody award and has been shown on PBS but unfortunately it is no longer available through Amazon (It might be available through PBS, I haven't checked yet).  If you love dogs, it's worth tracking down.  The film is divided up into short episodes, each episode telling the story of a different dog that has been a companion to Paul Fierlinger and recounts in an unsentimental way, what he learned from each of them.

The very first episode where Paul (the narrator) is walking his dog through the woods, reminded me of when I use to walk my three (sadly, now departed) dogs through the woods on the way to the river when I lived in Washington.  The scene brought back such vivid memories of those walks and made me realize how much I miss my dogs, that I began to sob uncontrollably.  At that point, my wonderful partner, Mark, put his arm around me and said, "We need to get you another dog."  Through my tears, I said "I know."

I think about it almost every day, especially when I'm out walking in our neighborhood park and see so many people out walking their dogs.  But I know what a big responsibility it is and it's one that I take seriously, that's one reason why I've waited so long to get another one.  Now that I'm no longer helping care for my mother, I now have the time to devote to a dog.  I know getting a dog will change our lives quite a bit.  Since we don't have a fenced in yard, the dog will have to be an inside dog, and when we want to go somewhere, we'll have to either take the dog with us or put it in a kennel.  One of my major concerns is a financial one.  When we get a pet, we will have to put down a larger security deposit on our rented house and our rent will go up by $25.00 a month (which I think really stinks).  But in the long run, I think these are minor obstacles.  There are so many dogs at the pound that need a home, that I think it's time for me to rescue one.

Anyway, below are some stills from "Still Life with Animated Dogs."

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Art of . . . a look at 3 books

Since one of the reasons for starting this blog was to talk about illustrating and illustrators, I don't think I should let too much time pass before I address that topic.  So, I guess I'll just dive in.  As I mentioned in my last post, I've been trying to build a portfolio of my illustration work.  In order to gain inspiration, I've spent time looking at several different books.  My series based on animals of the constellations was inspired by the Art Nouveau poster work of Czech artist Alphonse Mucha.  To get off track a bit - I'm addicted to buying books.  Whenever I get an email coupon from Borders for 30 or 40% off any one book, I feel this need to use it.  One book that I recently purchased was a book on Mucha titled simply "Alphonse Mucha." It was published by Prestel and edited by Agnes Jusslein-Arco, Jean Louis Gaillemin, Michel Hilaire, and Christiane Lange.  It's filled with beautiful reproductions of not only finished work, but also contains many sketches, and reference photos that Mucha shot in his studio.  The book covers everything from his famous posters to his mural work and also covers his designs for interiors, jewelry designs and his stained-glass window for St. Vitus Cathedral.  If you have any interest in Art Nouveau, I highly recommend that you check out this book.

Another book that I've been studying is "Raymond Booth, An Artist's Garden" with text by Peyton Skipwith.  This is an expensive book ($65.00) but several years ago when I was working at a bookstore (I spent 10 years working at independent bookstores in Washington state), I was lucky enough to receive a free damaged copy.  The copy that the store received was bound incorrectly with several of the pages out of order.  The publisher sent the store another copy and told us that we could keep the imperfect copy.  I had been admiring this book since it first arrived in the store so when the store owner asked me if I would like the faulty copy, I pounced on it.  Raymond Booth, in my opinion is the best living painter of botanical art.  Not only are his paintings of plants extremely detailed and beautiful but he often places the plants in a dramatic landscape setting that often includes animals or birds.  He has a dramatic sense of lighting, for example, portraying his landscape at sunset with the setting sun glowing from behind a stand of trees with a partially illuminated barn owl in the foreground.  His paintings of animals are some of my favorites.  They are wonderfully composed studies of the animal in its natural habitat, surrounded by a sumptuously detailed landscape where you can make out almost every twig on the ground and hair on the animal's back.  My two recent works "Night Hunt" and "Spring in the Woods" (that you can see by going to my website,  were inspired by the works of Raymond Booth.  These are a couple of the most detailed paintings that I've ever attempted, but they don't have near the detail that Booth shows in his amazing work.  I only wish that I had the skill, talent and the patience that he must have in order to create his gorgeous paintings.  If you're interested in nature painting, try and find a copy of this book.  It's one that you'll look at over and over again.

The last book that I've been pouring over in search of inspiration is "The Art of Up," by Tim Hauser and published by Chronicle Books.  I loved the film "Up" not only for its wonderfully touching and imaginative story, but for its design and look as well.  This book is filled with beautiful pre-production conceptual paintings and sketches by various aritsts.  The style for the most part is reminiscent of children's book illustration and cartoons from the 1950s and 1960s.  Every painting and character study in it is a gem.   It's a wonderfully helpful book for generating ideas on character design but it will also help the artist in creating scenes that have harmonious color design and drama through the use of composition and lighting.  Other books along the same lines are "The Art of The Incredibles" by Mark Cotta Vaz also published by Chronicle and "Cartoon Modern, Style and Design in Fifties Animation" by Amid Amidi, yet another beautiful Chronicle Books publication.  Looking through this last book, it's easy to see where the artists at Pixar got their inspiration for the look of "Up" and "The Incredibles."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's about time and the Golden State

I created this blog account 5 years ago and left it dormant, in other words blank, empty, unused.  I had almost forgotten that I had a blog account.  I think I neglected to use it because I was too intimidated to post my thoughts, fearing that I'd come across as stupid or boring.  I'm still not sure what I'll be writing about, hopefully I can come up with something interesting.  I guess time will tell.

I'm writing this from the confines of my cramped little office (I've described it to friends as the size of a train compartment).  It may be cramped, but I'm glad to have it.  It isn't as nice as the upstairs office I had up until two years ago, when I was still living in Mount Vernon, Washington.  From that office I had a view of the Olympic mountains (when they weren't covered by clouds) and lots of trees.  But this tiny little office with its view of our small, leaf covered back yard, is cozy and it's a hell of a lot nicer than having my office in our dining room which is where I had to work for the first 9 months after moving to my present location in Bloomington, Indiana.  At least it's a private room with a door that I can close, a place where I can listen to whatever music I want, a place to display some of my toys and books.  Right now it needs a good straightening up, but because I hate going through stacks of receipts and bills and because I don't have any place to put the things stacked on the floor, I keep finding excuses not to deal with it.

So I'm sitting here writing this, when I should be working on my artwork.  I've been working really hard lately, trying to create some new work to include in my illustration portfolio.  I'm really happy with my new work, but I still feel the need to come up with a few more pieces before I start sending out samples, in the hope I can find some illustration work.  Maybe I'm just finding excuses to put off sending out my work, not wanting to have to face the possibility of being rejected.

Over the top of my monitor I can see two photos hanging on my wall.  One is of the Golden State theater, a no longer existing movie theater where my sister and I use to watch movies on hot summer days while growing up in Riverside, California.  This was an historic theater, the theater that held the sneak preview of D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation," when the film was still called by its original title "The Clansmen."  Built in 1890, it originally opened as the Loring Opera House.  I don't know what year it changed from being an Opera house to a movie theater, but I was sad when it closed down in the early 1970s, a victim of the new multiplex that had opened up at the mall.  It was even sadder when, about 10 years after closing, it burned to the ground.  It's thought that the fire was accidently started by some homeless men who had been sleeping inside the deserted theater.  At least that's the story I heard.  Before the fire, there had been talk of restoring the theater, but the restoration got held up by some sort of litigation against the landlord of the Loring building, the building that housed the theater.  It's really a shame, because if the litigation hadn't held things up, the theater most likely would have been restored and probably would still be around.  By the way, the above photo was taken in 1974.

After the theater closed down and before its fiery destruction, I managed to find a way to sneak inside.  One day while attending the University of California Riverside where I was completing my B.A. in art, I was in downtown Riverside snapping some photos for a printmaking class I was taking.   I walked by the old theater and was filled with nostalgic memories of the many afternoons I had spent inside watching films like "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" and "Krakatoa, East of Java".  I went up to the front entrance and peered through the filthy glass doors.  Because the glass was so dirty, I couldn't see much but I was able to make out the shape of the dust covered candy counter where I had purchased many a bag of popcorn and boxes of Junior mints.  I took some pictures of the exterior, including the padlock and chain on the front door and the dead bird that had been sadly swept behind the booth of the former box office.  I then decided to wander around to the back.  There was no one around so I walked up the back fire escape and to my surprise found that the fire escape door was slightly ajar.  I pried it open a little further and managed to sneak inside.  I walked down a hallway that was illuminated by the filtered light of a dirty window half covered with a broken venetian blind that hung down at a skewed angle.  I walked by the projection booth that still had pieces of equipment inside.  On the floor I found a scrap of 35 mm film.  It was a piece of leader film, the part of the film that is used to thread the projector.  The title of the film was displayed in one frame, "Billion Dollar Brain," a Michael Caine film that came out in 1967.  I put the scrap of film in my pocket (I still have it, stashed away somewhere), and then proceeded downstairs.  I found the stairway was partially blocked by piles of cushions that appeared to have been torn out of the theater's seating.  I managed to maneuver my way through them and finally arrived in the lobby. Then I walked through the doors leading into the main auditorium. I was excited, after the passage of so much time, to see the inside of the theater where I had spent so many hours of my summer vacations.  But upon entering, I was saddened to discover that all of the downstairs seating had been ripped out and that the movie screen, upon which many a Hollywood star had at one time flickered, was no longer hanging across the stage.  Where it once hung it was now dark and empty, the back walls of the theater barely visible from the light leaking in from the lobby.  Even so, the theater was still recognizable.  The ornate lighting fixtures were still present as was the gold-painted grill work that adorned each side of the stage.  With my 35mm Canon, I took some long exposure black and white photos.  They came out rather grainy, but I was so happy that I had found my way inside and was able to take them.  Even showing the theater in its dilapidated state, those 30 year old photos still have the power to transport me back to the summer days of my adolescence when I spent so many hours in the dark watching Hollywood's latest fantasies unwind before me on the big screen.

The pictures below were taken on another exploratory trip that I made inside the old Golden State Theater. These were taken with my SX-70 polaroid camera.