Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Illustration Friday - Ahead

This week's Illustration Friday word was "Ahead." The first thing that came to my mind was someone on a journey, not knowing what was around the bend, what was ahead of them.  But the word could also be used in the context of someone who is ambitious or striving, someone who wants to get ahead.  I decided to go with something along the lines of my first idea.  A dark, mysterious forest came to mind next.  From there I thought of a boy out walking his dog, the dog has gotten ahead of him and is about to enter the mysterious forest.  The boy doesn't know what lies ahead, but he's worried that his dog is about to disappear (Click the image to enlarge it).

I started this illustration as I usually do, with a sketch.  As I sketched, I found myself spending so much time working on the trees and the forest that I began to worry that I might not be able to do them justice when it came time to painting them.  That's when I decided to do the whole thing in black and white as a digital pencil drawing.  I rarely work in black and white, so I thought of this as a challenge.  I spent a lot of time trying to get the boy and the dog right.  I drew at least three different heads and countless expressions for the boy until I finally came up with one that I was satisfied with.  For the dog, I originally had made up something out of my head but there was something that just didn't seem quite right about the pose.  Finally, after reworking it over and over, and still not being satisfied, I decided to reference a photo of my dog Lucy who died three years ago.  She was part Australian Shepherd and loved to run into our nearby forest. It became much easier when I found a photo of her with a pose similar to what I was aiming for. So this is my tribute to Lucy and the many times I chased after her into the woods.

I tried to convey a sense of mystery in this drawing and some dramatic tension, I hope I succeeded.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Toys That Remind Me of My Childhood Part 1

If you've read earlier entries in this blog you know that I have a strand of the hoarding gene in my DNA.  So, it should come as no surprise that I still have in my possession a lot of the toys from my childhood. One plaything that I remember being around our home from my earliest memories, but don't really have any recollection of playing with, is this set of heavy-cardboard cut-out figures.  Each figure is backed with a black felt-like flocking that I believe allowed the figures to be placed on a fuzzy background scene.  The flocked backing kept the figures from sliding around on the background, sort of like a low-tech velcro.  I know this because I recently bought on eBay a similar toy called "TV Flannel Funnies."  That toy has this description, " Large Flock-O Board, 50 Flannel-Backed Pushouts, Easy On! Easy Off!!, Use Again and Again."

I no longer have the "Flock-O" background for this set from my childhood, so I have no idea if it was a painted scene or a solid color, but I do have lots of the figures.  I thought I'd share them because I do think the graphics are rather charming.  One thing you'll notice about them is that the off-set printing was way off register, so many of the images bleed off the edges.  I think it kind of adds to their charm.  It's especially noticeable in the figures in the red and yellow coats on the right.  As I kid I always pictured them as conjoined twins, but I think if the printing had been registered properly you would probably see that each of the women had two full legs, rather than the way they appear now where they seem to share a pair of legs.

The figures consist of a strange mix.  For one thing, there seems to be a preponderance of circus and side-show figures.  This strongman is an example, as is the above mermaid. Among the other figures are boxers, skaters, firemen, some buildings and of course some circus animals.

This skating lady in blue has always been one of my favorites.  With her leg extended high behind her, and one arm behind her head, she seems so happy and confident.

As a child, I always thought this lady in her pink bra (as well as the above mermaid) were a little risque, but that comes from growing up in a conservative, rather repressed household.

One of the buildings that came with the set was a hospital.  I think this smiling lady must have been its only patient.
The animals are some of my favorites as is this unusual depiction of a fairy. When I was little I always thought it was some sort of strange butterfly man.

 Of all of the animals, I think these two elephants are my favorites.  Even though I know real circus elephants live out a miserable life, these two purple elephants live in a circus fantasy world where all of the animals are well-treated, well-fed and happy.

I take these figures out of their box every once in a while to look at them, their childlike graphic quality never ceases to bring a smile to my face.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Paper Doll That I Can Call My Own Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, when I posted my first entry on my love for the paper dolls of my childhood, I promised I would post more when I found them.  I just finished scanning another batch, so here is another group. Believe it or not, I have even more. This group is all Disney related.

I was fascinated by Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" as a child even though I didn't actually get to see the movie until I was 16.  By age 5, I had seen the ads for it on TV and I imagine the promotional material shown on the Disneyland (later the Wonderful World of Color) TV program.  My mother bought us a lot of the merchandise related to the movie - coloring books, colorforms, a game, a punch-out playset and numerous paper dolls.  The above image of Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip shows another example of the somewhat rare, two-sided paper doll.  I think it's a nice touch that the artist gave Prince Phillip a bouquet of flowers to hide behind his back. These came inside a Little Golden Book, that besides the storybook, also included clothes that you cut out yourself.  The three good fairies from the film, Fauna, Merryweather and Flora came from another set, which also included Princess Aurora, Prince Philip and if I remember correctly Princess Aurora's parents.  The fairies were all I could find from this set at the moment.

The brochure below is about all that is left from the Colorforms "Sleeping Beauty" Dress Designer Kit.  I have no idea what happened to the figure, I'm afraid she was lost long ago.  I did find one of the vinyl plastic skirts though. I don't know how many paper dolls (or in this case should I say vinyl dolls?) Colorforms made.  The regular Colorforms playsets came with a laminated background upon which you stuck cut-out vinyl characters, so you could make up your own scenes.  This kit included a laminated figure on heavy cardboard and her wardrobe was made from the cut vinyl pieces that would stick to her slick surface.  The wardrobe was made up of a number of different pieces that could be overlapped and combined with other pieces to give you a large variety of dress designs.  You can get an idea of some of the possibilities from the brochure.

The next group is from "101 Dalmatians."  We had lot of merchandise from this film as well.  I know we had coloring books, paper dolls and a punch-out playset.  Here are the Roger and Anita figures along with Pongo, Perdita and one of the puppies.  Strangely enough, the set didn't come with a Cruella figure.

This last set is from Mary Poppins.  I think the likeness of the Dick Van Dyke character is pretty good, but I don't think that the Mary Poppins character looks much like Julie Andrews.  I also think that they made the two children look older than they did in the film.  This set came with a punch-out cardboard copy of Mary Poppins' big handbag for storing the paper dolls and their wardrobe.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Vintage Coloring Books Part 1

I have to admit that I have a fascination with old coloring books. I had a lot of them as a child and even though I remember spending lots of time coloring in them, I also remember that it was an activity that I frequently grew bored with. I would often start a picture and then want to move on to another activity. I preferred drawing my own pictures to coloring someone else's. Maybe that is why so many of the coloring books that I saved from my childhood, have pictures in them that are only partially colored or not colored at all. I think our mom, like a lot of moms, probably gave us coloring books because it was a quiet activity that would keep us out of trouble for a little while.

Regardless of what I just said, I still have a fondness for old coloring books. Part of it is a fascination with the imagery. I like the bold, heavy-line, comic book style of drawing that is a hallmark of these inexpensive publications. Sometimes some amazing graphics can be found in these books. I'm also fascinated by what sort of subjects were chosen to be included.

One of my favorite coloring book covers belongs to the "Jack the Giant Killer" coloring book that came out in 1963.  If only the inside drawings were equal to the humorous cover image. Unfortunately what is inside is quite uninteresting.  In fact, this book contains what I think must be the most boring coloring book image ever published - an image of a rope noose.  A child was supposed to find that an interesting subject to color?  There is so much going on in the caption below the picture - Jack escaping from prison, Jack making the noose, couldn't they have illustrated one of those scenes instead?  It just seems lazy on the part of the artist to show only a piece of rope. You can see by the image on the right, that it remains blank, attesting to the fact that I had no interest in coloring a noose. Very little of this book is devoted to the exploits of Jack the Giant Killer.  Instead, there are stories about Samson (I never knew he was considered a giant), Hercules, Atlas, David and Goliath and Paul Bunyan.  In the hands of a more imaginative artist, this could have been a really fun book, but unfortunately all of the images are simple and dull.

A book that is much more imaginative is one that is called "Color Everything Book."  There is no copyright date on this book, but judging from the illustrations, I imagine it is from the late 1950's or early 60's.  The cover image on this one is quite funny.  A little boy with his paint brushes in hand, has taken to heart the message in the book's title - he is coloring everything, including the cow and the pig who look at him angrily after he has painted them with dots and stripes.  The images on the inside are done in an entirely different style, they have a rather mid-century modern look to them and they are quite wonderful. They depict children taking part in various activities, usually with an animal companion at their side.  One thing that is very unusual about this book, something I've never seen in another coloring book is the inclusion of a small image in the lower right corner of all of the right hand pages that acts as a flip book.  It is a sequence of images of a bunny riding a unicycle that comes to animated life when you flip through the pages rapidly. It's just another example of this book's creativity and imagination.

The last third of the book contains a section called "Simple Objects to Color," with drawings done in a more traditional style.  It makes me wonder if the artist of the first two-thirds of the book ran out of time or ideas.  To me, this last section of the book looks like filler that might have been left over material from an entirely different, possibly even older coloring book.  Some of the images are rather bizarre.  Is that worm-like thing with the round body segments and female head (see image at right), some sort of a child's rattle?  And is there a reason that it's paired with an antique telephone? 

One of the oldest coloring books that I've had since I was a child, is sadly in very poor shape. It's a coloring book devoted to the singer Patti Page.  I would love to know what the cover of this book looked like but unfortunately it's missing and some of the pages have been ripped out. Judging from the condition of the book and the way the images have been colored, it must have been one of my first coloring books.

A few of the coloring books that I have in my collection I purchased as an adult at garage sales.  You can usually find them at very little cost.  This one, titled "First Color Book," I found for 75 cents.  The images in it are fairly uninteresting, but the thing that is interesting about this 1969 publication is that it is in mint, unused condition.  Not a single image has been colored.  As I said though, the images are rather dull as you can see from this drawing of two dogs.  It's obvious that only one dog was drawn and then flipped around to create the second dog.  That's just plain lazy if you ask me.

Another coloring book purchased at a yard sale was this one titled "Big Painting and Coloring Book."  Dating from 1934 it is also the oldest coloring book in my collection.  It's a great hodgepodge of a book filled with funny animals, scenes from fairy tales, a how to draw section, a section of Native American patterns and even botanical information.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Illustration Friday - Detective

When I saw that the Illustration Friday word for this week was "Detective," I immediately thought of two ideas.  One was to go back to the elephant and dog characters that I created for the "Rescue" and "Dip" entries and have them working as detectives.  But my other idea prevailed.  The idea that I decided to go with was inspired by some of the old movies I used to watch as a kid on television back in the sixties and seventies.  I'm talking about movies like "Home Sweet Homicide" starring Peggy Ann Garner and a very young Dean Stockwell and the original Nancy Drew movies starring Bonita Granville.  These were movies from the late 1930s and 40s that featured children and young adolescents playing as detectives.  Of course in these films, the kids would always end up solving the case that had baffled the adults.  Sometimes there would be a romance featured as part of a subplot.  In the case of "Home Sweet Homicide," the three children who are trying to solve a murder in their neighborhood are also trying to hook their widowed mystery-writer mother up with the detective (Randoph Scott) who is trying to solve the case.  In these movies, there were usually several kids involved, either a brother and sister, several siblings or a group of kids who lived in the same neighborhood and were friends. These films often took place in small town backyards, alleyways, home made club houses and Main street ice cream parlors.

So, in tribute to these films from a more innocent time, I created a scene with 4 children who have discovered a lost bag of money in an alleyway.  But unbeknownst to them, the thug who stole the money and dropped it during his getaway, is watching the children.

I'm also including my original sketch for the idea and a screen shot that shows my progress along the way.  You can see that I made several revisions to the original sketch.  Originally I just showed the three children discovering the money bags.  Then I decided that the image needed a menacing figure in it, so I added the thug who is watching them from around the corner of the fence.  Then I decided to add another little boy as part of the group.  I also had the original little boy lean over, using his magnifying glass to look for clues.  And, for those who might be interested, I'm also posting a couple of photos that I used for reference for some of the children's clothing.  These are images that I found on the internet from the movie, "Home Sweet Homicide," from 1946.  This is a movie I have very fond memories of watching on television as a kid, when I'd be home sick from school.

I dedicate this week's illustration to the memory of Peggy Ann Garner, Bonita Granville, Connie Marshall and Dean Stockwell, the best juvenile detectives from the golden age of cinema.