Monday, March 29, 2010

Illustration Friday - Rescue

The theme for this week's Illustration Friday project is "Rescue."  Here is my take on the word, created in Painter 11 with some slight level adjustments in Photoshop.  Before working on this week's project I had been looking at a lot of Richard Scarry's work, in particular "Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever!" I love his images of small towns populated with all sorts of animals, who are always happily going about their daily jobs.  In my image, the fire-fighting rescue dogs, are a little worried about how they're going to manage to rescue a 4 ton lady elephant from this burning building.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My Grandmother's Victorian Scrapbook

My Dad's mother, Augusta Desjardins, was born in 1878, the year that electric street lights first made their appearance in London. She died in 1962, shortly before I turned eight years old. Since she lived in Colorado, and our family lived in Southern California, we saw her only once a year, always in the summer, when my parents would pile my siblings and me into the family station wagon and we would drive to Fort Collins where she lived. With each passing year, my memories of her grow fainter. I have no recollection of what her voice sounded like or what she smelled like but I do remember her as being a quiet and gentle woman. From stories my father and my aunt told me, I know that she use to have a large flower and vegetable garden. My father told me that during the great depression, she helped earn money for the family by growing and selling seedling plants.

As a young child, I had no knowledge of what sort of life she had before my father was born in 1919, when she was 41 years old. To me she was always an old woman. At the age of seven, seeing her in her eighties, I could not imagine what she would have been like as a child.

Even now, it's hard for me to imagine her as a young woman growing up in the late Victorian era. Sitting here in the early years of the 21st century, it's hard for me to believe that I knew someone born in the 19th century.  My grandmother had two children - my father, and my father's older sister, Alvina, who is now in her early nineties.  A little over a year ago, my Aunt Alvina called to say that she was thinking of selling her house.  She asked me if I would come to Fort Collins to visit her and to go through things in her house to see if there was anything I might like.  While there, I found a scrapbook that had belonged to my grandmother, a scrapbook that she had assembled when she was a young girl in the late 19th century.  My aunt kindly said that I could have it.  I was thrilled, not only for the images that it contained, but because for the first time, I had a glimpse into what sort of things interested my grandmother Augusta (called Gussie as a child) when she was a young girl.  On the inside of the front cover there is a certificate that states she attended school for a twelve week period during the 1889-1890 school year.  She would have been eleven or twelve years old at that time, and I assume that is the age that she put together this scrapbook.

The scrapbook is filled with beautiful examples of the type of embossed and colorful images that were sold for decorative purposes during the Victorian era.  There is also a scattering of Christmas, Valentine and Easter cards.  Since this is the first week of spring, and Easter is a week from today, I thought I would post some of the beautiful floral and easter images that my grandmother added to her scrapbook over a hundred years ago.  Please excuse the poor lighting and fuzzy quality of some of these images.  As you might notice from some of the images, the paper is extremely fragile and rather than risk damaging them by putting them on my scanner, I photographed them using a handheld digital camera.  Though some of the pages are crumbling on the edges, the images themselves are very bright and colorful, making it hard to believe that they are 120 years old.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Tilt-Shift Look at the Magic Kingdom

This is a funny little video made using a tilt shift camera that makes everything look like a miniature set by putting the edges of the frame out of focus and keeping the sharp detail in the center of the frame. By artificially throwing off the depth of field, the filmmaker ended up with an effect that makes Disney World look like a miniature set populated by tiny animated figures.

Friday, March 26, 2010

From my Ephemera Files

As an illustrator and graphic designer, I'm always keeping my eye open for interesting images, illustrations and designs.  I especially have a love for vintage illustrations and graphics, so when I saw these unused beauty and hair product labels a number of years ago at a flea market, I had to have them.  I don't remember exactly what I paid for them, but I do remember they were inexpensive.  I think I got an entire envelope of them for five or six dollars.

They all seem to be aimed at the African-American consumer.  Judging from the somewhat Art Deco graphics, I guesstimate that these are from the late 1920's or early 1930's.  For some background information on the Famous Products Co., the company that produced these items and for a cultural analysis of their imagery, check out this website on Lucky Brown Cosmetics.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Art of Animaton, Eyvind Earle and childhood dreams

My dreams of being an artist can be traced back to my early childhood. As a somewhat sickly child, who seemed to be constantly sniffling or wheezing, I was often made to stay indoors or to come in before my cavorting in our backyard triggered an asthma attack.  My mom, whose dreams of being a commercial artist, I've written about in earlier posts, always encouraged me to draw. If I wasn't drawing, I was probably partaking in one of my other favorite activities - coloring in my coloring books (hmmm, that gives me an idea for another blog post).

When I was very young I knew I liked to draw, and as I got older, feeling incapable of following in my father's scientific footsteps, I began to feel that when I grew up, maybe I could be some sort of an artist. I think at some point, probably due to my mother's influence, I felt that maybe I would be a commercial artist and work in the world of advertising (now, after watching 'Mad Men, I'm glad I didn't pursue that path). But then probably around the time I was 13 or 14, I decided I wanted to be an animator and to work for Disney. I can trace my love for Disney films back to when I was 5 years old, the year that "Sleeping Beauty" was released. At that age, I didn't get to see it in the theater, I would have to wait until its rerelease during my high school years to do that, but I do remember seeing the advertisements for it on TV. I also remember all of the merchandise that was put out for the movie - a board game (which I received for Xmas as a child and which I still have), paper dolls (which I still have remnants of), storybooks (which I also have) and many other things. The thing that I remember most vividly about the advertisements though was the image of the handsome Prince. I think my first child-hood crush was on the Prince. But I'm digressing.

Being shy, I felt that being an animator would be the perfect career for me.  My image of an animator was someone who was allowed to sit alone all day at their drawing table, just drawing.  I had no idea at that time that an animator also needed to be something of an actor, a collaborator and maybe even a bit of a pitchman who had to sell his story ideas to the producer.  So, for many years I harbored my dream of working for Disney in my imagined world of what I thought of as the hermit-animator.

My idea of what an animator did and what the job consisted of began to change  after I bought a book called "The Art of Animation," by Bob Thomas. As I recall, I bought this book with my own money, off of a sale table at a Pickwick Bookstore.  My copy of this book (which has been revised over the years) has a copyright date of 1958 but I think I probably purchased it around 1967 or 68.  I remember how excited I was to find this book because it was written the year before "Sleeping Beauty" was released and the book used that film as a way of showing how an animated film was created.

It had sections on character design and development (I was especially fascinated to learn that the design for Princess Aurora was modeled after a young Audrey Hepburn, see sketches above left), storyboarding, background painting, layout, coloring, cel inking and painting, sound, in other words, just about everything that went into the creation of an animated motion picture.

One of my favorite sections was devoted to the artist Eyvind Earle who designed the backgrounds and the medieval look of the film.  Because of the stylized way in which he painted trees, the section devoted to him was titled: "Prelude: the man who likes square trees."  Earle explains his tree stylization in this paragraph, "I like trees to be square. This carries out the primitive technique, which is the style of the picture. You see, all primitive painting is done in horizontal and vertical lines. Only when you intellectualize do you get into diagonals and curves. . . The trees are squared, and everything else carries out the horizontal pattern. . . The hedges, the rocks, the lines of the horizon - all are horizontal.  The primitive style never tilts things." He later goes on to describe his many influences on creating the look of the film, Albrecht Durer to Botticelli, Persian to Japanese art all informed his artistic choices in creating the films distinctive look.  I think I may have also been fascinated by Earle's personal background - from the time he was about 18 years old, he had tried applying for jobs with Disney, being turned away each time. It wasn't until after he had given up and moved to New York for eleven years where he worked in commercial art, and then returned, that he was hired by Disney as a background painter.

My love for animated films never dimmed. In high school, in collaboration with a close friend, I made several animated films as extra credit projects. I guess it was after graduating from high school and facing the realities of competition and assertiveness that were needed to succeed, that I began to feel my dream fading.  After being turned down by Cal Arts (a school that had connections with Disney, and where attendance almost guaranteed you a job with them after graduation) and after unsuccessfully trying for a year and a half to get into USC's cinema production school, I began to ask myself, "did I really want to get a job somewhere where I would be required to sit at a table for hours on end drawing minute variations of someone else's character over and over again?" At least that's the way I rationalized my decision to no longer pursue my dream of being an animator. But I didn't give up entirely. During this time I did stay enrolled at USC and took classes in their cinema department with an undeclared major. Some of my fondest memories of my year and a half there were the hours I spent in an animation class taught by Bernie Gruver, a man who worked for Bill Melendez studios, the studio that created all of the "Peanuts" television specials.

A few years later, after entering graduate school (Otis/Parsons in L.A.), I continued to make films on my own, even getting two of my films accepted into Filmex the huge international film festival that existed in Los Angeles for many years. It was after graduating with my MFA that the harsh realities of making a living began to sink in. I tried in vain to get jobs at a few small animation studios, but ended up instead working for a company that produced computer generated business graphics for slide presentations. It wasn't what I had dreamed of, but it did provide me an opportunity to learn computer graphics (this was way back in 1982 when it was still in its infancy). It was good job experience which eventually led to an opportunity to work in Oslo, Norway for 4 months, but it never did lead to any jobs in animation, which was probably more a result of my own lack of assertiveness and drive than from any lack of experience.

I'm still fascinated by the art of animation and still love watching animated films. Now, at age 55 I guess my dreams really haven't changed that much. I still want to be able to sit and draw in isolation for a living. I still want a chance to be able to tell stories with my drawings. I sometimes get dismayed by all of the young talent out there, all of the kids graduating from art schools with impressive portfolios under their belts, but I've realized that it doesn't do one any good to compare oneself to others. Every talent is unique, you can only do the best that you can do. So, I'll keep plugging away, putting myself out there, and hope that one day, I'll get a book published.

I still have my copy of "The Art of Animation," it's one of my most cherished books. I still love looking at this book, it's filled with some wonderful images and every time I open it, I remember my childhood fantasies, not only of dancing with a handsome Prince, but of being an artist.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Memories of the Arrow Book Club

One of my favorite memories of my grade school years (and there aren't that many of them, good memories anyway) was the day that we received the new brochure from the Arrow Book Club.  Since I believe Arrow still exists, you may already know that it was part of the Scholastic Book Services and was aimed at kids in 4th, 5th and 6th grades.  Each month a new catalog came out allowing kids to choose and order their own books, right from the classroom.  What I liked even better than the day when the new catalog came out, was the day that the books arrived and they were handed out.  As I recall, all of my teachers gave the students a few minutes to look over their purchases before returning to our lessons. But even after lessons resumed, the excitement lingered, knowing that those brand new books, that you yourself had chosen, were tucked away in your desk, waiting for you to take them home so you could begin reading them.

I still have most of my Arrow and TAB books (TAB was the book club for kids in 7th grade and up) and I even have one of the catalogs.  As you can see in the inside of this particular catalog, I even had the order blank all filled out and ready to go. Since I never clipped out this order form, I must have had a duplicate of this catalog, or maybe some of the books were repeated the following month, because I do have two of the books that I marked on the form. As I look at these books now, it amazes me that you could purchase some of them for a mere 25 cents.  These days, I doubt there is anything under $3 to $5 dollars.  (By the way, you can click on all of these images to see them enlarged).

Here are some of the books that I have in my collection.  A couple of these belonged to my younger sister.

 "The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet," and its sequel, "Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, "were two of my favorites.
 "The Enormous Egg," was another favorite. Although I don't remember a thing about their stories, two of my favorite cover images were from "The Runaway Robot" and "The Forgotten Door."

My love for stories involving time travel were satisfied by "The Magic Tunnel" and "Tunnel Through Time."

I loved books on animals but one of the reasons that I was attracted to "Here, Buster!" was because I had loved the Disney film "Sammy the Way Out Seal," which had come out a year or two before and shared a similar story to "Here, Buster!".  I had always loved reading the Mark Trail comic strip in the Sunday paper, so I was excited to find a whole book devoted to his animal stories.  

Books of science fiction, ghosts and the supernatural were other favorite topics of mine and tended to make up a large part of my book orders, especially as I got older and started receiving the TAB book catalog.

Many of these books are available in either new, or used editions.  Many of them can be found at fairly reasonable if not downright inexpensive prices.  For example, there is a listing on Amazon for "Humor Horror and the Supernatural," for only 58 cents.  I quite often see some of these books for sale in our local Goodwill store.  So, if you're interested, they're not too difficult to find.