Sunday, May 23, 2010

Illustration Friday - Early

The word for this week's Illustration Friday challenge was 'Early.'  Even before I read this week's word, I had been thinking of doing another piece using the female elephant character that I created for the "Rescue" and "Dip" challenges.  My first idea for 'early' was to have the elephant in bed, stretching and yawning as her alarm clock goes off, but I began to feel that was too obvious a choice.  So, instead, I decided to have her doing something that I've been doing recently - getting up early and going for a walk in a park. There are few people in our neighborhood park before 8 a.m., usually just a few dog walkers and maybe a jogger or two. It's a good time of day to see lots of birds, squirrels and rabbits. But best of all is the early morning sun coming through the clouds. This is something I wanted to try and capture in this piece - the early morning light.

The reason that I decided to do the image in a circular format is because I recently went to a presentation of late nineteenth and early twentieth century magic lantern slides. These slides were a form of entertainment before the movies really took off and often they were created in a circular format.  Watching these images from over a hundred years ago, I was inspired to try and create a circular composition.

Above you'll see my pencil sketch and a work in progress image where I've blocked in some of the colors and started adding some details.  The image was painted in Corel Painter 11.  I'm really happy with the way that the clouds turned out. I created them on a separate layer, above the sky layer. Their colors were first blocked in with the gouache brushes, then I added some shading to them using the Real Soft Chalk brush.  I followed that with some blending using a Soft Blender Stump brush. I then ran the Soft Blender Stump across the sky to add some rays of sun. In my final image, I left the pencil sketch layer on, but lowered the opacity.  If you look carefully (click to enlarge the images) you can see the faint pencil lines.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Finished - Above and Below

Yesterday, I posted a piece about a work in progress that was inspired by watching the television show "Upstairs Downstairs." Well, I finished it this afternoon, so here is the completed work, which I've titled "Above and Below." As I was finishing it, I decided to add a few elements.  I added a sun in the sky and a couple of earthworms that can be seen slithering around the rabbit's burrow.  This is my tribute to "Upstairs Downstairs," and the art of Mary Blair, who as I mentioned in yesterday's post was one of Disney's top designers (she's responsible for the look of Disney's animated "Alice in Wonderland," and "Cinderella," not to mention the "It's a Small World" attraction at Disneyland). The piece measures a little over 9 inches by about 11.5 inches.  It was done using Corel Painter 11 software.  I'm happy with the way it turned out, I'm even thinking of possibly having prints made to sell.  Let me know if you're interested in one.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Work in Progress - Above and Below

For the past couple of days I've been working on a somewhat detailed illustration that was inspired by the old Masterpiece Theatre show, "Upstairs Downstairs." For those of you who don't know this program, it detailed the lives of the wealthy Bellamy family (the 'upstairs' part of the program) and their servants who worked downstairs.  Their story, set in London, begins in 1904 and ends around 1930. Both the upstairs and the downstairs families are touched by such events as the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the 1918 flu epidemic and the start of the depression. It's a show that often discusses social class, the discrepancy between those born of nobility and wealth and those born to more common circumstances.  But the show also had elements of high class soap opera detailing the scandals of both sets of families - extra-marital affairs, children out of wedlock, suicide, and even a hostage taking.  Yes, the show could sometimes be a bit 'talky' but above everything else, and what made me such a big fan of the show was the careful attention to the creation of the characters and how they grew over the course of the 25 years that the series covered.  This was a time of great social change and upheaval, a time when class distinctions began to break down.  This is especially evident in season 4 that covers the World War I period.  Some of the servants get jobs outside of the house to aid in the war effort.  These characters, who in the beginning of the series believed that they would spend their entire lives in domestic service, are shown that the world outside offers them other opportunities.  Some, like the rigid household butler, Hudson, cling to the ways of the past.  He sticks to the moral code of the past and feels that society is crumbling when changes in the household bring about new attitudes and behaviors.  Others, like Rose the upper house parlor maid, who as played by the wonderful Jean Marsh, becomes the heart of the show, are young enough to have an open mind and adapt to the changes in the world.  This show is in my top 10 of all-time favorite television shows.  The last episode of the series, when it first aired in 1975 brought tears to my eyes.  As I recall, it was the first time that a television program made me cry.

Over the past few weeks my partner and I've been watching the show on DVD. My partner had never seen it, while I have fond memories of watching the show with my family when it first aired in the seventies.  As I've been watching the show, which as I've mentioned is about two families (and yes, the servants, though they're not related to one another, do make up a family), I began to think about an idea for a children's illustration. My illustration wouldn't have anything to do with servants, or class issues, but two very different types of families that live in close proximity to one another. The above ground family would naturally be a human family, while below ground is a family of rabbits. Since I love the look of the Edwardian period in which "Upstairs Downstairs," is set, I decided I would set my illustration in the same period. While working on this illustration, I've been looking at a lot of work by Mary Blair, the artist who was one of Disney's top designers in the late 1950s and 60s. She excelled at stylized backgrounds and creating scenes with lots of characters. I love the way that she drew children and especially the look of her plants, flowers and trees. So, I still have a lot to do on this illustration, but here is a shot of it in progress. This shot shows the original sketch superimposed on top of the painting, which, by the way, is being done using Painter 11. When it's finished, I'll post the completed image.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Illustration Friday - Equipment

Earlier in the week I had been drawing some rabbit characters, so when I found out the word for this week's Illustration Friday challenge, which this week is 'Equipment,' I decided I would incorporate one of these characters into my drawing.  One of the characters that I drew was an old female rabbit character who is using a walker.  She was inspired by my late mom and my first idea was to do something using this character, showing all of the equipment necessary to make an older person's life easier. But when it came to how I would set up this scene I was at a loss for inspiration.

Instead, I decided to do something inspired by my late father who was a plant pathologist.  He had a laboratory filled with all sorts of scientific equipment which I thought would be a perfect setting for this challenge.  I made his laboratory underground, which seemed natural for a rabbit scientist and I gave him equipment that was a little more on the "mad scientist" side of things, rather than the beakers and centrifuges that my father used. I thought of my rabbit as a scientist who is trying to create the perfect carrot and needs a lot of scientific equipment to do so.

I've included my page of rabbit characters that I was working on prior to this week's IF drawing.  You can see the old female rabbit character in the upper left.  I like her quite a bit so I will try and find a setting for her in a future drawing.  I think you can probably spot the character that I ended up using as my scientist.

I've also included my original digital pencil sketch and two in progress shots so that you can see the image in different stages of development.  I had orignally thought of doing this image completely in pen and ink, but as I began working, I began to envision it with a simply colored background.  I tried to go for the style of a 1950's or 1960's animated cartoon, where the line work is fairly sketchy and the color is made up of blocked shapes that don't always stay within their outlines. I started out making the colors fairly dark, but then decided I wanted to emphasize the pen lines, so in the final image, I dialed back the opacity of the layer that contained the painted color shapes. You can see in the final image that I also decided to put my scientist in a lab coat and gave him a giant carrot to hold.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Paper Doll That I Can Call My Own Part 3 - Betsy McCall

In two previous blogs I've written about my fond memories of playing with paper dolls when I was a little boy and I've posted some examples of some of the dolls that are still in my possession.  Readers of this blog will probably know by now that I still have many of my childhood toys and playthings.  Today I came across more of my paper dolls.  This time I stumbled upon my collection of my old Betsy McCall paper dolls. In preparing to write this blog, I did a little research on the internet and found out that Betsy McCall first appeared in McCall's magazine in 1951. I happily discovered a site that has documented her history and even has scans of many of the complete pages ( I was very excited to see that many of the dolls in my collection were listed on the site.  Now I can put a date to them. My three oldest dolls (two from 1958 and one from 1959) are in the worst shape due to an unfortunate mending job done years ago using Scotch tape that has yellowed and darkened. You can see in the above image the way that the dolls look today.  On the right, I've posted my attempts at restoring the same dolls (click on the images to enlarge them).  The doll on the far left is from the Valentine's Day issue of 1958. Each doll was always accompanied by a couple of outfits and a short story with a cute illustration.   The image of the page on the right shows the doll the way that it appeared with its clothes and accompanying story in McCall's magazine.

Most of you probably know that there was also a Betsy McCall doll that had her own line of doll clothing.  My sister had the doll and several of her outfits (my sister also had the plush toy version of Betsy's dachshund, Nosy).  I loved playing dolls with my sister and I was a bit jealous when she received her Betsy McCall doll. Even though I had a few dolls of my own, my mom resisted getting me my own Betsy. It looked like I was going to have to settle for playing with the paper dolls version until one day my sister's Betsy McCall doll had a medical emergency - her jointed leg popped out of its socket. Somehow the doll's hip joint had separated a wee bit which meant that the leg would not stay in the socket. I think my mother tried tightening the joint with a cloth bandaid, but it didn't help. It looked like poor Betsy was going to live out her life with just one leg. Finally, I suppose after witnessing how sad this must have made my sister, my mother told my sister that she would take the doll to the doll hospital. The next day, Betsy was back and as good as new, her leg snug in its place. But, and here's how I came to have my own Betsy McCall doll, one day when my sister and I were both home sick from school and my mom had gone out on an errand, my sister and I decided to snoop through my mom's dresser. We were shocked and surprised when we found a Betsy McCall doll hidden under my mom's slips. It only took us a moment to realize that this was my sister's original doll, the one with the broken leg, the one my mom had told us she had taken to the doll hospital. The "good as new" Betsy that my mom said had been repaired at the doll hospital was actually a brand new doll. I don't remember exactly what happened next, but since I wanted my sister's original, broken doll for myself, I know what happened next must have involved admitting to my mom that we had been snooping and found the doll. I did end up getting to keep the broken doll and somehow I managed to put some tape around the leg to hold it in. Yes, she now had one leg that appeared to be slightly longer than the other, but I didn't care, I had my very own Betsy McCall.

Well, back to the paper dolls.  The second doll from the left in the above group, is also from 1958. In the image on the right, you can see how she looked in the original magazine page from October of that year. The accompanying story is about her family going out to dinner. Betsy McCall's purpose in the magazine seems to have been to help sell clothes for little girls. Each story and paper doll was accompanied by a footnote telling the reader what stores carried the clothing shown in the illustrations.

As Betsy entered the 1960s, she adopted a more modern look. In this period, she has an almost Jackie Kennedy look to her (I think it must be the hairstyle).  Even her mother, who you can see in the group on the right, looks a little bit like Jackie. The other characters in this group are Betsy's male cousin, Sandy McCall and another cousin, Linda.  The hand drawn Betsy image with the askew face, was my attempt to copy the Betsy McCall paper doll that appeared in this 1962 issue where she goes to dancing school.

The clothing of this period looks like something that you would see Don Draper's daughter wearing in "Mad Men," which shows what a good job the costumer designer for that show has done in capturing the era of the early 1960s.

In the group on the left, you'll notice a tiny Betsy McCall paper doll.  This was from an issue in 1965 where Betsy's mother makes some new clothes for Betsy's new doll, which in Betsy's fictional world, I believe is supposed to be a doll patterned after her.  So, this is a paper doll version of another paper doll's doll. Got that? It's metafiction in the world of paper dolls. And of course, in the story, Betsy just happens to mention which McCall's pattern number her mother used to make the clothes (just in case you want to try making them yourself).

Below, you can see the technique I used to strengthen my magazine cut-out dolls.  This backside view shows how I use to glue them on to scraps of cardboard to give them added durability. And boy oh boy, I remember how difficult it was to cut out the doll shapes from the cardboard using only a pair of children's scissors.

The Betsy on the left of the above group is not out of McCall's magazine.  It is one that I sent away for from McCall's.  In each issue, at the bottom of the Betsy page, was information on where, for ten cents, you could send for a paper doll that was printed on card stock that came with a set of clothes.  So of all of the dolls shown, this is the only one that I didn't have to paste on to a piece of card board.  Because of this, she's the one that's in the best condition.

Below, you can see more of Betsy's clothes, including an outfit that was never cut out of the magazine (I think I must have been confounded on how I would cut out the Lily that she's holding).

Betsy McCall paper dolls appeared in the magazine on and off through the 1980s and 90s, though the art that I've seen of these dolls has none of the charm of these dolls from the late fifties and early sixties.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Illustration Friday - Fearless

For this week's Illustration Friday word, which is "Fearless," I decided to use a work that I already had in progress.  The image I was working on, of a young princess trapped in a tower who realizes that the only way to escape is to be fearless and to make friends with the dragon guarding the tower, seemed to be a good fit for this week's word.

My idea for this image came from an old drawing that I recently came across when cleaning out some boxes in our basement.  When I was 6 or 7 years old, I use to love to draw this particular, bug-eyed dragon. Looking at this drawing, which is now over 45 years old, I liked the fact that as a kid, I included so many things happening in it - a princess in a tower (who in my childhood drawing, looks rather bored), a dragon guarding the tower, a mysterious cave, bats in the sky, a knight on his way to the rescue, and looming above it all, a castle.

I thought it would be a fun idea to see what I could do with this same scenario as a more skilled adult. A couple of Fridays back, I created a black and white, digital pencil illustration for the word "ahead."  I so enjoyed working in black and white, that I decided to once again use the same technique. In this drawing I wanted to see if I could create a sense of distance with the tones of gray getting lighter as they receded into the background.

Here are a couple of screen shots showing the work in progress. In the first one you can see the very rough sketch and the preliminary rough shading of the tower. In the second screen shot, you can see that I've begun to refine the shading and added some details in the background.

I made a few tweaks to the idea - instead of a princess just sitting by a window, I decided I would have her leaning out the window and offering a friendly hand to the dragon who, somewhat like a dog, has jumped up on his hind legs to get a better view of her.  I decided that the knight would be watching the scene, confused now about whether he should precede with his rescue attempt.   Does the princess really need rescuing? I don't think so, I think she has it all under control.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Artists of a Certain Line

Indiana University which is located here in Bloomington, Indiana has a wonderful Fine Arts Library. I volunteer one day a week at the IU Art Museum which is connected to the Library. As part of my duties assisting the curator of the works on paper department, I'm often asked to do some research on a particular artist, painting, drawing or a photograph.  On one of my recent afternoons in the library, I passed by the section on book illustrators and my eye caught sight of a book titled "Artists of a Certain Line, a Selection of Illustrators for Children's Books." Flipping through it I saw, as the title implies, that it was devoted to artists who work in pen and ink. After my work was done, I went back and decided to check it out on my library card.

It's a wonderful little book, published in London by The Bodley Head in 1960 and it is set-up as a brief survey of English artists (Maurice Sendak being the sole American) who at the time of the book's publication, were working in the field of children's book illustration.  Some of the artists were familiar to me (Quentin Blake, Edward Ardizzone) but others were a happy discovery (Pearl Falconer, Peggy Fortnum). After having the book at home for a few days, I decided to check to see if the book was available anywhere to purchase. I managed to find an inexpensive used copy online and took the plunge and ordered it. It came in the mail today and it is in much better condition than the one that I just returned to the library.

I've scanned a few of my favorite images from the book to share in this blog with a little bit of information about the artists. By the way, the book has only one example of art per artist and though each example is accompanied by a short biography of the artist, unfortunately the artwork itself is not identified regarding its source.

The first artist in the book, which is arranged alphabetically, is Edward Ardizzone who was born in Haiphong, Tonkin, French Indo-China in 1900.  Ardizzone is probably best known for his books featuring the maritime adventures of his character Tim (Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain) though he also illustrated other books including a popular title by Eleanor Farjeon, "The Little Bookroom." I think this is a wonderful composition.  Your eye is first drawn to the two children in the lower part of the image, just to the left of center. They are drawn with the darkest lines and surrounded by a lot of white space, which gives them a heavier emphasis. The vertical lines of the house that rises above them, lead your eye up to the woman who is leaning out of her window. The sloping wall that joins her house to the lower right of the image, brings your eye to the policeman who is coming out of the shadows and who seems to be the one that the children are running from.  Edward Ardizzone was also known for his soft, but detailed watercolor illustrations.  He died of a heart attack in 1979.

Quentin Blake, born in 1932, is most famous for the eighteen Roald Dahl books that he has illustrated, but he has also written over 35 books of his own, including "Tell me a Picture."I love the seeming simplicity of this image, though once you begin to study it, you can see it is anything but simple. It has a very dynamic triangular composition, where the old man and the boy form the base of the triangle, while the bird on the man's outstretched hand forms the apex of the scene. Your eye has no choice but to take a tour of this image.  From the lower right corner of the boy, you follow his gaze up to the man and the man's gaze up to the bird, and then back down again where your eye starts over again.

I was unable to find online, any biographical information on Pearl Falconer, but the book does tell us that she was born of Scottish parents and began to draw at a very early age.  According to the book's short bio, she also painted covers for Harper's Bazaar for many years.  I love the almost symmetrical composition of this image.  The lamp post almost divides the composition down the middle, but it is placed off center just enough to prevent a perfect symmetry. With the dominant black shape of the older woman's dress, our eye is first drawn to the right side of the image before we jump across the vertical line of the post and then notice the black silhouettes of the two priests in the background.  It's a very vertical composition, but the attention of the image is centered around the middle.  I think it's a very clever use of a narrow image space.

The name Peggy Fortnum didn't ring any bells for me, but then I never grew up with the Paddington Bear books, for which she is most famous. She was born in 1919 and has illustrated around 65 books, including a version of "Reluctant Dragon."Like the rest of the images I've been discussing, I don't know what work this image is illustrating, but I think it's a wonderful piece. Judging from the palm trees in the background, the houses that appear to be on stilts, and the water that the children are venturing into, I would say it must be set somewhere in Indonesia or the South Pacific. You can almost sense the hesitancy on the part of the little girl in the image, you can tell she is happy to let the boy, who appears to be in native dress, go ahead of her.

When first seeing this amazing image by Robin Jacques (rhymes with 'cakes'), I was shocked to learn that he had no formal art training. He apparently taught himself to draw by copying images from anatomical books and from objects that he viewed in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Born in 1920, his major output in the world of children's illustration was between the 1940s and the 1980s.  He illustrated a number of story collections put together by Ruth Manning-Sanders.  His use of a stippling technique, which I know from experience is very time consuming, is unsurpassed in the field of children's book illustration.  It also gives his work a very distinctive look, one that forces you to pour over every detail.  After illustrating over one hundred novels and books for children, Jacques died in 1995.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Illustration Friday - Cocoon

It's hard to believe that another Friday has rolled around.  This week's word for the Illustration Friday challenge is cocoon.  Of course my first thought was to do something with a butterfly.  I thought I could do something unusual by showing what happens inside the cocoon while the transformation is taking place. Maybe a caterpillar knitting her wings or maybe cozily curled up reading a book while she waits for her wings to grow.  But then, while looking at a book put out by Taschen called "Future Perfect, Vintage Futuristic Graphics," and getting excited by all of the unusual gadgets, machines and visions of what we used to think the future would look like, I decided to take the challenge in a whole other direction. My idea was to create a faux vintage magazine cover, a cover similar in style to those that use to grace "Popular Science" or "Science and Mechanics," in the days when they had great painted cover illustrations that depicted the wonders of the future. So to tie this in with the cocoon challenge, I decided to have the cover illustration of my faux magazine be a human cocoon device for hibernating during long interplanetary space voyages.  I decided I would have a father showing off this device to his son to prepare him for their own voyage into outer space.

In painting it, I looked at a lot of old "Popular Science" covers and noticed that they used a lot of bright primary colors, so that is how I decided on my palette. The illustration was drawn and painted in Corel Painter 11.  After the illustration itself was finished, I opened it in Photoshop and applied a halftone filter to it.  I then added the magazine border and created the fake masthead.  I ran the whole image through some third party filters to give it the look of an aged printed image. I then created a fake mailing address label and as a tribute to my late father, I used his name on it. One of the last steps was to come up with the fake article titles.  I enjoyed doing that, but I probably could have come up with better ones, if I had thought about it a little longer.

Below, you can see my first digital sketch of the idea.  Next to it, on the right is the original Painter image before adding the type and applying the Photoshop filters to it.