Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 4 Work in Progress

I woke up this morning after only getting about 3 hours sleep due to feeling sick all night and decided that since my symptoms were still with me that I should go to the doctor.  I called him this morning as soon as his office opened and luckily, I was able to get in right away.  To make a long story short, I'm now on some anti-biotics, which will hopefully fix me up and enable me to feel like getting back to work.

Anyway, I didn't work on this at all today and only got a little bit done yesterday.  Here's the progress I made yesterday in the short time I worked on it after posting the day 3 entry:  Cleaned up the door frame, cleaned up the box on the desk that is holding the statue, added a layer of preliminary shadows.

I'm looking forward to feeling better so that I can get back to this and get it finished.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 3 Work in Progress

I was hoping to have this finished by now but I've been feeling under the weather all day and have not felt like working on it. Here's what I accomplished yesterday - started adding detail to the books in the bookcase, as well as the objects on the desk and finished detailing the red chair.  I also worked on the pictures on the wall.  Adding shading and detail to all of the books took me much longer than I had anticipated and I've still got quite a few more to go, but hopefully I'll finish up the next time I sit down to work on it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 2 Work in Progress

Here is my progress report on the painting I posted yesterday. First, you might notice that I expanded the size of the canvas a bit so that I would have more working room around the edges.  I did this by adding 60 pixels to each edge.  From there I continued to work on adding details.  I gave some form and definition to the taxidermied animal on the top of the bookcase, I refined the books on the bookcase, I painted in a crystal ball on one of the bookcase shelves, I put detail and texture on to the dark green Victorian sofa, began to add some detail to the red chair, I added details to the trunk and crate that are behind the boy, in the foreground I painted in a glowing lantern, I threw in some spider webs and I added more detail and shadows to the boy.

Today, I will continue working on the details - the books in the bookcase still need a lot of work, the items on the desk need to be cleaned up, as does the box and the creature statue that the boy has discovered.  I will also finish up the red chair, add detail to the pictures hanging on the wall, put in some more cobwebs and play with the lighting and shadows.  Then I should be just about finished.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Work in Progress

Yesterday I began work on a new painting.  I guess I would have to say it was inspired by the John Bellairs book that Mark and I are reading to one another at night.  It's called the "Dark Secret of Weatherend."  I'm not illustrating anything from the book (there is no scene like it in the book), but reading this spooky book gave me the idea of trying to create a spooky image for children, an illustration that hopefully will look like it might have come from a children's book.  To start, I began by doing a quick pen study in my sketchbook.  As I worked, I got the idea of a young boy in an old abandoned house, searching for something. He gradually begins to notice that he is being watched by something in the doorway.  You can see my original sketch at the right.  It is actually just a thumbnail sketch, but it was enough to give me an idea of the scene and its composition.

As I began to develop the painting I decided that the item that he has discovered in the box on the desk would be a small statue of a man-like creature. As he turns around, he discovers that the thing watching him from the doorway is identical to the statue he has just discovered.

Maybe at some point I'll attempt to write a story to go with this, but for now I'm only interested in developing this scene. I'm hoping that the final result will be atmospheric, a bit spooky but also somewhat humorous. The color image that I'm posting today is the work in progress. I still have a lot to do on it.  Basically what you see is the image with the colors blocked in. I have just begun to add some detail. Now it's just a process of smoothing out the shapes, adding lighting and shadows and of course, a lot more detail.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Illustration Friday - Propagate

Illustration Friday is a site for illustrators where each Friday a new word is posted and the challenge is to come up with an illustration for that word.  This week's word is "Propagate."  Since I think I first learned this word from my father, who was a plant pathologist, I decided to do a drawing that reminded me of him and how he taught me to propagate plants by taking cuttings.  The drawing was done using Painter XI utilizing a number of different brushes - liquid ink, soft conte crayon, watercolor, colored pencil and the "real" variable width pen.  I tried to do the image in a style reminiscent of a 1950's or 60's children's illustration.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Garth Williams

Garth Willams (1912-1996) is best known for his illustrations for "Charlotte's Web," "Stuart Little," and the "Little House" books.  So intrinsically are those titles linked with his images, that it is almost impossible to think of one without the other.  In one of my earlier posts, I displayed some of his illustrations from one of my favorite childhood books, "The Tall Book of Make Believe."  Since he has always been one of my favorite illustrators, I've decided to devote this post to more of his work.  The illustrations that I'm including all come from books in my personal collections.

His black and white images in the "Little House," books were created with charcoal and pencil which Williams used to charming effect.  In using these basic materials, it's almost as if the artist wanted us to realize that these were tools that Laura Ingalls Wilder, in her early life of pioneering hardship, might have had at her disposal and could have used to make similar sketches of her life.

Williams was also an expert when it came to using pen and ink as can be seen  in his work for "Stuart Little," and "The Cricket in Times Square."  The sharpness of detail in these images gives the viewer a crisp feeling for what it might be like to see the world from a height of only 5 or 6 inches tall.  In "The Family Under the Bridge," the Newberry Honor book by Natalie Savage Carlson, Williams used pen and ink with a gray wash which was perfect for creating the necessary mood and atmosphere for this story of a hobo who lives under a bridge along the misty banks of the Seine in Paris.

Some of my favorites of Williams' illustrations come from the work he did for a number of different books in the Little Golden Books series. His illustrations for Margaret Wise Brown's "The Friendly Book," are colorful and wonderfully intricate. In this book, Williams gives the viewer an array of marvelous details that makes the reader want to pour over them again and again.  In the book's two page spread on dogs, Williams digs way beyond the text to give the viewer a city populated by all sorts of canine characters. Not only do we get the "Big dogs, Little dogs," and the other dogs that Brown describes, but we get stern looking police dogs, hungry dogs, shiftless dogs, genteel dogs and taxi-driving dogs that Brown doesn't even mention in her text.  In the two page spread on people, he once again goes beyond the text.  Here, Williams supplements Brown's words with all sorts of dogs interacting with the described people. He even throws in a squirrel and a few birds. Taken by themselves, Brown's words are charming and have a nice rhythm to them - "Glad people, Sad people, Slow people, Mad people, Big people, Little people," but when you add in Williams' delightful animals to the page, you get a whole other story taking place. You get dogs chasing runners, dogs chasing men on bicycles, big dogs kissing big ladies, stooped over old men petting tiny dogs.  I've heard it said by many an art director that the job of the illustrator is to take the viewer beyond what is described in the text. Garth Williams was an illustrator who could do this beautifully.

Another of Williams' fondly remembered books is "Mister Dog," also written by Margaret Wise Brown. In this story of Crispin's Crispian, the dog who belonged to himself, Williams captures the cozy life of a dog who lives in a garden in a two-story doghouse.  Looking at these wonderful pictures, the reader can't help but feel envious of the little boy who gets to move in with Crispin's Crispian.

"Baby Animals," a book that I'm sure was a childhood favorite of many a baby-boomer was not only illustrated by Williams, but written by him as well. This book is a good example of one of Williams' distinguishing characteristics - his remarkable ability to depict the texture of animal fur.  Seldom, if ever, has there been such a tactile depiction of fluffiness as what Williams displays in his adorable images of baby animals.

Fortunately many of the books that Garth Williams illustrated are still in print.  For those interested in purchasing any of the books that I have written about, I've provided easy links that will take you to the appropriate Amazon buying page.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Can the Corn Valentine

Going through some of my collections this morning, I found lots more vintage Valentines.  Since this is Valentine's Eve, I thought I'd post a few more.

As I went through them, I began to see some reoccurring themes or subjects. A few days ago I posted a Valentine depicting some anthropomorphized hot dogs. Anthropomorphism seems to have been a popular motif as you'll see in these first three examples. In the first example, another food item, this time an ear of corn is given a chipper little face, while in the second, a common household item, the light bulb gets the same treatment.  For those of you who may have missed it, the third example is the aforementioned hot dogs card, which I'm reposting just because I love it so.

The humanoid light-bulb is not only an example of anthropomorphism but it exemplifies another popular   concept - the word pun.  In the case of the light-bulb you have the expression "Watt you say?"  Here are a few more examples.  In one, the phrase "So help me," is written as "So Elf me," while depicting a little elf sitting atop a heart.  In another "How are you feeling about . . ." becomes "Hawaii feeling about . . . " while depicting a little girl in a grass skirt with ukelele in hand.

In this one, illustrating some very pink cotton candy, the phrase "I've gotten to like you," has been turned into "I've cotton to like you."

Here a very happy little bunny tells us how "Hoppy" you make him.

Animals were very popular, especially dogs.  I especially love the one of the poodle getting her hair done.

But there was a zoo full of other animals as well - a skunk (another example of the word pun with his heart saying "You really scent me!"), an ostrich, owl, turtle, cow, a thieving raccoon, and my favorite - the whale, who with its big red lips and luscious eye lashes, serves as another example of the anthropomorphic Valentine.  I believe this one was given to me by my mom since my name on the front of the card appears to be in her handwriting.

Then there is this bizarre card that can't make up its mind what it wants to depict, so it settles for a fit-all "whatever."

Last but not least are two cards that seem to be pushing the limits of their innocence. See if you agree with me. The first one shows a little girl in make-up wearing her bloomers fastening on a corset. Not only can you see her bare back, but she's inviting you to "hook up" with her. Note that once again there is a word pun - "Of Corset I Love You!"

This next one, I'm sure would never get made today, not with kids shooting one another in schools. A little boy is pointing a loaded gun (it must be loaded with something because you can see lines sparking from its barrel) and telling you that he's taking aim at your heart. It might be different if he were shooting a cupid's arrow, but a loaded gun? If I were that cute little bunny sitting behind him, I'd high-tail it out of there as fast as my big flat feet could carry me.

Since these two cards were produced in a more innocent time, maybe it's just from today's perspective where we've seen the results of guns in schools and the harm that comes from the early sexualization of children that these cards now seem inappropriate.

I hope you've enjoyed looking at these cards and that they've brought back some fond memories for you. As I looked at them, seeing on the reverse sides the names of former school mates scrawled in chicken-scratch style pencil, I thought about my early days in school and the fun of Valentine's day, but I also found myself thinking, what a fun job it would have been to be the designer of these cards.

Happy Valentine's Day everybody!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentines for Today's Kids

In my last blog where I posted some vintage Valentines, circa the early 60's, I promised that I would put up some examples of contemporary kids' Valentines, the type that are sold in packages.  You'll notice that all of these are connected with some sort of brand (Universal Monsters, Pixar, Simpsons, etc). Also notice that they are all rectangular (they come as perforated sheets that you tear apart yourself), no more die-cut Valentines in the shape of hearts or animals.

I'm including copyright information for each of these groups in the hopes that by doing so, and by making this a look at an aspect of pop culture, I can get away with posting these images without any copyright infringement.

The first group from 1992 are based on the Batman animated TV series and are copyright DC Comics.  Although the messages on these Valentines are fairly traditional, i.e. "Who's a Special Valentine? You!," "Dropping in With Valentine Wishes," etc, they do make an attempt to link their message with the character they're depicting - The Riddler is asking a question, Catwoman uses a pun on words, changing the word kidding to kitten, the Penguin, using his ubiquitous umbrella like a parachute, floats downward, telling you that he's dropping in with his Valentine wishes.

The next batch, depicting characters from the Simpsons are copyright and trademarked 2001 Fox.  The messages on these cards are a mix of traditional ("The Truth Must be Told - You'd Make a Great Valentine!") and how should I put this?  Hmmm.  . . less genteel ("Smell ya later, Valentine," "I pickeded this one myself").

There seems to be no character incapable of doling out Valentine's Day wishes as can be seen in this next group of cards that are all copyright 1997 Universal Studios Monsters TM. Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, the Mummy and Dracula are characters that usually decorate the front of Halloween cards, but here they provide more examples of fairly traditional Valentine's messages being combined with imagery that is not usually associated with the day.

The following Spongebob cards are all copyright 2003 by Viacom International.  These cards with their shiny foil finish (which unfortunately doesn't show up on the scans) are funny partially because they are so aggressive.  All of them give you the feeling that the characters are shouting out their sentiments of love. "Crazy 4u!!!!" shouts Patrick with his arms upraised and his teeth bared.
"It's Valentine's Day! Enjoy it!" shouts Spongebob with his mouth wide open exposing his dangling uvula.  These cards are cleverly designed.  Each card is meant to be folded in half and the 2 halves close by inserting the edge of one half under the precut tab on the other half, so that the card becomes its own envelope.

This last group of cards depicting characters from various Pixar/Disney films are from this year. All of them are copyright Disney/Pixar.  These cards, though nicely designed, are printed on what feels like an inferior card stock and have a semi-matte finish giving them a rather dull look.  The sentiments are all fairly traditional with the exception of the Toy Story card's message of "To Infinity and Beyond."  The use of Buzz lightyear's catchphrase doesn't seem very Valentine-like to me, but it does give the card a sort of all-purpose, all-occasion usefulness.  And the Ratatouille card with its message of "Bonjour Valentine!" will give any kid who receives it, a mini-French lesson, not to mention the heebie-jeebies if you don't like rats.

Though as I stated in my last post, I prefer the Valentines I received in the early sixties, I can appreciate these cards for their  links to various movies and TV shows that will one day serve as reminders to what was popular in the media in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.